Chapter 1: Bucky Barnes Saves the Night
“Betty, there you are! We’re ready to go. Come on.” Peggy exclaims innocently.
“My name is Martha.” The woman looks at Peggy confused.
Peggy rolls her eyes and chuckles, “You gotta work with me. I’m trying to get you away from him. Clearly, you don’t want to be here.”
“You don’t know anything about this. Why don’t you get out of here before you get hurt.”
“I know she looks very uncomfortable. I’m also pretty sure she said ‘no’ before you dragged her back here.” Peggy looks around, stalling while she searches her bag for her knife. “Behind the dumpster in an alley, real classy.”
“You know what. She’s not even worth it.” He releases his grip on Martha, and she runs.
Peggy turns to leave, still reaching for the knife. Before she can find it, he grabs her arm and spins her around.
“You, on the other hand, got a little life in you.”
"Don't touch me," she snarls, attempting to pry her arm away.
"Oh, don't be coy, sweetheart. I’ve seen you around Brooklyn and heard all about you." He pulls her toward him, wrapping an arm around her waist.
She struggles to break free, but he only pulls her closer, "Come on, little lady. You don't want to tire me out before we even get started."
She groans. With her right arm locked tightly in this stranger's grasp, she's forced to punch with her left. He easily blocks it but releases her hips. She's able to jerk her right arm free and run away.
She only makes it a few feet before he grabs her from behind. She thrusts her elbow into his stomach as hard as she can.
He grabs her wrist as he doubles over, coughing. "Alright, that's enough playin' around."
He backhands her, his ring splitting her cheek open.
She crashes to the ground, barely able to break her fall in time. "This what does it for you, pain? Does your wife get all this special treatment?" She spits blood on the ground.
"If I did this with my wife," he grabs her hair and pulls her to her feet, "I wouldn't need you." He shoves her into the alley wall.
She breathes hard, survival instincts going wild. He has her pinned to the wall by both wrists. The brick scrapes across her face, tearing open the gash on her cheek.
She silently curses herself for not having her knife ready. She knew better. This city had a lot to say about her, but no one could ever say she wasn't a fighter. Unfortunately, that's what attracted so many creeps.
She can feel his chest pressing against her back as he leans in, smelling her hair. His breath on her neck makes her skin crawl.
"Get the hell off me," she growls.
"I like your spirit." He pushes in closer.
She squirms under his weight, trying desperately to break free. She closes her eyes, forcing back tears. She takes long, deep breaths trying to ease the sick feeling in her stomach. She knows she'll lose this fight.
Peggy lets out a breath, relief flooding over her, when she hears Bucky's voice.
"Don't you have a wife to harass?"
"Do I know you?" The man pulls away from Peggy a little.
"No, which means you don't live around here. Which makes me 95% certain you're married. Now, back the fuck up before I make you."
He reluctantly lets go of her wrists and backs away. As soon as she has enough room, Peggy whirls around, throwing a punch into his jaw.
Bucky winces, "Nice hook, Peg." He keeps an eye on the man, waiting to see if he’ll retaliate.
When the man walks away, Bucky steps to the side and watches him walk down the street.
When he's satisfied the man isn't coming back, Bucky turns back to Peggy, "What were you thinking running off by yourself at this time of night? I turned around and you were gone. I've been looking for you for half an hour.”
She groans, “I didn’t want to go to the Stark Expo to begin with. Then you picked up the first girl you came across.”
He looks hurt, “Peggy, I didn’t think-”
“No, Bucky. You know I don’t care who you date. Hell, if you give me a warning, I’ll even take an extra shift so you can have the apartment to yourself.” She lets out a frustrated sigh, “Just, don’t drag me across town so you can go looking for someone to take home.”
He takes her gently by the chin, examining her bloody cheek. He shakes his head, "Come on. I think we have some peas in the freezer.”
“It can wait. Go finish your date. I promise to stay in well lit, very public places,” She laughs.
“Yeah, I don’t think that date’s going to happen now.”
She looks at the ground. “Sorry.”
He shrugs. “How'd that guy get the drop on you, anyway?"
"What do you mean? I had him right where I wanted him."
"Of course you did, Kitten," he laughs, wrapping his arm around her.
She shrugs his arm off, "Don't call me that."
He acts hurt, "But everyone calls you kitten."
She shoves him, "Are you looking for a broken nose, Mr. Barnes? Because you're about to find one."
He laughs, “You’re clearly not enjoying this. How about we go dancing?”
“You know I don’t dance.”
“You just need to find the right partner. Come on, tonight I’ll be your wingman.”
He offers her his arm. Laughing, she takes it, and they leave the Expo together.
Four hours later, they both laugh as Bucky opens the door to their apartment. The room is ice cold, and when he flips the light switch, nothing happens.
They both sigh.
"Well, now we know how long it takes the electric company to realize we didn't pay," Peggy laughs hollowly.
Bucky buttons his coat back up, "Well, at least those peas should still be cold." He smiles at her weakly, turning on the flashlight on the table before walking to the freezer.
Peggy folds the bed out from the wall and gets the entire stack of blankets from the corner of the room. She lays half on the bed and the other half in the chair next to the bed.
Bucky walks in with the bag of mostly frozen peas. “What are you doing?”
“Going to sleep.” She takes her coat and scarf off, dropping them on the floor. “I worked ten hours straight and then stayed out with you all night.” She sits down in the chair, still wearing her dress.
“You can’t sleep there. It’s going to get a lot colder, and you’re already shivering. You’ll freeze.” He grabs the blankets from the chair and lays them out over the bed. “We both will.”
“The heat was nice while it lasted,” she jokes lightly as she moves to the bed. She takes the bag of peas from him and holds them on her face.
“Do you work another double tomorrow?” When she nods, he groans and continues, “I don’t like you working late when I can’t walk you home.”
She rolls her eyes, “I’m not the only one who has to walk home in the dark.”
“Then let them walk you home for once. Those girls are not your responsibility, Peggy.” His eyes are pleading.
“And I’m not yours.”
There’s a long silence as he takes his shirt off and climbs into the bed. “Come here so you can steal my body heat.”
She slides over, pulling the blankets up. “I do not.”
“Yeah, you do.” He wraps his arms around her. “But it’s fine. You probably need it more.”
Chapter 2: Bucky Barnes Does Not Save the Night
A view into the lives Peggy and Bucky. This chapter goes deeper into their relationship and Bucky's protective side.
This chapter is rough. Just a warning.
Peggy opens the front door, already sliding her shoes off as she walks in.
“Hey, Kitten!” Bucky is entirely too lively for her current energy level.
“You’ve been home six seconds. How could I possibly have pissed you off?”
“Your face is too happy.”
He immediately replaces his smile with the biggest frown he can manage. “What should we do today?”
“I just finished an eight-hour shift. I want to go to sleep.”
“Oh, yeah.” He smiles again, “Could you try to keep it down in the mornings. It took me twenty minutes to fall back asleep.”
She throws a shoe at him. He dodges, rolling over the opposite side of the bed.
He sticks his head up, “I’m serious. It was 4:30.”
She throws the other shoe.
“Come on, Peg. It’s Saturday. It’s just common courtesy.”
“I’m running out of things to throw. Keep it up, and I’ll just have to hit you.”
“Easy, Kitten,” he chuckles.
“Oh, you want to get hit?” She laughs moving across the room.
“I want to cheer you up. You look like shit. Go take a shower, and we’ll get some lunch.”
She begins to protest, but he interrupts, “And then you can take your nap.”
She reluctantly agrees. A few moments later, she comes out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, hair dripping. “You know what I miss more than heat? Hot water.”
He laughs, “Your lips are turning blue.”
“Then throw me some clothes!”
She gets dressed and comes back out, “Where do you want to go?”
“Probably not the diner?”
She rolls her eyes, “Definitely not. You would not believe the day I’ve had.”
She groans, rolling her eyes. “It was awful.”
“I wish that were my only problem. One of the regulars has been making passes at me. Today, he smacked my ass and offered me a ride. And I’m fairly certain he takes the bus.”
“What did you say to him?”
“Nothing. That kind of stuff happens all the time.”
“Peggy, that’s not okay.”
“It’s not a big deal. Just let it go.”
“No. That’s how you get creeps following you home from work.”
“Actually, I’m pretty sure you do that by living with a man you haven’t married.”
“Oh, we’re going to the diner.” He’s out the door before she can argue.
“Bucky, I’m here sixty hours a week. This is the last place I want to be on my off time.” She complains, walking through the door Bucky holds open for her.
“Are you ever going to learn to trust me?”
“Oh, God. You’re not going to make a scene, are you?”
He smiles at her, “That, my dear, is exactly what I’m going to do.”
“No. Bucky.” She lays her head down on the table. “I just wanted to go to sleep.”
“And after this you can. I’ll even lay down with you.”
She jerks her head up. “Oh, no. I want you and your schemes far, far away from me.”
“Well, Margaret, that’s just rude.”
They order and make small talk while they eat. Peggy tells him more about her shift. Bucky talks about his classwork. They observe the other customers and joke about how boring their lives would be if they hadn’t grown up on the street. When they finish, Peggy gets up to get them both a slice of pie. When she gets back to the table, Bucky steps out of the booth and gets on one knee.
Peggy smiles at him, confused, and whispers “What are you doing?”
He whispers back, “Hopefully acting as a very strong deterrent to these men. Give me your hand.”
“Where did you even-”
“It was my mother’s. It’s her only piece of jewelry I didn’t sell. Now, give me your damn hand. You’re embarrassing me.”
She slowly holds her left hand out toward him. “Then you should have warned me.”
“You needed to look surprised.” He slides the ring on her finger.
“This is ridiculous. Everyone here knows we’re not together.”
He stands up and pulls her close, “Then we’ll have to be convincing.”
“Oh, God. What are you -”
All eyes are on them. With one arm around her waist and the other behind her shoulders, he bends her backwards into a dip and kisses her. Everyone in the diner starts murmuring to each other. They hear a few comments about “little love birds.” After several seconds, he stands back up straight, bringing her with him.
“Do you think they’re convinced?”
Peggy clears her throat. “If that kiss had been any longer, you might have convinced me.”
He looks over, surprised to see her blushing.
“Peggy Carter, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you enjoyed that.”
“Well, you’ve always been a good kisser.” She smiles at him. “Now, can I please go to sleep?”
“After, you.” He waves his hand toward the entrance, and they make their way to the bus stop.
She takes the ring off and hands it back to Bucky.
He looks hurt. “No, this was for you.”
“Bucky, I am not taking your mother’s wedding ring from you.”
“Please wear it. Maybe it’ll keep you away from some of the trouble.” He holds it out to her.
She takes it back. “Fine, but only until you find a girl you’re ready to give it to.”
“Deal.” He smiles as she puts the ring back on. “You don’t work until lunch tomorrow, right?”
She drops into a seat on the bus. “Can we not talk about my work schedule?”
“We could if you didn’t work so much.”
“I wouldn’t have to if you didn’t eat so much.”
“Oh, it’s my fault now?” He laughs and pulls her into his side. “So, when do you work tomorrow?”
She leans her head on his shoulder, “Lunch.”
“Good. Let’s go out tonight. I bet we can get someone to buy our dinner if I propose again.” She laughs weakly in response. “Night, Kitten.”
“I don’t want to sleep on the bus.”
“You are ridiculously stubborn. It’s a twenty-minute ride. Shut up and get some rest.”
“Angie, you can go when you finish sweeping. Peggy, I need to talk to you when you’re done closing out the register.” The diner manager said, leaning out his office door.
“Sure, John, it’ll only be a minute.” Peggy calls back.
When Angie finishes sweeping, she puts the broom away and grabs her purse from John's office. “Night, Peg.”
“If you’ll wait a minute, Angie, I can walk you home.”
“No, it’s early enough that I can take the bus tonight. I’ll be fine.” She smiles, “See you in the morning?”
“Not if I can help it,” Peggy laughs. “I’m not scheduled again until Thursday.”
Angie waves and walks out the door. Not long after, Peggy closes the register and makes her way back to the office.
She knocks on the open door before walking in. “You wanted to talk?”
“Have a seat, Miss Carter.” He motions to the chair on the opposite side of his desk.
After she’s seated, he continues, “What are your plans here, now that you’re soon to be married?”
“I expect nothing will change.” She answers slightly confused.
“Your husband will approve of you working?”
“Well, marriage doesn’t mean we’ll suddenly have more money.” She laughs.
“Why would you agree to marry a man who can’t support you?” He raises an eyebrow and begins fidgeting uncomfortably, “Did you two make a mistake?”
“We didn’t do anything.” She glares at him, still smiling. “Although, I can’t understand how you have any business asking me that.”
“My waitresses are my business.” He says casually, walking around to the other side of his desk. He stands directly in front of her, then leans back slightly, resting against the front edge of his desk.
Peggy shifts uneasily in her seat.
“So, tell me. If there’s nothing tying you to this roommate of yours,” his voice drips with disapproval, “why would you agree to marry him if he can’t support you?”
“He’s in school. We’ll be fine.” She slides toward the edge of the chair, shifting her weight in preparation to run if her suspicions turn out to be correct.
“Still, a dame as beautiful as yourself is certainly capable of attracting a man who is capable of taking care of her.”
“I don’t need taking care of.” Peggy answers through gritted teeth, standing up.
He pushes her back into the chair so hard, it tips over backwards. The moment she hits the ground, Peggy rolls backwards, attempting to put distance between the two of them. She scrambles to her feet and sets her sights on the door.
John has already caught up to her and grabs her wrist. Peggy can feel her skin burn under his hand as she tries to twist her arm free. He jerks her back toward himself, and she throws her elbow into his nose.
He immediately releases her wrist. “Fucking whore!”
She abandons her plan to escape, instead running to her purse in the corner. She dumps the contents on the floor and quickly grabs her pocketknife. She spins around, slicing across his cheek by sheer luck. Then, taking full advantage of the moment, she kicks in his knee causing him to collapse.
Again, she runs for the door. This time she makes it out of the office and across the dining area. Despite his injury, she can hear him approaching quickly behind her, though she dares not slow down to turn around. When she gets to the front door of the diner, she finds it locked.
“Shit.” She curses under her breath, quickly rifling through her apron pockets for the key.
Just as she pulls the key from her pocket, John grabs her shoulder and pulls. She whirls around knife first. She cuts his arms as he blocks her swings, until he grabs her knife with his bare hand. Blood immediately drips down the blade and over her hand before pooling onto the floor.
He yanks the weapon away from her and passes it to his other hand. He grabs her by the bicep, smearing blood across her skin and uniform. She struggles against him, knowing he’s much stronger than she is. He drags her back through the diner into his office, Peggy fighting against him the entire time.
“I tried to be gentle with you,” he snarls in her ear, “but now you’ve pissed me off.”
“Go to hell.” Peggy groans.
When they’re back in the office, he pulls her arm backward, turning her to face him. She throws her right knee into his stomach, but he blocks with the hand holding the knife. Peggy inhales sharply at the sting of metal tearing her flesh. She can barely stand on her freshly wounded leg; he easily pushes her back to the wall with only one hand.
“Don’t worry, kitten. I far exceed your standards,” he scoffs.
Peggy slams both hands into his chest, shoving him back. She lets out a whimper as, again, the knife slices her right forearm. She continues to throw punches and elbows toward his face, tears building as her arms are shredded by her own knife.
Luckily, John has no skill with the knife. He only counters her attacks, blocking solely by natural reaction. But it’s enough to wear her down. She takes a deep breath, gathering the last of her strength. Using her entire body weight, she slams her shoulder into his diaphragm.
He tumbles back with an audible gasp. He’s laying on the floor between Peggy and the door, but she knows he won’t be down long. The gash in her leg is already screaming from her effort. She takes another deep breath and holds it, preparing for the pain. She lunges forward, launching herself over John. Again, he lashes out on pure instinct.
She screams in agony as her knife bites through her Achilles tendon. The moment her foot touches down, she collapses. She twists around, trying to minimize the impact of her fall. Her head slams into the floor so hard, her vision blurs.
She groans, pushing herself off the floor only to be shoved back down again. She feels his crushing weight on top of her as he presses the blade against her neck.
“Do you see what you’ve done?” He pants, breathless. “I never wanted to hurt you, honey.”
Her neck starts to burn as the knife cuts into her skin with every movement. She’s trapped. And this time, Bucky’s not waiting around the corner. She’s alone, and she’s not getting away.
Bucky whistles as he climbs the stairs to his apartment. His date in Manhattan had gone exceptionally well. He pulls the keys from his pocket, ready to open the door, but it’s already unlocked.
He opens the door confused; Peggy always locks the door behind her. Walking in, he looks immediately to the floor on his right. Nothing.
Something was wrong. Peggy never took more than two steps inside with her shoes on, and she never puts them away.
“Peggy?” He calls, cautiously looking around.
As he kneels to investigate what appears to be droplets of blood, he hears retching in the bathroom. He jumps up, reaching the bathroom in only a few strides.
“Peg, what’s going-” He stops short when he enters the room. The sight of her curled up in the corner, covered in blood leaves him speechless.
Bucky studies her; Peggy stares at his shoes. They’re both silent until another convulsion racks Peggy’s body, and she leans over the toilet to vomit. Bucky quietly steps forward and pulls the hair out of her face. He shudders at the sticky feeling of coagulated blood under his hands.
When she sits back, he grabs the towel from the sink. He rinses it and begins gently working the mats out of her hair.
“Holy fuck,” he whispers to himself as he begins to grasp the extent of her injuries.
She leans forward and throws up again, then continues dry heaving for several more minutes.
As the shuddering eases, Bucky looks her over. “What the hell happened to you?”
She doesn’t react. She doesn’t even turn to look at him. She stands up unsteadily, supporting all her weight on her left side. “I need a shower.”
Bucky nods, even though she’s looking at the floor. “Okay. Do you want help?”
“I don’t think I can walk anymore.” She states calmly.
He holds out his arm, supporting her for the few steps it takes to cross the room. She lets out a quiet whimper, tightening her grip when she steps on her right side. He turns his back to her as she undresses. Normally, it wouldn't matter; they dress in front of each other all the time. But he knows the last thing she wants right now is someone seeing her naked.
She groans and whimpers with every movement as the skin stretches and reopens her wounds. He hears the water start running and, a few minutes later, a sharp inhale as the cold water hits her skin. He turns back around.
“I’m going to wait here in case you need me.” He sits down outside the shower.
He’s drifting off to sleep when Peggy says, “I need your arm.”
He stands and rolls up his sleeve, then reaches his arm into the shower blindly. After a few seconds, she takes his arm to steady herself. He strains considerably trying to support her weight with only one outstretched arm, but he’s determined not to let her fall. His arm gets significantly heavier as she bends over to turn off the water.
“I need a towel.” Despite the length of her shower, Peggy’s voice is still monotone.
He opens the cabinet and takes the top towel out. He carefully passes it around the shower curtain, his back turned as far as he could manage.
“No, this one is white.” She hands it back.
He squats down to look under the sink and picks out a brown towel. “This is the only other color we have.”
She sighs, taking it.
“I’m going to get you some clean clothes. I’ll only be a minute, but please be careful.”
“Stay.” A small hint of emotion creeps into her voice. “I don’t want to be alone.”
He leans against the wall, running a hand over his face. “Whatever you need.”
When she opens the shower curtain, she’s wrapped in her towel, hair dripping. There’s fresh blood on the towel, and her right leg is already coated in blood from the slash above her knee. The gouges on her neck and arms ooze more slowly. Bucky holds his arm out to her.
She shakes her head. “I want to try.”
She steps out of the shower, right leg first, leaning on the wall for support as she shifts her weight. She grinds her teeth and snorts in pain, fighting back tears.
She sets her left foot down outside the shower and immediately shifts her weight back to it, releasing the breath she’d been holding. She shuffles around, resting her shoulders on the wall, then she slides down until she’s sitting.
As she wraps her arms around her knees, Bucky sits beside her. “Peggy, how did this happen?”
She stares ahead blankly for several seconds, then shakes her head slowly, blinking hard. “What?”
“You weren’t supposed to close today. You should have been home hours before me.”
She speaks slowly, trying to keep up with the conversation, “Helen asked me to cover so she could go home early.”
“If I had known, I would have walked you home.” His voice breaks.
“It’s not your fault.” Seemingly more aware of the conversation, she smiles at Bucky, but her eyes remain dull. “This wasn’t the first time, and it probably won’t be-”
“Yes. It will.”
He holds his hand out, palm up. She looks at it for a minute before laying hers on top. They sit together in silence, their hands the only physical contact between them.
After a while, Bucky lets out a strained breath, “I would like to look at your injuries. Will you let me?”
She nods absently.
He stands up and offers her his hand. She ignores it, choosing to try standing on her own. She struggles and her legs wobble, but she gets up with several groans and a whimper. She yelps as she begins putting weight on her right leg. When she lifts her left foot to take a step, her right knee buckles under the weight.
Bucky catches her before she can fall too far. “Do you want me to carry you?”
Again, she nods absently.
He bends down and lifts her into his arms, careful not to move the towel out of place. He carries her to the living room and sets her down in front of their dresser. He folds the bed out from the wall.
“I can help you get dressed if you need.”
“No.” She states coldly.
He keeps his back turned until she gives him the all clear.
“Would you rather stand up or lay down?”
She doesn’t say anything, but hobbles over to the bed, whining with every step. Blood is still seeping steadily from her leg, so she lays the towel down before sitting on the edge.
“What hurts the most?”
He kneels in front of her, examining the gash above her knee. He slides the edge of her dress up slowly, just enough to reveal the full wound. “Are there any farther up?”
When she shakes her head, he continues, “It’s not good. Tore through some muscle. May need stitches.”
He walks to the dresser and takes out one of his older shirts. He tears it into strips as he walks back to her. He kneels again and wraps a piece of fabric tightly around her leg, then moves to her ankle.
“This is bad, Peg. You need to see a doctor.”
He sighs, “Fine.” He wraps two strips around her ankle to provide a little stability.
He continues looking over the rest of her injuries. The cuts on her forearms are relatively minor, but he still wraps a strip of fabric around each. He cringes when he realizes he can make out fingers in the bruise on her wrist. He gently wipes the new blood out of her hair and inspects that gash as best he can.
“You had a lot of blood on you when I got home. Are you sure that’s all of them?”
“It wasn’t all mine.” She begins trembling at the memory of his hands on her body. She can still feel the blood from his broken nose, warm down her neck.
“Hey, it’s alright,” he whispers gently. “You’re with me now. I’m not going to let anybody hurt you.”
She takes a deep, calming breath. Her voice is still shaky, “I know.”
“I just need to look at your neck.”
She lifts her chin.
“Well, it definitely could have been worse. He could have killed you.”
“I wish he had.” She says flatly. “If I had fought harder, maybe he would have.” She crawls to the back of the bed and wraps her arms around her knees.
“Please don’t talk like that.” He wants nothing more than to wrap his arms around her and pull her tight against his chest, but he knows she’s not ready for that. “Peg, you gave him hell.”
“I wasn’t strong enough.”
“Get that out of your head right now.” His crawls up beside and mimics her pose, holding his hand out like he did before. “It was not your fault. You’re stronger than any man I know, and you fight harder than all of them combined. You have nothing to be ashamed of.” He smiles to himself, “Hell, if anything you should be proud. From what I could tell, you kicked ass today.”
She stretches her legs out straight and takes his hand in hers, laying them both gently in her lap.
“Do you want to go to sleep?”
“I don’t think I can.”
He nods. “How about a book?”
“I really just want to sit.”
“Okay.” He leans his back against the wall and looks at her.
She doesn’t move. He can tell she’s exhausted. He doesn’t know whether it’s fear or adrenaline, but he does know she won’t get any sleep tonight. Her face is firm, focused on her thoughts. He knew she was replaying it. Everything she could remember. Trying to find where she went wrong. As much as it killed him, he knew there was nothing he could do to stop it. Nothing he could say to convince her she wasn’t to blame.
“Why did I lock that goddamn door.” Her whisper is unintelligible.
“I should have run faster. If I hadn’t tried to knee him, I wouldn’t have hurt my leg. I could have gotten away.” She pauses for a moment, running the scenario again in her head. “I should’ve tried harder to get up after that leap. I probably could have. I just didn’t try.” She runs through it again. “I should’ve hit harder. Certainly, I can. Why didn’t I push through the pain?”
After three more run throughs, Bucky can’t take anymore. “Peggy?” He squeezes her hand.
She turns her head to look at his feet. “Yeah?”
He takes her by the chin and lifts up her face. She closes her eyes. “Look at me, please. Can you do that?”
Her eyes flutter open slowly.
“I am not disappointed in you. You did nothing wrong.”
“No one else will believe that.”
“Then I’m the only one who matters. It was not your fault.”
She doesn’t respond, just looks away again.
He sighs, “What do you need?”
She leans into him. “Will you hold me?”
“Of course, Kitten.” He wraps his arms around her.
She gulps and shudders, remembering how that word made her skin crawl just hours before.
“No. Tell me he didn’t.” Bucky growls. When no response comes, he whispers under his breath. “Fucking bastard.”
She begins to shake under his arms. He eases his grip, worried he was scaring her. She curls in closer, so he pulls her back in tighter. About the time he feels her tears against his chest, she starts gasping for air. “Don’t leave me.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” He lightly strokes her hair. “I have you. You’re safe now.” He leans farther back, hoping if she lays down more, her exhaustion will overpower her fear and she might get some rest. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”
He kisses the top of her head as his own tears begin to spill over. “I am so, so sorry.”
Chapter 3: Healing
Bucky helps Peggy recover from her injuries and has an encounter with John.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Peggy didn’t fall asleep until a few hours before sunrise. Bucky never fell asleep. He just held Peggy tight, stroking her hair when he’d feel her stir with a nightmare.
When the sun begins breaking through the night, Bucky eases his way out from under Peggy. He takes an extra blanket off the bed and drapes it across the window, so the morning light won’t wake Peggy while he’s gone. If it’s anything like the last time, she would only sleep a few hours, and he wanted to be back before she wakes up.
Bucky locks the door behind him and begins walking to the first open store he can find. He walks for a mile and a half before reaching a convenience store. He quickly searches the aisles for whatever first aid supplies they have. There’s not much, but at least they have the basics: fabric bandages, adhesive bandages, gauze strips, aspirin, and various ointments and creams.
He lays everything out on the front counter, and the cashier gives him an apprehensive look.
“My wife slipped in the shower.” Bucky shrugs.
The cashier nods absently as Bucky takes out his wallet. After he pays, Bucky hurries back down the street. He struggles to find his keys while balancing the paper grocery bag in one arm.
When a muffled yelp comes through the door, Bucky drops the bag on the ground and digs furiously through his pockets. He jams the key into the lock and swings the door open. He hears the continuous stream of whimpers before he sees Peggy trying to stand on her own.
“Peg, be careful!” He dashes to her side.
She leans into him for support and sighs with relief as the weight shifts off her injured leg. “I thought you went to class.”
“Not today.” He shakes his head. “Probably not tomorrow either. You shouldn’t be putting any weight on that leg.”
“I have to pee,” she whines.
He chuckles at the pained the look on her face. “Alright, I’ll carry you. How are you felling?” He gently lifts her into his arms.
“Everything hurts.” She takes a shaky breath. “Every step, every stretch, every breath.”
He furrows his brow. “Well, you shouldn’t be stepping or stretching anyway. There’s nothing we can do about the breathing though.”
Bucky leaves Peggy in the bathroom assuring her he’ll be right back. He ambles back to the front door to retrieve the first aid supplies. He winces as he bends down to pick up the bag, his muscles straining against the movement. He sets it on the bed and leans back, wincing again as he forces his muscles to stretch. As he straightens, he massages his lower back with a groan.
“I’m too old to be-" His grumbling is interrupted by a thud.
“Shit!” echoes through the studio apartment.
Bucky runs to the bathroom, cursing the pain shooting up his back. When he enters the room, he begins cursing for an entirely different reason.
“Goddamn it, Peggy! Why can’t you just ask for help?!”
She’s curled up on the floor, hands clamped around her right thigh. Blood is starting to soak through the makeshift bandage from last night.
“I’m fine.” She grinds her teeth.
“No, you’re not,” he sighs, “I’ll be right back. Don’t move.”
He gets the aspirin, a bandage, and gauze, bringing them back to the bathroom. He finds Peggy seated on the floor, leaning against the wall.
He smirks, “I told you not to move.”
“You were taking too long.” She rests her head on the wall.
Bucky passes her the bottle of aspirin and wets a washcloth. “This is going to hurt.”
He unwraps the scrap of fabric around Peggy’s leg and examines the wound with a grimace. He takes a deep breath before he begins scrubbing as gently as he can manage. He murmurs to himself as he works. If he had paid more attention in his anatomy class, he might know how bad off she really was. Just because it looks bad, doesn’t mean it really is. If it doesn’t get infected, she might be fine.
“You take a few years of pre-med and you think you know everything.” She chuckles dryly, eyes barely open.
“I don’t. That’s why you need to see a doctor.”
“No.” Her eyes snap open and she goes rigid.
“Peg, I can’t fix this.”
“Not after the things they said last time.”
“That was different. You weren’t-”
“I was eighteen." She swallows hard and her eyes go dim. “They didn’t believe me then. They certainly won’t treat me any better now.”
“I know,” he whispers, remembering how they barely even looked at her. The doctor gave her pain meds and suggested she not be so open about their living arrangements.
She flinches as he digs the washcloth deeper into the gash.
“How're you holding up?”
“I can do this all day,” she smiles ashen faced and eyes fluttering closed.
He shakes his head and tosses the washcloth aside. He looks around for the antiseptic cream and curses when he realizes he left it in the other room.
“Hey, you still with me?” He shakes her arm.
“Mhmm.” She attempts to nod.
“You gotta quit being so stubborn.” He lifts her up and carries her to the bed. “Rest and let me help.”
“I told you I’m fine.”
“And I told you you’re not.” He smears ointment across the long cut. “Luckily your knife was pretty sharp, so these are pretty clean cuts.” He raises his voice, looking her in the eyes. “I’m hoping if YOU REST, it’ll close up on its own.”
After he wraps her thigh, he moves on to her ankle. “This is the one I’m worried about.”
“It’ll be fine. I trust you.” She smiles, tensing as Bucky stretches and rotates her ankle.
He runs a hand down his face with a groan. “Peg, this is way out of my league.”
“Oh, don’t sell yourself short.”
“Is this all a joke to you?!” He snaps, glaring at her. “Peggy, you can’t walk. He easily could’ve killed you.”
Her face goes dark, and her voice turns flat. “No, Buck. I don’t think it’s a joke. I was there.”
They sit in silence as he wraps her ankle tightly. He continues cleaning her other injuries, dressing them as necessary. He curses under his breath when he notices new bruises. He’s sure more will show up over the next week.
When he’s satisfied with his work, he leans back on his heels, rubbing his burning eyes. “I’m sorry. I know you don’t think it’s funny. I just…I don’t know…”
She nods. “I know.”
“Do you need anything?”
She shakes her head.
“I’m going to try and get some ice and food” He grabs his keys off the bed and pauses at the door. “Please stay put.”
Bucky walks into the diner and smiles at Angie.
She grins, “Where’s your fiancée?”
“She slipped in the shower. I’m just picking up some food and maybe a little ice.”
A look of concern spreads across Angie’s face. “Oh, poor thing! And she was really looking forward to her time off. Let me talk to John and see if we can put your order on the house.”
Bucky thanks her as she walks away. He looks around observing the customers. It’s a slow day. There are only a few men spread throughout. He turns around when he hears John.
There must have been an accident in the kitchen; Bucky notices a cut a John’s face. There’s something off about that mark. He squints; it's pretty big with smooth edges. Actually, John has a lot of cuts. Bucky stands up straight, squaring his shoulders. John's arms are almost covered in nicks and slash marks.
He walks over, anger building in his chest. “John, can I talk to you for a minute about Peggy.”
He doesn’t wait for an answer. He pushes between John and Angie, continuing into the office. John follows shortly after, closing the door behind them.
“Peggy’s going to need some time off while we figure out our next steps.” Bucky’s voice is strained.
John takes a deep breath. “I suspected as much. She seemed certain you wouldn’t mind her working, though. Dames always think they know, right?” He begins rifling through his desk drawers. “I don’t think she’s scheduled for a few days, let me see…” He trails off.
Bucky watches his hands searching through the junk. One hand is bandaged, a small tinge of blood seeping through across the palm. The uninjured hand sweeps a pocketknife aside, and Bucky loses the little control he had.
“That’s Peggy’s knife.” He lunges at John, driving him into the wall. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t rip your throat right here.” His upper lip curls into a snarl.
“No one else will hire a broad with her reputation.” John chokes under Bucky’s forearm.
Bucky’s jaw muscles twitch. “She trusted you. They all do.”
"It's not like she didn't want it." John pulls at Bucky's arm, but it doesn't budge. "She's practically begging for it living with a man out of wedlock."
Bucky leans more weight against his forearm and grabs John’s injured hand. He digs his thumb into John’s palm, watching his eyes widen and his face go tense, unable to scream.
He whispers rabidly, “If you so much as look at her sideways ever again, I will tear you to shreds with my bare hands.”
He releases John, maintaining eye contact. “Peggy’s not coming in for at least two weeks, probably more. You will continue paying her while she recovers.” He walks to the door and pauses. “I’ll ask Peggy what she typically makes in a week and come back Friday to collect.”
It was a week before Peggy could manage simply limping to the bathroom, and Bucky could go back to class. His first day back at school, he brought home three different books about knife wounds, wound care, and leg injuries. Peggy rested as much as she could while he was gone. Getting to the bathroom was enough to exhaust her. When Bucky got home, he’d check the injuries and change the bandages. After another week, he helped her with gentle stretching.
It was a month before Peggy could handle the stairs to the apartment, and another month after that before she could work single shifts at the diner. After her first day back at work, she iced her thigh and ankle all night, and Bucky had to skip class the next day to help her at home. Bucky spent hours at the library every week learning about pain management options and stretches that would help her recovery. The bruises were gone after a week or two, except for the especially hideous one on her thigh. There was now a permanent indentation just above her heel where the Achilles tendon didn’t heal quite right. The gashes on her neck left a few small scars. But, all in all, they were doing alright.
Three months after the attack, Peggy was back to working almost full-time. John hadn’t bothered her once, which was surprising. Any time she had to work past sunset, Bucky would bring his books and study in the corner booth until she was ready to leave. At first, he had to physically help her walk home, sometimes carrying her the last half mile. Now, that only happened after the occasional, particularly hard double shift.
“So, you nervous?” Peggy looks at Bucky as they leave the diner.
“Finals are coming up, right?”
“I'll be fine,” he laughs, “With you around, I don’t have much time to worry about anything else.”
“Oh, you’re very funny.” She shoves him. “Are you excited then?”
“Oh, come on! You’re almost done.” She skips beside him. “After this, you only have one more semester.”
He smiles at her. “Then we can get out of here. Both of us. Start over somewhere no one knows our names.”
She smiles back, “No history.”
“You can get a real job and your own place.”
“You’re going to med school! I heard Baltimore is beautiful. What do you think of John’s Hopkins?”
“I could get into John’s Hopkins,” he smiles, “And you could marry a doctor.”
“The odds would be in my favor.”
He drapes his arm over her shoulders, and, for once, she doesn’t shrug it off. “A few more months, Miss Carter, and we’ll leave all this behind.”
Peggy stands outside the apartment searching her purse for the keys after being cut early due to a slow lunch crowd. With the war in full swing, everyone’s cutting back. She’s honestly amazed she still has a job. It’s a Saturday afternoon, which means Bucky should be home, and she really isn’t in the mood to be cheered up. She braces herself for the inevitable “Hey, Kitten” and pushes the door open.
Bucky is sitting slouched on the edge of the bed, holding a letter in one hand and rubbing his forehead with the other. His face is pale, expression strained. His jaw is clenched, eyebrows furrowed and he’s gripping the letter so hard his knuckles are turning white. Peggy’s shoulders drop and a knot forms in her stomach. She hasn’t seen him like this since his father died, and he was on his own.
He takes a deep breath without looking up. His voice is low and ragged. “We need to talk, Peg.”
Comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated!
The story is about to start picking up, thanks for sticking with me!
Chapter 4: Time for a Change
I kinda forgot about this one. Oops. I'll try to update it more regularly now. Sorry if this chapter's not great. I was just trying to get something written for you guys
Peggy fights back laughter. “What?”
“I’m serious. We get married, and after I finish boot camp, the Army will move us in together. We can use your paycheck to move you out of Brooklyn in the meantime.”
“Buck, you don’t want to marry me,” she chuckles.
“Well, what do you want to do?” He raises his voice, standing, “You can’t stay here without me.”
“No.” She shakes her head, eyes going dull. She squeezes her eyes shut and inhales deeply. “No.”
He takes a deep breath, running a hand through his hair. “Peg, this has been the plan since you were in kindergarten.”
She looks up. “And no one bothered to tell me?”
“People get married for logistical reasons all the time,” he sighs, sitting back down beside her. “It always made sense.”
“For who?” she scoffs.
“Separately, our families barely made it by, but together we actually had decent lives. Your parents gave mine every cent they could spare to send me to college one day. There was an understanding that when I graduated, we would get married.”
“How do you know that?” Her voice is low and quiet.
“After your dad died, my parents told me everything. They tried to set us up for an easier life.” He locks eyes with her. “Peg, I wasn’t going to hold you to it. I always thought you’d meet someone while I was in med school, and-”
“Then why are we working three jobs between the two of us and living without heat to pay for your school?”
“I was barely out of high school when your mom died and you moved in with me. We had to live on something.”
“Buck, I-” She leans toward him, taking his head in her hands. She kisses him softly; he flinches away. She pulls him closer and kisses him harder.
He pushes her back. “What are you doing?”
“Making a point.” She sits back. “What do you want to do after we’re married?”
He hangs his head and sighs. “I don’t know what to do, Peg. I’m going to war whether we like it or not. We’re out of time and options.”
They sit quietly, avoiding eye contact until Peggy straightens up with bright eyes. “I have an idea.”
“Please don’t say-"
“I’ll join the Women’s Army Corps!” She smiles.
“Oh, god! No, that’s even worse.” He takes her hand, eyes pleading. “Peggy, please just marry me.”
“No, if you’re going, so am I.”
“You can come if you marry me!”
“And what? Sit around hosting a book club with the other wives while you chase women around Europe? Not a chance.”
“Yes, Peg. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. Sit at home and bake or play bridge or whatever you want, but for once in your life, stay out of the fight.”
“It’s not my fault trouble finds me.” She shrugs.
“It might not find you if you quit looking for it.” He rolls his eyes.
“But then what would you do all day?”
He runs a hand down his face. “You’re going to do it aren’t you?”
“I’m not going to let you have all the fun,” she smiles.
Despite leaving several days after Bucky, Peggy finished her initial training nearly six weeks before he was scheduled to. She was assigned to Army Air Forces where she volunteered for every deployment. After two weeks of rejections, she decided to take action.
She sits in her commander’s office as he paces back and forth, red-faced.
“Jesus, Carter!” He spits out. “What the hell is wrong with you? This little stunt is more than enough to have you discharged. Is that what you wanted, huh? The Army too much for you?”
Peggy rolls her eyes, “No, sir. I just want to help our boys.”
“How did you plan on doing that?” He snorts at her. “Carter, you’re an Analyst. You can’t even fire a rifle.”
“I can do my job just as well in Germany as I can here, sir.” Peggy answers level-headed.
“Exactly. There’s no need for you to go with the boys.”
“I’m every bit the soldier they are, sir.”
He snorts again. “You have less than half the training. You’ve never touched a weapon. Have zero fighting skills. Can’t pack a ruck. No, Carter. You wear the uniform because Uncle Sam is desperate, but you are not a soldier.”
A young man knocks on the door before poking his head through the door. “Major Shaw, there’s someone here for you, sir.”
Peggy stands up as Shaw turns toward the door. He snaps back around. “Sit down. I’m not finished with you.”
“Yes, sir.” Peggy eases back into her chair, twisting the ring on her left hand.
As she fiddles with Bucky’s ring, her eyes drift to her nails. She picks at the already chipped polish with a huff, making a mental note to ask Anne for a touch-up tonight. She never really painted her nails before, but here having an immaculate manicure was all but official regulation.
After she concludes her inspection, she leans forward in her chair trying to see Shaw through the window. Whoever he’s talking to must be pretty damn important to earn an interruption. During her short time with Shaw, she had learned that lecturing her was one of his favorite pastimes. As the minutes tick by, Peggy finds herself growing more anxious. There is no way this could be good for her. Shaw wouldn’t postpone an ass-chewing for good news, which means he can only be getting more angry.
She can’t see Shaw, but the man he is talking to is wearing a suit. This is about her.
“Fuck,” she breathes out, barely audible.
Shaw wasn’t kidding about that discharge. This must be a lawyer. Shaw wants to be sure about a discharge before looking like an idiot in front of her. Or maybe a Congressman; someone finally found out about her enlistment forms.
She just had to cause problems. Had to bring attention to herself.
Peggy jumps to her feet when the door opens.
“Please, sit.” It’s not Shaw. The suited man waves Peggy off as he shuts the door.
She sits slowly, never taking her eyes off him.
“Margaret Elizabeth Carter, born April 9, 1921, in Brooklyn, New York.” He raises an eyebrow at her.
Peggy nods sharply.
“You’ve racked up quite a list of reprimands in the little time you’ve been in the Army. Insubordination, conduct unbecoming, disrespectful of superiors, blatant disregard for custom. Did I mention insubordination?”
“I’ll admit, I’ve made a few mistakes.” Her face is set, and her gaze doesn’t waver. “I don’t follow orders blindly, sir. For that, I will not apologize. I take full responsibility for my actions and am willing to accept the consequences.”
“You drafted unauthorized orders to send yourself overseas and forged your commander’s signature. And you almost made it, too.” He chuckles. “Why?”
She rolls her shoulders back. “We send a new detachment of men to the front lines nearly every week. I don’t see how I deserve special treatment simply because the color of my lips matches my fingernails.”
He nods, flipping open a folder. “Your file lists your next of kin as your husband, but, as of yet, we have been unable to locate a marriage certificate.”
Peggy blinks once before responding. “It’s a common law marriage.”
He hums thoughtfully. “I believe New York ceased to recognize common law marriages in 1935. You would have been…thirteen. Or fourteen, perhaps.”
“My father died when I was eight, and my mother was very sick. A close friend of hers had an eighteen-year-old son. It was the only way I would be taken care of.”
“You’re quick.” He grins. “However, I think the more likely explanation is that you lied to your recruiter who didn’t bother to verify it.”
Peggy silently curses the heat in her cheeks.
“Relax, Corporal. Your secret is safe, as is Mr. Barnes.” He glances at her briefly before returning his eyes to her file. “I assure you, no actions will be taken against either of you for this discrepancy.”
Peggy sighs in relief, but eyes him suspiciously.
“Dr. Abraham Erskine. I’m running a small project for US Army research. I’m in search of the best men for my first trial.”
“I don’t think I understand,” she answers slowly.
“Unfortunately, I don’t mean ‘best men' generally. You would be the only female.” Seeing her still confused expression, he continues. “I know a great deal about you, Corporal. You’ve been in more than your fair share of fights, but I’ve been hard pressed to find one you started. Those are the kind of people I want. If you join the project, this little incident just goes away.”
She studies the doctor, chewing the inside of her cheek.
“Did I mention this will take place in Camp Lehigh. I believe that’s where Mr. Barnes is attending boot camp, correct?”
A grin spreads across Peggy’s face. She stands, extending her hand. “You have a deal, doctor.”
Erskine takes her hand. “Excellent.”
Peggy walks up to morning formation shoulders squared. This is going to be a long day. Long week, probably. She had been exchanging letters with Bucky since she accepted Erskine’s offer, and he warned her. Not that she hadn’t figured it out on her own. These men were hand-selected from the 107th and had trained together for months. Even the “newbies” have been here for weeks waiting for training to begin. She just arrived yesterday. She made sure to apply a fresh coat of nail polish last night and spent an extra hour pinning every hair into place. A perfect soldier.
She falls in silently at the end of the line.
“Well, looky here, boys. Uncle Sam sent us a present.” He brushes his fingers up her cheekbone. “What’s a pretty dame like you doing out here?”
She grabs his wrist and twists it away from her face, looking at his name tag. “Same as you, Hodge.”
“Oh, come on, sweet cheeks, who you trying to impress?” He motions around the group. “We’re the best the Army has to offer.”
“How sad for us, then.”
He takes a step forward. She doesn’t budge, staring into his dark brown eyes.
“Who’d you have to blow to get here?”
Peggy clenches her jaw and balls her fists, perfect red polish digging into her palms.
Hodge takes a step back, grinning to the other men. “Don’t worry, honey, there’ll be plenty of time for you to prove yourself later.”
Peggy throws her fist into Hodge’s jaw, striking his chin at an angle. As his head whips around, his shoulders and torso follow, and he drops to the ground.
“Gentlemen.” A young man with broad shoulders approaches the group. “Corporal Carter, I assume.” He tilts his head to look her over, blond hair not moving an inch.
The men scramble into line and stand at attention.
Peggy stands rigid, hands behind her back. She locks eyes with him. “Yes, Sir.”
“Was there a disagreement?”
“Of sorts.” She tugs her coat down, snapping out the wrinkles. “Nothing I couldn’t handle, Sir.”
He sighs, shoulders heaving. “Moving forward, Corporal, I would prefer to handle these situations.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“Fall in.” He jerks his head toward the men and looks at Hodge. “Both of you.”
As Peggy joins the line of men, a brusque voice erupts. “Alright, ladies, fun’s over. You’ve met Agent Rogers.” The older man motions to the young blond.
“Agent?” several men sneer, “Couldn’t hack it in the Army? Flat feet at its finest, boys. Must be a son of a senator.”
“I didn’t ask for opinions.” The older man cuts the chatter with a single glance. “Agent Rogers works for the Strategic Scientific Reserve; they run the project.” From this distance, his name and rank are clear. Colonel Philips. “Rogers is in charge of the project, but you are still Army property, and your asses belong to me.” He takes a breath. “From this point forward, your chain of command begins with Agent Rogers. You will do what he says when he says until I tell you otherwise. Any questions?”
After a beat of silence, Philips gives a sharp nod. “Training starts now. Go change.” As the men scatter, Philips sets his eyes on Peggy.
She jogs to stand directly in front of Philips. Her movements are sharp and calculated. Her shoulders are square. A perfect soldier. “Sir, I would like to request authorization to wear trousers during training.”
“Were you issued trousers, Corporal?”
“No, sir. Only women in certain specialties are-”
“Then, I’m sure you’re aware that you are not in a specialty that requires trousers.”
“No, sir. But if I’m to train with the boys, I feel it’s prudent-”
“Would you care to explain why you decked one of my men?” Philips glares down at her.
“We had a disagreement. I handled it, sir.”
“Listen closely, Carter.” He narrows his eyes. “You are not one of the boys. You are a favor to the doctor. Do not give me a reason to get rid of you.”
Peggy nods as Philips walks away. “Very well, then.” She takes a knee and tightens the laces on her pumps.
“Carter, you are aware this is a timed course, correct?” Philips taunts from the final obstacle.
Peggy looks up with a huff. Everyone else is hurtling over the final log. She’s barely struggled herself over the first, and it’s the shortest. She studies the obstacle in front of her. One large post lays horizontally on top of two others. Hip high, six inches taller than the last and nearly a foot shorter than the final one.
“Come on, Carter, I’d like to be back in time for chow.” Philips raises his voice, ensuring anyone nearby could hear.
She backs up until she hits the log behind her. Reaching down, to the hemline of her skirt, she tears the fabric apart, leaving a slit halfway up her thigh. She smirks at Philips and sprints at the hurtle, launching herself over with relative ease.
She glances up to see Rogers chuckle as he makes a note on his clipboard.
Peggy places her foot securely in Jones’s hand and pushes off, reaching for the top of the wall.
“Shit, Carter. Watch those damn heels.” He drops her to the ground.
She yelps, landing on her ass. “Oh, for Christ’s sake.” She runs a hand down her shin. “You put a run in my hose.” She kicks her shoes off, red polish muted by her flesh tone pantyhose.
He follows her movement as he lifts her onto his shoulders. He groans when her knee drives into his nose.
She smirks down at him. “I told you not to look up.”
“Jesus, Carter. Keep your ass down.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Morita.” Peggy grunts, dragging herself and her thoroughly soaked uniform through the mud. “Is my skirt distracting you?”
“No, but your blitzies are.”
“Well, enjoy, because that’s as close as you’ll ever get.”
“Alright,” Rogers kicks Morita’s boot, “enough of that.”
Peggy wrestles with Hodge in the grass. She struggles to lock her legs around him, even with the tears in her skirt. She can hear stitches pop at her shoulder as she works her arms around his neck. He breaks free and pins her to the ground, sitting across her hips.
“Now, this is a view I could get used to.” His biceps bulge as Peggy wrenches her arms under his hands. “Come on, Carter. Look at your options.” He releases one of her wrists to turn her head toward the group of men grappling around them.
“One of my options is none of you,” she growls, dragging her nails down his cheek.
“Hey,” Rogers yells from the edge of the clearing, “you’re not playground bullies. Keep it tactical.”
“Oh, I see.” He snatches her wrist, pinning them both under one hand. “That’s how you’re still hanging around.”
She digs her heels into the ground, dirt sliding through holes in her pantyhose, and bucks her hips. He rolls to the side and she jumps on top of him.
“Oh, this is even better.” Hands still wrapped around her wrists, he pulls her down on top of himself. “Don’t you want to know what it’s like with a real man?”
“Sure.” She pushes herself away. “Let me know when you find one.”
Hodge easily flips her over his head and pulls her into a headlock. She struggles to break free, and taps his arm twice. He tightens his grip before releasing her when he sees Rogers advancing.
“You owe him a little extra tonight.”
Peggy looks up from her lipstick when she hears her name. She glances behind her in the mirror.
“There was just a man at the door. He said to tell you first formation has been moved to 0730 in the SSR office.”
“Thank you, Sally.” Peggy finishes her makeup in no rush. Suddenly she has an extra half hour to do whatever she wants. She double checks every hairpin and returns to her bunk. If she’s careful, she can go back to sleep.
When she arrives at the office, she can hear Rogers arguing with the men from down the hall. She wrinkles her brow and checks the clock. Just as she thought, ten minutes early. What could he possibly be yelling about-
“Oh.” Peggy muffles laughter. “My.”
All the men in the platoon are wearing Army regulation skirts, stockings, and pumps. They shift ceaselessly and avoid eye contact with anyone.
“Carter’s been keeping up with you boys fairly well in her getup.” Rogers motions around the room. “So, unless you plan to convince me that Carter’s a better soldier than you lot, this will be the uniform until I say otherwise.”
Peggy’s smile drops and her face pales. Every head turns to her with a glare. Fuck. This. Shit.
Philips walks in and pauses. “What’s going on here?”
“It’s a uniform, sir.” Rogers shrugs. “They should all look the same.”
Philips bursts into laughter. “Alright, Rogers, you made your point. Go change, gentlemen.” He turns to Rogers. “Take Carter to the Exchange tomorrow after breakfast.”
When Rogers dismisses them, Peggy stays back. “May I use your phone, sir?”
He nods and waves toward his office on the left.
She shuts the door behind her and picks up the phone. “Hello, this is Margaret with the SSR. I need to speak with a James Barnes immediately.” With any luck they haven’t yet left for the day.
“This is Barnes.”
“Bucky,” she can’t help but smile.
There’s a pause. “Peggy? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I just- do you think there’s any way you might be able to sneak out and walk me to the barracks tonight?”
“I can’t. We’re going to be in the field all night”
“Oh, sure.” Her voice drops before she forces it back up an octave. “No, it’s fine.”
“You know I would, kitten. There’s just- I can’t. There’s no possible way.”
“Don’t even worry about it.”
“Peg,” his voice is almost scolding, “what happened?”
“Nothing really.” She sighs, knowing he’s read every word she’s written him since she got here. “Agent Rogers made the whole platoon wear skirts, and said ‘Carter can do it, so you will too.’”
“Oh, fuck him,” he bites.
“Yeah, I might as well now,” she chuckles sadly. “After that, everyone thinks I am anyway.”
Peggy scans the desk while Bucky continues. Her fingers trail along the mahogany before she climbs up to sit on the edge.
“I mean, you’re interested in him. Steve, right? That’s clear from your letters. You’ve probably been dreaming about him.”
“Buck, that’s enough,” she laughs, biting her lip as she looks at Steve’s chair. “Although, I am sitting on his desk right now.”
“Peg, I hate you being over there by yourself. Maybe...you should.”
“I am not going to sleep my way through this project.” She jumps off the desk, turning her attention back to scanning the top.
“Fine, then quit. But if you stay.” He takes a breath. “Peg, he can watch out for you. Protect you.”
She closes her hand around a pocket multi-tool. “Buck, I’ll be fine.” She smiles. There must be some kind of blade in there. She tucks it into her waistband. “I promise. I’ve got to go.”
“Please be careful, kitten.”
“Always, Buck. Goodbye.”
After she hangs up, she walks to the door, pausing with her hand on the doorknob. She can hear Philips talking.
“I’ve overlooked your little crush, Rogers, because I haven’t seen it affect your judgment. But if this gets out, it’s going to ruffle feathers, and the men upstairs might not be so forgiving.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, Colonel.”
“Don’t go raising questions you can’t answer.”
Peggy smirks. Rogers has a crush.
The day passes without incident. Though the innuendos and insults are endless. When Rogers dismisses the group for the day, the men disperse and Peggy sits outside Steve’s office. Maybe if she made them wait long enough, they’d give up.
“Carter?” Steve opens his door, surprised. “Did you need me?”
He walks out in khaki slacks and a blue dress shirt. He must have been changing in his office. She shifts her weight with a deep breath. “No, I was just-” He turns to pull his door shut, stretching his shirt tight across his shoulders.
“Wanting to use the phone again?” He furrows his brow, desperate to discern her intent.
“No,” her breath catches when he drops the keys and bends over to pick them up, “I just-”
He drapes his coat over his arm and leans against the wall. His biceps press against his sleeves. “Carter. What is it?”
“Nothing.” She stands, straightening out her skirt.
“You’re breathing funny.” He steps forward and presses a hand against her forehead. “Do you feel alright?”
His hand is warm and surprisingly soft. His lips are so close; her eyes dart between them and his eyes. “Oh, fuck it.”
She buries her hands in his hair and closes the distance between their lips. His shoulders go rigid before he slowly relaxes against her. He pulls her toward his office, fumbling with the doorknob until he falls backward onto the floor, pulling her with him.
“Well, that’s embarrassing,” she teases, kicking the door shut and leaving them in the dark.
He nips along her collarbone and pulls her down, kissing her hard before breaking away. “Wait, Carter.”
“You know my name is Peggy, right?” She leans in to kiss him again, eyes adjusting to the darkness.
He turns his head. “Carter. You understand this will have no bearing on my handling of Project Rebirth?”
She leans back, sitting up straight. “Excuse me?”
“It’s obvious I’m attracted to you. There’s no hiding that now.” He props up on his elbows. “But I won’t let that affect my professional judgment.”
“This was a mistake,” she gasps, climbing to her feet. As she opens the door, she turns back. “I don’t need your help, Rogers. I was only waiting around because you fucked me over today.”
She squares her shoulders and wipes her fingers along her lips as she storms down the hall. Hopefully she’s improving, not worsening her certainly smudged lipstick. As she approaches the back door of the SSR building, she fastens an extra button on her shirt, closing the collar. She opens the door, and four men are waiting. “Fucking shit.”
“Well, that didn’t take long, sweetheart. Sure you don’t have business to finish?” Hodge pushes forward.
Peggy lifts her chin and continues between the men. “I suppose there’s no point in telling you you’re wrong.”
“Don’t be shy, honey.” White, Hodge’s right-hand man, grabs her arm and cradles her face with his other hand. “You look like you did a good job.”
“Fuck off.” She pulls away, smacking into Davis.
“Easy, kitten. We don’t want to hurt you.” He takes her wrist, and his eyes scan her face and drop to her chest. Pink splotches peek out from under her shirt. “We just want to share.” He grins, pulling her collar to the side, exposing more marks. “Rogers can’t have you all to himself.”
“Rogers doesn’t have me at all,” she growls, backing away slowly.
His grip tightens as Hodge closes in on her right. “You must be real good. Rogers can leave post any time he wants, pick up any girl he sees. But he picks you.”
It takes all of her strength to tear her arm away from Davis. The force sends her reeling back. She pulls the multi-tool from her waistband, driving the butt into White’s cheekbone. Flipping the tool open, she jams the tip of pliers into Davis’s leg. As she picks through the tools, Hodge grabs her elbow. She gouges a bottle opener down the side of his neck. She doesn’t know who the fourth man is. He sneaks up from behind, tossing the multi-tool aside. He twists both arms behind her back, and shoves her into the alley beside the building.
The front door of the building creaks open. Peggy opens her mouth, and a large hand immediately clamps over her it, silencing the scream in throat. She knows it has to be Rogers. He’s so close she can hear the gravel crunch under his shoes. So close it hurts. Tears well up as his steps fade.
“Oh, Carter, you didn’t think he actually cared about you?” She can’t think straight enough to recognize the voice whispering into her ear. “You’re not his girl . You’re his whore.”
The fourth man kicks the back of Peggy’s knee and pushes down on her shoulder, forcing her to the ground. White, blood trickling down his cheek, wraps a hand around her neck, shoving her onto her stomach.
“What did it take to talk him into the skirt thing, huh?”
Davis hobbles over, pinning her wrist under his foot. “Yeah, Carter, I’d like some of that .”
Peggy turns her face away, only to see Hodge kneel beside her. “Don’t worry, boys. There’s plenty of time. As long as Rogers is around, Carter’s not going anywhere.”
Her throat closes as more hands grab her, wrapping around her arms, legs, neck, and anywhere else they can reach. Some hands hold her down while others brush up her thighs and untuck her shirt. The more she squirms, the harder they grip until she wants to scream. She couldn’t; at some point her face had been shoved into the dirt. At least it would save her the trouble of closing her eyes.
Visions flash across the darkness. Eighteen years old, the only other time she’d felt more than one set of hands on her body. They had a gun. And Bucky. Still young enough to believe that begging might slow them down. Naïve enough to think following orders would make it easier. Nothing made it easier, and getting caught was the only thing that ever stopped any of them. Her gut clenches.
He had been so close.
She releases the tension in her muscles. She won’t fight. She won’t scream. She won’t obey. If nothing matters now, then that’s what she’ll do. Nothing.
Oh, fuck it. She’s done everything else wrong today. She lets a shudder rock her shoulders as a deep sob escapes. And another. Every memory she’d pushed away bubbles to the surface. Every moment she had forced herself to go numb. Every feeling she refused to let take root. She can’t hear anything over the blood in her ears. Her entire body shakes.
The pressure around her arms eases suddenly, and she’s being hauled to her feet. “Come on, Carter.”
She smirks, “Welcome to the party, Dugan.”
He ignores her, waving to someone. “Jim.”
A hand grabs her other arm, supporting her weight. She wants to argue, but she probably can’t hold herself up right now anyway. She’d only make a fool of herself when she wobbles like a newborn foal and falls on her face. They lead her out of the alley and down the sidewalk.
Peggy looks at Dugan and over her other shoulder. Morita. “What are you doing?” Feeling steadier than before, she tugs her arms away.
They let her go without resistance. Dugan shrugs. “Walking you to your barracks.”
She stops walking and turns to face them. “I don’t- ”
“Really?” Dugan chuckles. “It kind of looked like you did. But if that’s the kind of thing you’re into, Carter, we’ll be happy to-”
“Why?” she snaps.
The men look at each other. “Why what?”
“Why help me?” She rolls her eyes. “Knights in shining armor, hm? Hoping I’ll be so grateful I’ll-”
“Shut up before you make me regret it.” Dugan shoves her shoulder lightly. “I got a sister. Jim’s got two.”
Peggy nods slowly, pinching her eyebrows together.
Morita takes a deep breath. “I don’t know if there’s a God, but if there is, maybe He sees us helping you and looks out for them while we’re gone.”
Peggy nods again, calm washing over her for the first time all day. Her stomach churns, and she barely makes it to the edge of the sidewalk before doubling over. She can feel Dugan and Morita shift their weight uneasily. As she heaves again, she waves them off.
When the convulsions stop, she eases herself to the ground. “Sorry. It’s fine. I should be fine now.”
She studies their concerned expressions and lets out a dark laugh. “You’ve never pulled your sisters from an alley, have you?” No response. She grimaces, “Don’t worry. I’m a pro.”
“Carter,” Dugan takes a step forward.
“Don’t.” She stands. “Don’t give me that look. I’m fine. I just want to go home.”
Dugan nods and continues down the sidewalk. Peggy and Morita follow. They stop across the street from the barracks. Morita passes Peggy the multi-tool and tells her to keep it within reach. She nods to both of them before crossing the street and entering the barracks.
Peggy buttons a third pair of pants and steps outside the dressing room. She does a turn in front of the mirror and nods. “These will do. I need short sleeve shirts to go with it.”
“Carter, we’ve been gone for two hours. This isn’t a shopping spree.” Rogers crosses his arms, watching her turn.
She glares at him. “Yes, because this is so much fun. There are rules I have to follow.” She pushes past him. “I’ll find them on my own.”
She returns with several pairs of pants and an armful of different size shirts. She drops the trousers in Rogers’s lap and carries the shirts into the dressing room. She drapes a pair of pants over the door. “These are the right size, would you please add them to that stack?”
She can hear Steve rustling the clothes as she pulls a short sleeve shirt on. The pants slide off the door as she finishes buttoning the shirt. She frowns at the yellow-green marks covering her arms. She brushes her fingers over the blotches on her ivory skin, wincing when she skims a purple one. She doesn’t even remember how she got the bruise on her chest.
“Carter, what’s taking so long? It’s just a shirt.”
“You were right. I don’t need these.” She hurriedly unbuttons the shirt.
“No, Carter. Follow regulation. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
“No, no.” She slides the shirt down her arms. “The dress shirts I have already will suffice.” Her watch gets caught in the fabric, and she shimmies trying to get her arms out.
“Carter, what are you doing?”
“Nothing.” She grunts. “I just don’t see the point in buying some- oh, fuck!” She rips her arm free, jabbing her sore elbow into the wall.
“What’s going on in there?” She can see his shoes under the curtain. “I’m coming in.”
“I’m changing.” She reaches out, holding both sides of the curtain against the doorway.
He leans in, whispering, “Goddamn it, Carter, I’m tired of your shit. I’m coming in one way or another. If you let go, I’ll give you ten seconds to get decent.”
She doesn’t move. He groans and throws an elbow into her arm. She whimpers and grabs the multi-tool, turning away.
“Alright, what are you hidin- Jesus, Carter. What happened to you?”
Great. Her back must be beat up too. “I broke a heel and fell.” She folds her arms across her chest.
“No, you didn’t.” His voice softens. “Is this from training?”
“Yes.” She nods over her shoulder.
“So, no.” He sits on the small bench in the corner. “Carter, I can help you.”
“You didn’t,” she snaps without thinking. She immediately regrets it.
“What are you-” He furrows his brow. “Is this why you were waiting for me?”
“Please, Rogers, I wasn’t there for you.” She tightens her grip around the multi-tool, the knife blade already set.
“Carter, I can help you, if you let me. Who was it?”
“I told you. I broke a heel and-”
He grabs her shoulder and turns her around. “Don’t make me order you to-” Before he can blink, she has the blade at his throat.
“Why do men always want what they think someone else has?”
He takes a breath, surveying the damage to her arms. Understanding seems to cross his face. He gently pushes the blade away. “I handled this poorly. I apologize.” He holds out a shirt for her and motions to the blade in her hand. “That’s mine, isn’t it? It’s been missing since you made your phone call yesterday.”
She contemplates his offer and drops her shoulders. She passes him the multi-tool and takes the shirt.
“Peggy, what happened?”
She looks at him, her lips spread in a thin line.
“If you give me names, I can help.”
“You are the last person I want help from.” She turns her back to him as she buttons her shirt. “Please, stop trying.”
“I am an idiot.” She can hear the disappointment in his voice. “I didn’t mean to make things worse for you.”
“I know. You just don’t have a clue what life is like for a woman.”
He shakes his head as she turns back around. “You were scared yesterday. I should have seen that.”
“It’s fine. I can handle myself.”
“Get dressed, Carter.” He walks out of the room.
“It’s not a shopping trip. Yeah, I know.”
“You’re not going back to training today. I’ll call Philips and let him know we couldn’t find your size. We’ll have to drive to New York and check there. Probably won’t be back before dinner.” He grins when she walks out. “I’m not throwing you back to the wolves until tomorrow. It’s the best I can do.”