It takes a strangely long time before a certain group of Hydra agents realizes that Margaret Carter provides too much of a stabilizing influence, that she is the lynchpin for so much, and that a neat "accident" would be very helpful.
(Perhaps the semi-anarchic "two more shall take its place" model is helpful in making the organizational spread hard to control or catalog, but it doesn't exactly lead to good collaboration, and it hasn’t gotten easier since Zola was found out and imprisoned before appointing a successor or passing on much of the organizing information.)
Once Carter has been identified as a prime target, an opening domino to continue in their efforts, things do move a little more quickly. It's decided that she isn't a particularly good candidate for an outright assassination: she spends too much time in heavily guarded SHIELD headquarters and even if a friendly agent could be found it would be apparent, too obviously revealing of Hydra’s underground efforts. (And finding a friendly agent would be very difficult. Somehow recruitment is getting harder and harder - is the current generation simply not as eager to join the cause? Obviously the Zola thing was bad publicity, but doesn’t it speak well that they still have their roots sunk deeply enough into society that they can continue onward, causing discord until they are in control?)
Without much of a social life - she seems to like staying in with her husband, so no standing engagement with a lover, no bowling league - the obvious place to eliminate Carter would be in her home. There is the small matter of said husband: surveillance shows him to be a well-built man, though it's nothing a sedative and a well-trained operative like Damian Ford can't handle. According to the tail they have on the husband, he spends a lot of his time chatting to old biddies as he walks them across the street, running volunteer art classes at the local community center, and helping to reach things down from high shelves at the grocery, so Ford figures he'll be a soft target. Nice people always spend too much time begging, or having faith that things will just turn out for the best.
Carter’s a busy woman and her schedule varies from night to night and she even goes into the office on weekends sometimes, but she’s always home for Sunday dinner. Ford arrives at the cute little house at ten past six. Twenty minutes is plenty of time to do away with the husband and fix up any mess before Carter pulls up. By all accounts she’s canny, and it’s always easier when you can get the drop on people. He'll take out the husband, wait for her, then pose the bodies and burn down the place, make it look like a house fire. A practically foolproof plan.
The neighborhood’s tightly packed, but Ford hops a few fences and is in the Carter backyard with no one the wiser. He congratulates himself as he goes over to the back door and jimmies the lock. It clicks, and there’s a little rush, that little bit of thrilling control that always reminds him of why he got into this business in the first place. People think they’re safe, that life has rules that they understand, but he’s there in the background, steering things in ways that most people wouldn’t understand.
He imagines the man inside, cooking the pot roast he can smell even through the still-closed door, listening to some radio program. He probably thinks that he has a say in his own fate, that he’s protected by playing housekeeper for his little wife. There will be just enough time for the realization that everything he ever believed was wrong before Ford strikes the final blow. Ford allows himself a bit of a smile as he begins to turn the doorknob.
“You’re finally coming in? I thought the potatoes were going to burn before you actually did something.”
Ford has never actually heard the man’s voice before. He has only a moment to register it, though, before a fist is swinging directly into his face.
"I'm home." Peggy closes the door, delighting in the solid sound of the lock clicking that signifies that her alone time with her husband has begun. She slips off her shoes and leaves them by the door, puts her case on the console table, and unbuttons her suit jacket. Her hair is sweaty, stuck to the back of her neck. She lifts it up and twists to offer herself a bit of circulation as she walks through to the kitchen. "I know that you've said that we're meant to have air conditioning in cars soon, but soon isn't soon enough."
Dinner is clearly ready - meat, potatoes, beans, salad, and rolls resting in serving dishes on the counter, the table set for two - but Steve isn't there when she arrives. She raises her voice a bit and asks, "Steve?"
"Basement," he calls, his voice distant.
She hadn't even wanted a cellar - too prone to flooding, too musty and damp to really store anything well - but they'd fallen in love with the house regardless. She hadn't thought about the other reasons she wouldn't enjoy it, but now she dreads even opening the door.
"Oh, bloody bollocking hell," she says as she comes far enough down the stairs to see. "I mean—good gracious, we’re back to this again?" They both know that children aren't in the cards for now - it's too dangerous at the moment, and they’ve been taking as thorough care as possible to avoid such an issue - but they've agreed to both try to clean up their language in preparation.
Steve, reading a book on the bottom step, snorts and stands, tucking the paperback into his rear pocket. "At least this one brought drugs. Some of them just show up thinking that they had all it would take—it's a little insulting, honestly."
"Yes, how dare they underestimate your muscles. But I'm sure the sedative will be very helpful." She eyes the man tied up on the chair they've essentially set aside for this purpose. "Not very polite of him to take the backyard route considering the way Mr. Lansing has deduced that his garden has been repeatedly crushed only since we moved here, but I appreciate him not making a mess - it would have been difficult to clean up considering how you broke the broom on the last one's face."
"He interrupted me while I was sweeping," Steve says unrepentantly. "I improvised."
"Hmm, you think they'd learn at least something about you, but I suppose communication and adaptation aren't strong points of theirs." She starts to button her jacket again, but then changes her mind. It’s too damn hot and she’s in her own home. "I should call in to request another transport, but I think we can eat while we wait - I'm absolutely famished, and the transportation team is practically part of the family now."
"I did make some chicken soup for John's mother - I know the treatment is really taking it out of her, and she gave us that great jam a few months ago." She starts up the stairs ahead of him.
"Perhaps I should start scheduling another night for them to be certain I'll be home? It would be nice to have a peaceful Sunday evening every once in a while."
"No one showed up last week. Or the week before," Steve reminds her, though he doesn't have to. She vividly recalls just how they'd celebrated both the lack of interruption for once, and also the apparent disorganization and dissolution of Hydra. "Besides, you wouldn't want to ruin a tradition, would you?"
She turns at the top of the staircase, facing him where he still stands on the step below her. "It doesn't bother you that these are our traditions, that this is what you came back for?"
He holds her face in his hands, fingertips smoothing over her cheekbones. If she blinked, her eyelashes would brush against them. "This is exactly what I came back for. I wouldn't have it any other way."
She thinks about the other men she might have been with instead, men who would have warned her off this type of charade, told her not to worry, that they would take care of rooting out Hydra from inside her agency and the others, men who would have come up with more grandiose plans for massive, public arrests and ignored her words about the way Hydra was a virus. She thinks about what could have been, and how lucky she has been with what is.
She kisses him. "I suppose I wouldn't either," she says, and goes to call the retrieval team.