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After the Applause

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When Angie gets off stage after the last bows she wants to collapse. Take off these terrible shoes and the too-tight girdle the costume designer made her wear and all the thick stage make-up. There's a press of people in the wings, stagehands re-setting all the props for tomorrow's show on the prop tables and actors milling around like unruly cats. Angie doesn't have anyone waiting for her out in the audience. She pushes through and makes it to the ladies' dressing room ahead of the crowd.

Or not quite. The room's not empty.

The woman standing at the long dressing table fiddling with a lipstick looks up, but doesn't turn. She's reflected in the mirror; the lights surrounding it give her a healthy-pink glow, they make her eyes sparkle. Angie blinks through her thick mascara and lets the moment wash over her.

"You see the show, English?" she says finally.

"Yes." Peggy turns.

"You like it?" Angie can't help feeling hesitant about asking, no matter how boldly she voices the question.

"You were wonderful. You really can act, you know." The compliment means more to Angie than it might have before the last time she saw Peggy. She knows now without the uncertainty of suspicion that Peggy is a consummate actress. Peggy could act Angie's socks off. And she's not acting now--she really means it.

"Thanks, Peg." Angie steps forward. She wants to touch Peggy, whom she hasn't seen in weeks. The last time Angie saw this woman she was half-unconscious and being driven away in handcuffs. Seeing her now, as immaculately put together as can be, it's like it never happened. But it did. Angie didn't tell Peggy she finally got a part in a show; Peggy wasn't there to tell. She ran lines with Sarah from 4A. There's been not a word from Peggy, nothing, after Angie went to all the trouble of calling up her family and finding Peggy a way out of the city.

Angie's been, on occasion, blindingly angry about it. And here Peggy is in her dressing room, and all Angie wants to say is, "Are you o--"

The door busts open, the rest of the girls surge in already unbuttoning their blouses and tugging at each other's zippers and fumbling at garters. They stop short when they see an unfamiliar face, but not for long. Everyone's too cooked by stage lights to care that someone they don't know is there to see them get undressed. Angie is buffeted closer to Peggy. The noise of the girls' chatter drowns out any possible conversation they could have had. There's nothing that can be said over the mundanities of the dressing room, of "I flubbed that line again--" "--that's the fourth pair you've laddered--" "--where's my flowers?"

"I need to change," Angie says, voice low. Her eyes skitter across Peggy's face, neutral without being blank, unreadable. "Can you--" she can feel herself go pink "--you mind waiting outside?"

"Of course," Peggy says, Englishness suddenly coming through stronger. But she pauses a minute, reaches out and takes Angie's wrist. Just two fingers and thumb against the vein, barely there. "Congratulations, Angie." And she leaves the room.

The door swings shut behind her and Angie is suddenly irrationally afraid that she'll disappear.

Angie sits herself down in the last free seat and starts dabbing make-up off her face fast as she can.

When she emerges into the dim hallway outside the dressing room the fear surges hot like stepping into her light on stage: Peggy isn't there. But then Angie spots a shadow move in the blue light that spills from the wings and moves instinctively toward it. "Peggy?"

"I'm here, Angie." She leans around the corner and smiles. Angie joins her where she's standing just off stage, and it's hard not to stand close there in the dim light. The stagehands are sweeping the stage, moving set pieces back into place for the top of the show.

"So," Angie says. It's easier to ask in the dark. "You prove you're not a traitor?"

"Yes."

"Duh. Took you long enough."

Peggy turns, meeting Angie's eye. The shadows divide her face, make it look unnaturally angular. "I'm sorry."

"Miriam's never letting you set foot in the Griffith again."

Peggy closes her eyes for a moment, nods. "I'll miss being down the hall from you. I'll miss--"

But Angie punches her softly on the arm. "Come on, we'll still see each other. If you don't disappear on me again."

The dark, hot theater--it's like a summer night, like telling secrets in a tent in a field out in Connecticut where her uncle had a farm. "I'll try," Peggy says.

And Angie asks, finally: "What exactly is it you do? It sure as hell ain't the phone company."

Peggy's voice drops another level, Angie hears it more as vibration up her jaw than audible sound. "I work for the Strategic Scientific Reserve. Worked. I'm a spy."

"If you tell me this, do you have to kill me?" They're standing so close. Angie can see the minute shifts of Peggy's expression but she can't interpret them.

"No," Peggy says, surprisingly vehement answer to the mostly-joke. And she moves, her body suddenly bumping against Angie's, her arms enveloping Angie in a tight unexpected hug. "Angie," Peggy murmurs against her throat. Angie can feel Peggy's nose bump, and her breath.

"You miss me, English?"

Peggy just lets out a long and shaky breath into the curve of Angie's neck and presses impossibly closer.

Something happens there in the dark of the theater with no space between their bodies. Angie finds her heart pounding, the solidity of Peggy's hands on her waist makes her afraid to move even as her body wants to shift--away, closer, somewhere. There was no time before. In the suddenness of federal agents invading her room and Peggy climbing in the window and that urgent, reckless phone call--there was no time to take the sudden burgeoning knowledge of who Peggy Carter is and make something of it.

Because Angie had thought about it before, when they were leaning over the counter at the L&L towards each other, or sitting together on Peggy's bed sharing a bottle of schnapps. She'd thought about all the ways people touch each other, and about maybe wanting to touch Peggy in a way Angie's never much wanted to touch anyone. It's hard to put it together, wanting that stuff with a long history of not wanting it, and the impossibility of actually carrying out any such desire with Peggy Carter. She was aloof, she was lying. Maybe not in the most important ways, maybe only to keep people safe, but still. Wanting that--wanting, well, sex--with Peggy felt as pointless as it's always felt in theory.

But now--I'm a spy. Peggy's an awfully honest spy. Angie trusts her to continue being honest now they've gotten that out of the way.

Angie gulps in enough air to ask, "You got somewhere to stay?"

"I've been living in one of Howard Stark's houses. But it's awfully big and empty."

They're still hugging, still pressed close in the dark. Their arms loosen, but they don't let go. "I'll sneak you into the Griffith if you like," Angie offers. "You can spend the night in my room."

Angie makes the offer innocently. She knows a double entendre when she hears one (she had several lines in this show that were unmistakable double entendres and there'd been no criticism of her delivery). But she doesn't always catch a potential one before it comes out of her mouth. No big deal.

"Thank you," Peggy murmurs. "I'd like that. In the laundry room and up the dumbwaiter?"

"Unless you wanna shin up a pipe in that skirt."

"No, thank you." Peggy slides away, loosening her hold until it's just hands on Angie's hips and a pasted-on brave grin. Angie's hands come to rest curled around Peggy's waist. She tries not to dig her fingers in.

And still, that tent-dark warmth. "I gotta be honest with you, English," Angie finds herself saying. "I missed you an awful lot. A little too much. I'm not used to feeling like that."

"Too much... how?"

Wordless, Angie squeezes, presses her thumbs into Peggy's ribs. She can only talk around it. "I never want much from people. Company, a good chat. Not to have to pour their coffee. I get--you must've seen me get--pretty impatient when girls talk about their boyfriends. I don't see why it's worth the trouble. But I thought about you a lot while you were gone."

"Angie, I'm---a lot of trouble." But her hands don't leave Angie's hips and she's motionless between Angie's palms.

"I know. But not the boring kind."

"I do--I have before, with women," Peggy says, making Angie's breath catch. And there's Peggy's familiar wry smile. "There's much less chance it'll end with me punching them out."

"That's gotta make a nice change," Angie says, amazing herself with her ability to crack a joke in this moment. Well, she's a real actress now.

Peggy laughs briefly, too soft to catch the attention of the stagehands still working out in the light. "You don't sound sure," she says. "If you don't usually want--do you want to test it?"

Anticipation curls like a vine up Angie's throat. She's not sure. But she does want to test it out. She nods.

Peggy glances surreptitiously around, at the prop tables and the rack of quick-change costumes and the people out on stage. Her hands on Angie's hips shift, and she pushes Angie back against the wall, where a curtain blocks the view of the stage.

"I'm still a spy," Peggy says urgently, but the seriousness of her words is mitigated by how close she is to Angie. "I still do dangerous work, and there's a terribly high chance it could be dangerous to you."

"Don't think I don't take that seriously, Peg. But I'll risk it."

"Thank you," Peggy says, and she looks like she wants to bury her face in Angie's neck again. Angie gives her a minute to do that if she wants to, and a minute for Angie to realize she doesn't know how to initiate this test of what she wants. She's never tried very hard to kiss anybody before.

But Peggy gathers her feelings in fast, and she takes one hand off Angie's hip to slip her fingers into Angie's hair and her thumb against the curve of Angie's jaw. It feels good. Reassuring.

"I missed you too. I was so busy, but. I did miss you." And then Peggy leans in and puts her mouth where Angie's surprised to find she really does want it. The kiss is brief, because the people on stage can't see them but at any minute somebody could walk around the corner from the dressing rooms. Brief but--thorough. Warm. Full of breath. Not staggeringly amazing but not at all pointless either. And Angie does want more.

Angie breaks off the kiss and leans her head back against the wall. She closes her eyes. "Yes, OK." Her hips shift. "I'm gonna keep thinking about it if I don't try it. Let's sneak you into the Griffith."

Peggy grins against her jaw and trails up to plant a kiss on her cheek. "Lucky I've got plenty of experience sneaking into places I'm not supposed to be."

"Oh, yeah? What was the most dangerous?"

Peggy pulls away and takes her hand, laughs. "The Griffith, definitely."