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Puttin' On The Ritz

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Steve's life, in the winter of 1950, was a strange one. Most of his time was spent at SHIELD, working with Peggy and Bucky, spying when it was necessary, throwing a few punches when that was necessary.

The Howling Commandos had dispersed after the war was over -- Dum Dum was at SHIELD, but Morita had gone back to California to help his family rebuild their lives after their release from internment, Pinky was in Parliament now, and Gabe had gone to France to work as a translator. He was bunking with Dernier, and apparently courting Dernier's sister, who it seemed had gotten the bulk of the Dernier family's looks.

So it was just him and Bucky and Peggy, really, learning how to work as a new team, fighting new threats to the country, right in the hot spots of the cold war. Bucky and Peggy did most of the spying, honestly. They were much more suited to it than Steve, who was usually relegated to being wheelman -- or at best a diversion. He didn't mind; he was used to being stared at by now, and he didn't enjoy sneaking around the way Peggy and Bucky did. And when they did go into combat in their public uniforms, Steve got to be at the front, where he loved to be.

He loved this more, though: strolling through a still-slightly-frostbitten Central Park, Peggy on his arm in a gorgeous black suit and fitted red jacket, her hand keeping warm in his. The prettiest, smartest woman in New York, and he had the pleasure of walking with her. This was what he'd dreamed of in foxholes and on battlefields during the war.

And of course, his overactive mind was wrecking it.

"You're thoughtful today," Peggy said, drawing closer to him as a swarm of schoolchildren rushed past. She let go of his hand and wrapped her fingers around the inside of his elbow instead, leaning into him. "Something on your mind?"

He considered lying and saying it was nothing, but he was bad at it, and she usually knew. And that was one of the best things about Peggy anyway -- she was so smart, she always had a different angle on things, could always find a way around a wall he was banging his head against.

"It's Bucky," he said, shrugging a little. "I'm worried about him, I guess."

"Really? I thought he was rather thriving," she said. "Has he said anything to you he hasn't to me?"

"No, I don't think so," he replied. It had taken him aback, how close Peg and Buck were now -- not that he didn't like it, but he'd been surprised. They were amiable during the war, but not what he'd have called close. Then again, they'd had a year of working together before he'd come back, a year of shared responsibilities to SHIELD and shared grief over him. Bucky, gently drunk at one of Howard's soirees a few weeks ago, had admitted as much -- that Peggy was the only one who'd properly understood the loss.

He liked that his best friend and the woman he loved were close, but it was surely strange.

"I can't put a finger on it," he admitted. "I know what happened to him after he fell from the train changed him, I know we're all different after the war, but...he seems lonely. He never goes out, not like he used to."

"You mean with girls?" she asked, arching an eyebrow knowingly.

"It's more than that, though. He only ever goes out with us, or to Howard's parties. I think maybe he feels like a third wheel with us, but he always says yes..." Steve gestured with his free hand. "I don't know, it feels off-kilter."

"I suppose it must. I tried setting him up, you know, a few times. All nice girls, quite bright -- a few of them were Women's Auxiliary in one branch or another during the war, so they understood."


"After the third one he started saying no-thank-you," she said. "I thought perhaps he was sweet on someone I wasn't aware of, or he just needed more time to adjust. He seems happy to me, but then I didn't grow up making mud pies and robbing fruit carts with him."

Steve smiled nostalgically at that. "We were always better at getting into trouble than getting away with it."

"I'm utterly shocked to hear," she informed him. "Well, have you spoken to Bucky about it?"

"I wouldn't know what to say."

"Would you like me to ask?"

"It couldn't hurt, but I wasn't angling for that."

"I know you weren't. I was volunteering. He is my friend too, after all. Or we could have Howard speak to him."

Steve paused at that, and they both contemplated the idea.

"No," she said, and he agreed, "No."

"But Howard's latest, Maria, she's managed to keep hold of him for a few months now, she might know some women a little more...experienced in handling a man like James Barnes," Peggy suggested. "Mine weren't the society type. Perhaps he needs someone with a vested interest in...male management."

"Male management," Steve laughed. "Well, maybe. I'd rather make that a hail Mary, though."

"Then I'll contrive to speak with him at some point. I'll be gentle."

"You can be gentle?" he asked, grinning, and she swatted his shoulder.

"I'll have you know I have a very refined touch when it comes to interrogation. It's not my fault the thugs we encounter are most fluent in table-thumping. Now," she added briskly, "it's your turn to buy lunch, and you must stop moping about James. It's nearly spring in New York and soon the trees will all be blooming, and you know what that means."

"Better cover for snipers," he said.

"That's my Captain," she replied, and steered him subtly towards a little nearby sandwich shop that did excellent corned beef.


Her chance to speak to Bucky didn't come up for a few days, until they were on a mission together to infiltrate a small group of Russians that appeared to be a floating poker game among friends but might actually be a cell of spies carrying stolen documents through New York on their way to Moscow. Bucky, who was fluent and accentless in Russian, was the perfect man for the job, and Peggy fancied she did rather well as his oblivious English wife, letting him distract them all while she snooped in drawers and cupboards.

"You know, you owe me," she said, as they left the poker game, the papers the Russians had stolen rolled up and tucked in the small of Peggy's back. She'd been quite subtle about the theft, or rather the repossession, and the subway wasn't far; neither of them were especially worried about being caught, at this point, and could turn their talk to other things.

"What for?" Bucky asked, checking for tails. It was his idea of chivalry, she knew.

"Steve's been after me to set you up with someone again. I've been deflecting him."

"Yeah? What's his beef with my going stag?"

"I think he worries you feel a bit at loose ends," she said.

"Loose ends?" he asked, brow furrowing. It was rather adorable on him, and she stifled a fond smile, slipping an arm into his.

"Well, what with Steve and myself, and Howard and Maria lately -- even Timothy's got that woman who sends him perfumed letters from Paris," she said.

"Dum Dum does look awfully smug whenever he smells like a bordello," Bucky said.

"Unkind, James," she teased. "Anyway, you know how Steve is, he worries."

"About time he did some worrying about me, all the worrying I did over him," Bucky grumbled.

"Well, if you feel that way about it, I can certainly look through my contact book again," she said.

"No, that's fine. If I wanted a date I'd go find myself one."

"I'll keep putting him off then, shall I?" she asked. "He won't be distracted forever, mind you. And it couldn't hurt. It might even be fun."

"Thanks, Peg, but I ain't a charity case," he said.

"It isn't charity at all, Bucky, don't think such a thing."

"Well, either way, I don't need the help," he said, his tone not entirely gracious.

"Is there someone else?" she asked, and Bucky Barnes had a good poker face, but she'd had a lot of experience with liars in general and him in particular. "There is, isn't there?"

"It's not like that," he said. "I mean, I'm not keeping some mistress in an apartment somewhere."

"I should hope not; SHIELD doesn't pay you nearly well enough to keep a woman in that sort of style."

He shot her a sidelong grin. "SHIELD doesn't pay me well enough to keep a woman in squalor, at this point. I'm lucky Howard's got a guest house and don't charge rent."

"So, who is she? Neighbor goddess admired from afar? A cool blonde from the secretarial pool? I seem to recall during the war your type was small and scrappy."

"Well, the smaller they are the scrappier they generally come," he said philosophically. "It ain't a big deal, Peggy."

"Does she know you're interested?"

"Doesn't matter if she does," he said, and hunched his shoulders a little. "She's already with someone."

"Oh, I'm sorry. More of a torch than a crush, eh?"

"Something like that. I'll get over it, but until then..." he shrugged, standing aside to let her enter the subway first, dropping a coin into the turnstile for her.

"Well, I'm sorry, James," she said, as he paid his own fare and joined her on the platform.

"Isn't the first time I fell for someone who didn't feel the same," he said.

As he spoke, she saw a flicker of something in his face -- his eyes swept her almost too quickly to see, and then there was a hint of guilt in the tight bow of his mouth. His body was closed-off, half-turned away from her, and it occurred to her that the guilt wasn't entirely derived from the fact that it was clearly her he'd fallen for.

Well. Not only her, evidently. She kept her face composed, politely sympathetic and gentle as she patted his shoulder.

"When you're ready, come to me," she said. "I'll see what I can whip up for you. Angie's a good judge of character, she'd find you someone fun. And Maria has single friends, you know, and you'd make a delightful pet for some society girl."

He laughed. "When I'm ready to retire in style I'll take you up on that."


They made their report briefly at HQ, where Steve had loitered around waiting for her to return. Bucky left them to hitch a ride back to the mansion with Howard, and Steve offered to drive Peggy to her apartment in the little two-seat roadster he'd bought himself with some cashed-in bonds and his Army back pay.

"How'd it go, anyway?" he asked, as they drove across the bridge, mostly empty at this time of night.

"Fairly well, I think. And I found out what's been eating at James," she said.

"Oh? That's good -- what is it?" he asked.

"He's carrying a torch," she replied. "As I understand it, the object of his affections is...unavailable. Or at least he believes that's the case."

"That's hard," he said, sadness in his voice. "No wonder he's been moping. He say who she was?"

"No, but I have an idea. Let me investigate," she said. "I might be able to help."

"That'd be good of you, Peggy. You know he and I both think the world of you."

She watched Brooklyn scroll past, filled with love for her adopted city and the smart, oblivious puppy of a man next to her. "How do you feel about Bucky, Steve?"

"Well, I love him, of course," Steve said, eyes still on the darkened road.

"That easy?"

"You know I'm not very complicated."

She brushed a lock of hair off his forehead. "I wouldn't call you simple."

"Somewhere inbetween, maybe," he said, smiling as she ran her knuckles down the side of his face. "You do that again and I'm likely to crash the car, y'know."

"I'll wait until you're parked, then," she replied, and she felt the engine pick up speed.

Steve was still a little shy about necking, but a lot less than he used to be, even in the car in the alley outside her apartment building. He eased into the alley without prompting, turned the engine off and put the headlamps out, then leaned across the gearshift, catching her hand and kissing her fingers before finding her mouth.

By the time she pulled back his eyes were bright, a flush high on his cheeks, and she'd forgotten about James for the moment. She considered inviting him up; she had twice before, a daring move even now that she didn't live in a women's boardinghouse, and the results had been...spectacular. Steve made up in enthusiasm, not to mention stamina, what he lacked in experience.

But he never seemed to expect an invitation to stay the night or be upset when she didn't offer. And it was a risk, and it had been a late night already.

And she did have James to consider, now that she knew.

"My most darling," she said, and gave him one last, quick kiss. He loved her endearments, basking in them like he'd been starved of affection for too long. "My lovely Captain."

"I am, you know," he said, pressing his forehead against hers. "Yours, I mean."

"I know, sweetheart. But some of us need sleep," she said with a smile, and he nodded. "I'll see you at the briefing tomorrow morning. My turn to bring breakfast."

"Sleep well," he said, and as always, he backed out into the street and watched from the car until she was inside, until she'd switched on the lamp in her apartment. She stood at the window, eyes on the car's tail lights as Steve drove off. She pressed a thumb to her lips, thinking.

She'd grown close to James, in the months after his resurrection, before Steve's return. She liked him, and under different circumstances she might have considered him as a lover, perhaps even a husband. He was funny and cocky, rougher than Steve but no less sweet, and one of the few men in her professional life who was unfailingly respectful of her.

Steve and James, of course, were close as you could be without blood ties, maybe closer. She loved Steve in ways she didn't think she loved James, but only because she'd never given the matter proper thought. The idea of sharing Steve with James Barnes didn't inspire the same sort of scarlet jealousy that seeing Steve kissing another woman had, back during the war.

Peggy wasn't a babe in the woods; she'd known men in the war who preferred the company of other men, and some who were more or less equal opportunity (Pinky had called himself "utterly flexible, but don't tell the Crown" to her once, laughing). She had no reason to look down on them. She preferred men, but there had been that girl at boarding school when she was sixteen -- and Angie, briefly, before they'd settled in as best friends.

If Bucky liked the rooster as well as the hen, she was neither surprised nor repulsed. It explained a lot about his tastes, in some ways. Really, she was pleased. James and Steve would be striking together.

Steve was the real question mark. As far as she knew, Steve had never shown any inclinations that way, towards Bucky or anyone else. Oh, you heard rumors about men far from home and female companionship, but even then, not about Captain America.

Or perhaps those simply hadn't reached her ears, given that everyone knew Steve had been sweet on her. Dugan would know, the gossipy old bastard. She'd have to ask him.

She tried prodding at the idea like a loose tooth. She and Steve, as intense and occasionally tempestuous as they'd always been together, had still really only had the last few months to grow attraction into something more solid. Taking a third person into the picture could be disastrous. Then again, any further along and they might not be able to.

It was all rather continental, she thought, and then laughed at her own snobbery. Calling two soldiers from Brooklyn and one from London "continental" was really quite silly.

Poor Bucky. Stuck yearning after his little scrapper of a best friend who, suddenly, was a large strapping Adonis of a man -- grieving his friend's death while falling for his friend's girl...and then with Steve back...

He must be perplexed by it all to say the least.

Well, she'd investigate, as she always did, and plot out a strategy. If all went well she might find herself with a lovely young brunet to match her blond.


The next morning, Howard walked into the briefing, plonked a bottle of scotch on the table, and said, "Congratulate me, children. Maria and I are engaged."

Steve looked at Peggy, wide-eyed with panic -- she recognized the frantic mental gear-mashing of a man who didn't know what someone else's good fortune meant for his own life. Bucky looked at Steve with alarm, and then at Peggy, who gave a fractional shake of her head to both of them, and then looked at Howard, who was already pouring drinks.

"I gave her a rock the size of a small planet and carte blanche to plan the wedding," Howard continued, passing out the drinks. Bucky threw his back and then, when Steve set his drink aside, shot that one down too. Peggy sipped hers, thinking that while she loved Howard like a brother, if his ostentatiously public personal life kept interfering with hers she might wring his neck. (She'd wait until after the wedding, to make sure Maria got the company.) "You're all invited. Steve, I need a Best Man, and you're hired."

"Me?" Steve asked, bewildered.

"You think I can do better?" Howard replied, grinning. "Come on, do me a favor. Maria's family is old money and thinks I'm a bourgeois social climber, and they're going to be even more annoyed when they find out I'm a working class social climber. I need Captain America's reputation."

"Do I have to wear the uniform?" Steve blurted. Peggy covered her eyes with one hand. When she looked up, Bucky was smiling at her.

"No, Steve, you can wear a tuxedo," Howard said. It was gentle, not at all condescending, which Peggy always appreciated about Howard -- plenty of people felt the sharp edge of his tongue, but not Steve, nor her and Bucky. "Just look patriotic in it, okay?"

Steve nodded. "Congratulations, Howard. Maria's a swell lady."

If anyone other than Peggy noticed Bucky's eyes darting back and forth between her and Steve for the remainder of the meeting, they didn't say anything.


Howard and Maria's wedding was scheduled for late July on Martha's Vineyard; it was just enough time, Peggy told herself, to get into mischief. Having set her path and established a timeline, she began work immediately. Her first order of business was to draw up a plan of attack, so she consulted the best expert she knew on human behavior.

"English!" Angie cried, when Peggy showed up just before lunchtime in the counterespionage office. She'd never made it as an actress, but she was one of SHIELD's top short-assignment spies, which Angie said was even better. She threw herself into Peggy's arms and Peggy hugged back, pleased.

"What're you up to?" Angie asked. "You wanna get lunch?"

"Desperately," Peggy said.

"Me too. I need a break from the boys' club around here. I never eat at HQ if I can avoid it." Angie pulled a blue silk jacket on and wrapped an arm around Peggy's waist, pulling her towards the elevators.

"I'm afraid I need some advice on a rather delicate subject," Peggy said, as they settled in at a lunch counter just far enough from HQ that they probably wouldn't run into anyone they knew.

"Did that hunk of all-American beef knock you up?" Angie asked.

"Angie! No!" Peggy gaped at her.

"Hey, smarter women than you have done dumber things for much uglier men," Angie said. "You're not on the rocks with Stevie, are you?"

"No, we're fine," Peggy said. "Well, sort of. Steve's part of the problem. It's really more James, though."

"Ooh, tall, dark, and brooding?" Angie sat herself at the counter and turned over her coffee cup. "Still trying to find him a nice girl?"

"I think, at this point, a nice girl isn't what he wants," Peggy said.

"A naughty girl, then? I know a few."

Peggy waited until the waitress had poured their coffees, then sipped pensively. "Well, no. Angie, how familiar are you with the term menage a trois?"

Angie's lips twitched. "I never took French, but I think I can parse that one out." She went to sip her coffee and then stopped with the cup halfway to her lips. "Oh. Oh, Peg, have you -- "

"No! Not yet," Peggy said. Angie set her cup down, eyes wide and gleeful.

"HOW do you do it, English?" she asked. "I mean, you're no sack of potatoes, but landing Stevie to start with and getting Barnes along for the ride -- "

"We haven't done anything yet," Peggy said. "It hasn't even come up. It's just...Steve loves him so dearly, and James as good as admitted that he's loved Steve forever and fell for me before Steve came back. And poor James, he's clearly unhappy, and -- "

"He's not hard on the eyes," Angie said drily.

"No, indeed he's not."

"So what do you need my advice on, then?" Angie asked. "You're a go-getter, go and get!"

"It's Steve," Peggy said. "Of course he loves Bucky. Like a brother. Whether it's more than that, or could be...I don't know. And it's a delicate thing to ask."

"Oh, sure. I mean, plus, asking about another man in the affair in general," Angie agreed, tapping a fingernail against her lips. "Gosh, you do have the most interesting problems. I always figured if a threesome was on offer, Stark would be involved."

"He knows better," Peggy said darkly. Angie giggled.

"Sure, but knowing better doesn't seem to stop him too often. And you can't say it wouldn't have been fun. A total disaster, but fun. Oh, I'll have the meatloaf sandwich," she said to the waitress, who made a note and looked at Peggy.

"Ham salad, please," Peggy said, and then turned back to Angie. "I've a plan, of sorts, but I could use your excellent character judgement."

"Well, if the boys ever decide to do nudie pictures as a gift for you, you better share," Angie replied, a twinkle in her eye. "What've you got so far?"

"I thought Steve had better be the problem I addressed first," Peggy said.

"No," Angie said immediately.

"No?" Peggy asked. "It's a significant concern."

"Not really. What you want is a checkmate. If he ain't interested, you'll see that quick enough on the way. If he is, you've got a foundation already laid. Trust me, let Stevie stew in his own juices until the whole thing's ready to spring."

"Goodness," Peggy said, thoughtful. "Well, in that case, here's what I've planned..."


Steve wasn't sure what was going on, the spring and summer of 1951, but he knew Peggy was up to something. It had something to do with Bucky, and he thought it had to do with what he'd said about Bucky being lonely, but beyond that it beat him.

It was nice, though, Peggy always inviting Buck along, finding ways to include him. She asked him to come and give his opinion on the tuxedo Steve had to have made for Howard's wedding. And she had him and Bucky sit awkwardly outside the ladies' dressing room so they could give opinions on the dresses she was looking at for the wedding as well.

But it wasn't exactly a struggle -- Steve never got tired of looking at Peggy. He'd have been...privately annoyed about another man looking at her the way Bucky did, but it made him feel sorta proud, that she was so beautiful and Bucky knew it.

"You better get her a ring soon, pal," Bucky said, between dresses.

"No problem in taking it slow," Steve replied easily. "I'll know when the time is right."

"Don't be a chickenshit about it," Bucky advised.

"You're about the only fella in New York willing to call Captain America a chickenshit."

"I'm not sayin' you are, I'm sayin' don't be one."

"Well, I won't, so relax. Oh, wow," Steve said, as Peggy swept out in a shiny off-the-shoulder number, white with a red paisley pattern and frills of filmy white gauzey stuff off the hips. Bucky's jaw dropped.

"Yes?" Peggy asked, fluffing the white gauze. Peggy had a lot of curve, and the dress made every one of them look amazing; Steve felt a hot urge to back her up against a wall and kiss her.

In the edge of his vision he could see Bucky opening his mouth, and he knew from a decade of experience that his best friend was about to say something indiscreet about his girlfriend's behind. He reached over and covered Bucky's mouth with his hand.

"Yes," Steve said, and Bucky nodded vigorously behind Steve's hand.

"I'll take this one," Peggy said to the attendant, who nodded cheerfully.

Aside from dress shopping there were meals, and nights out dancing, and trips to galleries and movies that used to be just Steve and Peggy, but now almost invariably included Bucky. He should have minded, he felt like he should have fretted that they rarely had a date alone anymore, but he and Bucky had always double-dated. Steve liked having his best pal around; he wasn't about to take him for granted again. And if Bucky didn't have a girl along, well, that meant he had more time and attention to spare for Steve and for Peggy.

Something stirred in him when he saw Bucky laughing with Peggy at the popcorn stand before a movie, or when Steve helped Peggy on with her coat and then Bucky held the door for her, after dinner.

"You better watch yourself," Howard said to him at a cocktail party, gesturing to where Bucky and Peggy were talking at the bar. "Your best friend's about to snake your girl."

"Bucky wouldn't do that," Steve said. "Even if he'd try, Peggy wouldn't either."

"Steve, I have known a lot of women, and I've stolen one or two. I know what it looks like. It looks like that," Howard said. "I'm not trying to start trouble, I'm just saying. Barnes has eyes for Peggy, and Peggy's not shutting him down. Friendly warning."

"Howard, you're a good friend and nobody knows that better than me," Steve said, keeping his tone light and pleasant. "But you can take your friendly warning and shove it -- "

"Steve!" Peggy called, leaving the bar to come find him, Bucky trailing behind. "Bucky's just discovered there's a man at this party writing a book about Captain America."

"What?" Steve asked, baffled. "Why?"

"Could be something to do with that heroic profile you cut," Bucky drawled, as Howard slipped away, smirking. "Come on, we're gonna go fishing and see what he's writing, so we can bust his jaw if it's a dirty tell-all."

"What all would he tell?" Steve asked, faintly amused. "My life's not exactly full of scandal, and the ones that do exist are classified by the federal government."

"In my experience, tell-alls don't have to tell the truth," Peggy pointed out. "Besides, you know Bucky loves to start fights at Howard's parties."

"I know Howard likes Bucky to start fights at his parties," Steve said darkly.

"Ooh, what did he say to you just now?" Bucky asked. "You look like you might start one with Howard."

"Nothing. It's not important," Steve said, and it wasn't; he probed his reactions for any hint of doubt in Bucky or in Peggy, but all he found was anger at Howard for insinuating they'd be untrue to him.

Anger at Howard, and that faint stirring again, the one that forbade him from picturing Bucky and Peggy together, lest he like the picture a little too well.

He rested a hand in the small of Peggy's back, and the other on the nape of Bucky's neck.

"How about we check out early and go for a drive?" he asked. Lately they'd often squeezed into the two-seater, Steve at the wheel, Bucky riding shotgun, and Peggy between them, huddled up against Steve on one side, shoulder pressed to Bucky's on the other.

As they left Manhattan behind and sped out into the darkness on the back-roads, the stars unfurling above them, Steve wrapped his arm around Peggy's shoulders and let his knuckles brush Bucky's left shoulder.


Steve had known, early on, that Bucky had nightmares about Zola, about what was done to him when he was a prisoner during the war. He'd never seemed to get them when they were in the field, when it might have endangered them, but Bucky also slept far less in the field than most of the Commandos. It was only when they were in camp, or at HQ in London, that he'd wake to Bucky's screams, and it was why he always demanded his Sergeant be given a room next to his, or a bunk in his room.

Since then, of course, there were other, darker dreams about Zola, as well.

Steve had nightmares too, but those had come later, after Bucky's fall, after the ice. It was like a part of him couldn't believe the war was over, and insisted on replaying it in his dreams. He'd had the first one on the boat back to New York. There'd been a few when he was staying with Howard -- sharing the guest house Bucky still lived in -- and when those had been bad, Bucky had burst into his room and helped him calm down. They'd looked after each other, which had been nice. Steve still wasn't sure why he'd left, other than that he didn't entirely like being beholden to Howard for living space.

He hadn't known Peggy had nightmares too (how could he?) until the third time she asked him up to her apartment for the night. Lying in bed with her, awake long after she'd drifted off and enjoying hazy thoughts of asking her to marry him so that he could hold her like this every night, he'd noticed her body tensing and relaxing, one of her hands curling against his chest.

She whimpered, softly, and then her whole body tensed again, back arching, shoulders pressing into his collarbones, and a scream ripped through her like it had started at her toes.

Steve let go of her and slid back in the bed, well aware of how confining even blankets could be, let alone another person, when you were woken suddenly. He reached out to shake her shoulder, to try and wake her, and her eyes flew open. She scrambled away from him, wild and confused, and he held up his hands and tried to look unthreatening.

"Where -- ?" she managed, pushing up against the headboard, and then, "Steve?"

"It's me," he said, not moving. "It was just a dream, you're okay."

"Steve," she repeated, and then her face crumpled, a sob heaving up in her chest. She reached out one hand and he pulled her into his arms, cradling her head against his shoulder, stroking her hair. She cried convulsively, but not for very long.

"It's so embarrassing," she said, as soon as the crying had subsided. She wiped her nose with her wrist and he leaned around her, reaching for the floor where his trousers lay, a handkerchief in the pocket. She took it and dabbed at her eyes with it. "Crying like a child," she muttered.

"Bad dream?" he asked awkwardly, running a hand up and down her back, hoping it was comforting rather than cloying. Bucky didn't like to be touched after his nightmares.

"Silly things," she shrugged. "Hardly worth mentioning."

"You can, though," he said. "If, if you want. Mention them? Bucky and me, we both have 'em."

"Hard to imagine James Barnes weeping in anyone's arms," she said ruefully.

"Well, no. But we do have bad dreams. He doesn't say what his are. You don't have to. But if you wanted to. Mine're about him, sometimes," Steve offered, and Peggy looked at him with something like surprise. "Watching him fall. Sometimes they're about the ice. Sometimes about you."


"When we -- said goodbye. Sometimes I dream I keep callin' and callin' on the radio and you don't answer. Or I dream it's..." he fumbled for how to explain. "I dream it's now, but one bomb made it out of Schmidt's plane, and I see you walking along the street towards me and the bomb falls..."

She put a hand on his chest and he realized she was trying to comfort him, when he'd started out trying to comfort her.

"It's fine, you know. You do know, obviously," he said. "You wake up, and everything's all right."

She rested her head in the crook of his neck, skin hot against his.

"It was so terribly hard, after the war," she said softly, after a while. Steve nodded a little, waiting for more. "You and James were both gone, and I'd been decommissioned, and I was working for the SSR, which was dreadful. It got better, but at first it was hard, and I dream I'm trapped back there, that you and James coming back wasn't real. But it's worse when I have to watch you die. Again."

"I'm sorry I left you like that," he said.

"Sometimes I dream about watching you come back from the train without James, and just when you start to tell me what happened, you start to..." she shivered. "All your flesh falls off."

"Urgh," he said, making a face, and got a weak smile out of her.

"Anyway, it's silly to get emotional about it," she continued, straightening, wiping the last of the wetness from her cheeks. "And you and James are both back, so we shan't have any more of this absurdity."

"Mm," he said, agreeing more with the spirit than with the actual likelihood of her resolve stopping the dreams. "You want some tea? I can get up and make some."

"What time is it -- dear lord no, it's three in the morning. What I want is another four hours of sleep."

He curled around her as she slid down in the bed again, tucking the blankets up close around them both.

"So you missed Bucky too," he said.

"Of course. He was a friend. And he's such a dear when he isn't being an absolute berk."

Steve chuckled. "He grows on you."

"Explains why you love him so. Long exposure."

"Sure," Steve yawned.

"Steve," she said, her voice taking on a tone she used mainly when she was being cautious about being curious. "Do you remember Pinky and that French soldier, from when you liberated the prison camp?"

"Sure," he said sleepily.

"They were quite close."

"More'n close. Dum Dum was worried I'd have a fit when I found out. Didn't have the heart to tell him I knew before he did."

"So that sort of thing doesn't bother you?"

"Hell, Peg, I grew up around fellas like that. My neighborhood was jammed with 'em."

"Did you and Bucky ever...?" she asked.

"Huh? Oh! You mean like in the war?"

"Or before," she said, trying to seem casual but clearly anxious. He smiled.

"Nah. Never knew how he'd take it. If he'd asked I woulda lent a hand, but...well, I never asked him, either. And later it didn't feel right, it'd have been...being unfaithful to you. Why, someone been spreading stories about us?"

"No, I only wondered."

There was a look of satisfaction on her face, smugness in the set of her shoulders, and he wondered what he'd said to put it there. Perhaps admitting he'd been faithful to her even then, before they'd had the understanding they did now. Or maybe she liked being his first. Or maybe....he hummed thoughtfully, an idea growing in the back of his mind. Yes, that would be like Peggy....

"Go back to sleep," she whispered against his cheek, and he nodded and pulled her close until they fit, closing his eyes.


The day of Howard and Maria's wedding was beautiful, sunny and warm with a nice breeze coming up the beach and through the open doors of the little church. Most of the guests had arrived that morning, but Bucky and Peggy had gone up two days early to make sure all the security was ship-shape. Steve had arrived the night before with Howard and the rest of the stag-party guests, most of them still drunk, and the morning of the wedding he'd gone on hangover patrol, fixing everyone a horrifying concoction of tomato juice, raw eggs, diced up celery, and tabasco sauce dictated to him by an only slightly bleary-eyed Howard.

"I think everyone's awake, at least," he said, letting himself into the little room where Peggy was helping Maria fix the veil to the top of a pearl-crusted tiara. Maria, usually placid and calm and sweet, was too nervous to even do up the buttons on her dress, her hands shaking too much to clip the veil on herself.

"You look wonderful, Maria," Steve added, as Peggy smoothed down the veil and stepped back.

"See? You're outshining everyone," Peggy said, and Maria gave her a wan smile. "Steve hasn't even complimented me yet."

Steve put a hand on her waist and kissed her cheek. "You look amazing," he murmured in her ear.

"So do you," she said, fingering the hem of his tuxedo jacket. His shirt was just shy of skin-tight and she was pretty sure she was going to have to drive off several hopeful maids of honor before the day was through. "Where's Bucky?"

"Making sure Howard doesn't wander into traffic," Steve said.

"I don't know if I can do this," Maria said softly, and Peggy left Steve, going back to her, taking her hands.

"I can't say I'd be calm if I were marrying Howard," she said, and Maria nodded. "But honestly -- you do love him, don't you?"

"Of course. He's really sweet. Forgetful, but sweet," Maria said.

"And your parents liked him just fine once they got to know him."

"Well, he's a charmer."

"And, and this is the important part, you have your own money," Peggy said. Maria looked at her, perplexed. "You're not marrying him for his and you don't need his. You're to be equals, Maria. Don't ever forget that he's no more powerful than you are, not in any way that counts. You mustn't let him get away with thinking he's the boss." Peggy smiled at her reassuringly. "I thought you liked the challenge of keeping him firmly in check."

Maria's smile widened. "Well, it's awfully fun."

"There you are, then. Don't think about the wedding or all the horrible traditions that come with it. Just think how fun it's going to be bossing Howard around. I enjoy it and I don't even get to do it full time."

Maria surged forward and hugged her, then quickly sat back and smoothed down her veil again.

"Thank you, Peggy," she said. "You should go get seated, it's almost time."

"See you soon," Steve said with an encouraging look, and offered his arm to Peggy. As the door swung shut behind them, he said, "That was nice of you, to say those things to Maria. I never know what to tell people."

"Well, you just let me handle things," Peggy said.

"Always," Steve replied, spotting Bucky sitting in the second pew. He left her with him and went to stand with a fidgety Howard at the altar.

"He looks delicious, don't you think?" Peggy said to Bucky. "God bless the tailor."

"Never thought I'd see Steve in a suit that didn't come from the Young Men's department," Bucky said, amused.

"Quite a change to adjust to, for you, I'd imagine."

"Didn't have much choice. Though I thought he was some weird hallucination for a while," Bucky said. "The whole thing was strange. Still is. Didn't ever think I'd be the rough edge of a society wedding. They got a photographer from the Times and everything."

"Try to smile," she said, and he gave her the most ghastly grin she'd ever seen. She covered her mouth, hiding her laughter as his face softened into a genuine smile. As the music began and everyone turned to look for Maria, she leaned over and kissed his cheek. He stared at her, dark-eyed, and she smiled and thumbed the lipstick off his skin innocently.


Howard had rented out an entire luxury retreat hotel on the Vineyard for his guests -- a big outdoor dance pavilion, surrounded by dozens of little bungalows linked by footpaths strung with electric lights. During the reception she lured Steve (still shy about dancing) out onto the floor twice, with Bucky taking her for a fast but oddly distant swing inbetween.

Howard came after her for a dance, too, apparently as an excuse to have a word with her about propriety.

"You know, Peg, I'd take a gun to Rogers myself if he did wrong by you," he said, and Peggy narrowed her eyes curiously at him. "I'm sure you'd get there first," he added hastily.

"Odd talk for a wedding reception," she said.

"I just worry," he said.

"You've never worried in your life," she said, laughing.

"Peg, do you know what you're doing with Barnes?" he asked, oddly earnest.

"Mr. Stark," she said, composing her mouth in a dry smile. "Would you believe me if I said I know exactly what I'm doing with Barnes?"

His eyebrows shot up. "You know, Agent Carter, I think maybe I would."

She patted his shoulder. "Keep your nose out of it, which shouldn't be hard -- how long is your honeymoon?"

"Seven weeks," he said, looking pensive about it.

"I'll make sure you get a telegram if anything worthy of one happens," she said.

"Just watch yourself," he said. "Wouldn't be the first time a woman came between brothers and got caught in the crossfire."

"I shall do my best without your paternal supervision," she drawled. He laughed and let her go as the music ended.

"Maria and I are going to slip away," he said. "See you in two months, huh?"

She nodded and drifted away from the dance floor, to where Bucky and Steve were standing together at the edge of the crowd, Bucky with a beer, Steve with a tonic water. Steve's tie was undone, hanging over his chest; Bucky had shed his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves, and the two of them looked gently disreputable together.

"I think the party's breaking up," she said, as Steve wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her into him. "Howard and Maria are sneaking off."

"Maybe we should, too," Steve said, low in her ear, a gentle question in his voice. She tipped her face up and kissed him, not just heedless of Bucky but conscious of his gaze, courting it.

"Go to mine," she said, slipping the key into his hand. "I'll be along directly."

"I'll fix you a nightcap," he said, and took off down the footpath to her bungalow, hands in his pockets, whistling.

"I must say goodnight to Dugan before I turn in," she said to Bucky, who nodded. "You?"

"Just making sure Stark gets away all right, then I'll put my head down," he said, finishing his beer.

"Give me five minutes and you can walk me back," she said with an easy smile. He nodded and reached for his jacket, slung over a nearby chair.

Peggy wandered off in the direction she'd last seen Dum Dum's ubiquitous bowler hat bobbing, but she didn't find him; she did a loop around the reception, to take up the requisite amount of time, and then returned to Bucky, beaming.

"Duty done," she announced. "Shall we?"

He offered her his arm, quiet and relaxed as they walked towards the bungalows. When he went to turn away, down the path to his own bed, she held onto his arm and guided him up to her door. He followed her inside, though she imagined he didn't know why.

"Steve, darling?" she called.

"In the kitchen," Steve called back, and there was a clatter of glass and metal.

"Just where I like you," Peggy announced, and Steve laughed.

"I was going to make a martini, but one of Maria's people was telling me about this new cocktail, the Irish Coffee," he said, emerging with two cups. He'd shed his shirt and tie entirely; his undershirt stretched across his chest and showing off his bare shoulders, and his normally tidy hair was mussed. He saw Bucky and smiled without missing a beat, handing her one coffee and him the other.

"Nah, this is yours," Bucky said, offering it back. "Peggy just dragged me along -- "

"You know me, Buck, it's not like a drink matters," Steve said, as Peggy towed Bucky along towards the sofa. Steve sat on the arm and she settled next to him, head resting against his hip, Bucky sitting awkwardly on her other side. She sipped the drink, warm and rich with cream and yes, very alcoholic, and enjoyed Steve's hand in her hair.

"It was a nice wedding," Bucky said, somewhat awkwardly.

"I think so," Steve agreed.

Silence descended. Bucky sipped his drink, slurping gently.

"I should probably -- " Bucky added, and Peggy turned to him, taking his drink, setting it aside along with hers on the coffee table. Steve looked down at her, curious.

"Steve," she said, leaning back against his waist. "You prefer brunettes, don't you?"

He leaned over enough to be visible, smiling at her upside-down. "Thinking of going blonde, Peggy?"

"Dear me, no," she said. She looked at James, whose whole body radiated wariness. "It's just, darling, I think I found a solution to your concerns about James."

Steve stiffened, looking at Bucky. Bucky's gaze was level but concerned. Peggy leaned forward and kissed him, this time on the lips, and for a single, spare moment he leaned into it, mouth opening under hers, before he jerked backwards.

"Steve," he said, and Peggy opened her eyes. "Steve, I wasn't -- I didn't -- "

"It's fine, Buck," Steve said, which was more than Peggy had expected or hoped for. "I imagined this might be coming along, sooner or later."

She twisted to look up at him. "You never did," she accused.

"You asked me if Bucky and I know," Steve said. Bucky was blinking, a flush across his nose and cheeks, poised to flee. "I worked it out after that."

"And?" she asked.

Steve stood and circled around, past the coffee table, hitching his trousers to crouch in front of Bucky. He rested a hand on Bucky's shoulder and turned him carefully, until they were facing each other, Steve's chin lifted, Bucky's tucked down.

"Is this something you want, Buck?" he asked. Peggy held her breath.

"I'm not here to take your woman," Bucky said, and glanced sidelong at Peggy. "Or your man," he said to her.

"Nobody's suggesting you are," she replied. Bucky flinched -- just a blink and a twitch, but she saw it, and she knew Steve did too. He twined a hand in Bucky's metal one and leaned up, pressing his mouth to Bucky's.

It was beautiful in a schoolboy sort of way: a first kiss, shy and hesitant, the way Steve still was sometimes with her. Dark and gold, half-shadowed, with the smell of coffee and whiskey rising around them. She leaned in and rested her forehead against Bucky's temple.

"See, I lost you once," Steve said, raising his free hand to cup Bucky's chin. "I couldn't do that again. I didn't know if I could live without you, Bucky, and I like having you here with us. It seems like Peggy wants you -- "

"I do," she said softly.

"And I have to give the lady what she wants," he finished, smiling. "Gotta keep her happy."

"You want this?" Bucky asked, looking equal parts hopeful and bewildered.

"If I'd known you did, we both would've had it a lot sooner," Steve said, and kissed him again. "Doesn't have to be tonight. You can think about it. Peg and I'll wait."

Bucky moved sharp and fast, the way he did in a fight -- he let go of Steve's hand and reached for Peggy's, catching her wrist before he managed to press his fingers in the spaces between hers, clinging to her as he kissed Steve again. He pinned Steve with his other hand on the back of his neck, breathing harsh, and she could see a flash of teeth, see him catch Steve's lip briefly before Steve got his hands up and held Bucky's head in place, thumbs propped at the edges of his mouth, soothing him.

Bucky's fingers tightened and loosened against her hand, like he was trying to remind himself she was there. A few seconds later he pulled away from Steve and leaned into her, and Peggy let herself be drawn into a kiss that felt a little less desperate, certainly less violent.

"May we take you to bed, James?" she asked, when he stopped for breath.

Bucky, God bless him, managed to draw up a cocky grin from somewhere and bestow it on her. "I wish you would, Carter," he said.

Steve laughed, bright and quick, and pulled them both off the couch as he stood.


James, Peggy knew, was more sure of himself than Steve in affairs of the body, even now. He was confident where he touched her, self-assured, even cocky when he saw the way Steve's eyes went dark and huge, watching them. (Not only watching; she didn't think he'd stopped touching her the entire time Bucky was, but it felt wondering, not possessive -- as if he was discovering some new part of her to love.)

Being undressed by James Barnes was an experience in itself, with Steve's hands on her bare shoulders, pulling her brassiere down her arms. When they stretched out on the bed, blankets kicked down to the foot, Steve was still half-dressed, but every time she turned to him he gently turned her back to Bucky, to Bucky's exploring hands, and his mouth that was rich like Steve's but different, hungrier.

Bucky was less deft with Steve, she thought, when he turned to Steve and she rolled over on her side to watch, to see him crawl into Steve's lap and kiss him almost recklessly. The two of them fumbled together, shy and exploratory by turns, until finally she hauled herself up by Bucky's shoulder to murmur in his ear.

"Have you ever had a girl's mouth?" she asked, and he shuddered and nodded. "Don't you think Steve would like yours?"

Bucky jerked forward, nodding again, and planted his face in Steve's bare stomach, fumbling with the flies of his trousers. She ran a hand down his spine and then up again as Steve lifted his hips. James opened his mouth, tongue pressed down over his teeth, and Steve said, "Ah -- a-ah, Bucky!" as loud as she'd ever heard him during sex. (Her apartment walls were thin.)

This wasn't, she decided as she watched, James's first time. She wondered who else he'd been with, to learn this, and for the first time jealousy shot through her. Nobody else should have him, nobody but her and Steve. Not ever again.

She slid her hand, resting on the small of his back, down around his hip. She stroked him and he bucked and choked, pushing into her grasp. She tugged his hips back, pulling his shoulders into the curve of her body, hand still sliding slickly between his legs as he let Steve go, leaning back. He huffed and stretched, putting on a nice show for Steve, who caught her eye and smiled fondly before effortlessly pulling them both into his lap -- Bucky first, astride one thickly muscled thigh, and then Peggy, her thigh thrown over his, her other knee against his hip.

"Greedy," she said, and he nodded shyly, as if he hadn't just manhandled two naked people into his lap. Bucky was sucking little bruises into his shoulder, the purple fading to red and back to pale pink in seconds. Steve let out a soft whimper as he bent his head further and nipped at his pectoral.

"I wanted you when you were smaller," Bucky said into his chest. "I did, I thought about just liftin' you up against a wall -- but this isn't bad either," he added with a grin.

"Glad you'll tolerate it," Steve drawled, scruffing the back of his head.

"Well, the things I do for my friends," Bucky replied, and tugged Peggy towards him, until she was between the two of them.

"Oh, yes," she said, delighted. Both of them laughed.

Bucky's fingers pressed into her from behind, slow and easy, while she kissed Steve and let him pet her, clever hands cupping her breasts, thumbs teasing her already-hard nipples.

"A little protection, if you please, James," she said, hips rocking with the thrust of his fingers into her, the bump of his knuckles against her clit. "My bag, on the nightstand."

"Ain't got nothing," he said, sounding affronted.

"Yeah, nothing but the Serum," Steve retorted over her shoulder. "Doubt you're shooting blanks, Sergeant."

"Oh!" Bucky said, as if it hadn't even occurred to him. Perhaps it hadn't. The doctors had studied Steve down to the last inch, back in the war, and that had included crude fertility tests. Peggy had seen the quite impressive numbers. But nobody had made a study of Bucky's Serum -- he was too skittish around doctors, and she'd had to intervene when Howard wanted to push for it. Zola hadn't kept notes as detailed as the US Army did.

At any rate, better safe than sorry -- Peggy wasn't quite ready to be a mother yet, and given the Serum, she doubted she could avoid it without a bit of latex.

She let her head fall forward against Steve's chest and watched Bucky rummage in her bag, fishing out the tin and flipping it open, tossing it on the bed once he had what he wanted. She felt his chest against her back, lips pressed just under her ear, and then a long, satisfying slide as he pushed inside her.

"Our Peggy," Steve said, his voice dark and unusually possessive. "My Peg, my Buck -- "

"James," she managed, as he thrust, hard and fast and a little uneven, like he might be out of practice. "Steve, I -- "

"Easy," Steve said, past her, one hand securing her against him as he tipped his head sideways. "Easy, Bucky. She likes it slow. Slow and deep," he said, and she felt Bucky consciously slow, and then unconsciously fall into an even rhythm, like breathing, like a heartbeat. She held onto Steve's arms and felt them kiss over her shoulder, then Bucky's mouth drop to her neck again.

The world became the heat of them around her, Bucky inside her, Steve's hands, and the soft gasps and groans that seemed to mount, spiralling around each other until she jerked against Steve's unyielding bulk and came, Bucky still and patient inside her. When he eased out, a second little aftershock rocked her into Steve, who gently shifted her until she was curled against his right side, his arm propping her in place.

Bucky was panting now, abdomen tightening and twitching, sweat in the curves of his muscles. He half-crawled, half-fell forward, slumping over Steve, hips working like he wasn't even in control anymore. Steve held him there with his free hand and rolled his body, bumping their hips together, erections pressed in the inward curve of his belly. Bucky cried out and Steve murmured, "That's it, feels good, huh? Go ahead, Bucky, I want to see."

Peggy tugged Bucky's head across and kissed him while he rode Steve's hips, groaning into her mouth as he stiffened and came. Steve let his head fall back and finally let go -- his control was impressive, even if his moves could use a little work -- and the three of them collapsed inward in a warm, sticky heap, Steve laughing and Bucky's chest going like a bellows, like he'd just run the best race of his life.

Eventually Bucky lifted his head and said "Wow," which set Steve off again, and he let Peggy go as he rolled out of the bed, heading into the little bathroom to clean himself up. Peggy eased the condom off Bucky and dropped it into the waste bin, and before she could settle back in he'd grasped her around the waist and put her right where he wanted her, her rear nestled against his thighs.

Steve, returning, cocked an eyebrow at the pair of them and climbed in so that she was in the middle, sliding his arm under their heads, the other one slung over her waist and Bucky's hip. Bucky leaned down and pulled the blankets over them, face pressed into the nape of her neck.

"This'll be a scandal in the morning," he said, just as Peggy was drifting off to sleep.

"Nah it won't," Steve replied. "Nobody's business but ours, and anyway they'll just think you and me made Peggy cook us breakfast."

Bucky pushed himself up, alarmed. "You ain't gonna, are you?" he asked Peggy.

She reached behind herself and patted his hip reassuringly. "No, I know better after my last attempt. You can cook."

"Damn right I can," Bucky said.

"If God intended women to cook breakfast he wouldn't have given us Automats," she mumbled, and fell asleep to the rumble of Steve's laughter in his chest.


The following morning, she did wake to breakfast, or at least to the smell of coffee. Neither of the boys were in bed, and she dug out a robe before wandering into the kitchen to find Steve stirring sugar into his coffee.

"Where's James?" she asked, kissing him good morning.

"Well, you didn't stock enough food for his big ideas," Steve said. "He ran down to the little grocery by the ferry dock."

"That's eight miles!"

"I think he needed some time to think. Anyway, that's an easy morning for him. He'll be back -- there he is," Steve interrupted himself, as the door opened. Bucky came in, reeking of sweat and carrying a sack of groceries. "How'd you make out?" Steve called.

"Place was closed," Bucky said, setting the sack down. Steve looked at it pointedly. "Door wasn't locked."

"I hope you left money."

"Of course I left money!" Bucky growled, rolling his eyes. He turned to Peggy, and a hilarious look of indecision crossed his face. She made up his mind for him, giving him a quick peck on the mouth.

"You smell dire," she said. "Kiss Steve good morning and go bathe."

"I can start the bacon," Steve said, bending obediently to kiss him, a little longer and sweeter than Peggy had. She seated herself at the kitchen table with her coffee, enjoying the view.

"I got steak," Bucky said. "Don't touch it till I come back."

"Yes, Sarge," Steve answered, saluting.

"And don't pour out the bacon fat."

"Bacon fat's gonna kill you faster than the Nazis!" Steve yelled after him, as Bucky vanished into the bedroom.

"He could use a little weight," Peggy said, as Steve began laying bacon in a pan.

"Well, we'll take care of that," Steve said. He glanced sidelong at her. "Sure you're okay with this?"

"Me? I planned this."

"Yeah, wanted it too, didn't you?"

"I'm not in the habit of doing things I don't want, especially not just to please a man," she pointed out. "I love him too, you know."

"If I had to choose between the two'a you..." he said, and then looked down at the pan. "I don't know what I'd do."

"Well, good that you needn't, then," she said with a smile. It took him a few seconds, but the smile that rose on his face was like sunlight.

"I suppose so," he said, looking delighted. "I didn't think of it like that. I got my fella and my best girl both. Say, do you think Buck should move in with me? We could get a bigger place. Or -- " he bit his lip, then plunged on. "I was gonna ask you -- "

"I thought you might," she said, smiling over her coffee. "When you do, by the by, I'd like a small diamond, baguette, inset, nothing ostentatious. I want to be able to punch a man without worrying about a raised setting."

"And then you and me can set up in a house," he said, clearly already lost in a daydream. "Nothing fancy, just something nice to come home to. And Buck can come live with us, you know, my best friend, that's not so unusual -- people'll talk but they won't talk that loudly, and they were always gonna talk, anyway, gossip columns being what they are. Don't you think?" he asked her, as Bucky reappeared in the doorway, hair wet, wearing Steve's undershirt. She gave him a smile and turned to Bucky.

"James," she said, "when Steve takes you to buy my ring, you'll speak to me first, won't you? He's lost in fairyland this morning, he won't remember a thing."

"Inset diamond?" Bucky suggested. "You don't wanna worry about a raised setting in a fight."

"See, this is what's so delightful about you, James, you're pragmatic. It'll take both of us to hold Steve down so he doesn't float away."

Bucky joined Steve at the stove, hesitantly wrapping an arm around his waist, leaning his weight into him when Steve didn't object. "Okay, go over," he said to him, pointing to Peggy at the table. "I'll take it from here."

Steve came to sit at the table, propping his legs so that his ankle slid subtly against hers.

"Well," he announced, "this'd make a fine episode of the Captain America Radio Hour."

Bucky snorted. "After the way you ripped into them when you got back last year, they're never making another one of those."

"Good. Captain America can cool his heels," Steve said. "Steve Rogers wants a honeymoon with Mrs. Rogers. And Agent Rogers of SHIELD," he added, flinging a smile at Bucky.

"I ain't takin' your name," Bucky said.

"What makes either of you think I am?" Peggy asked. Steve stared at her, open-mouthed. "It'd hardly be useful in our line of work, there being two Rogerses. Much better if I do as the film stars do and stay Agent Carter. Mrs. Carter on Sundays, if you like," she added graciously.

"This is where suffrage gets us," Bucky said, cracking eggs into a bowl. "Men in the kitchen and armed women's liberationists."

"Don't worry, darling, I have an excellent government job; I'll keep you in the style to which you've become accustomed," Peggy said.


Image: a Western Union telegram from Peggy Carter, addressed to Howard Stark at the Hotel Lux. Telegram reads: Hope enjoying Paris stop. Caught in most delightful crossfire stop. French would approve stop. When in Venice please send silk scarf stop. Love to Maria stop.



Millionaire industrialist Howard Stark, the big fish it seemed nobody could catch, is on the hook! Married in a posh private ceremony to society beauty Maria Stark (nee Carbonell), free-spirited Stark is off to Europe for a whirlwind tour with his new bride. Bon voyage, lovebirds!

America's own Captain, Steve Rogers, returned to his post as guardian of New York City last week after serving as best man at Mr. Stark's wedding. Will churchbells be next for Rogers and his Girl Friday, career lady Margaret Carter? Only Cap's best pal, war hero James "Bucky" Barnes, knows for sure, but word has it he's been helping the pair look for a snug little picket-fence number they can fill with bouncing baby patriots. Do it for America, Barnes!