9 – 12

Chapter 9: You Shook His Hand

Summary:

Trouble in paradise after an unwelcome surprise puts a spanner in the works.

Notes:

A massive thank you andhearts to everyone who has been reviewing this here and on tumblr and spreading it around and what not, you’re all dolls and it’s so encouraging you have no idea! Somehow in this chapter I managed a flashback within a flashback….Flashception. IDEK. Enjoy and comment if you fancy it! xox

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Between the wedding and the trip to Washington Peggy was exhausted, and that was before they began mission prep for London the next week. She had vowed to finish up all the necessary paperwork starting on the Monday she got back from the trip with Bucky. She was making serious headway too, when Howard decided to descend on her office with food for a lunch she hadn’t scheduled for.

“No time to eat, Howard,” she dismissed without looking up, he of course took matters into his own hands and just lifted the typewriter from the desk.

“Honestly Peggy, your problem solving skills are lacking today,” he smiled as he placed it carefully away from her, as if it were the most obvious thing to do.

She just sighed and accepted the artfully made sandwiches and the bottle of pop. He had even brought her an apple.

“Okay, what do you want?”

“Me?” He whistled, attempting to look innocent, before sitting on the other side of her desk and opening out his own lunch box.

He had an actual lunch box; it was red and had a little blue handle.

How odd for a grown man, she thought.

“You always want something and no way are you buying me food or even remembering to eat yourself unless there’s something, so, out with it.”

He shrugged, taking a large bite of his own lunch. His drink of choice wasn’t pop so much as a gin and tonic, but she let it slide.

“How did you enjoy the wedding?”

Vivid flashbacks of that desk in that room and the two of them entered her mind. Thankfully she was skilled enough at keeping a straight face that he didn’t catch on.

“Just fine. The end of the night was a welcome reprieve from all the … you know … people.”

“Yeah, hate people,” he sighed.

“Which is why we’re in a job to protect them, excellent,” she deadpanned.

“No, no you know the world is great, bring it on, the more the merrier is my motto – in all aspects of the human condition.”

He winked and she rolled her eyes, this was sadly a normal conversation for them.

“But too many of them all at once in a small space … I just…” he shuddered. “Anyway, uh, Barnes. He seemed to enjoy it.”

“Uh huh.”

“He seems happy … settled…”

“Uh … huh? Howard…”

“You haven’t told him have you?” his tone was now sharp, any affection or kidding around gone. It scared her sometimes how fast he flipped.

Howard…”

“So, no then. You don’t think he has the right to know?”

This was an old conversation; one she should have known would have reared its ugly head again sooner or later.

“Tell him what exactly?”

“That there’s a search – that there has been a search-”

“Exactly, a search that has been going on for years, Howard, fruitless in all that time! What would be the point? To do what exactly? To get his hopes up like mine are? To make him jump with fear and anticipation and god knows what else every time the Goddamn phone rings? To worry, and over think and hope? God, help me from the hope.” She ranted, sure, but he wasn’t getting the message any other way.

“And what if we find him? What then?”

“If you find him Stark, and that’s a rather arctic sized if, then there will be something to tell. Until then I refuse to ruin his life – he’s going back to school, did you know that? He wants to improve himself; he wants to live a life … free from the paralysing hope of a useless wild goose chase.”

“You really believe that we’ll never find him don’t you?”

She got up then, abandoning her lunch and paced to her window, it overlooked Manhattan in all its beauty.

“I hope you will, I grip on to that hope like you wouldn’t believe but–”

“But you’d rather I stop?”

She shook her head then, because no, not really. She had lived with the silent hope of his hare-brained idea working for so long she wasn’t sure she could take the empty feeling left in its absence.

“No.”

He sighed.

“Then why–”

“It’s part of the job, just another thing in the endless list of things that I can’t and won’t discuss with him. The things I’ve done, the things I’ve had done to me all in the name of this job Stark – you know better than anyone the secrets we keep and why we keep them.”

He nodded.

“So I assume Paperclip–”

She cut him off with a glare; he held his hands up in defense.

“It’s why I don’t settle…”

“Well, that and you’re a whore,” she said with a small smile, coming back to her desk.

That got him laughing before he reached over and stole her fruit.

“Fine, you have your reasons and you know him better than I do.”

“I do.”

He was moving to leave but she stalled him.

“You bringing this up now, does it mean anything?”

“No,” he shook his head, a sad expression on his face, “but we’re not giving up, not until we find him, not until there’s closure.”

She wasn’t sure how she felt, not really. When he had told her shortly after they had retrieved the Tesseract, that he was in fact continuing the search for Steve, she had been thrown – and had then promptly thrown up in her little steel bin by her desk. Then, years passed as they had a habit of doing, and when nothing ever came of it, it was easy to write it off as another of his mad ideas gone wrong. She figured he would soon get bored and give up, but there were two sides to Howard Stark and the ambitious ruthless side was the one that more often than not won out. This wasn’t just a personal mission for him, it was a professional one. Steve – Operation Rebirth – had been, for the lack of better puns, his baby. He wasn’t about to let all that science rot in the ice, and it just so happened that the science was wrapped up in his friend.

                                                                       *****

Summer made way for fall, and it meant that once again Peggy was relocating – only this time she wasn’t the only one. Bucky had opted for off campus housing for the first semester, wanting to give the whole experience a try. Luckily his first-hand experience and Howling Commando reputation allowed him a few luxuries, one being a single dorm. He thanked whoever was responsible for that seemingly small but priceless favour. His job took the news of a leave of absence well enough, though they were sad to be losing a good manager and an even better muscle.  Bucky had always liked school. Sure, he was easily bored and even easier to distract, but he had always learned quickly and liked reading. This was an opportunity to allow the university to use him for his war experience and tidbits – and use them to find out a little bit more on subjects that interested him. He wasn’t so sure what his end game was with being there, even if in the back of his mind it was to understand himself a little more – possibly, hopefully – hope to understand what was done to him both physically and mentally on that table in Italy.

It was an adventure they – he and Peggy – had discussed at length many a night in bed, something that was just his, something they both agreed that he needed. Needed to find out what kind of person he was without war, without Peggy, without the past hanging around his neck. They both agreed it was worth a shot if it led to him finding out what he was good at, besides war. He’d been great at war, the whole not dying thing had proved that – no matter how hard they tried – oh, and the straight as an arrow sharp shooting thing, that too, but he wanted something else.

He needed to believe that he was cut out for something other than violence, than what he had quite possibly been infected with in order to carry out more violence.

A campus visit and a drop off of his stuff saw him heading back to New York, he knew Peggy was still at Stark’s building and departing with the man himself that night, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t have lunch before he returned to pack up the rest of his apartment. He had even more clothes at Peggy’s than his own place. Officially they had said all their goodbyes the night before. Well, more to the point, the whole two days before; most of which they spent in her apartment, in her bed, only leaving for food or the bathroom. ‘Prolonging the inevitable,’ she said. Meetings meant she had another day on American soil and he was going to grab whatever free minutes she had if he could as it would be literally ‘God knows how long’ before he saw her again, and that shit stunk!

He knew Stark’s staff well enough to know that the girl at the front desk – Sheila – loved him, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he brought her a bagel from the bakery a block over every time he called in unannounced.

“They’re in a meeting Mr Barnes,” she said with a false stern look on her face, even as she accepted the warm baked goods covered in cream cheese wrapped in a paper bag.

“Oh I promise I won’t interrupt, I’ll just loiter outside her office ‘til they let me in.”

She rolled her eyes, but smiled.

“Fine, you know where it is by now I assume.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he charmed with a smile.

She shooed him on and he all but bounced to the elevator. He was happy, or at least excited for what was to come. Even if Peggy was going to be gone for a few months, he knew it was good for them to have time apart a little. It allowed them both to still be their own people, fiercely independent as they were, before reuniting to be stronger together.

He should have known that the other shoe was about to drop. Life wasn’t kind and certainly it wasn’t kind to him. It was a trick, a way of making him feel safe and secure, right when they fired the bullet.

The bullet hit his chest in the form or what he saw through the glass walls of her office, her secretary Nina oblivious to how his world was slowly crumbling. He was sweating and he felt as if someone was sitting on his chest.

Arnim Zola standing with a group of men in Peggy’s office, smiling, happy – alive. Shaking her hand. Shaking Stark’s hand.

What the fuck was going on?!

Suddenly it was 1944. Suddenly he was back on that table, the injections, the knives, the shocks and the tests. He couldn’t breathe.

“Mr. Barnes, are you alright? Do you want some water? Mr. … Mr. Barnes?”

He knew he was scaring her. Given how he felt he was sure he was blanched white, sweating, and his laboured breaths probably weren’t helping to calm her nerves.

“Well … Gentlemen thank you for–” Peggy opened the door mid-sentence, spotted Bucky, and her face once impassive changed to concern. “Bucky? Is everything alright?”

He looked to her, then to the man on her left. That little turd of a human being, standing there all smug and evil, utterly evil, and with Peggy of all people. He was sure his brain was imploding.

“What … Peggy what …” he couldn’t breathe. The man met his eyes and he could see him repressing a smile.

“Sergeant Barnes, you look a little unwell.”

Peggy then looked from Bucky to Zola – realisation hitting her like a flying brick.

“No…”

The little man moved back then, as if standing behind her would save him. It wouldn’t.

He wasn’t sure how he did it, or how he got past Peggy without hurting her, but the next thing he knew he was bloody and wrecked, his knuckles raw, and Zola was flying through the double glass of the large corner office Peggy worked out of. There was screaming and attempts to stop him, and those that did got the business end of his fists too. The only thing he truly registered was the look on her face, the gun in her hand, and the throbbing pain in his side.

She tranquilised him.

Peggy was breathless and stunned, not as much as the now unconscious Bucky had been, but stunned nonetheless. The scientist laying half dead on her office floor, surrounded by the remains of the conference table, several chairs, so much blood and glass, still somehow managed to look smug through broken teeth and a smashed nose. The little fucker smiled.

“Magnificent.”

Peggy kicked him in the face just for that, knocking him out cold.

She signaled to her agents to move Barnes to the sick bay, and for an ambulance to be called for Zola.

“Agent Carter?” Stark signalled for her, moving down the hall.

“Stark, what the hell is happening right now? We were promised scientists with no contact with American soldiers, that was the deal, a deal might I fucking remind you–”

“Peggy, you don’t need to remind me,” he said harshly, ushering her into his larger office and slamming the door behind them.

“I’m going to anyway. I hated this idea, it disgusts me, and you know it does and just how much. I want nothing from these men, less so now that it’s obvious he has a connection – a connection we both now know the content of to … Bucky … to Steve!”

Stark was pacing, a whiskey in his hand, and Peggy helped herself to a shot of gin to calm her nerves.

“I can’t be a part of this, if he’s the one responsible for–”

“I understand that, but we need him.”

“Like hell we do!”

He looked at her then, stern, unmoving, but she wasn’t having it.

“No, Stark, no.”

“Peggy–”

“No, alright? That’s my input as co-director, a position you urged me to take, remember? I was happy enough as an agent on the ground but now you have me in the big chair making bigger decisions. This man is responsible for experiments on American soldiers–”

“One.”

“Excuse me?”

One American. Rather, one that survived. We never knew who it was.” He ran his hand through his thoroughly slicked hair. “Until now that is.”

Peggy forced herself to sit.

“You knew.”

“I knew some, not all. I wanted to talk to him – to Barnes – about it but I do value my life and if the state of our office and of Zola is any indication what he was juiced with was … intriguing.”

“Stark, he’s a person you’re talking about not a zoo animal.”

“Which is why you just tranq’d him like a rogue lion, Carter?”

She stood then, balling her hands into fists. He saw it and smartly retreated behind his desk.

“Rather than have him murder a man on my office floor? Because you know he wasn’t going to stop, and I won’t have him ruin his life over that man, not again.”

“You knew about the torture?”

She shook her head.

“I knew parts of the story, from Steve and from James. Never the full extent from either of them, and the files were destroyed in the fire when they escaped the first time. I just … never wanted it to be what I knew it was. A part of me held on to hope that whatever they did to him – whoever it was –  that it failed.”

“If it failed he’d be dead, long dead.”

“I can’t do this with you now, I need to see him.”

Stark nodded as she placed her empty glass on his coffee table.

“We’re wheels up at six, just a reminder.”

She paused in the doorway, wanting so badly to give him a piece of her mind, or a piece of her fists. She chose a different route and stormed out and down the twenty floors to the underground medical bay.

Bucky opened his eyes and there was a ceiling, lights, bright and white.

Panic flooded him before he felt her hand on his.

“Hey.”

He squinted, turning to look at her.

“You shot me.”

“I did.”

“Hurt … good aim though.” He spoke, rubbing the area she shot – they both knew that bruise was going to hurt.

“Peggy–”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

He just shook his head, pulling away from her to try and sit up, “My head feels foggy. How much juice was in that dart?”

“Enough to knock out an elephant. Sorry again.”

“He dead?”

The cold unfeeling way in which he spoke ran through her, as did the fact that he wouldn’t look at her as he sat up on the hospital bed.

“Would it make you happy if he were?”

He didn’t react.

“No, he’s in hospital – from what I gather it’s three broken ribs, two broken arms, six missing teeth, a broken nose–”

“I get it, I did some damage.”

“Some? Part of his face is still sitting on my carpet.”

“Send me the dry cleaning bill then,” he said coolly, standing up and flexing his shoulders til he heard a pop.

“You hardly have a scratch on you.”

“Yeah…”

Bucky–”

“You shook his hand, Peggy. You smiled at him and you shook his Goddamn hand. Do you have any idea what those hands did to me? Do you? For days they … he … they kept me there and they injected me and poked at me with knives and tools, and more injections that felt like acid being poured into my veins. They hooked me up to machines, in my brain, in my body, they took me out and painted me with something, I don’t even know what, and they stuffed me back in. So I know that you’re sorry, I see it in your face, but right now I don’t give a damn. You shook his hand, Peg.”

“I didn’t know he was the one that … had you. There’s another war, a very real one on going and we need to use what we have at our disposal, every opportunity to gain an advantage is a plus for the people caught in the crossfire!” She hated how much she  sounded like Howard in that moment.

He sighed, stuffing his feet in his shoes that sat underneath the bed.

“No, maybe you didn’t know it was at his hand that I suffered, but you knew he’d had others, he’d been top tier in torture Peggy, and look, I know the job isn’t easy. I see the bruises and the weariness when you come home. You think I don’t but I do. I figured you’d talk about it when you were ready, but this, you’re working with the enemy; the one that we sacrificed so much to stop – that Steve sacrificed his life to stop. So you’ll have to excuse me if I fail to understand right now what the fuck you think you’re doing for the good of the people here.”

He pulled on his now torn jacket that hung by the door, still refusing to look at her.

“So this is it then, you’re just leaving?”

Still he didn’t answer her.

“Jesus, James answer me!”

“What do you want me to say, Peggy?!” he yelled loud enough that the nurse entering the room made a swift exit, closing the door behind her again. “I knew the job came with restrictions but I never thought you’d outright keep this from me, and if you’re keeping this from me … well…” he huffed a breath, sarcasm rife in his tone. “Is there anything else you’re keeping from me?”

She knew she should have told him there and then, but her original reasoning stood, what would have been the point had the search continued to be as fruitless as it had been since ‘45? Instead, she stayed silent, not wanting to hurt him more. He knew there was something, the hurt on his face said it all, and she suddenly wanted to shoot something.

“I need to go. We’ll … I don’t know … talk later I guess.” He shook his head as he reached for the door handle.

“I … I’m wheels up in three hours; you know I have to go, right?” she didn’t know what to say, but she knew that was probably the wrong thing, a sort of threat wasn’t the way to deal with him then, and she screwed it up anyway.

“Yeah, Peggy, I know. The job as always comes first. Believe me, I know.” He walked slowly from the room, calm – almost eerily so. There was no shouting, no door slamming and she was sure that the calm was worse, at least when they were passionate in their arguments there was hope.

In that moment, and the ones that followed she felt no such hope.

                                                                       ***

The bar was deserted; just him and a few old drunks drowning their sorrows. He had switched from whiskey to rum, the warm feel of it burning his throat in that almost uncomfortable way. He remembered the last time he’d had rum, before a war, before his life changed in every direction, before his righteous sickly friend became a national icon, before … before.

“You stole this didn’t you?”

He just shrugged.

“Buck? You stole it didn’t you? You did, I know you did, no way you affording a bottle of this – not this week. Hell, not any week,” Steve reasoned from his place on the couch. They sat in the living room – or rather the small square inside the front door before you hit the bedroom and outside the kitchen, but it was a living room for all intents and purposes. Every window in the place was open. It was mid-August the year Bucky turned nineteen, and it was the hottest one on record since the old guys started keeping records. The boys were baking; every apartment on the block was wide open, people practically living on their fire escapes. Arguments, conversations, dogs barking, babies crying, it all filtered through now and then, but for the most part it was the sounds of the city, considering how far up their place was.

“It’s a treat. Don’t we deserve a treat now and then?” he asked, yanking the bottle back out of Steve’s hands. His friend just rolled his eyes.

“I guess.”

“You guess? Steve we work hard, we’ve got to play hard when we can.”

“And playing hard is shot gunning stolen rum?” The incredulous look on his face was expected, their idea of fun was tame by anyone’s standards.

“You gotta take the kicks where you get ‘em, kid.”

“You know I hate that, you’re a year older than me, technically eleven months and a few weeks, but whatever. Don’t call me kid.”

Bucky just smirked, ruffling Steve’s hair as he got up to shut the window closest to him.

“Bucky, fuckin’ stop that shit.”

It did nothing but give him the giggles.

“Sorry … sorry…”

He wasn’t even a little sorry. Steve sometimes was a surly drunk and drunken Bucky found that endlessly amusing.

“Why you shuttin’ my window?”

“Because it’s hot as balls but you’re two weeks from a bad attack and not for nothin’ but I don’t want to be stuck stuffing you under a sink of hot steam in this heat, so deal with it.”

“A chill won’t kill me, not in this heat.”

“Yeah, we’re not taking that chance, no argument.”

Steve just rolled his eyes.

It got him a couch cushion to the head for his trouble, which he threw back right away, missing Bucky by a mile because his aim sober was shit – drunk it was even worse.

“Ugh no. Bye,” he said, pulling himself up off the lumpy second hand couch that they’d gotten when they moved in since it was still in place from the previous owner. Steve stumbled over to the bed – a bed – their bed really. It had been fashioned in a sense, the two singles pushed together to make a double. At first the reasoning was innocent enough, it got real cold in winter and it made sense to compile their blankets and pillows and what have you. For a long time neither would admit any other reasoning behind the shift. That was until six months before when Steve had almost got himself killed – again. This time over a girl named Sera, or Sheila, he wasn’t sure anymore, either way she was being harassed and of course Steve – King of bad choices – decided he could take two guys twice his size.

He couldn’t, and he got his ass kicked. He stumbled home half broken, again, and Bucky stitched him up, again. He was getting real good with a needle, if he did say so himself.

It was after that, after the arguments, the silence from Steve, the ‘what are you trying to do, prove how big a man you are?’ speeches, that when they settled down for the night, still silently ignoring the other that Steve took matters, and Bucky into his own hands. He’ll never forget how scared he was, how he could feel his heart doing the freakin’ polka in his chest when Steve faced him, looking at him in nothing but the orange light through the window from the street lamp outside. He studied him for a long time, his brows knitted together until Bucky eventually told him to quit it, “Take a picture Rogers, it’ll last longer, now shut your eyes and sleep…”

He didn’t though, instead he just reached over, putting his cold hand to Bucky’s warm face – getting warmer as the flush of fear and excitement and danger flooded through him.

“Rogers, I swear to God.”

“Shut up, okay? Just … shut up,” he whispered back before Bucky gave up the fake sleep he was in and opened his eyes too. The breath knocked out of his lungs when he saw a look on Steve’s face he’d never seen before.

“Steve–”

“Why do you take care of me?” he asked, softly, almost inaudibly.

Bucky swallowed hard.

“What? Shut up and go to sleep, Jesus.”

“Why do you take care of me, Buck?”

Because I love you, because you’re my best friend, because I love you.

“Because you’re an idiot, that’s why. Now go to fuckin’ sleep.”

He heard Steve sigh, turning away from him, and for a second he thought he’d won that round. Steve still didn’t know, wouldn’t know, and Bucky closed his eyes again. Except, Steve was Steve and Steve was a little shit that didn’t know when to give up. He turned back to face Bucky again and this time he made it known that he was wanting his attention by poking him in the chest.

That got annoying real fast.

“Jesus Harry Christ, Rogers, what?!”

Why do you take care of me?!”

Maybe he was concussed, maybe his brain just got bashed one too many times. Either way, he wasn’t giving up and he wasn’t backing down. There was a sinking feeling in Bucky’s stomach that it was now or never.

It was now, it was then. Instead of answering him with words he did something – else.

He grabbed Steve by the back of the neck and kissed him, once, softly but with enough oomph to send the message. He backed away, awaiting the punch in the jaw that never came.

“I … I take care of you because that’s just how it is, you take care of me too, and that’s just how it is. It’s you and me … no matter how much I try to shake it. It’s you … and me. Got that?” He wasn’t sure even he got that, but he was in a state of shock at himself in that moment.

Steve was beet red, even lit up only by the fading orange light outside. His mouth was agape, but not in a bad way, not in that righteous pained away it got when he saw something that upset him.

Oh…”

“Yeah, oh.”

Flight or fight was rushing through Bucky in that moment, so very unsure of what happened next. Thankfully though, he didn’t have to decide what happened next because Steve just smiled that stupidly endearing smile where he ducked his head and blinked, right before he put his hand on Bucky’s face again, this time with purpose.

Steve leaned in and brushed his lips against his, once, twice, warm and wet and so unsure. Neither of them had closed their eyes, not at first, but then, he figured being the one that initiated this he should show him the ropes. The last person Steve had practiced kissing with was Mandy Gold in seventh grade. After that, it was all bets off between them. Messy make out sessions and a lot of rubbing against each other ‘til orgasm right up until that night with the rum. Maybe it was Dutch courage, maybe it was plain stupid, he would never know. All he knew was he associated rum with a good memory, one he never wanted to forget.

                                               ***

“I’m drunk.” Steve announced from his side of the bed, pillow over his face.

“Yes you are,” Bucky agreed because, well, he wasn’t a liar.

“So drunk. Drinkity drunk. Ha that’s funny. Am I funny drunk or a stupid drunk?”

“A funny stupid drunk, which you know, is weird since you’re so aggressive sober, you’d think you’d be a fucking cracker drunk, but nope – all maudlin and pun-cracking and handsy.”

Tut.”

“Don’t tut at me, you know you’re handsy.”

Steve just glared from his spot on the bed as Bucky moseyed over, wobbly as it were, almost finished bottle still in hand.

“You’re just as bad as me don’t lie.”

“Not gonna,” he said throwing himself on the squeaky mattress with little to no grace. “I’m all hands, and mouth and everywhere else.” He smiled to himself, because well, alcohol.

He put the bottle down on the floor before returning to his original position, on his side of the bed, facing Steve.

“Hey Steve?”

“Hm?”

“Wanna make out?”

“With you?” Steve’s disgusted look got him a pillow in the face before both of them started laughing, Steve slowly taking Bucky’s hand in his. “If we’re gonna, we need to close the widows and stuff.”

The fear, it never fully went away, he hated that, hated that nothing intimate between them could be spontaneous. Begrudgingly, he got up and shut the windows, leaving one ajar, but closed the curtains.

He got as far as the bed before Steve, using just about all the strength he possessed, pulled him down beside him, though he moved instantly on top of him, arms wrapped around his neck, lips to lips. He smelled like his soap and the rum, and in that moment Bucky loved both of those smells more than anything.

“Hi…” Steve said with a lopsided drunken smile, which Bucky was sure he matched as he spoke the same word before kissing him again, hard and fast, pushing him onto the pillow, straddling him as gently as possible.

Hi,” he breathed out, their chests touching.

“You don’t have to be so easy on me,” Steve spoke, gasping from just being gently tussled to the mattress again. “I can take it…” his mouth said their wrestling, his eyes said everything else Bucky wanted to give him.

“Yeah I’ll bet you could,” Bucky groaned, grinding down on his friend; both of them sadly still wearing pants. His hands on Steve’s belt started to take care of that issue though, “But no.”

Steve just huffed. Bucky didn’t give a damn if he pouted about it – in fact he kind of liked it when he did. Fact was when they messed around they never went further than touching and sucking each other off. At first, it was chalked up to just that, messing around, some release, to pass the time. But neither of them was as stupid or as naive as they pretended to be at times like right then. And that night, everything changed. They didn’t stop after sucking each other off.  They didn’t stop at the licking and touching and opening the other up and making them come all over themselves, squirm and moan into the pillow below them, no, that night was different.

“I don’t … don’t … want to stop, never wanna stop-” Incoherency was a thing with them, Bucky realised as he gasped for air as Steve worked him over with his mouth again. Beyond stifling moans and gasps as best they could – paper thin walls were the devil, there wasn’t much talk until after, that night after became the before of everything else. Bucky wouldn’t fuck Steve, as much as he really, really wanted to. They both knew the risks were greater and that Bucky weighed a lot more than Steve regardless of any of the health issues tossed into the mix. That didn’t mean he didn’t want Steve to be the one to fuck him, but Steve was still on his stubborn streak, insisting that he could take everything Bucky could give him, and then some. Bucky didn’t trust himself to be as gentle as he needed to be in the heat of the moment, so it was a solid no, with the option to be the one to do the fucking.

Bucky huffed at his friend, enticing him with a leering led conversation on how he didn’t know a man this side of Brooklyn he’d need to ‘actively convince to fuck me like I gotta fucking convince you, if you don’t want me I know more than enough men that would gladly take me.’ Steve, being the possessive little bastard that he was, took the bait and began working Bucky into a frenzy.

Bucky trembled, staring glassy eyed at Steve as he pushed his fingers inside him, covered in Vaseline and providing every nerve in his body with a tingling heavenly sensation.  Bucky kept himself rigid, gasping and moaning as the warmth coiling in his belly ebbed and flowed forcing him to shut his eyes and bite his lip to keep his sounds down. That night, having Steve inside him – essentially losing his virginity to Bucky – though neither of them would talk about exactly what it meant to both of them – a conversation he regretted not having every day since. The laughs and the awkwardness of it all somehow didn’t matter, not to them, nothing about the faltered rhythm or leg cramps or the fact that Steve bit his tongue so hard his eyes watered… None of it mattered more than what they had decided to trust each other enough to do together. He had wanted to hold on to him afterward, after they had reached for the wet cloth by the bed and wiped each other down and struggled to find the energy to just climb under the blankets together. He had so desperately wanted to tell him how he felt – how much he loved him. But the words died in his throat, and the sparkly fucked-out look in Steve’s eyes faded out to a memory of the last time he saw him, that last day before they set off on what would be his suicide mission.

Bucky woke up with a hangover and filled with nothing but regret. Regret for Steve, and now fresh regret for Peggy, the happy memory of those two idiot boys in Brooklyn fading with the sun as he realised he had slept most of the day having drunk his body weight in rum the night before.

Regret, it tasted bitter, as usual.

Notes:

Uh-oh?? I’ll say this, next chapter should feature another old friend, this one a lot more welcome than the last though 😉

Chapter 10: Who’s Saving You?

Summary:

Bucky gets kissed unexpectantly, Peggy could rule the world, and Howard finds something in the ice.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

In the month that he had been taking classes, he was happy to find he had fallen into a routine of sorts – though a boring one at that. Classes, library, food, sleep, reading – lather, rinse, repeat – for four whole weeks. Not that he was complaining; he could have used a little boring to come down from the utter panic he had felt constantly after the incident with Zola, and subsequently with Peggy.

Peggy.

God, he knew deep down that she didn’t mean to betray him in any way, least of all in that way, least of all in the worst way possible. But in his mind – in his fucked up, Zola diddled mind – he felt betrayed and angry and devastated, all of which was directed at her and her actions. So angry was he in fact that when the letter came to his dorm addressed to him in what was her perfectly meticulous hand, he threw it in the trash. He threw it in the trash, took a walk around the university, came back, and took it out of the trash. It sat, staring at him from his cork board ever since. His anger at her had faded, slowly, and it was replaced by a dull empty ache of loss, something he wasn’t sure he could deal with, or if he even knew how.

“Hey Bucky?” A knock came to his door that was shortly followed by a head and a smiley face that belonged to Jack Grimes, a second year teaching assistant in one of his psych classes. He was around Bucky’s age, closer to it anyway than the other Freshmen in his class that was, and so the two had found each other and enabled a coffee addiction in the other from week one.

“Hey we’re heading down to the diner in a bit, just me and Tommy and his roommate Cal. We were wondering if you’d wanna go? You eat right? I’ve never seen you eat, I told them you exist on coffee and despair alone…”

Yeah, he was a smartass.

“I eat,” he deadpanned, getting a grin in return.

“Well I’ll be damned,” he grinned. “If you wanna eat with other humans, you know, for a change, we’re going in fifteen, because Cal is a momma’s boy and needs to finish his letter to her first. God forbid he miss a week of filling her in on every droll detail of his life…” he rolled his eyes at this Cal, making Bucky smile.

“Sure thing, I’m starving actually.”

“Excellent, come get in five, ‘k?”

Bucky nodded and his … friend? Classmate? Sorta-tour-guide? Well, Jack, at any rate, left with a smile. He’d met Jack on the first day; his lost-freshman look he said didn’t suit a guy so old. He could have taken offense, except that it was painfully true. Bucky wasn’t straight out of high school, he was straight out of a factory where he went straight out of a world war. These … kids … though they were only a few years younger, they seemed to be a different species. Kind of like in the comics he read as a kid, you know, before he became a character in a comic himself.

He never allowed himself to think of today’s kids seeing him as some kind of hero, it didn’t much sit well with him. Steve on the other hand, yeah he was the hero.

As it turns out Jack and his crew were sort of great, like really great. Great in the sense that they clearly knew his name, knew his reputation, but unlike his next door dorm neighbour and those three terrifying freshmen girls, they never mentioned Steve, or the Commandos, or the war even. It was pretty great to just pretend to be a regular guy, even for a while.

“And this mook, well he just up and fell right in, it was like watching something in a movie I swear to God–” Jack began, but stopped when he started to laugh.

“I realised it was happening and it was as if I was powerless to stop, and so yeah, I ended up face first in a rather large batch of cow manure, which can I just say, took three showers and most of my sister’s fancy soap to scrub off.”

“Yeah, you smelled real ladylike for a few days, which made a change from smelling like shit like you usually do – only then I guess it wasn’t you shit-”

“You’re so funny, oh wait, no – you’re not.” Cal – the self-professed mamma’s boy – was also it seems a bit of a klutz. It made for some good stories though. He hadn’t recalled laughing with a bunch of men since … well since the fireside adventures of Dugan and the crew from their time tramping around Europe. Those chats never had the carefree, safe feeling he had in that diner, but they were still amazing.

“You’ll get used to them, you know? I mean if you don’t make many freshmen buds, we’re always around. We know the place too so if you’re ever lost just come get one of us or somethin’ you know?” Jack offered as they walked back to the dorm building. “As a TA I get my own dorm too, and let me tell you, you lucked out getting it as a freshman, people would … I’m pretty sure, kill, for one of those.” He smiled and nodded as if to make his point, his floppy dirty blonde hair moving with him.

“Oh yeah?”

“Hell yeah, I mean not for nothing  but my freshman roomie was a doll-dizzy fat head whose father was loaded. I didn’t get a minute’s peace to study never mind sleep. I knew though, I was here on my own dime, well, and a scholarship and my family’s piece of the money puzzle too but we weren’t loaded like he was. It was a nightmare.” He rolled his eyes at the memory.

Bucky could see how that would be annoying though he was instantly reminded – as most things tended to do – of Steve and his pouty face before they became a thing, how angry he got but tried to hide it. Bucky fed off that anger for longer than he cared to admit, even to himself.

“Yeah, so you don’t have a girl then?” They had reached the steps, Bucky’s room was to the left, Jack’s to the right, they took the stairs two at a time each, still holding conversation.

“Me? Oh, nah, I uh … I gotta focus, you know? I get a lot of guys are lookin’ for a wife before their balls even drop but I’ve got plans first.”

“Smart.”

“What uh … I mean, do you?”

Bucky raised a brow before the other man continued. The hallways were all but empty now, and eerie at times he thought.

“Do you have a girl I mean, not that it’s my business but since we’re talkin and you don’t wear a ring … and a good lookin’ guy like you is bound to have someone right?”

Bucky just grinned, pushing the weight of all his Peggy shaped pain down as far as it would go.

“Uh, no I guess.”

“You guess? That sounds … confusing.”

He just shook his head.

“I mean I did, but now I don’t.”

“Rough breakup?”

No, not really, there was no official breakup, which really made things that much worse – if they could even get that way.

“I guess it’s complicated.”

The other man merely nodded before patting him on the shoulder.

“It’s rough, I get that. If you need to … I was gonna say talk but that would be weird right? I mean talking to me about your breakup? That’s … yeah that’s weird so I’m not gonna say that, but I will say that me and the guys are going to this club in the city on Saturday – one of the weekends I’m not training after classes, so we’re gonna take advantage. If … I mean if you’re not busy you should come.” He laughed, and it was clear to Bucky then the guy was nervous. He hadn’t meant to intimidate the man. So he agreed, if he could get started on his essays and such, he would take a few hours and go dancing. In truth his heart just wasn’t in it like theirs were. His heart was pretty much broken and unable to step up for much other than keeping him alive, mores the pity, he thought sometimes.

He got back to his room, lit only by the small lap by his small bed and he glanced as he always did at the letter pinned to the board. Maybe he’d work up the courage of heart to read it, but right then wasn’t the right time. Instead he passed out on the bed a few minutes later still in his clothes.

                                                           (())

A week sorting out a mess at the SHIELD base in London had derailed Peggy’s schedule completely. Howard was suspiciously MIA on and off once more, and that left her with the handful of new agents who were as wet behind the ears as a bloody mermaid. Leaving her with only two other competent agents that she had all but nabbed from the London office for assistance, she knew from the outset that setting up the new base in Switzerland was going to be a tough one.

She knew she was being a crotchety old cow to everyone involved, and she had scared off Ron the translator more than once in the six weeks since she’d been on the ground, but really, he was a bit of an idiot anyway. It wasn’t her fault that she had to be the one to point it out!

“MARIA?!” she bellowed from her office, paper threatening to trap her there in an avalanche of former trees.

“Yes Ma’am?” The blonde’s head popped around the door a second later, pushing as hard as she could to even get the thing to open. God, she needed three pairs of hands.

“First of all, stop calling me that, second of all what are you doing out there?”

“Well I–”

“Is it saving a life or somehow annoying Howard?”

“Neither of those things Ma’a … Peggy.”

She smiled then, finally looking up from the three smallish stacks of paper on her desk.

“Excellent, far be it from me to stop you from either of those things. Cancel whatever it is you are actually doing and while you’re at it, grab Ron, we need to sort out these files and those intel briefings and those … you know what, we need to just sort this bloody place out. Okay?”

The blonde nodded before smiling and exiting the room. She would return five minutes later with Ron and Barry, the newest hire from the week before. He was a data analyst, and somehow she had convinced him that sorting the data was the first task before analysing it.

Peggy liked Maria Collins Carbonell very much; she could bullshit as well as Peggy but not half as much as Howard. She was glad she’d nabbed her from London.

                                               ***

She was exhausted, which wasn’t so unusual, but what was unusual for her was the heavy heart that kept her company after work. She hadn’t felt this heartbroken since the war, since Steve, and even then it was somehow less of a heartbreak of losing him as a partner and lover as it was all the possibilities she lost with him. This was different. Even her first love hadn’t made her heart hurt as much as Bucky Barnes had by his deafening silence. It had taken her four tries before she had finished a draft of the letter it would then take her three trips to the post box to actually post, the least he could do she thought, was reply. Even if it was to tell her that she was a fucking idiot and he never wanted to see her again, it would, she imagined, be less painful than the silence.

Peggy hated silence. The record player was her company most nights, that and the endless reading she had to do for work, after work.

‘The job always comes first, believe me, I know.’

His words had echoed in her head since that day, the day with Zola and the whole mess. A mess that sent Stark on one of his no-sleep binges off in search of files long since lost, determined to find out what possible derivative they could have given Bucky, off no doubt in cahoots with Zola himself much to her disgust.

“Any personal mail?” She asked Ellie the next morning, and unsurprisingly there was none. Ellie was a new recruit, a native of their current location in Geneva.

“No, but there are three separate telegrams from Mr. Stark,” she said, placing them and a new stack of papers on her desk. “Your next round of interviews starts at one. Maria reminded me to remind you to eat beforehand otherwise no one will be good enough.”

That earned her a sharp look to which the girl held her now free hands up in defense.

“Her words…”

“Yes, thank you Ellie.”

The girl, and she was a girl, no more than nineteen, was tall – lanky she even might say – beyond uncomfortable in a skirt and Peggy knew how that felt. She had shoulder length black hair and dark brown eyes against the palest skin Peggy had recalled since her own. She was sweet day to day and whip sharp, speaking four languages and excelling at field work all proven within the six week evaluation period.

She was a keeper.

Finding the male counterparts however was proving to be a task in and of itself.

Was it her fault that her standard was Steve Rogers and James Barnes?

Not really, no.

                                                           *****

He drank a bottle of whatever it was that Jack kept in his room. They had mapped out three papers and gone over notes for two classes. He remembered none of it. He was pretty sure his handwriting was just scribbles, and by the time he all but stumbled back to his side of the corridor, he was a little giddy.

And stupid.

Mostly stupid.

Because right then was when he deemed himself brave enough to open the damn letter.

Not his finest moment, admittedly.

James,’ she’d started, her loopy elegant hand neat and pretty just like her from the off, ‘with how we left things and with Howard’s obsessive thing with keeping time in the air, it left me little choice but to do this on paper rather than in person as I would have liked. Not that I would have liked saying these things in any medium … regardless of how it’s said, I feel the need to say it once more.

I am sorry.

I’m sorry for what happened to you, I am sorry we failed to protect you and so many others in that time, from those men, and I am sorry I failed to protect you from him today.  Barnes, you’re an important part of my life, and if my job, my promise to the people, makes it seem like you don’t matter then you’re wrong. I don’t have all the answers, or even all the questions, but I’m bloody well sure going to keep asking them. If that means that’s it for us, then so be it.’ She had attached an address and a secure line number, ending it with a phrase where she leaned extra heavy on her pen, ‘Hope to hear from you soon, Love Carter.’

God he missed her, he loved her and he missed her. He was tired of missing people he loved.

So, he did the second or maybe third (if you counted drinking whatever moonshine shit Jack offered him and he was definitely counting it) stupid thing of the night and left the dorm, letter in hand, and found his way to the exit level where the payphone was situated. Thankfully at that time of the morning the phone was free, as was the hallway. He cleared his throat and pushed back the tears that were burning to break free, and he spoke clearly to the operator asking to be connected for such a long distance call. He attempted to calculate the time difference and failed. He figured it was later than it was there but not so late as to be offensive.

Besides, it was an intelligence agency, they had people to answer their phones – he assumed.

The phone rang for a while, and his nerves hiked with each passing second before a sweet sounding girl answered the call.

“Uhm, may I speak with Pe – Agent Margaret Carter please?”

“May I ask who is calling?”

“Barnes,” was all he offered, and it was apparently enough.

“One moment please, sir.”

There was some clicking and then some more ringing, and then he heard her voice. First time in a month he remembered, taking a deep breath.

“James?”

“Peggy, hey.”

“Uh … hello?” she sounded unsure and it wasn’t like he could blame her, she’d gone six weeks thinking he had finished things with her without a word.

“I’m an idiot,” he admitted right off the bat.

She laughed lightly at that before speaking, “Usually I would disagree, but then usually it doesn’t take you almost two months to–”

“I just read the letter tonight,” he confessed breathlessly, sliding against the wall, fishing more change out of his pockets.

Oh … I see.”

“I wanted to, before, but I was angry and I almost threw it away because I was so angry.”

“I am sorry, I meant that–”

“I know you did, Carter. I know you didn’t mean … that it wasn’t done to hurt me, and hey, the asshole is the only person alive that knows what they did to me so maybe it’s a sign.”

“A sign of what exactly?”

“That I can’t keep running from this, this … the only nightmare I’ve had since ’45. It’s honestly … I … it terrifies me, Peg. What he did to me, what it did to me, what it’s DOING to me.”

“Bucky … what do you think it’s doing to you?” she asked, softly, full of concern.

“I think it’s killing me,” he confessed for the first time, and a weight lifted from him in that moment. He heard her gasp then, though she attempted to hide it. He heard a sniffle too, and that set him off again, the fucking tears stinging so hard he just let them fall.

“I think it’s killing me from the inside out, Peggy and I’m so scared to find out if I’m right. I haven’t felt like me since that day Steve dragged me off that table and he … he was the only one I told exactly what they did to me … and even he had no idea of just how bad it was.” He was silently sobbing then, as was she and for a few seconds neither of them could speak.

“I’m coming home,” Peggy said then, her voice strong as ever. “I … have stuff here but it can wait.”

“Peggy, no.”

“Yes, this is important … you … God, you have to know you’re more important to me than–”

“I do know, I do, I was just angry. Peggy I got with you knowing you aren’t the girl that’s gonna chain herself to a damn stove and try to please the world with tradition and it’s a huge part of why I love you. Your job is to save the world, and you’re doing that, end of conversation.”

“But if I’m saving the world, who’s saving you?”

He smiled then, picturing her resolved face, feeling lighter by the second. They stayed on the line for about an hour after she called him back. Had he known he would have gotten a hell of a lost more change to keep the conversation going, but as it stood they resorted to her calling him. She finally agreed not to rush home, that now that things were better – not perfect or fixed, but better between them – he assured her he was going to be fine. He was working through some stuff, and being alone made that easier. She understood, she was a hell of a woman really, and he knew that too. They agreed on times for calls, and that he would write now that he had extracted his head from his ass.

It was good to make her laugh again, he could picture her hiding her mouth with her hands in the way that she did, even though she had a beautiful smile.

                                                           ****

“How many dead?” Peggy asked as Dugan came to her side, and Morita, Jones, Falsworth and Dernier took the perimeter. The latter members of the former Howling Commandos had been a score on her part. Bringing them back for SHIELD had landed her brownie points with Stark, as well as those from the SSR funding the division. It gave her unit gravitas and recognition, as well as a battlefield connection to their cash cow that was the Captain America persona, one they kept milking at home still for all its nostalgic worth.

“Twenty-four so far, sixteen captured. They’re being brought back for interrogation as we speak, the rest of the files have been blasted or lost – we have Falsworth and Jones heading there after a border check.”

Peggy nodded, noting the clearing in front of her. At first it was just a field, one with a steep hill – a hill that opened up to a secret Hydra base. It had taken them six hours to take the entire base and its operatives, not her best time by a long shot, but one that showed the new recruits the basics without the safety net of a training exercise. Some, she noted, were ashen and shocked looking as they sat on the grass together.

“Fine job then, get them some water will you? I’m sure Gold is going to pass out and I’m not carrying her arse back to camp.”

Dum-Dum smiled then, patting her hard on the back as normal, before going to see to the babes in the wood. Peggy assessed the damage and the loot once more. There were artifacts buried within the base, the same blue glow of the tesseract, and that in itself alarmed her more than she was trying to let on. They had liquefied it.

“Let’s clean up and ship out, shall we? We don’t have all day!” she announced to the rest of the agents on the ground. Stark had a standard clean-up crew for ops like this one, and they were due to arrive to whitewash their deeds here in ten minutes. Peggy liked to remain ignorant as to what that clean up actually entailed. She got the important items, and Hydra members to question. As far as she was concerned her job there was done for the day.

                                                           ***

“A toast then, to the birthday girl. May she get a good night’s sleep if nothing else!” Peggy announced as she stood at the table in what had become their regular bar back in Geneva, having travelled to the outskirts of Austria, they were all fit for nothing but a few drinks and nibbles the night of Ellie’s birthday. Maria had baked cupcakes though, so that was nice. In truth, Peggy just wanted to get back to her flat in town, and hopefully catch Bucky before class, though she tried to be a present friend and not a distracted one for as long as she could before she made her excuses and took her leave. With Stark still MIA she had another early start anyway and everyone understood.

                                               *****

“But you were trained for the same thing, Bucky!”

“No, it’s inherently different-”

“So you weren’t taken to a camp down south or whatever and trained to hit targets – targets that would become real men?”

“Yes but–”

“So then it’s the same thing, just from a different perspective you were their enemy,”  Jack argued with him, the same argument that had been going on for at least twenty minutes as they sat in his dorm room, planning Bucky’s end of term essay. He had chosen psychological war on the soldiers as a non-too subtle topic of research.

“There’s an immense difference between those who enjoy killing and those who have been conditioned to kill under specific circumstances. Military training does the latter. It allows you to overcome resistance to killing under orders. We didn’t just start sniping everyone around us in enemy territory, Jack.”

He held up his hands then, and the bottle of his poison, one that Bucky was sadly getting a taste for. He took a long slug before settling back down on the carpet again.

“Sorry Buck, you would know more than I would after all. You were there and lived it, I just read about it.”

The hairs on Bucky’s neck stood on edge when Jack called him by the name that only Steve ever used. He took levelled breaths trying to keep his face neutral.

“No, its fine. I mean we all lived it, right? All did our part.”

“I was too young just by a year to get the draft, my folks were so relieved.”

Bucky nodded. He understood that. Sadly, his folks were gone by the time he got back; pneumonia taking his mother, and a heart attack taking his father six months later. Those letters had been brutal. He remembered the nights he spent in Steve’s arms then, doing nothing but sobbing like a little kid.

“I still … I mean I know you talk about ‘Steve’ and we all pretend we don’t know who he really was.”

He got sharp then, hating that the legend meant more to people than the man.

“He was really just Steve, to the people that knew him at least. The Captain shit came later.”

His friend nodded, looking properly chastised.

“Sorry…”

“No … Shit, don’t mind me. I’m not drinking anymore; I’m a grumpy drunk, so Peggy says.”

Jack smiled.

“She sounds like a smart dame.”

“She is, terrifyingly so. She could rule the world I’m pretty sure.”

“You love her?” he asked, taking a swig.

That was an easy one.

“Yeah I really do,” he smiled, despite himself.

Jack took another large slug of the alcohol before asking something that would have floored Bucky, had he not been sitting on it.

“You love her like you love Steve?”

Bucky’s mouth fell agape, but before he could fully formulate an answer, Jack’s mouth was on his, kissing his softly, but aggressive enough to let him know what his ultimate intentions were.

Holy actual shit!

Bucky shot backward, eyebrows knitted together in obvious confusion.

“What the hell?!”

His friend just sighed.

“Come on Bucky, it’s obvious to me that you’re into guys too… I mean, Peggy sounds swell and all, but the way you talk about Captain America–”

Steve.”

“Steve … you were in love with him too, and I get what that’s like, to be in love with your best friend, but he doesn’t have to be the only guy for you.”

Bucky scrambled to his feet then, lifting his notebooks and stuffing them into his book bag.

“You have no clue what you’re talking about.” He was flustered and red, and sweating. He was pretty sure his heart was beating out of his chest too.

Jesus.

“Bucky, come on, you don’t have to lie to me. It’s okay, I went through something similar with my friend Mark. It was hell … I mean he wasn’t a national icon of war or a hero or anything that you guys are, but losing him still hurt–”

“Stop talking now.”

Why was he having such an issue getting the Goddamn books into the bag? The overwhelming urge to smash something was making him shake.

“Look, I’m sorry I just sprung this on you, but I figured you liked me too–”

He looked at him then.

“I do, you’re my friend, and I usually like my friends, it’s how we become friends you know? Christ, this is so over the line of anything–”

“I feel the chemistry and I know you do too. I’m just saying it doesn’t have to go ignored, I would never out you to anyone. Hell, I’m risking everything just by putting myself out here like this you know? But I figured you’d understand.”

Oh he understood all too damn well the risk of telling the truth. He wouldn’t do that to Steve, not when he wasn’t here to do it himself.

“I…”

“Bucky, I’m real sorry if I read this wrong okay? I just like you and I figured–”

“You figured wrong. I’m sorry, but nothing of what you said is even remotely true. Steve and I were best friends, brothers … nothing more. I’m sorry if you’re starting to believe the whispers of the freshmen girls in war history.” He felt the bile rise in his throat at the lie, but had no other option.

With that he finally got his shit together, and left as quietly as he could. He locked himself in his dorm for the next full day. He wasn’t sure how to face the world as a barefaced liar.

                                                           ****

Peggy was dead on her feet as Stark’s driver dropped her off at her door, a full two weeks before Christmas this time, and the first time she’d seen home in months. There was snow on the ground as she had expected, and the bitter cold did nothing to her warm heart at the sight of New York, the sight of Brooklyn. She pushed her way up the steps with her luggage trailing, fully expecting to come home to an empty house. Instead, she came home and caught him attempting to exit through the back.

“I was trying to not be here when you got back, but–”

“Hello to you too?” she offered as they stood now in her hallway, awkwardly.

“Hi,” he smiled and God that was a sight for sore eyes. “I uh … just wanted this place to be warm when you got in, also there’s food.”

She wanted to cry. It had been so long since someone had done something so nice and for just her.

“You … don’t have a key though.”

And he didn’t. After all their time together and apart, he didn’t have a key. Nothing official had ever been asked and she knew now that was a damn shame.

“As if that’s ever stopped me,” he said with a cheeky grin and God, she desperately wanted to kiss him.

“I … thank you for …” she waved her hand to her warm and inviting living room, lit by the roaring fire and enticing her in with the smell of what she knew was the delicious Irish Stew – Steve’s mother’s apparently – on the stove.

“No problem. I should go, I know you like some alone time when you come home from this sort of thing.”

She did, usually. To decompress, have a bath and some silence, before she attempted civilian life again. This was different though, she had been without him enough and his lingering told her he felt the same.

“Stay, eat with me. You’ve gone to all the trouble of cooking, and you should eat.” She slipped off her boots and her coat, discarding her luggage and padding into the kitchen to serve the food, he followed her silently.

They took their bowls and a seat each at her little nook, eating in the same silence for a few minutes. Peggy all but devoured her dinner.

“Good?” he asked with a smile before heading to the fridge to bring out the milk. He even remembered the milk!

“So ‘od,” she said with a mouthful, making him laugh.

“Good. Glad you like it.”

“Thank you again for … well … welcoming me home.”

He just shrugged.

“You never remember to buy food.”

She smiled then. He knew her well, sleep prioritised over food when she got home at first. A bad habit admittedly.

They had just started to talk about Bucky’s end of term exams when he shushed her, a serious look on his face.

Before she knew what was happening he had pushed her head into the wall to her right, dodging with her to miss a flying knife.

They both turned to see a man in black, including a balaclava wielding a Pistol Marakova and another knife. Peggy used her own customised blade she kept betwixt her thighs, stabbing him in the neck and knocking him sideways onto her couch. Before she could even react, Bucky had popped the floorboard in the kitchen, throwing her a weapon from the spare arsenal she kept there, and grabbing the two prototype USP’s Stark came out with that she kept taped to the back of her fridge, as well as a large butcher knife she kept in the drawer. He kept his finger to his lips, and they both heard it, the footsteps upstairs. They and he wasn’t alone.

That pissed her off. On the field was one thing, in her home on her goddamn night off was another completely.

They both took their places, her against the wall by the nook, shielded by the corner of the concrete wall, him by the door.

They waited quietly and sure enough the silent predator made his way downstairs, probably wondering where his mate had gone to. Bucky hit him first, a flat palm to the nose. She heard the distinct crack before he knocked him off his feet with a swipe, causing his AK to go off, forcing the couple to take cover to avoid being riddled. Just as they did four more men in masks barrelled down her narrow staircase and it was an all-out gun fight in her little two-up two-down in a dodgy street in Brooklyn. Peggy was well trained and she could take care of herself, but she had to admit, having him there fighting by her side gave her a thrill she wasn’t expecting. He was, without the training she had received, without SHIELD to ship him into shape, having not fired a weapon in almost a decade … he was – she thought back to Zola’s haunting word – though it was nothing if not fitting.

He really was magnificent.

As she snapped the final man’s neck and let him drop on her living room floor, she finally took a breath as Bucky took her stairs two at a time, before she went after him. They cleared out the rooms, but found the attic door open on the ceiling. They had been there, lying in wait.

Both of them winded, the adrenaline coursing through them, it took all her willpower not to jump him there and then. First she had to radio the clean-up crew; the six and a half minutes it took for them to arrive were the longest of her life, and Bucky’s by the looks of him – pacing. She understood the pacing, it was a difficult thing, violence. It induced adrenaline, and there was an instinct in you that was so wholly unfamiliar and felt like home all at once. It was as if your body was itching for release again and again, the only way to truly achieve it though, was to fight your way out of it, or fuck your way out of it. And she knew the option she was aiming for with him.

Three nondescript men in white coats came and within seven more minutes, her home was put to rights. The bodies and the blood soaked carpeting all removed without so much as a hello. Peggy often mocked Stark for his ways, but this was one in which she was utterly impressed.

It left her and Bucky though, standing alone, a little unsure of what to do in the now empty sterile space. Both of them battered, bruised, and bloodied, and it wasn’t until she had shoved him up against the living room door that he finally spoke.

“Oh thank Christ; I thought it was just me,” he said before sucking a hot kiss into her neck, making her squirm.

“No, definitely not just you. Take off your pants–” she gasped without so much a blush, needs must and all that.

She started in on his belt, yanking it hard so the metal made a sound on the now spotless wooden floor. His buttons were next, as he worked on pulling his blue sweater off, and starting roughly on his shirt buttons. Before she could slip off her stockings he had her grabbed tightly by her ass cheeks, pushing her against the wall, pushing her skirt up her thighs – his mouth never once leaving hers.

He ached for her in ways beyond the physical. He needed her then, her body, her mind, her words – just her. The empty pit in his stomach silent as she teased his earlobe between her teeth and he pushed inside of her. Little foreplay was necessary – apparently a good fight got Peggy going as much as it did him – and it was a frighteningly erotic thing to witness, Peggy Carter at her most feral.

Moving inside her, but knowing that she was in full control, did things to him. His spine was tingling as he held her against that wall as she hooked her ankles together and fucked him harder.  Her lips on his neck, at his ear, her small breathless demands as they took to the floor at her insistence, it was all making his head spin. Grabbing her waist, her breasts, her hands, anything he could to anchor himself to the moment, the euphoric feeling of floating so real and dangerous. He hissed in pleasurable pain as she dug her nails into his chest as she rode him, dragging them from nipple to bellybutton with her head thrown back, her eyes shut and those amazing lips caught between her teeth. They came together – a first for them – the adrenaline induced sex was something else entirely and nothing he wanted to forget.

As they pulled apart, sweating and spent, she took in the bullet hole ridden apartment before her and said, “I’m never getting my deposit back from this place,” before she laid down beside him on the hard, unforgiving wooden floor.

“I wouldn’t think so,” he said with a tired smile as she reached up and gently pushed some hair from his eyes.

“You let it get longer,” she commented, touching his hair again, then petting his three day old scruff.

He just shrugged, annoyed at the blush he felt considering what they had just done together.

“Yeah, well you know, I didn’t have anyone to impress so why not.”

She smiled then, sadness in her eyes.

“Oh sweetheart, you do that regardless of what you look like. I’d say it’s in your blood, being a charmer.”

They fell into silence then, neither one willing to make the first move to a more comfortable environment.

“We have a lot to talk about, you and I,” he whispered, pulling her up under his arm, her head automatically going to her spot on his chest, her hand on his belly. He trailed his fingers down her arm softly then when she nodded.

“We do, and we will, we’ll … we’ll sort this out, won’t we?” There was hope in her voice once again, and he liked the sound of it as never before.

They would talk later. They would sort whatever the issues were between them later. Later; it was a great time for things you knew you had to do when all you wanted to do was curl up and sleep for the rest of your life.

As it turned out, sleeping one’s life away wasn’t such a hyperbolic statement or an uncommon issue as they would find out. Because, you see, as great as later was for them, it was also a time of great change and surprise.

You see, later, they and the world would find out that the impossible – much like sleeping one’s life away – was, in fact, possible.

On February 4th 1952, Steve Rogers was found by Howard Stark and his crew.

On February 4th, Steve Rogers was found, alive.

Notes:

Dun, dun, duuuun. He’s baack!

I know this might sound redundant at this stage, but seriously thank you for the love on this, I know Buggy isn’t as popular a ship in this fandom as it ought to me (am I right?!) but the love has been v. encouraging! Hit me up here or on Tumblr if you’re loving or loathing this, a girl likes to know 😉 xo

Chapter 11: To … resurrection, I suppose?

Summary:

Peggy gets new digs, Bucky moves in all officially and what not, and oh yeah, Steve comes back from the dead.

Notes:

Go get a drink of choice and settle in, the Captain will see you now 😉

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

By the New Year Peggy was all but moved into her new place. It was across town and in a more upscale part of Brooklyn, or as Howard put it ‘as upscale as Brooklyn got, if you insist on staying there,’ when he offered her his building. After the Hydra attack it was clear she was compromised and needed security, a fact that she had been putting off since she took the job with Stark. But, it wasn’t just her that was at risk, it was Bucky too, and her friends and neighbours. So, she agreed to the new place – one with heightened security – Stark’s own madcap inventions; things she knew would take years – decades even – to reach the open market. Either way, she was sleeping easier in the knowledge that she was little bit more covered. The new place was really two apartments opened up on three floors, gutted five years before for a project Howard never got off the ground and had stood empty until his offer to Peggy to use it for her own space. It had taken some wrangling from Stark and Bucky – teaming up heavens forfend – to convince her.  A large kitchen and living room were on the bottom floor with two rooms and a bathroom on the second, and up top there was a shower room and two more bedrooms. It was a lot, and she was convinced she would never furnish half of it but that the idea of a project excited her too.

By January 10th she had packed and unpacked all her little boxes and moved them to a freshly painted and fully equipped home. It was big, too big really for just her, and while Bucky spent every night there, he still left every day for classes or spent the occasional weekend studying in the dorms. She missed him and with work slowing down for a change she got to be home most nights, and she hated the emptiness of it all. Bucky had a field day though, with the three – not one or two – three, panic rooms. Steel reinforced with weapons galore, she had to admit it was pretty amazing even if Stark’s paranoia was justified now. Her argument was once upon a time; her home had been filled with dainty things like nice linens and pretty drapes. Now, it was sawn off weapons and booby traps.

A girl could have both, was Bucky’s reasoning as they shopped for new furniture that weekend, and she was inclined to agree with him.

She came home from the store late that afternoon, hands full as she was stopped on the stoop by the next door neighbour. Mrs Goldstein, in her eighties and adorably forgetful, but always well put together, having clearly come from money.

“Margaret dear?” she heard from the door, and she let down her bags and jogged down the six steps from her stoop, then walked the short distance to her neighbours door.

“Afternoon Mrs Goldstein. Everything okay?”

“Oh yes dear I just wanted to say … that boy of yours … well that man of yours, really.”

Oh god, she thought, what had he said! Not that she worried a lot about Bucky but he was more than a little fresh at times, and old ladies either loved his flirting or they took serious, serious offense. Her memory dragged up a time in Manhattan when his flirting backfired and he got whacked with an umbrella for his troubles. He vowed never to help old women into cabs again! Peggy had laughed until they got to their train.

“Oh?”

“He’s just a sweetheart.”

She breathed a silent breath of relief.

“Oh, is that so?”

“Yes, he was such a dear. He came in this morning wanting to know if I was in need of anything from the store.  I wasn’t, my niece comes by once a day to see to things, but he did help me with my stairs – there was a loose bit of wood you see. Such a dear, anyway, I just wanted to thank him really but haven’t been steady on my feet so the steps are a no-no.”

Peggy nodded. They were steep in the snow.

“Give him this for me. It’s chocolate.”

And the woman then handed her a pie with a smile, which she gladly accepted and thanked her. As she was leaving she spoke again.

“You know … he is very handsome, dear.”

“I … well I think so, too.”

The old woman’s eyes flitted to her bare left hand, and she knew what was coming. Her only hope was that it wasn’t a religious speech filled with hate for the ‘living in sin’ life they had chosen.

“I wouldn’t make him wait much longer dear, a man like that would have a lot of options.”

For a split second Peggy saw Steve in her mind, telling her about all the girls in their part of Brooklyn who had fallen for him over the years. Seeing how Steve had himself fallen too and never got back up she was inclined to agree with her there too.

“Oh don’t worry I am aware, and he’s aware of my options too.”

The woman actually smiled.

“Well, at least you chose each other, which is more than most can say from my day, dear.”

She nodded. That was a sad state of affairs.

“My first husband was my father’s choice and an old pig he was too. Second time I married for love, though he was a fool and spent my first husband’s money … third time I married for money and love.”

Ten more minutes of listening to her past loves and Peggy excused herself as there was ice-cream on her stoop and it was in need of a proper ice box. Not that New York in winter didn’t suffice, but by the time Mrs. Goldstein was on husband five, she was over the conversation.

She got inside and the heat hit her, and she was instantly thankful. She found Bucky hammering the last of her photos to the wall of the living room. He had arranged it all pleasingly too.

“My neighbour was telling me to thank you,” she called from the kitchen, putting the bags down and most of the necessary stuff in the fridge.

“Oh, that,” he said, scratching his ear and putting the hammer down.

“You fixed her stairs?”

He nodded, stepping back to admire his handy work before answering.

“Well, I mean you were worried about the neighbours hearing us, and since there’s no one but some trees on our left, I figured I’d check out the right. Turns out Mrs. Goldstein is as deaf as a doorknob, so … we don’t have to worry about her hearing you … or us anymore.”  He spoke with that happy laugh in his voice that she enjoyed so much as he came behind her in the kitchen. He grabbed her by the waist then, pulling her flush against him.

“And you know, if we’re gonna be here awhile it might not just be us we would worry about her hearing…”

Peggy shook her head then, knowing where this was going. Where most conversation had been headed since they went to New Jersey the week before to ‘wet the baby’s head’ for Gabe and his wife. Their daughter Mia had come into the world all adorable and chubby and since then Bucky had been broody as hell. They had drunken sex that night to which he assured her if they did ‘make one’ that it would be ever so cute. ‘We’d make a cute one, Carter, trust me on that,’ and that he was more than willing to ‘play mom;’ ‘I kept Steve’s ass alive for a lot longer than most, I can deal with a kid.’ Drunkenly, she had agreed to all those things, as she did most things mid orgasm, and he knew that. Not that she minded really of course, it was sweet, and she was annoyed at how attractive the idea of him as father sounded. But, they both knew for the time being that the job, sadly, came first.

“Is that so?”

“It is so. So…” his lips met her neck, making her smile.

“Nope.”

“No what?” he kissed her again, this time biting a little making her squirm away.

“I have work, and an office to organise upstairs, we can’t…” his warm hands slid under her sweater, and she was so willing to just melt next to him. But no, the housewarming party was in a week and hardly anything was finished. Plus she had an important question to ask him.

“She commented on my empty ring finger,” Peggy said with a moan as he moved his lips to her jaw. He stalled then.

“Is that … something we need to discuss … again?” he asked, threading his fingers with hers.

“No, not even a little bit. I told you, I am happy as we are.”

He cocked a brow then, as if to say ‘you sure?’ She smiled. The last time they had had this conversation was pre-Zola mess, and it was another tipsy one where she complained for an hour about men and how the idea of an ‘honest’ woman was only one with a ring on her finger. He had agreed and reassured her that if that’s what she wanted he was there in a heartbeat, but not to want it just because she thought she ‘should’ to please everyone else. But they were drunk and never spoke of it again.

“I’m mostly happy with how we are, but, and I know this may be redundant, since you know … you are here ninety percent of the time anyway … but will you move in with me?”

He grinned then, but didn’t say anything. She squeezed his fingers in hers.

“You get a shiny new key and everything, and wardrobe space! And … and–”  he kissed her then.

“Sure I will, Carter, sure I will.”

They may have christened the kitchen then and there, thoughts of unpacking long gone in a flit of happiness.  A week later they invited all their friends – old and new – around for dinner, drinks, and reminiscing as well as toasting to their new home. It was a good time in their lives, and unlike so many others that fought wars every day, they got to have a home and loved ones. It was something both of them knew not to take for granted.

Something she hoped they both remembered when February rolled around and she had been home all of three days from a mission in Berlin. A phone call from Stark, a meeting unscheduled, and an empty office building. It all spelled trouble, but at the time she just wasn’t sure of what kind.  Howard never let all the staff go that early unless it was something big, and most likely unsavoury to boot.

If she had had any inkling, what really awaited her was nothing short of a miracle.

                                               *****

She came in that evening quietly. It was later than her normal hours but then normal hours for her weren’t really a thing, not anymore. She slipped off her heels and laid down her bag and the small stack of paperwork she had brought back to sign before the morning. She had spent the latter half of the afternoon in the ladies room; sporadic bouts of sobbing overtook her and had to be dealt with without an audience.

He was back, they had found him. Howard, the madcap genius, obsessive bastard that he was had done it.

They had found Steve.

In the ice, preserved like nothing they had ever seen before – and more astoundingly – alive.

Well technically dead. Frozen … incapacitated in all forms. Someway, somehow, serum side-effects or just plain stubbornness, somehow, Steve Rogers was alive.

Her emotions went somewhere between ecstatic, terrified, elated, terrified, overwhelmed, sad, happy, terrified, sobbing, hysterical laughter and terrified yet again. Howard had told her alone in her office and for that she was glad, gladder still that he had the forethought to bring booze.

She had so many questions, too many.

How was he still alive? Was he still Steve? Or was he affected by years of … well … death? Could he move or speak or think for himself? And if he could what did it mean? What was she to do? She was so beyond happy that he was found, that they had brought him home, that soon, she would walk into a room and he would be there.

All of those things made her so happy she could burst.

And then a little bit of her reality set in as she thought of the man sprawled out on their couch, listening or not listening to the wireless, thumbing through his many books he was invested in.

Part of her couldn’t wait to tell him, couldn’t wait for him to come with her to see, to talk to Steve. But another small, but vital part of her was terrified for this reason too. This man, this man whom had been so much of her life up until now made no secret of his love for the other man. Their bond was strong, she was sure of it, but she knew nothing was as strong as the bonds that tied those men together. She wanted to resent them both for it but couldn’t. That wasn’t who she was, and she had for so long respected their love and cherished it even. It had made them, both of them, who they were, and she wouldn’t have changed that for the world. But, that was before. That was when the love was dormant. That was before it became a very real, very alive threat.

Her stomach lurched with bile. She really hated her thought process in those moments; she was ashamed of herself.

“I’m home!” she called from the hall then, attempting to pretend she wasn’t just loitering, lost in thought.

“In here! Oh and I have a surprise!” he responded, and she felt dread once more. I bet mine’s bigger, she thought.

There he was, bare feet tucked up under himself on the couch, a fire blazing away and a drink poured in one of her favourite glasses on her side table. He got up to greet her with a smile before dipping down to kiss her politely.

“Drink?”

“Yes please.” She took it gladly, taking a seat next to him, revelling in his body heat as she all but snuggled next to him.

“Your surprise?”

“Right, well, you know how the board has been asking me for ages to do some talks, you know on the war, politics changing, the climate of now versus just a few years ago and what’s to come?”

“As well as being a Howling Commando out of war, yeah?”

“Yeah, that. Well, I sort of agreed to do it. I mean me and the guys for this one off thing in a few weeks. It’s stupid, mostly. I mean it’s PR really, but it means that I’ll get to finish off the modules I want, and there’s this talk of an honorary thing–” he waved his hand like it was nothing but the pink in his cheeks gave him away. He was proud, he should be proud.

“I’m so proud of you, you know?”

He shrugged.

“It’s no big deal–”

“It’s a very big deal.” She leaned up then and kissed him again, this time lingering just a little longer.

“Does this mean we get to have ‘you’re proud of me’ sex because if so, I’m all for that…” he said, kissing her again with a grin, breaking the mood.

What she wouldn’t give to just put reality on the back-burner and take him up on that offer.

“Uh, no. I think … I … wanted to tell you this today but there was security clearance issues that we had to jump through first and–”

“Are you off on mission again? You just got back, and I thought we said no more out of the country until the summer. You need to take care of yourself, Peg.” He looked so earnest and concerned then, she couldn’t help but smile. But she was smiling through tears.

“Jesus Carter, what’s wrong?”

And she steeled herself, broke out of his grasp to do so, standing up. Blood rushing in her ears, and tears flowing, she told him that Howard, in all his madness, had been looking for Steve since before the war officially ended. That finally, to the shock of everyone, they had found him, and even more shocking still, Steve was alive.

She watched as he reacted slowly, then all at once, blood draining from his face at first, hand to mouth in shock.

Eyes glistening, shock, fear, anger. She hadn’t fully expected the anger.

“How long have you known?”

“Since today–”

“That Howard was looking, that there was a search at all?! How long?” There was an edge to his voice that she wasn’t used to hearing, at least never directed at her.

“I didn’t say anything because what use was false hope for everyone? Bucky–”

“So when I asked you if there was anything else you were keeping from me … THIS wasn’t something you thought I ought to know about? It … it was better than no hope at all! They found him, Peggy!”

He stood then and began to pace, the colour coming back into his face at full speed, this time raging red.

“Where is he now?” he asked, still pacing. “Do you – Have you?”

“He’s at Stark Tower, Howard’s building, and obviously … it’s Howard’s building…” she rambled nervously. “And no, I haven’t. They were still … bringing him around by the time I left, and they assured me it was better I left. Better for me … for us to come by tomorrow, at ten they said to … see him.”

He exhaled loudly then.

“Jesus Christ this is … this is insane. I mean is he even okay?”

She nodded.

“Vitals, heart rate, brain activity, all excellent, or so they tell me. At the time he was still unconscious. It had taken them days to … well … defrost him.”

“Like he’s a damn steak. I swear to God the worst thing he did was let you people get his hands on him worst goddamn thing.”

That stung her then.

“Hey!”

There was beat of silence and it seemed to stretch a lifetime.

“I’m sorry, shit. I … this is a lot to… I just don’t know what to do with this.”

“Me either,” she admitted softly, wanting to reach out for his hand but he was too far away. She could almost physically feel the distance between them already. His eyes were hard and the emotions he was feeling so clearly evident on his face.  He sat down on the chair by the window for half a second before he sprang to his feet again. Anxiety did this to him, she knew what was coming.

“I need to … walk.  I need to think and just … deal with this.”

“Alright…” she answered in a whisper, knowing there was nothing she could do to make him sit with her then.

He ran his hand over his face once and then took another deep breath.

“I … you understand right? I just need to … not … to not …”

“To not be here,” the ‘with me’ went unsaid but they both felt it in the air. “Yes, I understand, James.”

His eyes flickered then, realising he was hurting her, but usually when that happened he would reach out, hug her, reassure her in a number of stupidly unnecessary ways that she loved. This time, however, he just sighed.

“I’ll be back before you go to bed, okay? I just need to straighten this out in my head before I say more shit I don’t mean.”

She just nodded before he slipped into his boots in the hall, and she heard him grab his coat.

The door closed with a small click, and that’s when she dissolved into the tears she had been denying all day.

He wasn’t back before she fell asleep, or when she got up the next morning.

Not that she expected him to be.

****

Bucky had walked around Brooklyn most of the night, bought a half bottle from the corner bar and used it as his heat source and his company as he made tracks around the place he grew up, the place he grew weary, all with Steve by his side in one way or another. He had moved on. It had taken him years to get used to – to Steve not being the first thing he thought of in the morning or the last thing he thought of at night. Years of pretending to have a life only to find out that he actually did have one. He had a pretty fucking great one if he was being honest. He was in school, he was learning and teaching all at once, he felt useful and smart again, he had friends, he had Peggy – a woman he never meant to love but one he did love more than any woman he’d ever set eyes or hands on in his life. They had a relationship. It wasn’t conventional – she wasn’t conventional – and after what the war did to him he doubted he would ever be run of the mill plain old Bucky Barnes again, but he tried his best to be normal, and it worked. He liked his life, but there was always something – someone missing.

Now he was back?

Was he still Steve? What had that shit done to him to keep him alive all that time? And if it did, was it like being strapped to Zola’s table, where he was awake on the inside but couldn’t move on the outside, while they poked and prodded and destroyed him. Was that what it was like for Steve too? Up there, wherever he was, all alone?

                                                           ****

Peggy had spent more time that she cared to admit picking something to wear that morning, frustrated with everything; herself, her job, Bucky, the whole unknown situation spread in front of them. Peggy hated the unknown. She settled on a cream silk blouse and navy skirt, stockings and a low heel, her navy blazer fitting nicely and finishing off her look. If exasperated and exhausted was a look, that is. She got to the tower just before ten and found a rather dramatic scene unfolding in front of her eyes. The usually mundane comings and goings of the Stark building had come to a halt as what seemed like the entire security team surrounded the lobby, people were stopped – staring, open mouthed and shocked. Then, she noticed there was yelling.

Her heart jumped to her throat. It was him.

“What the hell is going on here? Why are you people lying to me?”

She managed to push her way though, nodding to Tom – the guard to her left – to clear the rest of the way and as he did, she finally saw Steve. Standing in a t-shirt and cargo pants, bare foot and frightened, like a deer in the headlights.

When he saw her he took a breath, one she wagered he’d been holding as he attempted to work out an escape. She felt the same, as if all air had been knocked from her lungs.

“Peggy? Peggy!” his eyes widened and the panic lessened as he made his way rapidly toward her. She felt the sting of tears in her eyes as Tom held up a hand as if to stop him and she shooed him away, allowing Steve to do what he had wanted which was to scoop her up into his arms with a bone crushing hug, his face buried in her neck.

“Thank God, Peggy. You’re the one thing I recognise in this place. Thank God…” he mumbled as she squeezed him back just as hard, not caring who saw their boss getting cuddled in the lobby.

“Let me look at you,” she said, pulling back, the tears well and truly falling now. “Are you–”

“I’m okay … a bit confused … and a little hungry, but mostly okay. They wouldn’t tell me anything, then there was a guy with a needle when I wouldn’t calm down so I uh…”

“You punched him, didn’t you?” Peggy asked with a laugh, registering that the lobby was returning to normal, heels on the tiles clicking away, the commotion over with for now.

“I’ll apologise. I just … Peggy what the hell is going on?”

She sighed then. It was more than a public chat would cover, but she noted that neither of them seemed willing to let go of the other.

“I’ll explain everything, I will. I just want to make sure you’re okay, Steve–”

Before she could continue he had her face cupped in one hand, his lips on hers, kissing her so softly it was as if he was scared to spook her, or himself, and she couldn’t stop herself from kissing him back. It was all she wanted with him since the war; to have him safe and warm in her arms again, but the reality that was never going to happen was being smashed wide open with the real reality of him holding her … it was all a little much to process. He gripped her arm and she gripped the collar of his t-shirt, both of them losing themselves if only for a moment before the other reality of where they were, of who she was now, who he still was and of the other love of her life … their life … it all added up to her hastily pulling away.

“I’m sorry…” he said softly, his fingers still touching her chin, eyes never leaving hers as he sighed, stepping back. “I’ve just wanted to do that again for a … how long has it been Peggy?” There was fear in his blue eyes then, the light and lust of seeing her again fading and genuine fear taking its place. “I know it hasn’t just been a minute or two…” he pointed it out by touching her hair, now much longer than it was when she had seen him last.

She blinked the tears from her eyes before she could speak.

“No. No, Steve it hasn’t.”

He nodded, forcing himself to take a large breath.

“Come with me. We’ll get you something to eat, and a little privacy might be nice,” she said, nodding to their location before taking his hand in hers and leading him to the elevators. There was a lot to talk about that’s for damn sure.

                                               ***

Twenty minutes and retrieving his medical file later, they were seated at the table in her office, blinds drawn, a platter of assorted sandwiches and some tea in front of them, both seated as closely as the chairs would allow. Steve was in a state of stunned silence since he had found out the year, and just how long he had been MIA.

“Your tea is getting cold,” she said with softness to her voice that she rarely used in that office. He picked up the small cup in his large hands and took a sip.

“So much must have changed. You–”

“I got a decade older, we all did.” He still looked the exact same, right down to his hair. She felt her heart twinge.

“I missed a lot…” he said softly, looking at his feet.

“We … we were never sure Stark would be successful. I mean I wanted him to succeed, you have no idea, but it just all seemed so hopeless.”

He took her hand then, squeezing it reassuringly.

“Peggy, it’s okay. Realistically, I was dead.” He did that thing he did when he was sad, the half-smile that never really reached his eyes.

“You must have someone now, surely?” he said, rubbing onto her left ring finger as they held hands, more to comfort each other than anything. “You’re not married?” He looked surprised then, most people were, but then again most people didn’t really know who she was now.

The men weren’t the only ones that came away from a war changed.

She took a breath and pulled away from him, wondering, worrying, how he would react.

“There is someone.”

Steve smiled then, taking a bite of his fifth sandwich.

“He’s a lucky duck whoever he–”

“It’s Bucky.”

She closed her eyes, facing the window as she heard him attempt to stop a choke on his wrongly swallowed food.

“Bucky … Barnes?” When she faced him his read confusion at first, a little red from swallowing wrong but then realisation. “But … I mean no,” he shook his head and swallowed hard. “No that’s … that’s… great Peggy.” Again he attempted that smile, and failed.

God, he was still an awful liar.

“Steve–”

“No, really. I mean it’s sorta perfect right? He was my … my … and you were my … and wow I think I maybe just stood up too fast.” He righted his stance by holding on, white knuckled, to the table. “It’s … I mean you two … we figured you didn’t like him much back then I mean.”

“I liked him just fine, it’s just that–”

“No, of course. I mean … a lot changes in a decade. People grow up and change and … and fall in love with other people. He’s …” he took his seat again then, still gripping the table. He swallowed hard before he spoke again. “He’s the best guy I know. I hope he’s been good to you.”

She was crying then, for their truth, and for the struggle she was witnessing Steve go through right before her eyes.

“Very much so.”

“God…” he got up and walked to her. “Peggy do … are there … do you have kids?”

She shook her head no, and if he didn’t mean for her to see his sigh of relief, he failed.

She tackled him then, into a hug so hard she was sure she did herself some damage. He hugged her back just as tight.

“I know, Steve,” she whispered after a long emotional moment between them both. He broke away, confusion and fear on his face again, but she could only touch his cheek in comfort. She hated to see him in pain.

“K-know what?”

She raised her brow, and he got it.

“He told you?”

“He did, though it was a little obvious to me even back then, I just was never really that sure.”

‘Oh’ – he mouthed to himself silently. “Peggy, I never lied to you about how I – how I felt about you, honest to God.”

“I believe you.”

“Please … do. I … you deserved better than me then and now, and maybe you have it with Bucky because … hey at least he’s not a liar right, but I … what I feel- felt for you was- is … was … God, I don’t know what I’m talking about. But just know–”

“Steve, breathe,” she insisted, sitting down next to him again, grabbing his now clammy hands in hers. “I know you weren’t lying about how you felt about me, but I also know that you two have some very complicated history and a love that I have no part of, also.”

If she didn’t know better she was sure he was on the verge of an asthma attack.

“I can’t believe he told you. He must … he must really love you.” His earnest gaze fixed upon her then, and she found it hard to hold. “I mean, I know how easy it is to love you, so… ” He shrugged so casually that it made her blush.

“What um, what happens now? I mean had I known I wouldn’t have kissed you like I did downstairs. I … well that’s a lie, I really wanted to do that, like that, for a really, really long time. Mostly since I met you and saw you knock Hodge’s dumb ass to the ground in one swoop – that was amazing by the way. I mean you’re amazing really, and now you’re here and you’re the boss which is completely how it should be because you’re bossy – not bossy, no that’s wrong, but you have you know the authority and I mean–”

“Steve!”

He took a breath and so did she. It was nice to see that while the world moved on, Steve Rogers still knew nothing of how to talk to women.

“Sorry, I’m really nervous right now. I’m sweating so much it’s kind of disgusting, actually.

She shook her head at his rambling. Adorable and silly as it was, she understood how he felt; as she was regretting the silk blouse choice herself for perspiration reasons.

“I don’t know what happens now. Everything between you and me and you and him and he and I … Christ … it’s so complicated,” she admitted with a laugh because it all sounded so absurd.

He nodded, the redness fading from his face slightly as he finished the last of his tea.

“God, I wish I could get drunk right now. I’d get so drunk.”

He might not have been able to, but she could. She walked over to her side table that functioned as a drinks area; water, apple juice, and whiskey, there was rum somewhere too but she was sure Howard nabbed that. She half contemplated hacking his office for the really good stuff, but then that would mean leaving Steve and also having a conversation with Howard, which at that moment was a firm no. Instead she fixed them two very large, mixer-free drinks and just about managed to remember a toast.

“To … resurrection, I suppose?”

He nodded and clinked glasses before smiling and taking a healthy gulp.

“Steve, you … and I … but you, right now, you need to talk to him.”

“I figured he’d have shown up before now.” He was unashamedly disappointed in that fact, as was she. Peggy had thought he would have swallowed his pride before night fall at least, but it just wasn’t happening. She then mentioned Bucky’s reaction when she had finally told him – as well as her regret at leaving it so late in the game – but confessing her reasoning for that also. As ever, Steve seemed to understand instantly.

“You didn’t want to get his hopes up, I understand that. I also know how damn stubborn he can be, particularly when it comes to secrets. He … he hated that we … that we had to be a secret. Hated it, and it weighed on him. He just doesn’t do well being lied to, or lying in general. I mean, hell, I’m terrible I know, but he’s almost as bad. I figure it had to do with them nuns that taught us. The fear of God was quite literally beat into you at times, and that isn’t a thing you forget.” He smiled then. “But him acting that way, running? He walks, or he used to, to clear his head, walked more than any guy I knew and still was never as skinny as me. But then you know this … hell you’ve been with him a long time, you know him probably better than I do now.” She ignored the panic that laced his tone at the last part of his sentence. She knew how terrifying it was, the idea of losing Bucky.  She felt it herself, had felt it every minute since Howard told her of his search, and since finding out that Steve was very much alive it was something that was eating her alive.

“We’ll work it out, Steve. Somehow, I’m not sure how, but we will.”

“Together?”

He looked hopeful then, and it ignited something in her. She wanted so badly for that hope to stay and not diminish, but still being so unsure of how the hell life was ever meant to be normal now, she found it hard to meet his.

“Of course.”

She didn’t recognise the sound of her own voice, but she wanted to as much as she wanted to believe that whatever this was, that it could have a simple and satisfying resolution.

But the world rarely worked like that.

Instead she focused on the now, bedding down beside him on her oversized couch, both of them just talking and drinking the night away. He had a lot to catch up on. Some she told him, some things could wait. She enjoyed informing Steve of what SHIELD was, what they wanted it to be, that the other Commandos had finally come on board under her and were relishing their missions like it was still World War Two. That the world had changed, some for better, some for much worse, but as always they took it one bit at a time, fighting a never ending battle for the people that couldn’t fight for themselves. She got a little drunk, not as much as she’d have like considering her reality; the reality that the now two men in her life were still so very much in love with each other. She steeled herself for the blow, the one she knew had been coming since Bucky once confessed his feelings for the man they both loved. If they ever got him back, in whatever fantasyland that it ever happened, she knew one thing to be true…

She was going to lose both Bucky and Steve, to each other.

Notes:

I know, angsty right? They all think they’re going to lose the other TO each other! Eek. I have some of the next chapter already done (major Stucky reunion!!) but if you liked this let me know! The feedback has been amaze! xo

Chapter 12: Cuppa Tea?

Summary:

Steve’s back and with him come some hard choices, tough conversations, and heartbreaking realisations.

Notes:

Well Loves, here’s the Stucky reunion you’ve been waiting for (I hope!). Tough decisions and proof that some things don’t change, they just get put on ice for a while.

He remembered the cold. Nothing else beyond the bone chilling cold. He was stuck, he knew that. The impact didn’t kill him outright, but it did kill him.

Or at least, it should have.

Beyond the cold, all he remembers then is the breeze floating through the windows in a room where he woke up. He was fully dressed, even had his boots on.

Not his boots, not his uniform, but civvies, and he felt warm. He remembered opening his eyes and the world being there again, bright and unforgiving.

He had no idea where he was.

Suddenly there was a woman, but she was lying to him, she had a tell, she was rubbing her ring fingernail against her thumb as she spoke, she was lying.

Something felt wrong.

He shouldn’t be alive, awake, here. The enemy got him, was his first thought. He pushed past the woman only to be met by a man with a needle; he punched him when he got too close and made for the stairs. Agents. Men, a few women, all with guns, made a run for him but he was faster, stronger and still very confused.

But then there she was. Just standing in the crowd of people in dark suits, standing out like a candle in the darkness. She looked different, her hair was softer somehow, longer, and there were little bits of blonde in there catching the light. She wasn’t like that before… before … he still had no idea how long he had been wherever it was he went.

Instead he did the one thing that felt real, that somehow grounded him to this new reality and he thought for a split second, just a second, maybe this was heaven? A very strange heaven, but a good one if she’s there. He kissed her, kissed her with all the passion and want and need he felt for her, all those times he wanted to kiss her and couldn’t were poured into that one kiss that made his toes tingle.

Then he found out the truth, that no, it wasn’t a sort of heaven but really a sort of hell.

The world had moved on without him.

She, they, had moved on without him.

When she told him about her and Bucky, he felt as if his heart snapped in two. The idea that these two people, his two people… At first it hurt, because he was selfish and shocked. But then the second’s hesitation made way to common sense. Bucky was alive, and loved. And of course they had found each other, of course they grew to leave each other, how could they not? He had loved them both, he knew how it happened.  But it had been almost ten years, surely there were kids and a life in place where he didn’t fit at all, never mind where he had once felt so at home? But then he learned that no, there were no kids or weddings, or anything traditional at all. He realised then, traditional was never something either of his loves was ever cut out to be, least of all Peggy. He hated that he felt relief in the knowledge that there were no kids, but for a selfish moment he also realised he wanted time with them himself to … to do what he wasn’t sure, but just to be was enough in the moment.

After all shocking realisations, they settled down together, her office quiet and warm, the couch so big and comfortable, and with her sitting next to him, holding his hand in hers, the anxiety he felt since he opened his eyes slowly began to dissipate. So much so that listening to the soft lull of her voice recalling missions and stories of the past many years, he found his eyes fell shut and he must have drifted off to sleep next to her. He woke up with the sun, his arms wrapped around her front, spooning her from behind on her oversized tan leather couch, both of them fully dressed but shoeless. She was so warm and soft and she smelled so amazing that all he wanted to do was to bury his nose in her neck and drift back into that safe sleep again, but he couldn’t. He had too many questions and not enough answers, and he wanted them there and then. Instead, he stirred and she gripped his hand on her stomach.

“We fell asleep,” she said, groggy and quiet, and suddenly he yearned for the decade worth of mornings he could have woken up with her like that. His heart hurt before he attempted to push it down.

“We did. Won’t Bucky … I mean won’t he be worried?”

She sat up then, her hand smoothing down her hair self-consciously.

“No, I … no. He wasn’t home when I left this morning and he hasn’t called so … I don’t much know what he might be thinking right now.” She shrugged, standing to fix her skirt and stockings.

Steve sighed. Of course he took the news wrong, of course he panicked. Neither of them dealt very well with life changes, least of all huge ones. He recalled his own idiotic panicked reaction when Bucky informed Steve that he’d been drafted to war. He’d ran from Bucky then. Physically not far because well, how could he? But he closed himself off and made excuses, kept his distance. He couldn’t believe Bucky was pulling the same shit with Peggy over him now.

“He’s…”

“Not great with change, I know.” She smiled then, offering him her hand and pulling him up.

“I’ll order us some breakfast and we’ll take you back down to the medical bay. I want them to give you the once over, and then we’ll meet with Stark, discuss anything you need? We can have you set up in a SHIELD safe house temporarily, or if you’d prefer to stay here, there is–” her phone rang then, and she bent to answer it as he found his shoes. It was Stark.

“Scratch that, Stark has breakfast for us in his office, shall we?” she said with a smile, checking her makeup in the compact mirror on her desk. He couldn’t help but think she looked perfect, even with a cushion crease on her cheek. They took the elevator together, ignoring the long looks from the other workers in the building as they got to the top floor. Howard’s office WAS the entire top floor, which Steve thought was rather over compensating. But the man greeted him with a huge smile and a warm hug. A hug from Howard- I-Don’t-Like-To-Be-Touched Stark was a rare thing, according to Peggy. They sat down to what looked like a mountain of food that for a second he questioned how there could be so much, but then he remembered, there was no war, there was no depression, they weren’t in a shack in Brooklyn or in freezing tents in Italy. They were at the plush centre of Stark Enterprises, and that meant the best of the best. There was a lot of talk from Stark, a lot of talk at a great speed – he spied the large pot of coffee half empty and blamed that, but it was nice, it drowned out his own thoughts and worries for a time at least. There was talk of press, and Washington and a sit down tell all – what he had to tell was beyond him. He took a decade long nap, so far as anything else he was still reeling. Peggy seemed to sense this and managed to anchor Howard’s fantastical notions enough that it gave him a week before they had to announce it to the world.

A week to find his feet sounded easier said than done.

He noticed Peggy was distracted, a far off look in her eye, a worried look that he recognised.

And Bucky still hadn’t called her.

After they ate, and ate some more in Steve’s case, she escorted him to the medic bay where she overlooked his files again before the doc took more blood, his blood pressure and his heart rate. Everything was shockingly normal, for him anyway. The doctors were baffled, but Peggy was beyond pleased. After everything was given the all clear once more, they took the elevator to a different floor and into a room that looked like a cell, small and with a small window, but it had a bed and wardrobe.

“I had them bring in your things; they left them here this morning,” she said as she opened the double doors to take out his dress uniform and what he knew to be new sweaters and pants. They weren’t his things, at least not most of them. “I think you should go see him,” she blurted out, not facing him. Instead she was pretending to root through for something unknown.

“Peggy–”

“You should,” she spoke again, this time with more resolve. “I think it would … I think it needs to happen sooner rather than later, Steve. He won’t come here, or if he does it’ll be odd… too clinical here and he hates this place–” She pursed her lips. There was a story behind that comment, he was sure of it.

“You should just go see him, talk … do whatever you need to do.”

Her voice sounded foreign to him then, forced. And he wasn’t so naïve as to not hear what she was really saying. His heart ached, physically it ached, and he hated that feeling. Trying to push it down he grabbed her busy hands, stopped her from folding sweaters onto the bed and enveloped her into a hug. She clung as hard as he did, and he definitely heard him sniffle.

“I can stay and we can go see him together?” He tried to smile, to coax one from her, but the one he got was sad.

“No, no … you should have time … to…” she sighed then, shaking her head. “And besides, I have work here so I can’t. If he’s not at the house he’s at his dorm.” They had discussed Bucky going back to school and he was beyond proud of that. “But it’s unlikely, it’s more likely that–”

“He’s brooding.”

She laughed then, stepping back.

“Yes, so go and snap him out of it for me?”

With that she handed him a card with her name and address and a telephone number on it. It was in Brooklyn. They lived in Brooklyn, a nicer part, for sure, but still. He smiled.

“Go see him, do … what you gotta do.”

Before she stepped out of the room he called her back.

“Will I … see you later?”

She smiled then.

“Count on it.”

                                                                       ***

There was a soft knock on the front door just after seven. He had spent most of the day moping and contemplating drinking, but never really getting around to it. He slept, mostly. At least in sleep his problems faded.

“Jesus Christ,” Bucky let slip, taking in the sight before him after he opened the door. Steve stood there, in his full dress uniform, hat in hand and everything, a soft wistful smile to boot.

Bucky’s heart clenched.

“Nah, still just me. Though we do have that whole rising from the dead thing in common, which is nifty I guess.” He bounced back on his heels a little as he spoke, reminding Bucky of the kid he first met so long ago. “Can I come in at least?” Steve asked with a smile after few seconds or so of an accidental staring contest.

“Yes, I … of course.” He moved out of the way and let Steve pass, the air getting knocked out of his lungs at the realisation that it was real. He was real and he was standing right there. It was as if Bucky could feel the blood pumping in his veins, like white hot fire. He clenched and unclenched his fists, resisting the urge to just reach out and touch the man he missed so dearly.

“This place is nice, nicer than we were used to before right?” Steve commented innocently, looking around at the home – and it was a home, that he shared with Peggy. Bucky felt himself grow embarrassed at the realisation.

“How’d you –“

“Peggy told me you’d probably be here, we figured it would be best to … well for me to come talk to you, since you seemed to not want to be there when I–”

“I wanted to be there.” He wanted to reach out and hug Steve, hug him and never let him go ever again. But he couldn’t, things were too complicated now. He didn’t know where he stood. “I wanted to but … I mean I was–”

“You were?”

“I was but then there was the whole thing with you and Carter – Peggy…”

“You still call her Carter?” he asked, amused, still looking around the living room, no doubt at the photos on the wall. Scratching the back of his neck with nerves, Bucky just shrugged.

“Wait, if you were there then – oh. Bucky when I saw her I just–”

Steve’s ears were red, and that provided Bucky with an odd sense of comfort. At least he wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

“I didn’t know that you and she–”

“Hey, no look its fine. It’s, you know … she’s her own woman before anything else, you know? She can do whatever she wants, always has … I mean she just … Fuck, why is this awkward?” He was starting to sweat.

“I don’t know,” Steve answered with a smile, taking a step closer to his friend. “It’s okay, you know? Everything that you’re worrying about right now? It’s all gonna be okay.”

He wished he believed his friend, he really did.

“You say that now, but–”

“But nothing, Buck. Come on, I’ve been given a second chance here, we all have.”

And that set his panic buttons off at warp speed.

“No, you don’t get to be okay with this, Steve.”

“And why not?”

“Why not– Seriously?” Bucky snapped. The other man seemed unaffected as he just shrugged.

“Because I … we were together, Steve. Like, together, together. I wasn’t just makin’ time with her–”

Steve nodded before saying, “She told me,” but it went unnoticed.

“I love her. I went after the woman you loved and I got to love her while you … while you–”

“Buck, it’s okay.”

“No, it’s not!” He knew a panicked Bucky and he was standing right in front of him, turning red.

“I’m glad you loved her, and I’m glad she loved you. God knows you need as much of it as you can get.”

Furrowed brows met relaxed ones.

“So you want me to get mad is that it? Mad that my best girl and my best … you … found comfort and a life with each other? That you won her heart and she won yours and she knocked some sense into you? I’m meant to be mad at how you both chose to survive?”

“YES!”

“Why? What would it solve? You want me to get pissed and hit you or something? That’s never gonna happen.”

Steve could see his friend crumbling before him, breath heavy and laboured, and he had to do something, so he reached out and put his cold hand on Bucky’s warm face, forcing him to look at him, revelling in the familiar heat of his skin.

“Hey … you with me?”

His friend just nodded before putting his own hands on Steve’s chest, gently, as if he was afraid if he pushed too much he would disappear.

“I never thought I’d see you again.”

“I know, me either,” he laughed, trying to lighten the mood but failing.

“I … I’m sorry.”

“For what? And don’t say Peggy. We know damn well she doesn’t do anything – or anyone – she doesn’t want to.”

Bucky shook his head. The irony of the Tennessee Waltz playing on the wireless was not lost on him. He blocked it out.

“That I … that I gave up on you, I never meant to–”

“Hey… hey …” Steve grabbed his face again, this time pulling him in for a hug. The brunette hugged him hard and close, a sob escaping his lips. “It’s okay … I’m here now.”

“You are here. You’re actually here.” He felt his friend squeeze tighter, and he reciprocated because he knew what Bucky was feeling.

“I love you, Steve,” he whispered into his shoulder before pulling back and wiping his reddened eyes. “I s-swore to myself if God ever let me see you again that’s what I’d say. I’d say it out loud and mean it. And I do mean it. I love you. I’ve loved you since I can remember knowing what the word meant.”

They both embraced the other again, holding onto each other, their faces buried in the others neck, just being there, allowing it to sink in, breathing in the presence of the other. It had been so long. Too long.

Steve wanted to reciprocate, and he would, but his mouth had other ideas. It landed on Bucky’s harshly, but melted into a needy kiss as they both grasped at the other like drowning men to a life raft, and that, honestly, was how it felt. It would be Steve’s turn this time to let a sob escape, a sob that turned moan as he felt Bucky’s nails on the back of his neck, threading up into his hair.

“I missed you so goddamn much, Steve. So goddamn much.”

“I … missed you too, even though for me I just saw you yesterday,” he said, his laugh shy.

That in itself had to be a mind-fucking experience. Close your eyes and blink, suddenly it’s almost a decade later and the world, your world, is turned upside down.

Bucky reached out, feeling the softness of Steve’s short hair against his hands, knowing him better than he knew himself in some ways. He knew to scrape just a little into his scalp, and like a cat Steve keened into his touch. He felt a little part of him relax. His head felt like this was all a dream and any minute he was going to wake up.

But he didn’t, and it wasn’t. So he went in for another kiss, this time softer.

Steve ended the kiss, pulling back, eyes wide, pupils blown, that familiar pink tint to his cheeks, searching Bucky’s face for something. Permission, maybe? Whatever it was, he got it because he dipped down to kiss him again.Steve took control, using his hands, gripping Bucky’s chin confidently as they kissed, slightly angling his head as he kissed and licked along his stubble filled jawline to his neck, up gently to the sensitive patch by his ear and back to his mouth. Bucky loved Steve’s mouth as much as everything else. It got him into so much trouble no matter how he chose to use it.

He rolled onto his back on the couch and pulled Steve down to him, slow and gentle, giving himself a moment to savour the anticipation of it. When he could feel Steve’s breath against his wet lips he tilted his chin, pressing his lips against Steve’s bottom lip. He kissed Steve slowly, pulling him closer only by a millimetre and leaned back against the pillows to make Steve press into him more.

Something primal flipped with Bucky then. It was as if he was on autopilot. Nothing else mattered but the man in front of him, nothing. And so when he reached for Steve’s tie, yanking it down to open it and pull it off his shirt, when he hastily unbuttoned the precision perfectly ironed shirt, when he pushed Steve against the couch and straddled him, nothing else mattered.

And it should have.

She should have.

He hadn’t so much as looked at another person seriously in that way since committing to Peggy despite who he knew was looking at him, people like Jack.  He loved her so much, but he also loved Steve and in that moment and the ones that followed, he wasn’t thinking straight, he was thinking with his dick and the emotionally wrung out part of his brain that never in a million years imagined he would feel Steve under his fingertips again.

His brain was just chanting how badly he needed Steve. It wasn’t a want any longer, it was a need, and it seemed Steve was more than willing to meet his needs, and then some.

By some miracle they made it off the couch, and up the stairs, pressed against the wall outside the main bedroom. An attack of conscience hit Bucky just long enough to say ‘no’ to the location at the very least. He couldn’t, not in the room he shared with Peggy, not in their bed. No matter how badly he needed Steve in those moments, there were some lines even his lust addled brain seemingly wouldn’t cross.

Instead, he directed them to the smaller guest room, It was smaller bed, but enough. They had had each other in much more cramped spaces than that.

Shirts, pants, boots, socks, everything between them discarded haphazardly allowed them to collapse into a heap on the bed. Kissing and rutting, pushing, pulling, biting, licking their way back to a too-hot summer in Brooklyn where they did this for the very first time as two confused but stubborn boys with dangerous hearts.

“I love you, Bucky, you know that right? I love you, have loved you since–”

He knew, he always knew, they never said it like that, never those words but other words. ‘Be careful, come back,’ ‘please stop getting into fights, least when I’m not around,’ ‘sit down I’ll patch up that war wound’ ‘you take the extra blanket, I’m not that cold .’ They loved each other, but never with those three words.

Before, they weren’t allowed.

Now, well, death had a way of putting things into perspective.

Steve bestrode his hips, pressing and rutting hard against Bucky, drawing a long moan from him. He grabbed at Bucky’s hips and rocked against him, pulling him tight to keep the contact as close as they could. Foreheads together, lips apart and panting, each feeling as if their skin was on fire and they wanted to dance around in the flame. Bucky kissed him back until all they could do was pull back, lungs burning for air. Steve let out a small growl into the nook of Bucky’s neck, before licking him from neck to earlobe, causing the brunette to moan loudly, his fingers gripping into the blonde’s back.

“Tell me what you want,” Steve said all low and rough and so familiar that it sent a shiver through Bucky’s body, and he was powerless to stop it. He felt, where Steve was concerned, that he would always be a little powerless. He would do anything Steve asked, anything.

“You – I … need … I need you , please.”

They looked each other in the eyes then, a slow nod came from Steve who then worked his way down Bucky’s body, kissing, licking and nipping his way until the next sensation Bucky was vividly aware of was slick fingers probing, working him open, and then a hot, wet mouth causing him to grasp onto the sheets, to curse so loudly Jesus wept, and to see nothing but stars behind his eyes as Steve worked him open with his mouth and to a state of painful hardness with his free hand. He wished he had slick, anything, anything at all to ease what was sure to be a slightly painful but addictive experience. Opened up and worked over by Steve’s mouth was one thing, but it had been a very long time – regardless that they’d done more with less before.

Steve looked down at where his dick was pressed against Bucky’s writhing body and then looked back up to Bucky’s face. Steve let out a huff of a breath, leaned over him and kissed up his neck to his chin before finally reaching his lips. He rolled his hips and Bucky broke the kiss to gasp and he looked surprised and blissed out so completely as he rode into him deep and slow.

He started thrusting, gentle at first, then a little harder each time, sweat bubbling as they found that familiar pacing from so long ago. It didn’t take long, not with Bucky taking himself in hand, stroking hard and fast with one slick hand, the other touching Steve wherever possible as Steve buried his face in his neck, thrusting erratically. Want, need, desire, pain, pleasure, it was everything, and it was Bucky who was basically the same thing to Steve, his pain and his pleasure.

Thrusting against him once, twice, and then Steve was pulsing thick between their bodies, panting Bucky’s name into his ear, and Bucky was close, God, so close.

Steve pulled back and Bucky reached down, but Steve’s hand was there first, wrapped around him carefully but confidently. In a few short strokes Bucky arched back, eyes rammed shut, lips firmly and sexily between his teeth as he came over Steve’s hand and his own stomach, desperately trying to catch his breath.

“You’re perfect,” Steve said with a happy, blissed out smile that the world never got to see. It was his.

“I’m not,” he swallowed, catching his breath. “I’m awful. I … Fuck.” Reality sunk in as the lust haze that had fogged up his brain started to clear. “I fucked up.”

“Kinda the point of that … beautifully the point,” Steve added with a kiss to his temple as they laid side by side.

Bucky looked at him then, the only man he ever loved his whole life, perfect, not a having aged a day from the last time he saw him. His heart ached all over again.

“Peggy. I … fuck.” He found the strength to get out of the bed and stood on wobbly legs, finding his shirt to wipe himself down, in lieu of a towel.

“Peggy’s a smart woman, Buck, she–”

“No, okay? Don’t logic me out of this. We’re wrong for this Steve, so fucking wrong. She’s a good woman, the best … the only…” He was pacing. Steve knew that wasn’t a good sign. Pacing naked while a distraction still meant his mind was in hyper overdrive.

“I love that girl, Steve. She’s loved me too, in her own way. We’ve had a life and I fucked that all away just now. I … didn’t even think, and that’s what terrifies me. It’s you, so of course I want you, I love you. I need you just like I need her … but I fucked up.”

“Bucky–” Steve got to his feet then, hunting for his underwear, feeling more than a little heavy hearted for everything. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have … maybe we should just–” He was lost, he wasn’t sure what to do. He had just been so excited that Bucky still loved him that things got way out of hand. They had a habit of that when together, he realised. Reality rarely got a look in.

“Steve, I’m sorry, I am. I love you. Jesus, you know how I love you?” he said, grabbing Steve’s face, a pained look on his own. “I just can’t do this to her, hell, I’ve already done it to her, haven’t I? My mother used to talk about fellas who messed around on their women, with other women it was bad enough, but with you? Who she loved too? Steve, in almost ten years, I haven’t so much as looked at anyone but her, not seriously. Never really, once or twice to make her jealous sure, but in all that time I loved only her.” He stood again, pacing, Steve didn’t want to look close enough to see if there were tears in his eyes. “I’m fucked in the head is what I am, I knew there was something – something wrong with me since–”

“Oh good Lord, Barnes, I can hear your nervous breakdown from the front steps.”

They both looked up from where they sat on the edge of the thoroughly fucked in bed. Bucky shot up first, standing with his mouth agape. Steve wanted to be back in the ice in that moment in time.

Fuck.

“Peggy, I can explain.”

“Peggy–” Steve began, and then stopped when he realised he had no real idea of what to say. She cocked a brow at that, a slight smile on her lips.

“Firstly though, are you armed?” he asked, his hands subconsciously covering his dick.

She just rolled her eyes before staring at the both of them for the longest minute of their lives.

“I think we need to have a long overdue conversation, don’t you? And I’m parched, cuppa tea?” With that she turned on her heel and marched herself down the stairs, leaving them both looking at the other confused as all hell.

“I … should go, shouldn’t I?” Steve offered, but Bucky wasn’t sure one way or the other what they were meant to do in a situation like this.

“I don’t know? I mean … maybe? I don’t know…”

Steve was dressing quickly, as was Bucky, yanking on the clothes as quickly as they had come off.

“If you need me to stay I’ll stay, or if it needs to be something between you both I’ll go. I’ll come back, or … anything if you need me, I’ll be at Stark tower either way, okay?”

Bucky nodded before Steve cupped his face.

Bucky’s heart felt physically heavy, but he nodded and smiled. He had wanted for so long for this to be what it was like between them, and now that it was, it was still wrong – but for other reasons than before.

“Go, I’ll deal with whatever she throws at me, but if she kills me I want to be cremated.”

Steve smiled, kissing him once on the forehead before grabbing his shoes.

“She won’t kill you, she loves you too much. Trust me, I know what that’s like.”

                                               ****

When he walked into the kitchen he saw her standing by the window, the kettle on the boil, starting to steam. She seemed lost in thought but he knew her reflexes now and knew that she saw and heard every move before he even entered the room.

“Steve left then,” was all she said, moving to switch off the stove.

“Yeah he’s … well rightfully terrified of you.”

That made her smile, her eyes remained sad though and he fucking hated himself for making that the reality of this conversation.

“I feel rather proud of that, which is probably the wrong reaction, but eliciting fear in super powerful men – literally in this case – has always been a pastime of mine.”

“Peggy, I’m sorry–”

“Don’t okay? Please. I don’t need to hear you lie to me, Barnes. You’ve not made a habit of it in our time together, and you’re awful at it to boot, so please.”

She didn’t make the tea, instead she took a seat at the nook, and he took over and made the tea as she sat silently. He left her cup in front of her, and took a seat opposite.

“I just … I knew that it was a part of who you are and I accepted that. I … I just never really thought it was something you needed.”

He was lost.

“What?”

“Men. I mean, sex with men. Sex with men who aren’t me and have things I don’t – or rather one thing I don’t … and maybe I thought about it sometimes that maybe it was something you missed but I never allowed myself down that path and I–”

“Peggy–”

“No, it’s stupid of me, really. It just doesn’t go dormant because you’re with a woman, I should have known that. I just have to know – I’ve trusted you completely, you know that right? I just need to ask–”

“No.”

“No?”

“No, there have been no men … or women. No one, not since you and me and honestly not even since before you and me. I mean there was Jack, but he was the one that kissed me, once, and I didn’t kiss him back because I didn’t want to, I wanted you.”

That was a story for another time. She sighed then, seemingly breathing again.

“You know I’m not angry, I’m not. I’m oddly fine, though a little relieved you didn’t fuck him in our bed, is that a strange thing to admit?”

He cringed physically. He was the world’s biggest asshole.

“He and I talked you know, before he came here today – last night – most of the night really. And I … sent him here. I sent him here knowing what would happen. I knew, and I sent him to see you anyway.” She took a deep breath. “Because he loves you … and you have always–” her voice broke and it broke him, he all but lunged beside her and got down on one knee, making her look him in the eye from where she sat.

“Peggy, I’m so sorry, I am. The last thing I want is to hurt you. The last thing Steve would ever want is to hurt you. He loves you, too. I mean it’s fucked isn’t it? It’s all entirely absolutely fucked but it’s the truth.”

She wiped a tear then, taking another deep breath.

“That’s the bloody problem. I knew when you two saw each other again, got time alone, that there would be nothing – past, present or future – that would stop you from being together now. And laying all my cards on the table here James, it fucking terrified me because I’m powerless here, and I hate that feeling.”

She hugged him then, their heights matching as she sat on the chair and he stood on his knees, reaching for her and enveloping her in his arms.

“You are not powerless. That is a word that never has and never will ever apply to you, Carter.”

She pulled back, rolling her eyes.

“Peg, I love you. I’ve loved you and I know you’ve loved me, and what we’ve had has been the best years of my life.”

He meant that, every damn word.

“But…?” she added, tucking some of his hair behind his ear. “Then there’s Steve, and those feelings don’t just die. They didn’t when we thought he was gone, and now…”

Bucky remained silent, unsure of what came next. It wasn’t like there was a road map for this sort of thing.

“We talked, he and I, and he told me that he loved me, or was at least falling in love with me before that plane fell from the sky. He told me he was confused then and even more so now, if possible. He also told me that he had loved you since he was twelve and knew what it meant – even if he was going to hell for it.”

Bucky sighed as she all but dragged him to his feet, taking his hand and leading him into the living room.

She took a soft seat next to him, both of them still obviously on eggshells.

“What happens now?” she asked, slipping off her heels and curling legs underneath herself.

“I don’t … I don’t know.”

“Just be honest with me, Barnes. It’s all I’ve ever asked of you, don’t change that now.”

The truth, well, in for a penny as his mother used to say. It was his turn then to take a big deep lungs filled breath.

“I love him, and I never thought I’d get him back. God don’t answer the prayers of two queer boys from Brooklyn, Carter, he just don’t.”

She nodded, that sad smile back in place and it felt like a knife in the chest.

“But I also love you, I’m in love with you too, and I have been for creeping up on seven years. I love our life together. I love our friendship, our relationship, the fact that you’re my friend and my lover, and I had hoped one day soon a little more. You’re the only woman I’ve ever loved, Peggy, and at first that terrified me so much because what if I lost you, too. And so I hid it away and stamped it down for longer than I want to admit, but I know you did too, because you shared that same fear because we both lost–”

“The only man you ever loved.”

He tried to stop it, but failed. He felt the familiar sting of tears in eyes, not bothering to front it anymore he let them fall with a sniffle.

“Yeah.” He let out a big breath then. He felt as if he’d been holding that information in most of his life, and he expected her to look at him with hate filled eyes, but no, he just saw her look at him as she always looked at him, a curious softness, and maybe love.

He hoped it was still love.

“And shit, during the war I was so jealous of you because I knew he’d pick you over me any day.”

“Categorically false, James. That was my thought on the two of you. It’s what held me back for so long with Steve, and I didn’t want to get into something that I knew would only end in my heart being trampled.”

He laughed then, a little bitterly. The had this conversation in a way when they first reconnected, so long ago now.

“We should have had a chinwag back in the day, Carter. The two fools in love with a super fool, wonder if they’d add that to the comics?”

That made her laugh, her own tears being dried up by a hankie she produced from her pocket, which told him that it wasn’t the first time she’d shed tears that week. The sinking feeling returned to his stomach again.

“I always wanted you both to have a shot though. I mean I barely knew you, but him … I wanted so desperately for him to have a shot at a normal life, make an honest woman of you, and have some kids … whatever he wanted. And I was so bitter that the war took him at all, but more so that it took his choices from him, his life.”

She nodded.

He took her hand then and kissed it.

“I am sorry for all of this. You deserve better.”

She shook her head.

“I wouldn’t trade anything, he and I, you and I, and yes even you and him – none of it – for the world.”

“Really?”

“He shaped you, you shaped him, for the last almost decade you and I have shaped each other. He made me want to fight on, to fight the good fight – whatever that was – to stand up for the little guys who were always, always taking a beating. We’ve all affected each other, changed each others lives for the better – mostly. People grow and change and we become hopefully decent human beings willing to do the right thing and live a good life in-between. I got to live a good life with you for longer than I thought, war being what it is; a never ending cycle of death and pain, and we do what we can in-between to make life good. You made my life good.”

“And you mine.”

It felt final, it felt terrifying, and so he gripped her hands tighter.

“I don’t want this to be our end, Peggy. I can’t lose you.”

She closed her eyes, more tears falling before she licked her lips.

“But you love him more.”

“No, I love him too , not more . Not more. I love you both and my head is so fucked up because that’s wrong. You aren’t meant to love your best friend, or your best friends girl and certainly not both at once. I might be wrong Peggy, but I can’t help how I feel and I’m sorry but I don’t want to lose you both.”

She narrowed her eyebrows at him then.

“What are you saying, Bucky?”

It was Bucky when she was trying to get through to him, always Bucky – after nightmares, after sex, after a fight. Barnes in public, James when pissed or proper, or properly pissed. He liked when she called him Bucky.

“I don’t know. I’m sorry, I think I would rather lose you both than have to choose, Peggy. I can do a lot of things but not that.”

Notes:

Eeep! How did you like that? The Steve/Bucky reunion sexing was tough to make happen because don’t we all love Peggy so much? Does it make it cheating if they all love each other? Does it make it cheating if she was sending Steve there and knowing and being okay with what she knew would happen? I angst’d a lot over this chapter so I really do hope you like!

Ps. Are we super excited for Agent Carter? What do we think of soft-core Lumberjack Steve Rogers? Jesus wept, amIright? xo

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