DISCLAIMER: Standard Disclaimers Apply: Meant for fun, no ownership implied, no profit sought. Blah, blah, blah.
DEDICATION: To my darling wife, Lisaof9, who has been having a really rough couple of months. If Peggy and Angie can't cheer you up, I certainly can't. ;) I love you, Lisa.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Takes place approximately three months after the events of Valediction.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To limegreenbeez[at]gmail.com
Stormy Weather (Burning Bridges Keep Us Warm)
On a rainy but otherwise remarkably pedestrian Tuesday evening in early Spring, myriad poorly-defined and carefully unexamined emotions that had been swirling around SSR Agent Peggy Carter's heart and mind for the past six months finally reached a tipping point. There was no reason on Earth why they should become so startlingly clear, emerging starkly black and white from the murky gray fog that had taken up residence behind her eyes and deep inside her chest, but emerge they did.
Peggy and her housemate, Angie Martinelli, dined that evening in the formal dining room they now shared after having been ejected from their respective rooms at the Griffith during the unfortunate Howard Stark affair. Feeling guilty for the part he'd played in their eviction, Howard had given them an alternative to homelessness for which neither woman had quite been prepared. They had declined at first, but Howard had been insistent, and sharing a six-bedroom mansion with a roof-top terrace between the two of them was exponentially better than anything they could manage on their own, no matter how far it was from the Theater District.
Angie was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on her mother's chicken cacciatore while Peggy set the table, the melancholy melody of her mood accompanied by the steady roar of yet another rainstorm. Drenching downpoursthe kind Angie called "gullywashers" as though she'd just stepped off the train from Wichitahad plagued the city all week, dampening even Angie's usually ebullient spirits. Peggy imagined the chicken cacciatore, a heavier, more complex dish than either of them required, had been made more for its comfort and familiarity than for its nutritional value, but she still managed to serve herself seconds. It was rather warming, after all, and somehow refusing seconds of one of Angie's mother's secret recipes seemed an imprudent path to embark upon.
They ate their dinner in near silence, the weather stifling even the most innocent small talk. Afterward, they washed the dishes with military efficiency, standing side by side at the sink in the kitchen, unwilling to leave them for Jarvis no matter how terse his protests. With the leftovers safely tucked into the Frigidaire, Peggy and Angie retired to the library to do a little reading before turning in. The faraway sound of rolling thunder let them know the storm had boxed them in for the night anyway and reading seemed to fit both their moods.
Peggy claimed the russet-colored velvet wingback chair with the matching foot stool and flipped idly through several magazines she had been meaning to peruse when she could find the time. Distracting herself with a bit of mindless entertainment seemed a passable remedy to her pensiveness and she slipped off her low-heeled pumps so she could make use of the foot stool without damaging the velvet.
Angie claimed an Edwardian settee richly appointed in sage-green linen and sat leaning on the armrest, her legs tucked up beside her, her bare toes wiggling as she read a thick tome of unknown origin. Peggy watched as Angie, thoroughly engrossed, nibbled her bottom lip occasionally, a small V appearing in a notch between her eyes when she concentrated especially deeply. The aspiring actress also absently twisted a lock of wheat-gold hair around her index finger as she read, a habit Peggy Carter found impossibly endearing.
Peggy tried to keep her eyes on the magazine in her lap but they betrayed her often, lifting to observe Angie's slight movements or the arch of her long neck as she tilted her head. For reasons not entirely lost on her, Peggy found the young woman infinitely more arresting than anything Life Magazine could offer and, curiosity piqued, she broke their companionable silence to ask the title of Angie's book.
"Memoirs of a British Agent by Lockhart," she replied without looking up. She turned the page, scarcely blinking as she continued, obviously deeply immersed in the subject.
"Trotsky and the Bolsheviks?" asked Peggy, shocked right to her toes. She knew the book, had read it herself at least twice, but she hadn't pegged Angie for a non-fiction reader. She looked down at the magazine spread across her lap and felt unusually self-conscious.
Angie looked up, more in reaction to the tone of surprise in Peggy's voice than to the question itself. "Yeah! In case you hadn't noticed, English, Mr. Stark has a heck of a lot of books in here. I figured someone oughta read 'em. Besides, I thought I'd use mywhat'd you call it? My 'current state of unemployment?'to improve myself. My Gramps always said knowledge was power. Maybe I won't have to go back to waiting tables, thenI mean, once Mr. Stark throws me out."
Peggy's features, pillared stiffly by her surprise, tumbled into a sweetly sad smile, her shock at Angie's choice of reading material entirely forgotten. "Oh Angie, Howard won't throw you out. I promise. He hardly ever uses this house anymore. I'm not sure why he hasn't yet sold it, to be honest." She glanced at the rows and rows of books that towered over them and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Howard Stark had never read a single one. Edwin Jarvis had, of coursehis withering comment about the mere adequacy of the first edition collection had made that clearbut Peggy believed Howard probably preferred either technical manuals or something more, ahem, obscene. Choosing not to dwell upon her friend's likely predilections, Peggy nonetheless made a note to discuss her concerns with Mr. Jarvis. The last thing she wanted was for Angie to accidentally happen upon something eye-opening and indecent disguised as a volume of Shakespearean sonnets.
"Exactly!" Angie's voice brought Peggy back to the present and she watched the younger woman's delicate eyebrows crowd together over her gray eyes. "He'll want to sell this place sooner or later and I have to be prepared. My mother always says the only person who's ever really with you until the end is yourself so it's better not to rely on others. I'm really grateful to you and to Mr. Stark for letting me stay here, Pegs, but I won't overstay my welcome."
Peggy shook her head, her smile returning. "You could never do that, Angie," she said. "Not with me, at least."
Angie grinned lopsidedly at Peggy. "Remember you said that when I've swiped all your hairpins again. You were steamed last time."
"I was not!" said Peggy, affronted. "I just didn't know what had happened to them. I was confused, not angry."
Angie laughed. "Jeez Louise, English! You're some kinda super spy and you couldn't figure out where 25 hairpins from your vanity went when we live here mostly aloneexcept for the occasional visit from Mr. Fancy or Mr. Stark? Neither of them seem the pin-curl type."
Peggy smirked darkly at her friend. "All right. I will admit to being a little...flustered. But I forgave you instantly, didn't I?"
"Only because I batted my eyelashes at you like Rita Hayworth," said Angie, winking as she returned to her book. "Works every time," she added, seemingly as an afterthought.
And there it wasthe tipping point.
Peggy stared at Angie, her mouth hanging slightly open although she had stopped breathing. The swirling maelstrom of uncertainty which had been plaguing her since Angie had called her "Grandma" the first time, back at the Griffith, coalesced into a burning pinpoint of clarity.
Angie Martinelli had just flirted with her.
Now, Peggy was no ingénue. She'd experienced her share of Sapphic liaisons in school and in the military. Peggy had known as soon as she'd met the cheerfully honest would-be actress that she would have to be on her guardand how!lest the young woman become much too important to her much too quickly. There was simply something about Angie, something that drew Peggy immediately. It was a kindness, perhapsnot dewy-eyed and insipid but born of realism and empathy. It was the steely determination that gave Angie the strength to pick herself up and dust herself off no matter how many times she got knocked down.
In a prematurely self-congratulatory way, Peggy had thought she'd been quite successful at keeping the young waitress at bay, but that was before Angie had wetted Jack Thompson's shoulder with alligator tears, sending an entire phalanx of her fellow agents fleeing the Griffith like rats from a ship on fire. She'd thrown whatever resistance to Angie she'd had left out the proverbial window the moment the young woman had dragged her through a literal one in the interest of securing Peggy's escape. In retrospect, she realized she'd never had a chance.
But here, now, in a forgotten mansion borrowed from Howard Stark of all people, Angela Maria Martinelli, middle daughter of Angelo and Giana Martinelli of Mulberry Street, East Harlem, had just admitted to manipulating Peggy by way of her long, fluttering eyelashes and a well-timed pout or two. The SSR agent didn't know what to think.
Had she completely buggered her whole meticulous plan of noble restraint by overlooking the possibility that Angie might be pursuing her?
Peggy's mouth snapped shut and she narrowed her eyes at Angie, assessing her seeming disinterest for any hint of duplicity. She saw the signs immediately. The pulse point at the base of Angie's throat leapt beneath her skin, belying her attitude of repose. A slight blush crept upward over her wholesome, apple-shaped cheeks toward her hairline. The corner of her mouth twitched as she restrained a tremulous grin. Even the young woman's posturesmug, like a creature victorioustold Peggy she'd been had.
The brunette arched a single eyebrow and smirked.
Well, she thought, two can play at this game.
She stood and deposited the stack of unread magazines on a mahogany side table. From there, she stalked directly to the settee and leaned over her prey, bracing herself with hands and arms to either side of Angie's head. Forced backward by her nearness, Angie looked up at Peggy, her eyes wide and cerulean, her pupils clearly dilated.
"Miss Martinelli, are you, in fact, flirting with me?" asked Peggy, her voice shading slightly into a register that could only be called 'disciplinarian.'
Angie didn't even blink. Instead, the blue of her eyes deepened to indigo. "That bother you, English?"
"Not in the slightest." Peggy's smile, devil red and just as mischievous, made a sudden appearance. "I wonder, though, if you are prepared for the consequences of such an action. Are you, Miss Martinelli?"
In lieu of a verbal answer, Angie stretched upward in a single, fluid motion and pressed her petal-soft lips to Peggy's, kissing her hungrily, insistently until Peggy caught up to what was happening and kissed her back, at first tentatively, then more surely, thoroughly, parting Angie's lips with her tongue in order to kiss her more deeply, groaning with the heat of her, the taste of her, a conflagration of desire overtaking the both of them and everything in its path until finally the need for oxygen forced them apart.
Panting indelicately, Peggy rested her forehead against Angie's only to find that she was now kneeling on the Persian rug, her torso wedged tightly between Angie's knees, her fingers tangled in hair the color of a wheat field in a rainstorm. When Peggy finally opened her eyes, she saw Angie looking back at her, something startled and incredulous melting into something much deeper, much vaster, painted now in sapphire blue.
"Ain't my first dance, soldier," whispered Angie, running her thumb along Peggy's bottom lip.
"No. Clearly it isn't," replied Peggy, attempting to inject a little levity into the moment. She failed.
All she could think about was what she'd seen in Angie's eyes, about how her heart had leapt like a stag toward it, wanting to grab onto it and never let it go. She realized abruptly this was no game, no innocent flirtation, no dalliance. This was something altogether more momentous.
As such, it deserved her most reverent and undivided attentions.
Peggy covered Angie's hands with her own and pulled them to her mouth, blessing each of her palms with a kiss. Then she stood, pulling Angie up with her, the forgotten book dropping to the floor.
They didn't speak as they ascended the stairs. Peggy's heart seemed to grow fuller and heavier with each step while her head grew lighter, so much so that she was dizzy and feeling faint by the time they reached the landing at the top. She tugged their joined hands and led Angie down the hall toward her room, the one she'd chosen of the six offered. Angie, of course, had chosen the one right next door.
Once inside, Peggy positioned Angie at the foot of the ebony four-post bed.
"Wait here," she said softly, leaning in to press a soft, breathless kiss at the corner of Angie's mouth. When she pulled back, Angie nodded.
Peggy went to the floor-to-ceiling windows to either side of the bed and opened them, letting in the scent and sound of rain. Then she extinguished all but one lamp, its bubble of golden light encircling Angie where she stood but reaching no farther. Peggy joined Angie in that halo and brushed her fingers along her cheek.
"I need to know you understand what's about to happen, my darling," began Peggy.
Angie tried to interrupt the brunette, thinking she knew what Peggy was planning to say, wanting to reassure her. "Peg"
"Please let me finish," said Peggy. Her bark-brown eyes were almost black with desire as she caught Angie's hands in her own once more. "I want you, Angie. I want to make love to you, with you. I want to know you in every way it's possible to know someone and I want to invent new ways to know you in my off hours. When we do this, when we touch each other so intimately and so completely, it will change everything between us. I won't be able to return to what we had before, to schnapps and pie, to smiling at you over the Automat counter. It would be like learning to fly only to have the wings ripped from my body. "
Angie gasped and felt the hot prickle of tears sting her eyes. She blinked them back. "Oh," she said, grasping Peggy's hands tightly. "Honey, I know. I know."
Peggy shook her head, her sable tresses tumbling like silk over her shoulders. "No, I don't believe you do. I've fallen in love with you, Angie. Stupidly, helplessly, totally in love with you and if we make love now, if we cross this bridge, it will burn to ash behind us. We will never be able to go back." Peggy trembled clasped in Angie's hands. "I need to know you won't want to," she whispered. Tears glittered in her eyes.
Angie disentangled her hands from Peggy's and cupped the brunette's face in them. She could feel them trembling but knew she couldn't stop it so she didn't bother trying.
"Oh, Peg You may not have noticed this because you've been real busy with your spy friends lately, but I've been stuck on you since the moment you sat down at the Automat counter the very first day you walked in off the street." Angie kissed Peggy's eyes and cheeks and forehead tenderly before looking directly at her, gaze steady and unblinking. "I won't give up my family and I'll still have to go to Mass at least four times a yearnot counting weddings and funeralsbut if you can live with that, I'm yours, no ifs, ands, or buts." She smiled softly with remembered sadness. "Have been since the day your friend from work died and you came into the Automat with your mascara runnin' and your pride stuffed in your handbag."
Peggy's eyes turned liquid with adoration. "Oh, my darling . How do you always know the perfect thing to say?" she asked.
"Natural talent," dead-panned Angie. She grinned abruptly and it broke the tension between them like sunlight breaking through a storm cloud. She leaned in close to Peggy and whispered, "Now take me to bed, English. We gotta bridge to burn."
Peggy laughed and pressed the back of her hand to her mouth to hide her relief, hot tears skating down her cheeks before she could stop them. She ignored them and captured Angie's lips in a bruising kiss, pouring everything she felt into itall the hunger, all the love, all her giddy joy at no longer being alone in the world. She let the tears fall, tasted the salt of them as their kiss deepened, felt them wash her insides clean of heartbreak and loneliness, making her over new and fresh, ready to be whatever Angie needed her to be.
When they parted, Peggy licked her bottom lip and grinned, her teeth very white in the dim light.
"I believe we might be a little overdressed for the occasion, darling," she said breathlessly, dark eyes sliding wantonly down Angie's body, fingertips itching to touch bare skin.
"No time like the present, Pegs," said Angie as she shrugged out of her cardigan lickity split. She reached up to start unbuttoning her blouse but Peggy stopped her.
"Let me," Peggy said, her voice throaty with desire. Her deft fingers made quick work of the buttons and she looked up at Angie when the last one succumbed. "You have no idea how often I've imagined doing this," she said, pushing the cotton over the younger woman's shoulders and down her arms, letting it fall to the floor.
"Probably the same number of times as I've daydreamed of doing this," said Angie, boldly reaching for the buttons at the waist of Peggy's tailored pants. When she finished with them, she guided the pants over Peggy's hips, gasping when she discovered the black garters and thigh-high stockings beneath. She helped the brunette step out of the tangle of fabric at her feet and then stood slowly, gracefully, like the dancer she aspired to be, uncurling her spine a vertebra at a time as she skimmed her fingertips upward over Peggy's leg and thigh and hip.
Once standing again, Angie swallowed carefully, her mouth dry as sand. Peggy Carter stood before her, a vision in a loose white cotton blouse and those garters, looking like the personification of hot jazz and cold gin.
"Jeez, Peg," she husked, her voice smoky like Kentucky bourbon. Peggy blushed and smiled, pleased.
"Gettin' you outta those is going to take all night at this rate," Angie added, curling her hands into fists to keep them from shaking.
Peggy arched an eyebrow at Angie. "In a hurry, are you?" she asked, taking the opportunity to tease her would-be lover. She turned slowly and bent slightly at the waist, pretending to straighten her right stocking. The action had the desired effectit wrenched a primal, needful sound from Angie that made Peggy shiver with anticipation.
"You looked in a mirror lately, English?" asked Angie, her voice even deeper now, her gaze intensifying. Her fingers twitched at her sides.
Peggy arched an eyebrow at the younger woman. "Well, then. What is it you said? 'No time like the present?'" She reached for the top button of her blouse, smiling when Angie reached for the eyehooks at the waist of her teal blue gabardine slacks. She was just about to begin unhooking her garters when Angie stopped her, surprising her by swatting her hands away.
"Nuh unh," said Angie. She leaned in so her mouth was a breath away from Peggy's ear and added, "Mine."
The declaration turned Peggy's knees to water and she saved herself from considerable embarrassment by surging into Angie's arms, claiming her lips in another bruising kiss.
"Bed," she breathed, wrenching her mouth from Angie's. "Now."
Angie grinned. "You don't have to ask me twice."
Latermuch, much laterAngie pried her eyes open, trying desperately to catch her breath. She lay flat on her back in the center of the bed, naked as the day she was born, chest heaving as she gulped the cool air coming in from the river.
"Oh my God," she said between breaths, staring up at the ceiling without actually seeing it.
Peggy, wildly pleased and intolerably smug, grinned from her place between Angie's thighs and propped her chin up on both hands, elbows braced on the bed next to Angie's narrow hips.
"Did you enjoy that, my darling?" she asked throatily, unable to keep the pride from her voice.
Angie limply lifted her head from the pillows and gave Peggy a withering look. "You didn't hear your name enough times, English? I gotta send a thank you note, too?"
Peggy laughed and planted a kiss next to Angie's navel. "A note won't be necessary," she assured her. "I won't say no to flowers, though, if you feel so inclined. Or chocolates. Chocolates are always lovely."
Angie rolled her eyes at the brunette but it was just for show. Insufferably smug or no, Peggy Carterthe woman she'd been sweet on for what seemed like foreverwas smiling at her, her silk-soft sable hair tousled around her face, her devil-red lipstick all but entirely kissed off her lips, her eyes lit up like stars dancing on the water.
"There aren't enough chocolate shops in the whole wide world, English. Trust me."
She let her head drop back onto the pillows and began to uncurl her fingers from where they were fisted in the soft, creamy sheets beneath her. It was a slow process and painful. She made a small sound of protest that Peggy did not miss.
"Darling?" Peggy knelt immediately, her eyebrows collapsing into a concerned frown over her dark eyes. "Are you hurt?"
Angie blushed. "Fingers," she said simply, refusing to look at her lover.
Rather panicked, Peggy searched for Angie's hands and saw the problem right away.
"Ah," she said, trying not to smile. "Please allow me to assist." She started with Angie's right hand, helping to uncurl each finger, following her ministrations with a gentle massage to soothe the protesting joints.
"Laugh it up, Pegs," said Angie, her pride wounded. "You ain't seen nothin' yet."
Peggy winked at her. "Promise?"
Angie rolled her eyes again, but gave Peggy a lopsided grin, blushing for an entirely different reason than before. "Oh, shut up!"
When Angie's hands had been safely returned to their original condition, Peggy lay down next to her, kissing her shoulder. She pulled the top sheet from where it lay crumpled at the bottom of the bed and wrapped it around them both. Now that the immediate flush of adrenaline and heat from their lovemaking had begun to recede, the breeze from the windows was becoming a tad chilly.
Angie glanced at the cream colored fabric draped over them. "These sheets are probably, like, $500 a set, huh?" she said. "I should probably be more careful with 'em."
Peggy cupped Angie's face in her palm and waited until the young woman's eyes lifted to meet her own before kissing her. When they parted she said, "Not quite that much, no, although they are definitely imported." She tested the fabric between her fingertips. "Egyptian cotton, if I'm not mistaken."
Angie's lips twisted into a smirk. "You're not helping, English."
Peggy gave the young woman a lopsided smile, her eyes shading to black once more. "Oh darling, I would cheerfully replace every set of sheets in this house on a weekly schedule if it meant hearing you cry out my name like you did tonight," she said, huskily.
The sheer desire in Peggy's voice swept through Angie like summer squall, turning both her heart and belly upside down, giving her goose-pimples with its depth. "Oh yeah?" she asked weakly, swallowing carefully. "How are you gonna say my name when I love you, Peggy?"
Peggy kissed Angie hard and hot and fast. It was like holding a live wire in her bare hands and it knocked Angie for a loop. When Peggy finally pulled away, she arched a single, delicate eyebrow.
"Shall we find out?" she asked sweetly.
Angie grinned and waggled her eyebrows. "You don't have to ask me twice," she muttered as she rolled with Peggy until the brunette was on her back. Then she dove in for another electric kiss.
In time, they discovered 'Angela' was the name Peggy cried out during their most intimate moments and that's just how Angie felt as she kissed Peggy's eyelids and cheeks afterwardlike an angel, light and soft and flying high. Where Angie had been chatty and irreverent after lovemaking, Peggy sighed quietly and hid her eyes against Angie's throat, pressing tiny kisses to her pulse point there, wiggling as close to the younger woman as she possibly could, as if she wanted to climb right inside her and hide there, safe and warm.
"I got you, honey," Angie whispered into Peggy's hair, holding her tightly. "I'm right here."
That's when the tears came, hot and wet and fearful against Angie's skin.
"You might not always be," said Peggy in a small voice Angie had never heard her use before. "What does a relationship with me offer you except a lifetime of worry and hiding, my darling? We can never live openly because of my work and I don't want to come between you and your family"
Angie stopped Peggy's worried rambling with a soft, sweet kiss. "Bein' with you gives me the only thing I want, Peg: you." She cupped the gentle curve of Peggy's cheek in her hand and looked deeply into her questioning eyes. "And that's not nothin'."
"No buts, Peg. I told you before; I'm yoursfrom the top of my head to the tips of my toes and everywhere in between. And worry? What kinda worry are you gonna give me when I've got a brother who steals cars for a living? When half my family are bookies or crooks or runners for Joey Profaci?" Concern overtook her features, the little, frowning notch reappearing between her eyes. "I probably shouldn'ta told you that last bit seeing as you're with the feds an' all, but still." Her eyes softened and she brushed Peggy's hair off her forehead. "How is lovin' you gonna make my life worse, English, when it feels like the best thing that's ever happened to me?"
The hopeful look in Peggy's eyes just about broke Angie's heart. "Really?" she asked, her voice barely a whisper.
Angie nodded. "Really," she said. "And as for hiding, well, we Martinelli's don't exactly wear our hearts on our sleeves. We already hide what we do, you see. It's easy to hide something like thislike uswhen nobody ever really talks to each other." She shrugged, unconcerned. "My mother probably knows I'm never gonna bring a fella homeItalian mothers know everything; drives me around the bendbut the rest of my family won't even bat an eye." She grimaced briefly. "Trust me, you bein' a girl will be the last thing they care about if they ever find out you're a fed. You want worry? Bring that up at the dinner table one night. You'll get worry."
Peggy laughed in spite of herself and wiped her eyes, feeling a bit silly. "I'll get shot is what I'll get!"
Angie didn't disagree. "I may have already mentioned you at dinner a few times," she said hesitantly. "They think the phone company is real work. Not like acting or dancing. That's why my father was gonna sign me up for secretarial school. He was hopin' I could get a job with you."
Peggy paled at the prospect. "Do they know what happened at the Automat? About the Griffith?"
Angie shook her head. "They don't know the Automat was you. They know it was the feds but not what it was about. The story on the street is it was either Mr. Stark and his goons or it was a roundup of the Gambinos that went bad." She looked at Peggy shyly. "I may have spread that one around a little, just in case. As for the Griffith, I told them Miriam gave me the heave-ho when she found my stash of schnapps. That was easy enough for them to believe; I've been nickin' the stuff from my father's liquor cabinet since I was ten."
Peggy's nose crinkled with distaste. She preferred her schnapps in cordial glasses, not coffee cups, and once in a blue moon. "Why schnapps? Why not something stronger?"
Angie giggled. "It tastes like candy, Peg! How's a kid gonna resist that?"
Peggy arched an eyebrow. "And now that you're an adult?"
Angie waggled her eyebrows back at the brunette. "You know what they say: 'Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.'" She grinned. "With schnapps you get both!"
Peggy laughed, positively scandalized. "Is that why you offered me schnapps that night in the Griffith? Were you planning to corrupt me, Angie?"
Angie looked sideways at Peggy. "Depends. Would it have worked?"
Peggy affected her haughtiest look. "Absolutely not."
Angie shook her head and sighed. "Well, you can't blame a gal for tryin'," she said wistfully.
Peggy leaned down and smiled lasciviously. "Perhaps if you had tried a little harder," she murmured before kissing Angie deeply, fingertips skating lightly over sensitive skin.
"And have our first time together be in a pink daybed barely big enough for the both of us instead of this palace?" asked Angie when they parted. "Thanks but no thanks." She pulled Peggy closer. "Now, shut up and kiss me, English. You talk too much."
Later, they drowsed together in the small hours of the morning, tangled up in each other, punch-drunk on love and exhaustion both. The rain had stopped hours before and the air in the room was downright cold but neither of them wanted to leave the warmth of each other's arms to rectify the situation.
Peggy, propped up on one elbow, gently caressed Angie's cheek with fingertips as light as feathers. Angie's eyes were closed but a sweet smile played about her kiss-swollen lips.
"Angie, what's your room like?"
Angie opened one eye filled with confusion but Peggy, lost in thought and staring off into the darkness, didn't see.
"Peg, you've been in it at least twenty"
Peggy looked down and smoothed the wrinkles in Angie's forehead. "Allow me to rephrase the question: what's your room like to sleep in?"
Angie opened both eyes now and her face slid into a soft, kittenish frown. "Lonely," she said, without thinking. Then realizing how that might sound when Mr. Stark had been so generous, she added, "Don't get me wrong, Pegs. I love it here! The room is real nicenicer than anything I've ever had beforewhat with all those antiques and things. It's super comfortable and way bigger than I need. Real deluxe. I mean it."
Peggy hid a half-smile from the younger woman, hearing the hesitance in her voice. "But?" she asked, intent on getting to the truth.
Pale brows knitted together over gray eyes. "It's so quiet! I mean dead quiet, Peg. The walls at the Griffith were so thin I could hear everythingfrom the sirens of the paddy-wagons headin' down to Tony Malone's all the way to Loony Lorna talking to that stray cat of hers on the fire escape down at the end of the hall. I could even hear you turn over in your sleep sometimesif I listened close enough." She made a little frustrated movement with her hands. "But here? Here, it's like sleeping in a coffin or like bein' wrapped up in cotton balls so you can't hear a thing. I've been leaving the radio on just so I can get some sleep."
Peggy understood exactly what she meant. The one night she'd stayed in this house before Howard had gifted the use of it to the two of themwhen Colleen had been murdered and she'd had nowhere else to goPeggy hadn't slept a wink. She was accustomed to sleeping in the back of troop jeeps or on bombers as they screamed across the wartime sky. Even the Griffith had been quieter than she was used topaddy-wagons notwithstanding. Here, the softly deafening silence seemed to press in on her from all sides, magnifying her doubts and fears until she felt like shouting just to hear something other than her own heartbeat. It was nice to know she wasn't the only one having trouble. It was also nice to know she wasn't the only one leaving her radio on at night, though it did tell her something about the excellent construction of the mansion that she had never once heard Angie's radio as it played right next door.
"Hmm," she said, making a noncommittal noise of agreement. Even though they were both on the same page, as it wereboth having trouble sleeping, both sharing previously hidden feelings for one anotherPeggy had no idea if her next offer would be welcomed or spurned. On the one hand, she worried about rushing headlong into a relationship with Angie, barreling through all the normal stages of romance and courtship like a bull in a china shop in her hurry to leave her loneliness behind. On the other hand, she had hemmed and hawed once beforeand had lost Steve too soon, whatever they might have had sacrificed on the altar of the Greater Good. Could she live with herselfor live at allif the same happened with Angie?
Knowing she was making herself dizzy with unknowable 'what ifs', Peggy set her mouth in a thin line of determination and plunged ahead. "Would you think me terribly forward, darling, if I asked you to move in here, with me?" When Angie didn't answer right away, she added, in a rush, "If it's the style of the room you don't care for, we can move into your room, of courseor any of the other four, if you prefer" The sudden press of soft but insistent lips against her own cut Peggy's rambling invitation short. Startled at first, she eventually melted into the kiss, content to let it wander slowly, languidly until Angie finally pulled away.
"Wow, English," said the aspiring actress, her eyes very round and very blue. "I am not kiddin' when I say you talk too much. We're gonna have to work on that." She softened the rebuke with a sweet smile Peggy had seen a million times before. "To answer your question, yes, I will move in here with you. In this room. Our room." A short, sharp kiss acted as punctuation to the declaration. "I was wondering when you'd ask."
"'When?'" asked the brunette, amused. "Not 'if'?"
"I figured one of us would break down and do it. I was gonna give you till morning an' if you hadn't by then, I was gonna make a big speech about savin' water on laundry or something." She shrugged. "You know, make an appeal to your practical side."
"'Saving water on laundry?'" repeated Peggy, chuckling. "Goodness knows I have a practical side, but laundry? Honestly." She nuzzled Angie's throat suggestively. "Now, if you'd suggested saving water through bathing together, I'm not sure I could resist. Though it wouldn't be my practicality you'd be appealing to, in that case; it would be my carnal instincts."
Angie arched her neck to give Peggy better access. "Have you seen the tub in the yellow bathroom? The one that looks out over the river?" Angie had been daydreaming about the huge claw-foot tuband Peggy in itfor weeks.
"I have," said Peggy, pausing to nibble a particularly sensitive spot. "It's lovely, but mine's better."
"Yours?" Angie's eyes fluttered closed.
"A cedar ofuroa Japanese soaking tublies just beyond that door," said Peggy, nodding unseen toward a discreet doorway to the right of the mahogany armoire. "Big enough for both of us." She looked up for a moment as she ran through a set of quick calculations. "Big enough, in fact, for five of us, if we were so inclined. Though we would all have to sit rather close."
Angie's eyes snapped open and a flash-fire of emotion crossed her face. "Yeah, I don't think so," she said darkly. "I don't share."
Peggy blinked down at her lover for a moment, confused by her sudden vehemence until she finally understood what had Angie so upset. She hid her pleased and knowing smile.
"Oh, darling, I wasn't suggesting that at all. I am not known for my forgiving nature where such things are concerned, either," she said, remembering a long ago incident involving Steve, a gun, and an unpainted shield.
Angie studied Peggy's face for a moment then relaxed a little. "As long as we're singin' from the same song sheet," she grumbled, frowning. "I mean, my heart's big, but it's only got enough room for you, Peg."
Tears unexpectedly flooded Peggy's eyes and she reached out to touch the corner of the younger woman's mouth. "Oh, Angie," she said. "You always say the most wonderful things." She pressed an earnest kiss to the place she'd just touched and whispered, "Believe me when I say I feel exactly the same about you, my darling. You've stolen my whole heart. There's not a stitch left for anyone else."
All the tension in Angie's body dissolved and her sudden smile was like a beam of sleepy sunshine.
"So we're stuck with each other," she said happily.
"Absolutely," agreed Peggy, leaning in for another kiss. When they parted, a shadow crossed her eyes and her smile faded just slightly. Angie was stuck with Peggy for as long as the younger woman wanted herthere could be no doubt of that. What terrified Peggy was the uncertainty of the reverse. How long would Peggy know happiness until it was ripped away?
Angie watched as Peggy's eyes clouded over, watched as the older woman pulled something intangible, something vulnerable back and looked away. She knew exactly what it was.
"No, sir," she said, forcing Peggy to look at her again. "Nuh unh. None of that."
"None of what?"
"You've gone all still and quiet and I know what that means, English. You've done it once tonight already." Angie cupped Peggy's face in her hand and ran a thumb along her cheekbone. "You're worrying that I'm gonna get hurt somehowbecause of you."
Expertly unmasked, anguish filled Peggy's dark eyes. "My work is dangerous, Angie. Of course I worry. How could I not?" How could she trust her heart wouldn't be brokenagain? "I've lost so many loved ones to violence, my darling. I can't bear the thought that I might lose you, too."
Angie scowled briefly. "First," she said, "did you corner the market on danger when I wasn't looking, English? I told you about my cousin who got hit by a bus, didn't I? Were you driving the bus that killed him?"
Peggy, eyes wide and startled by this turn of events, shook her head no.
"No, you weren't," agreed the young woman. "You look nothing like the guy and, besides, he retired right after because of the shock. I hear he and his wife sold everything and bought a cottage on the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico. He fishes a lot nowwhich is better than cryin' all the time, if you ask me."
"I imagine his wife must think so," said Peggy haltingly, not quite certain where their conversation was headed and hesitant to interrupt lest she upset Angie even further.
"Second, how d'ya think I feel when you go all weepy about maybe losing me because of your oh-so-dangerous life? Do you think I give a plug nickel what might happen to me when it's more likely those bad things are gonna happen to you? Don't you think I sit up nights worrying when you're out fighting the bad guys, prayin' this isn't gonna be the night that Mr. Fancy comes back alone?" Angie had worked up quite a head of steam and she poked Peggy's shoulder hard, her eyes flashing.
Peggy was torn between two reactions to Angie's revelationguilt for having caused so many sleepless nights unaware and tenderness upon discovering how very much Angie cared and had done for quite some time, it appeared.
"Do you, darling?" she asked, wonderingly, gazing at Angie with soft, puppy eyes.
"Yeah, I do. And it's not all peaches and cream, so you can get that sappy look off your stupid, beautiful face, okay?"
The sappy look on Peggy's face only intensified. "Yes, ma'am," she agreed, clearly unable to do as she was told.
Angie's head of steam began to peter out. "Now where was I?" she grumbled, counting on her fingers. "Right! Third." She looked back at Peggy, clear-eyed and serious. "So your work is dangerousbig deal. Eating day-old tuna fish is dangerous and I don't see you flippin' your lid about that." When Peggy looked only more confused, Angie added, "There's a real simple solution to this pickle you've dreamed up, honey."
"There is?" Peggy felt a little like she was dancing on quicksand in this argument. For that matter, was it an argument? She honestly couldn't tell. A lecture, possibly, but it felt a little too one-sided to be an argument.
"Yeah, ya knucklehead!" said Angie, looking at Peggy as if she'd grown a second head. "If you're so worried about me gettin' hurt, teach me to protect myself."
"What?" Peggy's eyes widened with shock. This option certainly wasn't the 'simple solution' she'd been expecting to hear. She began to shake her head, wanting very much to reject the possibility of exposing Angie to even more danger.
"I mean, I've got a lot of free time right now since you knocked down the Automat with your bare hands and it's not like casting directors are fallin' all over themselves to put my name up in lights."
Peggy's eyes hardened with resolve. "But"
Sensing the tide had shifted in this discussion, Angie rushed to make a case for her idea before Peggy nixed it outright. "And I do have some skills. You don't grow up in a family like mine without learning a few things. For instance, I have a mean left hook. Broke my Uncle Tony's nose on his birthday one yearby accident, of course, but there was an awful lot of blood. Ma was real mad."
"I'm really quick to learn, Peg, and I don't wanna be the kind of girl that just adds to your troubles, you know? I don't wanna be like Betty Carver on the radio; I wanna be someone who can hold her own, someone who can help you. Besides, you had to learn it all once, too, right? I mean, you weren't born this way." Angie bit her lip, realizing how that last part could sound. "I mean, obviously, you're pretty amazing. But, unless I'm really wrong about how things work in England, nobody gets born a secret agent. Do they?"
Peggy had been all set to say no, resoundingly and irrevocably, until Angie mentioned Betty Carver, Peggy's half-witted, simpering alter ego whose only value on the Captain America radio show was as the love interest requiring rescue on a precise weekly schedule. The producers of the show hadn't been interested in Peggy's real storynot the work she'd done for the French resistance before joining British Secret Intelligence nor the work she'd done for both England and America since. For that matter, neither had Chief Dooley or the rest of her colleagues at the SSR. They had treated her alternately as a servant or as an unskilled thorn in their collective sides, discounting her war record, her abilities, and her drive simply because she was a woman.
Did Angie deserve the same treatmentand from Peggy, no less, the woman who professed to love her? Wasn't it Peggy's responsibility, as a woman in general and as this woman's lover specifically, to lift her up rather than to hold her down?
Peggy sighed. Her protective instincts where Angie was concerned were powerful, dauntingly so, but she knew she would have to learn to overcome them if she were to give Angie the same chancesbetter chancesthan she'd had herself. She also knew the best possible way to transform a vulnerability was to make it a strength. She was already more than halfway there with Angie.
Peggy shook her head again, but this time it wasn't a refusal. An indulgent smile started in her eyes before it reached her lips.
Angie grinned, knowing she'd won. "We can start tomorrow," she said smugly, her blue eyes alight with excitement.
The SSR agent, however, knew anything worth doing was worth doing right.
"We'll start tonight," she said sternly, her tone brooking no argument. "Lesson number one, the most important lesson of all. Repeat after me: I am more important than the mission."
Angie's grin widened. "'I am more important than the mission,'" she repeated.
"If I return home injured or worse, Peggy will become quite cross with me."
Angie giggled. "If I come home bloody, Pegs will be steamed," she said.
"This is very serious," said Peggy, but her laughing eyes belied her protest. "Rule three: My safety and protection are my top priorities. Repeat it."
"My girl worries too much but she loves me, so that's okay," said Angie, her sing-songy grammar school tone of recitation making Peggy laugh outright.
"That's not what I said," she noted, leaning in to steal a kiss. "Say it correctly this time, please. My safety and protection are my top priorities."
"Comin' home in one piece every night earns me canoodling," said Angie dutifully.
"Angie," said Peggy, her tone letting the younger woman know she was skating dangerously near the edge of a very steep precipice.
"Kisses?" asked Angie, affecting an air of innocence. She loved to push boundariesespecially Peggy's.
"Angie." Peggy narrowed her eyes. Angie rolled hers.
"Oh, all right. 'My safety and protection are my top priorities.' Satisfied?"
Peggy grinned wolfishly, the change in her features and demeanor making Angie a little dizzy.
"I plan to be," she said suggestively, reaching for Angie and pulling her close. Her fingertips drifted lazily over the bare skin beneath her and Angie arched her back, making a soft sound of surrender. "Oh darling, I plan to be."
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