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A Lot Of Issues

Chapter Text

When it all came down to it, Peggy loved her job, she really did, she enjoyed being an Editor in a fashion magazine, even if she was just an Associate. She liked browsing trends, setting up shoots; even dealing with the production crew was interesting and challenging most of the time. This, however, wasn’t one of those times, Peggy was one sequin away from a meltdown.

It was a publication meeting, which meant they were delineating all the assignments, spreads, and interviews they wanted to get in that month’s issue. It was a nightmare.

Sakaar was a relatively well-known fashion magazine, enough to get interesting exclusives and have a decent budget for shoots. Its signature aspect (signature pain in the arse if you asked Peggy on days like this one) was its unique and outlandish shoots, all concocted by its Editor In-Chief-- a seemingly-immortal old-ish guy everyone called The Grandmaster (because, apparently, his real name was too hard to pronounce). He really was a visionary. He had started from the ground up; had risen through the ranks in fashion publications, to finally make Sakaar a respectable name in the last few years. It wasn’t Vogue -level in terms of legacy, probably not even Bazaar , but it wasn’t that far behind.

The Grandmaster’s unique sense of style along with his eye for vanguard fashion had made him pals with the likes of Anna Wintour and the Kardashians. He now had a creative role, making sure the magazine didn’t lose its brand but not taking care of the logistic of his concepts. All of which made Peggy’s work… difficult.

“So, mm… I’m picturing a street” The Grandmaster spayed his hands, “are you picturing it with me?” A small laugh escaped him as he looked around the room. “So, a street, but seen from the top of a bus, yes, one of those sightseeing ones, you know the ones?” He didn’t wait for an answer, “I never got in one of those, always wondered what It would be like… Anyway, a bus, yes, then on top of it, on the open top, you know the one, where tourists sit with their floral shirts and white Bermuda shorts, except there aren’t any tourists this time, no-uh . There are executives! All in their fancy clothes, standing on the top, isn’t it hilarious?” Another laugh, “we could even give them some computers, and those tablet thingies, the ones with the fruit, what are they called?” He looked at them expectantly.

“…iPads?” A new intern offered, before the pause could get too long, a mix of terror and uncertainty in her voice.

“Yes, thank you very much, iPads, those.” The word sounded foreign in his tone, like it was the first time he said it and was trying it on for size. “Also, phones, lots of phones, they have to look busy, like they can’t stop working for a second” he seemed to find this particularly hilarious because he couldn’t talk for a couple minutes, laughing and stuttering every time he opened his mouth to continue.

“Okay, deep breaths,” he said as he started to get his bearings, “everyone breathe in with me. That’s it, deep. Breaths. ” He gestured with his hands, glancing through the room to make sure they were following his lead, completely ignoring that no one had been laughing along with him.

Spring Fashion Week’s corpse was still warm, Fall season was still months away. No matter, gears were already being turned towards it. Fashion Week’s ghost never truly left the fashion industry. That being said, the April issue tended to be pretty calm, and while Peggy was quite happy with her assignment for it, the fact that it was supposed to be on top of a sightseeing bus was already giving her a headache.

Where the hell am I gonna find that prop?

From then the meeting went on to other topics, other photoshoots, interviews, different spreads to coordinate. Peggy already had her assignment for this month, nevertheless, she paid attention to the rest of the information. She was undoubtedly going to get roped into some other aspect before the month was done. Sakaar wasn’t exactly rigid when it came to the division of labor; everyone got their tasks on production meetings, but afterwards it was a mess. Peggy always ended up helping with at least three more assignments.

The second the meeting was done she got out her phone.

You 10:34 am

The GM wants me to shoot corporate wear on top of a bus.

By the time she got to her office she already had a reply.

Angie 10:36 am

No way! I thought you did that last year?

You 10:36 am

No

That was cocktail dresses on canoes

I have no idea what I’ll do w the prop, its gonna have to be huge

And the bg

Ugh remind me again why I bother

Angie 10:38 am

Easy English, you’ve got this

If you need help, I have a scenographer from the theater that could help

Hes really good

You 11:39 am

I appreciate it but I reckon ill get in touch with some movie people

Call in a few favors

Or I’ll end up in a junk yard

Again

Angie 10:39 am

“call in a few favors” what r u? a spy??

You 10:40 am

Maybe :P

Angie 10:40 am

It would explain ur serious level of badassery

And those “work trips” u keep disappearing for

You 10:42 am

Haha i wish

Id rather be getting shot at than treat with Roger Dooley

maybe ill hit up Tony instead, might be worth the headache hes gonna give me

Angie 10:43 am

As you wish, Agent Carter ;)

Let me know if you change your mind

 

With a fond smile and an eyeroll Peggy dropped her phone, woke up her computer and got ready to work, she had some emails and light extortion to get to.

 


  

Flash. Shutter.

“C’mon baby, show me you like it.”

Flash. Shutter.

“That’s right, spread all over, show me you are dying for it.”

Flash. Shutter. Nasty comment. Flash. Shutter. Nasty comment. Repeat.

The sequence had been going on for half an hour already and Steve was close to losing it. When he had gotten Maria’s call a couple hours ago for “a quick job, simply have to stand there, look pretty, besides it pays well”, her humorous way of saying “you’re not the focus of the shoot and I really need someone to fill in the position or Fury will have my ass”.

Maria Hill was Avengers Agency’s after-hours operator, which meant she was the one that had to handle all the emergencies, model cancellations and rush hours that weren’t 9 to 5. Given how the fashion industry worked, that meant most of everything.

It was a Friday night, Steve had just gotten home from the theater he was currently hired at for painting the scenography for a play when his phone had rung. The moment he’d seen the caller ID he’d known his plans for a quiet night with takeout and binge-watching the new season of Stranger Things with Bucky were out the window. He had been less than thrilled with the proposition, it was late, the weekend was close, he was tired, but truth was, he needed the money. Rent didn't come cheap in Brooklyn and even though Bucky’s job as a R&D engineer at Stark Industries paid well, Steve wasn’t about to live off of his best friend’s dime. That meant accepting whatever offer he got for extra cash.

Ergo, there he was, Friday 10pm on a studio, dressed in a non-descript shirt and jeans (Maria was right, he wasn’t more than a sentient prop on this shoot), about to punch the photographer’s teeth out.

The photoshoot concept was simple, some party dress line, nothing particularly high brow, he had done a million similar ones in the three years Steve had been modeling. It was actually a small shoot, only the models, a couple stylists, and a few more for production, there wasn’t even an editor in sight. The female model, clad in a sparkly green dress that barely covered her had to drape herself all over him, front facing the camera as if they were dancing, Steve's hands posed lightly on her waist.

She was a brunette, pretty tall for the standard, he only had about a couple inches on her with her not-so-high high heels on. Given the sudden change of plans (apparently the model that was scheduled for this job had suddenly dropped out because he had to go “find himself” in some remote Himalayan monastery, much to Maria’s dismay) he hadn’t even gotten to introduce himself. Instead, he rushed through hair and makeup like a bullet before being tossed his outfit and told to change.

“Bimbo, look down, I don't care about your face, besides it ain’t like you don’t want to take a peek,” Brock Rumlow’s tone was disgusting, lascivious and knowing, coming from behind the camera. His face wasn’t visible due to the lightning but it wasn’t hard to picture the leer that surely accompanied it. If Steve’s hands hadn’t been in the model’s waist, they would have curled into fists long ago. “I know I want to.”

Flash. Shutter.

“Give me some eye-contact.”

Flash. Shutter.

“Pretty boy, move your hands, this ain’t kindergarten, give me some action.”

His last words didn’t register as Steve finally got a closer look at the model's face, she was a lot younger than he had originally thought, twenty years old, maybe a little more, she looked terrified. Steve hated bullies (Brock was one, without a doubt), and he had absolutely no problem in telling them exactly that to their faces either. However, he also had gotten in enough arguments with Bucky, and the world in general, to know not everything was the way he thought it was, not everyone wanted his help. This woman, though, seemed like she did.

“Hey, I’m Steve, you alright?” They were close enough that he only needed to whisper to be heard.

“Hey, uhm… I’m... Mary Ja... I’m…” The fear was plain on her face, but there was also wariness, one stranger wasn’t necessarily better than the other one just because he wasn’t yelling obscenities at the moment.

“Do you need me to do something?”

She seemed to hesitate for a second, unsure about what “something” entailed, though, before she could answer, Brock seemed to finally realize something wasn’t right.

“Hey! You two! This isn’t a date! Stop chatting and get into it, I don’t have all night.”

Steve ignored him.

“For God’s sake, I have to do everything,” Brock put down the camera and stomped over. “How hard is it for you to understand? I’m telling you to get. Into. It. ” He tried to shove Steve over to take his place but clearly miscalculated the strength he needed for that, Steve didn't budge an inch. He raised a questioning eyebrow at Mary, all it took was a barely whispered word:

“Please.”

Brock was on the floor with a bleeding, possibly broken, nose before he could blink.

Chapter Text

Steve got the text as he was winding down from his morning run.

Fury 10:00 am

Office. 11 am.

He took the fastest shower on earth and hopped on the subway ten minutes later, hair still damp, probably not one hundred percent clean, dread churning in his gut.

Fury was the director of Avengers Agency. He was a tall black man who always wore black leather, even in the middle of summer. He had an eyepatch no one knew how he had gotten and looked like he was perpetually pissed off. Him and Steve had an uneasy relationship, born of all the times Steve hadn’t followed orders, which was fairly often. As a general rule, they dealt with Maria as a proxy, one-on-one with Fury was reserved for those times he really messed up; such as this one, apparently.

Steve wasn’t scared of Fury, but, he wasn’t stupid either. He still had a most of his one-year contract with Avengers Agency left to go, and he needed the money. The Agency had the power to terminate it early if they so wished. It’d be a bit of a legal circus but it was doable. He didn’t regret his actions, not in the slightest, yet, he was going to lament being out of his highest earning, steadiest income. He couldn’t picture an scenario in which he still had a job in half an hour.

He got to the office five minutes earlier and knocked lightly on the door.

“Steve, come in.”

He got as far as sitting before Fury started laying it on him.

“What the hell were you thinking?” He had a bewildered expression on his face, “I’m serious, what the hell were you thinking?”

“He was a piece of shit, okay? Kept calling out disgusting suggestions and leering at Jane.” He ground his teeth, jaw clenching at the memory. “She was terrified, I couldn’t let him treat her like that. I just couldn’t.”

Fury regarded him for a few long seconds, assessing, Steve stood his ground.

“I know,” a deep sigh, “I know… but you gotta know how that makes us look, right? I mean, I understand, I really do . Brock Rumlow is an asshole, the motherfucker had it long overdue. I would have decked him myself a long time ago if it was up to me,” he said with a smirk. Fury suddenly changed tactics, growing stern, “except it’s not, and that’s the problem. Any magazine, any brand, looks at this, sees an Agency they don’t want to hire. They see a model who lost his shit, who fucked it up.”

“But I didn’t!” Steve was quick to correct him. “Fuck it up I mean, we did the shoot! I got us a new photographer, the photos ended up great!”

They had. After Brock had to be taken to a hospital for his nose (Steve had indeed broken it), Steve had gotten on the phone and tried to fix the mess he’d created.

“Yes… Peter Parker, friend of yours?”

“Yes, I mean, no… Kinda?” Steve shrugged, “he hired me some time ago when he was working on some anatomy studies for a photography class. The result was really good so I followed his work. I like the kid, he’s got heart. He’s great at odd angles and I knew he was from Queens so he was close…”

“You should get him a fruit basket.” At the confused look he received Fury clarified, “he saved your ass on that front. The magazine is thrilled with the result, I talked to the editor, seemed all she cared about was having the photos, fuck whoever took them. As you said, the kid is great and he came by a lot cheaper than Rumlow, apparently. So, they are willing to look past whatever… mishaps that might have occurred.”

Steve took a deep breath, some tension leaving his frame. That was good, they had accepted Peter’s work, that would be huge for him. The kid hadn’t stopped grinning throughout the photoshoot, practically climbing the walls to get the shoots he wanted, calling out soft encouragements and relaxed jokes the whole time. It had been a radical change in the studio’s atmosphere from when Rumlow had been behind the camera. That was amazing news, Steve smiled, thinking of Peter and how we would react to them, he’d probably have a fit. But there was still…

“On the other hand, there are the charges. Jane doesn’t wanna press any against Rumlow, she knows it could mean career suicide.” Fury noticed the righteous anger that fired up below Steve’s skin at that, who was already leaning forward, he hurried to add, “which is horrible and right down disgusting. There really isn’t much we can do about that in the grand scheme, though. We offered her a contract with us, it includes an explicit clause that she’d get to choose who she works for. It’s the best we can do.” He sighed, “Rumlow won’t press charges either.”

That wasn’t what Steve had expected, Rumlow had looked right down murderous as he was being driven away in the ambulance. He had expected a call to a precinct the whole night and morning, an assault charge, probably something else, he wouldn’t put it past Brock to make something up.

“Not that I’m not relieved, but why?”

“Let’s only say that this isn’t the first time he gets called out on his disgusting behavior and that Maria… persuaded him that it wouldn’t be in his best interest to go against us.” Fury’s smile this time was right down vicious.

“So…”

“So… that means you still have a job.”

“I... do?” Steve asked, feeling dense.

“Yes, Rogers, you do,” Fury said, in a way that showed Steve wasn’t the only one that thought he was being slow.

“Okay… thank you, what do you want from me?” He was smart enough and knew his boss well enough to realize this had to come with a couple of strings attached; everything did when it came to Fury.

“What do we want from you? Uh-uh. You have become a problem, a problem I have to deal with. Contrary to your belief, you are not the center of my universe, I have bigger problems to deal with. So,” he raised a finger in the air, “I don’t want one, not even one, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, complaint for the rest of your contract. You’ll do exactly as you are told and if you have any problem whatsoever, you bring it up with me or Maria before you go avenging on your own. Do we understand each other?” He raised his eyebrow.

“Yes, sir. Crystal.”

“That’s what I like to hear. Now get out, I have work to do.”

Steve left the office in a daze, still not quite sure what had just happened. He took out his phone and looked at the hour. 11:13 am. He had spent less than twenty minutes in there. And somehow,  miraculously still had a job.

Steve had a history of plunging into situations without seriously considering the consequences first. You could ask Bucky about it; it was his favorite subject to chew Steve’s ass about. That’s why he had been unmeasurably grateful that his best friend and roommate hadn’t been home last night, or this morning. Steve wasn’t ready to face him yet, the dance of “Steve, you dumbass what were you thinking ?” to “you should have called me first ”, “at least tell me you got him good ”, and last but not least: “whatever comes out of this, Stevie, whatever you need, just tell me, okay pal? ”.

Steve knew that was true, knew with every fiber of his being that he’d have Bucky at his side whatever happened. It was a pillar of his life. But even past his mid-twenties, the imprints of a childhood spent feeling like a burden to everyone acted up in times like this. Accepting help was hard, and recognizing he needed it in the first place even harder. Before he hit puberty, and finally left most of his health problems in the dust, he’d had a hard time admitting he was sick. His ma’s death a few years later had only made him more determined to stand on his own two feet.

Except, none of that was particularly relevant at this point. His contract hadn’t been terminated. He wasn’t ready for this outcome, all the excuses he had prepared were for nothing. He had even started compiling a list of possible odd jobs he could consider, for God’s sake, started calculating for how long he could use his meager savings to pay rent. Well, he had been accused more than once of being dramatic (mostly by Sam).

 

You 11:13 am

Hey

Should I count you for lunch?

He got a reply one block from the subway.

Bucky 11:18 am

Lunch? Its morning

 

You 11:18 am

Buck, it almost midday

Bucky 11:19 am

It is?

Must have slept in

 

You 11:20 am

Had a fun night?

Bucky 11:20 am

Yep.

 

You 11:20 am

I don’t really wanna know

And anyway, lunch?

Bucky 11:21 am

Yeah, count me in

Ill eat anything as long as u dont cook it

 

You 11:23 am

Ha. ha.

Ill get Italian

He debated for a second telling him he still had a job, but that would lead to a lot of questions about how he almost lost it in the first place. That was more than what Steve was capable of dealing with at the moment.

One block away from his apartment, food in hand, his phone buzzed again, and again, and again. Juggling the take-out bags, his coat, and phone, he managed not to drop anything before unlocking it to look at the new texts.

Peter P 12:45 pm

Hey Steve, I didnt get to thank u last night, so im doing it now: thank u so much 4 thinking of mr for this! i know it wasnt planned and kkinda bottom of the barrel

not that i think u think of me as bottom of the barrel

i know you like my photos

not that there would b anything wrong if u didnt! its only that u told me that

when we met thatu did like them n

plz forget this monolgue hapned

just wanted to say thank u 4 last night, i got a call from the magazine that they want to keep my info for a future shoot, so thats huge

and i owe it to u

so if u ever need anything, dont hesitate

Steve chuckled at the texts. How the guy managed to be a complete train wreck, and still one of the most competent photographers he knew was a complete mystery.

 

You 12:47 pm

no problem kid, it was a pleasure

and for the record, you were the first person I thought of

keep up the good work, hope i see u soon

When he got home Bucky was already there, returned from whatever warm bed he spent the night at, looking way too pleased with himself for the dark rings he had around his eyes. They ate in silence, both too starved to waste time chatting. As they were clearing out the containers Bucky spoke up.

“Hey, you doing anything tonight?”

“Not socially speaking, I was gonna swing by the theater to keep working in a bit, I’m almost done with the panels. Probably work on those brochures and logos I got to finish for next week later. Why?” He asked.

“I thought we could organize something, live a little. It's Saturday night, we are young.” He bumped shoulders with Steve, “or at least some of us are, when we aren't wearing khakis and boat shoes.”

“Aw c’mon! It was one photoshoot!” Steve groaned, “It wasn't even that bad! Just… pretentious.”

It had indeed been pretentious, shot in a yacht and everything. The clothes had been that particular brand between mind-numbingly bland and slightly classy that only four digit price tag could pull off. The shoes alone had been worth more than Steve’s whole wardrobe.

“Yeah, you're right, that wasn't even close to the worst one,” he grinned, Steve knew what followed. “That honor is still reserved for Captain America.”

“Oh god, I’m never going to live that down.”

“No, you’re not, and I’ll make sure of it, that’s why we have The Assbum.”

Steve and Bucky had been friends since Kindergarten, went through everything together, the good, the bad, but most importantly, the vein-chilling embarrassingly ugly. Then, because they were little shits to one another, they had The Assbum: a collection of the cringiest, most disgraceful and undignifying photos of their lives. It went from pictures of them as toddlers covered in mud (Bucky) or running naked in Central Park (Steve) that their mothers had taken, through acne-filled bathroom selfies (both) and blurry college party pics of them wasted (also both).

When Steve started as a model, a couple years after finishing college, he knew he might have to make some entries to The Assbum as part of the job. Boy had he been right . In the last three years his section had grown quite a bit and the Captain America photoshoot was the star (and the stripe).

Made to be some sort of reinvention of the old Uncle Sam posters, the directors had put him in stars and stripes boxing shorts, with a flag as a cape, a Mexican wrestler style cowl (Steve supposed that that was meant to be some convert statement about immigration and the American dream. But then again, maybe they shouldn't have picked the Irish-est dude on earth to model it if it was). He had had to pose for a whole day, bare chested in the middle of December in a studio that didn’t have central heating. They had also dumped a whole bucket of glitter on him (red and blue, of course). Steve had found that shit everywhere for months.

As expected, the resulting photos had been unusable, getting the directors to pay him had been like pulling teeth. It marked the last time Steve modeled freelance for strangers. After he came home and told Bucky about it, he had been thrilled that the photos wouldn’t go into printing. Even if he had been paid only half of the original sum, no money in the world was worth that loss of dignity. Still, somehow, someway, Steve wasn't one hundred percent sure that extortion hadn't been involved. A week later, Bucky had arrived home, a Cheshire cat grin on his face and an envelope in his hand.

The Captain America photos had become a cherished addition to The Assbum. And Bucky’s contact photo for Steve every time he called him.

“Anyway, tonight? Wanna do anything?” Bucky kept on, “you could invite some of the guys from the agency. I’d tell some people from work, get the hot populars and the awkward nerds together. I’d be super cringy, exactly like high school.”

“Buck, you know it’s not like that,” God knew Steve hadn’t been considered anything remotely hot, much less popular throughout high school. “And what’s gotten into you? You don’t usually want to meet up with them.”

“I don’t know, I just want to drink, and Steve, I love you, but drinking the two of us alone is a bit depressing. Besides there’s no way I’m going to a bar alone for it, I’m not a fifty-something divorcé.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll see who’s free, we can go to Asgard.”

. . .

By the time 9 pm rolled around, Steve would have rather been going to bed than going out. He was so tired, however, he had promised his friends he’d be there, Bucky was particularly excited to go out, there was no arguing it. When they got to Asgard, Thor was already there, chatting with the bodyguard, Heim, not surprising given it was his family’s bar.

Thor was a huge Australian blonde, intimidating to look at, but an all-around great guy when you weren’t causing trouble. His parents had been some type of Nordic-obsessed hippies in the 80’s and had named him, his adoptive brother Loki and the family business, after ancient myths. Thor would bartend every once in awhile, filling in when it was needed. Though he was mostly dedicated to modeling. He had signed in around the same time as Steve and they had become fast friends.

After the greetings, they got inside, grabbed some beers and waited at a table while everyone trickled in. The first one to arrive was Hope Van Dyne, one of Bucky’s coworkers that Steve hadn’t met in person until then. She was a dark-haired woman, a bit older than them, with a no-nonsense aura that made her seem cold at first, she had ended up being quite snarky and funny once she got comfortable.

Next was Bruce Banner, a quiet, shy scientist Steve had met once before on one of Bucky’s birthdays. He didn't say much, mostly stuck to listening in, adding the odd commentary. A nice guy, if a bit awkward. He had seemed utterly relieved to see Hope already there when he arrived and had stuck to her side the whole night, taking refuge in the familiar.

Wanda, Pietro, Nat, and Clint arrived together, as they did most times. Those four functioned more or less as a unit, glued together by some shared past that Steve wasn't completely privy to. He only knew it had to do with the previous model agency Wanda, Nat and Pietro had been part of, The Red Room. He didn’t know how Nat and Clint had met, nor what had led to the two of them adopting the Sokovian twins as friends/protégées, but he wasn’t going to pry.

Peter was the last to get there. Steve had invited him on a whim. He liked the kid and figured it wouldn’t hurt to have someone else that also had a bit to celebrate that night. He had texted him to bring a friend if he felt like it, which he had, a fellow photographer who people called Vision, apparently.

“Hey, you want another beer?” Bucky asked, “I’m gonna get a round.”

“Nah, thanks, I’m good for tonight.”

“Aww, what’s up Steve? What secret do you have that you don’t want drunk Steve spilling?” Natasha, who was sitting next to Bucky and had heard the exchange, had her trademark knowing smirk as she leaned in over the table.

“No secrets, I promise,” Steve said with a smile. Everyone knew that Steve was loquacious when drunk. He spilled not only every thought that crossed his mind, but every single secret he knew. It had led to some spoiled surprise parties in the past. He now knew it was better not to get drunk or to only do it when he had nothing to spill on the first place. “Just don’t want a hangover tomorrow.”

“Mm… if you say so.”

“Anyone else want anything?” A few hands got raised at that and orders were asked.

“I’ll go with you, help with the drinks,” Natasha got up from her seat and walked over to the bar alongside Bucky. Steve watched them go with a slight frown, that was a bit unusual. Nat was known for being timeserving when it came to getting stuff, always waiting for someone to get up, then casually asking them to do it for her with a pretty please. It was one of the reasons they called her a spider sometimes. Once she was comfortable, she merely waited, patiently, for the right opportunity to come to her.

He was jostled out of his thoughts with a slight pat on his shoulder, he turned around in his chair to see Sam. A smile parted his lips.

“Hey Steve.”

“Sam! Hey! How you doing? It’s been a while.”

“I’m great, same old, same old, you?” Steve got up and hugged him, patting his back before pulling away.

“I’m good, here with some friends, you?”

“I came with Riley,” he gestured with his head and indeed Steve could see Sam’s fiancé sitting in a booth with a beer; he raised it in greeting. Steve didn’t hate Riley, not even close, then again, things weren’t exactly warm between them either, Sam had, in a way, left Steve for him three years ago.

Steve and Sam had been dating for a couple months when Sam had gotten deployed to Afghanistan as a pararescue. It wasn’t his first deployment and they had really thought they could make it work, keep in touch through phone calls, get together when Sam was on leave. It had taken them less than a month to realize it wouldn't be so simple. Steve got worried sick over Sam, fighting a war he couldn’t get news about. College, taking care of Sarah, working a part time job, it was all harder with the extra worry of being away from his boyfriend. Every time his phone rang he wondered for a second before picking up if it’d be Sam’s mother, finally calling him to tell him Sam had died in the desert.

Instead he got a call from the hospital, telling him his mother had passed away.

He never blamed Sam for not being there; Sarah had been battling cancer for years. While it hadn’t been sudden, it had still been devastating. He knew Sam would never forgive himself for being an ocean away when it happened. It wasn’t healthy and through their phone calls, it had become increasingly obvious a relationship like that couldn’t prosper. There was too much guilt and worry between them.

Sam had gotten back on leave a few months later and they had met up, paid one last goodbye to their relationship before officially calling it quits.

They had distanced themselves at first, each went on their way to nurse their broken hearts in their own way. Time had brought them closer, after meeting by chance and exchanging contact information out of nostalgia. They slowly regained the companionship and friendship aspects of their relationship. They were friends now, maybe not the closest type, just close enough to know they could count on one another.

A couple years after they split, Sam retired from the force and went to work at the local VA to save lives in new ways. There he had met Riley, a veteran who had also been a pararescue. Flash forward five years and they were engaged. Sam had proposed on New Year’s a couple of months ago, Steve was even invited to the wedding in December.

“Bucky is here too, getting drinks right now, if you wanna say hi,” Steve gestured to the bar. Bucky and Nat hadn’t gotten back yet.

“Nah, send him my regards, that’s all. We were thinking of calling a night anyways, I just saw you there and thought I’d come say hi.”

“Yeah, yeah, I will. It was great to see you, can’t wait for December to roll around.”

“You’re telling me, I’m gonna marry him so hard.” Sam beamed, eyes shining and Steve felt a pang in his stomach.

He wasn’t jealous of Riley, his feelings for Sam had long since faded. He’d meant what he’d said, he was happy for them. What he missed was that feeling. That excitement from knowing there was someone out there that wanted to spend the rest of their life next to you. It’d been years since he’d felt that for anyone.

“Bye Steve, see you around.”

“Bye Sam,” Steve shook himself of his funk, trying to get back to his previous good mood.

Sam walked back to his booth and Steve took a seat again. Wanda had struck up a conversation with Peter’s friend, Pietro was trying to teach Clint some slight of hand trick that resulted in a knocked glass and a flying ice cube. Steve leaned back on his chair, already feeling the corners of his mouth lift up; he was glad he had obliged Bucky in coming out tonight.

 

Chapter Text

 

Sometimes Peggy was awed by her own achievements. Not that she normally thought little of herself; on the contrary, she considered herself to be quite acquainted with her value. Yet, there were some times when she found it hard to believe that all the pieces, including the ones that were out of her control, had fallen into place. Less than a fortnight after the production meeting she had the photoshoot sorted.

Roger Dooley hadn't been of any help when it came to the bus prop, unsurprisingly, but Tony had. Some reality show Stark Industries had produced had made a fake bus, for some reason, and she could rent it without much fuss. She had even snuck in a promise to meet for tea with him and Pepper while she was at it. It had been too long since they had last met.

The wardrobe was chosen, the usual stylists hired, the studio set, the model agency booked, and most importantly, the snack table was ready.

That was a non-negotiable clause on her work. Whatever it was that she was shooting, Peggy made sure that there was some form of snacks for everybody. Photoshoots were long, tedious affairs and she needed to keep her blood sugar from going low. Bringing snacks only for herself never sat right with her, it seemed unnecessary snobbish. So she always included food on her budgets, and, besides, most of the models she worked with could use some extra calories.

As the editor of the shoot she had to be there early, surveying that everything was done to her liking. She made sure no disasters occurred before they could even start. When she got word that one of the models had arrived, she told the crew to send them to get ready, glad that they could finally start a bit early with something.

She was eating a chocolate mint as she waited for the light equipment to be set. Her attention was on calculating the angles plus the way she’d need to position the models, so she didn’t notice someone was close until they cleared their throat. She turned around and came face to face with a beautiful blonde man.

“Hi,” he put out his hand in greeting. Peggy discarded the wrapper before shaking it lightly, unable to answer properly while she chewed, her other hand covering her mouth. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize you were eating. I’m Steve Rogers, it’s nice to meet you.”

God, since when does a chocolate mint require this much chewing.

When she finally swallowed  the bloody thing, Steve was still standing in front of her, hands in his pockets and a slight smile on his lips.

“Hello, I’m sorry about that, bloody things are chewier than I remembered. I’m Peggy, and the pleasure is all mine I assure you.” That got her a blush for some reason and oh, but wasn't this already beautiful man down right eatable with a slight blush on his cheeks. She didn’t need his name to connect him to the Avengers comp card she had picked him from. Nevertheless, the man in front of her was miles away from the bored model in that handful of photos printed on cardboard.

Peggy was used to seeing beautiful people, it was part of her job: hiring beautiful people, then making them look even more striking. And this time, she’d excelled. The dark blue sweater with the matching tie did wonders for Steve’s blue eyes while the checkered shirt stopped the outfit from being too boring. Most surprising, though, was that the black suit pants she had picked fit him perfectly; she had been convinced the waist measurements were wrong. She had even brought a bigger, dark grey pair as a fallback. No normal human had that shoulder to waist ratio. Except Steve Rogers did, apparently. Not that he seemed anything remotely close to normal or average.

Woah there miss, what has gotten into you? He’s just a model, you have worked with tons of them before. Maybe none as beautiful as this one, but still, get it together.

“Do you want a chocolate mint? I’m gonna have another.” Peggy really needed to stop talking, and thinking. And get something to do with her hands, before she gave in to the impulse to touch one of his pectorals ( see if they were as solid as they looked). She took the bowl and extended it towards him.

“Sure, thanks,” he took a candy and popped it in his mouth. Peggy unwrapped hers but bit only half of it this time. “I haven’t seen you before. You’re not from around here, are you?”

Peggy couldn’t help a small smile, she understood what he meant, but it was too good an opportunity to pass by.

“I, most certainly, am not,” she said, exaggerating her accent, and bit into the other half of the mint. Maybe if her mouth was full no errant thoughts would escape it.

“I mean, obviously, you’re not from around here, I can see- hear, that,” Steve was blushing again, even more so than before; it reached all the way to his throat and disappeared under the shirt collar. He was getting more flustered with every word that came out of his mouth, Peggy fought to keep the corners of her mouth from lifting and giving her away. “What I meant is, that I haven’t seen you in any photoshoot. I know cause I’d remember you. Beautiful woman like yourself, you’d be hard to forget…”

She almost choked on the mint.

“What?” So much for not talking with her mouth full, she just couldn’t help it. Peggy had been called beautiful a lot of times in her life, by her family, by lovers, even by strangers. Yet, she couldn’t recall any time in which her stomach had flipped quite as violently at the words as it had right then.

Steve had seemed to finally get his mouth under control and was now looking at her like a deer on headlights, face one shade away from a tomato. Luckily, they were both saved from further embarrassment when a shout rang across the studio.

“Hey! We’re done over here!” It came from one of the lighting crew, and it snapped her from her dumbfounded state.

“Us too!” The door to the dressing room was open and the stylists, along with the other two models, were coming out.

She took a moment to assess them, forcing her mind to focus on her work. She checked that she had gotten the colors, sizes, and patterns right as she finished swallowing her second chocolate mint. The stylists would have told her if something was wrong but it never hurt to take one last look.

“Okay, great! Then let’s get started, shall we?” With a clap of her hands, she marched towards the photographer. It was time to get to work, and to try to forget all about beautiful blond men who apparently thought she was beautiful.


 

Steve was pretty sure he was still in shock. On the outside, he was posing, had been for the fifty minutes. He was taking directions like a champ, aware of his angles, trying not to drop any of the various phones, iPads, and laptops that, for some reason, he had to hold.

And all the while some small part of his brain was chanting a non-stop litany of fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfucfuckfuckfuck.

Because Steve was a dumbass, not even two weeks after he had fucked up big time and gotten an ultimatum, there he was, flirting with his employer. Sure, he hadn't known Peggy was his employer. He had assumed she was the other model. He knew the agency had sent three of them: himself, Natasha and someone else. Thus, he’d seen her on profile next to that table, red lips lightly pursed and thought he should at least go say hi. He never liked working shoots without at least getting the name of the person he was going to spend hours in close proximity.

Then she’d turned around, and if he’d thought her attractive from the side, he hadn’t been prepared to see her face to face. No one had the right to look that good in office clothes, even if they were a figure-hugging dark blue dress with soft pink details. He’d managed to introduce himself somewhat coolly; he had had to deal with enough beautiful people as part of his job to be able to do that. But then she had spoken, and she had an accent, even worse, she had an English accent. Steve was head over heels attracted to foreign accents, English one most of all.

It had been a train wreck from then on, he had meant to strike up a conversation. Maybe flirt a little, or at least attempt to. Except, his mouth to brain filter had suddenly vanished. He’d called her beautiful after two seconds of knowing her, like some creepy sleazeball. Then it turned out Peggy was his boss. Not his co-worker. Flirting with the editor on the first assignment he got.Steve could already see Fury’s disappointed look.

“Okay, I think we’ve gotten all I want from these outfits. Let’s get on with the next ones. Everyone take thirty!” Peggy called out.

The crew dispersed almost instantly. Steve held out a steadying hand for Natasha and Carol as they got down from the ridiculous bus-shaped prop.

Who even came up with these ideas? A city bus? Seriously? Steve shook his head in bewilderment, If it was Peggy maybe it was for the better that we got interrupted.

All three of them got back to the dressing rooms, Steve, maybe, a bit faster than the women. They had three more outfits each for this shoot; the day couldn’t end fast enough.

They were done with wardrobe in ten minutes, only a few retouches in hair and makeup needed. Fifteen minutes. Steve had never dreaded a break between shoots before, it was as novel a feeling as it was unwelcome.

You’re overthinking it. Stop. Take a deep breath, go over the facts: you saw her, you said hi, immediately made a complete ass of yourself, then got to work. He winced inwardly, she could let it slide, just never work again with this magazine. He’d try to stay hopeful.

“C’mon Steve, let’s go. I want to hit the snack table before we start again.” Natasha herded him to the door.

“Yeah, me too. Those are rare.” Steve hadn’t met Carol before, but he already liked her. She was good at her job and seemed friendly. He knew that despite the weird set and plentiful props, the photos were gonna be amazing.

He’d have to get the magazine; Bucky’s mum loved to see the shoots. All so she could brag to her book club about ‘how well both of her sons were doing, working at Stark Industries and appearing in high fashion magazines’.

In the end, Steve didn’t talk to Peggy on that break. As soon as he came out of the dressing room her phone rang and she went out to answer it. She came back twenty minutes later as everyone was slowly drifting towards their workstations again.

The second leg went on smoothly. Everyone already knew what their role was, plus Peggy was a great director, capable of getting her point across clearly with barely a few words. It was obvious she had worked with some of the crew before and that they understood each other perfectly.

The next wardrobe change and break she spent it drinking a cup of tea and scrolling through her phone, not that Steve kept stealing glances or anything. When it was done, she took a seat in front of the computer, looking at the photos as they came and barely commented or made corrections, mostly to the lighting crew.

It was on the last leg that she spoke up again.

“Steve, Natasha, switch places, please.” Steve startled a bit, he had forgotten Peggy was there, obscured by the lights as she was. Now she was standing next to the photographer, looking at them. “And Carol could you move a tad further? The light is hitting you too hard.” They complied and she smiled, “that's great, now get closer, I want to get some shots of the three of you like you’re watching something together. Steve, maybe take off the jacket, drape it over your shoulder. I want the shirt to be visible front and center of your outfit. Lose a couple gadgets, too.”

They held that concept for about twenty minutes, alternating their roles before Peggy called it a wrap.

“Alright! That’s it! Great work everyone! You know the drill, let’s pack up.”

After getting changed, Steve came out to the studio to help with the equipment. There weren't that many awkward tripods and heavy crates this time around, nevertheless, he knew from experience that an extra hand was always appreciated in this part of the process. He asked after the gigantic bus prop but apparently, that was gonna be taken care by a special crew from the loaners.

As soon as he was done, he turned tail and bolted. Steve wasn’t one to run away from things. He tried to take life head-on, with attitude. Some guy being a douche? No problem. A challenge issued? Just tell him where and when to show up. A beautiful, intimidating woman he had embarrassed himself in front of? Well… maybe not so much.

Chapter Text

A week later Peggy got the final edit of the photos. They looked good, while Steve faded a little into the background in his dark clothing, Carol and Natasha popped out in bold patterns and bright colors. The bus had been complicated to work around, it stole a lot of the attention; the phones and tablets didn’t help either. She was glad the three of the models had understood her idea. She had more than a few photos to work with.

Peggy was quite pleased with the three of them as a working group, they followed directions perfectly and they clearly knew what they were doing. They had been really polite and accommodating, no huge egos to manage. Steve had even helped with the packing after he was done with his part. Peggy had seen him while she went over the details with the photographer, but when she had been done and looked around for him, he had been nowhere to be found. He must have left at some point when she wasn’t paying attention.

She flipped through the whole stack absentmindedly, the photos were great, exactly what she had pictured, except... there was something bugging her. It took her a while before she realized what it was, because it wasn't something on them, but rather the opposite, something that was missing .

Steve.

Oh, he was in the pictures, of course, in all of them... but not really. She hadn't noticed when they were shooting, she had been too focused on each individual photo, but now she could see a pattern. He was always on the back, behind the women, or slightly off the side of the center of attention. Never looking straight at the camera. Never far or displaced enough to mess with the composition in a way that would be evident, just… off. It was like he was saying he didn't want to be there with his body, but subtly. Like he didn't want to be seen, or wasn't used to being seen in the first place.

It was incongruous, a two-meters tall man hunching to seem smaller. As if he wasn’t aware of the space he occupied.

It wouldn’t be obvious in the magazine, not with the small number of photos they would print. Yet Peggy could see it. It gave her a weird itch on her skin. She wanted to grab the Steve from the photo and pull. Get him front and center of the photo. Show the world the glimpse she had seen on that too-brief conversation between chocolate mints.

There was more to Steve Rogers that met the lenses, and Peggy Carter wanted to know exactly what.


 

Steve got a copy of Sakaar magazine as soon as it hit the stands. He got a weird look from the lady at the checkout, a six-foot guy buying a fashion magazine. He gave her a pleasant smile and refused the plastic bag she offered him. When he got home, he found that Bucky was out again, which had been happening more and more frequently lately. He had even asked Steve if he could clear out the apartment a couple times that month. Steve had, but not before setting the record that Bucky owed him dinner for it.

He took a seat on the couch, opened the magazine, and started flipping through it. He only got two pages in before he was frowning in confusion. It was… odd . Steve didn't know much about the fashion world in general, mostly he stuck to what he was hired to do, and ignored the rest. Still, even he knew there shouldn't be that many fake flamingos, fireworks and weird body paint. A couple more pages in, he found himself enjoying it anyways.

From his graphic designer point of view, the spreads were pretty impressive. A balanced mix between cluttered yet readable, bright and bold enough to catch the eye, but not overly saturating. The text was on the minimal side, mostly delineating the trends, letting the photos do the real talking.

He startled when he turned the page and finally found what he was looking for. Seeing himself printed on glossy magazine paper always freaked him out, gave him a feeling akin to déjà vu. He knew, objectively, that he was looking at himself. Yet, he could never feel that that person in the paper was himself, was Steve Rogers, the little guy from Brooklyn. He couldn't quite put his finger on what was so wrong, so different, that his brain had to take a second to realize that it was himself it was looking at. He chalked it up to photoshop or editing, maybe that he simply wasn't used to seeing himself from those angles or in the clothes he usually had to wear for shoots.

They had filled in some of the bus digitally, given more depth to the background, probably amped the saturation, too. Natasha’s hair was a flame, Carol’s and his blond locks not that far behind. The clothes looked great as well, had actually been great. Steve actually felt comfortable in them, like he could truly wear them to a normal nine-to-five job. That didn't happen often. Whoever had picked them had a good eye for comfort besides style.

The photoshoot he had been in had apparently been called ‘Set your sights’. It was a bad pun, sure, but it didn’t not work. He finished reading the magazine and got back to the first pages to look for the credits, which were divided by sections. He told himself he wanted to know who had picked the clothes (bullshit), except under his photoshoot it only said:

‘Models: Avengers Model Agency

Props: Stark Industries

Studio: Baxxer Building S.A.’

Dropping the pretense, Steve started searching. He kept going up, dread coiling in his stomach when he kept climbing the hierarchy and still didn’t come across a ‘Peggy’. He started back down again, she had to be somewhere there, he must have missed her. The Editor-in-chief was some guy with an unpronounceable name. The Editor a woman named Topaz Mhelt. There were three Associate Editors: a guy named Jacques Dernier, a woman called Margaret E. Carter and another guy, Gabe Jones.

Steve paused. Margaret. Aren’t Margarets called Peggy? He grabbed his phone and googled it to be sure. Indeed, they were.

Then, not only had Steve made a pass to his employer unknowingly, but that employer had been no less than third in the chain of command. So much for her being a lowly coordinator. Steve could have been so screwed.

That said, fuck it if he wasn’t dying to know what could have happened if they hadn’t been interrupted.

Chapter Text

 

The May issue came and went by in a flurry of unconnected, haphazard tasks. Peggy hadn't gotten a photoshoot assignment, but instead more of a coordinating role regarding the printing aspects, so her work was all over the place. For example, The Grandmaster had decided that a transparent paper layout was an amazing idea for some reason, and someone had had to make it happen. ‘Someone’ being Peggy.

While she liked the flexibility of her job, it often became overwhelming. Having to perform different tasks kept her from getting bored and kept her life from becoming monotonous or meaningless, sure, but it also prevented her from forming a solid routine. She ended up focusing only on the closest deadline in the next task, never anything long-term. Truth was, Peggy needed a purpose in her life, a clear short-term goal. If that meant finding a printable transparent paper or arranging a small platoon of production staff for a photoshoot, it didn't matter to her. At least for now.

She’d gone into the June issue production meeting hopeful. Foolishly thinking that maybe this time she would be assigned something simple. She should have known better. When she came out of the conference room she needed to find two models who were willing to be painted head to toe in white paint.

'Rock solid love’ was a pitch to sell accessories, a new line of rock and crystal jewelry. Looking on the bright side, at least this time she wouldn't have to waste any time on wardrobe. That time she’d save, would probably be spent on picking the shooting locations, she got the feeling those were going to be an ordeal.

Peggy reckoned she could be set with about four models, two ‘statues’ and two ‘artists’. Two women, two men, paint the two women as statues, dress the remaining two men as glorified renascence artist in love with their works.

She cursed fiercely whichever reinterpretation of the myth of Pygmalion The Grandmaster had watched that month. There was no way this idea had come from anything else.

. . .

When she arrived at her apartment that day Angie was waiting for her in the hallway.

“Oh, hi, Angie. Have you been waiting long?”

“Nah, just a bit.”

“I didn't forget anything, did I? This is spontaneous?” Peggy racked her brain; she was 90% sure they hadn't arranged to meet. She opened her door, dropped her purse and keys on the small table right next to it.

Angie came in right after her and closed it, completely at ease in her friend's home. “Oh no, no. I was close by and thought I’d drop by. A woman let me in, I think she might be French?”

“Yes, that'd be Elektra. I think she's some consul or diplomat’s daughter, I remember seeing a car with French plates up front a couple times.”

Angie was positively buzzing with excitement, unable to stay on her feet, alternating her weight every few seconds. Peggy eyed her with a barely concealed smile.

“Just dropped by, uhm? Completely spontaneously?”

“Okay, I lied, I planned it!” Angie confessed, grinning and not a bit sorry. Peggy barked out a laugh.

“You're so transparent.”

“Well, not all of us can be English super spies, okay? I take pride in my transparency,” Angie said, not taking offense. “And anyway, I have something to give you.”

She took an envelope from the back pocket of her jeans and handed it to Peggy. It was made of brown paper, not too big, it was actually the perfect size for…

“The tickets!” Peggy looked up from them, surprised. “You’re already handing them out?”

“Yep. Early releases. It gives people time to swing by the theater to get them or have them delivered.” Even though the cat was out of the bag Angie was still buzzing, a huge grin on her face as she looked at her friend.

“Oh, darling, I'm so happy for you! It's going to be brilliant!” She gave her a hug, also smiling like a loon; her energy was contagious.

“Well, I sure hope! There's still so much to do, rehearsals practically every day, the scenography has to be set up to be sure there aren't any mistakes or malfunctions.” She started to get agitated, gesticulating wildly. Her excited energy morphed into anxiety. “There's also the sound, and lighting, and all that equipment, and the actors, and the wardrobe and…”

“Hey,” Peggy interrupted her, “it's all gonna be alright. You're gonna be amazing, everything will go exactly as planned” She gripped her hands between hers, held them tightly in her grip and made sure to kept her voice even. “You listen to me, everything will be just perfect.”

Angie took a deep breath, and another, slowly coming down from her agitation. She gave Peggy a shaky smile.

“I’m sorry, I get a bit overwhelmed by it all.”

“Nothing to be sorry for. I know exactly what you need at a time like this.” At Angie's inquisitive look Peggy gave her a mock-stern frown, “you need to relax. I say this calls for a movie night and my special Shepherd's pie. We can go get the groceries right now.”

“Plus ice-cream?” Angie asked in a hopeful tone.

“Don’t be daft, Angie, of course, we’re getting ice-cream.

Peggy wasn't a particular fan of cooking. She could do it, had even invested quite some time into learning it when she was engaged to Fred. But it was nothing close to a passion. Her times pretending it was, were over, a lifetime and an ocean away.

However, living alone meant it was inescapable. She could only survive so long with foreign take away before she started missing real homemade food. She saved the most significant recipes for special occasions, such as this one.

Angie wasn't particularly fond of English food as a concept. She’d take a burger with fries over fish and chips any day, but she loved it when Peggy cooked it. She said it was because it was “authentic”. Peggy thought that was pure bullshit; the recipe was just good.

They got the ice-cream, and a bottle of wine too while they were at it, before coming back to the apartment.

“How was your day? You had the monthly meeting today, right? Any crazy photoshoots on the menu?”

“I’m afraid so. The Grandmaster got too excited about the idea that the new jewelry is made of rocks. Wants me to put some models in head to toe white paint, pretend they’re statues.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me! That’s crazy, English.” Angie turned from where she was peeling the potatoes, “that man is absolutely nuts. How does he even get those ideas?”

“I haven’t the faintest.” She tried a bit of the meat filling, it needed a pinch of salt. “I’m still not decided if I’m glad he’s making me go simple with painted models who can move, or exasperated that he can’t content himself with an actual statue and make my job easier.”

“I don’t think ‘easy’ or ‘simple’ are words he has in his vocabulary.”

“You’re right about that.”


 

“Hey Buck, I just remembered, you free June 12th? It’s a Saturday,” Steve asked, looking up from his phone. They were in the kitchen, lazing around on a Sunday afternoon, both propped against the counters as they waited for the coffee to brew.

“I don’t know. That’s a bit far away but I should be, yeah. Why?”

“The play I’ve been working at premieres. The director gave me two tickets, thought you might wanna come with me. I told Sam too but I don’t think he’ll make it.”

“Don’t you have anyone more interesting to take?” Bucky raised his hands at whatever he saw in Steve’s expression, “not that I’m complaining. I like seeing your work, and I know I’m wonderful company.” He grinned, cocky. Steve merely rolled his eyes. “I don’t know, pal. It’s the kind of stuff that’d make a great date, seems a shame to let it go to waste.”

“Bucky, you don’t ask someone on a date only because you happen to have a date-like event.” Bucky opened his mouth to add something but Steve interrupted him, “and besides, no, there isn’t anyone I’m interested in right now.”

“I’m just saying, Stevie. You haven’t dated anyone since Sam. And it most definitely wasn’t due to a lack of people trying.” His tone was soft, it was a bit of a sore subject.

“It’s just that in the past few years it didn’t seem to matter that much. I figured I’d wait.” Steve shrugged.

“Yeah, I know. But wait for what?”

“The right partner. I want to find someone I really like. Someone I can see myself growing old with. I don’t want to date just for the sake of dating.”

“Alright, Stevie, alright.” Bucky conceded. He grabbed his shoulder, jostled him like he used to do when they were younger and Steve was a scrawny little thing.

“I’m waiting for the right partner, that’s all. I’ll know it when I meet them.”

If an unbidden image of a certain British woman in a dark blue dress suddenly came to his mind, that was no one’s business but Steve’s.

. . .

The following Wednesday his phone buzzed with a text from Maria as he was finishing up designing some business cards for a surgeon with the strangest name.

Maria 03:34 pm

I've got a possible shoot for you

You’ve worked with the magazine before

i dont have the details with me right now but it was something like Skara

Steve’s stomach did a flip. That was Margaret (Peggy?) Carter’s magazine. He had told himself he wouldn’t work with them again; he felt mortified just thinking of facing her again.

You 03:35 pm

Count me out

Maria 03:35 pm

i havent even told you what it’s about

You 03:35 pm

Okay fine, tell me what is it about

Maria 03:36 pm

There’s body paint involved, not for you tho

and you’d go with Thompson

Oh . Both of those things were deal breakers for Steve. He hated body paint. What’s more, he and Thompson had worked together before and it had been a pain in the ass.

Maria 03:37 pm

I’m kind of begging here

Thompson’s horrible at teamwork, you’re the only person i can think of that’d keep him under control

I know Fury put you on probation, i need you to be honest with me abt being able to keep out of trouble

but please

He took a moment to consider it. On one hand, he hated body paint jobs, he didn't really tolerate Thompson, and, Peggy might be there.

On the other hand, Peggy might be there.

The prospect of seeing her again both filled him with excitement as well as panic. The end result was a turmoil in his stomach that left him wanting to throw up.

And yet, she had been great to work with; the photos had been amazing, despite the ridiculous prompt. It'd be stupid to refuse work for a bit of shame, right? Maybe she’d forgotten all about him and the embarrassing mess he’d made of himself. Maybe he’d simply get to have a nice, professional, normal shoot, nothing less, nothing more. He’d get to keep the sliver of dignity he had left after three years of modeling, work a few hours, get paid and get out. Besides, she wasn’t even the only Associate Editor, there was a big chance she wasn’t even going to be the one taking care of this shoot.

Also, Maria hardly ever said ‘please’. That settled it.

You 03:39 pm

OK

count me in

Chapter Text

The shoot was at the New York Botanical Garden. Since Steve hadn’t been there in ages, he had to look up how to commute there and had ended up miscalculating pretty badly. He arrived there a whole half hour early.

Spring was in full bloom, the air was fragrant with the smell of flowers. Everywhere he looked there were flush trees and sunshine-filled walkways. He was quite impressed the magazine had snagged a shoot here, it couldn't be an easy place to book with little notice. He took a deep breath and started walking around the place, making his way to where the shoot was going to take place. It was an astonishing view and he planned on making the most of it. The flowers were beautiful, delicate yet so complex, hanging in colorful cascades from the bushes and branches. It made him itch for a sketchbook.

“Took a moment to stop and smell the flowers?”

Steve turned around at the question, asked with a beautiful English accent, to find Peggy a few paces behind him. She was wearing a white shirt with green slacks, a pair of sunglasses covered her eyes.

“Well, there weren’t any roses around, I had to make do.” She seemed amused at that, dark red lips stretching into a smile; he mirrored her unconsciously. “Hi, Peggy, how you doing?”

DON’T FUCK THIS UP, his brain screamed.

“Hello Steve. I’m good, enjoying the scenery. It’s a vast improvement from the studios I usually work in,” she took off her sunglasses, squinting at the sudden brightness.

“Yeah, it’s lovely. I haven’t been here since middle school, I didn’t get see much then, it’s a lot prettier than I remembered.” He looked around, taking in the view. He was amazed he was managing to keep it together. It seemed Peggy wasn’t as mortified by his first impression as he had thought.

“Well, I guess middle schoolers wouldn’t find a trip to a botanical garden very entertaining,” she mused. Steve shook his head.

“Nah, it wasn’t that. I really wanted to visit, I just couldn’t.” A confused frown marred Peggy’s brows. “I used to have really bad asthma,” Steve clarified. “Honestly, I don’t know how they even let me come on the trip in the first place. The first flower I got too close to had me gasping like a fish out of water.”

“That’s a shame,” she said sincerely. Steve was glad she hadn’t said something pitying he hated being pitied.

“It doesn’t really matter. I get to see it now, don’t I?”

“I suppose you do, yes. Even if it’s for work.”

Steve shrugged, tucking his hands his jeans’ pockets, head bowed but looking up at her. He really should learn to keep his mouth shut. But then, he’d never been accused of being very cautious.

“I get to see a lot of beautiful stuff in my line of work, it only makes it more enjoyable,” he ventured.

This time it seemed Peggy was the speechless one. The air between them seemed to crackle as the seconds stretched on, charged with a lot more tension than the poorly disguised line warranted. Steve tried to keep the turmoil he felt inside off his face, but a nervous smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.

Peggy’s phone rang, bringing a shrill end to whatever it was that was happening. She took it out of her purse and answered the call, lightly clearing her throat before talking.

“Hello?... Yes... I’m here... good to know... I’ll be there in five minutes.” She hanged up and slid her phone in her back pocket. She raised her head as if she were to look at Steve, but seemed to change her mind at the last second and averted her eyes to the side. “We have to get going. The other models are here, everything is set up.”

Steve fought back his disappointment.

“Sure, lead on.”

They walked the short way to the location of the shoot in silence. Steve’s brain had, again, picked up the never-ending litany of ‘fucks’ that seemed to be the end credits to every interaction he had with Peggy. Except, this time even more doubts had started springing on his mind. Because Peggy had been nothing but professionally cordial, maybe slightly friendly to him, yet Steve had gone and called her beautiful, again . There wasn’t anything that indicated she was interested in him. All that tension could easily only be in his imagination. If she wasn’t, and took offense at his comments, which she was in all her right to, Steve was done for. Maria’s disappointed face flashed before his eyes.

The location was an open gazebo. One of those structures that are always in the middle of fancy gardens, that form a roundabout where all the paths converge. It was hexagonal in shape, big enough to fit all the necessary equipment and still leave some room for Steve and Carol to maneuver.

As they neared Peggy got intercepted by the photographer and Steve took a right to go to the tent that was going to serve as a dressing room. All he knew was that he wasn’t going to be painted from head to toe in white paint, and it turned out that his wardrobe consisted of a comfortable pair of stained brown pants and a flimsy renascence-like work shirt. He couldn’t be more glad. He did get covered in a light layer of fake tan to make him less pale, but that wasn’t bothersome, it’d wash away with a shower.

According to the makeup artist, there were going to be two shooting locations. The first one was the gazebo they were next to where Steve was going to be. Then the second one was by the side of the main building where Thompson and the other model were assigned.

Steve had been paired with Carol, who was wearing something like a white sheet as a dress and had all her exposed skin painted in thick white body paint. Even her hair had been caked in the stuff. A pair of earrings and a matching necklace shone against the plaster. She looked remarkably comfortable.

“I’m just glad it’s not nude or close enough,” she told Steve when he pointed it out. “Getting the stuff from my back-- and other parts-- is a nightmare. The hair is gonna a bitch to clean, though. But I’ve had worse. At least is not glitter.”

He couldn't help but laugh at that. “Yeah, glitter is the worse.”

“Okay, Carol, Steve, we’re ready for you.” Peggy led them to the gazebo as she explained the concept for the shoot: “the idea is that she’s a statue, obviously, and you’re the artist who made her. You’ve fallen in love with your masterpiece, maybe even gave her life. She, on the other hand, is quite indifferent to the situation.” She waited for them to nod in acknowledgment. “So, we’ll need you, Steve, to look reverent, eyes, hands, always on her. You’re taller than her, maybe kneel a bit so she’s higher than you. You, Carol, instead, should look into the distance, not pay attention to him at all. Is that understood?”

“Perfectly,” Carol was already positioning herself in the middle of the set. The sun was high, so it was shaded, there wouldn’t be any glare from reflecting on the body paint. Steve nodded and went to stand at her side.

“Brilliant, let’s get started.”


It was all going smoothly three-quarters of an hour in, Steve and Carol looked great together. Peggy was remarkably pleased with the results, she only had to call out small adjustments every now and then when the angle obscured the jewelry.

She had been extremely glad to see Steve on the pathway, looking at the flowers. She hadn’t known he’d been booked. Given the nature of the shoot, she had made a general call to whoever was willing to work with body paint. She had actually sent it to a few agencies and left an intern in charge of booking the models. It seemed Avengers had been the first to answer it. That Maria woman was something else.

When she saw him there, casual in jeans and a t-shirt, both clearly well-worn, she had been thrilled. If her stomach had felt like it was filled with butterflies, she wasn't saying.

When he had made that comment, with that look between lowered lashes, obviously meant to be taken more than literally, she had been both mesmerized and tongue-tied.

How did I not notice how blue his eyes are? Was the only articulate thought she managed to form. The natural light made them positively glow.

She had been about to answer with something along the same lines when her phone had rung. Roughly one hour later she was starting to doubt herself. It had been way too long since she felt anything close to interest in anyone, she wouldn’t, couldn’t rush into it.

But oh, how she wanted to know what would have happened if they hadn’t been interrupted.

She snapped back from her thoughts and looked up at him ever the screen to find him kneeling. His hands were one around Carol’s leg and the other on her waist, he was looking up at her with an imploring expression on his features. It really was coming along brilliantly. They were a good team, Steve was exquisitely expressive when he wanted to, and Carol was remarkably good at looking indifferent and powerful. There was only one thing she would change.

“Let’s take a small break. Ten minutes everybody. I want to do some adjustments. We could all use some water, too.” Peggy kept her eyes on the photos as everyone scattered towards the snack table and distractedly waved Steve and Carol over. Mind mulling over the improvements that could be made by changing lighting or angles.

“Steve, darling, take off your shirt,” Peggy said absentmindedly. She was thinking about how Steve’s tanned skin would make a great contrast with Carol's white, not really paying attention to what came out of her mouth (big mistake). It took her a second to notice the loaded silence that met her request. She took her eyes off the screen to give them a confused look.

Carol had an amused expression on her face as she stared at Steve. Steve, who was blushing furiously, again with that deer in headlights look.

Oh God, what have I done now?

Peggy went back on her words, she'd asked him to take off his shirt. Nothing else, right? Was that it? She walked over to them as she spoke again, worried she might have missed something.

“Only if you’re comfortable with that, of course. I think it’d look good as contrast.”

Steve seemed to shake off whatever had gotten into him, quite literally, given he actively shook his head before speaking.

“No, no, it's alright. I’m okay with that,” he took the garment by the lower hem, took a deep breath, and flicked it over his head.

Peggy had made a terrible mistake.

Steve just stood there, white shirt held in his hands and miles and miles of unmarred golden skin and perfect muscles on display. His blush reached all the way to his collar bones and Peggy followed its trail with her gaze, unable to look away. He was so close, how had he gotten so close? His pectorals were right in front of her face and before she knew it one of her hands was sneaking its way to touching them. Some rational part of her mind that was still working made her immediately draw her hand back, but even as she lowered it, her fingers tingled where they had come into contact with his skin. She tore her gaze away and looked up at his face, but that was worse. His lips were rosy, and his eyes stared back at her, framed by long lashes and pupils dilated.

The last two brain cells still working on Peggy’s brain provided the very helpful observation: he’d make an exquisite Greek good.

She swallowed hard. Her mouth was very dry all of a sudden.

Carol caughed. Loudly. They both startled and looked back at her and the smirk she gave them made it clear she’d done it on purpose.

“Okay, so… I’m gonna go have a snack, get something to drink, you guys keep doing…” She gestured to the air between Peggy and Steve, “whatever it was you were doing.”

“No, I'll-” Steve had to clear his throat before continuing, “I’ll go with you.”

“You sure?” Carol was not subtle looking between them.

“Yeah, yeah, I- I could use a drink.”

Steve all but ran out of the gazebo, shirt held tightly in his hands, leaving a very confused Peggy behind.

What was up with that man? By all accounts, he seemed interested, had even outright called her beautiful the first time they met and coyly implied it merely an hour ago. Their conversations were intense, the smallest comment left the air charged with tension. Yet, now he ran away, and it wasn’t like Peggy was going to jump his bones right then and there. She had, they both had, really, just gotten a bit lost in the moment.

If they ever managed to get through a complete conversation maybe she’d find out why.

Steve Rogers made Peggy feel something. Something she’d thought she had with Fred all those years ago, only to realize what she felt was the furthest thing from it. She wouldn’t lie, there was a lot of lust there, but it wasn’t purely that. She wanted to get to know him too, to know what kind of man he was, what made him laugh and what made him tick. On top of everything, firstly, though, she wanted to make him blush like that again.

Still, Peggy was not a silly teenager anymore, drunk in love and blind to her surroundings. She had learned from her mistakes, would do anything in her power not to commit them again. That meant not rushing. It meant getting to know the other person. It meant not giving her heart away to the first man that seemed somewhat decent.

Right now wasn't the time. There was work to do, photos to be taken, models to be directed. Steve was going to get fired, he just knew it.

It all had been going great, a very professional workday, (if you didn’t take into account their previous chat, which Steve didn’t because it technically hadn’t been while they worked ). It all had been going aces.

Then Peggy had asked him to take off his shirt . Which in itself wasn’t something terribly remarkable, it was for work, not pleasure, except...

She had called him darling when she did.

Everything had suddenly been very hot. His throat had closed up, and he knew he had blushed furiously. That without taking into account any southern regions.

Thank God he had been too stressed to get a boner.

Carol knew. She knew there was something there. She wouldn't stop giving him little smirks and smug looks. It was rather perturbing with all the white paint. Steve didn't know how to tell her that there really wasn't anything there to be smug about. No matter how much he hoped there was. He knew she wouldn’t rat him out, or go tell Fury about it, not with bad intentions, but she didn’t know the precarious place he had put himself in, either. All it would take was one little joke to anyone in the agency and he’d be done for.

“It really isn’t like that,” he said after the fifth consecutive smirk in the space of two minutes.

“Sure, it’s not,” came the sarcastic answer.

“Carol, I mean it. There isn’t anything.” Something in his tone made her realize he was serious, she looked at him for a moment, a slight frown on her forehead. “There can’t be anything.

“But you’d like it to be.” It wasn’t a question, Steve answered anyways, a self-deprecating smile on his face.

“It’s complicated.” He left it at that, he didn’t have the strength to explain his unregretted fuck up.

“Okay ladies and gents, break’s over. Let’s get back to work,” Peggy’s call came, cutting through the quiet chatter and their conversation. Carol gave him one last pensive look before walking back to the gazebo, Steve right behind her.

They got through the rest of their shoot without problems, mainly because when he was posing Steve didn’t have to look at Peggy, following her instructions by ear. They wrapped up relatively fast, they’d only had a couple more sets of jewelry to display.

Steve helped with the catering of tripods and crates as they moved everything for the next part of the shoot. Peggy did as well, taking care of an uncomfortable contraption that Steve couldn’t understand how she balanced with the heels she had on.

The second location was on the side of the building, obviously left for later when they’d get some shade on it. The set up was easier than the first one, it took less maneuvering than the gazebo probably did. In only an hour they were set to go.

Steve knew he could technically leave then. He didn’t have anything else to do, but Carol had arranged her ride back with her girlfriend later on the day. They’d both thought their part would take longer, and he’d agreed to keep her company. She couldn’t exactly take the subway, painted the way she was.

Thompson came out from the tent in the same outfit as Steve, a flimsy white shirt and a pair of brown breeches. The model he was going to work with, a girl Steve didn’t know, was caked in the same white paint as Carol. Peggy went over to them to explain the concept to them, but only the other model paid her any attention. Thompson, instead, looked around, rolling his eyes at what she was saying. It made Steve set his jaw.

Thompson and the female model whose name turned out to be Patricia, got into position. Immediately, Steve knew they were going to have problems. Thompson clearly hadn’t heard a word of what Peggy had said, or just didn’t care. He was looming over Patricia, hands caging her on both sides, nothing loving on his expression.

“I need you to take a more subdued position, Thompson. You’re supposed to be in awe of her.” Peggy’s tone only carried a deeply concealed hint of annoyance, though it was mostly no-nonsense.

“Yeah, sure,” Thompson’s, by contrast, was clearly annoyed.

They resumed the shoot, but Thompson didn’t really change anything. He simply hunched his shoulders a little. He didn’t even let Patricia pose on her own, forcing her up against the wall. She looked a lot more like a girl caged by a douchebag at a club than an apathetic stone statue.

“Thompson, you aren’t giving me what I asked for. My grandma has more life in her, God rest her soul.” Peggy was evidently annoyed then.

Thompson turned around at that, looking at her with an exasperated expression. Steve was already grinding his teeth.

“Whatever, Queen Victoria. Why don’t you just shut up and let me do my job, okay?”

Steve had had enough, he started stomping walking over to him, ready to give him a piece of his mind for talking to Peggy like that. He only got two steps before Thompson saw him and smirked.

“Oh sure, Rogers,” he drawled. “Come rescue the damsel in distress. Isn’t that your whole spiel? Better not step out of line though, heard you’re on thin ice.” That stopped Steve on his tracks, how did he know? Thompson saw it as an opening and continued, “oh yeah, that’s right. I know all about Fury’s ultimatum. You get a little too friendly, you better bet he’ll hear about it.”

Steve clenched his fists, body coiled in frustration as he tried to work out his options.

“Thompson,” Peggy’s tone was even, but the steel under it was unmistakable. “Remind me who hired you.”

The model turned, dragged his eyes from Steve to look at her with a wary frown. Peggy’s expression was expectant from where she was sitting on her chair.

“Go along, tell me.”

Thompson wasn’t a particularly brilliant guy, but even he could realize when he was being set up.

“... Sakaar magazine,” he said as he tried to keep up the bravado, squaring his shoulders.

“Exactly. Now, here on this shoot, and quite a number of other places if I’m being honest, I’m Sakaar magazine’s highest representative, and that means,” Peggy smiled tightly, “that as far as  you’re concerned, I’m your employer. And as my employee , your ‘job’ is to do as I tell you. Right now, that means following my directions.”

Thompson was visibly brimming with anger, trying to stare her down, she simply raised an eyebrow, unimpressed, as she kept on.

“As the highest-ranking person in this shoot, I can also fire you if I so please. It’d be such a shame, don’t you think, Jessica?” She turned towards the photographer, who shared with her a smirk. “ Such a shame that we couldn’t get a single photo with him. There’s nothing to amend for, financially speaking, if there is no work now, is there?”

“I’m afraid not. It’s such a shame, truly, ” any more acid in Jessica’s tone would have melted her tongue altogether.

“How is it going to be, Thompson?” Peggy hadn’t moved from her chair, speaking loudly enough for him, and everyone on the shoot, to hear.

Trapped by his ego and everyone’s eyes on him he let out a frustrated huff and turned towards Patricia.

“Whatever, Thatcher. Let’s get this over with.”

Peggy, unbothered by the last-ditch effort at provoking her, smiled a bit more and turned towards the screen.

“That’s what I thought… do please remember what I told you. I need Patricia to be the center, she’s the one with the jewelry. Everyone back to work now, show’s over.”

No one pretended to not have been staring at them with bated breath and they all busied themselves quickly at her words. Steve included, he took a few steps back, away from the work zone. He sighed, he was definitely staying till the end of the shoot, he had stuff he needed to talk about with Peggy.


The remainder of the shoot was like pulling teeth. The tension between Thompson and Peggy was palpable. She still got a few shots that were good enough to print but nothing fantastic. It hadn’t been nearly as productive as Steve and Carol’s take, it was just decent. It’d do.

And thinking of Steve, Peggy saw him coming towards her, weaving through the crates of equipment as they were being packed. She took a deep breath. She had known this was coming when she noticed he had stayed after he was done. It was time for the ‘you should have let me handle it, no need for you to get down on his level’ righteous speech. It was going to be terribly disappointing. She really liked him, but maybe he wasn’t the type of man she’d thought he was. Peggy had already had a man tell her constantly what she could or couldn’t do; not again.

“Peggy, can I talk to you for a second?” Hands in his pockets, he tilted his head towards one of the pathways. She nodded and started walking along.

Once they got a few meters away from everybody Steve cleared his throat, taking one hand out of his pocket to rub the back of his neck, clearly uncomfortable. Peggy geared up for the unavoidable disappointment.

“Peggy, I… I wanted to apologize,” he said.

That caught her off-guard.

“Apologize?”

“Well, yeah…” His tone made it seem like it was obvious. “I had no right to get in there like it was my business. It wasn’t my intention to make it seem or make you feel like I thought you couldn’t defend yourself. That’s not it at all.” He cut the air with his hand for emphasis, “not in a million years. I just really don’t like Thompson and he was being an asshole for no reason. I, you could say I have a problem with bullies.”

Peggy was stunned.

“You’re apologizing.” She echoed, feeling dense.

“I’m trying to, at least,” he chuckled. “Truth is, I acted without thinking. I kind of have a history of that. If you ever meet my friend Bucky you should ask him, I’m pretty sure he keeps a list.”

God but he is adorable. It was an odd thought to have about a man almost two meters tall and as muscular as Steve, yet she couldn’t help it. There was something inherently endearing about him that resonated with Peggy.

“It’s alright, Steve. I accept your apology.” Steve’s answering smile was pure sunshine, but she wasn’t done, “but, I really don’t need anyone fighting my battles for me. I’m more than capable of handling whatever this adolescent could throw at me.”

“Yes, ma’am.” His grin was a bit cheeky, “doesn’t mean I have to like it, though.”

“Well then, I guess that’s another thing we have in common.”

Chapter Text

Sometimes, Peggy hated that she was so good at her job, so good at making over the top, downright ridiculous ideas look fashionable and classy. It meant the crazy concepts never stopped. It meant that, as the June issue was sent to printing, Peggy got another absurd jewelry assignment.

This time it was some line made out of obsidian that looked like a solidified void. For some godforsaken reason The Grandmaster had gotten the idea that it would make an amazing contrast with gold. So naturally, he went down the path that any sane person would have, and ordered a shoot with the models dripped in gold body paint.

Peggy was going to punch someone.

Instead, she called a lighting crew and booked a studio for the following week. She really wanted to get this over with. She reused the old casting call, simply changed it from four models to two and made clear that both of them would be dipped in the paint. The last thing she needed was a pissed off model because their hair was getting a bit dirty.

Which, of course , was exactly what happened. A week later, she had everything set up; they were half an hour from starting the shoot when the male model threw a fit at the paint and bailed out.

She was nothing if not good in a crisis. Improvisation was her middle name, she didn’t actually had one but still. She switched gears and started calling.

She was extremely glad she had set up the shoot early. It was still a weekday, some agency had to answer in a reasonable amount of time. After-hours were gonna be inevitable for the rest of the crew.

She was on the phone with the studio, negotiating some extra time, when her phone chimed over the line.

“I’m sorry, could you hold for a second? I have another call,” she put them on hold before they had a chance to answer, too hurried for niceties.

“Hello, Peggy Carter speaking.”

“Hello, Miss Carter, It’s Maria Hill from Avengers Agency. ” Maria was never one to waste too much time on pleasantries, she got straight to it without even pausing for Peggy to respond, “we got an urgent call from you about a male model for a body paint shoot. We have someone available, you’ve worked with him before, so I’d take it you wouldn’t have a problem having him hired. He is willing to cover for you under the same contract as last time with only a 30% raise, to make up for the conditions.”

She bristled a bit at that, it’d drive her budget even higher. While she wasn’t paying a dime to the useless twat that had walked out on her, there were the extra hours of the crew to consider. She mulled it over for a second.

“If you make it 20%, I’ll take it.”

“Deal.”

“Send him over as soon as possible please, the studio is getting impatient. Have Steve bring over a copy of the contract so I can sign it before we get started.”

“I… never said it was Rogers,” Maria’s voice was dripping with suspicion.

Peggy got the distinct feeling that she had just screwed up.

“Lucky guess?” Make that wishful thinking. “I’m terribly sorry but I really need to go, I left the studio waiting. I trust you know the direction of the Cloak and Dagger studio?”

“Yes, I know it. Rogers can be there in half an hour at the latest.”

“Brilliant, thank you. Do please make sure he brings the contract for me to sign, we can’t start otherwise.”

“Yes, I’ll make sure. Goodbye.”

She hung up and Peggy went back to striking up a deal with the studio people. She knew all they really wanted was a bit more money, but her budget could only be stretched so much before it burst apart. She finally settled on two more hours. It wouldn't give anyone time for a lunch break, not ideal but it’d have to do.

All because some twat liked his hair too much.

The female model, a plump black woman named Alisha, was waiting around in a white robe, clearly annoyed and uncomfortable at the situation.

“Hey, you alright? I’m terribly sorry about all this. We already have a replacement, he’s on his way, should be here in a couple minutes.” Peggy said.

“Yeah, I’m okay, just eager to get to it.” Alisha waived her concerns away.

“I can understand that. Well, you can have some snacks while we wait, there's coffee as well.”

“Yeah, I'll think a coffee would be a great idea. Thank you, ma’am.”

“No problem, and please call me Peggy. I'm not nearly old enough for ma'am” she said with a smile.

Alisha nodded, a small smile on her lips as she went over to get her drink. Peggy was contemplating joining her when one of the stylists let her know that Steve had arrived and was already in the dressing room getting ready.

She started going around the room, practically herding the staff into their positions. She finally sat down precisely as Steve came out of the dressing room, wrapped in an identical white robe as Alisha. He had his hair matted in gold pomade and his face was airbrushed gold all the way to his collarbones. He went straight to his coworker to introduce himself, then took off his robe and laid it on a nearby chair. They both walked to the assigned place in front of the camera and got ready for the paint. He didn’t so much as wave at Peggy.

The guy who had to drip and direct the paint on Steve’s body was a blushing mess. He still got his job done, though maybe being more handsy than necessary, in Peggy’s, albeit biased, opinion. Steve on the other hand, was pretty much stoic, not a single awkward smile of reassurance. He kept his eyes staring at nothing in the middle distance. It was a jarring contrast him with the blushing mess he had become in front of Peggy in the same state of undress.

Peggy had never liked body paint, but watching it slide down the hard planes of Steve’s upper body, both front and back, she wasn’t so sure anymore. It took a nearly herculean effort to take her mind out of the gutter and focus on the work and analytical side of the situation.

It eased her conscience that she wasn’t exactly the only one distracted. Behind the camera, idle staff members were staring, just as dumbfounded. Whether they were looking at Steve or Alisha, Peggy couldn’t say. The truth was both were worth watching.


 Steve got a call as he was winding down from his morning run. He was barely able to hold the phone close to his ear, when he felt all sweaty and gross.

Maria was pleasant, but considerably colder than she normally was. Steve, confused, couldn’t figure out why the change in attitude. They discussed the details as he walked back to his apartment, she insisted on a raise on the contract.

He hadn’t been thrilled by the prospect of body paint but he only had one sure gig in the next week and his rent was due soon. His stomach did a flip when Maria told him it was another of Peggy’s shoots.

“Steve, you know I like you, but I need you to be honest with me,” she said. Steve stopped walking, almost out of the park, worried.

“Yeah, always. What’s going on?” He went to take a drink of his water bottle, but what she said made him spit out the sip he had gotten in his mouth.

“Are you sleeping with Peggy Carter?”

“What!?” He cleared his throat. The question had startled him so he tried to sneak a second to gather his thoughts, “no, I’m not! What makes you say that?”

“She referred to you by name, Steve. Before I even said it. I know you have all that boy-next-door charm where you ask everyone about their day and are the picture of politeness, but this seemed a bit beyond that.” She paused, clearly contemplating if whatever she was gonna tell him was worth sharing. “Thompson said something as well.” She hurried to talk over him, already knowing he was going to object, “now, I know Thompson is… Thompson . And you both don’t get along. At first, I didn’t pay it any mind, now though, with this, I had to ask.”

“What did he say?”

“Just that you were being combative on her behalf, defending her. Which I took, him being him, and you being you, to simply be a case of him being an asshole and you calling him out on it.” Maria said.

“Yeah, that was kind of it.” He grimaced at the memory.

“He also said you looked awfully cozy as the shoot was ending. Walking around the garden, laughing.” Her tone wasn’t particularly judgemental, but Steve felt chagrined all the same, he knew where he stood.

“Oh.”

“Yeah, ‘oh’ ... Listen, I don’t wanna go to Fury with this. I know you’re on thin ice and I frankly believe it’d be a stupid thing to get fired over, but I can’t ignore the idea it sends. I can’t have my models chatting up editors to climb up the ladder.” Steve made a sound of protest but she interrupted him, “not, that I think that’s what you’re doing. It’s just what it’d look like. Carter is a pretty big deal, a fast way to the top.”

He let out a resigned sigh.

“Yeah, I get it. That’s really not the case but I get it. And no, again, I’m not sleeping with her.” That was the truth, even if it left out the fact that Steve would very much like to be doing something with her.

“Okay, I believe you. And I’m gonna give you the shoot. However, I don’t want any type of complaint or comment, even if it is made by someone you hate. While you work , you keep your hands to yourself.” She let a second stretch between them, Steve knew her enough to understand what she had been implying: ‘in your free time it’s none of my business’. “Got it?”

“Perfectly.”

She texted him the information of the shoot right away, it wasn’t that far off his place. He ran home to shower and got there as soon as possible; they were waiting for him.

He was glad that the nature of the shoot didn’t allow for breaks; the paint would dry if they stopped, ruining the desired effect. He wasn’t forced to openly avoid Peggy that way, though frankly he was still feeling crappy over not saying hi to her. He couldn’t risk it, though. Maybe it was a somewhat extreme measure, but previous occasions showed he was incapable of filtering his words correctly when it came to her. He kept telling her exactly what he wanted, just as the rest of him screamed in panic.

The shoot went well, by now he had more than a clear idea of what Peggy looked for in shoots and he knew how to deliver. She didn’t even need to correct him, much. It was almost the same concept as last time, if more slippery and a bit more sensual. He had fun playing with the necklaces and rings.

Luckily, the studio provided showers so they could wash out the paint before they left. Steve really didn’t want to ride the train with his upper body covered in flaking cold paint, even if he probably wouldn’t even be the weirdest thing there. He lingered in the shower a bit, hoping that he could leave after Peggy, feeling even crappier for not helping with whatever he could.

Of course, he miscalculated horribly. But also, he really should have known Peggy would be the last one to leave, wrapping everything up to the last detail. When he came out from the dressing room, showered as best he could without a serious sponge and a strong shampoo, the last of the lighting crew was leaving. Peggy was the only one left in the studio, probably checking that no one had forgotten anything.

“Oh, hi, Steve. I thought you had already left.” She looked surprised to see him. Yet, not displeased. She hadn’t picked up on his avoidance, then.

“I was about to. I had to take a shower to wash off the paint.” He gestured towards the dressing rooms as explanation.

“Yeah, it’s the worst. Sorry the call was short notice, I had another model booked and he bailed on me.” Peggy smiled tightly, clearly still pissed over it.

“Maria told me.” A long awkward pause stretched between them, both ready to leave but not making a move.

Naturally, both started talking at the same time.

“Actually, I wanted to ask you…” Peggy started to say.

“I really should get…”

Both stopped talking abruptly. Steve took a deep breath, his Ma hadn’t raised a caveman.

“You first.”

“You sure? Don’t you have to leave?” She looked pointedly at the bag hanging from his shoulder

“I’ve got a few minutes, go ahead.” He shrugged as a small voice in his head whispered: you aren’t working anymore.

“Okay. I was just curious, you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, of course. I’d understand,” that got his attention, he gave her a questioning look. “What did Thompson mean when he said you ‘were on thin ice’?”

“Oh, that,” he lowered his head and avoided her eyes. “It was about the last shoot I was in before the first of yours, the one with the bus?” She nodded, it had already been about two months since that one. “I made a mistake, professionally speaking, I guess, which led to my boss putting me on probation.”

“What kind of mistake?” Peggy asked, not deterred by his vague answer.

“I broke the photographer’s nose?” He said with a sheepish grin. His unsure tone made it sound like a question. Peggy’s eyes went huge, plainly stunned.

“You did what ? Why ? Who ?”

“It was a guy named Brock Rumlow, nasty to work with.” He shrugged, not one bit sorry about it.

“Oh, yeah. I know him actually. I’m sure it was more than warranted,” Steve looked up, surprised at her reaction and at the faint grin he saw on her face. “I worked with him a few years ago, ended up kicking him out fifteen minutes after we started. I ripped his contract in half right in front of him, too.”

Steve laughed and Peggy smiled even wider.

“I’m ashamed to say I let it go on for an hour before I stepped in,” he said and she shook her head at the remorse in his voice.

“It wasn’t your place, to intervene, legally speaking. The Editor should have stopped him as soon as he started, they’re the employer. Besides, sounds like you got him good. He deserves a broken nose a lot more than a wasted job opportunity. I’m glad he got both, though.”

“Yeah.” Another silence took place between them, but this time it was comfortable. They had found a common ground.

“So that ultimatum, what does it entail?”

“It means I have to be on my very best professional behavior,” he gave her a smile, but it was strained. “No punching and no…” He cleared his throat, uncomfortable again, “...fraternizing with superiors?” He looked at Peggy as he said it, more than a little mortified.


 Oh.

That was what Maria’s tone had meant, Peggy had known she had buggered something up when she had said Steve’s name over the phone. It must had led her to assume they were sleeping together, or something along those lines. Peggy felt her stomach curl, she wished she could call Maria and tell her there was nothing to worry about, but the truth was, she wasn’t completely wrong. There was something between Peggy and Steve. And she wasn’t sure it was something they could get over with a simple one-night stand.

“...at least not while I’m working.” Steve’s said in a whisper, Peggy snapped her gaze to his.

Who had given him the rights to those ocean blue eyes that managed to look both hopeful and unobtrusive at the same time? He hadn’t been able to wash off all the paint. He still had golden freckles on his neck and traces of it on his hair, they caught the light as he looked up at her, making him shine. This man was going to be the death of her.

“Good thing shoots only last a few hours,” Peggy said, barely containing her impulse to beam at the happily surprised look on Steve’s face when he registered her words.

“Yep.” He popped the ‘p’ even as the corners of his mouth kept twitching upwards. “I really need to go now. I have a Skype interview with a brand that wants some logos designed.”

Peggy shook herself out of those ocean eyes, mouth locked in a smile to answer. “Sure, go ahead. I’ll see you around, Steve. Good luck on your interview.”

“Thanks. Good luck with your issue, as well.”

Which one? She thought ironically.

Chapter Text

The premiere came quicker than Steve expected.

When it came to the play, it wasn’t his job to put up the panels or decide where or how they were placed, that was reserved to the actual scenographer. He had just been hired to paint them. It was hard work, long and painstaking, the design was intricate, but it paid well and everyone at the theater had been really nice to work with. He hoped they could stay in touch after it was done.

“What am I even supposed to wear to a theater premiere?” Bucky’s voice drifted from behind his closed bedroom door to the living room where Steve was sitting, pretending to pay attention to a baseball game on TV.

He had been fretting over what to wear for a whole half hour at least. Steve had already picked his outfit, a blue shirt Natasha had gifted him last year combined with a pair of black slacks paired with black shoes. He had been changed and ready for an hour, waiting for Bucky to be done.

“Buck, it’s not a big premiere. The theater is going to be filled mostly with family and friends. All you really have to dress for is the get-together afterwards.”

“Get-together afterwards? What even is that?”

“We’ll just have something to eat, maybe drink a beer. It’s mostly to congratulate the actors and production on the premiere. Wish them a good run or break-a-leg or whatever. It’s really not that formal and maybe half an hour at most. Everyone is going to be really tired after it’s all said and done.”

“Okay, how about this?” Bucky came out of the room in a fitted pair of black jeans and a white t-shirt underneath a black blazer, hair perfectly styled in a bun.

“Yeah, that’d work. Kinda gives me the vibe that you’re gonna start lecturing me on how there isn’t an International Men’s Day, but sure, it works.” He cracked up at the utter dismay on Bucky’s face. “I’m kidding, Buck. You look great, really. Let’s go, we gotta get flowers on the way and we don’t wanna be late.”

“You’re such a punk.”

“Yeah, yeah, start walking, jerk.”

. . .

Unsurprisingly, they got held up at the flower shop. Apparently, a lot of people wanted to buy flowers on a Saturday evening, who knew? They still managed to get to the theater right as the lights dimmed and the play started.

The play was good, really good. Even after watching it at least three times in the last week , Steve found he enjoyed it. There was something special seeing it the way it was meant to: in a darkened theater, room filled with people in complete silence, attention fully rapt on the actors on stage. 

It was a drama, the story of a family whose father dies and they find out he had had another family the whole time, only a couple blocks away. It managed to be intense without being snobbish or coming across too high and mighty. Steve had been surprised the first time he had seen it to see they had included polyamory as the outcome in the last act. The actors were pretty good, too.

The play ended to rambunctious applause accompanied with hollering, Steve and Bucky’s included. The actors saluted along with the director, who also played a part in the play, and then ushered her forward to give her a bouquet of roses. Her smile was huge, blue eyes teary. 

They both kept on hollering, Bucky gave a wolf whistle as the cast went for a group hug. The lights got turned on and everyone drifted to the big foyer, where someone had set up tables with food and drinks. Steve went on to chat with some guys from the crew he knew, as Bucky got them a couple beers.

When the actors came in, having changed from their costumes, the room burst in more cheers and applause. Steve kept to the back of the crowd along with Bucky, his bouquet in hand, he felt a hand in his shoulder and turned to find Sam smiling at him.

“Hey! I didn’t know you were coming!” 

“Hell yeah I came! I wasn’t about to miss my friend’s first play!” Steve rolled his eyes at that.

“Sam, you know it’s nothing close to my play. I just got paid to paint some fake stucco walls.”

“Always so modest. If I didn’t know for a fact how much of a little shit you can be, I might actually believe you.” Sam’s tone was joking, still Steve shook his head in mock affront.

“What do you mean? I’ve been nothing but an angel my whole life,” he gave him his most angelical look, blue eyes big and eyelashes fluttering.

“Yeah, and I’m Mother Teresa,” said Bucky, as he arrived with the beers. He gave one to Steve and waved to Sam. “If anyone’s been an angel these last two decades it’s been me, putting up with your thin-skinned punk ass.”

Steve turned towards him, an exaggerated expression of betrayal now on his features.

“How dare you.”

“Always looking for a fight, I swear, it’s like owning a senior chihuahua,” Bucky had a shit-eating grin on his face hidden behind his beer and Sam was laughing his ass off. Before Steve could reply to that very serious desecration of his character, they got interrupted again.

“Who’s a chihuahua?” Angie jostled her way between them, eyes twinkling with laughter.

“No one,” Steve was quick to answer. “Angie! I meant to come see you, congratulations! The play was amazing!” He gave her a big hug, practically lifting her off the ground.

“Thank you, Steve, I’m so glad you could make it.”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Here,” he handed her the bouquet, “these are for you.”

“Aw, they’re lovely, you really shouldn’t have.”

“Nonsense, least I could do after you put up with me the whole run,” he said with a smile. Angie simply rolled her eyes.

“Oh, cause that’s such a hardship.”

Bucky snorted, incredulous. Steve and Angie both turned towards him. Steve resisted the very childish impulse to stick out his tongue at him.

“And this very mature guy here is my friend, Bucky Barnes,” he gestured between them. “Bucky, meet Angie Martinelli, amazing actress and genius director. That other guy there,” he pointed with his beer, “is Sam Wilson, also a friend. Only slightly more decent than the other one.”

Bucky gave Angie a kiss on the cheek, all charm, and Sam shook her hand, smiling warmly.

“Speaking of friends, there’s someone I want you to meet. I think you’ll like her,” Angie said, smiling up at him, a special glint in her eye. Steve groaned internally, he knew that tone and that look. The sharp attention that got from his two friends, who were already sporting grins, showed he wasn’t the only one.

Angie scanned the room for a second, oblivious to the nightmare of teasing she had started with that sentence. She joisted the bouquet on one hand to wave someone over who was out of Steve’s line of vision.

“English! Come here! There’s someone here I want you to meet!” Steve turned around, dread already churning in his stomach. He hated being set up.

He had only time to register the mystery woman was a brunette before she turned around and they locked eyes. Steve felt rooted to the spot, mouth slack in surprise. Peggy seemed to be feeling similarly, because it took her a very long second to start walking towards them.

When she got to their little round, Steve shuffled to the side and made space for her between them.

“Peggy, hey.”

“Hello Steve.”

“Wait… You guys know each other!?” Angie was stunned, mouth agape as she looked at them. Steve could understand that being weird, shocking even, he really had had no idea Peggy and Angie knew each other, much less were friends.

“Yes, actually, we do,” Peggy answered calmly, obviously used to Angie’s loud energy.

“We met through work,” Steve took a sip of his beer, finally registering the different expressions of disbelief on his friend’s faces.

How!? ” Angie was not to be deterred.

“Steve was a model in a couple of my shoots,” he nodded along with Peggy’s words.

“And you didn’t tell me!?” Angie didn’t seem to be getting over her shock anytime soon.

“You didn’t ask. Besides,” Peggy smirked, clearly pleased to be able to call her friend out, “if you actually looked at my work like I do yours, we would have had this conversation about three months ago.”

Angie completely missed the point of the remark.

“Three months!? You’ve known each other for three months !?”

“Yes, Angie. Do keep up. I just told you, he was in a few of my shoots.” Angie seemed to finally lose her momentum, sputtering to a stop. “I don’t know why that’s such a big deal.”

Sensing that her interrogation wasn’t going anywhere, Angie changed subject and looked at Steve.

“You never told me you were a model.”

Steve shrugged.

“You never asked.”

Angie let out a frustrated huff, Peggy and Steve looked at her with twin expressions of confusion. Before she could say anything else, someone tapped her on the shoulder and she was whisked in a new round of congratulations.

The sound of a throat clearing drove Steve’s attention away from her and towards the two men in their group.

“You ain’t gonna introduce us?” Bucky’s tone was teasing, hand already extended towards Peggy. Steve hurried to fix his mistake.

“Oh shit, sorry. Peggy, this are Bucky and Sam, friends of mine.” She shook their hands one after the other.

“Lovely to meet you,” Peggy paused for a second, her expression pensive. “Bucky,” she addressed him, but her gaze was on Steve as she continued, “Steve said something about you having a list of all the times he’s been reckless. I think I’d like to hear more about that.” Steve choked on his beer, had to raise his other hand to his mouth to keep from spilling any. Peggy merely smiled wider.

Bucky laughed out loud, and Steve, with Peggy’s eyes still on his, realized he had made a terrible mistake.

“Oh, lady, you are in for a treat.”

“Buck,” Steve was not above dropping to his knees and begging. He tried to communicate with his eyes that he actually cared about what this woman thought of him, but his best friend was too busy getting ready to roast him.

“I have so many anecdotes, you’ve got no idea. You know he used to be really tiny?”

“Tiny? Whatever do you mean?” Peggy looked at Steve, all six-foots of him, then at Bucky, a confused expression on her face.

“Yeah, real skinny guy, tough as nails though. That certainly never changed. He hit puberty doubled on height and width in like, two months. I still haven’t forgiven him for passing me.”

“Really?” Peggy had an amazed expression on her face, eyebrows raised.

“Yeah, remember I told you about my bad asthma?” Steve asked and Peggy nodded. This was happening no matter what he said, might as well do some damage control. “I got over it at that time. I had to go through some medical treatments for it, nothing serious, though.” Steve scratched his neck, feeling awkward with the conversation. Sam already knew all this, obviously, but Steve had never been exactly comfortable discussing his medical history. It led to people pitying him too many times.

“Never stopped him from getting into trouble, his size, or anything, really. I had to drag his ass out of so many alley fights. I swear, if I left him unsupervised for two seconds, he’d find a new cause to get behind. He was insufferable in high school when he took sociology classes.”

“Hey! I still stand by what I learned there, equality is important, in all its aspects.” He frowned, not really indignant, but adamant. Those were principles he lived by.

“I ain’t arguing that with you, pal, my ma would kill me. What I meant is that you were fifty pounds soaking wet, and not one ounce of that was self-preservation.”

“Oh, I would have loved to see that,” Peggy was grinning, clearly all too pleased to get all the dirt on Steve.

“Not much has changed believe me,” that was Sam, whose lips were smirking around his beer bottle. 

Figures they’d gang up on me now , Steve couldn’t help thinking.

“Ain’t that the truth. But if you mean that, it so happens to be your lucky day, Miss. I’ve got a picture.” 

Steve stomach dropped.

“How did you get an old photo of me?”

Please let it not be one of The Assbum ones, please please please please.

“Chill, it’s of both of us. Ma sent it to me the other day, found it when she was changing the old desktop computer,” Steve relaxed a fraction. Bucky took out his phone and handed it to Peggy. Steve leaned in to look at it over her shoulder.

He found he recognized the photo, it was one from when they were seventeen. He couldn’t remember why or where they had taken it, just that it had been in Coney Island during summer. They had their arms around each other, both shirtless and grinning. Bucky had been taller than him then, by a good half foot. 

Steve sometimes felt disconnected with the guy he saw in old photos. It was hard to associate that fragile, bird bones body with the huge bulk he now saw everyday in the mirror. Most of all he had trouble accepting that he really had left most of his health problems behind, he could now run, breathe or go out in the cold without risking death or a month in bed. The treatment Erksine had fixed for him had been nothing short of miraculous.

Other times it was backwards, days where everything he did felt too obtrusive, the space he took somehow obnoxious. Days where he bumped into everyone in the subway or crashed against door umbrals.

This time, he couldn’t suppress the small wince at the sight of his bare chest. His ribs stood out, his sunken sternum obvious without an ounce of muscle to cover it. His skin was pink in his shoulders, irritated from spending more than an hour out in the sunshine. Next to him, Bucky was the picture of health, tanned and lean body shining in the sun. Steve couldn’t help but feel an echo of that old feeling of awkwardness that had accompanied him most of his childhood.

Peggy zoomed on his face. His features used to be sharp and narrow, and in the photo he still had that gangly, boyish lilt so characteristic of awkward teenagers. A small smile curved her red lips as she looked back up at Steve. She kept her tone low, so only he could hear her from where he was standing.

“You were lovely, still are.”

They were standing too close, less than a foot away. He could pick out the long eyelashes casting shadows in her cheekbones as she looked up at him, see the line where her red lipstick ended, giving way to her pink lips. He really wanted to trace it with his tongue.

Her gaze dropped to his mouth and Steve involuntarily licked his lips. That snapped her out of it and she cleared her throat, dragging her eyes away from his face. She didn’t look at him again as she returned Bucky’s phone, probably because she could feel Steve still staring at her, still caught up in the lines of her profile.

“That was certainly a change,” Peggy sounded a little winded, nobody pointed it out.

“You’d never believe how many times I had to physically drag him from a fight because some douche wouldn’t let a girl alone,” Bucky said. He seemed eager to break whatever tension they had created that had interrupted the conversation.

“Bullshit, Buck. Don’t lie.” Steve shook himself out of his stupor to point at his friend, “eight out of ten times you joined me.”

“Okay, fair point. Still, there was that time you…” Bucky started.

“As entertaining as that story would be,” Sam interrupted and Steve could almost kiss him. Except the only person he really felt like kissing was standing right next to him, wearing that dark red lipstick that made it hard to think of much else. Steve was going to develop a complex. “We all love to hear about all the stupid shit Steve has done over the course of his life, I’ve been there for a good chunk of it. But I really gotta get going, my man’s waiting for me.”

“You going towards Queens?” Bucky asked, looking up from his phone, Sam nodded. “Mind dropping me off?”

“Yeah, no problem. Bye, Steve. Peggy, it’s been a pleasure.”

“Peggy, it was nice meeting you. I look forward to telling you all about that list. You’ve got no idea what this punk has done,” his grin was huge, eyes shining with a light that promised trouble for Steve. “Don’t let the angelic looks fool you, he’s a little shit,” with a wink and a pat on Steve’s back, he turned around and left.

Steve frowned, that was… odd. Sam and Bucky weren’t hostile, not anymore, but they weren’t close either. Them doing anything together without Steve was completely unusual, even if it was solely a convenient lift.

All of the sudden, he realized he’d been left alone with Peggy. He narrowed his eyes at the retreating backs of his friends.

“Well, that chat was… enlightening,” she grinned at him. Steve hid his face behind one of his palms with a groan.

“I’m so sorry about that. I don’t even know why I still let myself be seen in public with them, it murders my reputation.”

“It think they’re nice. And if it counts for anything, I’d say it only helped your reputation.” Steve peeked at her between his fingers to find her smiling at him softly.

“Despite the embarrassing teenage pictures?” He aimed for a self-deprecating joke, but Peggy’s expression didn’t waver.

“Rather because of the pictures.” They locked eyes. “I meant what I said, Steve.”

Steve felt himself slide a bit farther down that slippery slope that were his feelings for Peggy. He knew he was blushing. Probably as red as a hot coal at this point, so he changed the subject, worried he’d fuck up. Possibly do something stupid like kiss her right there, he stuffed his hands deep in his pockets to resist the urge.

“So, how’s Sakaar ? How’s work?”

“It’s been, well, crazy and uncoordinated, as always. I had to handle some pigs the other day, believe it or not.”

What , really? Why?”

“We had a shoot on a farm. Don’t ask, I really don’t want to relive it. What about you? How are things?”

“Things are good. I got to work a perfume ad, actually.”

“Anything I’m familiar with?”

“I don’t know, maybe?” He looked at her and shrugged, “it was one of those that make you wanna believe a fragrance will make you rich and successful.” Peggy laughed out loud, Steve found he really liked that sound.

“And here I was, thinking I was the cynical one,” she said chuckling. Steve smiled and leaned in like he was going to tell her a secret, putting a finger to his lips.

“Don’t tell anyone, it’d ruin my perfect American boy persona.” Peggy laughed as she leaned in as well.

“Your secrets are safe with me, Steve.”

They shared a smile and a quiet moment. People were slowly filling out of the theater, driven away by the late hour. They looked around for a second, content in the other’s company. Until Peggy was overcome by a jaw-unhinging yawn.

“God, I’m knackered. I better turn in.” Steve nodded, considerably disappointed that the night was coming to an end. “Do you need a lift? I brought my car. I’m going just off midtown, how does that work for you?”

Steve considered it for a second.

“Really well, actually. It’d save me a train ride.”

“Great, then let’s go.”

They said their goodbyes, Angie seemed particularly excited to see them leave together because ‘Peggy was giving him a lift’. She didn’t wink, but with the tone she used, she might as well have put up a glowing sign that said ‘I hope you hook up’.

They got into the car and as she turned it on the radio started playing. An old jazz tune Steve vaguely recognized drifted from the speakers. 

“Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to leave that on,” Peggy moved to change it but he stopped her.

“No, leave it on, I like it.” She lowered her hand and went on to drive out of their parking space. “I like to listen to classic jazz when I draw,” he offered. “There’s something really calming about the way they’re recorded, you know? They have that dirty, scratchy background that new songs don’t have. I mean, I know it because the equipment was shit, it isn’t like it was intentional or anything but,” he shrugged. “I don’t know, I just like it.”

A comfortable silence stretched along with the last notes of the song.

“To me they remind me of home,” Peggy’s tone was more subdued, pensive, less nonchalant than Steve’s. “My mum is a very traditional woman, very much into gender roles, old customs, all that. She used to listen to her old records when she cooked, they were always on when I got home from school. I like to listen to them when I’ve had a hard day, they take me back to when things were simpler, uncomplicated, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” Steve’s reply was barely a whisper.

Another comfortable silence blanketed them as they rode, street lights passing by in the night and an orchestra long since disbanded playing from the speakers. When another song faded into silence Steve spoke up again.

“So, why has your day hard? If it can be said,” he turned his head to look at her. 

“It was nothing serious, simply a lot of mishaps happening in this issue. I didn’t get a photoshoot assignment, I’m mostly working on the editorial, logistical part of things.” She flicked her eyes from the road for a second to look at him, “it’s really not my favorite area or even my expertise, still, you do what you gotta do, right?” Steve didn’t completely agree with that statement but she kept on before he could say anything, “it all should calm down a little for the next two weeks at least.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“What about you? You said you had that perfume ad, does it have any follow up?”

“Nah, it was a one-time thing. I was mostly background filler, it was a ‘female’ fragrance, as if smells came gendered. It should go into printing maybe next month? Who knows, maybe Sakaar will advertise it.” 

“Maybe, I’ll make sure to get you a place of honor if it does,” Peggy said with a smile as she started to park the car. They were on a nice part of town, only a few blocks away from the station Steve needed.

“Careful, you don’t want to be accused of playing favorites.” He warned her jokingly as he unfastened his seatbelt and went to get out of the car. Peggy’s answer stilled him.

“Well, maybe they’d be right.”

He got out of the car and turned around it, going to get her door, but she beat him to it. She was already out when he got there. He grabbed the opened door, and closed it softly with his left hand. Peggy hadn’t moved, standing by the backseat window, facing Steve, hands at her sides.

They stood there a few seconds, chilly night air turning electric between them. Steve searched her face, taking in the way her hazel eyes shined under the street light. His gaze caught on her lips; he was sure he’d never be able to look at that dark shade of red again without thinking of her. He raised his other hand slowly, giving Peggy time to move away if she wanted to, and cradled her face, thumb slowly caressing her cheekbone.

He took a deep breath, threw all his racing thoughts out of his mind, all the ‘what if’s and ‘what about’s. Right now, they weren’t Model Steven Rogers and Fashion Editor Margaret Carter, they were just Steve and Peggy. There was something in the air between them and that’s all that mattered. Every time they stared too long, the air hissed, Steve felt his heart pound against his ribcage and got tongue-tied. Sure, maybe he didn't know her as much as he’d have liked, but he was starting to get worried that if he didn't do anything then, he might never get the chance to.

There, right then, there was nothing preventing them for doing what they wanted.

“I really, really, really want to kiss you right now,” Steve’s tone was hushed, almost a breathy whisper.

“Then what are you waiting for?”

His laugh got lost in her lips as he closed the distance between them.

Steve brought up his other hand, cradled her face he kissed her gently, merely a soft press of lips. Peggy smiled into the kiss, leaning back against the car and bringing Steve along, searching for a better angle. She opened her mouth against his and gently bit into his lower lip, immediately soothing it with her tongue, Steve’s brain sort of short circuited.

An involuntary sound resonated deep in his throat and he dropped one of his hands to curl it around Peggy’s waist, bringing her body flush with his. He opened his mouth to let her in, following her lead, dragging their lips and tongues whichever way she pleased.

Steve got lost in kissing Peggy, in the feeling of her body against his, her hair between his fingers, the silk of her lips and tongue. In the soft breaths that escaped her lungs only to be swallowed by his mouth. Her hand curled on the short hairs at the nape of his neck. Her nails dragged along this skin and a tremor shook him from head to toe like a ripple of electricity.

When they finally parted, they were gasping, faces blushed and eyes twinkling. Not ready to put more than the essential distance between them, they stayed close, foreheads touching, sharing the same air in their own little bubble. 

Peggy was the first one to laugh, and Steve soon followed, both giddy in each other’s arms-- hearts beating a mile an hour, lips kiss-bitten and faces flushed. 

“Come on up with me?” Peggy’s smile didn’t leave her lips as she looked up at Steve, but it did dim a little when he shook his head.

“It’s not that I don’t want to, I really don’t want this night to end,” he smiled and cradled her face with his hands, eager for her to see he meant every word. “But if I go up, we’re going to end up in bed,” she didn’t deny it, “I’m not quite… ready for that, yet.”

“Okay, I understand,” she took his hands in hers, drove them away from her cheeks, which were still a bit flushed, and let them swing between them, still joined.

“It’s just that I don’t work like that, I need a little more time. I want it to mean something,” he smiled, looking down at her. “I want to give this,” he swung their hands a little more, “whatever this is, a chance. See where it leads us.”

“I understand,” Peggy smiled brightly again, looked right into his eyes before averting hers, a slight blush on the apple of her cheeks. “I really do, you don't need to justify yourself. And,” she chewed on her lower lip before continuing, “I think I want that too.”

Steve let out a relieved sigh, air rushing out of his lungs in a gush. Peggy laughed, then leaned into Steve, forehead resting on his shoulder. He let go of her hands to wrap his arms around her as she did the same.

“I guess this is goodbye then,” Peggy’s voice was remorseful.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Steve felt more than a touch masochistic in that moment.

He didn’t regret his decision, he was determined to make this work, and for him that meant not rushing into it. He really liked Peggy, really really liked her, yet truth was, he didn’t know much about her. He wanted to find out a lot of things, how she looked like when she laughed when she danced, wanted to discuss what she thought of silly shows and serious political realities; call him old fashioned but he wanted to know Peggy , before he found out how she looked like naked.

That didn’t mean he was any more willing to say goodbye to her right then, though. He pulled away so he could kiss her again. They kept it to soft, sweet and lingering kisses this time, their previous passion morphed. 

“I really should get going,” he said once they separated. “It’s late.”

“Yeah.” 

Neither of them moved.

Peggy laughed.

“God, this is so cliché,” she untangled herself from his embrace and took a step to the side. “Right, you’re going,” she smoothed her clothes with her hands, regaining her composure. “Right now. Text me when you get home, please?” 

Steve burst out laughing.

“I don’t- I don’t have your number?” Their laughter bounced through the empty street.

“Oh god, that shouldn’t be this funny,” she said as they took deep breaths, barely containing their laughter from spilling over again. “What’s even more, my battery is dead, the bloody thing doesn’t last more than a few hours at this point, I can’t save yours.”

“Here,” Steve took his phone from his back pocket, unlocked it and handed it to her. “Add yourself, I’ll text you as soon as I’m home. You can save it then.”

She did and gave it back, smiling and he tucked it back in his pocket, without giving any indication of leaving.

“You really should go, it’s very late.”

“Yeah, it is,” he didn’t move.

“That’s it. If you won’t leave, I will,” she gave him an exasperated huff, but Steve could see the smile hidden behind it. He grinned cheekily at her as she walked towards her building, took out her keys and opened the door. She turned around and gave him one last smile, “goodnight, Steve.”

“Goodnight, Peg. Sweet dreams.”

Chapter Text

Peggy had had every intention to stay awake until she got Steve’s text, but the second she closed her apartment door behind her, the day’s toll fell on her like an anvil.

She dragged herself straight to bed, crawling through her nighttime routine before she collapsed on top of the bed. Regardless of the exhaustion, there was a smile on her lips.

God, Carter, look at yourself, blushing and giggling like a teenager, get a grip, she scolded herself.

But not even her own stern inner monologue could get rid of the giddy grin. She fell asleep thinking of blue eyes and ridiculously long lashes, fingers touching her lips lightly where she could still feel the ghost of a biteable pink mouth.

. . .

Peggy woke up disoriented, with a distinct feeling that something was out of place deep in her gut. She shook her head trying to clear the fog of sleep in the morning quiet. That was it, it was too quiet. Her alarm wasn’t ringing. Because she forgot to plug in her phone last night. 

She got up with a groan, resisting the urge to slip back under the covers and steal a few more hours of shuteye. With no idea what time it was, Peggy hoped it was at least earlier than noon; thank god it was Sunday. She grabbed the charger from her nightstand and went hunting for her dead phone. It turned out in her purse, just as dead as it had been the previous night, she went to plug it in the kitchen.

She was about to start drinking her cup of tea when it came back to life and buzzed with a few texts. Cup still in hand, she picked her phone up and unlocked it, looking at her notifications. There were a bunch, her phone had died pretty early the day before. A text from an unidentified number sat at the top of her inbox, she tapped it and was welcomed with an unfocused but smiling selfie of Steve lying down in what was probably his bed, blonde hair mused by the pillow.

[Unknown Number] 01:23 am

(Photo)

 Got home safely :D

She didn’t bother to stop the goofy grin that twisted her lips, or explain the swop her stomach did. She went to click the contact info to add him just as a call came in. She frowned at the screen, Dernier never rang her. He was a fellow Associate Editor, and they got together well enough, being two foreigners in a foreign land, but their relationship was nothing beyond professional. And it was a Sunday. Her phone kept buzzing in her hand so she took the call.

“Hello? Jacques, how are you?” She greeted him, voice laced in confusion.

“Bonjour Margaret, nervous as hell, and you?” Dernier answered, with a cheery tone despite his words. Peggy started to get a bad feeling.

“I’m quite alright,” she answered warily.

“Well, you were never one to get scared of flying. Promise you’ll hold my hand?” His tone was joking and he didn’t wait for her answer before continuing, “I’m on my way to your apartment… en vingt minutes, yes? Try to be outside so I don’t have to park. We have plenty of time but it never hurts to be early. You never know what could happen with our flight.”

Any remanent tiredness she could have dragged with herself from the bed vanished. Peggy’s blood ran cold.

“Flight?” Only silence met her, “Dernier, flight!? Flight to where! ?”

“Margaret please tell me you saw the email.”

Peggy felt herself shrinking inward.

“...Email?” She barely whispered, with a shaky hand she put her cup of tea down, still untouched.

“Mon dieu, Margaret, you really don’t know, do you?” Dernier’s voice was a mix of amazement and fear.

“No, Jacques, I just woke up and I don’t know whatever bloody thing there is to bloody know. ” Panic made her lash out, “so please , if you can tell me what the bloody fuck I’m supposed to know I’ll greatly appreciate it.”

“D’accord,” Dernier sounded taken aback. Peggy didn’t lose her composure often, when she did, people took notice. “Yesterday, around seven, Topaz sent out an email. The Grandmaster wants both of us in Paris by tonight at the latest. You know how he is, he sees a croissant and suddenly he needs to know everything French.”

“Okay, okay,” Peggy took a deep breath, “I can do this. We can do this. When’s the flight?”

“In three hours, leaving from La Guardia.”

Peggy was an adult very capable of holding back stress tears. She was. It was a close call.

“Okay, okay, give me a second to think,” she took a deep, calming breath. “I can have a bag ready in half an hour, I’ve done it a million times. We have time until the plane leaves, and if we hurry, we can make it. Traffic is good on Sundays. How long do we have to stay there?” She shook her head even though Dernier couldn’t see it. “You know what? Don’t tell me, if I need anything else, I’ll buy it there. See you in thirty, Jacques.”

Peggy hung up and stood there for a few seconds, taking another deep breath before she exploded into motion. She hadn’t lied to Jacques, she was an experienced traveler, being Sakaar’s European correspondent meant she had to go to all sorts of places in short notice. Most times she got at least a day’s notice, though. She even had all the vital travelling essentials on a hermetic bag in her desk: passport, European simcard, toothbrush, and a few more things.

She grabbed her travel worn suitcase from the closet, the one she knew how to pack to maximus efficiency. She started with her underwear, throwing it into it, then came two pajamas and only one pair of jeans and a t-shirt. It was a work trip, after all, those had no days off. There was no use putting a lot of informal clothes. Her work clothes came next, she knew she should opt for lower heels, comfort before fashion when she was going to be browsing lines and buying clothes. She packed one posh dress, she would probably have to attend at least one event there.

She changed into comfortable travel clothes, then picked up her phone as she went to brush her teeth. It had only charged a mere 5%, she started going through her remaining notifications and finally found the bloody email.

Miss Carter,

Sakaar Magazine requests your presence in Paris by tomorrow night. You are to go with Jacques Dernier and stay in the lodging arranged for you. A flight is booked for you tomorrow at 13:00 leaving from La Guardia, all the information you need is on the passage attached. As is the details about the usual compensation for the extra work, any objection or complaint you might have, I trust you know who to bring it to.

While in Paris you are to examine the latest trends to be found there and report them back to our New York offices so they can be included in our July issue. We also expect you to extend Sakaar Magazine’s influence and represent us in the international fashion industry. A list of important events and fashion shows has been provided to Mr. Dernier, both of you are to attend them.

Lastly, Grandmaster feels Sakaar magazine is being held back by our New York offices, that it is time to go beyond, to broaden our horizons. We wish you to commence the preliminary arrangements for a Parisian headquarters offices to be opened by the end of the year.

Safe flight,

Topaz Mhelt.

She had to read the email a couple times before what they were asking of her sank in.

Headquarters in Paris. Dernier was going to be ecstatic. She could understand the decision to expand, it made perfect sense. The last couple years she had had to fly more frequently. There was always a new show, a new line, some new fad that needed documenting, acquiring or criticizing. Having people stationed there full time would be simply efficient. 

Still, all the work it would take to set it up was already giving her a headache. She looked at herself in the bathroom mirror, willing all the whirling in her mind to stop. Those were problems for Future Peggy, Present Peggy had to worry about not forgetting anything for the trip, like her calendar and phone charger. Compartmentalizing had to be her coping mechanism today.

She opened a new text to Angie:

 

You 09:58 am

Sudden work trip, to Paris

be gone a long while

Take care of my flat, please? food in the fridge. u know where everything is. 

Love you x

Call me if anything happens

She opened her contacts and dialed the phone company. One quick call deactivated her US line to get her European number activated the following day. She texted it to Angie in a rush and stuffed the last necessities in her suitcase. It wasn’t her neatest work but it’d have to do. She changed the simcard on her phone, which was already dead again, what little battery she had charged into it had already run out, and threw it in her purse.

She dragged her suitcase off her bed and rolled it to her door just as the doorbell rang.

“I’m coming down, Jacques. Give me a minute.”

Jacques was standing at the door, hands occupied by two Starbucks cups. As soon as he saw her, he went to help her and traded her suitcase for one of the cups. She almost protested but the smallest whiff of the drink had her swooning, in the panic she had completely forgotten about her cup of tea.

“I stopped for something to drink, thought you wouldn’t mind the delay,” Dernier smiled as he hoisted the bag into the trunk of the car.

“Not at all. Thank you, really.”

It was barely 10 am, Peggy had been awake for less than an hour and she was already exhausted. The lazy contentment of a quiet Sunday was completely dispelled. She felt like she had finished a marathon while half asleep. The next weeks were going to be vicious.

Chapter Text

Steve woke up surprisingly refreshed, even though it was bright and early. He had fallen asleep pretty late the previous night, not even the whole train ride home had been enough to subdue the buzz he had gotten since kissing Peggy.

Peggy. He had kissed Peggy. 

The events of the previous night brought a big, dumb grin to his face. He picked up his phone and checked, no new messages. It was 8 am on a Sunday. Peggy might still be sleeping. She probably hadn’t even seen his text yet. Steve knew he had pondered way too much what to send, had doubted every idea he came up with. He must have written, and deleted, at least five messages before he got frustrated over his own hesitation and ended up going with a quick selfie, refusing to overanalyze it once he took it.

He had tossed and turned for an hour, mind racing. Some of that electric energy was still in his veins in the morning when he woke up, so he went for a run.

Steve got back an hour and a half later to find Bucky hadn’t returned yet. He shot him a text asking if he was okay, knowing it would take at least an hour before he got a reply. His friend was in no way a morning person.

Still no texts from Peggy. Which was… alright. His text didn’t exactly warrant a reply, did it? And hadn’t he thought just the day before about how much he didn’t know about her? Maybe she was the kind of person who didn’t get out of bed on Sundays, didn’t check her phone either, or maybe she had dropped it and broken it last night, or maybe, Steve had to chill .

It doesn’t mean anything, it’s still early. It’s still early, he told himself with a shake of his head as he went to take a shower.

11 am rolled by. Still no text from Peggy. Or sign from Bucky. Steve decided to eat leftovers, there was no way he was going to attempt to cook. If Bucky complained he’ll tell him it was the price of abandoning him the previous night without warning.

Bucky hadn’t shown up by the time he finished lunch either, so Steve shot him another text.

You 01:13 pm

Dude, you alive?

i ate the leftovers u dont have lunch

He opened the text conversation with Peggy, stared at it for a second before deciding he couldn’t keep on like this, he had to distract himself. He dropped the phone on the counter and got to work.

He had a project he wanted to do some last minute retouches to before he met the clients the following day to do a progress report in the morning. The ‘final retouches’ turned into a complete rework of one of the pieces and the start of a new project. The light slowly started fading, time passing by as Steve got lost in his work.

The sound of the door opening snapped him out of his reverie. As he got up to go greet Bucky his bones popped all over the place.

“Hey, how you’ve been?” 

“Great, you?” Bucky grinned at Steve and as he took off his blazer the collar of his shirt stretched and revealed an impressive amount of love bites on his lower neck and collarbone. 

Huh, great indeed , Steve thought with a chuckle, wondering for the 100th time who was keeping his friend company so often. He had his suspicions, of course, but he wasn’t going to press… much. Bucky’d tell him when he was ready.

“Good, working a bit,” he said, which got him an idea, “speaking of which, wanna get lunch together tomorrow? I’m gonna be in the city for a progress meeting with a client.”

“Sure, sounds great. We can go to that shawarma place that’s close to the tower.” Steve’s stomach rumbled loudly at the thought of a chicken and vegetable wrap, making Bucky laugh. “Time for dinner?”

“God, yes.”

. . .

Steve’s meeting went alright, all things considered. He didn’t like Hammer Industries, but they paid really good money and he couldn’t afford to be too picky with his clients.

He called Bucky when he was a couple blocks away, it rang a few times before the call was answered.

“Hey, Buck-” there was some shuffling sound on the other side “--you hear me? I’m a couple blocks away.” More shuffling and rusting filtered before Bucky’s voice came through.

“Hey, yeah, I’ll-” His voice drifted off the speaker and the next part was muffled, like he was holding the phone against his chest, his tone was brisk, “yes... God no, don’t you fucking dare.”

“Buck, is everything alright?”

Bucky put his phone back to his ear.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be down in a minute-” He’s seemed to distance himself again from the microphone, “I swear to God if you do that, I’ll-” The last of the threat was muffled by something, probably Bucky’s hand. Steve thought he heard something resembling someone getting smacked.

“You sure it’s all good? Who’s that?” Steve started walking a bit faster, it didn’t sound like Bucky was in any particular danger, merely annoyed, maybe a bit ticked off.

“Yes, I’m good, just, I’ll come down in a second but-” He sighed, “I’m sorry?”

He hung up before Steve could ask about what.

When he finally got to the foot of Stark Tower, Bucky wasn’t there yet. While he waited, Steve took out his phone, it was clear his friend was a little behind. No new texts, no missed calls. Just like the last million times he checked. He tried not to be too disappointed, and failed.

He was startled out of his forlorn thoughts by a commotion at the Tower’s doors. He looked up to see Bucky practically sprint out, beelining straight for Steve.

“Steve, pal, I’m so sorry, he just saw my phone when you called and I couldn’t stop him he-” 

Before Steve could even behind to process his confusion and his friend’s panic, the Tower doors burst open. And out came Tony Stark.

He was shorter than Steve had imagined.

And he was coming right their way.

“Captain America!” He yelled, a big grin on his face. Steve froze, instant, frigid fear running in his veins. He turned slowly to look at Bucky, who had the most apologetic expression he had ever seen on his face, including that time he got Steve’s favorite sketchbook wet.

“I'm really sorry?” He whispered just as Tony finally reached them.

“Well, he-llo , Cap, I’m…” He halted for a second, considering, “you know who I am. It’s lovely to meet you. My very good friend James, here, has told me a lot about you,” Steve frowned, he highly doubted that. As far as he knew, Bucky only met with Tony on sporadic occasions that usually ended in, either some explosion in Stark’s labs, or some bizarre situation that he recounted later with a befuddled expression on his face. “Yet what he never, ever, not once told me, was that you modeled for a living.”

“That’s because I don’t.” Steve had no idea what was happening, “I do that for extra money, I’m a graphic designer.”

Oh , well that’s another thing James didn’t tell me,” he threw Bucky an accusatory look. An innocuous one, given Bucky just rolled his eyes.

“That’s because we barely even talk, Tony,” Bucky’s tone was slightly exasperated. “It’s not like we’re buddies or anything.”

Stark seemed to do a double take at that, a frown marred his forehead.

“But- I call you when I need help in the lab.”

Steve didn’t know Tony Stark, had just met him seconds ago, but even he could understand that that was supposed to be a big deal. The beginnings of an awkward pause surfaced, but Stark seemed incapable of letting a second of silence go by, he kept going. “Anyway, Steve, Stevie, Stevo, you say you are a graphic designer, ever worked on anything I might know?” He took out his phone and started typing, eyes not even leaving Steve.

“I don’t know, I just came back from a meeting with Hammer Industries, they hired me for some HR brochures,” Steve shrugged. He had a portfolio but most of his work was not for general public. He highly doubted Tony Stark had ever seen anything he ever worked on.

“What? Hammer Industries? Really ?” He took a peek at his phone and shook his head, “no no no, that won’t do. You know?” He pointed at Steve with the device, a pensive look on his face, “I think we need some work in the design department. We’ve been looking for someone to help with some stuff. We’re expanding towards security services and--” he cut himself off with an alarmed expression. “Don’t tell anyone though, if the press finds out Pepper will kill me.”

Steve was reeling from the onslaught of his presence. Tony Stark, to say the last, was imposing, and barely off the side of overly saturating.

“Okay?” Steve ventured, not completely sure what he was agreeing to.

“Great. Right, then, my people will get in touch with your people, wait- you don’t have people, well, I’ll guess then my people will get in touch with you.” He flicked his fingers in his direction, dismissive.

“Wait,” Steve opened his mouth to ask what the hell was going on but Tony kept going. He was starting to notice a pattern there.

“Oh, don’t worry about giving me your number, I’ll find it. I’m Tony Stark, I can find a phone number if I need it. Besides, I don’t like to be handed things.”

“You’re… hiring me?” Steve felt like he was in a play but had been handed the wrong script. He looked at Bucky, who had a resigned expression on his face and only offered him a shrug.

“Yes, Cap, I am, as I said. We can hammer out the details later, HA! get it? Hammer it out? God, I’m hilarious. Anyway, we’ll keep in touch, bye Stevo, bye James!” He turned around and walked back into the Tower, doors closing behind him.

“What the fuck just happened?” Steve asked the closed doors. He was still rooted to the spot, completely stunned with the situation.

“You just met Tony fucking Stark,” Bucky said, the amusement clear on his voice.

“I literally don’t understand what just happened?”

“Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel like every time I have a conversation with him. Don’t try to process it either, it’s best if you simply ignore it and move on. Let’s go grab lunch, I’m starving.”

. . .

The shawarma place was one square centimeter away from being called a hole, but the food was good, the service fast and friendly. They got a table as they waited for their orders.

“Hey, we should do something on Friday, get together, have some drinks.” Bucky proposed.

“Yeah, that’d be fun. You should invite Hope and Bruce again, they were nice,” Steve said as the waiter brought them their orders.

“Yeah, I’ll tell them. That girl from the theater could come, Angie,” Bucky gave Steve a knowing smirk, “she could bring her friend, she seemed... nice. ” 

“Yeah, Peggy’s… She’s alright.” Steve tried to keep it cool, but they had been friends since kindergarten, Bucky could read him like an open book.

“She really is,” he said in a kind tone, “I really liked her, and you clearly do too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look so starstruck in someone’s presence. Well, not since that kid from school gave you half his lunch after you both stood up to that bully.”

“Yeah, the kid’s name was Logan,” Steve smiled at the memory, before shaking his head, “but it’s not like that.”

“Well, obviously. Unlike that taciturn kid, Peggy is actually into you.” Steve didn’t contradict him but he couldn’t stop himself from grimacing. Bucky let out an exasperated huff, “c’mon Steve, I saw how you looked at each other. You can’t deny there is something there.”

“No, I’m not denying that. There is-- was?-- something. She gave me a lift afterward, we kissed and she invited me up to her apartment.” Steve said in a rush, hands fiddling with his napkin and not meeting his best friend’s eyes.

What?! Steve! And you didn’t tell me! How dare you?” Bucky looked torn between being proud and betrayed.

“You’re one to talk. You haven’t spent a whole weekend at the apartment in like two months, you have practically a constant collar of hickeys.” Steve smirked, “you’re not even half as sneaky as you think you are.”

“Okay, yeah, fair enough,” Bucky coincided, dismissing his accusations with a gesture. “Back to the important matters, only you would doubt it when all that happened, honestly Steve, c’mon! She wouldn’t stop looking at you and she invited you to her apartment.

“Yeah, I said no, though. It’s not what I’m looking for, with her.” He looked down at the table, “I told her as much, I think I might have scared her away?”

“Why’d you say that?”

“I texted her once I got home, she never answered. It’s been two days.” Steve shrugged, “I don’t know, I can’t blame her, if the two of us don’t want the same thing there is no point in dragging it out.”

“Yeah, I don’t think that’s it though, she definitely looked interested, maybe she saw it but something came up and she forgot to answer? She just doesn’t strike me as the type that ghosts.”

“I thought that, but two days ?” Steve smiled self-deprecating, “I think it’s simpler, she just doesn’t want the same things as me.”

“Well, another reason to hang out on Friday, get you plastered, start the process of getting over someone,” his friend said, ever the optimist.

“There isn’t even anything to get over in the first place.” He said, rolling his eyes.

Bucky just shrugged.

“Still a good idea. You don’t get drunk often enough.”

Chapter Text

Peggy would cry of exhaustion, if she had the time or energy for it. She had been in Paris for five days already and she was positively sure she still hadn’t gotten over the jet lag. She hadn’t been able to get a good night’s sleep either, hadn’t stopped a single second to simply rest .

She and Dernier arrived on Monday at 4 am local time, gotten to the apartment Sakaar had rented for her at 5 am, only to have to get up at 8 am and start working. She needed to reestablish her contacts in site and start forming an idea of what the general feel of the season was. She already had invitations to a few functions that would have relevant people in their guest lists, luckily, but she needed to plan her shopping trips and meetings. And bloody office showings . She was a Fashion Editor not a PR or HR suit, for god’s sake.

Dernier had gone to stay with his sister in town, leaving her alone in the apartment, the little time she actually spent there. He was a big help and mostly took care of the social side of things, he was delightfully charming when he wanted. The fact that he was actually French didn’t hurt. That left her to take care of the logistical side, which was not very much fun.

It was only when she saw a particularly horrible pair of checkered men shorts (that looked exactly like underwear) on the third day that she realized she didn’t have Angie’s number in the European simcard. She hadn’t texted her either, so she had no way of getting it. Peggy didn’t particularly worry, most of the times she was abroad they didn’t text anyway. The time differences and her hectic work schedule made it impossible to hold a conversation beyond a few texts in a row. She did miss her though, Angie would have cracked her ass off at those shorts. Peggy took a picture of them anyway, she’d show it to Angie when she got home. Whenever that was.

She still had no flight back arranged. Things were moving along quite well, or as well as a last-minute work trip to set up an office could go. But there was a lot to do still.

It was Friday night. She was at an event, a small runway show of an upcoming designer. They hadn’t become big yet, though it was just a matter of time. Their designs were bold, bright and cheery, stiff fabrics and geometrical shapes mixed with airy, flowing skirts. She would love to have them featured in a special. Dernier was positively thrilled, he had already started eyeing them from where they was visible backstage to get a word later.

Peggy kept her eyes on the runway but she was tired, had long since been running on fumes and her mind started to wander. A model came out from backstage, he was wearing a military-inspired look, a dark blue jacket with slacks tailored perfectly to his broad frame. If it weren’t for her breasts, which would have ruined the lines, Peggy would have adored wearing. She kept her eyes on it, it was surely one of her favorites so far. Maybe the fact that the model was a tall muscular blonde with blue eyes was biasing her, though.

She barely stopped a gasp from leaving her lips as a cold shock washed over her from head to toe. A memory of another tall, muscular, blue-eyed blonde, flashed in her mind. Steve .

“Oh, bloody fuck.

She had never texted him back.

She’d meant to, yet with the panic of the trip she had forgotten .

And now it had been a week.

How did I go through a week without thinking about the man I kissed hours before I left?

God, he must hate her. She had left him hanging for a whole week with no answer, not even a reply to his first text. She had to fix that ASAP. Tell him what had happened; explain as well as she could the situation. Except… She had no way of communicating with him, she didn't have his number, had no way of letting him know where she was and why she hadn’t answered him sooner.

Unless Angie had told him. Steve was friends with Angie, they must talk once in a while, even though they no longer worked together and Angie was extremely busy with her play… right ? But Angie hadn't contacted her either, and she didn't know her number. Peggy was fucked.

Worse, there was nothing she could do about it, just get lost in her work, wait for Angie to text her so she could get her number. She took a few deep breaths, willing the panic to subside and fade into the back of her mind. There was nothing she could do about that situation right now, but she could pay attention to the show.

Compartmentalizing was key.

The next morning Peggy received another email from Topaz.

[11th June]

Miss Carter,

The Grandmaster is pleased to announce you are to be officially designated the head of our Parisian headquarters once they are inaugurated on New Year.

However, you are to be assigned there in a permanent position, along with Jacques Dernier, after the end of September's Fashion Week. This would give you not only enough time to set your affairs in order in the U.S. but also sufficient to prepare for the great launch next year in situ.

Considering your work will be increased due to your new duties Sakaar magazine has taken the liberty of hiring an assistant and trainee for you here in the States, her contact information is attached. If you have any questions, I trust you know who to ask.

Congratulations,

Topaz Mhelt

Editor, Sakaar magazine.

Peggy had to read the email over three times, make herself a cup of tea and sit on the couch before the meaning fully sunk in.

A permanent position in Paris.

As chief of headquarters, that… that meant a lot of changes.

It meant leaving what little a life she had carved for herself in the U.S... She had gone to the States less than ten years ago; she’d been in a bad place mentally, unsure of the world and how she fit in it. She had buried herself in her work, refused to look beyond it.

It meant leaving her life in New York behind, leaving Angie behind, leaving Tony, Pepper, and Jarvis, he would never forgive her for abandoning him to the Americans. Peggy wasn’t a particularly sociable person. She didn’t have a million friends or acquaintances, only a few close ones that she considered family. Those few who would actually miss her or cry over her leaving would hurt like hell.

If she took it, it’d also mean abandoning every hope of having something with Steve. If there was anything left to have.

Peggy wasn’t stupid, she knew this was an offer you simply didn’t refuse, a once in a lifetime opportunity. Letting it go when she had no other options would be career suicide. Taking it would mean a drastic change of her workload as well, a chief of headquarters was a much more office-based, logistical job. She’d have to wave goodbye to her photoshoot assignments, to shopping trips and only attend the occasional runway show.

She’d also be a lot closer to home, would be able to visit her parents a lot more frequently, visit home a lot more often. She was comfortable enough in the States, but no country would ever feel like Britain. France wouldn’t either.

She opened the email to answer making sure not to outright accept the offer. She was in no way ready to fully confront that prospect. She stated she would get in touch with her new assistant and asked for a date to go back to the States. Given the news, she needed to get back relatively soon, there was only so much she could do from here. Hopefully, she would make it back before the 28th.

Peggy sighed, already mentally exhausted at 9 am, and went to get ready for the office showing she had in an hour.


 On Saturday, they went to Asgard again. They were a considerable group, even when not everyone was able to make it. Thor was bartending so every once in a while they’d get a free beer, which most times went straight to Steve’s hand. Bucky kept his promise, doing everything in his power to get him drunk. Bruce couldn’t make it but Natasha, Wand, Pietro, and Clint came through, helping Bucky in his efforts.

Steve had texted Angie, no matter how things with Peggy ended up, he had known Angie and had been friends with her before, he planned to keep it so after. He hadn’t even asked after Peggy, determined to not make things awkward. She had thanked him but declined because she had shows all weekend. That was fine because it was barely twelve and Steve was already feeling dizzy.

Hope had brought her husband, a nice guy named Scott who looked like he had no idea what was happening at any given moment but was okay either way. They left early, apparently, Scott’s daughter was going to spend that Saturday with them and they had a whole day planned.

Steve laughed at one of Clint’s terrible puns. Maybe a bit too much, if anyone’s looks were to be taken into account, but it didn’t matter, because Steve was feeling great .

He slung his arm around Natasha’s shoulders, practically engulfed her petite form under him as he leaned to whisper, way too loudly, in her ear.

“I really like you, Nat,” he said smiling, “I really really do, even though you scare me a bit, so-” He was starting to slur his words, “I don’t mind, not one bit,” he raised a finger to show her how very much he did not care one bit, “that you’re dating Bucky.”

Natasha went rigid under his arm.

“Steve, what gave you that idea?” Her tone was cool, vaguely amused, like she was only humoring him. But Steve knew better, he knew better about everything now.

He let go of her so he could start ticking off the items with his fingers, ridiculously proud of himself when he only swayed for a few seconds.

“One: Bucky never cared for my friends from work, I always had to set the hangouts, then, out of nowhere, he wants to hang out. Two: you never, ever, get up to get something when someone else can do it for you, spider,” he smirked, wiggling his eyebrows. “Three: Bucky doesn’t know anyone in Queens, but you live in Queens, and four : you’ve been making eyes at each other all night, it’s disgustingly cute.”

Sherlock Holmes had nothing on him.

The group, loosely amassed around a couple of tables, had gone silent, all eyes turned to them. Buck looked stunned, Steve stopped for a second as doubt started to churn in his stomach.

“This is one of those things Sober Steve is gonna to regret, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Clint patted him on the back reassuringly and looked at Nat. “Anything you wanna say about this?”

The redhead shared a glance with Bucky and shrugged.

“It’s true, we’ve been together for a month. We were planning on telling you soon.”

Clint nodded, looked back at Bucky, face serious.

“You hurt her and after she kills you, I’ll make sure your body is never found.”

“We’ll help,” Wanda said, Pietro nodding from his chair beside her.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Bucky’s expression was deadly serious.

Steve looked at Natasha, feeling significantly more sober all of the sudden.

“The same goes the other way. I like you, Nat, but Bucky’s like a brother to me.”

She smiled tightly.

“I know, Steve, I wouldn’t dream of hurting him either.” She looked at him, her expression unguarded for a second, voice soft, “I really like him.”

Steve grinned, in Natasha speak that was practically a declaration of undying love. Bucky seemed to understand that, because he had a stunned, adoring look on his face, mouth hanging a little open.

“Okay!” Steve clapped his hands. “Shovel talks over. I propose shots, who’s with me?”

Some drinks later (Steve had lost count), they ended up sprawled in Steve and Bucky’s apartment. Natasha in Bucky’s lap on the couch, Clint on the opposite end. Steve took the single couch, and the biggest plate of Doritos, something he was really proud of, as Wanda and Pietro just sat on the floor on the other side of the coffee table.

“Why is it that we’re getting Steve drunk tonight?” Wanda asked and took a sip of her beer, “not that I’m complaining, Steve is fun when he’s drunk.”

“Hey! I resent that! I’m always fun!” Steve managed to be outraged for a whole space of two seconds before he started giggling.

“Steve here has to get over a woman,” Bucky supplied.

“I told you, there isn’t anything to get over, barely anything happened,” Steve was not pouting.

He grabbed a handful of chips and stuffed his mouth with them, disproportionately pleased to find they were the nacho cheese kind, his favorite, and too drunk to care about manners. Steve could see Clint’s longingly gazing at the plate in his lap, but he still clung to it, he needed the emotional support they provided.

“Even if it’s just in your mind,” Pietro said wistfully, “there’s always something to get over.”

“It’s just, she’s so beautiful, ” Steve groaned. “And she’s British , ugggghhhh that accent. ” He sprawled in the couch, gave up any pretense of composure. The plate tethered precariously with his sudden movements and Clint swept in to its rescue, grinning. “She’s so smart , you guys should have seen how she dragged Thompson’s ass,” Steve laughed at the memory, “it was glorious.”

“You got it bad, man,” Clint said around a Dorito. He offered Steve another beer, probably meant as an apology for stealing his snacks, but he refused it, he had had more than enough for the night.

“Yeah, I do.” He shrugged, “she doesn’t, though.”

“Pal, you don’t know that.”

“Buck, c’mon, it’s been almost a week and she hasn’t even texted me. I think I know enough.” Steve shook his head, “I’d rather not keep my hopes up. Better to just drop it, start moving on.”

He took a deep breath, shoulders slumping, he wasn’t feeling quite up for company anymore.

“Imma turn in, I’m really tired.”

“Sure, pal, but don’t forget to drink some water, the aspirin is in the bathroom cabinet.”

“Yeah, it was great seeing you all, I needed this,” Steve smiled at his friends, only a little forlorn. “Goodnight guys.”

A chorus of goodbyes and well wishes answered him as he stood up, trying to maintain his balance. Steve had a fast metabolism but he’d also drank an unholy amount of alcohol.

He forced himself to down a whole glass of water, it wouldn’t prevent him from the hangover tomorrow morning but maybe it’d lessen it some. He got into his bedroom, stripped down to his underwear, he didn’t even bother with pajamas. He slipped under the covers and checked his phone one last time.

He opened the text conversation with Peggy, and the familiar sight greeted him, his blurry selfie along with the text. God, he was tired of that fucking photo.

Get a fucking grip, it was merely a couple of kisses, he berated himself. She doesn’t owe you anything, the only thing that was ‘dumped’ were your overconfident fantasies.

He had to move on, what was the first thing you were supposed to do when you were getting over someone? Delete their contact, right? Block them just in case? Drunk Steve was officially moving on and he wouldn’t let Sober Steve drag him down.

In a rush of resolve, he blocked and deleted Peggy’s number.

If a few tears slipped down his cheeks and into the pillow, that was Drunk Steve’s secret.

Chapter Text

Steve got an email from Stark Industries two weeks after meeting Tony. He opened it expecting something along the lines of ‘Sorry Tony Stark made you believe you had gotten a job in one of the biggest corporations on Earth, he was just kidding, lol bye’.

Instead, he got a genuine job offer, with payment, project details, and everything. He had to read it a couple times to fully grasp the scope of it. When it came to exposure, this was huge. Any job with Stark Industries, no matter how small (it really wasn’t an enormous workload, only a brochure, and a couple presentations) would be an incredible addition to his curriculum.

He smiled, things were looking up. He had woken up the previous Friday with a hangover but feeling lighter. Who knew that what the whole world recommended for getting over someone was actually quite efficient?

He stood up and went to the kitchen to find something to eat; Nat was sitting on the counter. Now that she and Bucky had come clean (or been forced to, Sober Steve really regretted that one) about their relationship, she had been spending some time at their apartment. Steve didn’t mind. They were quite chill as a couple, merely cuddling, keeping it PG-13 when he was around. He was still glad their walls weren’t thin and he was a heavy sleeper; he was happy staying oblivious to whatever happened when he wasn’t in the room or behind closed doors.

“Hey, Nat. Good morning.”

“Morning, Steve, I made coffee if you want some.”

“God, yes.” He got a big American flag mug (a gag gif from Bucky on one of his birthdays) from the cupboard and filled it to the top, “where’s Buck? I need to thank him.”

“He went to get bagels. What do you have to thank him for?”

“I just got an email from Stark, a job offer, it’s not huge and I have to see where it leads but it might be what I need to start getting noticed,” he took a sip, leaning against the island in front of her. “If it pans out I could even maybe leave the agency. Go freelance full time.”

“That’s wonderful news!” She smiled at him. Happy, even though it faded slightly, “we’ll miss you, though.”

“Yeah, but we’ll keep in touch. Fury will be happy, though, to get rid of my reckless ass.”

“Nah, Fury and Maria act tough but they love you,” she was wearing that knowing look that was her signature, Steve shook his head.

“I don’t think so, I’ve really made their lives impossible more than a couple times. I’d understand if they hated me, I’m just another dumb kid. It’s practically a miracle they kept me around for so long, I’m way more trouble than I’m worth.”

“They don’t hate you, Steve, really,” Nat said seriously. “Fury and Maria wouldn’t fire you over some petty argument, or much less for calling out someone when it was due, they care about their models.” She looked away, something dark crossing her features, “they’re not the Red Room.”

Steve felt like an asshole. He knew Nat, Wanda and Pietro had been part of another agency before he met them, had been brought from Russia and Sokovia with promises of great runway shows and millionaire campaigns. He suspected the truth had been a far cry from that, but he had never found out beyond that. He hadn’t asked either, it wasn’t the sort of thing you pressured anyone over.

“Did I ever tell you about that?” She asked him and he shook his head.

“Nat, you don’t have to tell me, not if you don’t want to,” Steve wanted to know, as a way to better understand her, but he’d be fine with never knowing about it if she never got to a place where she felt like she could share it with him.

“No, no, it’s alright.” She gave him a small smile, “I want you to know.” Steve nodded, serious as she started over. “They brought me here when I was nineteen, the twins came when they were sixteen,” she took a deep breath, gearing herself for what was undoubtedly gonna be a hard retelling. “They didn’t bring us together, I came here a year earlier, when I met them at the Academy I already knew better. The Red Room was… vicious. They didn’t care about their models, they just wanted money. They were known for extremely thin, ‘exotic’ models, they did their best to starve us to keep that brand,” Nat shrugged her thin shoulders, eyes downcast on her coffee mug. “They disguised it on special diets, at least. Tailored specifically for each of us. They even gave us the food so we didn’t have to go buy it. Most of us didn’t even speak English, it made us feel taken care of, like they didn’t want us to suffer the stress of not being able to communicate. In reality, it was a way to make us dependent.

“Some didn’t have families, like the twins, no one to tell about how you can start counting your ribs and your stomach hurts constantly like something is clawing out of it. Those of us who did only got one phone call a week, too expensive to call every day, they said. There was always a staff member in the room with us, to make sure we didn’t say anything. Our families always heard how amazing everything was,” she chuckled, but there was nothing remotely amusing about the sound. “You couldn’t tell them the truth, I know because I tried once. I didn’t get to eat for two days. What’s worse. I was booking more jobs. The Editors, the staff, congratulated me, told me I looked beautiful, so I must be doing something right, da?” Some desperation soaked into her voice and she had to clear her throat before she continued, “it didn’t matter that it had been five months and I hadn’t learned a full sentence in English, because I understood enough: ‘beautiful’, ‘stunning’, ‘exquisite’... ‘too fat’”

Steve was speechless. Fury, helplessness and hatred boiled under his skin. He fisted his hands to keep himself from hugging Nat. He wasn’t sure his touch’d be welcomed just then. Natasha saw it, she had always been great at reading people, she gave him a small, defeated smile.

“Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending, more or less.” She took a sip of her mug before continuing, “they did their best to keep us estranged from one another, paired us with anyone who didn’t speak the language. They even separated Wanda and Pietro, set them up in different rooms, we all heard their screams of protest from the bedrooms. Still, they couldn’t keep them apart. They grew up together in an orphanage in Sokovia, did you know that?” Steve shook his head. “They have no one but each other and back then they spent every moment they could together. They were lucky in a way, being twins, looking similar, editorials loved that shit, they booked double jobs often.

“I got paired to room with Wanda after my roommate was kicked out. Sokovian and Russian aren’t the same language, but they share enough etymology that we could communicate,” Natasha paused to take another sip of her coffee, Steve stayed silent. “I had met Clint only a bit earlier, we were already close. Did he ever told you how we met?” Steve shook his head and Natasha got a fond amused look, “he walked into me as I was changing in a shoot. He thought it was the bathroom,” she chuckled and some of the darkness lifted from her eyes. “I would never had believed him if I had understood him when he told me then. Now that I know him, I’m not surprised. He was working on the lighting crew, setting up stuff on the rafters, all that. He came in, took one look at my back and went pale. I flung a hairbrush at him.” She gave Steve a razor sharp grin, “got him right in the nose.” Steve barked a startled laugh, and some of the tension left both their shoulders. “Clint put his hands up, started talking to me at a hundred miles an hour. He quickly realized I couldn’t understand anything he was saying. So he took his phone out, he had an app on it, still does actually, for when he loses his hearing aids. You talk to it and it writes it down, you know the type?” Steve nodded, “it even had a translation feature.” This time her smile was warm.

“It only took a couple sentences of me explaining what I was going through for him to start looking into options to get me out. He gave me his number, told me how to get a burner phone, gave me the money and everything. I was suspicious, of course, it seemed too good to be true, but all he wanted to do then was talk, and I was desperate for human connection. When Wanda and Pietro arrived, I told them about my American friend, I was determined to get them out, no one else was going to suffer through what I did, not if I could help it.

“I won’t bore you with the details other than Clint had a friend who had a friend who knew an attorney who worked pro bono. He was amazing, but it was hard, turned out Red Room was owned by a dummy corporation who was owned by another dummy corporation, etcetera, etcetera. You get the gist. It took months and we had to do it all in secret, still, but we did it,” her smile reminded him of a shark’s, Steve couldn’t be prouder of her. “Now those motherfuckers don’t even have a dollar to wipe their asses with, at least those few who managed to dodge jail.”

“Good,” they shared a bright smile, all teeth and burning eyes. Steve could see that below her stone core, retelling the story had cost her, so he put down the cup and went around the kitchen island, “I have no idea what to say but, can I give you a hug?”

Natasha gave him a faint, amused grin but nodded. When Steve put his arms around her and squeezed, she held onto him tightly. 

“I don’t blame you for not knowing worse, nobody should” she mumbled from where she was pressed against his chest. “Just know that we really appreciate you. Avengers is a family and we will miss you if you leave. Don’t you dare become a stranger.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

That’s how Bucky found them, hugging in the apartment kitchen. 

They separated slowly and Nat caught a single tear with her index finger, Steve had to take a few deep breaths. Bucky, who had seemed to take one look at the situation and immediately realize what had transpired, walked over and took hold of Natasha’s hand, who automatically leaned into him, almost unconsciously. She gave Steve a smile and turned to Bucky.

“James, Steve here had something to tell you.”

It took Steve a second to recall what she was talking about, mind far away from what had actually initiated their conversation.

“Oh, yeah, I got an email from Stark, a job offer for some presentations.”

“Stevie, that’s great! That’ll be great for your curriculum and as experience.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking, it’s a small workload but just the name will do wonders. I don’t wanna get ahead of myself though, it could fall through.”

“No way, Tony might seem a bit erratic but once he puts his mind to something, he commits, if he said they’d hire you, they will.” Steve only wished he could share Bucky’s conviction in the eccentric billionaire. “Good thing I got celebratory bagels then.” He raised the bag with a grin.

“Celebratory bagels?” Steve asked as he peeked into the box to find ordinary, plain bagels. “They’re plain, how are they different from normal, everyday ones? Why are they special?”

“Because I fucking say so,” Bucky snapped at him as he snatched the box back, “now stop being a punk and get the schmear.”

Natasha’s laughter filled the apartment as Steve did as he was told.


 Peggy finally got back to the States in the early morning hours on the 24th of June. She arrived knowing she wouldn’t get a day’s rest before she was back in the office, weaving between interns and clothesracks. She’d snuck a couple hours of sleep in the morning, but it wasn’t anywhere near enough rest. She wanted to die.

She woke up at midday, only marginally less tired, changed the sim card on her phone and ordered some lunch.

The fridge was cleaned out of everything perishable, Angie had clearly dropped by at least a few times in the eleven days Peggy had been gone. There was a faint layer of dust on everything and a musty shut-in smell, but she’d take care of that in the weekend.

While she waited for her food to arrive, she took up her phone and checked her text conversation with Angie, she had two new texts from the Sunday she left.

Angie 05:47 pm

English i think you gave me the wrong number

Unless you spontaneously became a frenchman who sends dick pics instead of saying bonjour

She scrolled back on her messages and checked to see that yes, she had typed her European number wrong, no wonder she had never heard from her.

You 12:10 pm

Hey angie, im finally back, i’m knackered but i miss you

we have to do something this weekend, i have news

how does sunday sound?

She also had a few messages from Tony.

Tony 13:05 pm

Hey Carter, we should meet up

i’ve got some cool stuff to show you 

Tony 16:54 pm

r u ignoring me?

what the hell did i do this time???

Tony 19:35 pm

Okay Pep just told me that some guy she knows apparently says he saw you in Paris???

I’m hurt England, we could have gone together, given me an excuse to take pepper away from all the work

too late now we’re at the bahamas

Tony 22:43 pm

did you have to change your line?

is that why you aren’t answering??

i’ve told u a million times to let me route ur phone so it calls internationally

that’s it, i'm giving u a satellite Stark phone 4 christmas

surprises are overrated

There were some other ones from a couple days later:

Tony 17:27 pm

U really need to come back

i miss our talks

feels like we haven’t seen each other in foreverrrrrrr

and Jarvis is gonna go in a murder spree any second

he’s already started calling us ‘you americans’

he needs a dose of your britishness

bake him some scones when u get here

Tony 04:28 am

i’ve got so much stuff to show u

you’re gonna love it

She read fondly over the texts, she had missed him. Tony and she had more or less grown up together because their parents had been friends. Shared holidays along with being the only kids of similar ages in stuffy functions had been a solid base for a lasting friendship. They had lost touch when Tony’s parents died. She had still been living in the UK and dating Fred then, who never approved of their friendship. He only used Tony’s downward spiral into his aggressive playboy lifestyle as an example and excuse why she shouldn’t keep in touch with him.

They had reconnected when she came back to the States, lost and with no idea where to start building a new life. Tony, Pepper, and Jarvis had helped her immensely without making it feel like pity, she loved them dearly even if their busy schedules barely allowed them to meet up.

You 12:20 pm

Hey Tony, i just got back, sorry i didn’t tell you about the trip, it was all very sudden

I’d love to meet up, we can get lunch on Saturday if that sounds good

you can tell me all about your new stuff and i’ll tell you some news i have

Right under her conversation with Tony was the one with the unknown number that belonged to Steve. He hadn’t sent her anything besides that first text this whole time. She felt dread curl up in her stomach, time to pull her socks up.

You 12:40 pm

Hello Steve, I’m really sorry I didn’t answer, I don’t know if you’ve talked to Angie, I had a sudden work trip to Paris and I had to leave immediately.

She took a deep breath, this sucked bollocks, but she couldn’t leave him thinking she had solely wanted to get him on her bed, only to ignore him once he refused. Not when she had told him she wanted a relationship with him.

You 12:46 pm

I’ve only just got back and I wanted to know if you wanted to meet, I understand if you don’t feel like it, but I’d like to explain some things. 

. . .

Peggy got to the office at 3pm to finally meet her assistant tête-à-tête, a light brown-skinned woman named Val. They had talked over the phone already in the last week, yet had never seen each other. She had a hard personality, maybe a little on the explosive side and maybe a bit too cocky but she was brutally efficient. They would get on well enough, Peggy thought, she would be good to have on a shoot.

She found her already on her office, feet propped on the desk. She grinned as she lowered them down at Peggy’s disapproving glance, clearly not one bit sorry.

“Val, lovely to finally meet you, what do you have for me?”

Given she’d been out of the country without a scheduled return date, her photoshoot had been taken over by Gabe, who had made an amazing work editing and retouching it. She took a more strictly editorial role, arranging the sections, making sure it was all printable in the right size, resolution, and format. Turned out, Steve’s perfume ad had indeed gone into printing that month, and, as luck would have it, Sakaar had included it.

The fragrance was called Désir , and true to its name, its ad focused on the different things female desire could embody. Read: money, traveling, a hegemonically attractive body, and an attractive man in your bed. 

The ad was a photo of a luxurious hotel bedroom, the Eiffel Tower was visible through the window and strewn around the bedroom were a red silk dress and a white dress shirt. In a corner laid a Louis Vuitton suitcase, the brown pattern unmistakable. The main model, a white, dark-haired woman, was leaving the bed, taking the sheet with her, which did little to cover her slender legs, enough for it to look classy but not trashy. On the bed itself was Steve, barely covered with the dragged bedsheet, looking asleep in what seemed to be post-sex afterglow, skin flushed and hair tousled. 

It was a good ad, engaging without being lewd, perfect for a fashion magazine, clear in its intent. Peggy hated it. The combination of Steve, looking exactly like she had pictured him the brief second she had thought he would come up to her apartment, and Paris, where she would have to move in less than three months, felt like a cruel jokeDestiny showing her exactly what she couldn’t have.

“Val, can you take care of this for me? Just put the ad whatever you want, I don’t care as long as it’s not the first of last pages, thanks,” she handed her the magazine draft and got up. “I’m done for the day, let me know if I get anything urgent but know that I plan on sleeping through the whole weekend.”

“Sure, boss, though I can’t assure I’m going to be of much use this weekend, it’s Pride week.”

Peggy looked at her, surprised.

“Oh my God, it is, isn’t it? Bollocks, I almost forgot. When does the 28th fall?” Val gave her an equally surprised look before answering.

“Next Monday. You part of the community?”

“No, but I attend the parade every year, personal reasons.” Peggy kept on before Val could ask what those were, “I’m gonna take that afternoon off, you can have it too, given I’m not gonna be in the office. Have some fun.”

Val smiled at her, clearly pleased.

“I sure will, thank you.”

Chapter Text

On Saturday, Peggy met up with Pepper, Tony and Jarvis at a discreet and elegant restaurant that was clearly Pepper’s choice. There were lots of hugs and kisses, and even Jarvis, who was usually so composed, wrapped his arms around her for a few seconds, enough time to desperately whisper in her ear.

“Please save me, if I see one more person make tea in the microwave I’m going to strangle them.”

Peggy barked a laugh.

“Don’t worry, I brought you homemade scones.” She told him with a complicit wink. Jarvis looked to be on the brink of tears.

Once upon a time, Jarvis had been the senior butler of the Stark staff. More Tony’s father than Howard had ever been, he had also taken care of Peggy and Michael when they visited the States as kids. It was understandable he had a full head of white hair, given the stress Tony, Rodney, Peggy and Michael had caused him with their childish (and teenaged) antics. 

When Peggy had come to the States after everything hapened, Jarvis had been a breath of fresh air, a link home without all the sour memories that accompanied it. They had grown close as they both shared a sarcastic sense of humor and a love for calling Tony on his shit. They got along swimmingly.

Even though Tony had practically forced Jarvis to retire years ago, given him enough money for him and his wife to live a lifetime and a half in luxury, the British man had stayed at his side. He insisted that he had been strangled from his homeland too long, that if he went back, he’d be disappointed because it wouldn’t match his memories. The truth was unspoken, he stayed because his family was here.

They took a seat as Tony unleashed almost a month’s worth of babble.

“Pegs, you have to come down to my lab ASAP, I’ve got this project for a turbine that can propel a car at five hundred miles an hour that’s gonna be amazing. If it doesn’t pan out-- which is highly unlikely-- I designed it c’mon, I’m pretty sure I can turn it into a silent hairdryer. There’s also this new thing I’m building, I’m still not sure exactly what it is but it hasn’t blown up on my face so far, so it can’t be that bad. Also, I needed your input in this new type of prosthetics, this guy I’m friends with gave me the idea, so it’s completely made of metal and…” If it was up to Tony, he would have talked everyone’s ear off without stopping to breathe for a second. Pepper, completely aware of that fact, interrupted him after placing their wine orders with a slightly starstruck waitress.

“So, Peggy, Tony mentioned something about you having news?” Pepper said. Somehow the bottle of wine had already appeared on the table and she already had a cup in her hand, the perfect picture of poise in her white suit. Even Peggy, who prided herself in her elegance, was sometimes in awe at her composure.

Peggy took a deep breath, this wasn’t going to be easy.

“Indeed, I do. I’m moving to Paris by the end of September.”

The whole table fell silent. Both Jarvis and Tony raised their heads from the menus to look at her with an intensity that almost made her squirm.

“You’re doing what ?” Tony’s voice was incredulous, as if he really hadn’t heard her correctly.

Sakaar magazine is opening Parisian headquarters next year, I’ve already been doing the preliminary inquiries to set the offices. They offered me the position of head of headquarters.” She picked up her cup, needing something to do with her hands, “it’s a great opportunity.”

Tony started to sputter, unable to form a full sentence.

“What would that entail? Work-wise, I mean, besides the obvious change of scenery,” Pepper looked genuinely interested, clearly looking at the situation from a different angle.

“Mostly I’d have to take care of the functioning of the office, make sure it all goes smoothly. Maybe look into making contacts. I guess assign tasks and assignments most of the time,” Peggy shrugged, not able to muster much excitement at the prospect. She tried to cover it up with a smile, but Pepper saw right through her.

“You don’t seem that thrilled about it, Peggy.”

“I am, I mean, it’s a brilliant opportunity, the kind you don’t say no to.” Peggy deflected, not wanting to lie to them.

“That kind doesn’t exist!” Tony finally got his voice back, “You taught me that, Peggy! Remember? ‘No is a complete sentence’, ‘you don’t owe anybody anything’?”

She gave him a sad smile, God she was going to miss him.

“This isn’t the same, Tony. If I ever want to go higher in the business, I have to take this job,” even if she hated it and it took her away from everything she loved. “It could merely be a few years,” her attempt at reassurance fell flat.

“You don’t! We could give you a job! Doesn’t Stark Industries own a freaking fashion magazine? All we need is to kick out the Editor.” He looked at Pepper but she just shook her head, he let out an exasperated huff, “you’re no help.” He turned to Jarvis, who had kept uncharacteristically quiet, “J, c’mon, back me up on this one, we can’t let her leave like that, not our Pegs.”

“Well, I was wondering, whoever are you going to split the Christmas crackers with, in the land of snails and foie gras, ” he shrugged, pretending to be unaffected.

This was way worse than she had expected. She looked around the table and felt her heart compress. These three had become such a huge part of her life. Being separated from them was going to be dreadful. She willed the wetness in her eyes to subside-- now was not the time to cry.

“I don’t have much of a choice, Sakaar might be flexible when it comes to workloads but their hierarchy is solid, this is the only way for me to go higher. It’s an honor that they picked me for the position.” Nevermind that Peggy gave a bollock about going up the ladder if she liked what she was doing. “Besides, I don’t really have any other options. Enough about me, though” she stated in a tone that booked no argument, she couldn’t talk about it anymore. “How was your trip to the Bahamas?”

Her change of subject was blunt at best, but it worked anyways and the rest of the lunch went pleasantly. Even if the conversation was more on the stiff side.

. . . 

Angie and Peggy had arranged to meet at a café for a quick bite. It was the best they could manage, given how busy the play kept Angie. It was a nice place, cozy, small, and most importantly, almost empty.

“Okay, so you told me you had news .” Angie gave her a sly look, as she put down her drink.

“Yes, I do,” Peggy said, wary of the glint in her friend’s eye. Ready to just blurt it out, she opened her mouth but was interrupted.

“No! Wait! Don’t tell me!” She grinned, “you slept with Steve!” Peggy almost choked on her tea. “You dog ! I knew you had it in you! I’ve been trying to get both of you to hook up for months ! I’m so amazing, I’m totally taking credit for this.”

“You’ve been doing what! ?” Blindsided by Angie’s words she was too baffled to even correct her.

“Get you too together! C’mon, all those invitations to the theater ‘to see how the play was coming along’? I even told you about that scenography guy I had in case you needed help with that weird prop!”

“That guy was Steve ?”

“Well, duh .”

“I’m just, I… Whatever, it doesn’t matter, that’s not it anyway.”

“You didn’t sleep with him?” Angie gave her a confused look before realization seemed to fall on her again, “oh, you two are dating ! Taking it slow, huh? That’s even better! I wanna be a maid of honor at the wedding.”

“Angie…”

“Just don’t pick yellow for the dresses I’d look dreadful. Also, for the honeymoon-”

Peggy had had enough.

“Angie! That’s not it either, can you stay quiet for a second and let me explain?” Her tone was a lot sharper than she’d intended and she regretted it as soon as the hurt flourished in her friend’s face. “Fuck, I’m sorry. I’m just really tired and my news, they are nothing of that sort. Nothing that… pleasant.”

The hurt morphed into worry instantly. Angie put her hand on the table and took hold of her friend’s, squeezing lightly.

“Okay, I’m sorry about that. I got carried away, I’m listening.”

Sakaar offered me a promotion.” This time Angie didn’t jump to conclusions, didn’t congratulate her, Peggy’s cold tone made clear there was something more. “If I accept it, I would have to move to Paris.”

She frowned at her own words. Tony had really gotten under her skin, apparently, there was no ‘if’ to it, no ‘would have’, there were no other choices. And honestly, it was a huge promotion in the City of Lights, how could she be so entitled as to treat it like a burden?

“Oh, English,” her friend took her hand in both of them, refusing to let go even to wipe the wetness that was welling in her eyes. “This could be good, right? Isn’t this the promotion you wanted?”

“Not quite.” She took a deep, steadying breath. Angie was holding on for her, she could follow her example. “It could be a step closer to it, though.”

“That’s great, let’s focus on the positive, okay? I mean, it’s Paris! That can’t be all bad, and you still have time, right? You don’t have to move tomorrow or somethin’?” When Angie got nervous or anxious her southern accent tended to make a comeback, Peggy had only ever heard her drawl before performances, hearing it now made her chest hurt even more.

“No, no, probably by mid-September, after Fashion Week.”

“Okay, good, that’s like two months! Plenty of time yet!”

“Yes... Plenty of time yet.”

Chapter Text

Steve took the 28th of June off, as he did every year he could since he had started college and come out as bisexual. He attended Pride every time he could, only missed it a couple of times due to extraordinary reasons.

Steve loved Pride, even if he didn’t go all out, he loved seeing everyone have fun and be themselves freely. He tended to stick to the quieter parts of the parade, no leather community or G-strings for him. Sam couldn’t make it this year, and neither could Bucky, who accompanied him as a show of support whenever he could, so Steve had come alone rather than miss it.

He was wearing the same outfit as the previous year, a pair of jeans and a bisexual flag t-shirt, the upper half of it was magenta, then a purple stripe in the middle, and the bottom half blue. It fitted a bit too tight in the shoulders and upper chest now, but it would do. He’d never been accused of being vain but he wasn’t blind either, he knew how it made his body look, sue him.

The parade was only halfway through and he had already gotten a few invitations to some after parties. The final concert was a long way out and he was already feeling tired and without someone to egg him on, he probably wouldn't last a lot longer. Times like these were the ones that made his friends call him an old man.

He had fallen back to the end, where mostly stranglers and quieter groups were walking, far beyond the main event, when he felt someone tap his shoulder. He turned around, expecting some random person with a sly smile, only to come face to face with Peggy.

“Hello, Steve.” She greeted him with a strained smile.

“Peggy.” He was too surprised to string together a proper greeting.

“How are you doing? It’s been a while.”

“Yeah, it has,” he answered warily. “I’m fine, you?” He managed to keep any sort of resentment or disappointment from his tone but confusion still made him frown.

“I’m good.”

Before they could continue their inane conversation, someone bumped into Peggy, making her stumble a bit but also realize they had stayed rooted to the spot as everyone else kept marching.

“We should probably walk.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Steve was bewildered. Peggy was here, talking to him, after two whole weeks of radio silence. And he had come across her in Pride , of all places. 

He stole a look at her trying to be discreet, checking for any flags or recognizable colors, but she was wearing casual plain clothes. It was the first time he saw her in anything remotely informal, just a pair of jeans, a gray t-shirt, and comfortable sneakers. She looked younger, less intimidating, without her high heels she reached only to Steve’s jaw. It was only when she pushed her sunglasses over her head that he saw the black ribbon tied to her wrist. 

Oh.

“Listen, Steve, I… I owe you an explanation.” She looked up at him and he was shocked to see how tired she looked, there were dark circles under her eyes, and he was sure she was paler.

Steve was quick to correct her.

“You don’t, not really.” If Steve had made assumptions, taking an ‘I think’ to be a sure commitment, it was on him.

“Yes, Steve I do.” She put her hand up, stopping him before another sound left his mouth, “I left you hanging, I didn’t mean to.” She took a deep breath and looked at him in the eye, “I meant to answer your text the next morning, I was about to, when I got a call. My phone had died the previous afternoon, I think I told you about it,” Steve nodded, he had gone over their conversation a million times and could probably recall it word for word. “Turns out I had missed an email from my boss telling me I had to fly to Paris that Sunday.”

“You had to what?”

She gave him a chagrined smile.

“I had kind of hoped you had talked to Angie at some point, she knew. I’m Sakaar’ s Europe correspondent, sudden trips across the pond are part of my commute. I change my line every time I fly there, so I had no personal contacts. No way to reach any of you here, or… receive anything you might have sent me?”

“Oh,” Steve was left reeling. That explanation made sense, even if it was a million times crazier than what Steve had pictured, which was basically Peggy realizing she wasn’t that interested and resolving to ignore him.

As he looked at her, he found he actually believed her. He could feel a tentative inkling of hope that he had thought dead and gone coming back to life. If she hadn’t meant to leave him hanging, she was interested, maybe they could go out after all?

“I tried texting you when I got back on Friday, the texts wouldn’t deliver,” her expression told him she knew exactly what that meant: he had blocked her number. Steve felt apprehension creep on his face, he tried to say something, blurt out a lie or maybe defend his actions, but Peggy kept on, “I wanted to meet up, not only to clear that up but because something else came up while I was in Paris.”

She looked away from him then, let her eyes wander over the rest of the people walking, most of the barricades were empty at this point, the best part of Pride had passed long ago. The street was filled with paper strips and the pavement would probably glitter for a couple more days, at least until the next heavy rain. A couple water bottles were tossed on the sides, the odd flag left abandoned.

“I got another email. This time with a promotion,” Steve got a bad feeling about that, Peggy’s tone was nowhere near celebratory. But still, a promotion was a great thing and Steve was positive it was more than deserved.

“Peg, that sounds great, congratulations!” He smiled at her, unsure if a hug was appropriate, but she didn’t return it.

“The promotion is as head of headquarters, in Paris,” Steve’s felt his smile and stomach plummet.

“Oh.” Was his eloquent response.

“Yeah, I’d have to move there in September, after Fashion Week, start to get everything ready for the official launch in New Year.”

Steve nodded, unable to find anything suitable to say for a few seconds. Whatever they thought they could have had was old news, then. He felt that sprout of hope shrivel and die inside of him. He wouldn’t commit to a relationship when it had that kind of deadline. He knew that about himself. And still, a part of him wanted to say ‘fuck it’, steal whatever time they could scrape together before she left. He still had no idea if they could work together but by god if he didn’t want to give it a try. It would hurt though, when she left and they had to drop it. Even more, if it turned out to be something good. Maybe it was better to leave it as a ‘what if’ after all. The one that got away or something like that.

“That’s huge, isn’t it? I mean, Paris is the capital of fashion, right? You’d be able to get everything straight from the source,” he smiled at her, trying to lighten the mood and dispel the sour turn of his thoughts, “not the diluted, American copy.”

She gave him a smile, it didn’t reach her eyes.

“Yeah, I still won’t get proper tea, though. I don’t know how much of an upgrade it’ll be, really.” Steve chuckled at her comment but when he looked down at her she wasn’t paying attention to him, her eyes had drifted behind him and her face had a hard expression on it.

Steve turned around to check what she was looking at, it didn’t take long. He felt his face harden in a similar way, jaw clenching. Standing against a building behind the barricade were a group of white, probably middle-class people, they all had the same garish yellow t-shirts that read the name of some church. They kept yelling out things to the few people left walking, and even though Steve and Peggy were too far away to understand them, it wasn’t hard to guess from their expressions. They weren’t holding them at the moment, the biggest part of the parade had already passed, but big signs were leaning against the wall next to them. Bible verses, homophobic slurs and lovely little messages of ‘You will burn in hell’ were written in them.

He dragged his eyes back to Peggy, expecting to see her brimming with the same anger as him, instead, she had a faraway look in her eyes and a smirk on her lips. She looked up at him, eyes focusing, glinting with a dangerous light.

“I have an idea.”

Less than fifteen minutes later, Peggy walked over to the group. She didn’t have any flag or colorful clothes, but they still regarded her warily as she came closer. Steve, little less than half a block down couldn’t hear how the conversation was going, but she somehow managed to engage the whole group in it. They drifted closer to her, leaving the signs unattended, that was Steve’s cue.

He took off in a run, reached down without stopping and scooped all of them up in one sweep, the sudden load messed with his balance for a few paces but he managed to regain his footing easily. Those few seconds were enough for Peggy to tuck tail and join him. They ran side by side through the sidewalk, dodging people left and right. Steve felt the adrenaline course through his veins and couldn't help but let out a whoop as he jumped over a small dog waiting for its owner in the sidewalk. Peggy laughed out loud next to him as she reached out to take hold of his hand so she wouldn’t lag behind. The church people had run after them yet didn’t seem to be gaining on them, Steve took a peek over his shoulders and saw why.

While people moved out of the way when they saw Peggy and Steve running, they stayed rooted in the spot when the pursuers came, slowing them down. Somehow the bystanders seemed to immediately get what was going on. 

Steve let out another belly laugh, exhilarated with the run, with the whole situation. Peggy was right next to him, with her hair whipping around her and a huge grin on her lips. They stopped a few blocks down after taking a few turns, making sure no one was following them, breathless with exhaustion and mirth. 

Peggy was red with laughter, could barely draw a breath before she was doubling over again. She grabbed Steve’s arm to keep from falling over and he instinctively raised it to steady her. She laid her head on his shoulder as she kept shaking with laughter, every time they got their breath back, they looked at each other only to burst giggling again.

When they finally managed to get their laughter and breathing under control both seemed to realize at the same time how little space was between their bodies. Steve looked down at her, she was standing so close, he could feel the heat of her body and the softness of her t-shirt under his palm. Her eyes were still bright with laughter and the weariness he had noticed on her earlier all but gone. They locked eyes and she took a sharp breath, Steve felt the displace of the air and it drew his eyes to her lips.

God, she’s so beautiful.

Any remnant of casualness was abandoned and Steve fought the urge to wet his lips and lean in. Peggy was the one to draw apart, adjusting her clothes as if they had somehow gotten askew, drawing her hands away from Steve to tie her hair back. His bare skin was left tingling where she had touched him.

“What do you say we find a dumpster to put all this garbage in?” She pushed the signs with the tip of her sneaker, disgust written on her face.

“Sure, we can look for one of those big containers.”

They found one by the side of a restaurant a few blocks away and dropped them in, right where they belonged.

They stood on the sidewalk a few seconds, unsure of how to proceed now that they had nothing keeping them together for the moment. 

“It’s still early, can I invite you to a cup of coffee?” He tried to make his tone as unimposing as possible, casual, letting her know she could turn him down, “or a tea, if that’s what you want?”

Peggy regarded him for a second, thinking about it before she nodded, a small smile on her lips, eyes soft.

“I’d like that.”

They found a café that wasn’t saturated with patrons and took a seat inside, relishing in the air conditioner. A waitress took their order almost immediately, as they waited Peggy spoke up.

“So, how long have you been coming to Pride?”

“Uhm, almost as long as I’ve been out, so since my first year of college,” he stopped a second to think back on the years. “Yeah, I had my first parade when I was nineteen.” At her confused frown, he clarified, “I started school a year later, cause all of the health problems I had.”

Peggy nodded.

“Yeah, Bucky and you told me something about it, at the theater.” 

Steve remembered, he had wanted to strangle Buck that night, up until Peggy had seen that photo and still called him beautiful. He swallowed hard, the memory of that whole night was clear as glass in his mind.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t attend kindergarten, even later I skipped lost a lot of classes ‘cause I was sick. My mother, along with Bucky actually, pretty much homeschooled me.” He shrugged, “by the time I started college I was healthy as a bull, just one year behind everyone else.”

“You did graphic design, right?”

“Yep, I do whatever I can freelance, try to keep it as my main income, but it’s not enough.” He dipped his head, a smile on his lips, “hence, the modeling.”

Their drinks arrived and they took a moment to fix them up.

“So, how was Paris?”

“It was good, really busy. A lot of arse kissing and unnecessary complimenting, way too much foie gras,” she wrinkled her nose at the memory and Steve fought the unbidden urge to drop a peck on the scrunched tip. “There were some good off-season shows, though, one in particular I believe is gonna make it big.”

“Hope you get the credit for discovering them.”

“If only, I think that honor goes to my coworker, he’s the one that talked them into appearing in an American magazine.”

“No small feat, I assume?”

“To get a French to agree to anything American? I’d almost call it a miracle.” She laughed at Steve’s exaggerated outrage.

“How dare you! We are the epitome of class! Anything associated with America is nothing but the finest finery.”

“Oh, absolutely , darling, the beer and corndogs are so elegant. ” Steve barked out a laugh at that, he raised his hands in concession.

“Yeah, I’ll give you that one. We are less snobbish, though, right?”

“Eh…” 

When their laughter drifted down, they shared a comfortable silence, looking around at the rest of the patrons as they sipped their drinks. Peggy put down her cup and absentmindedly fiddled with the black ribbon in her wrist. Steve wanted to ask, but it was for sure to be a sore subject, he kept his voice even but tentative.

“Who are you honoring today? You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, I’d understand,” he nodded towards her wrist. 

She gave him a look Steve couldn’t decipher and kept silent for a few seconds. When she spoke her voice was soft, barely audible over the murmur of the café.

“My brother, Michael, he was gay, and I, I didn’t know... at least not while he was alive.” Her smile was sad as she looked up at him, “we weren’t on the best of terms when he died and I found out.”

“What happened?” He wanted to reach out, hold her hand or something, but he got the feeling it wouldn’t be welcomed. Peggy took a deep breath, gathering herself for what was going to be a heavy conversation.

“Michael was amazing, everything I could hope for in an older brother. He was funny, smart, he stood up for me, taught me how to stand up for myself too.” She chuckled, it sounded more than a little wet, “we had a three-year difference between us but we didn’t pay it much mind, we got into all sorts of trouble as children. We were all the other had.” She looked up at him, a frown on her forehead, “I don’t think I ever asked, do you have any siblings?”

Steve shook his head.

“No, just me and my Ma. Bucky is the closest I’ve got to a brother.” 

She nodded, a small sad smile on her lips.

“Siblings are an amazing thing, the closest we can get to seeing ourselves from an outside perspective I imagine.” She looked away as she kept on, “anyway, when he turned eighteen, Michael joined the army. My father congratulated him, told him he was ‘becoming a man’, bringing honor to the Carter name. I, on the other hand, felt betrayed. From my point of view, he was leaving me behind, moving on from our childhood together. He was abandoning me to my mother’s clutches, in my fifteen-year-old mind, that was inexcusable.

“A year later after he joined, I met a boy, his name was Fred, he was tall, charming and from a good family. I fell in love.” A self-deprecating smile twisted her lips, “my family approved, especially my mother. She’s a very traditional woman, I’ve told you that, right?” Steve nodded, “well, she wanted me to follow in her footsteps, work a little but then get married, take my rightful place in the house, give her grandchildren and raise them.”

Steve squeezed his coffee cup at the indignation that caused him. Peggy seemed to notice, because she gave him a look that was probably meant to be reassuring, but still had too much of that self-deprecation on it to really work.

“I didn’t know any different, I had grown up with her as a role model and Fred urged me to follow her example. I could feel there was something rotten in that, in the lack of options, but everyone seemed so thrilled for us, the happy couple, I thought I was the one in the wrong.

“Everyone was happy for us, except for Michael. He wasn’t home much, the army kept him busy and well, now I can see he just didn’t want to come back as often. Whenever he visited, he used to take me apart for a second, look me in the eyes, ask me if I was happy. No matter how much I insisted that I was, he always looked unconvinced. I guess he knew me better than I knew myself.”

She took a second to sip her tea and Steve mirrored her, mostly to keep himself from interrupting her. This was not the moment for him to speak.

“Fred and I had the first serious arguments when it came to uni. I wanted to get a degree but he didn’t want me to. What good would it do? He used to ask me, when he would be the one working while I’d be staying at home? I didn’t need a degree to change diapers. Michael almost punched him in the face for that one.” She smiled at the memory, eyes unfocused, nostalgic. Steve felt he would have done the same, “Fred finally relented, treated it as if he was indulging me. I took that as a victory, Michael did not.

“Fred and I dated for seven years before he proposed. I had just finished uni, he was about to become a lawyer, it was the perfect time, he said. I was ecstatic, I had the life everyone dreamed about, high school sweethearts to married couple.” Her voice dimmed, almost to a whisper, “I was very proud of us.” Peggy looked down at her cup, fiddled with the spoon for a second before continuing.

“Michael came to visit on leave at my request. After we told him the news of the engagement, he delivered some of his own: he had signed up for a UN peacekeeping mission in Africa.” She chucked a little, “my mother almost fainted. He was going to leave in two weeks. My mother, she wanted to rush the wedding, push everything forward so he could be there. He refused, said me marrying ‘that sexist cad’ was nothing he wanted to see.

“He took me aside that night, told me I could do so much better than Fred, that he was manipulating me, belittling me, stopping me from reaching my true potential. That I needed to ‘stop lying to myself and denying what I truly wanted’.” Another self-deprecating grimace crossed her features, sorrow written on every line, “I didn’t know it then, but he was probably talking from personal experience. I refused to listen, like a dunce I insisted that Fred loved me, that we were going to be happy together.

“When he left for deployment, he sent us a letter from headquarters, we should have gotten it in a couple days. It arrived almost two weeks later, barely a month from my wedding day, it got lost in the mail or something.

“In it, he came out to us, told us he was gay, that he had known for years. He knew our parents wouldn’t approve so that’s why he hadn’t told us until then, but that leaving as he was, he wasn’t scared anymore.” Her eyes were glistening as she smiled, “I was so proud of him. He wrote a part to me, told me one last time to listen to him but mostly to listen to myself and leave Fred, see him for what he was. The way Fred responded to that letter, to my brother’s sexuality, it finally opened my eyes, I left him that same day, broke off the engagement, threw the ring to his face.” A dark laugh passed her lips, “probably would have broken his face as well if I hadn’t been held back. Michael always said I had a mean left hook. I was so angry, hurt at all the years I had wasted on him, the toxic atmosphere I had let my life become, most of all, at the distance I had let him put between me and my loved ones.

“I stayed home a few more months, bearing my mother’s pleads for me to take Fred back, waiting for news from Michael. I wrote him a letter, told him I loved him, that I had finally seen the truth, told him to get back home so he could tell me he told me so in true older brotherly fashion” She tried to smile, yet a tear still escaped her eyelashes and rolled down her cheek, “What we got instead was two uniformed officers at our door.” She took a deep breath, trying to get her bearings under control, releasing all her breath through her mouth.

“I left England a week later. I got in touch with some old friends, begged them for help. I had been an honors class student at uni, and my friends had contacts, I was lucky and I managed to find a job fairly soon.

“I come to Pride every year to remember him. I never got to know this side of him, but I would have liked to. I’m not a particularly religious person,” Peggy looked down at her hands wrapped around her teacup, “yet, I hope that if he’s looking down from somewhere, wherever or whatever that is, maybe he can see his little sister marching in his name every year.”

Peggy wiped her eyes with her napkin, not letting any more tears fall. Steve smiled softly, overwhelmed with the story, it was a lot to take in. He grasped for the right answer, desperate to not say the wrong thing, although it seemed not saying anything was also the wrong option because she started to apologize.

“I’m sorry, this was probably not the way you expected to spend…”

“No! No, Peggy, please , don’t you dare apologize. I asked you about it, I’m honored you told me about Michael, he sounds like an amazing man.”

Peggy let out a wet laugh, swiped her thumb on her eyes to catch the unshed tears.

“Well, I might be a little biased,” Steve chuckled at her attempt at lighting the mood and looked at her in the eyes.

“I mean it.”

“Yeah, I know.” She gave him a long look, eyes still bright, sorrow still clinging to her lashes before smiling wistfully and adding, “he would have liked you.”

He knew right then that he was a goner, Steve Rogers was neck deep in love with Peggy Carter. And there was nothing he could do about it, not if they wanted to keep the pain at a minimum. He was dying to go around the table to wrap her in his arms, hold her for as long as she needed. Steve wanted to do everything in his power to make sure Peggy Carter didn’t have to experience any type of loss ever again.

She smiled at him and seemed to shake the remnants of her sadness, looking around the rest of the café.

His mind wandered as they drank in silence, picturing what it would be like to date her. She didn’t seem like the type to want big gestures or expensive gifts, but Steve would give anything to be able to wake her every morning with the smell of a freshly made breakfast and a soft kiss. Thinking of kissing her reminded him of the time he had, how it had felt, how soft and right she had felt in his arms. The way she had bit his lips and how her nails had scrapped his scalp, lighting up his whole body, fuck he needed the mental equivalent of a cold shower before he ended up needing an actual cold shower. He spoke up to stop that particular train of thought.

“So, that promotion, it’s a big deal, right?”

“Yes, well, it’s the logical step forward. It’s more responsibility, at least on paper, and not the same type of work I’ve been doing so far, but nothing that can’t be learned, or bullshitted.”

“I’m sure you’ll do amazing. Sakaar is really lucky to have you,” she took his blind faith with a smile.

“Thank you, Steve, that’s really sweet. So is Avengers Agency to have you in their ranks.”

“Thanks.” He felt a blush creep in, “a friend actually told me that a few days ago too. You know her, actually. Natasha? Romanoff? She was with me in the bus shoot, the redhead?”

“Oh, yeah, I remember her, she did seem like a smart woman.” Her phone chimed then and she took it out of her purse, a surprised look when she looked at the screen. “Oh, my, look at the hour! Where did all the afternoon go?”

Steve glanced at his phone and had to do a double check, it was already 7 pm. They had spent a lot more time talking than he had imagined.

“You have to get home, don’t you?”

“Crikey, yes. I have work tomorrow, a meeting with the printers first thing in the morning.”

Steve signaled for the waitress, who came over instantly. The café had really emptied out while they talked. He paid for his coffee, tried to pay for Peggy’s but she insisted on settling her part and there was no way he was going to argue with her.

“Walk you home?” He offered. 

He was sorry he hadn’t brought a jacket. It seemed like a storm was coming in and the day had gotten chilly, he hadn’t planned on staying out so late either.

“Steve, you don’t have to. It’s just a couple blocks.”

“Yeah, I know, Peg, but I want to. And I’m walking that way anyway, gotta catch the train home,” he shrugged.

They walked most of the way in silence, both with hunched shoulders to fend off the strong wind.

“I’m gonna miss you, is that weird?” Steve blurted out when they were half a block away from her building, driven by a sudden illogical urgency to get it out of his chest before they arrived.

“Oh, Steve, I’m leaving in September, we’ll see each other again, don’t worry about it. There’s still time.”

“But not enough,” he took a deep breath, chest expanding as he ruffled his own hair, frantic. “Not enough for this,” he gestured at the air between them with both hands, “to become a thing.”

Peggy stopped walking, only a few meters away from her door and took hold of his hands. She held them lightly by the fingers.

“Steve, darling, we could have two months or half a year, and I still wouldn’t risk starting anything.” She squeezed his hands in hers, forcing him to look at her, “as long as Paris is in my future, I wouldn’t ask that out of you. I can’t ask that out of you. Not when anything we could build, whatever it got to be, had an expiration date. It’s better if we leave it like this and I think you know it.”

Steve nodded, letting go of her hands, only to wrap his arms around her, giving in to the impulse he had been resisting since he first saw her that day. She held him back tightly, hands locked behind his back, without her heels she fit perfectly, tucked under his chin. He kissed the top of her head.

“Yeah, I know. It just really really really sucks.”

Peggy’s laugh was muffled against his shirt, he could feel it in his chest. 

He let her go as they walked their way to her door, where he gave her one last kiss on her forehead and left. If he stayed any longer, he would start remembering what had happened the last time he had been here. That’d just twist the knife a little more.

Chapter Text

Steve never thought much of birthdays, he liked celebrating everyone else's alright, it was his own the one he never gave much thought to. He was born on the fourth of July, so everyone always had a previous compromise when it came to the date, either a barbecue or a party to look at the fireworks. As he had grown up so sickly, he had never managed to make many friends in school or even keep them for long. His birthday parties had always been small affairs, until college when they became Fourth of July parties where someone at some point started singing a drunk, slurred version of Happy Birthday at Steve and then promptly forgot all about it.

So, when his friends had asked what he wanted to do for his birthday, he had shrugged, told them they could all go to a bar and have some drinks, nothing big, and considered it done.

They went to Asgard. Everyone was there, Bucky, Sam with Riley, Thor, who wasn’t bartending that night but still got them free drinks, and as an Australian wasn’t particularly interested in the festivity. Nat, Wanda and Pietro, neither of them Americans either, were more than happy to celebrate Steve’s birthday (read: get him drunk again) and counted with Clint’s whole support and presence in the endeavour. While their core group stayed put, other friends and acquaintances swung by throughout the night to wish Steve a happy birthday, most on their way to another compromise. 

Peter stopped for about an hour and Steve was surprised to see the girl from the nasty photoshoot with him, he introduced her as Mary Jane, his girlfriend. She gave Steve a small smile and a fiercer hug, he returned it with a grin, glad she seemed to be doing okay.

Angie came by as well, though she only stayed for fifteen minutes, enough to say hi to everyone and give Steve a hug.

“Happy birthday, Steve!” She wrapped her arms around his waist tightly and he swayed her back and forth. As she drew back she grinned and added, “you are one step closer to the ninety-five years your soul actually is!” He gave her an exaggerated fake laugh, but there was no bite to it. His friends had all been making an effort to get him drunk again and it was already working. “I talked to Peggy, she says she’s really sorry she can’t make it,” Steve couldn’t hide the disappointment at the news. He had suspected it was going to happen, it still sucked. “She said she’ll try to call you later, though.”

Carol swung by around eleven, her girlfriend Maria in town. They said hi to everyone, wished Steve a good one, and then took a seat next to Sam and Riley. The four of them seemed to instantly click and were chatting, laughing like old friends in scarcely a few minutes.

Steve looked over from the head of the table, happy and light at the sight of all his friends together. Natasha was sitting on Bucky’s lap, one arm around his neck, using the other one to toss peanuts to a half-filled beer glass. She seemed to be competing with Clint, and loosing terribly. Disguised under his general clumsiness, Clint had perfect aim, something Steve had found out one night when he had made the mistake of challenging him to a dart match.

The twins were talking to Thor, paying close attention as he retold something very dramatic, if the wild gestures and the weird faces he kept pulling were any indication.

“Hey, pal, you okay?” Bucky laid his hand on his shoulder and jostled him. Natasha had left his lap at some point for a more strategic angle on her peanut contest. Steve waved his concerns away. 

“Yeah, Buck, I’m great. Just thinking.” He sneaked a glance at his phone, no new messages, no new calls.

“Well, no wonder you look constipated, don’t exhaust yourself,” he grinned at him and Steve shook his hand off his shoulder.

“Fuck you,” he said, but there was no real heat behind it. “I happen to be a great thinker.”

“Sure you are, pal. Given the raw material.” Steve threw him another indignant look, his best friend just laughed. “Happy birthday, Stevie.”

“Thanks, Buck.”

“How much was it? Eighty-two?”

“I’m twenty-eight and you fucking know it, asshole. Why does everyone keep teasing me with being an old man?” He knew he was starting to slur his words, maybe sliding to the petulant side, but he wasn’t properly drunk. He took a big swing of his drink, some overly alcoholic monstrosity Nat had ordered for him, he could fix that at least.

“I don’t know man, you just have that air about you. Overly polite and old-fashioned. And then there’s that music you like to listen to.”

This time Steve simply rolled his eyes at him as he took out his phone again and checked. No new notifications.

“Did you ask for nudes or something?” Bucky asked, which made Steve whirl his head at him so fast the world kept on spinning for a few seconds.

What? You know I don’t do that, why do you ask?”

“Bud, you’ve been checking your phone every five seconds for the last two hours. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out you’re waiting for something, or someone.”

Steve sighed in defeat. There was no use in denying it to his best friend, he’d see right through him. And well, Drunk Steve wasn’t good with secrets.

“It’s Peggy, Angie told me she was gonna call me.”

“Peggy? The British girl from the theater?” Steve nodded too enthusiastically, the world tilted again. “The one that invited you to sleep with her then totally ghosted you after you said no? That Peggy?”

Bucky sounded pissed, Steve didn’t understand. Peggy was amazing, smart, beautiful with that accent that drove him absolutely nuts and… it took Steve’s mind a few seconds to get back on track to figure out why his friend was angry.

“No, no, it wasn’t like that! I talked to her, she told me what happened! She was in Paris, so it’s all good!” Why was Bucky frowning? Steve had explained, hadn’t he?

“The fact that she ignored you for two weeks, didn’t as much as texted you, is ‘alright’ because she wasn’t in the country? What the fuck?”

“She had no way to talk to me, no phone, and then I blocked her,” Steve clarified, “so we’re all good.” He grimaced, “well, not good -good, but... good”

“Not good-good but good,” Bucky echoed him flatly.

“Yep,” Steve said before taking another pull of his drink. 

“You’re gonna have to slow down for me, pal, ‘cause I ain’t following.” 

If Steve had been more sober he would have noticed that Bucky was really close to having a meltdown. But Drunk Steve had the same capacity to hold a conversation as a three-month-old baby, and only minimally superior observational skills.

“Well, I wanna date her, and she wants to date me.” His smile quickly turned into a pout, “but we can’t.” 

“What, why? She married or something?” Steve laughed and went to take another swing of his cocktail, only to find it empty.

No, she almost was, though,” he shook his head, trying to clear it, it just made the bar unfocus and swirl. “We can’t date because she’s going to Paris.”

“Stevie, what the actual fuck, you just told me she was in Paris, what the hell?” Bucky had a frustrated look on his face that Steve found hilarious. If his best friend hadn’t been giving him a murderous glare along with it, Steve would have giggled.

“Well, she was in Paris, that’s why she didn’t answer me. She came back, we met at Pride. I wanted to date, because well, duh , it’s Peggy.” He got a goofy adoring grin. “But she told me she got a promotion, she has to move to Paris in September, so… we can’t.”

“Okay, tell me if I’m getting this right: You kissed her, texted her and she didn’t answer. Two weeks later you come across her and she tells you that was because she had been in Paris. So, now that she’s back, you wanna pick up right where you left off. Except, she tells you she’s leaving, moving to Europe in two months.” 

“Yep yep yep yep, that’s correct, sir!” Steve grinned at him, looking proud.

“She has to move to Paris, there’s no around it?”

“It’s a big promotion, Bucky.” Steve’s expression turned serious abruptly, almost desperate, “I can’t push her to stay, not when I’d mean she’d lose this huge opportunity.” He shuffled in his seat towards Bucky, grabbed his forearms to make him look at him, forced him to see how serious he was about this, “Buck, I can’t be Ross Geller.

. . .

Steve’s phone rang just as he was about to leave the bathroom, in his haste to pick up the call he almost dropped it, hands not perfectly dried and slippery.

“Hey.” He answered the call, tone eager.

“Hello Steve, I’m sorry it took me so long to call,” Peggy replied with a sigh, exhaustion clear on her voice.

“Oh, it’s alright, no problem. I’m still up.” The cold water on his hands and the less-cluttered atmosphere of the bathroom had cleared his head enough to keep him from slurring his words, even if his tone was a still a little off.

“Happy birthday, darling. I’m really sorry I can’t make it, but work has been unavoidable.”

“Thank you. And it’s alright, you’re calling, that’s enough.”

“It really isn’t. I, at least, owe you a present, any suggestions?”

“For July or August to never end?” The drunk euphoric state had cowardly deserted him, leaving him melancholic and forlorn.

“Oh, darling,” Peggy’s tone was sweet, almost compassionate.

Steve let out a soft groan.

“It’s not fair when you do that.”

“When I do what?”

“When you call me ‘darling’. You, you say it like, like it’s nothing, like you’d call anyone that.” He leaned against the wall, relishing in the feel of the cold tile against his hot skin. “And I have to just stand there, pretend it doesn’t drive me insane." He took a labored breath, air whistling against the microphone, “like your accent, and the way that sounds when it’s directed at me. Or all of you basically, like it doesn’t make me wanna press you against a wall, kiss you until you can’t breathe anymore.” Steve paused for a second, addled mind lost in the images his own words had formed. When he kept on, his tone was much softer, “as if I don’t wanna hear it in the morning when I wake up and you’re asking me to bring you breakfast to bed.”

“Oh, d… Steve.” Peggy sounded exactly as Steve felt, heartbroken.

Regret started to creep on Steve as some semblance of sobriety resurfaced. He had no right to talk to her like that, they'd both agreed it was for the best if they stayed apart. They had agreed on it to avoid exactly this kind of thing.

“I’m sorry, Pegs. I’m just tired. And drunk. My brain to mouth filter is fucked. I shouldn’t have said those things.” He pushed himself off the bathroom wall, almost no spinning followed it this time, “I should go, thank you for calling.”

“It’s alright, Steve… I understand. Hope you have a happy birthday.” Her tone was soft, full of longing, “see you soon. Goodbye, Steve.”

“Bye, Peggy.”

The call disconnected.

Chapter Text

That month’s production meeting was quite tame, Gabe had gotten the weirdest concept: a garden of Eden-like shoot with only body paint for wardrobe. Peggy was immensely glad to have dodged the proverbial bullet with that one, hers was a simple party outfits line, women riding on the back of motorcycles. She didn’t have the time nor the will to do something complicated.

She was familiar with the upcoming trends, had actually already gone shopping for some of the stuff she’d need. Her biggest challenge was only figuring out how to get the motorcycle for the shoot. Maybe she could rent it for an afternoon. 

She was simply too tired, honestly worn out, the preparations for Paris had picked up a bit and she found herself with less and less time for anything as the days passed. She ended up dumping all the shoot-related affairs on Val’s shoulders so she could take care of all the rest. An annoying voice in the back of her head kept repeating that maybe she shouldn't do that, when it could easily turn out to be her last shoot. She pointedly ignored it.

“Just repeat everything I’ve done so far,” she said as she handed Val a fat file. “These are all the notes and comments I’ve got on everyone I’ve worked with. They’re divided by expertise and date. Pick some of the latest ones with decent ratings. It’s not a complicated shoot, we don't need anything extraordinary.”

Relieved to have it out of her hands she played dumb at the confused frown in Val’s forehead. Peggy knew she wouldn't ask questions about the change in dynamics, she was good like that. 

The following days were lost under a flurry of activity. Dernier’s French designer was being featured on this issue and everyone was going bonkers about it. By the time the shoot arrived Peggy had almost forgotten about it. She had insisted to be on set, even if she hadn't set it up, she’d sack herself before she let a shoot go undirected.

She picked up Val on her way to the studio and they went over the details.

“Okay, so… I hired the same lighting crew as the last three shoots, they seemed solid enough to stick with.” Peggy nodded her assent, already picturing the dynamics of the shoot in her mind. “They had a fan lying around, I roped that in as well. The motorcycle I got from a friend, Sif's fine with us using it as long, and I quote as we ‘don't get any nail polish in it, that's a bitch to get off. Everything else is washable’, unquote.”

“No worries then, we’ll make sure the model’s nails are dry before she hops in. What else?”

“So, wardrobe and makeup, I went with the safe option. We provided the dresses, the leather jacket and jeans for the rider were easy enough. I thought, maybe some sunglasses and a cheesy bandana as well, I love those,” Val gave her a smile, unapologetic. “I brought the accessories from our vault, we’ve got plenty of those.”

Peggy nodded along, so far so good. There was only one small detail to clear up.

“What about the models?” Peggy stopped to look at her assistant, they were mere steps away from the studio door.

“Oh yeah, I booked…” She paused as she leafed through her notes for the name, “It was the first thing I did, the Agency is called… here, Avengers Agency.” She kept her eyes in the pages so she missed how Peggy went rigid, “what kind of name is that ? Anyway, I even asked for the same models as the last times, they seemed good enough.”

Peggy felt the blood drain from her face. She was in no condition to deal with Steve today, not after that phone call on his birthday, not with the heartache. Her voice came out strangled.

“You did?”  Val didn't seem to notice, still checking her notebook.

“Yeah, booked them all except for the guy, he isn't available, apparently. I simply asked for another buff, blue-eyed blonde, apparently, they got them on tap. Oh, I didn’t forget the snacks either.”

Peggy took a deep breath, chest unconstraining with relief. She could do this. Steve wasn't going to be there. It was only a shoot, with people she knew and had worked with before, there weren’t going to be any unpleasant surprises.

“Boss? We should go in, we’re already a bit late.”

“Yeah, yeah, sorry. Let’s get this show on the road.”

In less than an hour, Peggy had everything set up. The routine felt grounding, even if she got a little nostalgic, knowing her photoshoots were counted. The ‘buff blue-eyed blond’ Val had booked was named Thor, out of all things. He was Australian and so huge Peggy had worried he’d dwarf the motorcycle, not to mention leave any space for the models to sit in. The female models were Natasha, Carol and a new one Peggy had never met named Wanda, who had brown hair and a diluted accent. She had greeted them all as she came in, introduced herself to Wanda. For some reason Natasha had given her a gauging look, one red eyebrow raised.

Peggy was extremely glad with the work Val had done. When she went to tell her, she found her arm-wrestling Thor at the snack table. She didn’t seem to be losing.

“You did amazing work here, Val, you should be proud of yourself.”

“Thanks, boss, just doing my job,” Val looked up from her seat, grinning, hand still wrapped around Thor’s, not bulging a millimeter.

“Still, really well done. Only one more thing,” Peggy gave her a grin, “try not to break any of the models.”

Val smirked and pushed a little bit harder, not even looking away from her. Thor’s hand touched the table and she won. The blonde, instead of being mad, let out a roar of lighthearted laughter.

“You’re amazing!” He extended his hand to shake, “and fair is fair, I lost, so: Hello, I’m Thor, nice to meet you, you are?”

“I’m Valkyrie, but everyone calls me Val,” they shook hands, Thor looking awed. Peggy took that as her cue to walk away.

A few minutes later, the rest of the models came out from the dressing room. It was Natasha’s turn first and she went directly to the set, her high heels clicking against the floor and drawing looks. The other two, who still had at least an hour until it was their turn were in flats and had robes over their dresses.

With Natasha and Thor, who had an actual bandana wrapped in his forehead, sitting in the motorcycle, the shoot started. They went through it easily, there were only so many poses you could do while sitting in a ‘moving’ bike. Peggy still gave everyone breaks between outfits and when one of the models got down before another one followed. They were in no real hurry and maybe Peggy didn’t want this to be over too quickly.

While they waited for Wanda to change into the last outfit Peggy went to get something to eat. Natasha, Thor, and Carol were chatting quietly by the table. The first two looked serious but Carol, instead, had a huge smug grin on her face. When she came close enough to eavesdrop, not that Peggy would have, they all fell silent.

Peggy was conflicted, she knew all of them were friends with Steve, she had seen them joking around and laughing in previous shoots. She was dying to ask them about him, how he was doing, why he had been unavailable for that shoot, how had they met, find out more about him. But she had no idea if he had told them anything about their relationship. Though it wasn’t like there was much to tell, was it?. They were in no way together, yet ‘friends’ didn’t seem like the right word either. It was a grey area of something .

Still, she kept quiet, it wasn’t the time. nor the setting for that kind of chat. Or she did-- until Natasha turned around to address her.

“Steve couldn’t come because he got some graphic designer work he had to do. He’s taken his holidays with the agency to work on it.” She shrugged one shoulder, “thought you might want to know.”

“Oh, I… well, I’m glad for him.” She smiled, insecure, “though I don’t think it’s much of my business.”

Riiight.” Carol rolled her eyes, “like he wouldn’t have called his holidays off if he had known about this shoot, just to see you.”

Peggy made a valiant attempt at replying with actual words, she mostly ended up gaping like a fish as her face heated up. Natasha smirked, expression warming a few degrees.

“He never told us your name, if that helps, but he really isn’t half as discreet as he’d like to think he is. It didn’t take a genius to figure out who was the British woman he had recently met.”

“Well, I already knew,” Carol said nonchalantly, a smug grin on her face. “I just kept it to myself.” 

“We won’t tell anyone what’s going on with you two, ‘specially not Maria or Fury, be assured of that,” Thor added with a smile. Natasha nodded next to him.

Peggy was going to die, she had three different people giving her their blessings to a relationship that didn’t even exist.

“Thank you? I guess? But there isn’t anything between,” she cleared her throat, working around her embarrassment, “Steve and I.” Three pair of dubious eyes regarded her, they clearly thought she was full of shit, “we… we thought there could be?” She really needed to work on her statements, “it didn’t pan out.” She shrugged, trying to feign nonchalance, knowing fully well she failed miserably. “Life got in the way.”

Natasha regarded her for a second. Peggy didn’t know her well, had only met her a couple times, so the warm glint she might have seen on her eyes could’ve been purely her imagination.

“We had a get-over-someone party for Steve a couple weeks ago.” Natasha shrugged, “didn’t seem to work much. He’s stubborn like that.”

Didn’t she know it? The phone call on Steve’s birthday had left Peggy wrecked. That night she had gone to sleep curled up into herself, phone still clutched in her hand.

She had no idea how much his friends knew about the situation. It seemed they all knew enough to encourage Peggy to go after Steve, but not enough to see why she couldn’t. She searched for the right way to explain it without telling them everything, they deserved some semblance of privacy, after all. She pondered her reply for a few seconds but was saved from having to voice it, or from further questioning, by Wanda coming out of the dressing room.

Time to get back to work.


Steve had taken his holidays from the Agency because what had once started as one brochure had become two brochures, three logos, a presentation and... a poster? He’d had to read that last part of the email a couple times, sure he had misinterpreted it, before it sank in. But no, Tony Stark was actually commissioning Steve to draw him in a robot suit, in an Uncle Sam pose, with ‘YOU know who I am’ written below. 

Steve had rolled his eyes at the request, exasperated, but he had almost seen the inside of his skull when he got to the end of the email, which read:

[...] i need all this done ASAP, send me an estimated finish date.

bye bye Cap,

you know who I am

p.s: dont tell pepper about the commission

He still wasn’t sure who or what ‘pepper’ was but he’d keep quiet just in case. If Tony Stark was scared of them, Steve figured it’d be smart to follow his example. 

The moment he had made a list of all the things he’d need and the estimated time they’d take he’d realized he was going to need to take his holidays from the Agency. He had called Maria to arrange it, glad that he hadn’t taken them this year. His contract was close to ending, and he doubted he was going to get an opportunity as big as this one, it was worth it. 

He wrote them a couple days later with all the information they had requested: budget, time it would take and things he’d need, a long, detailed list, in the most polite, professional lexicon he could manage. A couple hours later he had gotten a one sentence reply.

u got it Cap.

          - Sent from my StarkPhone

He still wasn’t sure at what point he had stopped dealing with Stark’s ‘people’ and switched to talking straight to Tony. He kept wondering how did Tony Stark --genius, billionaire, philanthropist and former playboy-- have time to deal with some random guy working on some brochures. But if Bucky was to be believed, the guy barely slept and multitasked 24/7, so maybe that was it.

The following days he spent them hunched over his computer working. He sketched some concepts he thought would look good with the branding Stark was known to favor. He hated arranging a meeting without anything to discuss, even if they rejected all his ideas, he’d know what not to do. When he had enough ready, he shot them an email to set up a meeting as soon as they could, this time, though, it wasn’t Tony who answered.

Good Morning Mr. Rogers,

I would love to meet up to see what ideas you have. I’m afraid I don’t have much free time on such short notice, but if you don’t mind having lunch with me, I could squeeze you in at twelve next Wednesday. I’ll order us something and we can eat at one of the conference rooms if that’s alright with you. Let me know if you have any allergies or diet preferences.

Tony has told me great things about your work, I also took the liberty to contact some of your previous employers besides looking at your portfolio, your resumé is quite impressive. I’ve gotten nothing but good things about your work and about yourself, at least from those whose opinion I care about. I look forward to seeing what you propose.

Sincerely,

Pepper Potts

CEO of Stark Industries

Steve stood stunned for a few minutes looking at his computer, he had actually gotten an email from no other than the fucking CEO of Stark Industries. Who, of course, happened to be the ‘Pepper’ Tony had mentioned. If this panned out, he was going to owe Bucky a fucking house.

. . .

The following Wednesday he stood at the foot of Stark Tower at 11:30 am, freaking out. He had brought everything he needed in a satchel, both physical printed copies, the two thumb drives with all the files and his laptop to open them in case, for some reason, there wasn’t any available, it was fully charged but he had brought the charger as well. He had double, triple even quadruple checked everything before leaving the apartment, worried he’d forget something, plus had left a full hour before he had calculated he needed.

Getting dressed had been another nightmare. A suit felt like too much, too pretentious, he was a graphic designer, not a lawyer, and besides, he didn’t even own one. Shirt and slacks were too informal, he was meeting with the CEO, not some lowly underling.

The solution, when it appeared, had been nothing short of a godsend.

Natasha had spent the night at their apartment, and even after Bucky had left for work, she had stayed over, too lazy to go all the way back to Queens. Steve had dragged her from Bucky’s bedroom to make her choose his outfit, her taste was the stuff of legends.

She had picked his dark blue fitted slacks paired with a white shirt and a thin tie of the same color that was Bucky’s, over it she had thrown a black leather jacket. It looked very good and Steve had given her a kiss on the cheek and set the coffee maker for her. He knew which of those two gestures she appreciated more.

At 11:45 am he went it, pulse ricochetting. The guy at the front desk asked him his name, then sent him up straight away with a floor and a room number, told him he could ask the other front desk on that floor if he couldn’t find the conference room. He did, it was empty. He looked at the time, 11:53 am. It was alright, he was still a few minutes early, not somehow three hours late.

The offices were pure glass, metal and dark wood. Everything was clearly expensive, if not overtly ostentatious. The conference room was on the outskirts on the building, so it had a view. It was high enough that almost no buildings obstructed the horizon, those who did were far enough to contribute to the skyline rather than block it. Steve would openly admit, he had never liked the tower, too much of an ego monument to his liking. He preferred old styles akin to the ones in Brooklyn he had grown up with; still, he could recognise the view was breathtaking. New York was light up with the midday sun, glinting where it bounced off the glass and metal structures.

A long glass table occupied the center of the conference room, there was a flat-screen inset in a fitment that covered one of the walls. Curious, he opened one of the doors to find a projector and one of those white screens to project them into.

He lingered for a few moments, unsure between sitting down or starting to set his stuff up as he waited for Pepper to get there. He got as far as opening his laptop when he heard the door open behind him. He turned around to find a strawberry blond woman in a dark blue suit and heels walking towards him with a friendly smile on her face. Behind her, a delivery boy came in with two bags on his hands.

“Hello, Mr. Rogers, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you, I’m Pepper Potts. Have you been waiting long? ” She extended her hand and Steve was quick to shake it. 

“Nice to meet you too, ma’am, please call me Steve. And no, I just got here. Thank you for having me.” 

“Oh no , nothing of that ‘ma’am’ nonsense, I’m way too young for that. I’ll call you Steve only if you call me Pepper, deal?” Steve opened his mouth to protest but she interrupted him before he could say anything, a charmed smile on her lips, “I insist.”

He nodded and they took a seat. Steve moved his laptop further down the table and helped set up the containers. Pepper had ordered sushi, which made a lot of sense, relatively easy to eat without being messy, barely any risk of staining anything. When they had everything arranged, each one with their food by their side and all of Steve’s layouts in the middle, they got to work.

Pepper had a good eye, and they seemed to both be in the same mindset for what they wanted. She kept predicting Steve’s reasoning before it left his mouth. She was also very no-nonsense, in less than an hour they had gone through everything, with only a few corrections and retouches. He had miles to go until it was all finished, but it seemed he was on the right track.

Steve hadn’t had such a productive progress meeting since… ever. He tried paying for the food but Pepper almost ran him out of the room at the mere suggestion.

“It’s really been a pleasure, Steve. I’m eager to see the end product, send me an email if you have any questions. I’ll get back to you as fast as possible.”

“Will do, and again, thank you so much for having me.” 

“Before you go, do you mind asking me how did Tony and you meet?” She had an apologetic smile on her face.

“Oh, uhm, I came to pick up a friend for lunch, Bu… James Barnes? Tony came down with him.” He shrugged, “I don’t know if ‘met’ is the quite right word, mostly he talked a mile a minute, said he’d hire me based on face value alone at some point and then left. It was quite the experience.” Suddenly remembering Pepper was actually dating the guy, Steve fumbled, “not that that’s a bad thing, Tony seems like a good man, he’s just…” He gapped, trying to think of a word that’d describe Tony without sounding derogatory.

“...overwhelming?” Pepper supplied, a smile on her lips. “Don’t worry Steve, I’ve known Tony for quite some time, I know how he can get.” She chuckled lightly, “I agree, meeting Tony can be quite the experience.”

One of these days, Steve was finally going to stop putting his foot in his mouth in the presence of classy, smart, beautiful ladies, he just knew it. He simply had to grow a functioning brain-to-mouth filter and maybe a few more neurons.

They said their goodbyes and Steve found his way back to the elevators, surprised he didn’t get lost on the way. He stepped into the one that was open and pushed the button for the ground floor, yet when it started moving he could tell something was wrong. Was he going up? The movement was too smooth to be sure, but as he looked up at the screen over the entrance, the numbers were indeed getting higher instead of lower.

What the hell?

When the doors opened with a quiet hiss Steve could see he was on a floor that was clearly meant to be lived in, not an office. There was a living room with leather couches, a small coffee table and by the right wall was a bar. To his left was an open kitchen and a hallway. The back wall was pure glass, giving another beautiful view of the New York skyline. He had to be on one of the highest floors. 

A thud followed by a loud curse came from behind the bar, Steve turned around, startled, one foot still in the elevator. 

“Hello?” He called out, ready to dart back in case someone questioned his presence.

“Oh, Rogers, you’re here! Good!” He recognised Tony’s voice, coming from behind the wooden bar, followed by muttering, “Is that blood?... Nope, that’s definitely vodka.”

Steve took a few paces inside, unsure if he should come in, leave with an apology or go help Tony from whatever he was doing behind the counter. Before he could make up his mind though, Tony sprung up from behind the bar, the remains of a bottle in his hands, he waved it around and Steve got a whiff of a vodka so strong it almost made his eyes water.

“Hey, nice of you to drop by.”

“I actually didn’t mean to? I pushed the ground floor button but I somehow ended up here?” He hoisted the strap of his satchel higher, ready to get out any second.

“That’s because I wanted you here. I was joking just then.” He threw the bottle in the trash as he went around, Steve could see he had gotten his chest and knees wet, probably with the vodka that used to be bottled.

“Oh… Why?” 

“Progress meeting! Duh, what else?” he informed sassily.

“I already had that meeting, just now downstairs with Pepper,” Steve motioned to the elevator behind him, confused.

“She told you to call her Pepper! That’s great! I knew she’d like you, with your whole,” he flickered his fingers in Steve’s direction, apparently encompassing his whole being, “perfect American boy persona.”

“Thank you?”

“You’re very welcome,” he grinned, Steve wasn’t completely sure he hadn’t been insulted. “Anyway, no, I didn’t mean that progress meeting, I meant the really important one.”

At Steve’s perplexed frown, he was starting to get angry and all this half guessing, beating around the bush game.

“The one about my commission, you know,” he struk a pose, one hand in his hip, the other one pointing at the blonde, a lopsided grin on his face. “The Uncle Sammy one with me, twenty-first century America’s sweetheart.”

“Yeah, I know which one. I don’t get that many, much less, ones so weird,” he barely contained himself from rolling his eyes.

“That’s cause no one has any originality. Don’t worry, though, you’ll get plenty soon enough,” that got Steve’s attention, and Tony noticed, he rubbed his hands together, lips twitching. “I’m planning on making it my new twitter profile pic, credit in bio, of course. If you can throw me a digital copy, I’d pay.”

Steve’s jaw was hanging open, he knew that, but he couldn’t seem to be able to close it. That would be huge, almost as big as adding Stark Industries to his resumé. Sure, he normally didn’t work with commissions or even art, this, however, would give him amazing exposure. 

All that simply because he was friends with Bucky, that didn’t feel right. That thought broke through his awe and he found his voice.

“That’s yeah, that can be arranged, it’s no problem.” 

“Great, now show me what you got.”

“It’s really... not much? I mostly compiled references, did a rough sketch.” He had planned to leave it for the end, the Stark Industries assignments were a priority. 

“That’s enough, I can get the idea.” He went to sit on one of the couches, indicated Steve to do the same. “The references are the most important part, I don’t want you getting my bad side.”

While the meeting with Pepper had been swift and efficient, the one with Tony was everything but. He kept arguing over the smallest details, demanding that the suit be realistic, something Steve had not considered.

“C’mon, Cap, I’m the biggest genius in technological hardware of this age and you want me to have a flimsy suit? It makes no sense! Accuracy is key.”

Steve tried to introduce him to the concept of artistic license, but Tony wasn’t having it. Two hours later Steve knew more than he’d ever need about mechanics and even had some hand-drawn designs to follow. He just hoped Tony didn’t get too enthusiastic with the project and started to actually build it.

He was about to leave when that annoying voice in his head popped up again, he turned around on his way to the elevators and before he could think twice asked:

“Why did you hire me?”

“What? What do you mean? I needed a graphic designer to… design graphics? You fit the bill,” Tony was frowning at him, like he was confused by the question.

“Exactly, why did I? Was it only because I was friends with Bu… James? You knew nothing about me, or my work, when you told me you’d hire me.”

“What? No, I mean, yes I did, know. I looked you up.” It seemed he swallowed a ‘duh’ , barely catching up to him that it was a serious question.

“How? You didn’t even know what I did for a living, all you saw before you met me was that ridiculous photo.”

How dare you! ‘Ridiculous’? That photo is art.” Steve took a deep breath and reminded himself that strangling his new boss in the first meeting was not a good basis for a business relationship. “But, all jokes aside, I did look you up, after I met you and found out what you did but before I told you I’d hire you.”

“Tony, that was like, two minutes.”

“Exactly! More than enough time; I googled you,” Steve stared at him, “you know, on my phone? I’m great at multitasking.” He took it out of his pocket, waved it in the air for emphasis.

Steve thought back to that day, perhaps he could recall Tony taking out his phone as he talked to him, typing something, maybe?

“Wow, and here I kept thinking I was the one who thought too much.” He flicked his phone at Steve, dismissive, “stop worrying about it, I hired you because I liked what I saw. Not only have you been friends with James for years, he’s a good guy, great work ethic. At least some of that must have rubbed onto you, but you seemed a pretty down to earth guy and your work was impressive. Besides,” he shrugged, “if I had been wrong, you wouldn’t have lasted more than five seconds with Pepper. Now off you go, American Dream, you’ve got work to do.”

Steve did have work to do, a more time-consuming, multilayered project now than when he had walked in. But also a more than generous down payment in his bank account, it wasn’t all bad. He waved goodbye to Tony, as he turned around but he seemed to not be paying attention to him anymore and was back at the bar.

Chapter Text

August was a dull month in the sense that no one who was really into fashion cared what the hell anyone was wearing, not when Fashion Week was just around the corner. Sakaar always took on almost a gossip magazine air that month. The Grandmaster loved it, the rumors, the run-ins, the accusations of sabotage coupled with whatever thing had Anna Wintour last done. No time was better for that than August or January. The issues were part of the build-up to Fashion Week, but given most of the designers kept a tight lip on their collections and speculation was not enough to fill an issue, they turned to the drama.

This time, luckily, Peggy was spared. Being so close to her moving date, she’d mostly been spared of the paparazzi work. She’d been assigned a photoshoot with Dernier, with whom she had decided to split the responsibilities; he’d set it up, she’d take care of directing it and the post-production. 

The shoot was about all-resistant makeup, so they’d set on four models in different situations: eating ice-cream, maybe crying and, to Dernier’s insistence, kissing. Basically doing everyday things that would be challenging for the makeup.

As the days passed, she started to get things done for her trip. She had her plane ticket booked for the 20th of September. Some of her things were going to be shipped to Paris a little later, mostly her personal belongings and her clothes, but she was going to leave all her furniture in the U.S. to be sold with the apartment. If she ever sold it. She kept pushing it back, finding it hard to even think about an ad, much less the painting. The actual sale was unfathomable. That apartment had been the first place she had called solely her own in her whole life; the only home she’d had besides her family’s house in England. 

Sakaar would provide her a place in Paris, the same apartment she always stayed in. It was nice, yet impersonal, more of a linear space than an actual home. She knew it would never be fully hers, no matter how many years she lived in it.


Steve wasn’t sure yet how, but he had managed to get everything done in just two weeks. He barely left the house, relied way too much on Bucky and Nat to get stuff from the outside world for him, changing from one pair of pajamas to another. While he did maintain a respectable level of personal hygiene, he even got a bit of a scruff, not bothering to shave as often.

Bucky kept nagging him to go outside to get some fresh air, synthesize some vitamin D. Steve kept answering him that they lived in New York, there was no such thing as fresh air. He did listen to him though, opened his bedroom window enough times, went out to the fire escape a few moments.

He got it done, that’s what mattered. In two weeks, Steve had everything he had been hired for printed and ready to be delivered. He sent Pepper an email for a meeting date and a couple hours later they had arranged for another lunch that same week. He also called Maria to let her know that next Monday, when his vacation officially ended, he was ready to get back to work. She told him that was great, asked about the Stark job and booked him for a job that same week. Rest was for the weak.

Steve got to the tower with his satchel full of prints, a thumb drive with the digital copies and another one with the commission for Tony. He was under no illusion that’d he’d leave the tower without meeting with him again.

Pepper was, as always, pleasant and professional, though he did feel like maybe she was being a tad warmer than last time. She looked over the prints meticulously, humming. Steve did his best to not shit a brick from the nerves, wringing his hands in his lap, picking at invisible lint in his pants. When they passed to the digital copies Steve felt calmer. If everything had been ok with the physical copies, the digital ones were a walk in the park.

The presentation was tricky, but he had had the foresight of sending her a copy when it was almost finished, so she could correct anything before he was done. All in all, she had no complaints, though not overly enthusiastic, she seemed pleased with everything.

“It all seems perfect,” she gave him a smile and Steve tried to disguise his relieved sigh, posture relaxing. “There’s only one more thing I wanted to discuss with you.” Scratch that, he was tense again.

“Yeah?”

“How would you feel working for Stark Industries again?” She looked at him, assessing, posture the picture of class, unreadable.

“Again?” Steve, on the other hand, was having trouble not sputtering.  

Be professional.

“Yes, though, this time, I’d be more of a… permanent position.” She didn’t give him any time to process that before she continued, “of course, I do feel obligated to warn you, working for Stark Industries tends to be a pretty time-consuming deal. While you could still work from home, you’d probably be forced to cut down significantly on your freelance work.” She leaned in at the table, posture open yet commanding. “Steve, I want you to understand, this is an offer you can refuse. Even if you don’t accept our proposition as a permanent member of Stark Industries, we’d still consider you for projects in a more freelance manner.” 

“Can I… can I think about it?” He smiled apologetically, “it’s a lot to process.”

Pepper chuckled lightly, leaning back on the chair again.

“Of course, Steve, I understand. I’ll make sure you get an email with all the details, okay? So, you can do a more detailed processing.”

He nodded, still in shock. Probably seeing that on his face, Steve really hoped his mouth wasn’t hanging open again, Pepper excused herself and left, citing something about a conference call with Berlin.

Steve walked out of the conference room and towards the elevator in a daze, so much that he didn’t even register when the elevator again didn’t go the way he wanted it to. He only startled when the doors opened and he was hit by a wave of music so loud he thought his ears were going to start bleeding. He walked out, not surprised at all when he found Tony, this time hunched over something with a lot of cables, holographic screens swirling around.

“Tony!” He tried to be heard over the loud guitar but no such luck. Even screaming wasn’t enough, Tony didn’t even flinch. 

Bucky’s frequent retellings of all the times Tony had blown up his lab because he was sloppy with some component made him think twice about simply walking over and patting his shoulder. The risk of startling him was too high.

He ended up grabbing a random pipe that Tony had lying around and started banging it against a metal table, all pretense of patience and manners abandoned. The reverberating sound seemed to finally be enough. Tony turned around with a startled expression and promptly cracked up laughing at the picture of Steve standing with a pipe in his hand and a pissed off expression on his face. With merely a flicker of his hand the music turned off abruptly, the following silence felt absolute.

“Hiya there Cap, been standing there long?” 

“A while, yes.” Steve wasn’t exactly expecting an apology, but the fact that Tony didn’t even bother to pretend he was sorry exasperated hm. With a roll of his eyes, he put the pipe back on the table and walked towards him.

“Oh, you’ve got the stuff, gimme gimme,” he made grabby hands, excited like a child with a new toy, almost bouncing in place. Steve wasn’t sure if he should be amused or terrified.

He took out the rolled-up print and handed it over. He couldn’t wait to be over with it, that robot suit had been a fucking pain in his ass. Tony took it gingerly, careful not to screw anything up as he unfurled it. He took it in then, much to Steve’s astonishment, started laughing his ass off.

Steve just stood there, unsure and more than a little angry as he waited for Tony to get himself under control. He felt his fists curl up, lips tightening into a hard line as the laughter continued. He took a deep breath, it wasn’t his fault that the commission was fucking ridiculous. He had done all he could but when the starting concept was a big ball of s…

“I love it!” Tony was almost panting, “oh my god, I love it-” He grinned at Steve over the print, eyes twinkling, “it’s so perfect I ought to pay you double... Actually, you know what?” He let go of the print with one hand to flick it over his head, “I just did.”

Tony started to look around, not giving Steve a second to even try to answer.

“Help me clear up a table, I wanna look at it more closely.” He pointed at one of the tables, it was completely covered in a pile of metal scraps. “Throw those to the floor, c’mon, nothing in there is explosive.” Steve shrugged, it was his own mess to clean up later, he swept the table clean with his arm, “...I think.” Tony waited a beat, eyebrows drawn high in an expectant expression before grinning, “Yep, I was right, no explosives. Yay!”

He walked over to the table and splayed the print in it, used some random bits to keep it from curling in.

“Oh, you put a hint of the pistons in the armpits, I like that. Ohh the reactor in the chest, nice. I was right to go with the red-gold though, blue and red would have looked too… patriotic. I really don’t want to be considered a national symbol, so much pressure, can you imagine?” He looked at Steve, face pensive, “pretending that one person embodies the whole spirit of a nation?”

Steve shrugged.

“I don’t know, we’ve got a president, don’t we?”

“Yeah, but he’s part of a party, everyone knows that,” he stayed silent a couple seconds, circumspect before he shook it off. “Anyway, a conversation for another time. Now, what else did you do with this baby? Oh, the lettering, I love that, very Iron Maiden. My face looks pretty decent. Then again, it’d be hard to make me look ugly, wouldn’t it?” He flashed Steve a million dollars smile, the one the tabloids always featured. Steve shook his head as an answer, exasperated.

He seemed to reach a conclusion, leaning back from his inspections, turning fully towards Steve.

“All in all, I love it. Very worthy of my twitter profile pic, you’ve got the digital copy?” Steve did, and handed the pen drive to him, “Great. Look at this, this is modern art. It’s going up. I’m going to put this up right now, where can I put it?” He did a 360, inspecting the room before he decided on a corner by the door, on top of a small piece of furniture, where there already was a painting. “Okay, there, help me put that one down.”

Steve gapped.

“That’s a Barnett Newman.” He tried to stop Tony, who had already started walking over. “You can’t take that down to put mine up!”

“I’m not 'taking it down', I’m simply replacing it with yours.” He climbed in the furniture, and took down the painting. “Okay, pass me that duct tape.” Steve did, he was starting to realize there was no stopping Tony when he was on a roll.

Tony stuck the poster to the wall, a huge grin on his face.

“Okay, done!” He got down from the furniture, dusting off his hands as if he had done a huge task, “I’ll see you around, I suppose?”

Steve looked at him, somewhat confused.

“What?”

“Didn’t you talk to Pepper? I was sure she was going to offer you the position, with all that work she made you do as a test. Not that we didn’t need it done, but you know, two birds one stone and all that. So, did she give you the big sell?”

“Oh, no, yeah, she did,” he confirmed before shrugging. “I just haven’t decided yet.” 

“We’ve got a great retirement plan, just sayin’. Plus,” the corners of his mouth turned up. Steve was starting to fear any expression on Tony’s face that resembled a grin. “You’d be working for me. I know I’m a delight. Keep it in mind, it really is a good position.”

“Yeah, I just gotta see to some stuff before I make any big decisions like this one.”

“Sure, sure. Okay, I’ve gotta get back to work, bye, Cap.”

“Bye, Tony.” He gave him a lazy salute as he turned around, a faint feeling of amusement accompanied him, perhaps that nickname, and Tony, were growing on him.

Chapter Text

Steve found himself excited for this shoot, much to his surprise. He hadn’t been to Coney Island in forever, which was weird, considering how close it was to his apartment. He could never find the time to make the trip, though. Adulting didn’t leave much time for fooling around with cotton candy and ice-cream.

True to its fame, Coney Island hadn’t changed a bit from what he remembered as a kid. He felt nostalgic, inhaling the sickening smell of hotdogs, strong even at nine in the morning and watching out the pier. He had arrived early and decided to kill some time wandering around a bit. There was a constant, quiet murmur of the visitors, very few this early, some snatch of a jingle from a game drifted by every now and then, brough by a gust of wind. The barely hearable sound of the ocean below underlined it all. It brought him back to his childhood. As sick as he had been as a kid, he had dragged his Ma and Bucky here as often as he could, desperate to experience something so mundane.

It was a typical summer day, sunny, bright and hot, even if it was now calm, the park was sure to get very crowded later on. He reckoned it was going to be a long shoot, they were going to be moving around all the time, trying to get around all over the pier. He was glad he had brought sunscreen.

When he got close to the meeting point, he started to look around for someone who looked like they were waiting. Maria had told him that, while the shoot  was Sakaar's , she hadn’t been emailing with Peggy. Apparently this time it was another editor setting it up, some dude named Jacques Dernier. It was probably the only reason she had booked him, well, that, plus the fact that he didn’t mind wearing noticeable makeup or kissing another guy. 

When he saw a familiar figure in a white tank top and a high waisted dark blue skirt, he stopped short. What was she doing here? Peggy wasn’t supposed to be involved this time. He felt torn. Part of him wanted to hurry to her, say hi and take advantage of every single second he could get with her before she left (in barely a month), while another part was going over all the ways this would get them in trouble, mess everything up, get them both fired. Peggy was looking down at her phone, wearing sunglasses, as Steve looked something in her phone made her laugh and shake her head, making her hair shine in the sunlight. 

The first part won.

“Hey, Peg,” he leaned in and kissed her softly on the cheek, hand resting lightly on her waist. He looked down at her with a smile. She wasn’t wearing heels this time, just like at Pride and her pair of flats left them with an even greater height difference than usual. Steve couldn’t deny he loved that. He was starting to realize that while how she looked in her smart suits never failed to made him weak at the knees, the sight of her in casual clothes got his stomach fluttering for different kinds of reasons. Ones that had more to do with fantasies of lazy days in a couch, cuddling and making time. “How are you doing?”

“Hello, Steve. I’m splendid. Excited for today, you?” She grinned up at him as she took off her sunglasses, the sudden brightness made her squint.

“Same, now that I know you’re gonna be here,” he confessed, a smile tugging at his lips at the light blush that colored Peggy’s cheeks.

He knew they had agreed to keep their distance, try not to encourage their feelings for the other, but with the date looming over them, Steve found he didn’t care anymore. It had been a month since he had last seen her at Pride, and he’d genuinely thought that knowing that a relationship between them wasn’t feasible would make it easier to get over his feelings for her. But seeing her again just brought it all back and made it painfully obvious it wouldn’t be that easy. Peggy was leaving, it was going to hurt no matter what they did. Maybe he’d be able to soothe that pain with memories. He’d take whatever she gave him while they had the time.

“Steve, we’re working.”

He looked around, bringing attention to the fact that it was just the two of them so far.

“Not yet we aren’t.” She gave him a sad smile. “Listen, I know you’re leaving, there’s nothing we can do about it. In a month you’ll be in Paris and I’ll still be here. But can we just pretend? For today, for right now?” He gave her an earnest look, “I’m not talking about some frenzied rush of cramming every experience possible in what little time we have,” he shook his head, vehement. “No, I’m saying let’s pretend we have time, act like we would have if life hadn’t gotten in the way. We could go in all those dates I want to take you on.”

She regarded him for a long moment, eyes shining.

“Steve, I--”

“I’m here! I’m here!” A voice interrupted her. Steve and Peggy turned around to find Peter Parker jogging towards them, a big camera hanging from his neck along with a bag in his hand. He tripped when he was a few paces away and Steve had to rush in to steady him. “I’m okay, I’m okay. I’m not late, am I? Please tell me I’m not.”

“Hey, Peter, how you doing, kid?”

“Hey, Steve, didn’t know you were going to be here.” He said in a rush as he checked over his things. He whipped his head up suddenly, a startled look on his face, “not that that’s a bad thing! I just had no idea! Now that I do, I’m… glad?”

Steve chuckled. “Likewise, glad to have you.”

“I’d like to say the same.” Peggy held out her hand to shake Peter’s. “Hello, Peter, I’m Peggy Carter. I’m the editor that’s going to be directing the shoot, pleased to meet you.”

“Great to meet you. Do you mind if I ask you some questions about how this is gonna go? The email wasn’t very detailed. I also have some suggestions?”

“Not at all, ask away.”

As Peggy and Peter had a conversation that mostly went over Steve’s head, the rest of the group started arriving: Carol, the Maximoff twins, a stylist and a light-skinned woman with four backpacks she started handing out to them. Inside his, Steve found what he guessed was his outfit as well as the makeup he was going to wear. 

His makeup was relatively tame, some base, eyeliner, mascara and lip-gloss, no blush, which was alright, he didn’t need it, five minutes in the sun and he was already getting a little red. Steve’s outfit was a pair of loose light blue ripped jeans and a basic white t-shirt that probably cost more than his whole wardrobe. Over it he had a thin dark blue scarf and a few rings to fit in his fingers.

Pietro had a more stylish look, ripped black jeans, an airy camo green shirt with at least three buttons undone and some necklaces. He even had a hat, a dark brown thing with a wide brim that covered the dark roots of his bleached hair. His makeup was a dark lipstick with some dark sparkly eyeshadow. He looked good, if maybe a bit over-produced for a casual afternoon in Coney Island.

Both Carol and Wanda had gotten bold lipsticks, blue and red respectively. Steve thought that, even if the lipsticks turned out to be transferable, it’d still make for interesting photos. Wanda had gotten an artsy look, ripped jean shorts with a sleeveless gray shirt and a long red light coat over it. Carol, on the other hand, was wearing a pastel blue sundress with white flats.

Peggy assembled them all in a small circle when they were all finished changing. It was a really small group, eight people, for a shoot, that was minimal.

“Okay, we’re all ready?” Everyone nodded. “Brilliant, I’ve been talking with Peter and we decided it’d be a good idea to keep things casual. Less posing, more acting. That way we can all have some fun on the side. We’ll walk down the pier, you guys in front of us, act as you would on a date, Peter will try to stay out of your way. If I see a particular thing I want to get photographed I’ll tell you, also if you have any suggestions do tell me, okay?” No one objected so she gave them a big smile, “okay, let’s get started then.”

They set out in couples. Wanda and Carol held hands as they walked, but Steve wrapped his arm around Pietro to keep him close. They had already talked about what they were both comfortable doing for the shoot, as they waited for Peggy and Peter earlier. It had turned out that, while Pietro was straight, he had no problem with kissing Steve or anything of the date-like attitudes Steve suggested. He seemed more uncomfortable at the prospect of doing them in front of his ‘baby sister’ than anything else.

They walked down the pier for almost an hour, joking around, making faces at each other and pointing at random things, mostly dogs. Wanda and Carol got a photo with a mime, both kissing each cheek as he acted surprised. Steve and Pietro got one with an adorable golden retriever, just as it licked Steve’s cheek, Pietro mid laugh next to him. 

“Wait! Everyone stop!” At Peggy’s call out they all turned around, surprised, but she was already walking towards one of the stands. “We need ice-cream.”

She bought a cone for everyone, toppings included. Even she got one, chocolate with sprinkles, not that Steve was making a mental note or anything. They did single shots, one of each with their chosen colorful cone in a sequence as they ate them. Thinking about photos side by side gave Steve an idea.

“We could find a photo booth, they have at least three photos per strip, right? We could do a sequence of a kiss. Before, kissing and after, showing how the lipsticks stayed on. It’d look good.” He looked at Peggy, searching for her approval. She thought about it for a second before nodding.

“That’d be brilliant, actually. But we should finish our ice-creams first.” She took a bite of hers, lips getting stained with the cream. Steve found that view a lot more engaging than it probably was. He stared, transfixed as Peggy licked a sprinkle from the corner of her mouth. He was really curious to find out how their flavors would mix if they kissed, and seeing the way Peggy was looking at his own mouth as he licked his own lips clean, he was positive he wasn’t the only one.

The snap of Peter’s camera shook him out of his trance and he looked over, worried the kid had taken a photo of them, but he was photographing Carol, no sign that he had ever stopped.

“Okay, I think we are done with the photos, can I get my cone now?” Peter was grinning, clearly pleased at the prospect of sugar.

Peggy bought him one and they relaxed around for a few minutes as everyone finished eating. The stylist retouched their looks, made sure they hadn’t stained anything and they went on. 

They found a photo booth a few stands down. Peggy wanted to try it out first to see how the photos came out so she went in and not a second later with a mischievous grin on her lips and a well timed shove, Carol pushed Steve inside and closed the curtain after him.

He fell in a heap on the bench, caught off guard and off balance, Peggy let a little surprised noise at the sudden intrusion. Steve quickly managed to arrange himself so he wasn’t half on top of her anymore, but the booth was small, there was no way to avoid contact. His thigh was pressed against hers and their shoulders were touching. When he turned to the side to apologise, and maybe excuse himself out, he found there was less than a foot between their faces. It was stupid, there was barely a flimsy fabric separating them from the outside, yet Steve felt like he was in a quiet cocoon, the rest of the world was suddenly irrelevant. Or maybe he had just gotten a bit too lost in Peggy’s eyes.

“Let’s pretend,” Peggy suggested, tone whisper soft, “just for a few minutes.”

Steve nodded, mouth dry.

A flash reminded them where they were, caught up in themselves. They hurried to pose for the next photo, going for goofy faces, Peggy stuck out her tongue at Steve and he let out a loud laugh along with the second flash. For the third photo, Steve calculated it perfectly, already with a sense of how long it took the machine between snaps. He pretended to go for an innocent enough kiss on Peggy’s cheek, but on the last second, exactly as the flash went off, he licked a long strip from her jaw to her cheekbone.

The outraged and startled sound Peggy made had him doubling over, gasping for breath in barely a few seconds, almost like when he used to have asthma as a kid, only much less life-threatening. 

“You’re so gross,” she said, wiping her cheek with a dirty look.

But even then her mouth was twitching, she got over her indignation quickly, and with a huff she stopped pretending to hold back her laughter, doubling over along with Steve. He wasn’t sure if there was a fourth photo, he could barely open his eyes. By the time they managed to get themselves under control they both had tears in their eyes. 

Steve briefly considered sticking another coin and doing another round, except that’d meant everyone outside would see the photos before them. He wasn’t sure he was ready for that. He was under no illusion about what they all probably thought they were doing inside, even if they hadn’t heard them laugh, the fact that Carol had pushed him in was explicative enough.

They got out and everyone was kind enough to pretend they hadn’t been paying close attention or even noticed what had happened. Except for Carol, of course, who gave them a knowing grin. As soon as the photos came out, two copies, Steve swiped them. He gave one to Peggy and pocketed the other quickly, too hurried to even spare it a glace. 

“Yeah.” Peggy was still a little breathless, looking at the little strip of carton. She cleared her throat and took a deep breath before stating louder, “this booth will do, I like the design. Steve, Pietro, why don’t you go first?”

“Sure,” Pietro went in, quarter already in his hand, Steve followed him.

“Think it does four photos? At least that’s how many flashes I saw from the outside,” Pietro shrugged. “So I say we do one looking at the camera, two kissing, one blowing a kiss at the camera? That way the lipstick can be seen. That okay with you?”

“Yep, let's get to it.”

Steve felt a little bad for the way he kissed Pietro, there was absolutely nothing behind it. Sure, he bit his lips, swiped a little tongue so it’d be visible on the photo, but that was all it was, a pose. I’d look good on the magazine yet it was just as two dimensional as the paper it’d be printed on. His mind was on a different pair of lips, always red and curled in a wicked grin. 

When they got out Peggy wasn’t there.

“She went to find a bathroom and something to drink, day’s getting hot.” Val explained when Pietro asked after her.

Val was right, noon was already close and the breeze from the ocean was not enough anymore to keep them cool.

Wanda and Carol got into the photobooth and by the time they had gotten out Peggy had reappeared. Her face was flushed and she carrying a bag with water bottles for everyone. As they all started to drink Peter got out his camera, again, and started snapping.

“You know what we should do?” Carol was grinning, looking at the distance, Steve suspected what she meant, his stomach started to feel queasy. “Ride the Cyclone!”

Hell no! ” Pietro’s refusal was vehement. He was already looking a little pale, “I don’t do well with heights.”

Peggy shrugged.

“That’s alright, you and Steve can stay down here, we’ll find you something else later. We’ll get Carol and Wanda in a car, Peter and I on the one in front of them, the security bars are low enough that you could twist around to photograph them, right?”

“I can go, I never rode it,” Val offered, looking up at the roller coaster with a challenging glint in her eyes. “Peggy you can stay here, go through the files we already have.”

“I could use some extra space in here,” Peter looked up from the screen of his camera. “I can pass them to a tablet. That way I don’t risk getting the memory full halfway through the ride.”

“Okay, let’s do that.” Peggy held out her hand, “hand me the SD Card, I’ll upload the photos to the iPad.”

Ten minutes later Wanda, Carol, Val, and Peter were on their way to queue for The Cyclone. As they waited for them, Pietro struck up a conversation with the stylist, and Steve took a seat next to Peggy on a shaded bench as she went through the photos.

“Sorry you didn’t get to ride.” She gave him an apologetic smile, looking up from the iPad.

“Oh no, believe me, I’m more than glad to stay at sea level. Last time I rode The Cyclone I threw up, just looking at it makes me woozy.” He smiled at the memory, it had been for one of Bucky’s birthdays, a cold March day.

“Really? It doesn’t look that violent.”

“It is if you ride it seven times back to back,” he smiled sheepishly at her, Peggy’s eyes widened comically.

“Whatever for would you do that!?”

“It was a bet with Bucky,” he shrugged. “I lost, by the way.”

“What did you bet?”

“We bet who would throw up first, loser had to do the winner’s homework.” He smirked, “Bucky never said it had to be done correctly.

Peggy laughed loudly, head thrown back.

“He was right, huh? When he said I can’t let the angelic looks fool me, you are a heap of trouble.”

“Bucky’s a liar, I’m nothing but an angel.” He gestured at himself with a finger, “perfect American boy, lives of apple pie and his love for the red, white and blue, nothing else.”

“Sure, honey. That’s about as true as when Tony swears he never saw me eat anything but tea or biscuits since he’s known me,” she smiled fondly. “One of these days he’s gonna tell that to another British person that’s not me or Jarvis, and Pepper is gonna bludgeon him.”

Steve laughed before the full meaning of her words sank in. He did a double take, thinking he must have heard wrong.

No way. 

“Tony? As in Tony Stark, and Pepper Potts? ” 

“Yes… Why?” Peggy looked at him with a confused, cautious expression, eyes narrowed.

“I did some work for them last week.”

“The job you took vacations for was for Stark Industries? Really?” She looked surprised, though not entirely incredulous, “Carol told me a bit about it in a shoot but not who had hired you.”

Steve had no idea there had been another shoot. He couldn’t deny, he felt some warmth at the thought of Peggy thinking about him when they weren’t together.

“Yeah, well, a part of it. I did some corporative stuff, brochures, plus a presentation for Stark Industries. Then Tony commissioned me a poster and his twitter profile pic,” he smiled awkwardly, worried that he’d sound petulant.

“The one with the robot suit, you did that? It’s bloody brilliant,” Peggy beamed, sincerity clear in her every word and Steve blushed.

“Thank you. He drove me up a wall with the accuracy of the suit.”

“Yeah,” she chuckled, “that’s Tony for you.”

“He actually offered me a job,” he blurted out, not sure why.

“Really?” Peggy smiled brightly, undeniably happy for him, “that’s great, Steve!”

“Yeah, I know. I’m not sure if I’ll accept it yet, though,” he shrugged. “I like working freelance, a nine-to-five isn’t that compatible with it.”

“I guess. The retirement benefits must be good, though, right?”

“That’s the same thing Tony said, actually.” He groaned, “ugh, I hate making sensible decisions.”

Peggy laughed and patted him on the shoulder, reassuringly.

“We all have to at some point, darling. But I mean it, you should really consider it, I’m sure it’s more than deserved, especially if Tony personally offered it to you. He’s a genius, you know?” She gave him a mock serious look, Steve rolled his eyes.

“You don’t say? I hadn’t noticed, his twitter bio didn’t hint that at all , with the... how’s it go? ‘ genius, billionaire, ex-playboy, philanthropist’? So very subtle.” 

“Tony’s a good man, he’s simply... intense,” Peggy was smiling, thought, clearly amused.

“Yeah, that’s one way of putting it,” he chuckled. “How do you know him?”

“Oh, we grew up together, our families were friends. Every time we came to visit the States, we stayed with them. We mostly lost touch when his parents died, stopped talking altogether when I was dating Fred.” She cleared her throat, some of the lightness of the conversation disappeared under the weight of the past. “When I came here, though, Tony welcomed me with open arms. He, Pepper and Jarvis were the ones that helped me get settled.” A small, fond smile worked its way to her lips, “they’re basically my family.”

“You’re really gonna miss them, huh?” He nudged her softly, trying to show support.

“Terribly.” When she looked back at Steve her eyes were glistening, she blinked the tears away before they could fall, “I mean, they’ll visit, they can do that but…”

“Yeah… it’s not the same.”

With a sad smile and a nod, Peggy went back to the photos. She swiped by a couple but halted at one, staring. Steve peeked over her shoulder to see and came face to face with themselves. He had been right, Peter had taken a photo of them as they were talking and eating ice-cream. He had caught them looking at each other, soft smiles on their faces. Steve was a little startled to see himself with the makeup, he kept forgetting he was wearing it. It made his eyes look unnaturally blue. And in the photo they had a love-drunk look that was unmistakable. Was that the way he looked at Peggy all the time? No wonder everyone realized something was up, Steve from the photo was the human embodiment of the hearteyes emoji.

Peggy swiped past the photo, letting it go uncommented. The silence that had fallen between them had spoken volumes anyway. She got to the last photos as The Cyclone group returned.

“We survived!” Wanda said as she neared, cheeks flushed and grinning, “Pietro, you really must go sometime, it’s really fun!” At her twin’s denial she added, “it’s also really really fast, you’d like that part. Maybe you could close your eyes, not look down.” 

“Okay, so what’s next?” Peter was already bouncing on his feet, ready to get going.

“Now, we have two options, I want to get one more situation with Steve and Pietro, to match with your roller coaster ride, so we can do that, then have lunch; or have lunch and then do that.” 

“If we eat now, we’ll be all sluggish for the last of the shoot. I say we get the photos done, eat afterwards.”

Nobody argued with Carol’s reasoning, so they went to find some place to shoot. They ended up deciding for the Tea Party ride, it was the only one where they could go in three people and still be tranquil enough to take photos as well as get good close ups.

Pietro, Steve and Peter went in one of the cups, Peggy and Val in another, then Wanda, the stylist and Carol in the last one, just for the hell of it. Luckily there was only one more cup occupied, so no one objected to eight grownups hopping in a ride designed specifically for children. 


As they spun Peggy got glimpses of what was going on in the other cups. Half spin, Carol laughing along with Wanda as they spun as fast as they could, the stylist with a frightened expression between them. Half spin, Steve leaning in towards Pietro, Peter sitting opposite, camera already raised, covering their faces with his head. A full spin, Carol still pumping the cup at all it would give. Half spin, the couple of strangers with their child with a concerned look as Wanda and Carol’s cup barreled towards them. A spin, Peter taking a photo of Steve, who was gripping Pietro’s hair as he bit his lip and pulled, even from afar Peggy could see Pietro’s lip straining. 

Peggy got a sudden feeling of vertigo she knew had nothing to do with the cup’s spinning.

She wasn’t jealous, per se. Not in an angry, possessive way, it was more of a nostalgic feeling, a longing she felt at seeing what she wanted, yet couldn’t get. In a way she could get it, just not in any form that wouldn’t hurt. She wanted what she saw, but also so much more.

Her mother had always told her she wanted too much, seemed she was right this time, maybe Peggy just had to “settle down and stop trying to change how things are.'' 

She didn’t bother trying to look around anymore and asked Val to stop the spinning. They got off the ride and went outside to wait for the rest to be done. While they waited Val looked at her with a knowing glint in her eyes.

“Complicated, huh?”

“Not really,” her tone was defeated, maybe she had finally accepted there was nothing to be done, had or stolen before Paris. “I’m leaving in a month, what we want isn’t compatible with having a whole ocean in between.”

“Guess it makes sense, you couldn’t get another offer?” Peggy gave her a confused look. “In another magazine, I mean, you’re not exactly a nobody.”

“Yeah, I know,” she didn’t mean to sound dismissive but weariness had settled on her, she really wanted all this to be over. “Didn’t even bother, honestly.”

“What? I mean it, Peggy, I was working somewhere else in the business before, from an outside perspective I can tell you that everybody thinks you’re the only thing keeping Sakaar  afloat.”

“I’m flattered they think that. I guess now that you’ve worked with me you’ve gotta know that’s not…” Val interrupted her.

“Now that I’ve worked with you, I don’t think, I know that’s exactly the case.” She went to stand in front of Peggy, physically putting herself in her line of sight and forcing her to look at her. “You’re always doing the extra work, compiling all the magazine for printing, getting your actual work done in a week when all the other editors deliver it shy of the deadline, all so you can start taking care of all this other stuff.”

“Val, that’s really lovely of you to say but…”

“But nothing, listen, Sakaar is a trash heap. I mean, it doesn’t even have departments for god’s sake! I’m sure it was good enough for you when you got here after whatever made you run from England, just as it was good enough for me after I got fired from the job I actually loved.

“But it’s been years , and I honestly don’t understand why you’re still here, you’ve made a name for yourself, take one good look at your calendar, you’ve got everyone’s number! Plus experience to boot. Seriously, anyone who can make one of The Grandmaster’s ridiculous ideas look remotely decent is a fucking miracle worker. You always go around saying you know your value, do you really? Because this defeated attitude says otherwise.

“So, fuck it, take a leap, ask around, worst that can happen? Nobody hires you, which would be crazy, you go to Paris, leave pretty boy here and all your family behind. That’s already happening if you don’t do anything, what do you have to lose?”

Peggy was stunned, she hadn’t felt so talked down to and flattered at the same since Michael.

“That’s... actually a pretty solid pep talk.”

Val gave her a grin. “I’m a woman of many talents.”

“I never doubted it. I’ll think about it, you’re right about me not having anything to lose.” She smiled, “worse that can happen I get no answer, right?”

“Right.” They shared a moment of silence. “Now, the guys are getting down from the cups, let’s go get some hotdogs, I’m starving.

Chapter Text

Steve’s social media and work email had gotten flooded with questions, inquiries and fan mail in a matter of days after Tony updated his profile picture. He had had to set up an automated reply that said his commissions were closed, that he wasn’t giving interviews or getting people copies of his works signed by Tony. He felt entitled doing it, more than a little snobbish, but he really couldn’t deal with all of them personally. 

He had gotten Pepper’s email the Friday following the shoot and had almost missed it in the mess his inbox had become. He had opened it with almost no expectations, he had no idea what they were offering him besides ‘a permanent position’. It turned out to be a position as Assistant Brand Identity Designer. For a company as big as Stark Industries, that was huge . A change in the image of the brand, however small, would go from Pepper’s business cards at the very top, to the packaging in their shipments and all the way to the tower’s gift shop. The salary also reflected that.

The email took care of every question he could possibly have. He’d work with a group, mostly managing it, he’d even get a vote about who was in it, even if they had to be vetoed by the Head of Brand Identity. He’d be allowed to work from home, but would have to show up at the office at with a certain regularity, especially for meetings and the like. Stark Industries would make sure he had all the latest technologies that concerned his area and would take care of its maintenance as part of his contract. He’d be able to pitch up projects as much as he’d have some assigned to him. They even included the paternity leave duration, which was two full paid months and then some weeks more unpaid if he wanted it.

By the time he was done reading it, he knew he had already made his decision. He was going to take it. The job was everything he had been hoping for when he got into college, a way to be creative without starving to death in the process. He’d get to work with a group, which he liked, with the option of staying home on some days if he didn’t feel like dealing with humans.

He wasn’t going to rush into it, though, not this. He’d leave the email to sit in his inbox for a few more days, maximum a week, before he gave them a definite answer. For now, he simply answered Pepper. He thanked her for the information, asked for some time to think about it and a preliminary start date if he were to accept. That was enough for now. 

There was, however, another decision he had already taken that could be taken care of right then.

“Hey, Maria.”

“Hello Steve, I’ve been expecting you to call.”

“You... have?” Steve kept his tone cautious, worried he had screwed up something new unknowingly.

“Yes. You’re calling me to tell me you’re not gonna renew your contract,” Maria stated, not an ounce of doubt in her voice.

“I am,” he frowned, “how did you know?”

“Steve, I’m not stupid. Modeling was never your endgame, it was just to get a buck. I’ve been seeing this coming for a while now. The fact that you got a job with Stark Industries and the recognition you deserve it’s simply the tip of the iceberg.” He could hear the smile in her voice, “We’re really gonna miss you.” 

“Yeah, me too, but think positive, no more late-night phone calls because I punched some asshole.”

“Yeah, but also, no one I can call at those hours and be sure they’ll come through either.” She sighed, “still, you’re right, we gotta think positive. At least now you’ll get to be with Carter without worrying about people whispering.”

That felt like a kick to the gut.

“That’s not really how it worked out, or more like, didn’t work out?” He’s tried to keep the sadness out of his voice, so he ended up mostly sounding resigned.

“Oh, I’m sorry for bringing it up, then.” She changed the subject, “so, Steve, you’ve got a month worth of contract left, what do you wanna do with it? Photoshoot? Something light? Go out with a bang? Maybe a show?”

“Ugh, no, I fucking hate shows.”

“That’s ‘cause, in the only one you did, they put you on tights,” she chuckled. “I can get you one without spandex if you want. There’s plenty of options, it’s not in this season.”

“No, I’d rather stay out of the runway. Just keep me in mind, if anyone falls through and I fit the bill, you call me and I’ll be there.” He shrugged, even though she couldn’t see it, “I don’t wanna make a big deal out of me leaving.”

“Okay, I hear you.” He could tell she was smiling again, “we really will miss you, Steve. Avengers Agency is immensely better today than it was before you joined us. Good luck in whatever you do next, I hope I get to see you sometime.”

“You definitely will, you’re not getting rid of me that easily.” Maria was an incredible woman. Steve owed her much more than he dared admit, he wouldn’t let that go un-returned. “I’ll drop by the agency someday.”

“Woah! Is that a threat?” Steve could hear her crackling over the line, he mirrored her.

“It’s a promise. Bye, Maria.”

“Goodbye, Steve.”

He hung up, a smile on his face.


 

Peggy was in her office at Sakaar . It was morning but the day was already hot, sun streaming through the windows. She was going over the final version of the photos, getting ready to start assembling the pages when her phone started vibrating so violently it fell off the desk into the carpet with a thud. When she went to pick it up and saw who had texted her, she wasn’t surprised.

Tony 10:28 am

im throwing you a getaway party

well

not a “getaway party” per se

im throwing my usual end of fashion week party but this time you get to decide the theme

you better accept i already discussed this with pepper

i made promises there is no going back from

get back to me asap

i might have thought of this too late and need an answer quick

the party is a month away

You 10:30 am

i’ll give you a theme as long as you promise not to make a big deal out of me leaving

i’ll take an honorable mention in the usual speech but that’s it

no fireworks that spell my name, no cakes with a stripper inside or any of the like

understood?

The reply took a long time to come. Peggy could practically picture Tony struggling between the desire to do something nice for her versus his irresistible impulse to always go over the top and throw the biggest party in existence.

Tony 10:57 am

Deal.

only because I love you and I know you’re capable of straight up ditching it if you dont like it

You 10:58 am

It’s cute how well you know me

Tell Pepper I’d like a 50s theme, but only for the dress code, I’d die before I eat any of the food from that time

Unflavored jelly was all the rage 

It should be standard, comfortable enough that everyone can follow it and it’s what is going to be in fashion this season

We can play a game, do a shot for every Marilyn Monroes look alike we spot

Tony 11:00 am

deal

but only mousse shots

im off strong alcohol, docs orders

You 11:01 am

sounds great, mousse shots it is

i wasn’t using my liver anyway

let me know if any of you need help with the wardrobe, I’d love to help

She smiled as she set her phone down. It was an incredibly sweet gesture coming from Tony, letting her set the tone for one of his most famous gatherings. She already knew what she was going to wear and everything.

She’d spot the golden dress in a small vintage boutique in Paris and had instantly fallen in love with it. It seemed right out of Veronica Lake’s glamour shot. She was planning on using it at Tony’s party anyways, as long as the theme wasn’t too far off. The fact that he had let her pick made it absolutely perfect.

Let’s get back to work.

She brought back her attention to her desk; she had had all the photos printed out and they were now spread out across it. She knew digital work tended to be more effective, yet she could never quite get the gist of it. She could use the programs alright and get what she wanted done fast. But in times like this, for all the preliminary work when she didn’t know what she wanted, physical copies suited her better.

She hadn’t printed all of them, even if it was a pretty long spread, there were just too many photos. That Parker boy worked fast. She had the ice cream photos, which she already knew she wanted to include right in front of her. She’d do a page with a 4x4 grid of them. She briefly pondered if it’d be better to mix them up or make a straight progression before going with the second option, I’d be better for comparison. 

She went rummaging through the brown paper envelope where she had the printed photos. She took out the one with Wanda and Carol kissing the mime, as well as the one of Pietro and Steve with the dog. They were lovely photos, they’d look amazing with the photobooth strip next to them, one on each side.

The photo booth strips, where the hell are they?

She started going through the rest of the stuff from the shoot, sure she had tucked them all in some pocket. After five minutes of intense search they turned out to be in one of the side pockets of her purse. She took out the strips and started flipping through them. Two of Wanda and Carol, giggling and kissing, the other two of Steve and Pietro, who had gone in a more… passionate take. 

The first photo was cute, looking at the camera and smiling, giving slightly coy looks. The second, in contrast, they were full on kissing. Steve had Pietro’s dark bottom lip between his and was pulling, stretching it, just like what she’d seen in the spinning cups. The third one was similar, but with a hint of tongue showing. The last one though went back to cute, both blowing kisses at the camera, lips pursed, lipsticks still intact.

It hurt, the longing she felt watching the photos. When they had kissed, Steve had been gentle, passionate, yes, but gentle, letting her lead and pick the pace. Seeing him taking obvious control of a kiss, posture strong, almost commanding, made her curious, among other things. It felt like a challenge.

She flipped to the last strip of photos and had to resist the urge to scream at the universe. It was one of the copies from Steve and hers turn at the photo booth. The first photo had caught them unaware; they were both gazing at each other, a sappy, lost expression on their faces. Peggy could still remember thinking how unfairly irresistible Steve’s blue eyes looked with eyeliner. The second one had her sticking out her tongue at him, who had his head hung low as he chuckled, hair hanging in front of his eyes with a small smile on his lips. The third made her giggle, her expression was aghast, and Steve, visible in profile, was clearly laughing his ass off as he licked her cheek, eyes crinkling at the corners. The little twat. The fourth one, like the first, wasn’t planned, so it was a little blurry. She was leaning against Steve, mid-laugh, supporting herself in his shoulder. He had his head thrown back, neck stretched and face lit up.

She really didn’t appreciate how much everything reminded her of what she was going to lose. It made her angry, it already hurt enough.

Can’t I get a bloody break?

She put the strip back in her purse, not wanting to come across it again as she worked. She’d see what she did with it later.

For the last page she used random photos of the fourth of them walking down the pier, and some close ups Peter had taken of them unaware. She was really pleased with how the whole spread had turned out. It flowed easily, the photos had a cohesiveness to them that brought it all together perfectly. In just a couple hours she had it all typed up and digitalized, with some extra touches to refine it. 

She saved all the files and opened her email to send them to Jacques. She tried not to stare at her email list, ignoring the fact that she hadn’t gotten any replies to the few emails she had sent out a few days earlier. It had been hard, picking who to send and how to phrase it. She didn’t want anyone that would go ratting her out to everyone or make a fuss out of an Associate Editor asking for a job. That would bring bad rep to Sakaar . While she did want to leave her job at the magazine, she had no bad feelings towards it. She wouldn’t like seeing it fall if she left.

Her talk with The Grandmaster had gone better than expected. Peggy suspected it was mostly because Topaz hadn’t been present. She had expressed her need to stay here, even offered to keep this job, no salary increase, as long as she could stay in the U.S. As it turned out she had been right, when it came to a promotion as big as this one, it was all or nothing. The Grandmaster had told her, in his fumbling, giggling, roundabout way, that she’d have the job if she wanted it, but if not, they’d simply promote Jacques and ‘hire a local’ to fill the position. 

Given the trip to Paris was a couple months earlier than the launch to get everything ready, he wasn’t even worried about a preliminary notice. It had been a relief, knowing she could have until the last minute to back out. 

Still, none of that mattered if she didn’t get any offers in the first place. Which she wasn’t getting. She tried to not to let it get her down. It wasn’t like she didn’t have a secure position anyways. She refreshed the page and got a reply from Jacques, with trepidation she clicked it, the subject was ‘please don’t hate me’.

[16th of August]

Bonjour Peggy,

First and foremost, I have to tell you I haven’t seen the spread yet, I'm on my phone, it doesn’t support the format. As soon as I get home, I'll take a look at it, but I’m sure you’ve done an amazing job.

Secondly, this is the reason for the subject, I forgot something. I had a show tonight, I promised the organizers it’d have Sakaar presence. Then I totally forgot about it. I got the reminder just now (merci time difference). Could you please go for me? I promise it’s not a tacky, crappy merde. it’s actually what you like, corporate wear, we don’t even need to make an article, though if you can sneak in a mention, I bet they’d love that. I’ll send you all the details, if you can’t make it, send someone else, but I’d rather it was you, these guys are definitely going to go big, we need good connections. I’m attaching all the details.

As I said, please don’t hate me

Love,

Jacques

Peggy wrote back a reply, letting him know she’d go, no to worry, but he owed her one. At least it was a show she liked it, maybe some acquaintance of her would be attending and she could sit with them.

Well, there go my plans of a quiet night

. . .

She was really glad this show wasn’t one of those avant garde ones that thought walking at midnight made them special or interesting.  She really wanted to go to bed early, it had been too long since she’d gotten a precious long night of sleep; they were not the norm lately.  The venue was a simplistic one, the kind that made sure the clothes were the center of attention, not the decor.

She didn't bother with a front row seat; she wasn't here to do a report. Though she knew no one would question her. She would rather leave it to someone who’d have more of an interest in the line. There was a small gathering planned for after the show and as the models started walking by, she decided she was going to stay at least for a few minutes, so she could congratulate the designer. They were good, a little more on the patterned side than what she normally favored, but that it could be just more of a fashion-following decision than the designer’s particular style. Jacques was right when he said they were going big, they had potential.

Almost halfway through, she felt eyes on her, a faint itch in the back of her skull. She looked around, trying to see who had caused it, but the venue was too dark, only the runway and the first rows had lights. She thought she saw a couple staring at her from the other side of the runway, a black man and a black woman, sitting on the second row of chairs. From where she was, she couldn’t see much of them, besides their straight, elegant postures. The woman was wearing something green with long sleeves. The man was wearing a dark blazer, the lapels embroidered, with a white shirt underneath. He seemed to smile at her for a second, as if catching her eye from her darkened back seat. Not wanting to seem she was staring she brushed it off, assuming she was mistaken and they had been staring at someone else.

As the show ended everyone was ushered to an adjoined room that had tables, some seats, and waiters with canapés. Peggy took a glass of champagne and tried not to look as alone as she was. She was trying to appear busy, looking at her phone as she waited for the designer to get a clear spot so she could approach her, when someone tapped her shoulder. She turned around expecting to see a familiar face and instead came face to face with the couple from across the runaway.

They were smiling, arms hooked. Peggy noticed the woman was wearing a dress, not a top as she had initially thought, her hair was in Bantu knots, golden earrings dangling from her ears and a clutch on her hand. The man’s blazer, she was surprised to see, was dark purple, not black, the embroidery silver, he had a choker with what looked like an animal claw resting on the hollow of his throat.

“Hello, Miss Carter, it’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is T’challa, this is Nakia,” he gestured to himself and his companion. “We had hoped to have a minute with you.” 

“Hello, the pleasure is all mine, I assure you. And please, call me Peggy.” They shook hands, the room was pretty crowded, but the constant low murmur of chatter wasn’t so loud that they had to yell to be heard.

“We’d like to get straight to it, we know you are a busy woman. We hope you can excuse our brusqueness in exchange for clarity.”

“I’d like that too. Though I have to admit, I’m not sure what ‘it’ entails,” Peggy smiled, feeling perplexed.

T’Challa’s smile was warm, as was Nakia’s as she spoke.

“It’s a bit of a work in progress. My husband and I, we have some business ventures, we are currently looking to expand them. This time in a more fashion-oriented direction, and, to our delight, we heard from a friend you might be looking for a fresh opportunity?” She let her tone raise to a question at the end, expression inquisitive.

Peggy tried to hide her surprise, she had chosen the people she emailed carefully, trying her best to avoid exactly this. The fashion industry loved to gossip. Some of it must have shown on her face because Nakia was quick to reassure her.

“Oh, no please, don’t think bad of Ross. He only told us because we’d already been considering you for months.”

“Considering me for months?” Peggy really needed a recap; this conversation was spinning out of control.

“Why don’t we go back to the beginning?” T’challa gave her an apologetic smile. “Nakia and I, we are the owners and CEOs of Wakanda Corp. Our enterprise focuses on several areas, but we have one constant: culturally appropriate, socially conscious practices. We’ve been planning to expand those values towards the fashion industry, in the medium of a fashion magazine.”

“We don’t plan on doing a big print number, of course, we’ll mostly focus on digital work. The idea is to bring attention to small producers, especially from places that are most needed.” Nakia smiled, “The main focus would be corporate wear. We have most of the staff already hired, one of the few things we are missing is a co-editor, which is the position we had been considering you for.”

Peggy’s mind was already racing; no print media would reduce her work quite a bit, but small producers would mean a lot of contacts, probably travel, and that was without considering the actual nature of the work. She could do ‘socially conscious practices’, actually loved the idea after witnessing for too long how much was wasted in the industry. It was the ‘culturally appropriate’ part that worried her.

“That is a very generous offer indeed,” Peggy tried to soften her tone, “but I’m not sure I’m quite qualified for all of it.”

T’challa flicked his wrist in a dismissive gesture.

“Nonsense, you are practically over qualified. I’ve seen your work, followed your recommendations more than once,” his smile was sly. “We’d be really pleased to have you. And you wouldn’t be working alone, Nakia would be co-editing with you.”

“We expect a learning curve, Peggy. I’ve only ever edited news briefs and brochures, it’s time to put my journalism degree to good use. Having you working along with me would be perfect. I have the knowledge from the years I’ve been working at Wakanda with T’challa, you have the expertise. We’d help each other out.”

“I… I don’t know what to say, it’s an amazing offer but…” She faltered, trying to get her thoughts in order.

“We’ll give you some time. We are sorry to come across so strong and suddenly, we were planning on being subtler.” T’challa chuckled.

“Yes, take all the time you need.” Nakia opened her clutch, pulled out a card, “email me or call me with any doubts. I’ll send you a dossier with all the necessary information, including everyone who’d be your coworker.”  

Peggy took the card, still processing the last minutes.

“We have to go now, but it’s been a pleasure. We really hope you give our offer serious thought, we couldn’t wish for anyone more suited for it. Goodbye, Miss Carter.” T’challa dipped his head in farewell as he locked his arm with his wife again.

“Bye, Peggy, I look forward to working together.” With a wave and a wink, Nakia turned around, in a matter of seconds they melted into the crowd. 

Peggy stared at the place where they had disappeared, only snapping back to herself when a designer passed by and she remembered the original reason for her prolonged stay. She pushed back the last twenty minutes to the back of her mind. She was too tired, she didn’t even have enough information to consider it right now. She walked over to her and made sure Sakaar ’s name was remembered.

Chapter Text

[21st of August]

Hello Pepper,

I’m writing you to let you know I accept your offer for the position of Assistant Brand Identity Designer. I am really honored you and Tony believe me capable of this position. Thank you for your faith, I promise I’ll give it my best.

You mentioned the start date to be September 1st, I hope this is enough notice. I’m eager to start, get to know my team and start working. Let me know if there’s anything I need to see to before starting, I’m attaching the paperwork that your email mentioned.

Sincerely,

Steve Rogers

 

[23rd of August]

Hello Steve,

This is fantastic news, welcome to Stark Industries, we are thrilled to have you. I’m positive this is merely the beginning of a very fructuous work relationship.

From what I can see everything seems to be in order, both in form and time. I’ll have the head of design send you an email so you can keep in touch, tune out the fine details.

Speaking of time, I hope this isn’t very last minute but Tony and I would like to extend to you an invitation, as well as to your friend James Barnes, to our annual End of Fashion Week Party. This year’s theme is 40s or 50s fashion, I’m attaching the formal invitation here. If you have any problems with the wardrobe get in touch with the RSVP contact, they’ll provide a list of options.

Again, I am very glad you decided to accept our offer, I look forward to the 1st.

Sincerely,

Pepper Potts

CEO of Stark Industries


 

You 03:34 pm

What do you know about Wakanda Corp?

Tony 03:38 pm

Not much

they are hella secretive, don’t really share staff or stuff

why?

You 03:41 pm

don’t they have this whole ‘green, socially conscious, responsible’ approach?

Tony 03:41 am

yes, the couple who runs the corp has a strong stance on that

real good employment ethics also

take care of their staff, provide healthcare, housing, etc, all green and sustainable

I’ve talked with them more than once about arc reactor tech, we could do something about it when i get a break through

i heard T’challa’s sister is a genius, if she ever comes stateside i wanna meet her, maybe she could help

anyway

all i’ve heard are good things

why the sudden interest?

You 03:55 am

They might have

offered me a job?

Tony 03:56 pm

take it

You 04:02 pm

you don’t even know what is about!

it’s as an editor

they are going to launch a mostly digital fashion magazine

corporate wear with a sustainable theme

I’d still need to travel

but I’d be based here in new york

Tony 04:02 pm

you wouldn’t be asking me about it unless you were considering it seriously

that sounds like the perfect job for you

tailor made

so,,,

take it

You 04:05 pm

i don’t know Tony

i’ve been in Sakaar forever

i’m not saying we are a family or any of that romantic shite

but i’ve never done anything different

what if i screw up and i lose it all?

Tony 04:07 pm

Pegs

you’re talking to the king of screw ups

and if there’s one thing i’ve learned from my numerous fallings, is that you can always stand back up if you’ve got people around you who support you

if it goes wrong, so what?

i’ll launch a fashion magazine myself if you need a job

i can do it

but maybe try first one with the wakandians, save Pepper a headache

take the job Peggy

leave dear Anna W jobless

. . .

[24th of August]

Dear Ms. Mhelt,

Please accept this letter of resignation from Sakaar Magazine as Associate Editor. My last day of employment will be September 20 of this year.

Thank you so much for seven excellent years in this company. I have worked alongside some excellent colleagues, have had many opportunities to grow and develop in my career field.

I will never forget my time at Sakaar Magazine. Please let me know if you need any assistance with the transition, I hope to part in the best possible terms.

All the best,

Margaret E. Carter

 

[28th of August]

Dear Nakia,

After giving it some time and a lot of thought, I have resolved to accept your offer as Co-Editor. I thank you for your patience with my answer, for your openness about the terms and conditions of this employment, as well. I look forward to working with you personally and with Wakanda Corp. as a whole. I’m eager to tackle any new challenges.

If there is anything you need when it comes to the transition don’t hesitate to call my personal number, I will be tied up with my current job this next few weeks and I might not be able to check my email very often.

Thank you again,

Sincerely,

Margaret E. Carter

Chapter Text

As soon as Peggy was done reading, asking, and signing everything that cemented her new job, she picked up her phone and called Angie.

“Hey, English, how are you doing? It’s been a while.”

“It really has, Angie. I’m alright, how about you?”

“I’m great, we are close to the end of the play’s run, so looking for jobs,” she chuckled, “doing everything possible to not go back to being a waitress.”

“I’m sure that’s not gonna happen, somebody will call you,” Angie really was an amazing actress and playwright, Peggy was sure she’d go to do amazing things, “but speaking of cafes, do you think we could meet?”

“Uhm, yeah, I think I have Wednesday free.”

“No, I mean today, as soon as possible, I have news I’d like to tell you in person?” Peggy tried to keep her voice neutral, to hide the buzzing feeling she had under her skin.

“Wow, okay,” she grew quiet for a few seconds, thinking. “Would you mind coming to my place? I’m waiting for mail, I kind of can’t leave until they come.”

“Absolutely, I’ll be there in twenty, half an hour tops.”

She hung up and stared at her phone’s screen, considering the other person she wanted to surprise with the announcement, obviously assuming that if Tony already knew, Pepper and Jarvis most definitely did as well. She opened her phone, tried composing a text, only to find that she had no idea how to break the news.

Hey Steve, turns out I’m not going to Paris after all, what a bummer! Wanna get together and bang?

That wasn’t gonna work, she’d had to meet with him, face to face was a million times better, even if Steve got her all tongue tied with just one of his endearing smiles. She considered her schedule the following weeks, it was absolute madness, Fashion Week would have her working 20 hours a day, sleeping like the death the other four. With a frustrated growl she threw her phone back in her purse and went to look for her car.

In the end, it took Peggy forty minutes to get to Angie’s apartment, because she couldn’t help but stop and get ice-cream on the way. Standing in the aisle she had considered getting booze as well, but then again, maybe it was too early for that. She had a few meetings early the next day, no room for throbbing hangovers on the eve of Fashion Week. 

She arrived along with the delivery guy, who looked mildly confused at the British woman who came jogging from her car, in heels, yelling at them to not close the door. All in all, it probably wasn’t the weirdest thing the guy had seen, but Peggy still felt like she had lost a little bit more of her dignity. At least she didn’t trip.

“Okay, English, why the sudden visit, not that I mind or anything. What is up with those cryptic news? You’re not getting transported to Morocco or something like that, no?”

Peggy beamed at her, the plastic bag with the ice-cream still clutched in her hand.

“On the contrary, I quit my job at Sakaar . I’m staying in New York!”

The shriek Angie let out was a decibel short of deafening and the fierce hug she gave Peggy right after almost left her with a few cracked ribs. Peggy returned it just as strongly, finally letting herself realize what it all meant.

She was staying in New York. She was staying home . With Angie, Tony, Pepper, Jarvis and maybe even Steve. She didn’t bother to clear the tears from her eyes and let them flow down her cheeks. As she and Angie parted, Peggy could see they were mirrored in her best friend’s face.

“Oh my God, Peggy, this is amazing, I’m so happy for you. Those fuckers were working you to the bone,” her tone went a little rigid at the end, a frown creased her forehead. “What are you gonna do now? Do you need to find a new job? I can help! We’ll go through job adverts, send some emails, go bang on doors if necessary.”

Angie was already looking around, maybe for a newspaper or her phone, Peggy let out a wet chuckle.

“I love you for that, but it won’t be necessary, I already have a new one. I only left Sakaar because I was sure I had a solid alternative.” She kept talking as she went to the kitchen and got two spoons, “I didn’t want to quit only to need to rely on my friends to make ends meet. You all have already done more than enough for me… and I would die before I go back to England to ask my mother for help.”

She came back and handed Angie one of the spoons. They sat on the couch, facing each other as they took spoonfuls of ice-cream in turns.

“We’d never let you get to that point, and believe me, you have done just as much for us. God, I can’t believe you’re staying, I’m so happy!” Angie was practically bouncing in her seat, a huge grin on her lips.

“Me too.”

“So, now what do you do? How does it go from here?”

“Well, I still have to work all of Fashion Week for Sakaar, my resignation is for the 20th, then my job at Wakanda starts on the first. I managed to sneak in some ten days of vacations in the middle.”

“You go, girl! You deserve it, but what about all the stuff you had arranged? Like your apartment and things?” Angie asked around a spoonful of ice-cream.

“Well, I never got the ovaries to actually put my apartment for sale, and most of my stuff isn’t even packed. In retrospect, I didn’t really do much, I guess.” She tried to make light of it with a chuckle, “It was too painful to even consider.”

“Oh, Peggy,” Angie gave her a heartbroken look and pointedly passed her the ice-cream container. This time Peggy’s laugh was more genuine.

“It doesn’t matter, because it isn’t going to happen, I’m free.”

“Free of the French, maybe, but not of us… So, speaking of us Americans, have you told the news to a certain perfect American blond poster boy? I’m sure he’d love to know,” Angie sent her a loaded look.

Peggy groaned, her earlier frustration rising fast again.

“I mean to, soon, I swear. It’s just that these next two weeks are going to be such a mess, I’m not gonna be in the proper headspace for what I want with him, to even have that conversation.”

Conversation , riiiight,” Angie sent her a sly grin, “you’ll probably need a strong bed and a really long weekend for that.”

Angie ! Blimey O'Reilly! Get your head out of the gutter! Jesus!” Peggy tried to hit her with a throw pillow, aghast at the comment, but her friend blocked it with her arm, even as she laughed her ass off.

“Oh, c’mon! He’s my friend, and I know you’re serious about him, I’d never do anything, but have you seen those shoulders? That face? You could eat him with a spoon.” To illustrate her point she took a huge spoonful of ice-cream and shoved it into her mouth, a mischievous look on her face. Peggy didn’t have any more throw pillows to hit her with, although the intentions were there.

“Yeah, believe me, I’ve noticed.” She had a very clear memory of how those shoulders had felt under her hand, of those electric blue eyes gazing at her as Steve… She was snapped out of her thoughts when a pillow smacked her in the middle of her face. 

You get your mind out of the gutter, Carter!”

It took her a moment to recover, lost as she was in her head, but when she did, she took the shit-eating grin on Angie’s face as a challenge. 

“Oh, you’re in for it, lady.”

What followed was a ten-minute pillow fight that left them disheveled and giggling. The ice-cream had somehow miraculously survived the fray, so Peggy grabbed it, the cold instantly numbing her fingers and took another spoonful.

“You should invite him to Stark’s party, he could be your plus one.”

“What? No! Angie, I always invite you, why would I change that? It’s tradition.” Peggy couldn’t believe it, Angie loved to go to Stark’s parties. She always said that one of these days she’d become so famous that she’d get her own invitation and finally get to take Peggy as her plus one, pay back all the other parties.

“Don’t be ridiculous, I don’t mind, I’ve had more than enough parties this year with the play. Besides, think about that night, how Steve is gonna react when he sees you in that dress. If he doesn’t faint right there and there, it’d be a close call,” she smirked, eyes glinting knowingly.

Peggy did look good in that dress, but so would Steve in a suit. Steve in a tailored suit… that was a thought.

“Just picture it, so dramatic! He stares at you from across the room, walks over, wants nothing but sweep you of your feet, ride off together into the sunset,”  Angie was getting into it, eyes big, gesturing wildly as she talked, “so close! Yet so far! If only you two could sneak into the nearest broom closet to fuck each other's brains out.” Peggy sputtered, but Angie kept on, “he tells you as much, and suddenly! You tell him! 'Oh Steve, my honeybun! We can! I quit my job! And I already found another one! I'm not going anywhere, my dearest diamond, the apple of my cheeks, the very breath that fills my lungs!” She went for an exaggerated British accent, hands to her chest as she batted her eyelashes.

“I sound nothing like that, also I'd never call anyone 'honeybun’. Fuck you, Angie.” There was no real heat behind her words, and her friend knew it, which was why, instead of saying sorry or getting angry she merely smirked at her as she said:

“No, Peggy, fuck Steve.

Peggy was not blushing.

“I don't know, I don't want to leave you out, but I did wanna tell him the news in person. We haven't texted much, I wouldn't even know how to start.”

“Fine! I'll do it then.”

“What? No!”

“Stop clutching your pearls,” Angie rolled her eyes as she stood up and went to look for Peggy's phone, “I promise not to send anything without your explicit permission.”

She came back with the item in question, gestured for Peggy to move and sit next to her. She opened the text app and started typing.

 

You 06:37 pm

Hi Steve, how are you doing?

I'd like to meet, I'm really sorry to drop this on you with so much notice, but do you have any idea if you're going to be free the night of the 20th?

Peggy vetoed every text beforehand, much to Angie's amusement.

“Damn, English, I don't think I've ever seen you like this… ever. You two are adorable.”

Peggy opened her mouth to send her friend packing but was interrupted by her phone. Both of them hurried over to it, crowding the screen to look at Steve's reply.

Steve 06:39 pm

hey Pegs, I'm doing good

I'd love to meet if you wanna, hear what's been going up with you, but I can't the 20th

we could arrange for another day? I really want to see you before you leave

“Oh honey, he's too good for this world,” Angie pouted, “can't we just tell him right now?”

“If I tell him right now, he's gonna be in my apartment's door in half an hour and I'm not gonna get any sleep before Fashion Week starts. I’m going to spend the next two weeks living off coffee and energy drinks. I need all the sleep I can get,” Peggy couldn’t help but sound a mix of eager and resigned, she fought the urge to pout.

“Damn, girl!” Angie let out a laugh, teasing, “I was gonna say we get together during your vacations but I get the feeling you're gonna have your hands full.”

“Don't be ridiculous,” she tried to deny it. It was hopeless, “he has to work at some point as well.”

Angie's rambunctious laughter was contagious, and Peggy was soon joining her, at least now she could blame her bright red face on the laughter and not the images going through her mind.

She took back her phone and started typing a reply.

 

You 06:45 pm

Too bad about the 20th

I was hoping you could save me from one of Tony’s parties, i’ll have to take Angie, much to her dismay

I'm free the 21st if you can? We could meet up for coffee or dinner or whatever

I just wanna see you, I don't care how

This time she didn't let her friend look at the text, instead sent her to order dinner. She could use an early night and a few extra hours of sleep.

Steve took a while to answer, Peggy's phone chimed as they were sitting down to eat.

Steve 07:37 pm

is it the End of Fashion Week party?

You 07:38 pm

Yes, how did you know?

Steve took a few moments to answer, Peggy could see the three dots that meant he was typing appear and fade way a couple of times before he sent something.

Steve 07:41 pm

Bucky said something

he works with Tony once in a while, he got an invitation

You 07:42 pm

Oh I guess i’ll see him there then

So, how about the 21st?

Steve 07:43 pm

the 21st works great for me

we can arrange what to do closer to the date

see how things are coming along

You 07:44 pm

Sounds great

Can't wait

. . .

Fashion Week was a two-week nightmare, it was only the fact that Peggy had already went through it a fair number of times already that kept her from flipping tables. This time. Because this time, she knew it was her last in Sakaar Magazine. She had already resigned, there was nothing on the line if she screwed up. It was a real test of her work ethic.

The shows were nice, she really liked the vintage air this season was going to have. Bell-shaped skirts and form fitting blazers were coming in, those were her favorites. Thankfully she had enough acquaintances on this side of the pond, unlike in Paris, to not get bored during events either.

Word has spread of her leaving Sakaar apparently and Peggy was genuinely surprised at the amount of people who came to talk to her with variations of 'Sakaar really doesn't know that they lost’, 'you were too good for them,’ and 'I can't believe I missed the opportunity to steal you away’. It gave her some perspective, even more weight to what Val had told her, it did seem that the fashion world knew her value as well.

There was a surprisingly little amount of wardrobe malfunctions and models tripping. Peggy was glad, gossip magazines might be vicious about those, but the critics were downright cutthroat.

On the 19th, her last day at the office, a Friday, she was surprised with a going away party. There were jokes, stories about her, more than a few tears on her part. She hadn't considered how much she was going to miss her colleagues. These people had been her partners in crime for all of seven years, putting up with the Grandmaster's crazy ideas and his ridiculous antics.

There was cake and someone had spiked the drinks, Peggy's guess was on Val, her smirk gave her away. 

Jacques had come back and was the one to give her the present in the name of the whole office. It was a white purse, absolutely gorgeous, 'white like a fresh start’ as they put it. She gave everyone a kiss and a hug as thanks, promising to stay in touch, meaning it. Even the Grandmaster passed by at some point to wish her luck, he wasn't resentful at all, which could not be said for Topaz, who stayed for all of three minutes and didn't smile even once.

At one point, the editors ended up together chatting in a round and Peggy, distracted caught a snippet of the conversation between Gabe and Jacques.

“We’re gonna need another motto now that she’s leaving.”

“Another motto?” She butted in, intrigued. “Whatever do you mean?”

“Well, you know, that thing we always say when The Grandmaster gives us some conflicting or bizarre pointers in a monthly meeting.”

A couple of her coworkers nodded understandingly, but Peggy just frowned, completely bewildered.

“I have no idea what you mean.”

“When in doubt,” Jim piped up, a grin on his face.

“Do as Peggy says,” the rest chorused in unison. 

Unable to come up with a suitable answer she just laughed, shook her head and tried very hard not to let a tear slip by.

The party wasn’t big, or rambunctious, just a quiet and friendly sent away. It was more than she had ever expected. She left her office, all her belongings in a box and a smile on her face.

Chapter Text

The 20th arrived way too fast, mainly because Steve's new job was thoroughly time-consuming, yet he was finding he loved it. He had even gone into the office every day. There was a lot of groundwork and dynamics to work through before things would slowe down to a normal pace.

The 20th had arrived too fast, yet the day itself crawled by at a snail's pace. He was going to see Peggy in a few hours. Peggy, who was leaving in just a few days and who he might never see again. He tried not to think about that much, instead focusing on the evening itself. He did feel somewhat bad, omitting the fact that Bucky wasn’t the only one attending, though. He almost told her they were going to the same party, debating pros versus cons one way or the other, but he’d ended up keeping silent, putting his bet on a surprise. If she had meant to invite him in the first place, she wouldn’t be displeased to see him there, would she?

So, even as he got dressed for the biggest party he had ever attended, and probably ever would, his heart was far from the event itself. Stark's party almost felt like a chore, barely the setting for the real thing. Besides, these clothes were weird as hell.

At first look the black suit had seemed innocuous enough, even if a little outdated, putting it on, however, proved otherwise. The pants were way too high, he almost had to check they didn't go all the way to his nipples, he wasn’t used to high rise pants. The shirt was normal, thank god, but the suspenders made him feel like a hipster. The blazer had way too big lapels and the tie felt too short, at least everything fit correctly. He wasn’t even sure how Stark Inc. had found a place that rented this kind of stuff.

Steve came out of his room to find Bucky and Nat already waiting for him in the living room. Bucky was dressed in a similar suit, bar the tie and of a dark blue that made his eyes glow. His hair was slicked back, almost plastered to his skull. It was a different look from the normal, perfectly tousled way he kept it, but it looked good. Somehow, everything seemed to suit Bucky just fine.

Natasha, who had her arm looped through her boyfriend's, was a vision. The fabric of the dress was a dark blue that almost matched Bucky's, it contrasted vividly with her red hair and her creamy skin, without clashing.

The dress itself had a panel embroidered over her bust that went lower from her belly to the sides, it brought the fabric of the skirt forward and up, so it showed her form without being a second skin. Over the stiff embroidery were two tassels that wrapped around her waist and went up to form the straps, framing her chest, another one hung down the front. 

“Wow, guys, you look amazing.” 

“Not so bad yourself, pal,” Bucky smiled, Natasha nodded her assent. “Now, let's go or we’re gonna be late.”

“Didn't you say Tony always arrived late?”

“He does, which is why we don't wanna be so late we miss his entry, it's always memorable.”

After a quick check to make sure everyone had their wallets, phones, and invitations, they were on their way.

. . .

The party was at the Tower, in a floor that seemed to have been designed solely for this purpose: to throw extremely expensive parties. Knowing Tony, that was probably the case. Steve noticed the lavish surroundings absentmindedly, his heart wasn’t truly in it, craning his neck to watch inside as they had their invitations taken and checked. 

Pepper was on the entry, saying hi to everyone, a British man Steve didn't know right next to her. She seemed genuinely glad to see them, her hair was gathered in an elaborate bun and the earrings on her ears twinkled as she laughed at one of Bucky's comments. The ballroom behind her was already packed, people milling about, chatting as the orchestra played soft music and waiters catered around with canapes. 

There was a surprisingly amount of white dresses, Steve wondered what that was about. The three of them found their seats easily enough, but barely after a few minutes of trying, and failing, to get one of the waiter's attention for a drink, Steve resolved to hit the open bar.

“You guys want anything to drink?” He asked his friends, who were already sitting so close Nat was one centimeter away from being on Bucky's lap.

Better leave those two alone then.

He managed to get to the bar, and thanks to his height, the bartender's attention as well. He ordered a rum and coke, and was waiting for it when he turned around and caught sight of a familiar profile. Drink instantly forgotten he started shoving people out of the way to reach her.

Fucking finally.

She turned around just as he reached her, probably due to the protests he drew as he barreled across the room. He grabbed her by the elbow and jostled her, more brusque than he'd meant in his haste.

“Angie?” He looked at her with a frown, “I’ve been looking everywhere for you and Peggy, where is…?” He trailed off, Angie wasn't looking at him anymore, instead staring pointedly at someone behind him.

He turned around, letting her arm go in the process.

There was a reason why Steve hadn’t told Peggy he was coming to the party; he was a bit of a hopeless romantic— he’d happily admit it. He had always dreamt of those cheesy moments movies and books had described. Like when the fated couple locked eyes, gazed at each other through a crowded room as everything else faded away. When he turned around to see Peggy a few feet away, that was exactly how it felt like.

He couldn't focus on anything but her, she looked like she'd stepped right out of a dream. Even the other guests seemed to fade away, disappear, the orchestra fell silent and all of his senses were on the breathtaking woman in front of him.

Peggy had her lips painted her signature red, hair loose in long soft brown waves, making her golden, shimmering dress the main element of her look. The dress wrapped around her in a similar way to Natasha's, with a tassel of fabric hanging down the middle from her waist. The skirt was long, going all the way to the floor, but her arms were bare, as was a considerable part of her cleavage. A necklace of shiny white stones rested on the hollow of her throat.

They drifted closer in a trance, Steve wasn't sure he would be capable of talking or even thinking when he reached her, all he knew was that he wanted her. In any shape or form she would have him, for five seconds or the rest of his life, he'd say yes. He'd be lying if he said he didn't have his preferences, he was only human, but he would take anything , because in that moment, he knew even forever would never be enough.

They stopped and stood face to face, close yet not touching. Steve fisted his hands, trying to resist the urge to hold her, press her against him, kiss all the way up her milky white neck to those forever dark red lips.

“Peggy,” his tone was reverent, almost pleading, eyes burning with everything he was feeling as he looked down at her face. Those lips were going to be the death of him.

“Steve, I...” She looked up at him, eyes searching his face as she raised her hands and rested them on his chest, “I'm not going to Paris.”

All of his racing thoughts stopped short.

“What?” He brought his hands to her waist, as if to keep her in place and ground himself to her words, mind reeling. He got one step closer, worried he’d heard her wrong.

“I'm not going to Paris, I'm staying in New York,” she gave him a shy smile, with the smallest hint of doubt in her eyes, “I quit my job at Sakaar , I got another one that lets me stay here. I- I don’t wanna presume but I thought that might mean we could-”

Her sentence was interrupted by Steve kissing her. He brought her closer with his hands, plastered her against his body as he locked their mouths together. It started out messy, uncoordinated, Peggy still startled mid-sentence but they soon find their rhythm.

Steve brought one of his hands up to curl it in her hair, feeling the silk soft strands between his fingers as he curled his whole arm around her waist and brought them even closer. Peggy managed to get her hands out from between them, laid one of them on his neck, a gentle pressure on the nape of his neck, urging him lower so she could kiss him deeper. The other one she used to curl her fingers in his hair, nails dragging on his scalp in that way that drove Steve insane.

There was no space between them, barely any air in their lungs, when Peggy gently leaned back. Both of them were panting and they didn't go far, merely afar enough to gaze at each other, breaths mingling. 

They were both quite disheveled, hair mussed, lips swollen red and bitten. 

“Blimey, we are in public, I'm a mess,” Peggy's voice was far from level, but a smile started to part her lips, eyes shining.

“Are we? I hadn't noticed,” Steve finally dragged his eyes from Peggy, looking around to find that they were practically alone in the ballroom. From their place by one of the walls he could see there were only some stranglers left, sitting in chairs or loitering around. Everyone else was missing. He frowned, “where did everyone go? We weren't kissing that long.”

As if on cue a series of small explosions sounded, seemingly coming from over them. Alarmed, they shared a look and ran towards the windows. They looked up just as the fireworks started popping. Bright fiery flowers of red and golden coloring the night.

“Oh Tony, never through the bloody front door,” Peggy's tone was exasperated, but also fond, “Everyone must have gone up to see Tony's entrance. They’re always a hassle.”

“Is that…Is that a parachute!?” Steve thought he could see a white circle high above.

Peggy leaned against the window, trying to see in the same angle as Steve.

“It does seem like it, yes. Nothing new, then.”

“Nothing new? Does he always arrive to his parties flying?” Steve was more than bewildered at Peggy's almost bored tone.

“Most of the times, yes, he did glide in once. So far, he hasn't tried to emerge from anywhere, though. Pepper is dreading the day he gets the idea.”

The fireworks kept exploding above them, lightning Peggy’s features in soft colorful lights. He let out a huff of laughter and hung his head low as he stuffed his hands in his pockets. If he touched her again, they'd end up plastered against the window in two seconds flat. 

“So, you were telling me about your job when I…” He cleared his throat, mouth dry but lips still tingling from the fresh memory of their kiss, “interrupted you.”

“Oh, yes, I quit Sakaar for a new magazine that's gonna launch shortly, it's run by Wakanda Corp. It focuses on sustainable, fair trade, corporate wear,” she shrugged, still smiling, “I’m co-editing, it seems like a perfect fit.”

“I'm sure it will be. That’s amazing Peg, I’m so happy for you.” Steve couldn't resist anymore, he leaned in and kissed her again, a smile on his lips.

This kiss was soft, gentle in a way the previous hadn't been. It was almost tentative, each of them testing the other’s limits, setting the ground for what all those news meant. An opportunity, fresh starts for both of them individually but maybe, the start of an 'us’ as well.

A new beginning.

Chapter Text

They left the party earlier than it was appropriate, but neither of them particularly cared what people thought right then. It had been a lovely evening, Tony's speech was scandalous as always, Peggy even managed to make some new acquaintances between the guests, her new job required different kinds of connections. All that in between sneaking around with Steve.

They had even managed to find a broom closet, Angie would be proud.

Tony had caught them red-handed at one point, coming out of a secluded room. After years of parties in the Tower Peggy knew enough of the layout to find one and how to sneak in for a couple minutes of solitude. The fact that Tony was hand in hand with Pepper when he saw them, going int rughly the same direction, didn’t exactly give him the moral high ground, but that, of course, didn’t stop him at all.

What?! Margaret E. Carter explain yourself!” He exclaimed, appearing shocked at the sight of them, disheveled and blushed from kissing, as they were “How long has this been going on?”

“Tony…” Pepper warned, hand held tightly in his, barely contained laughter in her eyes.

Tony was only a few years older than Peggy, and it had been a long time since that had mattered or even felt relevant. Even so, she felt herself blush even harder, seeing Steve practically blanch at the sight of his new bosses. She felt like a teenager, caught pilfering a bottle of wine from the kitchen.

“Tony, I… We…” She fumbled for the right words, ‘it’ had only been ‘going on ’ for a couple hours, technically. Except it also kind of hadn’t.

“I don’t care. You can’t have Steve, Pegs. I saw him first,” Tony’s tone was resolute, yet as he looked at him, Peggy could see the teasing in his eyes, he was pulling her leg.

Steve, of course, had no idea.

“What?!” He barked, blushing shyness rapidly morphing into confused indignation, “what’s that supposed to mean?”

Peggy tried to get a word edgewise before it all went to hell over some dumb misunderstanding but Tony was already talking again.

“It means I called dibs.” 

“I met Peggy six months ago.” 

“What? You did?” He swirled towards her, “Well, well, well... Seems like someone has been keeping secrets, six foot tall, captain-shaped ones. You wound me,” he put a hand on his chest to illustrate where it was supposed to hurt, almost pouting. Peggy rolled her eyes.

“Anthony Edward Stark, you stop this nonsense right now before someone gets truly angry or I swear I’ll…” She searched for a proper treath, “I’ll finally tell my mother what really happened with her antique base!” She exclaimed, triumphant. 

Tony gasped.

“You wouldn’t dare.” Peggy stared him down, firm until he deflated, a smile tugging at his lips, “It’s not fair when you use your mother.”

“Life isn’t fair,” but she couldn’t help laughing too. 

How had she ever considered moving so far away from her family? The thought, not so long ago would have been accompanied with dread, but at that moment, it just made her incredibly happy about her future.

“Threats aside,” Pepper smiled at them, “I am curious about how this happened,” she gestured between Peggy and Steve, who shuffled in place, awkward again.

“It’s… complicated?” She didn’t mean for it to come out like a question. She looked over at Steve, who simply nodded, a faint smile on his lips.

“Isn’t it always,” Pepper chuckled and shared a look with Tony, a mixture of fond exasperation and love radiating off her expression. He locked eyes with her and seemed to forget, for a moment. that there was anywhere else around. As always, he only had eyes for his partner.

He shook out of it after a few seconds.

“Okay, fair. You,” he pointed at Steve, “seem decent enough for our Peggy, so I’m letting you off the hook for now. Not that she needs my approval, anyways. And you, little lady,” he gave her a smirk, “don’t do anything I would do. Now off you go, lovebirds, I believe me and Pepper here, had something to do before we were so rudely interrupted.”

With a mock offended look he bid them goodbye and walked off with Pepper. Peggy rolled her eyes at his back and tugged Steve back to the ballroom.

“Sorry about that, Tony’s sense of humor can be… hard to catch,” she gave him an apologetic smile as they got closer to their table where all their friends had sat together.

“Yeah, I’m starting to get that.”

Angie and Bucky teased them the whole night, making Steve turn red as a ripe tomato and Peggy to hide her face in her hands in embarrassment.

Peggy barely remembered to pick up her white cape and purse as they left, Steve’s warm hand in the small of her back urging her out.

The ride back to her apartment was quiet, but the air in the car was positively buzzing. Steve had his hand on her thigh as she drove, softly caressing the side with his thumb.

They managed to keep calm until they were waiting for the elevator in her building, when Steve brought those tree trunk arms around her from behind her and started to kiss her neck. Peggy leaned back into him, a soft moan parting her lips as he lightly bit on the junction between her neck and shoulder.

The elevator arrived and they stumbled in, Peggy somehow managing to turn around without tripping or breaking the circle of Steve's arm. He crowded her until her back was against the sidewall, mouth still in her skin. With a flailing arm she managed to hit the right button for her floor. And as the elevator lurched up, she brought her mouth to his.

Peggy finally found out what it was to be kissed viciously by Steve. He bit her lower lip, swiping his tongue right after and she moaned, unable to help it.

“God, Peggy,” Steve's voice was a deep growl, “I've been dreaming of your lips for months, ” he kissed her again, fast yet fierce, “how they’d feel on mine,” he bit her plush bottom lip, pulled slightly before letting it slip between his teeth, “trailing on my skin.” This time Peggy leaned in, kissing and licking at his throat. Steve leaned back with a sign, making room for her. She felt the vibrations on her lips as he spoke again, “how they'd look moaning my name.”

She looked up, gave him a dead serious look, one hand on his chest as she pushed him back out of the elevator, which had reached her floor at some point and thankfully not closed back up yet.

“And now you're going to find out.”

The entry to the apartment provided a pause, as she found her keys and left her things on the table. Steve took the moment to shrug off his blazer as she kicked her shoes off.

“Do you want anything?” She gestured to the kitchen half-heartedly, not knowing how much of a host part she should be playing.

“You,” with a cheeky grin and a playful look, he took a few steps to crowd her again. But instead  of kissing her, and before Peggy could process what was happening, he leaned down, picked her up to threw her over his shoulder.

“Bloody hell, Steve!” She couldn't hold back her laughter as she writhed in his arms, “put me down, you twat!”

Steve just tsked a few times and with a couple long steps walked towards the open door to her bedroom.

“Only if you say please,” he stood right in front of her bed, not letting her down.

“You bloody punk,” she tried to get herself down, but his hold on her waist was too solid. So, naturally, she pinched him, hard, on the side.

“Fuck!” With a startled sound he dropped her on the bed. Her hair and dress fanned out as she fell and bounced on the bed, laughing, “what do you have? Claws for nails? That hurt.

Peggy rolled her eyes at him, still smiling as she propped herself on her elbows and looked up at him.

“Don't be a baby, I barely pinched you.” At his dubious frown, one hand caressing his hurt side, she let out another peal of laughter. He was almost pouting, “besides, now you know this isn’t a dream.” She gave him a coy look. “Now come here so I can kiss it better.”

“Can’t deny I had some dreams among these lines,” Steve’s voice was soft, honest, as his eyes traveled over her hungrily. It left her a little breathless.

“Well, you can keep on complaining about a mere pinch… or get down here with me,” she leaned back on the bed, looking up at him.

Steve didn’t need to be told twice. 

. . .

They shared lazy kisses as the sweat started to cool on their skin, bodies languid and smiles on their eyes. As they parted they stayed close, breathing in the same air, gazing at each other, limbs entangled as they laid on their sides.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Steve whispered, expression incredulous, eyes glinting in the soft light with something too intense to be simple fondness. “I had already accepted this was only going to happen in my fantasies, it really is hard to believe.”

“I know what you mean. I’m-” Peggy took a deep breath, thinking over her words, “so happy. You have no idea how happy you make me, Steve.”

Steve’s smile was brighter than the sun, eyes shining with a swirl of emotions that were probably mirrored on hers.

“I think I’ve got a fairly accurate idea.”

He closed the distance between them, pressed his lips to hers, tender and soft.

“You really are... just so perfect,” Steve said, some time later. Peggy lifted her head from where it was laying on his chest to look at him.

"Hardly," she said with a chuckle, but Steve wasn't having it.

“I swear when I first saw you, I couldn't believe my eyes, I thought you were one of the models, actually. Then you talked, and" He cleared his throat and Peggy couldn't help but grin "your accent almost did me in right there. As if that wasn’t enough, you're an amazing Editor, did I ever tell you that?” Peggy shook her head, amused but very flattered at his words. “You are, probably the best I've worked with. How are you even real?”

“Look who's talking,” she huffed good-naturally, “Mr. I Have The Body Of A Greek God. When I made you take off your shirt in that shoot, the statues one, I wasn't even close to ready to how it would affect me. Blimey, then you go, and have the audacity to be not even decent, but a good man. How are you even real?”

They shared a smile, eyes soft and brimming with unnamed emotions.

“We’re really in for it, huh?” Steve looked at her, and she shifted her position to look at him from the side and cradle his face with her other hand, thumb caressing his cheekbone tenderly.

“It seems that way,” she closed in and kissed him softly, trapping their glowing smiles.

Peggy felt drained, body slack in the best possible way, it had been too long since she had made love with anyone, and for the life of her she couldn’t remember ever it feeling quite like this. She kept expecting to come down from her blissful high, for cold reality to come set in with some kind of frigid realization. But it didn’t come. Not when Steve rolled off her to take care of the mess. Not when he came back. And not when he spooned her and hooked an arm around her waist and nuzzled  her neck with his nose, dropping soft kisses on her shoulders.

“Peggy, that was…” He muttered, lips so close she could feel the words against her skin.

“Yeah, I know, darling,” that got her a huff and an extra kiss.“You really like when I call you that, huh?” She couldn’t help but grin, cheeks flushing.

“I think it might be anything you call me, but yeah, that one’s my favorite” Steve answered from behind her, snuggling even closer. “What it means, that’s what does it. And the accent,” he huffed, embarrassed.

“Is it now? So, how about…” She made her accent more pronounced, but not exaggerated “Sweetheart?”

“Like it,” he kissed her neck lightly to accompany his words. 

“Honey?”

“Sure,” another peck.

“Luv?”

“Definitely,” she could feel his smile against her nape. 

“Honeybunny?” She asked cheekily.

“Okay, there’s the line, found it.” Peggy let out a laugh.

“That’s quite alright, I wouldn’t call you that anyway.” She turned around, wanting to look at him. Steve had that soft expression in his face, the one she knew she matched as they gazed at each other.

God, I am so in love with him.

The realization wasn’t sudden, not even jolting. It was just obvious. A state of the plain, hard facts. The sun rises in the east, water is wet, Peggy Carter is in love with Steve Rogers. She might not be ready to voice it out loud yet, but the knowledge was right there, had been for quite some time. It was more than a little terrifying, feeling this deeply towards someone.

You thought you felt like this over Fred too , a slithering voice whispered in her mind.

She looked at Steve, at his blue eyes, at his long eyelashes casting shadows over his cheekbones, at the little bump on his nose from and at his pink, swollen lips. She took it all in, thinking of everything she knew about him; the way he blushed when she looked at him too long and how he hung his head low to hide it; the indignation that was quick to rise in him the moment he saw something he considered unjust. But also how he was capable of admitting his mistakes, even if he was impossibly stubborn when he thought he  was right; his teasing nature and the way he always seemed to know how to make her smile. And most of all, the way he took only what she gave him, asking always and respecting her boundaries, how he hadn’t asked her, not even once to cut any part of who she was for him. He was nothing like Fred.

She leaned in and kissed him passionately, catching him slightly off guard with her intensity. She would take everything he gave her as well, and for as long as this lasted, she would give him everything, because if Steve Rogers wasn’t worthy of her heart, no one was.

 

The End.