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Waiting to Worry

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It's after curfew.

Without her heavy coat on a night like this, Peggy can feel the muscles of her lower back starting to seize. No matter how much she trains her body to take its licks, sometimes after the adrenaline wears off, she feels it. Tonight was rougher than usual, and there's probably blood dripping down the back of her blouse from the wound at her hairline. At least she wore black today, and hopefully no one will notice that her stockings are missing, ripped off and used to tie the hands of the two huge men who are responsible for her back pain. What's worse is the puffiness that's rising around her left eye, soon to be blackened in the shape of a fist that unfortunately did not miss its mark.

Oh well. He probably won't be able to feel his fingers for a while now that his arm is broken in a few places. It's small comfort.

She expects Miss Fry to be standing guard, so she shoves two garbage cans into the street almost directly in front of the hotel before scooting back into the shadows. To her relief, Miss Fry and a man (undoubtedly only a visitor to the first floor) both run outside to investigate, and Peggy manages to hoist herself up a few steps and slips into the building unnoticed. Up the stairs, she holds her breath as she climbs, realizing that the punch she took to the gut isn't making breathing any easier.

All that sitting at a desk all day is making her soft. She'll have to work harder to make time to train, even if she has to do it in her room.

Her door comes into view. Ten feet, nine feet, eight... She gets inside, and as she swings the door shut the one person she longs to see (and dreads for the same reason) appears.

“Hey, English, how'd you manage to – oh hell, honey, what'd he do to you this time?”

Peggy takes a breath, but her back decides that she's going to stop talking right then, because she can't feel anything but white hot pain that shoots from her hip down her right leg. “Ungh,” she says, and tries to shove the door closed, but Angie barrels in anyway and shuts the door silently behind her. “Peggy, you've gotta get away from that guy. I've – here, let me help you to the bed.” Angie takes her arm and leads her across the room, where Peggy collapses. She has made a terrible mistake allowing Angie to get so close. She never should have moved into this ridiculous hotel, with its rules and regulations and proximity to a sweet, caring, innocent young woman. “Maybe I can—oh, hey, I bet I can nab some ice from the ice box. If Fry catches me I'll tell her I've got the curse and she'd better buzz off. Be right back.” She's gone in an instant, and Peggy wonders if she can get up and lock the door.

Instead, she closes her eyes and wills the pain to ease.

It doesn't.

She reaches, oh so gingerly, for the stash of aspirin she always keeps handy in the top dresser of her night table, and swallows two against a dry throat, chewing one more for good measure. Maybe if she can just get herself into her night clothes--

“Hey,” Angie says, breezing back in as if she owns the place. But she's got a pail of ice and an ice pick and a bottle of something that looks like liquor, and Peggy wants all three of those things, not in that order. Catching the direction of her gaze, Angie holds out the bottle, and Peggy, despite her good manners, unscrews the top and drinks straight away. It burns on the way down, and two swigs is all she can manage on the first go. One more and she's finished, handing it back.

Then it begins, in silence. Angie, her chatterbox, unerringly inquisitive friend, doesn't say a word as she helps Peggy out of her shoes, her blood-soaked blouse, her sweaty camisole, her skirt torn at the slit. As Angie turns away, Peggy removes her bra and gasps, the ache creeping up her spine, but she manages to get the oversized cotton pajama top on. Angie's right there with her moments later, buttoning up the shirt and helping her pull the trousers up as well.

The whole ordeal takes less than five minutes, but it seems like a thousand years to Peggy, who wonders why Angie has decided that some man, some boyfriend, has injured her. It's the simplest explanation, and one that Peggy should go along with, because it's easy. It's the right thing to say, because it will keep Angie in the dark. It will keep her safe.

But there's a part of her that wants Angie to know that she is strong, and that there is no man in the picture. She doesn't need a man, because she has Angie to see to at the end of a mission, Angie who will listen, and talk to her, and comfort her in sadness or celebrate with her success.

A hand is cool on her brow as she lies on the bed, but she winces when her head hits the pillow. She closes her eyes, and doesn't really notice how many moments pass before two arms push her to turn over, and a cool cloth wipes at the dried blood in her hair and on her skin. “Geez, honey,” Peggy hears. When Angie urges her back, she comes to rest with a cool compress under her skull. It's uncomfortable, but it's good too.

“My back, I need something for my back.” Angie makes a second compress, and slides it beneath her. Finally, she hears the crunch of ice being chopped in the bucket, followed by a freezing washcloth filled with ice coming to rest on her sore eye. She groans. “I'm fine, Angie.”

“Yeah, you sure look fine.”

Her stomach rolls with whiskey. The room spins for a moment, and she's asleep.

---

“Hey, English, wake up.”

Peggy jerks awake instantly, sitting up in the bed and regretting it not a moment later. Everything hurts. Her body, her head, even her eyes seem throb with a bone-deep ache. She grits her teeth and masters her reaction, taking a breath and hoping the darkness in her vision will recede. It does, and Peggy turns to find Angie staring at her, kneeling by the bed. There's a pillow and blanket on the floor, and the room is cold.

“Okay, you can go back to sleep now. My brother got hit by a car last year and the docs told us we had to make sure he didn't sleep more than a couple hours at a time.” She grins faintly. “Sorry, I know it's rotten, but can't let you die 'cause of some gorilla. You need a drink of water or anything?”

It's on the tip of her tongue to say no, but she sees the eagerness in Angie's eyes, and her mouth is dry as paper. “Yes, please.”

Angie leaps to her feet to get a glass, and brings it back almost proudly. “Here ya go. Drink it nice and slow.”

Peggy does, and it's an enormous relief. She finishes it and hands back the empty glass. “You should go back to your room, Angie. There's no need to stay here.”

“Sure, Peg. You just close your eyes and rest. I'll get lost in a minute, 'kay?”

Peggy nods until she remembers that she has at least a mild concussion, then just lies back down and melts into the mattress.

---

“Hey, English, wake up!”

This time, Peggy smiles. She turns her head gingerly and finds Angie in the same place she'd been before, already holding a glass up near her face. There's a straw bobbing two inches from her eye, so she opens her mouth and sips. She feels much better this time, not so sick and not so sore, either. She has always healed quickly, although when she squints at the light coming from the wash room, she can tell her left eye is swollen.

“Feelin' any better?”

“I am,” Peggy replies, and Angie seems relieved.

“Thank goodness. You looked pretty crummy a few hours ago. I was worried.”

“You're very sweet, Angie, but this is nothing,” Peggy says, and realizes that she's probably made a mistake. “Not that this is a common occurrence, mind you, it's just not as terrible as it seems--”

“I hope you threw the guy over. Back when you moved in, I remember you were limping. I thought you turned your ankle on a cobblestone, but now I know better.” Her eyes are deadly serious. “You're worth more than that. You're—you're the cat's meow, Peg, and I know you can land a man who'd treat you right, like you deserve. I can't stand to see you hurt like this--” tears gather in Angie's eyes now, to Peggy's alarm-- “so please tell me you're leaving him.”

“Angie--”

Angie sniffles, and brushes away a tear angrily. “And if it's that guy I always see you with at the automat, I'm gonna clock him next time I see him.”

“Oh, no, Angie, it's not Jarvis. He's just a colleague, and a friend. Someone I trust, and you can too.”

Angie still looks suspicious, but she backs down. “Well, if you're sure.” She turns away, and Peggy can tell she's dashing away the rest of the tears. Peggy is more than touched; her heart is light, and she feels her knees weaken, even lying down. “Anyway, I gotta get to work, I'll be late if I don't skip out now. You think you're okay for the morning?”

“Of course, yes. Thank you, Angie. You're a lifesaver.” She reaches out and takes Angie's hand before she can get too far away, and Angie looks down at their joined fingers for a few seconds longer than expected. There's a spark there, one that Peggy should avoid at all costs.

But Angie's skin is soft, because there's olive oil in the homemade lotion her mother sends her home with every week. Her grip is tentative, and Peggy swallows before pulling away. Stay back. She'll get hurt. Like you did, only worse, because she can't defend herself.

“Good luck at work, darling. I think I'll rest a while longer.”

Angie nods, her eyes finally meeting Peggy's, and they're uncertain. And curious.

She leaves, and Peggy exhales. She pushes all thoughts of those blue eyes out of her mind, and focuses on getting herself properly cleaned up and dressed for the day.

---

She gets through work without anyone paying too much attention to her injuries, although Sousa corners her about the black eye.

“What've you been up to, Carter?” he asks, concerned. He's kind, and nicer than anyone else in the office. She likes him, but she will keep him at arm's length, for different reasons than those surrounding Angela Martinelli.

“Bar fight,” she fires back with a grin. He laughs on cue, frowning in confusion.

“Seriously?” he replies, sitting up in his chair. “Did something--”

“Sousa,” Dooley calls from his office. “In here, now. We've got work to do.” Dooley eyes Peggy for a split second, but she knows he barely registers her presence. For once, that works in her favor.

“I'm fine,” she tells him, deciding it's time for a trip to the powder room to touch up her foundation.

Later, she walks carefully in lower heels than usual, heading to the Griffith, but somehow her feet take her to the L&L . She doesn't go in, watching Angie from the window as she serves coffee to more customers than she's ever seen in the automat. Then again she typically goes by later in the evening than this, when the dinner rush is over. No one really smiles at Angie except a heavy set man probably in his mid forties, and he doesn't smack her bottom or leer or raise an eyebrow in her direction. He simply smiles at her in a friendly way, and Angie's grin in return is bright and sunny. Peggy is staring, thinking about that smile and how she'd like it if Angie looked at her like that. Then she realizes that Angie does look at her like that, every morning across the breakfast table, and on the rare nights that Peggy spends with her as they listen to the radio and sip Schnapps. After a minute of daydreaming, she's distracted by Angie's thunderous frown when she serves a set of two older, genteel looking men, who chuckle in her direction, their lips moving as they stare at her behind long after she departs. How she puts up with that kind of treatment daily is beyond imagination. Even though Peggy suffers the ridiculous taunts of her co-workers, she has someone who believes in her; two someones, in fact, and the memory of another, still so strong in her heart. Angie has no one to hold her up the way Peggy does.

From that moment on, Peggy decides that she will be the one to hold Angie up the way she deserves.

---

That night, Peggy waits to hear the footsteps clomping down the hall toward the apartment, and sighs faintly at the pause, followed by a few more steps, quieter this time. There's a scratch at the door, far softer than the usual pounding that means Angie is home for the night. She hears a whispered, “English, you there?”

Peggy unlocks the door and opens it wide, waiting for Angie to stride in.

“Everything hunky-dory?” she asks, almost timidly.

“Certainly is. Won't you come in?”

Angie balks. “Oh, I would, but don't you need some sleep?” She reaches out for only a second before pulling her hand back and tucking it close to her body. “I mean, you're still recovering and all.”

“I'm very well, and would love some company. But if you want to go to sleep straight away, I'll under--”

“No, no, you don't hafta ask me twice. I just don't want to be a bother.” She smiles then, all teeth and sweetness, and Peggy feels it, that tug in her stomach that says this is both a terrible and wonderful idea. “You're pretty amazing with a make up brush, you know that?”

Lots of practice is on the tip of her tongue, but she swallows the words. That would be just what she'd need, wouldn't it? “It's not so swollen tonight. I'm sure it was the ice you brought me that helped it go down. I don't know if I ever thanked you properly for everything you did. It was unnecessary, but very much appreciated. So,” Peggy says, reaching for Angie's wrist to pull her into the room. “How was your day?”

Angie rolls her eyes as she flops down on the bed, toeing off one of her shoes and pulling her foot up on her lap to rub it. “Same old, I guess. Sometimes I wonder if I'd worked in a factory during the war if I'd have been better off. Standing on my feet all day long is no fun, I tell ya.”

Peggy thinks of sweet Colleen, worried for her job before she had no worries at all. “I imagine you might be better off. The boys coming home aren't looking to become waitresses, are they?” She takes a seat near Angie, leaning back against one railing of the daybed. “I've heard some of the girls are losing their jobs in the factory with so many GIs looking for work. Consider yourself lucky.”

With a nod, Angie shakes off her other shoe and crosses her legs, working at the ball of her other foot with strong fingers. “I'm trying. But I bet those GIs don't have to put up with wandering hands, you know? Sometimes I imagine how nice it would be if I just smacked someone for takin' advantage. Which I could only do if I didn't have to think about making rent or anything.” She leans back opposite Peggy and tilts her head. “Speaking of getting knocked around, you're looking pretty good compared to last night. What are you, a superhero? Do you have special powers or something?”

“No,” Peggy laughs. “It wasn't as bad as it looked.”

“Sure, English.” An expression of concern comes over her. “Seriously, are you doing okay?”

“I am,”Peggy replies, ignoring the twinge in her back that rears up as she shifts her position. Throwing a two-hundred pound man over one's shoulder can take a toll, she supposes, if one has to do it twice in a row. “My head is much better. I'm practically good as new.”

“That's great, I guess. But why won't you tell me what happened?”

“Because I want to tell you about something that I think will interest you more,” Peggy tells her with a sly grin. She watches Angie's mouth straighten into an irritated line before adding, “Let me at least show you before you get angry. Are you ready?”

“I suppose,” Angie replies, her anger already losing steam. “But after the day I had it better be goo—what is that?” she crows as Peggy reveals the prize she's been holding on to since Jarvis delivered it straight the sweets cupboard in Howard's apartment. “Is that what I think it is?”

Peggy turns the chocolate bar over in her hands casually. “If you think it's Cadbury Dairy Milk, you're correct. I've been hoarding them for some time, and I thought you might enjoy one--”

“Say no more, Peg, and hand it over.” The eagerness on her face urges Peggy to start unwrapping the treat before Angie snatches it right out of her hands. She hasn't had Dairy Milk for a long time either, but she imagines that the joy of watching Angie indulge will be quite enough of a reward. “Oh, damn,” Angie sighs, breathing in the scene of the sugar and cocoa. She snaps off a square and pops it in her mouth, and to say her reaction is ecstatic is an understatement. “Mm,” she hums, keeping her eyes shut as she tastes it, barely chewing. “Mm,” she says again, and Peggy laughs.

A minute or so later, Angie opens her eyes. She smiles, and snaps off another piece. She repeats the routine silently, this time with a grin curving her mouth. After she swallows, she murmurs, “Peggy Carter, I could kiss you.”

Peggy laughs, and replies without thinking, “That would be quite nice,” and then she freezes.

Angie's smile fades as her eyes open wide, blinking slowly in Peggy's direction. Peggy, searching for an excuse, simply laughs, and even to her own ears it sounds too shrill to be authentic. “I was only joking, ahem. Are you enjoying it?” she says, deflating. Here endeth the friendship that's kept her sane over the past few months. She'd disappear from the room if this wasn't her own, and she can't very well shoo Angie out of it after a comment like that.

Angie's still watching her, not moving, when she delicately places a third square of the chocolate in her mouth. Peggy blushes, and she can feel the flesh of her chest reddening in humiliation.

“It's pretty good,” Angie finally says, setting what's left of the bar on the bed. “But you know, when it comes right down to it, I'd rather have what you're offering.” She scoots forward, her leg pressing against Peggy's.

“Pardon?” Peggy asks, the heat flaring in her belly as she takes a breath scented with chocolate and Angie's perfume.

“A kiss. I think I owe it to you, don't you?” Angie purrs, and Peggy's eyes widen.

“Of course you don't owe me a thing, Angie, I would never--”

Then Angie's lips are on hers, and it's sweet and rich and dark, and Peggy moans as she slips a hand into the hair at the base of Angie's neck. Her mouth opens and she takes what she can get when Angie's tongue flicks against her own. It's only when Angie grabs her and pulls that Peggy gasps in pain, reminding her that her kidney and a couple of ribs are sore if not truly bruised. “Wait, don't stop,” Peggy murmurs, and Angie's lips return to hers and they're wrapped up in each other on the bed, surging and breathing together as their mouths meet and part and meet again. Angie's fingers are tender against her jaw, pressing and stroking until Peggy needs to get a full breath. Immediately Angie latches onto her throat, raking her teeth straight down. “Oh, God,” Peggy groans, “I shouldn't be doing this,” she mumbles. But Angie's lips are burning her skin, her teeth are marking her, her tongue is mapping the space between her neck and her collarbone. “Angie,” she whispers, and in a moment they're kissing again, this time more confidently, not to mention eagerly.

“English,” Angie says between kisses, “I've been waitin' for this. And I was sure I wouldn't get the chance. I didn't think for a second you were even a tiny bit queer.”

Peggy chuckles, and admits, “Neither did I, till I saw you.” It's the truth, spilling from her mouth in this moment of vulnerability. She's loved two men in her life, one as a girl and one as a woman, but she never thought twice about caring for a girl like Angie. But she does. Oh, she does.

“Yeah?” Angie says, getting up on her knees and adjusting herself so she's practically straddling Peggy. Her nearness is intoxicating, and Peggy nearly misses her next words. “If I hadn't figured it out for myself by now, I would have the day you walked into the automat wearing that red hat. God, you're gorgeous, Peg.” She kisses Peggy firmly, slowly, fingers trailing down her sides with care. “I can hardly believe this is happening.”

“Nor can I,” Peggy replies, wondering how many ways this is going to hurt her, or Angie, down the road. But now, in this moment, nothing hurts at all, and when Angie tugs her down so they can tangle their legs together, pressing close, Peggy decides to worry about it some other time.