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No Grief So Deep

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There is no pain in our lives so deep that there can be no relief.
There is no loneliness so absolute that there can be no new friend.
There is no fear so great that there can be no calm.
No grief so deep that there can be no consolation.
No injustice so insidious that we can see no truth.
There is no sin so serious that there can be no forgiveness.
There is no war so fierce that there can be no peace.
There is no apathy so deep that there can be no love.

-The Rev. Dr. Luis Leon


“Thanks for coming with me,” Angie said to Peggy as they walked arm in arm up to her parents' door.

“Me pass up the opportunity for a home-cooked meal?” Peggy joked, trying to calm her flutter of nerves with humor. “Never.”

“Don't worry,” Angie assured Peggy, breaking the loop of their arms to lay one comforting hand on Peggy's shoulder. “I'm sure they'll love you. How could they not? You're English.”

Peggy mumbled a half-hearted reply as she fidgeted with her clothes, making sure that every pleat was in place. English as in from England, or English as in Angie's English? She rather preferred the sound of the latter, even though it had nothing to do with duty or patriotism.

No sooner had Angie knocked on the door then it flew open, a woman standing there with arms flung wide in greeting. “My darling girl!” she exclaimed, pulling Angie in to kiss both of her cheeks.

Peggy had hardly a moment to process that this must be Angie's mother before she too was pulled in for a greeting. She must have stood there frozen in shock because she felt Angie nudge her shoulder a moment later.

“Ma,” Angie protested, drawing the word out in the manner of long-suffering children everywhere. “Go easy on her.”

Peggy zoned back in to notice Angie's mom shooting her a glare of warning.

Angie shrugged, relenting under the pressure. “Can you at least let it wait until I've made proper introductions before we overwhelm her?” she asked. She cleared her throat and gestured to Peggy. “Ma, this is Peggy Carter. Roommate and friend extraordinaire.” She gestured back to her mother. “Peggy, this is my mother, Tommasina Martinelli. Maker of the best ravioli this side of the Atlantic.”

Peggy shook her head as she held out her hand to Mrs. Martinelli. “Angie is too kind, ma'am,” she said.

“Tommasina, please,” Mrs. Martinelli replied, shaking her hand after a moment's pause. “And where are my manners, leaving you out here on the landing. Come in! Come in!” She waved them inside where Peggy could already hear a lively gathering taking place.

The next half an hour was a whirlwind to Peggy, testing the very limits of her extensive observational skills. She was introduced to what felt like a good dozen people, not counting the three babies that were passed her way. There were three men named Matteo, one of whom was mostly bald and Angie's father, but she couldn't for the life of her remember which of the other two Matteos was which. She'd managed to pass along the babies quick enough, thankful that holding one meant she had to hand off the other. She found a drink pressed into her hand when the third baby was taken back by her mother. “Thank you,” she said, looking up at Tommasina with a grateful smile. Her hand closed around the glass, holding on to it as if it were a lifeline.

Almost all of them managed to fit around the table, a couple of folding chairs whisked out of nowhere to be pressed into service. “Emilio, Matteo,” Tommasina ordered, passing out plates, “You bring your wives food out there, yes?”

Right. One Matteo was Angie's brother, and his wife Maria had stayed out in the parlor with their daughter and Emilio's wife and kids. A small part of Peggy was inclined to object to leaving the women out, but babies had their own needs that didn't conform to long sit-down meals. Not that she expected this afternoon to be terribly sedentary anyhow.

Practiced hands passed the dishes of food around the table in a blur, Angie whispering suggestions to Peggy of what she should try and what to avoid. “The ravioli of course,” she pointed out, reaching for some bread that was set in the center of the table. She dared a look down the table to her mother before adding, “If you're not keen on spice you might want to stay away from the sausage though.”

From her full plate Peggy cast a subtle glance down at their hostess, noticing that she hadn't begun eating yet, and settled for drawing her napkin down to her lap.

Tommasina slapped Raffaelo's hand away as he started to tear into the bread from his plate. “Aspetta!” she scolded him. “La preghiera.”

“Miss Carter,” called Mr. Martinelli's lilting accent from the end of the table. “It is a blessing that you were able to join us today, and even more so that you convinced Angie to come home. I see far too little of mio angioletto as it is.”

“Well I can't speak to Angie's visits here, or lack thereof,” Peggy said, shooting Angie a questioning glance that received an embarrassed shrug in return. “I must say that the honor is all mine. I've heard wonderful stories about you all.” Well, that was stretching things a little far, but Angie had spoken of her family with fondness.

“It is a tradition in this household for the honored guest to be the one to say the blessing before a meal,” Mr. Martinelli explained. He gestured for her to take over. “If you would?”

Peggy froze for a moment, unused to being put on the spot like that. At least on a mission she had a reasonable expectation that someone would try to shoot her. She'd grown up a proper Anglican as was expected of her, but she'd given little thought to religious formalities since the beginning of the war. Her prayers had been more entreaties that the mission go well or that a compatriot survive long enough to be evacuated to somewhere resembling a medical facility. She realized that the topic of religion had never come up with Angie, though the icon of Mary that she had spied earlier on the parlor wall and the Italian family were hint enough. In the moment Peggy couldn't recall anything Catholic despite knowing several soldiers during the war who prayed on a fairly regular basis. There were always the old boarding school standards. The appropriate ones anyhow. “My favorite one is sung,” Peggy said slowly, trying to buy herself more time to think of anything else. “A chant if you will. So pardon if it's a little wobbly.”

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” she sang quietly, gaining confidence as she went. “Praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

“Amen,” pronounced Mr. Martinelli once it was clear that she had finished. “Let's eat!”

The rising tide of chatter that erupted as people began to dig in washed away any trace of self-consciousness Peggy had about singing. She wasn't the type to sing in public, but singing in four-part harmony went hand in hand with the Church of England.

“That was beautiful,” Tommasina remarked, leaning in front of Raffaelo to talk to Peggy. “Where does it come from?”

“I believe the tune is by Tallis,” Peggy replied, taking a sip of water to soothe her throat. “Or rather, I know that it is, but I can't recall who wrote the words.”

“English?” Tommasina guessed, drawing a smile from Peggy at the thought of another Martinelli woman saying that.

“He was,” Peggy told her, grasping for straws as she tried to recall her Tudor history. “From before the split with the Church, though he wrote for both Catholic and Protestant royalty.”

“A good Catholic then,” Tommasina said with a nod of approval.

“I would suppose so,” Peggy said.

“Does that bother you?” the third Matteo asked, his eyes narrowed at her from across the table. Angie's...cousin, Peggy thought she recalled. “A good little Protestant like you?”

“Matteo!” Angie shouted, her hands gripping the chair as she clearly fought the urge to launch herself across the table and smack him. “How—”

“Matteo,” Mr. Martinelli stated flatly, his earlier kindly tone completely vanished. He gently rested his utensils on his plate and stared at Matteo until his posture slumped in defeat. He looked up at Angie. “Per favore, calmati,” he requested. “Matteo does not always think before he speaks.”

Peggy nodded in understanding and reached out a hand to still Angie. “It's alright Ang,” she told her. “I don't mind speaking to that.” Goodness knew she faced far worse at work. How she handled this could make or break her chance to make a good impression on Angie's family, and she'd felt a growing drive to impress them ever since they'd walked through the door. “The way I see it,” she began, speaking slowly to ensure that her point was understood, “The way I see it, there's a lot of ugliness in this world. Terrible things.” Images from the war flickered in her mind despite her best efforts to move on. A soldier screaming in sober pain as he'd had to have part of his leg amputated. Pictures she'd seen of Nazi concentration camps. Steve.

Angie squeezed Peggy's hand under the table. “You don't have to,” she assured her.

Peggy shook her head. “With all of that,” she continued, “I don't see how I could deny something beautiful just because it's different.” The fact that the Tallis canon was the only non-childish blessing she could think of on short notice didn't make her words any less true.

“Well said,” Angie murmured, just loud enough for Peggy to catch it. She looked around the table, a bright smile on her face that Peggy knew was fake. “Now that we've established that,” she announced, “How about we let Peggy eat some of this delicious food that Ma worked so hard to make.”

Peggy let the other wisps of conversation flow around her as she dug into her barely touched food. Raffaelo and Emilio were engaged in a heated argument about the Brooklyn Dodgers (“Just wait til next year,” Raffaelo vowed. “They'll do better next year.”). While Peggy knew barely a thing about the game, it was nice to hear some friendly banter.

“Psh,” Emilio said, waving off the thought. “They were so close this year, and then what? They choked.”

“I heard that Rickey's really going to shake things up next year,” Raffaelo stated, spreading his hands out in a vision of the future. “Big splash.”

Peggy lost track of the conversation when she bent down to try and discretely blow on her somehow still hot pasta to cool it off. It was delicious, even taking into account the fact that her tastes had been skewed from years of rationing.

Her ears perked up when she heard someone say “Stark.” She turned to Angie, who was deep in conversation with her cousin Isa.

“Really?” Isa replied, a brow lifted in skepticism. “And you are just living there for free?”

“Isa,” Angie complained, her weary voice suggesting that they'd been over this before. “I told you, I barely know the man. Reckon I know that Sinatra fella better—at least him I hear on the radio all the time. Stark was kinda responsible for me losing the place at the Griffith, and in any case he's Peggy's friend. I think.” She cocked her head towards Peggy. “What would you call him, Peg?” she asked.

“A royal pain in the arse,” she was tempted to reply, but thought better of it. “I suppose you could call him a colleague,” she said, considering how much she was allowed to discuss as well as how much she was willing to discuss. “He helped out the government during the war. In return I offered to help him when he got into a spot of bother recently. Though he was at least legally in the right at the end of it all, the commotion was rather upsetting to our landlady.” Peggy glanced at Angie, willing her to understand how much she genuinely appreciated her putting herself at risk with little explanation. A small part of her wanted to argue that Angie should never do such a foolish thing again. “As it were,” she continued, afraid to pry into those emotions, “Angie rather understated my role in dragging her in to the whole mess. While Howard may have been responsible for my temporary homelessness, I'm afraid that I am responsible for Angie's.”

“Oh baloney,” Angie asserted, shaking off the declaration. “I was just helping a friend.” Her eyes narrowed into a glare at the wall. “'Sides, he's the one who got you into it in the first place.”

“Hmm,” Peggy muttered in cursory agreement. She'd lay the greater share of the blame at Leviathan's feet, and a fair share at the feet of the fatheads in government who wouldn't even listen to Stark.

“I'm a pretty good judge of character,” Angie continued, “So I knew you were all right.”

Considering her refusal to bend to Howard Stark's charms and her inclination to play Thompson like a fiddle, Peggy thought that was a fair statement.

“If you insist,” Isa said with a shrug, clearly not convinced. “So, you got a beau?” she asked Peggy, hunting for more gossip.

“I had a...” Peggy started, fumbling for the right word. “A..a Steve,” she finally blurted out. They had never had the chance to put an official label on it and she was at an unusual loss for words to make something up to fill the silence. The fact that it had happened more than once already today added to her sense of unease. “The war,” she finished weakly.

“Ah, come cugino Tonino,” Isa replied, slipping back into her natural Italian as her voice softened in sadness.

Peggy felt Angie tense at her side. Peggy's understanding of Italian was limited to a few tactical commands and some phrases that were best left unspoken in polite company, but the English was close enough. Angie had never mentioned a brother named Tonino, only ever mentioning having brothers in a general sense. Peggy reached for Angie's hand and held it tight as their conversation fizzled into silence. She let go reluctantly once she felt Angie relax again and once it became more awkward than it was worth to eat using only one hand.

Neither Peggy nor Angie talked much for the rest of the meal, though Peggy made sure to offer her profuse thanks to her hosts for the meal and the company. She gratefully accepted the wax paper package of treats that Tommasina pressed into her hands as they walked out. There was nothing like homemade cookies, even a day later.

********

“I'm sorry they interrogated you,” Angie said, locking the front door after Peggy. It was the first sentence that either of them had spoken since they left the Martinellis, barring a sharp warning to watch out for a passing bicyclist.

Peggy smiled at Angie, feeling her concern. “Oh, it was hardly an interrogation,” she told her. “In any case,” she continued, rushing to forestall any potential inquiries about how actual interrogations worked, “It rather seemed like they were acting out of care for you.”

“Hmm,” Angie equivocated. “If you say so.” She turned to set her purse down on the credenza, but when she turned back to Peggy she wore a deep frown.

Peggy tilted her head in confusion at what could have possibly happened in the last five seconds. “What is it?” she asked.

“I was just thinking,” Angie said, speaking slowly as the thoughts came to her. “Matteo never apologized for his boorish behavior.”

“Your cousin?” Peggy asked, double checking that they had the same Matteo in mind.

“That's the one,” Angie replied. “I'm surprised that Pa let that slide too.”

“While I can't say that I enjoyed that,” Peggy explained, “I face far worse behavior every day. A mere drop in the bucket really.” She watched Angie's expression carefully, noting that her nod of acceptance did not erase the frown from her face. She stepped closer to Angie and laid one hand on her shoulder, patting it gently. “Ang?” she asked.

“Do you think it's awful of me?” Angie mumbled, her eyes staring straight ahead.

“Aw—” Peggy started.

“Awful of me that I'm not all tore up about it,” Angie continued, gaining steam with each word. “I mean for Chrissake he was my own brother.”

Peggy watched as Angie began to pace around the foyer. She wanted to reach out and still her, to put a smile back on her face again, but her arms refused to move.

“Do I miss him?” Angie asked, gesticulating as if she were trying to reach an audience that stretched back into the eaves of an opera house. “Of course I miss him, il mascalzone.” Angie launched into a string of rapid Italian, very little of which Peggy caught beyond “child”, “annoy”, and “idiot”. “The worst part is how it makes my ma feel when she hears his name,” Angie finished, switching back into English and coming to a standstill as she ran out of steam. “Eyes glazed over as she remembers him standing in front of her, all polished in his uniform, not giving a tinker's damn what may come.” She shook her head and stared down at the carpet. Her next few words came out in little more than a whisper. “And people think that I'm going to break if they so much as hint at his name.”

Peggy found her limbs suddenly full of energy and darted forward to envelop Angie in a hug. “Everyone deals with loss differently,” she assured Angie, holding her as close as she dared. “There is nothing wrong with how you're handling it. Nor how your mother is handling it for that matter.” She was tempted to try and explain how she was coping with losing Steve, but the conversation wasn't about her. “You'll never forget him,” she told Angie, “But that doesn't mean that you're not allowed to live your life without him. And anyone who tells you that you're grieving wrong will have me to answer to.” Well, maybe that was how she was coping.

Peggy let go of the hug but lingered by Angie, something in her needing to stay in physical contact. She reached out and tapped Angie on the nose. “So there,” she declared. It felt a bit silly, but they could use a bit of silly. She watched the somber mood recede from Angie's face.

“English, did you mean what you said earlier?” Angie asked, looking up at Peggy with an odd glimmer of hope shining in her eyes.

Peggy took a step backward as if seeing Angie's entire posture would help explain. “What I said?” she echoed.

“You know, 'deny something beautiful just because it's different',” Angie quoted.

Peggy had been in several actual life or death situations where the fate of the world hinged on her making the right decision, but the buildup of nerves in the pit of her stomach right now was just as great. It was perhaps even greater considering that there was no battle-driven adrenaline rush to carry her through. Her fingers fidgeted nervously at her side. She could feel her pulse start to race. Her shoulders knotted with tension. “I did,” she answered at last. Whatever Angie may think of it, it was the truth.

“Good,” Angie whispered, stepping up to Peggy. She reached one hand up to gently cup Peggy's chin and drew her face down to meet Angie's own lips.

Peggy's eyes fluttered closed when their noses bumped, their bodies feeling their way together. She could smell the faint hints of the afternoon's wine lingering on Angie's breath, deliciously warm against her skin. Peggy felt the tension in her muscles start to melt away as her hands found safe purchase on Angie's back. That it drew them both closer together, fabric sliding together roughly in contrast to the smooth glide of their painted lips over each other, that was just a bonus.

Angie broke away first, her rushed gasps of breath echoing Peggy's racing heart. She stood there silently watching, the echoing sounds of their bodies the only noise in the otherwise silent room.

Peggy's hand reached up to her still buzzing lips and drew away, Angie's lipstick streaked against a smudge of her own. She was not nearly naïve enough to think that one kiss, however invigorating, would make the world a better place. It would not stop the imbecilic comments she faced at work, or even the trivial annoyances that living in New York City brought. Despite that, the prospect of a future with Angie made all of it look a little less gloomy.

“Was that okay, English?” Angie asked, her hopeful smile countering the defensive hunch in her shoulders.

Peggy reached out for Angie's hand, intertwining their fingers. “Better,” she replied simply, the silly grin on her face widening as she noticed true happiness blossom on Angie's face. The word held more meaning than she could articulate. Better than okay. We're both better than we used to be. Life was looking better than she could have ever guessed a few months ago. Better.