Peggy Carter's shoes tap out a tattoo that sounds loud in the empty barracks.
Steve Rogers hears her coming and he jumps out of bed and stands to attention although he's surprised and more than a little shocked that she's visiting him here and now. The impropriety leaves him a little stunned.
"At ease, soldier," she says to him with amusement.
He relaxes a little, but continues looking past her, not directly at her face.
She regards him gravely.
"I see from your profile that you play chess," she says calmly.
"Ma'am?" he says uncertainly.
"Would you care for a game?"
He wonders if this is another test.
"Um ... now?"
"You weren't asleep, were you?"
She indicates the box held under her arm. He jumps to pull a small table between them and she sets up the game.
"White or black?"
"I'll play black," he says.
They start the game.
Steve plays a rather sly, surprisingly aggressive game, but Peggy holds her own.
She asks him about his friends, the ones back home and especially the one in the army that he writes the letters to.
Steve relaxes a little. It's nice just to talk for once. He tells her of Bucky and how the Barnes family took him in after his mother died, well even before that really since she was sick for so long.
Peggy asks questions to nudge him along, but she's amused at the stories, probably edited, of the mischief he and his buddy used to get up to.
She knows, although Steve does not, that the letters he has written to his buddy have been set aside. The army is thrilled that their subject is an orphan with no family to raise a fuss if the experiment fails. Even better that his best, maybe his only friend, is at the front and won't be in a position to ask pointed questions if things don't work out. But they're not giving him a chance to know in advance. It's wartime, and letters do sometimes go astray.
As far as Barnes knows, his buddy Steve is still safe and sound as nothing more than a student in Brooklyn.
Steve makes his final move and Peggy sneaks in from the side and checkmates him.
"Oh!" he says with a little scowl. "I never saw that coming. Well played." He grins easily.
She likes that he is a gracious loser even to a woman. Erksine talks a great deal about character and Peggy is impressed by what she's seen. Most men get irritated when she beats them and she's sometimes had to pull her punches in order not to avoid hard feelings.
"Play again?" she suggests.
He agrees although she notices that he surreptitiously checks the time on his watch by the bed. It's late, probably close to midnight by now. The barracks are eerily quiet except for crickets chirping.
He tries to ask questions about her, but she deflects. Tonight is about him.
She admires the long sweep of eyelashes as he contemplates the board. They're the only thing feminine about him.
She knows that some army brass see his size and think of him as effeminate, but she sees the strong jaw, the set of his head, the way he carries himself and sees him as all male.
She knows too that some of the scientists are wondering at the close relationship between Steve and Bucky, wondering if it's more than just friendship, but Peggy is a better judge. He's inexperienced and somewhat awkward around women, but she's seen how he looks at them and she's confident that he's straight, just shy.
Not that Erskine cares.
He knows what he's looking for and he's fought hard for Rogers as his choice.
They change strategy in the second game. Once again, Steve leads off with an aggressive move, but Peggy catches his sneaky backdoor trick.
Steve looks amused when she removes a key player, then he plays a rook from the far side.
"Oh dear," Peggy says, seeing too late how he'd suckered her in.
There's little she can do despite having several more moves.
"Checkmate," he says softly, smiling, but not gloating.
"Well played," she congratulates him.
"Nice to play such a worthy opponent," he smiles.
She sweeps the pieces into the box.
"May I walk you to your quarters?" he asks politely, holding her coat for her.
Yes, that would be lovely," she says."Thank you."
He carries the chess game under his arm, but does not touch her as they walk across the deserted barracks, their footsteps in the gravel almost the only sound.
Are you nervous?" she asks to break the silence, "about the experiment?"
She is. She knows what happened to the last man who took this serum and despite Erskine's confidence, she's terrified that he will turn this lovely, courteous, brave man into some sort of monster.
"A little," he admits, somewhat to her surprise. "You won't tell anyone?"
"You don't have to do this," she reminds him.
"I want to," he says firmly. "It's my chance to do something, contribute somehow."
"You could do something else," she argues. "It's not as if being transformed into a big guy is going to make you better."
He smiles faintly.
You are valuable just as you are," she says a little desperately.
"Thank you," he says.
They have reached her quarters.
She had been toying with the idea of seducing him. She's quite sure that he is an innocent in the ways of women and the thought of being his first, is amazingly exciting.
She imagines inviting him upstairs with a delicate tip of the head. "Would you care to come up?"
Or maybe being bold, grabbing the front of his shirt and kissing him.
In her fantasies, he responds with enthusiasm, but just now standing in the doorway of her quarters, she looks more carefully at him and imagines him recoiling in shock if she made a pass at him.
She imagines him saying - 'I thought you were a respectable woman!'
And she can't. Right now, he likes her, maybe even admires and respects her. She's not about to let that go.
"Good night," she says.
"Good night," he answers, saluting her as is proper since she outranks him.
And she watches as he walks back to his cot.