Tensions were high for the first few days after the rescue of the 107th. Peggy Carter and James "Bucky" Barnes circled Steve Rogers like a couple of satellites, eyeing each other warily. If Peggy had been asked about it, she would have politely stated that Captain Rogers' choice of friends was no concern of hers. Bucky would have been less polite, muttering something about British dames with too much starch up their backbones.
Nobody asked, though. Nobody dared.
Captain Rogers was completely oblivious, but half of the camp could see the situation shaping up. There was even a not-so-secret betting pool going on over which one would bite the other's head off first. Rumor had it that when Colonel Phillips found out, he'd actually almost smiled, and then put money on Agent Carter.
Then, overnight, the game changed.
It was late in the evening; the sun was going down, and most of the men had retired to their tents. Steve Rogers was the last one by the fire, reading by the flickering light of the dying flames.
"Goodnight, Captain," Peggy paused to say. Smiling, he looked up and shut his book with a snap.
"'Night, Agent," he answered, rising to his feet. "I… whoa..." he swayed and flung out a hand sideways, trying to catch his balance.
In three steps she was at his side, grabbing the front of his uniform and trying to steady him, though she knew that if he actually fell, there would be nothing she could do about it. His hand - he had large hands now - caught at her shoulder, and she planted her feet. "Sit down, Steve," she ordered, and for once he actually obeyed her.
Once he was sitting on the log, she pushed his head towards his knees and sat next to him, one hand firm on the nape of his neck. Her mind spun - what had just happened? Was the serum somehow failing?
Steve broke the silence, cautiously raising his head as if he thought it might fall off. "Well, that didn't turn out the way I planned," he admitted a little sheepishly. Peggy realized her hand was still on the back of his neck, and retrieved it as discreetly as she could.
"What was that all about?" she demanded, and if her voice was a little sharp, she chalked it up to her alarm. He could have fallen in the fire, for heaven's sake.
He tried to stand up again, but she grabbed his sleeve and jerked hard enough to pull him back down with a jolt. The fact that she'd been able to move him at all was slightly alarming.
"Nothing, I'm okay. Just got a little light-headed for a second."
Light-headed? He hadn't gotten light-headed since Project Rebirth, at least as far as she knew. A suspicion stirred in the back of her mind, and she leaned forward, trying to get a better look at his face. He looked back at her, the remnants of an embarrassed flush lingering across his cheekbones - cheekbones which were far too sharp, looking oddly out of place on a man who had been almost a head shorter than her up until a few months ago.
"Steve, you're not eating enough, are you?"
Taken aback, he frowned. "Well it's not as if every day was Thanksgiving." The sudden addition of the escaped Hydra prisoners had swelled the ranks of the camp, and supplies were being stretched thin until they could get back to the main Allied force. Nobody was eating heartily, but that wasn't her point.
"Your metabolism has increased exponentially - you should be eating more."
He was shaking his head before she even finished her sentence. "Peggy, I'm not going to eat more than the other fellows just because I'm bigger than them."
Frustrated, she tried again, but knew it would do no good; he was wearing the stubborn expression she had seen so often back at the training camp. "Steve, your body needs more fuel. Proportionally you're eating less than anybody - I swear you've lost a stone in the past week."
"She's right, you know."
The voice from the shadows startled both of them, and Bucky Barnes stepped out with a grin that told just how much he'd enjoyed their surprise. For a moment he and Peggy eyed each other levelly. Then Barnes lazily tapped the brim of his hat, and she nodded politely. Formalities concluded, she glanced pointedly at Steve. Barnes followed her gaze, and then looked back at her with determination and a sort of responsible concern sparking in his eyes.
Quite to her surprise, Peggy suddenly discovered she had an ally. The man might have rubbed her the wrong way the first time they met, but he seemed to care a lot for Steve's well-being. Captain America was stubborn to a fault - she could use the help in dealing with him.
Steve could sense that something had just passed between the two of them. "Bucky," he trailed off, voice a little tight with apprehension.
"Naw, you should listen to the lady." Barnes sat down on Steve's other side, and casually slung an arm around his shoulders. "Big fellow like you needs enough grub to keep you going, or you'll keel over sometime and embarrass the nation. Captain America fainting? Horrors!" He put on a mock scandalized expression, and Steve chuckled in spite of himself. Still, he was nothing if not obstinate.
"Thanks Buck, but I'm fine. Really."
Barnes leaned forward and caught Peggy's eye. She frowned back and shook her head, trying to indicate that no, he wasn't all right. A sly look sprang into the soldier's face, and he thumped Steve hard on the back.
"Look, squirt, let's make a deal. You eat up all nice and proper, and I don't tell Agent Carter that secret you didn't tell me the other night."
It must have been some secret, because Steve's spine straightened like he'd been shot, and he directed an alarmed, utterly betrayed look at his best friend. "Bucky!"
"A secret he didn't tell you?" Peggy raised her eyebrows, speaking straight through Steve to Barnes. "Sounds intriguing."
Barnes nodded sagely. "Oh, it is. Very much so. It's all about…"
Steve flailed awkwardly, trying to get his hand over Barnes' mouth without accidentally using too much of his new strength and hurting his friend. "Buck, you swore you wouldn't tell!"
Barnes waggled his eyebrows unrepentantly, ducking Steve's uncoordinated attack and launching one of his own. Peggy sat back on the log, watching the scuffle. For a moment she felt like she was looking through a window into the past, watching a couple of young boys roughhousing on the streets of Brooklyn.
Steve suddenly convulsed with a muffled howl, and his friend grinned wickedly. "A word to the wise, Agent Carter," he called, and dodged an outflung arm that probably would have accidentally thrown him into the nearest row of tents if it had connected. "Steve's the most ticklish guy in all of creation."
"I'll bear that in mind," she solemnly promised. "Surely that wasn't the secret though?"
Steve pulled away, hair askew, and tried to straighten his jacket, glaring sternly at his friend. The two men shared a long look, but the obstinate lines of Steve's jaw never slackened. "It isn't fair to the other guys…"
Barnes met Peggy's eyes again, and then glanced back to Steve. "Fair? I'll give you fair. It wouldn't be fair to pass out on us right when the next wave of Nazis or Hydra comes by. You don't know how the other guys depend on you."
Peggy spoke up from his other side, propping her elbows on her knees. "Morale has never been so high, Steve, and it's because of you. They need you. Nobody will starve to death if you eat a little more. We're not that badly off."
Glancing between them both, Steve finally let his shoulders fall, and she knew they had won. "Fine, I'll eat another half-ration, if you clear it with the cook. But if we start running out…"
"Then Agent Carter and I will steal your food ourselves," Barnes promised, and Steve spoiled his earnestness by laughing despite himself. Barnes grinned at her behind his friend's back, and Peggy gave him a thankful nod. She and Barnes had one thing in common - Steve Rogers. Perhaps they were more alike than she had thought, after all.
"I don't suppose I'll ever find out that secret," Peggy said as she rose. The two men followed suit, and both she and Barnes kept a sharp eye on Steve until they were satisfied he wasn't about to tip over again.
"No," Steve declared positively.
Barnes winked over his shoulder. "Yes, you will."
The camp never did figure out exactly what happened.
One day, Carter and Barnes were eyeing each other with wary reserve, and the next day they seemed to have dropped into a casual working relationship with Captain Rogers as their joint focal point. The captain didn't seem to notice their alliance any more than he had their frosty formality, but there wasn't a man in the regiment who didn't see the difference and scratch his head in fruitless curiosity.
Bucky Barnes and Peggy Carter have one thing in common - Steve Rogers. In my opinion, they almost certainly met before the red dress scene in the movie. That being said, both of them are very different and strong-willed people, and I don't think they would have gotten along right away. At least not until something pulled them together.