Steve’s apartment in Brooklyn was easily as old as Steve himself, and he suspected some of the plumbing was original to the period. The aging wood floor sagged in some places, heaved in others, and felt slightly gritty, no matter how many times he swept and vacuumed. His bedroom was narrow and stuffy, with no closet; its single window had been painted shut, which was almost certainly a fire code violation. The walls were as thin and brittle as saltines, and a hot shower was a rare and elusive pursuit. Something—the appliances, the wiring, the ancient and temperamental radiator—was always breaking down.
But Steve liked the building, and the neighbourhood. The super was responsive to his endless repair requests, and patient with his amateur patch jobs. Most of his neighbours didn’t seem to notice him—or, if they did, they were too polite to say so. He was able to go about his life without pictures of his morning workouts or his late-night grocery runs turning up on Twitter.
When Tony Stark had offered him a full floor of the newly-restored Avengers Tower, with all the amenities, including a private gym, Steve had politely declined. Because it was a nice place, but it wasn’t home.
Sam, one of Steve’s few regular visitors, never missed an opportunity to give him grief about his choice of living arrangements. Chief among his complaints, on this particular occasion, was the fact that the Tower apartment came with a 98-inch television and access to thousands of cable channels. Steve, by contrast, didn’t own a television of any kind.
“I’m pretty sure you have a TV at home.” Steve leaned back into the couch, propping his feet up on the battered trunk that served as his coffee table. “I’m gonna get started on dinner.”
“Why do you always say that, like you’re actually gonna serve me a home-cooked meal?”
“You don’t want that, trust me.”
“It’s a good skill to have. Especially if you want to impress your girl.”
Steve couldn’t help smiling at that: his girl. It still caught him by surprise sometimes, that he could be so lucky.
“She came here from 1946,” he pointed out. “She’s more impressed that I can get whatever food she wants to turn up at my door.”
“And they say romance is dead.”
Steve had already opened the Pizza Express app on his phone before it occurred to him that he was neglecting his hosting duties. “Can I get you a beer?”
“I’ll get it. Don’t want to disturb you while you’re cooking.” Sam made his way into the kitchen.
Steve tapped the screen, loading up his half of the pizza: three kinds of meat, onions and peppers, olives, extra cheese.
“You’re a grown-ass man.”
“When last seen.” Steve added chicken, veggies, and mushrooms to Sam’s half.
“So how is it that all you have to drink is expired milk, shitty beer—”
“There’s water in the tap.” There was nothing wrong with the beer, in Steve’s opinion, even if it was cheap.
“—and some kinda old-timey soda.” The glass bottles clinked as Sam extracted one. “Bitter lemon? Well, all right.”
“Wait!” Steve got up quickly, hopping over the back of the couch.
Sam froze, his hand poised to twist open the cap. “I left you three more.”
“Sorry. Those are for—company.” He crossed his arms, propped his shoulder against the wall, in a failed attempt to seem nonchalant.
“Since when do I live here?”
“They’re for Peggy,” Steve admitted. “It’s an English drink. It’s hard to get over here. I had to go to a specialty shop in Chelsea.”
Sam put the bottle back in the fridge and let the door fall closed. There was a wry twist to his mouth, which usually meant he was getting ready to give Steve hell. But all he said was, “Must be serious.”
“It was never not serious.” Steve held up his phone so Sam could see the pizza order in progress. “I’ll add some drinks to this. What do you want?”
Half an hour later, over pizza and (ordinary, American) sodas, Sam reeled out his tale of woe: he’d been having dinner with an ex-girlfriend when he’d run into his new girlfriend. (Confusingly, the new girlfriend was also called Sam, which led Steve to wonder why Sam was talking about himself in the third person for the first minute or so of the story.)
The upshot of it was that Sam #2 was angry with Sam #1, who wanted to know what Steve thought about it.
“It was just dinner?”
“Just a friendly dinner.”
“Did you tell Sam you were sorry?”
“No. Because it was just dinner.”
“If I were you, I’d start there.”
“Of course you would. You’re only attracted to a woman if she’s scary as hell.”
“Is that my type?”
“Disrespect her one time, and she’ll straight-up murder you, bury your ass in the woods, then come home and make a cup of tea. All without breaking a nail. That’s your type.”
Steve thought it over. “You’re not wrong.”
“Speaking of Peggy,” said Sam, without missing a beat, “how’s that going?”
“Well, it’s—I mean, it’s good. Great, actually.” He hesitated, then added, “There’s just this one thing.”
Sam flopped back in his chair, groaning. “Dude.”
“No, but have you ever—okay. You know when you’re trying to do something, something you really want to do, something you know how to do, in theory—but you just…”
“Riding a bike,” said Sam promptly.
Steve gave him a blank look.
“Don’t trip. I know you had bicycles.”
“Sure, people had them. But I never tried to ride one, before I had perfect balance.”
Sam leaned over to grab another slice from his half. “Riding a bike for the first time is a little scary for most people. You know it’s possible. You’ve seen other people do it. But you’re deep in your feelings, thinking you’re gonna fall. And then you do fall.” He jabbed the air with his slice to emphasize the point. “Because you psyched yourself out.”
Sam took a hearty bite, chewed, swallowed. “We’re talking about sex, right?”
Steve sighed, and nodded. “I’m always overthinking it. What's the next move, and the one after that? Is she having a good time? Am I having a good time? Am I doing too much—or am I not doing enough? I can’t seem to just let it happen.”
“I’m surprised she hasn’t made it happen for you.”
Steve was a little surprised about that himself—but on the few occasions they’d been intimate, Peggy had very obviously been letting him call the shots, and beyond a certain point his nerve had failed him. “I think it’s just the time we came from,” he mused. “Men and women had certain expectations. I guess some habits are hard to shake.”
“You talk to her about it?”
“No. It’s my problem. I just need to get on top of it.”
Sam’s expression was eloquent.
“That’s not—you know what I mean.”
“Try getting under it,” Sam suggested. “She seems like she’d be down for that.”
“Hey,” said Steve, warningly.
“Or maybe you could like… get around it.”
Steve wasn’t sure what that was supposed to be a euphemism for, but he knew better than to admit it. “Hilarious,” he said. “What’s it like to call your own name in bed?”
“I may never know,” said Sam, with a mournful look.
Steve snorted. “Just say you’re sorry. It’s not that hard.”
“‘It’s not that hard?’ Is that what you just said? Because I thought we were done talking about your problem.”
“Yeah, that’s not the issue I’m having.”
“Ask your girl to dance, and maybe then I’ll believe you’re qualified to give relationship advice. Till then, mind your business.”
“Noted and logged,” said Steve, helping himself to another slice.
Later that night, just as he was about to go to bed, Steve got a call from Thor—who, contrary to popular belief, did own and operate a cell phone. He just didn’t use it often, since being outside of the Earth’s atmosphere made it a challenge to get decent reception. And he hated texting.
Like most of the team, Thor had accepted the offer of a suite at Avengers Tower. Thor’s place was more of a pied-à-terre, since he spent most of his time off-world; his apartment on the 24th floor included a reinforced balcony for takeoffs and landings, so that he could come and go as he pleased.
He was in town for Tony’s birthday party that weekend, and wanted to know if Steve felt like stopping by for a drink.
It was almost 1 a.m. by the time Steve arrived at the Tower, but he didn’t mind the lateness of the hour if Thor didn’t. It was never entirely clear what the time difference was between Earth and Asgard, or if Asgard even had what could be termed a 24-hour day.
Steve was the only one of the Avengers who could handle what Tony liked to call space booze. Thor, generous to a fault, always had new offerings from the royal cellar for Steve to try. This time, he’d brought a very good, very strong mead—purple in colour, and faintly iridescent.
Steve mellowed under the influence of a few glasses, and before long, he was spilling his guts about what Sam had termed his bicycle issue.
Of all his friends, Thor was the last person Steve had pictured himself confiding in.
It wasn’t that Steve didn’t like Thor, or appreciate his insights. He’d given Steve some great advice about close combat, battle planning, and diplomatic negotiations. But it had been a very, very long time since Thor had dealt with the particular problem that Steve was facing—if he’d ever dealt with it at all. Lack of confidence with women (or in general) didn’t seem to be one of Thor’s hangups.
Still, Thor was sympathetic. “I remember well. The first time can be troublesome. But you’ve come to the right person. I am proficient at sex. I’ve had many compliments on my performance.”
“Great,” said Steve, because it seemed only polite.
“Let me start by describing my technique. The most important thing—”
“Wait,” said Steve, hastily. “It’s not that I don’t know how. We’ve… I mean, I have some experience. I know where everything, uh, goes. But I’m just—I spend too much time planning things out, instead of seizing the moment, and then it’s too late and the moment’s gone. You get what I’m saying?”
“Yes. I think I have just the thing.” Thor crossed the room to a large trunk in the corner. “There isn’t really a word for it in English.”
Steve suspected he was about to learn more about Thor’s sex life than he’d ever wanted to know. He really, really hoped he wasn’t about to be gifted a gently-used Asgardian marital aid.
Fortunately, what Thor handed Steve turned out to be relatively harmless: an ornate cut-glass vial with an engraved stopper.
“What is it?”
“The closest translation would be ‘Lover’s Draught.’ My mother was a powerful magician. She invented this elixir, and gave my father a bottle of it as a wedding gift. They did not emerge from their chambers for nearly a week.”
A week seemed a little extreme to Steve. Cradling the vial in his palm, he asked, “You’ve tried it?”
“Yes. Take heed, though. It’s very potent. A drop or two under your tongue, an hour or so before an auspicious meeting with your lady friend, is enough to do the trick.”
“I don’t really have trouble with the trick,” said Steve, awkwardly.
“You misunderstand, my friend! This isn’t an engorgement potion,” Thor assured him. “The effect is metaphysical. It… calms the nerves, but fires up the blood. Gives you focus. Sets your mind to the task.”
That actually did sound like the solution to Steve’s problem. “How long does it last for?”
“No more than a single night. But it will be a night to remember for both of you.”
“I might give it a try.” He tucked the vial into his shirt pocket. “Thanks.”
“Think nothing of it.” Thor clapped him on the shoulder. “Happiness to your sheets!”
Steve didn’t mind drinking to that.
An hour or so before his movie date with Peggy, Steve stood, freshly-showered, in front of the bathroom mirror. Carefully, he took the elixir the way Thor had shown him: a single drop under his tongue.
The liquid tasted a bit like honey, and bubbled like champagne. He waited a few minutes, then washed it down with a glass of water.
As Steve shaved and combed his hair, a tingling warmth began to spread through his chest. He felt surprisingly relaxed—not relaxed enough to sleep, but certainly less stressed, more comfortable in himself. Though not exactly burning with desire. It was possible the magic just didn’t work on humans the way it did on Asgardians. But at least the effect wasn’t unpleasant.
He whistled a jaunty tune as he got dressed. He was looking forward to the date, even if it didn’t culminate in a night of unrestrained passion. He enjoyed Peggy’s company for its own sake: she was whip-smart, wickedly funny, and a captivating storyteller.
She rang the buzzer a few minutes ahead of schedule, and Steve invited her up for a drink.
When he opened the door, Steve felt like he’d been struck by lightning.
Peggy had on a dress he’d never seen before. It was white, with a red print pattern, and she’d added a red belt overtop. The fabric was pleasantly snug over her bust and across her hips, the neckline heralding a peek at the delights that lay beyond.
Her hair was lustrous, her eyes bright, her cheeks pink and glowing, her lips full and soft.
She’d always been gorgeous, of course—and yet somehow, he’d never been quite as aware of it as he was at this exact moment.
“Hello,” she said cheerfully, rising up on her toes to give him a quick peck on the cheek.
Steve managed a faint, “Hi.”
As she brushed past him into the apartment, he touched her arm, marvelling at how warm and soft her skin was. And he couldn’t get over how amazing she smelled. He wondered whether she’d taste just as good. His mouth watered at the thought.
“Gee, you look nice, Peggy,” she said, in a fair imitation of his accent. “Is that a new outfit?” Then she answered, as herself, “Why, thank you, Steve. Yes, it is. How lovely of you to notice.”
Her voice was rich and mellow, every word perfectly crisp in a way that sent shivers down his spine.
Her teasing grin faded as she caught sight of his face. “Are you all right? You look as if you’re starving.”
“I am starving,” he affirmed. “And you’re what I’m hungry for.”
Peggy’s eyebrows shot up, her mouth falling open.
“Each time I see you, you get more beautiful. I don’t know how that’s even possible.”
She beamed up at him. “When did you become such a smooth talker?”
“I can do more than talk,” he said—and, without hesitating, reeled her in and kissed her.
He kissed her with complete abandon, not stopping to think about whether the time was right, or the position was comfortable, or if he was messing up her hair or her makeup.
She reciprocated eagerly, her body pressed against his, her fingernails digging into his shoulder.
Finally, she let him go and patted her hair, looking pleased. “Well,” she said, slightly breathless. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but I can’t say I mind.”
He swallowed. “Can we skip the movie?”
“And do what?”
He couldn’t think of a single thing to say other than the truth. “Peggy, I can’t stop thinking about making love to you. I don’t mean I think about it all the time—though I do actually think about it all the time—but I mean, right now, the way you look in that dress, your voice, your smell, how good your skin feels… I want you so badly that I can’t focus on anything else.” The elixir was definitely working, because Steve didn’t feel even remotely self-conscious about the admission.
Peggy, on the other hand, was clearly flustered: there were bright splashes of colour in her cheeks, and she was breathing fast. “Steve,” she said softly, her hand fluttering to her throat.
He knew he was going too fast. He took a step back, taking her hand in both of his. “If that’s not what you want to do tonight, then that’s fine. I mean that. Your company is more than enough for me. I just thought… you ought to know how I feel.”
“Steve,” she said again, in a low, husky voice that thrilled him to the core.
“Let’s stay in.”
It was an amazing night.
Peggy seemed to think so too. Sunrise found her snuggled in Steve’s arms, tracing patterns on his bare chest with a single, aimless fingertip.
They’d been up most of the night, talking, laughing, loving. He’d gained a wealth of experience in a few hours. Just as he’d expected, he’d been a little awkward at the start, but there was so much enthusiasm on both sides that it didn’t really matter.
He couldn’t get enough. He wanted her just as much now as he had when she first walked in. Maybe more so, now that he’d had a taste of what he’d been missing out on this whole time.
“Morning,” he whispered, kissing the top of her head.
“Hmm,” said Peggy, drowsily. She shifted positions—and in doing so, brushed up against the evidence of his newfound obsession. “Darling. Again?”
“Only if you want to.”
“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is sorely out of practice.” She curled an arm around his shoulders. “Just once more. And then you have to let me sleep.”
“I promise,” said Steve, gratefully.
Peggy stayed the whole day, and that night as well. Aside from food, hydration, and bathroom breaks, the only time they left the bed was to make love on the couch, for a change of scenery.
Steve was slightly concerned. The Lover’s Draught should have worn off by now. He wondered if he’d taken too much, or if the effect was stronger on him because he wasn’t Asgardian.
It was impossible to stay worried for long, though. Peggy hadn’t taken any magic potions, and she seemed to be just as hot and bothered as he was—and twice as inventive, which was saying something.
It wasn’t until the following afternoon that she finally, decisively, started gathering up her clothes. Tony’s birthday party was that night, and, as Peggy pointed out, they’d probably only make it there on time if they made the trip separately.
“Besides,” she added, “I desperately need a wash. I pity whoever sits next to me on the way home.”
“I have a shower,” said Steve, sounding completely reasonable and not at all sex-crazed.
Her look made it clear she wasn’t falling for it. “You don’t even have proper shampoo. I’m not using a bar of carbolic soap on my hair.”
“I’m just saying. If you wanted to freshen up a little for the train, it’s there if you need it. If you ask nicely, I’ll even come and scrub your back.” He wiggled his eyebrows.
She rolled her eyes at him, but took her bundle of clothes into the bathroom all the same.
Steve heard the creak and shudder of the shower starting, and then: “Are you coming, or not?”
She didn’t have to ask twice.
The hot water ran out before either of them were able to get very clean—but the cold shower was an effective mood-killer, and Peggy made her escape at last.
The Tower had several floors that, together, served as a party venue. The rooms were modular, with walls, floors, ceilings, and even windows that could be added and removed, to create whatever entertaining space the host desired.
In this case, the intent seemed to be to cram as many people as possible into the venue, and get them loaded quickly. There were three full bars set up, including one outside on the terrace, as well as smaller stations serving wine, beer, and snacks.
Peggy was already there when Steve arrived, standing with Natasha at a bar on one of the more remote upper levels. The party being as packed as it was, there was no way for him to get anywhere near her without either resorting to parkour or doing his best impression of a bulldozer.
Instead, he latched onto Hill and Rhodey, idly talking shop for the better part of an hour. By the time they split up in search of refreshment, Peggy had disappeared from view.
With the terrace wide open, the air had gotten heavy; his shirt was starting to stick to his back. As he rolled up his shirtsleeves, he felt a familiar hand on his forearm, caressing it appreciatively. Peggy apparently hadn’t encountered the same challenges as he had in navigating the crowd—but then, infiltration was more her game than his.
Her palm was smooth against the sensitive skin of his wrist, and cool from the highball glass she’d been holding. It felt so impossibly good that he had to close his eyes for a second before he could look down at her.
“Hello, darling,” she said brightly.
Like many of the other guests, she had on a simple, sleeveless black dress. There wasn’t anything especially remarkable about it, other than the special way she filled it out. But Steve still felt dazzled.
She patted his chest. “I like you in this shirt.”
He grinned. “I know.” He’d worn the blue button-down on purpose for that exact reason. “What’ve you got there?”
“Gin and tonic.” She gave it a swirl, ice rattling in the glass. “I thought of bringing you something, but I wasn’t sure what you’d fancy.”
“Let me try some of yours.”
She shook her head, then pursed her lips around the straw, meeting his gaze very deliberately. He imagined how her kiss would taste: bitter, sharp, and floral.
“You look thirsty,” she told him.
“Yeah?” They were standing too close now, but he couldn’t bring himself to care about how it might look. “Whose fault is that?”
“You know,” she said, “I never thanked you for the other night.”
“Thank me? Thank you. You were amazing.”
Her cheeks dimpled. “I think we can agree it was a team effort. But what I meant was, thank you for telling me that you felt so strongly about it.”
“It wasn’t obvious before then?”
“Occasionally. But I think there’s something to be said for the direct approach.” She leaned in close and whispered, “I wish we were still in your bed.”
He felt his ears turning red. “God, me too.”
She squeezed his wrist. “I suppose it would be rude of us to leave before the cake. And I’m too old to be caught necking in a coat closet.”
“Have you been upstairs to the observation deck?” He said it at normal volume, careful to keep his tone casual. “The view is something else.”
Her dark eyes sparkled with mischief. “Is that an official party location?”
He shook his head.
“Will you take me?”
He threaded his fingers through hers and said, “Let’s go.”
The moment they were alone on the elevator, he caught her up in a kiss that soon had her pressing him against the glass wall. They were high enough up that no one could see them, Steve hoped. Not that it would have stopped him in the moment.
“Observation Deck,” said JARVIS, sounding amused.
They pulled apart, panting.
Outside, however, it didn’t take long before they were drawn back to one another. At first it was just holding hands, and then his arm around her shoulders. Before long, they wound up in a sheltered corner, her hand down his trousers, his up under her dress. Her sharp little gasps of pleasure were all it took to send him over the edge, and he made sure it was a photo finish.
Fortunately, her dress was the kind of fabric that looked wrinkled on purpose, so a few extra creases wouldn’t show. Smoothing a hand absently over her back, he wondered if she’d picked it for that reason.
“We have to stop this,” said Peggy, not sounding very convinced.
Steve didn’t argue. The two of them were acting like crazy people. But he didn’t want it to stop either.
They returned to the party just in time for cake, champagne, and a chorus of “Happy Birthday.” Tony climbed up on the bar and made a speech that started with, “I want to thank you all for coming tonight,” at which Steve could feel his face getting warm.
The new intimacy between them made it impossible for him to remember what he’d been like around Peggy in public before. He didn’t know how to behave in a way that didn’t give them away. He was sure he hadn’t always felt like the most natural place for his hand was at the small of her back, but now he gravitated to that spot as if his palm and her spine were magnetized.
Reassuringly, Peggy seemed similarly afflicted. Normally, at a party, they’d split up to talk to people. Now, she was never more than an arm’s length away, always sneaking glances in his direction.
It was almost a relief when Pepper turned up to drag her away.
Feeling guilty, Steve went to give his best to the guest of honour. He had to wait his turn behind a few other belated well-wishers. Tony, by this time several sheets to the wind, was happily soaking up all of this adulation.
When Steve made it to the front of the queue, Tony tackled him with an enthusiastic hug, trying (and failing) to lift him up off the ground.
Then he sniffed at Steve’s lapel and said, “Since when do you wear Chanel No. 5?”
Steve knew for a fact he was not wearing Chanel No. 5. Peggy would not have been caught dead in Chanel. What Tony was smelling was Evening in Paris, which had been her signature scent since 1943.
Recognizing that accuracy was not likely to help him in this case, Steve patted Tony on the back and said, “A fella’s entitled to some secrets, don’t you think?”
“Speaking of secrets,” said Tony, the words only slightly slurred, “did you know that JARVIS monitors every part of the Tower?”
“Makes sense,” said Steve, neutrally. He had a sinking feeling about where this was going.
“He has a protocol in place for when guests are doing something R-rated. He texts me, so I can let him know to stop recording.”
“I didn’t figure you for the exhibitionist type. But I can’t think of a better way to honour me on my birthday.”
Steve sighed. “Tony…”
“Don’t worry, Cap.” Tony gave him a goofy smile. “All your secrets are safe with me.”
“Thanks, pal. I appreciate it.”
Across the room, Peggy had joined Pepper and a cluster of other women on one of the low sectionals, where they’d secured a bottle of champagne and a couple of snack platters. It looked like she was having a nice time. Steve didn’t want to ruin it with the news that Tony knew what they’d been up to on the observation deck.
He didn’t intend to listen in. However, like most people, he was conditioned to respond to the sound of his own name. Trouble was, a lot of words sounded like Steve. And it was a problem that compounded itself when the listener happened to have super-hearing.
“...believe the ending!” Pepper exclaimed. “When it turned out to be—”
“Mm!” Peggy, who had her mouth full, flapped her hand frantically. She swallowed, took a sip of her drink, then added, “Don’t spoil it.”
“I thought you saw it,” said Natasha. “That’s why you didn’t come with us.”
“I had plans to see it. But we changed our minds.”
“Ohh.” Pepper exchanged a meaningful look with Natasha. “Finally.”
“I’ve no idea what you mean,” said Peggy demurely, reaching for the snack tray.
“Please.” Pepper nudged her. “You went to a movie—except you apparently didn’t—and then it took you two days to return a text.”
Maria Hill, who had been paying attention only minimally, put down her phone. All three women were now watching Peggy expectantly.
“Oh, all right.” Peggy threw up her hands in a gesture of surrender. “Yes. We did.”
“Did you have to show up naked under a trench coat?” asked Natasha.
“It very nearly came to that.”
“Well, now I know what I want for my birthday,” said Hill, grinning.
“Actually,” said Peggy, “in the end, he made the first move.”
“And?” prompted Pepper.
“And… it was fantastic.”
Which wasn’t news to Steve, but he couldn’t help smiling to himself.
“Huh.” Natasha sounded surprised, which was a little insulting.
“I don’t think I’ve ever… it’s never been like this. With anyone. The only problem is, now I can’t stop. I’ve turned into some sort of—” Peggy glanced around before mouthing the words— “sex maniac.”
“I remember that,” said Pepper, with fondness. “The honeymoon phase. We were incredibly dumb and incredibly lucky.”
“There’s something seriously wrong with me. It’s out of control. I can’t be in the same room with him for more than a minute before I’m dying to rip his clothes off.”
“If it makes you feel better,” said Natasha, “most of the people in this room have had that thought about Steve at least once.”
“Definitely,” said Pepper.
“Uh huh,” said Hill—who, as far as Steve was aware, didn’t even like men.
Peggy shook her fist menacingly. “Just any of you try it, that’s all.”
The girls laughed.
Steve felt someone tapping him on the back with the business end of a glass bottle.
“It’s rude to eavesdrop,” said Sam, in the general vicinity of Steve’s left shoulder.
“I know,” said Steve, turning around.
Sam handed Steve a beer. “She giving you a good review, at least?”
“Five stars all the way.” By way of thanks, he knocked his bottle against Sam’s. “No Sam tonight?”
“I heard this party had a hard one-Sam limit.”
“She’s still mad, huh?”
“Mm-hm. Would Peggy freeze you out for having dinner with an ex?”
“I don’t have any exes,” Steve pointed out. “Though she did shoot at me once, for kissing someone else.”
“She shot you?”
“She shot at me. In a controlled environment, it wasn’t—I’m making it sound worse than it was,” said Steve, hastily. It was a funny story, at least in his mind, but he never seemed to be able to tell it that way.
Sam side-eyed him hard, but said nothing.
Steve forged gamely onwards with, “But yeah, good party.”
“So good that you and your girl disappeared for an hour, and thought no one would notice.”
“I guess you solved your bicycle issue.”
“You’re overthinking it again.”
“You didn’t let me finish.”
“I don’t need to. Look at her, dude.”
Across the room, Peggy was laughing, incandescent. Steve felt his heart swell.
“She’s happy. You’re happy. Enjoy it.”
Before Steve could reply, a heavy arm landed across his shoulders.
“My friends!” said Thor, jovially, gathering Sam up with his other hand and giving them both a squeeze. “Are you enjoying yourselves? Is anyone in need of refreshment?”
“All good,” said Sam, sounding slightly winded.
“Got it covered.” Steve held up his beer. “Anyhow, I’m still pretty refreshed from the other night.”
“Of course. And I see your lady friend is here! I take it your mission was successful?”
“It was, yeah.” Steve kept his voice low, in an effort to encourage Thor to do the same. “Thanks for your help.”
Thor thumped him soundly on the back, then turned to Sam and said, in strident tones, “I knew he could do it. Just needed a little of my mother’s sex magic.”
Sam’s eyebrows climbed. “Say again?”
“My mother, Frigga.” Thor smiled wistfully. “She was one of the great sorceresses of her age.”
“Right,” said Sam. “And she had… sex magic?”
“She invented a potion,” said Steve, before Thor could make things any worse. “It gives you a little extra confidence, that’s all.”
“What, like Viagra?”
“Yes, exactly,” said Thor, with the sublime confidence of a man who had no idea what he was talking about.
“No,” countered Steve, firmly. “Not like Viagra.”
“So you’re taking Asgardian pharmaceuticals for your problems now?”
“Took.” Steve felt the back of his neck getting hot. “One time. One tiny dose. Just to get me over the—” He saw the verbal trap and sidestepped it neatly. “The first night.”
Sam looked like he had more to say about that, but instead he turned to Thor. “So do you just carry a little shot of sex magic on you at all times, or…?”
Thor gave a boisterous laugh. “Of course not. It’s only meant to be used on rare occasions. But I am often away for long periods of time. When I visit Midgard, Jane likes me to… what’s the expression? Bring the thunder?”
Sam only narrowly avoided a spit-take.
“I didn’t see Jane anywhere tonight,” said Steve, seizing the opportunity to change the subject. “Is she here?”
Thor pointed to the level directly above theirs, where Bruce and Jane had their heads together. Neither of them had a drink in their hand, and both of them seemed very engaged in the discussion. Everyone in their general vicinity looked either confused or bored.
“They’re discussing Higgs-boson decay channels,” said Thor, sounding charmed.
“Oh yeah?” said Sam. “What’s new with… whatever that is?”
The three of them shot the breeze for a while longer, until finally Thor broke off to say hello to Phil Coulson.
As soon as they were alone, Steve turned to Sam. “Okay. I can hear you judging me.”
“No judgement. Just—please tell me I didn’t almost accidentally drink Asgardian sex magic out of your fridge the other night.”
“What? No. No, that really was overpriced, imported soda.” A horrible thought occurred to Steve. “I didn’t give that stuff to Peggy, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
“Nah. I know that’s not your move. Then again, I didn’t think drugging yourself was your move, either.”
“I didn’t have a move,” said Steve, exasperated. “That was my whole problem. She was waiting on me to start, and I didn’t know how to start. All it did was put me in the right state of mind to tell her what I wanted. And now it’s fine. Problem solved.”
“I believe you,” said Sam. “But you know that you don’t need drugs to talk to her, right?”
“That’s fair. But, since we’re giving out free advice, you ought to tell Sam you’re sorry. Not for having dinner with your ex. But for not telling her that’s what you were doing. That’s why she’s mad at you.”
“I know,” Sam conceded. “And I’m going to. It’s just embarrassing. I’m used to being the emotionally mature one in the relationship.”
Steve nudged his shoulder affectionately. “If it makes you feel better, you’re the emotionally mature one in our relationship.”
“It’s cute that you think I don’t know that,” said Sam, deadpan.
The party officially broke up around 4 a.m. They hadn’t discussed a plan for afterwards, but Peggy gave Steve’s address to the cab driver with an assurance that he found immensely appealing.
He laid his arm across the back of the seat, and she took the hint and settled against his side, facing away from him to look out the window.
Steve had never been one for public displays of affection; personally, he’d always found them a little embarrassing to witness. But for whatever reason, something compelled him to break his own rule. With his free hand, he brushed Peggy’s hair aside, leaning in to kiss the back of her neck softly.
Her whole body tensed, but she didn’t move, didn’t acknowledge the gesture at all.
Then she put her hand on his thigh and squeezed, hard.
The driver took the slowest and most expensive route, but shockingly, Steve wound up tipping the guy almost forty percent so that they didn’t have to wait around for the change. Even more shockingly, Peggy didn’t comment on what a departure it was—as if she didn’t notice.
Once in his apartment, they didn’t even make it as far as the bed. Fortunately, the kitchen counter was a very convenient height. By the end of it all, Steve had put a crack in the tile backsplash, and Peggy had kicked in one of his cupboard doors. Still, it was worth it.
“I think I’ll skip the gym tomorrow,” said Peggy, still wrapped tightly around him. “You’re more than enough exercise.”
He laughed against her shoulder. “You’re staying over, right?”
“I’ll have to. I’m too exhausted to make it home.”
He scooped her up off the counter, carrying her to the bedroom.
“I know you think you’re being romantic when you do that,” she said, then closed her eyes without bothering to complete the thought.
She fell asleep almost instantly.
Steve, on the other hand, couldn’t settle. Now that the haze of desire had lifted, Peggy’s words kept rattling around in his head: something seriously wrong. Out of control. Sex maniac. She had enough experience to know that something was off—only she had no reason to suspect why that might be.
He’d never actually confirmed with Thor the name of the potion. Was it Lover’s Draught, or Lovers’ Draught? He’d taken it, and then he and Peggy had spent hours in the most intimate sort of contact. Could the effects be passed from one partner to another? After all, this was magic they were talking about.
Before drifting off, uneasily, he resolved to talk to Peggy about it first thing in the morning.
Peggy was already gone when he woke up.
Steve tried to call Thor. No answer. He didn’t bother texting.
It was times like this when he wished the team had a doctor on call who was used to super-soldier anatomy. As it was, there was only one person he could think of who might be able to help him find some answers.
Bruce’s suite at the Tower was more modest than Thor’s, and totally open plan, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a terrace crowded with lush greenery. Despite its smaller size, the apartment felt cavernous; Bruce apparently didn’t have a lot in the way of material possessions. This made sense, given how far off the grid he’d managed to get in the years before the Battle of New York—but knowing Tony’s relentless generosity, the near-emptiness of the studio was almost certainly a lifestyle choice.
Steve must have seemed stressed, because Bruce insisted on making them both a cup of herbal tea. Bruce wasn’t the type to insist unless something was absolutely vital.
They sat at the dining table with their tea, which tasted like hot lawn clippings, and Steve gave a basic outline of his problem. Bruce didn’t interject, but listened intently, until Steve had said everything he intended to say and then some.
“Let me get this straight,” said Bruce. “You let Thor give you Asgardian Viagra?”
“No, it’s not for—why does everyone think I’d need something like that?”
Steve had meant it as a rhetorical question, but Bruce considered it seriously before replying, “They’ve probably heard about what happens to guys who take too many steroids.”
“Well, that’s not my problem. The potion I took, it’s not a physical effect. It’s psychological. I just can’t stop thinking about sex.”
Bruce removed his glasses, wiping them clean with his untucked shirt-tail. “I think most of us have those days, man.”
“This is different,” Steve insisted. “It’s not normal. It’s—crazy. I can’t focus on anything but her. And when we’re in the same room, it’s like we both lose our minds.”
“Yeah, I heard about the observation deck.”
Steve sighed. “Tony.”
“Actually, it was JARVIS. He’s kind of a gossip.” He paused, presumably so the AI could interject, but JARVIS was apparently taking the high road. “But it’s not just sex. Right? It’s sex with your girlfriend.”
“Well—yeah. I mean, who else would I...”
“Your girlfriend, who you’ve been in love with for years, and who you just started sleeping with, what, a week ago?”
“A few days ago, but—”
“There’s nothing wrong with you, Steve. It’s just the honeymoon phase.” Bruce sounded uncharacteristically annoyed. “You guys need to stop coming to me with these questions. For the hundredth time, I’m not that kind of doctor.”
Steve belatedly remembered something Tony had told him: because the Hulk transformation was triggered by stress, Bruce couldn’t participate in any activities that might get his heart rate up. Only Tony, being Tony, had phrased it in a much cruder way.
If Steve had been in his position, he imagined he’d be irritable too.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m not looking for a checkup. I know that’s not what you do. I’m looking for a way to tell how this potion works with normal human biology. And I know you’re not the only person I could ask, but to be honest, I was hoping to avoid going to Tony with this.”
“Fair point,” said Bruce, with a small smile. “But why normal human biology? You said you took this stuff, right? Not Peggy?”
“Yeah, but—what if I somehow passed it on to her, when we were together?”
Bruce nodded thoughtfully. “I see what you mean. Do you have any of it left?”
Steve took the vial out of his pocket.
Bruce held it up to the light. “This is enough for me to work with. And I’ll take a blood sample from you, to see if it’s still in your system. Why don’t we start there?”
“Okay. Thank you.”
“You know you have to talk to Peggy about this, right?”
Steve nodded. “She’s my next stop.”
“Bring your shield.”
Steve couldn’t tell if he was kidding.
When Peggy opened the door to her place, she was, fortunately, not naked under a trenchcoat.
However, what she did have on was even sexier than that, in Steve’s opinion. With the trenchcoat, she’d have been mostly covered; in just leggings and a sports bra, her formidable physique was on full display, from toned shoulders to well-formed calves.
Her hair, pulled up in a loose knot, was damp; her face, free of makeup, had the flush of exertion. A faint sheen of perspiration covered her neck and chest, the afternoon sun making her skin shimmer.
“I thought you were skipping the gym.” It was a remarkably coherent sentence, all things considered.
“I did. I’ve just been doing some stretches.” As if to illustrate, she stood up on her toes and lifted both arms over her head.
Steve watched, enthralled by the line of her body, the subtle shift of her sleek abdominals. He’d seen her naked at least a dozen times in the last few days, and each time, he couldn’t help but be impressed—not that she was strong, but that she worked so hard to acquire and maintain that strength.
“The last few days have been a lot of fun, but I’m not quite the athlete you are,” she continued. “I was a bit stiff this morning. Pepper recommended I try yoga, so I found something on YouTube.” She flicked the TV off, tossing the remote onto the couch.
“Actually, yes. I feel much better. Though I wouldn’t say no to a back massage.”
Steve was on the verge of agreeing before managing to rein himself in. “To be honest, Peggy…”
“That wasn’t a come-on,” she said wryly. “You’ve got sex on the brain lately.”
Steve didn’t think he was going to get a better conversational opening. “There might be a reason for that,” he said.
And then he told her the whole story.
By the time he was through, Peggy had lost her happy yoga glow. She’d planted herself beside him on the couch, arms tightly crossed—which was doing great things for her cleavage, a fact that Steve felt guilty for even noticing.
“Steve, how could you put something into your body, not knowing what the effects might be?”
“You remember how we met, right?”
“Is now a good time to be clever, do you think?”
He sighed. “I’m sorry, Peggy. I’m really sorry.”
“I just don’t understand why you’d need…” She didn’t sound angry anymore; she sounded hurt, which was worse. “Do you not find me attractive?”
The fact that she had to ask him that, when she was sitting there looking completely ravishing, made him feel like even more of a heel.
“That was never the problem,” he said quickly. “God, Peggy, please don’t ever think that. You’re so… I mean…”
She watched him, waiting.
Do better, he told himself. This whole mess had started because he was too damn stubborn to just talk. It was time to start talking now.
“You’re so beautiful, and so graceful, and so, so sexy. I meant every single word I said that night. I wanted to move things forward for a long time before that. But I knew you were waiting on me, and I just—I got stuck in my own head. Thor offered me a way to help me get past it. That’s all it was.”
“What do you mean, I was waiting on you?”
“Well, yes, but only because I knew you’d never been with anyone. I wanted you to be sure you were ready. You could have said something sooner. It’s not that I object to taking the lead, but I wasn’t about to go sticking my hand down your pants without so much as a by-your-leave.”
The statement was accompanied by a hand gesture that Steve found distracting, to say the least.
She caught sight of his face, blushed furiously, and said, “Stop it.”
“I didn’t do anything,” he protested.
“You had a look.”
“Like you were thinking about it.”
“Only because you said it!”
She pointed to an armchair on the opposite side of the living room. “Go sit over there.”
Steve rolled his eyes, but got up anyhow.
The moment he sat down again, his phone rang.
“Hey. I’ve got your test results. Are you with Peggy?”
“Yeah, we’re both here. Let me put you on speaker.” He placed the phone on the coffee table. “Go ahead.”
“Well, it’s good news. First of all, I screened the blood sample I took from you. No trace of it in your system. Second, I tested the compound on normal human blood, and it was non-reactive.”
“Meaning, no reaction,” said Bruce, patiently. “It doesn’t work on humans. At all.”
“What? No, I definitely—there was definitely something.”
“Well, it’s possible it had a small effect on you, because of your enhanced DNA. But it would be negligible. And Peggy wouldn’t have had any effects at all, from either direct or secondary exposure.”
Steve eased back in his chair. He was so relieved that he momentarily forgot Bruce couldn’t see him nodding.
“That’s fantastic news, Bruce,” said Peggy. “Thank you so much for taking the trouble.”
“No trouble,” said Bruce. “Happy to help. Take care.”
Peggy leaned over and hit the end call button, her eyes never leaving Steve’s face. “That’s what all this was about?” she asked. “You were worried about me?”
“I heard you talking to the girls. Telling them that I was turning you into a sex maniac. I couldn’t stop thinking that I might’ve—it’d be like I drugged you.”
To his surprise, she burst out laughing. “Oh, Steve, honestly.”
Gently, she said, “You know that you weren’t my first, don’t you?”
“It isn’t that I’ve never wanted someone that badly. It’s always intense, at least in the beginning. But it was—it’s been different with you. I think because… I wasn’t in love, those other times.”
“And now I am,” she concluded. “With a reckless idiot, apparently.”
Steve couldn’t help grinning. “I love you too, Peggy.”
“Wipe that smirk off your face. I’m still cross with you.”
“Let me make it up to you.”
“Not bloody likely.”
“How about that back massage? No strings attached.”
“I’ve changed my mind.”
“I’ll do anything you want. I’ll beg for forgiveness.”
She looked him over, a familiar spark in her eye. “Properly? On your knees?”
“For as long as you think is fair,” he said earnestly.
“Well, then.” She gave him a sultry smile. “It’s rude to keep a lady waiting, Captain Rogers.”
Steve couldn’t help but agree.