They are waiting for him together in the booth of the private Soho social club, a tumbler of brandy at Peggy’s hand and one of whiskey at Bucky’s. The lights are low and atmospheric, the music equally so, and they are both beautiful: Bucky’s sharp lines, Peggy’s soft curves. He would have them both if he could, no more eager to learn the taste of one set of lips than another. Equally besotted and hopelessly, desperately in love.
He nervously checks his tie, unsure why it is so important that he looks his best when they have both seen him at so much less.
It could be the surprise of seeing the both of them here, side by side. As far as he is aware they have only met the once and he knows that Bucky had made an uncharacteristically poor first impression. Steve can hardly blame him, not after everything that has happened to him, but he loves Peggy as much as he does Bucky, and he’d hoped, perhaps foolishly, that they could both see the other as he sees them.
They both cut serious figures. Peggy is not one for screwing around and Bucky has scarcely cracked a smile since their reunion. He gets half a friendly welcome; warmth in Peggy’s eyes and a curve to her lips that suggests genuine pleasure to see him. Bucky doesn’t seem able to look at him and his eyes remain fixed on his left knee.
A knee, Steve belatedly realizes, that rests beneath the curve of Peggy’s hand.
“Hello, Steve,” Peggy says affectionately, her smile growing as Steve’s wide eyes snap away from possessive limbs, up to meet her own. “We were worried you might not join us.”
“I’m sorry,” Steve finds himself saying, his attention back on Bucky and the way he reaches for his glass and gulps down the whiskey. It is so unlike the slow, indulgent savoring he’s shown good alcohol in the past. “Stark needed to take some samples to analyze and I lost track of time.”
Peggy rolls her eyes. “Trust Howard to throw a spanner in the works. Can we get you a drink? I believe the bar keeper only has a few choices to hand right now, but the quality is superb.”
“No,” Steve shakes his head, “thank you…” He hesitates then decides on a decisive approach. “I’m sorry, I’m missing something here aren’t I?”
Bucky mutters something quietly under his breath and Peggy shoots him a stern frown. She squeezes his knee firmly and Steve’s confusion takes a sudden swerve into concern. “Everything okay, Buck?” A part of him feels he should be addressing Bucky by his rank, but Peggy has set the tone at informal, so he will follow.
“He asked for another drink,” Peggy says, “which is out of the question.” She tilts her head towards Bucky. “We are not doing this unless you are sober, we agreed.”
“This?” Steve asks, feeling hopeless left out. He’s not too proud to admit to a stirring of jealousy as well. This wouldn’t be the first time he’s lost a woman’s interest once they saw Bucky. He’s never minded – much – in the past, perfectly able to understand why a dame would pick Bucky over him. Who wouldn’t pick Bucky? When Steve’s art classes had turned focus on the classical male form, he had always looked at Bucky as his muse. How could he fault others for doing the same?
He’d just not prepared himself for the same with Peggy. He had thought perhaps that in this new, still often strange body, Peggy might…Bucky might… Foolish really. The hand on Bucky’s knee speaks of intimacy and he realizes with a pang that their familiar body language goes beyond far beyond mere acquaintance and into much more a much more familiar territory.
That’s why Peggy asked him here. They want to tell him that they are together. No wonder Bucky can’t meet Steve’s gaze. He’s always gone out of his way to never steal Steve’s girl. Not that Steve has ever really had one worth stealing.
Not that Peggy is. Was.
He’s happy for them. He is. He is. The lie feels as forced as his smile.
Bucky deserves someone who can make him smile again. Peggy deserves someone who will respect and treat her well. The fact that Steve thought…hoped…he could be both is irrelevant.
“I should explain why we asked you here,” Peggy says, taking a small sip from her glass. Steve’s not sure how her lipstick doesn’t leave a mark behind on the rim, but it doesn’t.
“You,” Bucky mutters, finally daring to meet Steve’s gaze. He looks like he’s being asked to do something he really doesn’t want to do and has simply resigned himself to suffering. That hurts. Even at his most sickly and incapable, Bucky has never treated Steve as an obligation…a task to be endured.
Peggy’s lip twitches. She squeezes her hand again. “Yes, aright. I asked.”
“I’m happy for you,” Steve says quickly, hoping desperately to avoid a long, drawn out conversation. He’s not sure he has the fortitude to hear the sorrow or the pity in either of their voices as they tell him. They will try and be kind, he knows that. They might not want him, but he knows they do both love him. He won’t ever doubt that. They would never wish him pain.
“Told you,” Bucky sighs as Peggy startles. She looks momentarily upset but she shakes it off quickly.
“Yes, I suppose you did. I apologize, you have known him longer.”
“Yes,” Bucky says, lifting his chin stubbornly and finally looking like he’s not wishing himself anywhere but in their company, “I have.”
There is a possessiveness to Bucky’s voice that brings back the sternness to her expression. “Don’t be a brat, James,” she says. Steve is not sure what shocks him most – the use of Bucky’s given name by someone he had no idea knew him, or the fact that Bucky submits to the reprimand. He’s always been more laid back than Steve, that much is true, but he is in no way a push over. His temper is slower to rise but it burns twice as long. He looks back down at his knees like a scolded child and Steve is suddenly worried that he’s missed more than just his two best friends finding love.
“Is…is everything okay?” Neither of them respond immediately. “Bucky? Bucky, are you okay?” Steve has to stress that now, aware of Bucky’s vulnerabilities in a way he never was before. You hear all sorts of stories about men who get taken by the enemy and never really come back again. Bucky’s here, he is, across the table and solid beneath Peggy’s hand, but there are shadows in his eyes that have never known American soil. Shadows they put there and Steve is helpless to dispel.
He looks startled by the question though and some warmth returns to his expression as he looks up sharply. “I’m okay, Steve,” he promises, his voice as soft as it sometimes was when Steve was really sick and Bucky was afraid that raising his voice might do him in for good, “really.”
Steve wants to believe him. He wants to go back to a time when Bucky never lied to him and Steve never feared that one wrong touch could bring a look of terror to his eyes.
“That is partly why we – I, honestly,” she rolls her eyes and Bucky actually smiles. They are so beautiful together. Steve can see it now, see them making it out of this war and into a chapel. They’d both wear their uniform and Bucky would pace half the morning away before the bells started chiming. In his imaginings of their wedding, it’s Phillips who walks Peggy down the aisle, which is both hilarious and a little unnerving. Steve stands at Bucky’s side as always, at a loss to understand how happiness can hurt so very much. “Why I asked you here. It’s come to my attention that you are both utter idiots-“
“Hey now!” Bucky protests. Steve’s too busy staring, suddenly shaken from his mental meanderings by Peggy’s blunt remark.
“Hush,” Peggy waves away his interruption. “Where was I?”
“We’re both idiots?” Steve helps.
Her eyes light up. “Yes, thank you! Precisely.”
“No problem…why are we idiots?”
“The war will be long over before I could properly answer that question,” Peggy shakes her head. “But in this instance we can simply chock it up to poor communication, can’t we James?”
Bucky is back to glowering at her. She cocks her head to one side, dark curls neat against her collar and a silent conversation being held in their eyes. Bucky deflates and goes back to playing with his glass. Peggy rubs her thumb absently over his knee in small, calming circles.
“I should probably tell you how we met,” Peggy supposes. “Starting at the beginning usually works best for these sorts of things.”
Steve nods. “That might help,” he admits. It will give him a better context to work with if nothing else.
“She broke my nose,” Bucky suddenly pipes up, his eyes soft with the fondness of the memory.
“Ouch,” Steve cringes, having seen exactly how much of a punch Peggy can pack. “Did you deserve it?”
“Oh absolutely,” Peggy says cheerily. Bucky obviously disagrees but is not upset enough to allow it to effect the hints of his old, good natured temperament that is showing through. So Peggy did know him before HYDRA captured him. Steve wonders if she can see the changes in Bucky’s as clearly as he can.
“I was trying to help!”
“You were being insufferable,” Peggy corrects, her smile slowly growing again. “Would you have been so eager if I were a man?”
“I’d have punched you back if you were a man,” Bucky grumbles and looks to Steve for support. Steve shrugs helplessly. He knows better than to get involved in a lover’s quarrel, even one as humorous as this. “That’s the last time I ever offer to carry anyone’s kit.”
“I’m perfectly capable of carrying my own kit, thank you very much,” Peggy says primly, the smile pulling at her red lips now a fully grown thing.
“Don’t I know it,” Bucky snorts, touching his nose delicately as if reliving an old pain. “Crazy dame.”
“You offered to carry her bags?” Steve suddenly has no problem imagining Peggy laying him out flat. Poor Bucky, he was no doubt earnest in his desire to help – there isn’t a mean bone in his body – but Steve’s seen firsthand how Peggy gets treated by some of the men and he’s learned just as quickly that coming to her defense or aid doesn’t actually help at all. Sometimes Peggy can be a little too overzealous in her responses. Neither of them can help it.
“And she punched me in the face,” Bucky says dryly. He’s loosened up a little with the retelling of the story and Steve wonders if that’s half why Peggy told it the way she did.
“Yes well, I did apologize. I hadn’t actually intended to break his nose, you see,” Peggy tells Steve, her smile suddenly young and girlish and almost a little guilty.
“It was a great left hook,” Bucky compliments.
“It was, wasn’t it?” She takes a sip of her brandy as Bucky starts to laugh.
“Don’t think I haven’t seen your influence on the good Captain, here,” he chuckles.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Peggy says primly, winking at Steve as she lowers her glass again.
“You taught him to fight like a girl,” Bucky shakes his head, a smile to soften what could be quite an insulting comment had Steve clung to any of his ego.
“I taught him to win,” Peggy corrects. “And I have had no complaints yet.”
“This doesn’t actually explain how you ended up, you know…fonduing?” Steve says, unable to let the sting of being excluded from their easy banter stop the smile it brings to his face. They really are perfect together.
Bucky stares at him questioningly and Peggy groans. “Honestly, one of these days I’m pushing that man out of a plane without a parachute. Stark,” she clarifies when Bucky frowns in confusion.
“I’m just not going to ask,” Bucky shakes his head. “Are you sure I can’t get another drink?” He asks Peggy, almost pouting.
“Very sure, now hush.” Peggy scolds. Once again, Bucky falls obediently silent. Once again, Steve is struck by the knowledge that he is still very much outside of this loop. Peggy catches Steve’s expression and her mouth twists into a smile. “He’s rather lovely when he’s obedient, isn’t he?”
Steve suddenly wishes he’d taken her up on that drink, his ability to actually get drunk be damned. “I…I’m sorry, what?” He stammers. He thinks that maybe she is joking. He hopes she is joking.
Bucky’s eyes are back on his knees and his cheeks are flushed. He could say something to make all of this into nothing more than inappropriate humor, but he doesn’t. He stays quiet. Obedient.
“I said,” Peggy repeats herself slowly, “that he is rather lovely when he’s obedient. Don’t you agree?”
Bucky is lovely regardless, Steve thinks. He can’t say that though, so he swallows loudly instead and looks to Bucky for a clue as to how to respond. “Bucky?”
Bucky finally looks up and meets Steve’s eyes. He looks desperate, he looks frightened…and he looks…he looks like every sinful dream Steve has ever had of him. There is lust in his eyes, a hungry, burning want. “Please,” he begs.
He’s just not sure what Bucky is begging for.
“I think I should continue our story,” Peggy says softly, drawing Steve’s attention from Bucky’s pleading gaze. She’s settled into something serious again. Steve nods, and she continues. "After I hit him, I did feel quite awful. It was an overreaction on my part, and I intended to apologize. James was quite gracious really. I had, arguably, humiliated him in front of his peers but he’s not one to hold grudges." Bucky huffs a little with silent amusement and she digs her nails into his thigh in retaliation." Still, to mark such a handsome face without good cause…I was quite repentant. I touched the bruise I had so callously left him with, and do you know what he did, Steve?”
Steve shakes his head, his throat dry. He can suddenly see them now, dirty and tired, and the air sparking with energy between them. Peggy is a damn fine storyteller.
In the seat across from him, Peggy angles Bucky’s chin around until she can stroke her fingers lightly down the side of his face. Bucky’s eyes close blissfully and his lips part as he shivers. “Yes,” Peggy says, her voice soft, almost a purr of satisfaction, “just like that.”
“You liked it,” Steve suddenly realizes that he has blurted the words out, blunt and clumsy. Bucky flinches, the moment broken, and Steve scrambles to fix his carelessness. “No, I mean…I didn’t mean…fuck,” he swears, Peggy’s presence not enough to silence his dismay. He really isn't sure what he means at all.
Bucky swallows and looks up again. “I like it,” he says, his jaw set and firm and his eyes wide, unblinking. He’s forcing himself to be brave, to show Steve this part of himself. Behind that stubborn mask is a sheen of vulnerability that has existed a whole lot longer than this war.
Steve can’t help it. He reaches out and touches Bucky’s cheek, right where Peggy had, and strokes his fingers across clean, freshly shaved skin. The bone is sharp, his skin is soft, and when Bucky closes his eyes on an exhale, long eyelashes are but inches from Steve’s fingers. He could touch them if he wanted to. Bucky would let him. Bucky might even want him to.
“Oh,” Steve says, feeling the pieces click into place. “Oh,”
“Oh,” Peggy echoes wryly. “Are things a little clearer now?”
“Not really,” Steve admits, feeling foolish even as he pulls his palm away from Bucky’s skin. For a split second, Bucky seems to be following him, then his eyes snap open and he pulls himself back sharply. “You like…this? That?” He means the soft touches. He means the bruises that started it all.
“Both,” Bucky says, brave in a way Steve can’t quite comprehend his ignorance of.
“Have you always?”
“Oh,” Steve says again. He can’t quite bring himself to ask if Bucky has wanted it from him as well.
“James is what we call a submissive masochist,” Peggy explains. Steve has never been fond of labels to categorize people, but it somehow helps to have something proper to call it. “In the right environment, with the right partner, pain can bring him great pleasure.” Peggy is very careful and very precise with her wording and Steve understands why. If he could go back in time and kill Zola before he laid a finger on Bucky, he gladly would. “In the right environment, with a consenting partner, I enjoy giving that pain. It is a symbiotic relationship, one formed on mutual trust, respect, and in our case, discretion. We arekept equally busy by our duties, but we have been seeing one another over a period of six months. We can provide each other with something we both need without fear of ridicule or derision.”
Steve reaches over and takes Bucky’s hand beneath the table. He holds it gently, not squeezing as he wants to, not willing to cross the line from comfort to pain at this moment in time.
Bucky swallows, and for some horrifying reason, his eyes are wet with tears. “Bucky,” Steve aches with the need to hold him and it only grows worse when Bucky looks away again, unable to face him.
He can understand now why they are together, why they give the appearance of such intimacies – in all the ways it is possible to be intimate with another person. He understands. He respects it, but as he holds Bucky’s hand in his, he can’t just accept what Peggy is telling him blindly. Maybe before, but Bucky is vulnerable now in ways he has never been, and Steve will do whatever he needs to do in order to see those vulnerabilities are not abused, even by someone with as pure a heart as Peggy.
“Do you love him?” He asks, blunt in a way he would never usually be.
Peggy does not take offense.
“No. Nor does he love me. I am incredibly fond of him, and I think perhaps that one day love might grow on both our parts, but I’m afraid our hearts are already spoken for, and that, finally, leads to why I asked you to meet us here tonight.” She doesn't look away and the truth of her words are clear in the rich, shining depths of her eyes.
“Me,” Steve says softly. “You…me….both of you?”
“Is that so hard to believe?” Peggy asks him, her voice gentle. “You won my heart back in New Jersey and I don’t believe there has ever been a day when James has not loved you.”
Bucky’s hand suddenly squeezes Steve’s own tightly. “She’s right, you know.”
“I…I don’t know what to say,” Steve whispers. It feels all too much like a dream, even with Bucky’s hand, strong and firm against his own to ground him.
“That’ll be a first,” Bucky snorts, prompting a chuckle from Peggy.
“You know I…both of you, but I didn’t…I never…” Steve stammers, utterly overwhelmed by the sudden knowledge that maybe he can have them, both of them. That they want him back. “What do we do now?”
“Well,” Peggy says carefully, “I suppose that depends on you. James and I are going to go upstairs. We’d very much like it if you joined us but we won’t think less of you if you don’t. I believe our cards are already on the table. I’m afraid we are both rather besotted with you, Captain Rogers.”
“If…if I do…” Steve stammers, suddenly more afraid of making the wrong call here than he has ever been in battle. He wants to go with them. But. He’d follow the both of them to the ends of the earth, why is the idea of following them to a bedroom so much more terrifying?
“Your participation is welcome but not mandatory,” Peggy promises him. “You can have as much or as little of us as you’d like.”
“All of us,” Bucky says, speaking up with heartbreaking earnestness in his eyes, “if you want us.”
“I… yes. Please, yes.” His hesitation seems juvenile when faced with the relief on their faces. Bucky is, as ever, easier to read, but it’s clear in Peggy’s eyes as well. For a moment Steve understands that they are just as nervous as he is, just as afraid of what might happen.
Maybe, together, they can find a way to make this work.
The perks of being in a private club are immediately obvious as Peggy leads them both to an ornate staircase. No eyelashes are batted as she is handed keys by an unflappable doorman and leads two men upstairs into more private surroundings.
“You don’t have to worry,” she says, catching a glimpse of Steve’s hesitancy, “this establishment is very discreet.”
“That’s one word for it,” Bucky mutters.
“You can be quiet now, James,” Peggy says sternly. Bucky falls obediently silent, a shy half glance flashed in Steve’s direction as he tries to gage his reaction.
The part of Steve that has been Bucky’s best friend for so long pipes up with well meaning jokes about Bucky doing what he’s told for once; the part of him that’s been in love with Bucky for nearly as long would never be so careless with what he’s being given.
For years now Bucky has kept this side of himself from Steve, either out of shame or fear. It hurts that Bucky’s not trusted him, but it hurts more to think of his friend having to deal with it all on his own.
In the face of Bucky’s nervous bravery, Steve finds his response quite shockingly simple. He reaches out and cups Bucky’s cheek, his thumb rubbing gently over sharp bone. “Good boy,” he praises, his initial knee jerk of panic at what he considers a horribly condescending response shelved as Bucky’s eyes darken and his lips part, shock and arousal vying for dominance.
“Oh you’re going to be very good at this,” Peggy chuckles, turning the key in the lock of a large, ornate door at the end of the corridor. It opens with a groan, smooth but not soundless. It’s been well used in the past but perhaps not as much recently.
The furniture inside is well kept though, clean and sturdy. There’s a fire burning merrily at the far wall, two plus armchairs set facing it at an angle and a thick, indulgently heavy pile rug stretches out between them.
A small side table is already laid out with a jug of water and a selection of small crumpets. There’s a box of various teas and a small jug of milk set by three tea cups and saucers. A large copper kettle sits waiting to be placed over the fire.
The bed is something else entirely.
“You’ll have to forgive what is a very rude question I’m afraid,” Peggy says, locking the door behind them, “but neither of us were certain of your experience and I’d hate to continue at a pace that would case you any discomfort.”
“Who me?” Steve asks, wide eyed at the realization that he’s now locked in a room with the two people he loves most and about to watch them have sex. Sex that he’s fairly sure he has been eagerly invited to participate in.
“Well James’s discomfort is rather the point,” Peggy points out, prompting an eye roll from Bucky that is rewarded with a ringing smack to the backside. Peggy does have a hell of an arm on her and Bucky’s squirms are a lot more enticing than Steve could ever have imagined. “Behave,” she scolds.
“Sorry,” Bucky says softly.
Steve feels adrift as Peggy raises on her toes and kisses Bucky very gently on the mouth. It’s not a passionate act as much as it is a reassuring one, but it’s so tender and sweet. Not what he’s been imagining.
“Just do as you’re told,” she says gently, “I’ll take care of the rest.”
Bucky nods and when Peggy leads them over to the armchairs he settles gracefully onto the rug, his head dropping to rest against her knee. Steve mutely takes the second seat. He’s overwhelmed by the trust he is being given to be allowed to witness such private interactions and he’s jealous as hell of the way Peggy’s fingers comb gently through Bucky’s hair, calming him and soothing him and offering him a comfort Steve has never known he has needed. “So then?” Peggy prompts.
“I’ve had sex before,” Steven says, feeling supremely awkward in the face of what is obviously a great deal of combined experience. “Not often,” which is an understatement. Twice, to be precise. Both with girls from the USO chorus line. First to try and forget the red curves of Peggy’s smile and the sharp blue of Bucky’ eyes, and then because they both felt it could be good. And it was, but somehow he is sure that sex with Peggy and Bucky will be so much more in every way.
“With a man?”
“No,” Steve admits.
Peggy nods thoughtfully. “Have you ever wanted to?”
“Yes,” Steve whispers, his eyes on Bucky and the way his throat bobs in response to Steve’ answer.
Bucky shifts at Peggy’s feet. “Would you like that, pet?” she asks him. It takes Steve a second to remember that she is English, and pet is a term of endearment, not necessarily a label. Still. “Use your words properly,” she scold when Bucky simply nods his head. “Would you like to have sex with Captain Rogers?”
The use of his rank should not make Steve’s dick swell, but it does. He wants Bucky sat as his feet like he is hers, looking up at him with those trusting eyes and calling him Captain. That’s a whole new fantasy to add to his collection. Now he knows Bucky might actually be agreeable, the list suddenly has room for rapid expansion.
When Bucky is silent for too long, lost in what looks to be a dream like trance, Peggy delivers a sharp, ringing slap to his cheek. It sounds worse than it probably feels, but it is enough to jerk Bucky back into focus. “Focus, pet,” Peggy says, her thumb rubbing gently over the skin she has just struck, soothing out the hurt. “Would you like Captain Rogers to fuck you?”
Put like that, in such crude terms, it isn’t just Bucky’s wanton moan that makes Steve shift in his seat, his pants tight and his heartbeat throbbing in his ears. Now the image of Bucky opening up around him, his skin flushed and his lips parted with need floods his mind.
“Yes,” Bucky whispers, his face flushed and his eyes glossy and bright in the firelight.
“I think I’d like that as well,” Peggy agrees. “I’d like to watch him fuck you until you can’t stand, and then I think I’ll have your pretty mouth. If you’re very good, we might let you come.”
Steve’s groan is louder than Bucky’s, which is more a whimper of pained anticipation. He’d never imagined that he could ever want the things he is wanting now.
He never thought he’d ever want to share a lover with anyone, but now he’s almost overwhelmed by all the possibilities, with fantasies run wild, unchecked and free.
Peggy settles back in her seat a smiles, a radiant queen before her adoring subjects. Steve suddenly doesn't know if he wants to be where she is, petting Bucky's hair, or where Bucky is, looking up at her in adoration. "I think that will suit us all quite well," she muses. "On your feet, James. Let's show Captain Rogers what he's gotten himself involved with, shall we?"
Bucky rises with the same grace that he fell to his knees. The nervousness is gone from his eyes. He looks peaceful, calm, and just a little bit devious. His lips curl up in an indolent smile as he reaches up to unfasten his tie and Steve finds himself gripping the arms of the chair to stop from disgracing himself.
He's seen Bucky undress before.
He's never seen him strip off his clothes in a slow, sensual performance.
Peggy has a point.
Steve has no idea what he's gotten himself involved with, but he intends to enjoy every moment of it.