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take another drag / turn me to ashes / ready for another lie?

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August 1945

“They’ll think you worse for wear, though all’s you need to do in order to cut any o’ ‘em down’ll be to shoot, and you can do that damned well. Better’n any guy in this office. But Rogers’ll expect your loyalty - don’t never let ‘im think he don’t have it. Ya up for it, Agent Sousa?”

“Bet your ass I’m damned up for it, Chief.”

September 1945

His parents are all too happy to hear from him again; he’d cut away from them after returning from the war. To hear that he was actually working to establish connections, after having only been in New York for a couple of weeks, and to be rekindling his relationships with them…they were properly elated.

He could only hope to God they never found out who he was actually trying to impress with his connections.

November 1945

The military history - and maybe even the crutch - helps more than anything else. Having lost his childhood best friend (and former business partner) in action overseas a few years past, Rogers connects with Daniel immediately. Though most of Daniel's tasks simply involve watching and waiting, he finds himself thinking often about how odd it is for a man like Rogers to be at the head of an operation like the Howling Commandos; he’s generous, heartfelt, and Daniel doesn’t even have to ask how a nickname like Captain America (or, more commonly, Cap) came about - it fits him, and he wears it well, like it had always been there. And when Rogers calls him Carter - the last name he's chosen for his alias, since it was his mother's maiden name - it sounds just as casual as does his address of any of the others he employs.

Stark isn’t quite as easy to win over, but after a couple drinks, a smile from Mrs Stark, and a vote of confidence and good humor from his butler Jarvis, Howard decides he’s an okay chap to keep around.

Rogers’ wife, Daniel thinks, will be the hardest: she’s brusque, fierce, with a oft-crude sense of humor and a smile that only sparkled if you damn well earned it. Never without a pistol on her person, manicured hands nearly always on either her hips or on a bottle...her sheer existence commands respect. However, it’s respect she doesn’t get. The way the guys around the bar, even the enforcers, slur Margie like it’s a little girl’s name, irks Daniel even more than he can explain at first.

No one puts a hand or makes a pass on her, of course - but when she’s insisting that she can handle a drop that Stark’s too hungover to go to and Daniel’s the only other man present who thinks it’s an acceptable idea, Stark decides to simply insist that Daniel go with her, and later that night Ramirez comments on his ushering her out as though it were a crime to open a door and put a hand on her back when he’d reached it before her anyway, and Daniel learns that the reason no one touches her is because she’s “Rogers’ territory.” A rather heated discussion ensues, in which no man in the bar listens to him at all, but their girls, sitting obligingly next to them drinking pink drinks and smoking cigarettes, give him grateful smiles, and eventually Margie herself’s the one to rescue him.

Her husband’s office is vacant now because Rogers is on a trip, and she invites him back for a drink. The rest of the evening they spend sharing a bottle of whiskey and trading stories, especially from the war, which no one else around here even seems to know she fought in. Daniel knew only since it was in her file; the fact that she prefers Peggy to Margie wasn’t, though, nor was her actual birthdate (two years later than the one with which she’d enlisted.)

March 1946

It takes only a couple of days after he’s assigned as her personal enforcer (which he’s really not convinced she needs, but her husband puts it forth when it’s just the three of them and Stark, and for whatever reason she doesn’t protest) for her to ask him to start calling her Peggy - as only her husband and her best friend, Angie Thompson, do.

It takes just a couple of days after that for her to start calling him Daniel rather than Carter, and then it really starts to feel like there’s something going on that shouldn’t be, but by the time he decides to consistently remind himself that he technically works for her husband who is a mob boss running a cartel that Daniel and his boss are trying to bring down, he already knows he’s done for every time he looks at her.

April 1946

Naturally, because he’s always had either extraordinary luck or rotten luck, there is something going on, and when Peggy hears from Loretta the context in which most of the men working for Rogers think of her, Daniel’s the one she first demands an answer from, and then swiftly disables him from providing one by continuing to beat the damned horse - which he honestly could listen to her do forever, he doesn’t particularly care; even rough, her voice is sugary to him.

“His territory! How bloody God-awful...” she barks, although her anger is directed nowhere in particular, since she knows that Daniel disagrees, and when her anger fades into hopelessness, she leans into his chest and cries.

May 1946

When an FBI-manufactured freak accident that Daniel feels more than vaguely guilty for takes out Rogers, Stark (and Stark’s girl, Maria, but thank God not their baby), the whole place is in shambles. There’s no official memorial, but every man around drinks his weight and his grandmother’s in hard liquor. By the time anyone’s got enough of a head on his shoulders to wonder who’ll take over, Peggy’s already taken up residence in her late husband’s office.

Daniel’s the first of the men to find out, since she calls him there as soon as she and the girls have set things up the way she’d like them - to brag, to consult, and to mourn. They share a drink, and the business is turned on its head the next morning, when she announces that things are going to start getting different, and the Commandos are really going to start answering to her now. A couple of jerks who hadn’t much liked Cap either get tossed out and taken care of when they refuse to answer to a woman, and virtually everyone else bucks up once they realize she’s even more willing to put bullets through their skulls than her husband was.

August 1946

A number of changes are enacted, but none so great as Daniel's shift in position: the next time they really stop to question what he’s actually doing there (which she still doesn’t know, of course, even though he suspects that she has suspicions), over a year after her husband’s death, when she’s just finished getting dolled up for a night out with the other Mafia girls, and she calls him in to ask just how deeply his loyalties lie with her. The inevitable personal crisis follows: there’d been any number of interactions between them that could be categorized as less than businesslike, and swearing loyalty to her is a whole different ballgame than swearing it to her husband, and to tell her how deeply would almost certainly spell the loss of what loyalty of his she’d already accepted.

He’s trying to figure out how to say that without…saying that, when Peggy decides she’s “had enough.” That’s the first thing she whispers, and he doesn’t know what she’s talking about, not until she follows up.

It’s not uncommon for them now, to be within a few feet of each other, but she makes the gap even smaller, and lays her hands on Daniel's forearms - one where it’s down by his waist and the other where it’s hanging off his crutch.

“Enough of all this caution, this…walking on eggshells, this dancing and avoiding and…”

As much as he knows where he hopes this is going, he holds himself back from saying anything, willing and able to let her finish. Her train of thought gets interrupted when Angie knocks at the door and tells her that the rest of the gals are ready and Mr Jarvis is already at the wheel of Peggy’s car, and she tells Angie she needs another moment. Angie leaves as gladly as ever, and Daniel stays quiet, but once Angie’s footsteps are no longer audible, Peggy doesn’t even bother inching any closer before leaning forward and kissing him. Hard.

Hard like she’d been waiting to do it as long as he had, hard like she’s asking him for a helluva lot more than a kiss and a single promise, hard like he’s getting as she realizes he’s kissing her back and presses herself right up to him, so close that the lapels of his suit jacket move whenever she strains to make their embrace deeper, his back pushed against the wall and hands in her curly brown hair and crutch tumbling to the floor…hard like she wants to lose herself.

A glass crashes to the floor inside the bar, and she realizes that she’d had something else to attend to, and she pulls back. Daniel’s been keeping himself composed about his feelings long enough not to be so greedy as to try to keep her here; she lingers anyway.

“I needed to know that your loyalties are where I thought they were…that they are where I want them.”

“And this, Peggy, this is where you want them?” he dares to ask, needing confirmation for his own sake.

“This is how I need you,” she whispers, still close enough to him that her breath tickles the stubble on his chin, and he puts his hands around her neck and pulls her back in for another kiss, this one wetter and softer than the first.

“Always, ma’am,” he murmurs, and she smiles at him before dashing back to her desk to redo her lipstick so that it looks as pristine as usual.

+

That night is the first of many that he misses his information drop with Agent Dooley, and when he wakes up the next morning in the master bedroom in Peggy's penthouse, bequeathed to her by Howard, Daniel knows it's only the beginning of the end.

The end of what, he has yet to find out.