Title: Such Simple Trials
Author: H. Savinien
Summary: “Peggy, Jarvis know you can do one hundred and seven one-armed push-ups?” Well, this is when and how it happened.
“Okay, okay, geez. It’s not like I don’t know it’d be cheating.” Steve backs off from the line Morita scratched in the dirt. Dum-Dum flicks his cigar into the puddle outside the tarps they rigged together and plops down between Falsworth and Jones in the ready position. Peggy tucks a stray lock of hair behind her ear and stretches out beside Bucky, the two of them dark-haired and nearly vibrating with waiting after three days stuck in this bivouac, matched almost in their army-drab trousers. “Everyone ready?”
The ragged chorus of assent includes some good-natured razzing and something in French from Dernier he's pretty sure is rude, but hasn't learned yet. “All right, keep your own count, make your own pace, one arm only, no shame in dropping out as long as you're not the jerk who made fun of me when I was little for not making three push-ups before falling over.” Bucky sticks his tongue out and Steve makes a kissy-face at him, because no, holding onto that one for a while yet. Morita laughs at Bucky and narrowly avoids an elbow in the ribs.
Then it's mostly quiet, but for the puffing and grunting and swish of fabric and the muted plip-plop of rain on the leaves outside. Steve watches seven sets of shoulders pumping up and down, out of time, but steady. He keeps his own count, eyes flicking back and forth, because none of them are cheats, but they are most of them pretty much assholes when you get right down to it. Stark wanders in a little before Falsworth gets bored around thirty-two and lands with a thud on his free hand and knees, then wanders off for some terrible tea from the mess-stove. Stark applauds him and gets a two-fingered salute in return. Dernier's not as young as the others and subsides at a slower-paced forty-two, offering Stark his place with a raised eyebrow and a smirk when Stark makes the “Oh, god no” face they coax out of him once in a while. (Not as often as you would think for someone who must have training in laboratory safety, but no one ever said Stark had much regard for his own skin once he got interested in something.)
Dugan falls over next, since he paced it too fast and wore himself out at fifty-three, and Morita lapses at fifty-four, having apparently only held out that long to beat Dum-Dum. They both head for the hot water, jostling to get at the sort-of-coffee that Dernier had sweet-talked out of a local old enough to be his granny. Jones takes a leisurely stretch about sixty and swaps arms, which Steve shrugs and allows, since nobody said that was against the rules. Buck and Peggy both notice and start swapping every ten. Jones starts flagging and casting longing glances at the coffeeish smell, then gives up at seventy-five flat and races for the pot before the others can finish it off.
Bucky and Peggy are both still going, faces red with the exertion, and the controlled panting from the both of them in time is starting to give Steve bad ideas. Terrible ideas, at least terrible to be having in a lean-to full of other people.
The tips of Peggy's boots slip, just a little, and she pauses for a breath to dig them back into the dirt, and with the twist she gives, Steve's eyes catch on the divot behind her knee. The muscles of her calves are almost vibrating with the strain of the contest and he knows – he knows – that she is a smart, sensible dame...with a stubborn streak about as wide as his. She'll keel over before she lets Buck beat her. Steve watches her narrow, sweat-soaked back pump under her white cotton undershirt and the fierce set of her face and has to switch his gaze away back to Bucky, because he can imagine that concentration focused on him instead and this is really not the time or place.
Of course, looking at Bucky's not any better, because Buck's got that distracted, aimless look on, like he has when the only thing he's thinking about is the the way his body's moving right now. Steve knows that look, especially the dreamy-eyed aftermath of it. Bucky's right arm straightens once more as he grunts at a hundred, then he swaps over with a quick flip sideways and it was a mistake, Steve can tell it was a mistake before Buck can, almost, because there's a tremor there in his left bicep that there wasn't before. Stark hisses sympathetically as Bucky overbalances all at once and lands on his face with a yelp.
“Hundred-five,” Peggy grits between her teeth, “hundred-six...hundred-seven.” And then she falls over too, but has the momentum to do it on her back. Bucky groans and she echoes him.
“One hundred. And seven. One-armed push-ups,” Howard Stark announces, like he's back at the Expo. “One hundred and seven push-ups from Agent Margaret Carter, gentlemen, with a very respectable one-hundred-four from Sergeant James Barnes. Can I get a round of applause, gentlemen?”
The Commandos hoot and cheer and Steve snaps back to himself and runs for water for them because Peggy is grinning and sweat-bedraggled and Bucky is alternately laughing and groaning into the dirt and they're both so gorgeous Steve can hardly stand it.