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“So I hear you’re retiring.”

 

Peggy could have cursed herself for jumping at the sound of Nick Fury’s voice. She dropped her pen and looked up to see him standing in the doorway of her office with his arms folded and that unreadable look on his face that Peggy both admired and despised.

 

She pulled off her reading glasses and set them on her desk as she stood up.

 

“Who told you?” she asked.

 

“You hear things through the grapevine,” Fury replied smoothly. “Were you planning on telling me?”

 

“Was it Coulson?” Peggy asked.

 

Fury didn’t say anything and Peggy took that as confirmation. Phil Coulson was a wonderful agent, but the man could be a terrible gossip.

 

“I was actually planning on talking about it with you tomorrow morning,” Peggy said. “There are still a lot of things to sort out and I—“

 

“You’re not leaving,” Fury said coolly.

 

Peggy’s hands dropped to her hips and she raised one brow in a daring question. “Excuse me?”

 

“You heard me.” Fury crossed the room in a few short steps and Peggy had to tilt her head back just a little bit to be able to meet his eyes. “You want me to be the next director, I want you to stay here. At least for a little while until things settle down.”

 

“Do you intend to stir things up before I leave, Agent Fury?” Peggy asked. She could feel a smile playing at the corners of her lips, but she bit the inside of her cheeks to keep it from showing.

 

“No, but I might feel a little better having you around for a little while,” Fury replied. There was a hint of light in his eyes and something almost bordering on teasing in his tone. “In fact, I’m almost sure that you don’t want to leave just yet anyway. You’ve been in the game too long Director Carter. And why else would Coulson know before everyone else?”

 

Fury looked far too confident for Peggy’s liking and she could feel the tiniest hint of a flush coloring her cheeks.

 

“You’re getting sloppy, Director,” he said.

 

“Or maybe you’re just getting better.”

 

“Well I do have quite the teacher.”

 

“You flatter me, Agent Fury.”

 

“I do try.”

 

Peggy smiled as she sat back down and slipped her glasses back on. She picked up her pen and tapped it against the stack of papers in front of her.

 

“I just think that since this is the first regime change since SHIELD’s founding with the exception of Howard’s death, it would be prudent to stay on for a little while until things settle down again,” she explained. “Not that I don’t have complete faith in you, but I--”

 

“You’ve been in the game for too long,” Fury finished.

 

Peggy looked up at him and he was smiling, dammit. He really did know her too well, although Peggy supposed that was a side effect of her being his SO for the better part of the last twenty years. Rather than respond, though, she just chose to ignore him and signed her name absently on a paper that she hadn’t quite read all the way through.

 

“I was thinking perhaps later this week I could start clearing out the office and by the end of next week, you can move in here,” she said. She paused and looked over the frames of her glasses at him. “Does that sound alright to you?”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Fury said.

 

There was a knock on the door and Peggy and Fury both turned to see who it was.

 

“Sorry, director, is this a bad time?” Sharon Carter was standing in the doorway, biting her lip as she looked from Peggy to Fury.

 

“Of course not, darling, come right in,” Peggy said. She looked back at Fury. “I’ll touch base with you again by the end of the week.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” He replied. “I look forward to it.”

 

With that, Fury turned and stalked out of the room as Sharon stepped closer.

 

Peggy set her pen down again and folded her hands as she smiled at Sharon. “What can I help you with, darling?”

 

“Are you really retiring?” Sharon asked.

 

Peggy opened and closed her mouth a few times before she managed to think up a response.

 

Unfortunately all that came out was, “Did Coulson tell you?”

 

“Maria actually, but she heard it from Nat who heard it from Coulson,” Sharon said.

 

“No, I heard it from Barton! He’s the one who heard it from Coulson,” came Natasha’s voice from the other side of the doorway. She poked her head around the frame and flashed Peggy a smile before stepping into the office.

 

“Is Hill out there too?” Peggy asked, craning her neck to try to see out into the hallway. “Because if she is, you might as well just invite her in here too.”

 

“No, she’s in a meeting,” Natasha said.


“So is it true?” Sharon asked, crossing her arms and fixing Peggy with the same harsh, demanding look that Peggy’s brother had always given her when they were young.

 

God, Sharon looked so much like her father sometimes that Peggy wasn’t sure what to think.

 

“Yes, it’s true,” she admitted.

 

“Damn,” Natasha muttered under her breath.

 

Sharon’s eyes widened. “But Aunt Peg, you can’t just quit! You’re the founder and SHIELD—“

 

“Will carry on just fine without me at the helm,” Peggy said, raising a hand. “And since you were both eavesdropping at least for the last bit, I’m sure you’ve heard that I won’t be leaving just yet. I’ll be staying on as a consultant of sorts for a little while and we’ll see where things go from there.”

 

“You’re serious about this,” Sharon said. She looked like Peggy had just told her that Christmas wasn’t coming. Her expression was one of pure shock and disbelief.

 

“Yes I am,” Peggy said. “I’ve had quite a bit of time to think about it and no matter what Howard’s serum experiments may make it look, I’m getting old. It’s time for me to step down.”

 

Sharon nodded and folded her arms. She looked down at the floor in the same way that she always had when she was a little girl trying to get Peggy to give into something whether it was an extra cookie or five more minutes to watch the very end of her favorite movie.

 

Peggy almost hated that it still got the same reaction out of her now.

 

She stood up and rounded her desk, wrapping one arm around Sharon’s shoulder and squeezing gently.

 

“I’ll tell you what,” she said. “Natasha, you too.”

 

Natasha had been leaning against a filing cabinet in the corner of the office picking nonchalantly at her nails and pretending not to listen in, but as soon as she heard her name, she lifted her head and straightened up.

 

“Why don’t you two—and Hill if she’d like, I suppose—come down here tomorrow and help me start boxing things up to move down the hall,” Peggy suggested. “I could really use some help going through everything.”

 

“Yeah, of course,” Sharon said. “I’d love too. What about you, Nat?”

 

“Sure,” Natasha said.

 

“And I’m sure Maria’ll want to help out too,” Sharon said. “I’ll talk to her about it.”

 

“Good,” Peggy said with a smile. She rubbed her hand up and down Sharon’s arm a few times before stepping back and perching herself on the edge of her desk. “Then I’ll see all three of you here bright and early tomorrow morning, right agents?”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Sharon and Natasha replied in near-perfect unison. They both turned on their heels and hurried back out into the hallway, Sharon easing the office door shut behind them.

 

Peggy sighed and settled back in her chair to maybe finally make some progress on her paperwork.

 

If she had known retirement was going to be this much trouble, she might have just ignored Howard’s calls in the first place all those years ago.

 


 

May 1946

 

If Peggy had to make a list of all the bad ideas she had ever had, she was pretty sure that this would be at the top.

 

It was cold and windy and she was just praying that the predicted rain would hold off at least a few more minutes. She didn’t particularly fancy getting caught in a thunderstorm while she was on a barely-eight-inch ledge three stories above the ground.

 

She glanced down for a half a second and swallowed hard as she tried her best not to think about what it would feel like if she hit the pavement below from this high up.

 

It wasn’t working very well.

 

She kept herself pressed nearly flat against the side of the building as she inched her way over to the window. Once she was close enough, she tapped on the glass a few times and then hurried to pull her hand back to her side as though that was going to be the little bit that tipped her over.

 

The window was opened from the inside and Angie poked her head out and froze when she saw Peggy.

 

“Oh my God, English, what the hell are you doing?!” she hissed.

 

“Can that wait until I get inside?” Peggy asked. The wind was picking up and maybe she should have thought to tie her hair back earlier as it was now whipping around her face and making it really hard to see the pavement that she was trying not to think about.

 

Angie didn’t say anything. She just stuck out her hand for Peggy to grab and helped guide her through the window into her apartment.

 

Nothing had really changed from the last time Peggy had seen the inside of Angie’s apartment save for a different set of newspaper clippings advertising auditions pinned up around the mirror.

 

Angie shut the window just as the first fat drops of rain hit the glass and then turned to Peggy with her hands on her hips and fire in her eyes.

 

“Is this going to become a regular thing with you?” she demanded. “Because if it is, then I think we outta talk to Miriam about getting a wider ledge on this place.”

 

Peggy blushed, but she didn’t look away.

 

“Yes, well, this wasn’t exactly the entrance that I had planned to make,” she started. “But I needed to talk to you and I haven’t had the time to stop by the automat lately and Ms. Fry won’t even let me in the lobby anymore, so this was the only thing I could think of.”

 

“Yeah, well, you made an entrance alright,” Angie said. She folded her arms and looked Peggy up and down. “What do you need to talk to me about?”

 

Peggy gestured towards Angie’s bed. “Can I—“

 

“Yeah, go ahead and sit down,” Angie said.

 

Peggy nodded her thanks and practically collapsed on the edge of Angie’s bed. Her legs felt like jelly and her hands were still practically shaking, so she folded them in her lap to keep them still.

 

“I talked to my friend Howard this morning.”

 

“We’re talkin’ Howard Stark here, right?” Angie asked. Peggy nodded. “Okay, go on.”

 

“Well seeing as how I sort of need a place to stay now, he offered me one of his penthouses here in the city and seeing as how you sort of saved me the other day when you lied to federal agents to protect me, I feel like I owe you something and the penthouse is really far too big for just one person and I was wondering if perhaps you’d like to come with me. I mean, without having to pay rent, you take fewer shifts and get to more auditions and I—“

 

“Are you kiddin’ me?” Angie asked.

 

Peggy hadn’t even quite realized that she was looking down at her own lap until Angie’s exclamation made her look up again.

 

“No, of course not,” she said.

 

“You’re asking me to live with you in Howard Stark’s penthouse?”

 

“Yes,” Peggy said.

 

“I’d love to!” Angie cried. Her cheeks turned red suddenly as they heard a pounding on the wall that separated Angie’s room from what used to be Peggy’s room.

 

“Sorry, Flossie, just practicing lines,” Angie called.

 

Peggy could hear a low grumbling on the other side of the wall, but Angie ignored it.

 

“So I’ll take it that’s a yes?” Peggy asked, biting her lip to try to hide her smile.

 

“English,” Angie replied with a grin that practically lit up the entire room. “You got yourself a roommate.”

 


 

 

“I thought she said she’d only be gone ten minutes. It’s been nearly an hour,” Natasha said.

 

“Her favorite pizza place is all the way on the other side of the city,” Sharon replied without looking up from the folders she was thumbing through in the second to last drawer of Peggy’s filing cabinet. “If the traffic’s bad, it can take an hour and a half just to get over there to order.”

 

“Head of the world’s premier intelligence organization and she can’t even cut the pizza line,” Maria said. She and Natasha were over at the bookshelves that lined one complete wall of the office. There was a stack of cardboard boxes between them and Natasha was sitting cross-legged on the floor setting the books on the lowest shelves into the boxes while Maria stood on a chair to reach the top shelves.

 

Sharon dropped the last of the file folders in the box on Peggy’s desk and sighed.

 

It turned out that for the head of the world’s premier intelligence organization, Peggy kept some pretty boring stuff in her office.

 

Not that they had expected to find top clearance files just sitting in her filing cabinet along with old tax returns, but a little something unexpected would have been nice.

 

Sharon sighed again as she crouched down to open up the lowest drawer in the filing cabinet, but when she tugged on the handle, she was more than a little surprised to find that it didn’t budge.

 

She tried again and that time she noticed the distinctive sound of the metal locking mechanism hitting against the inside of the drawer.

 

It was locked.

 

“Nat, come here,” Sharon said.

 

Natasha stood up, stretching like a cat as she did before making over to the filing cabinet and looking down at Sharon.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Do you think you can pick this lock?” Sharon asked.

 

“Wait, we’re picking locks?” Maria asked. She dropped a leather-bound copy of Pride and Prejudice into the cardboard box at her feet before hopping off her chair and moving over to the filing cabinet. “If we’re picking locks, I want no part of it. It’s probably locked for a reason.”

 

“If you’ve got a pin, I can get it open in a couple seconds,” Natasha said, holding her hand out expectantly.

 

“You know, maybe if the director of SHIELD is keeping things locked up, we shouldn’t be looking in there,” Maria said.

 

Sharon just pulled a bobby pin out of the base of her bun and handed it to Natasha who bent it flat and stuck it in the lock.

 

Maria rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips, but she didn’t object either.

 

The lock clicked and Natasha pulled the pin out with a smirk. Sharon looked at her and then up at Maria as she grabbed the drawer handle.

 

“You guys ready?” she asked.

 

“This is a bad idea,” Maria said, but she didn’t move away.

 

Sharon slid the drawer open and when they looked inside, all they found was a cardboard shoe box.

 

“Huh,” Natasha said. “Well that was anticlimactic.” She tossed the bent pin on Peggy’s desk and straightened up with a groan. She started to make her way back over to the bookshelf, but Sharon grabbed the shoe box and shut the drawer so she could set the box down on the floor in front of her.

 

“Come on, don’t you guys want to see what’s inside?” she asked. “Call me crazy, but I don’t think Aunt Peg’s gonna be hiding state secrets in a shoe box. Aren’t you curious at all?”

 

Natasha looked from Sharon to Maria and shrugged. “I guess,” she said as she sat back down.

 

“I think I’d rather keep my job, thanks,” Maria said.

 

“Suit yourself,” Sharon replied.

 

Maria rolled her eyes as she walked back over to the bookshelf, but she still caught herself listening hard when she head the sound of the lid getting lifted off of the shoe box.

 

“Are those—“ Natasha started.

 

“Letters,” Sharon finished. “They all look like letters.”

 

Maria turned around to see Sharon and Natasha holding old envelopes and folded pieces of paper, all of them yellowed with age and worn at the edges. Sharon carefully unfolded one of the pages and scanned it quickly.

 

“It’s a love letter,” she declared.

 

“So’s this one,” Natasha said. “I think they’re all love letters.”

 

“To Director Carter?” Maria asked.

 

“I thought you weren’t interested, Hill,” Natasha said.

 

“Yeah, shut up,” Maria said, stalking over and snatching one of the envelopes out of Natasha’s hand.

 

“Listen to this,” Sharon said. “English, I know I haven’t written in a while and I probably owe you an explanation. I wish I could give you one. I got a part in a film that you probably won’t see anyway, but I just want you to know that I’m okay. We didn’t part on the best of terms, but there’s still a part of me deep down that might miss you sometimes when it rains. Merry Christmas, A.

 

“What’s the date on that?” Natasha asked, craning her neck to get a better look at the corner of the page.

 

“Um, December 18, 1952,” Sharon said. “Why?”

 

“Because all of these are from the late forties,” Natasha replied, shuffling through the pile of letters she had grabbed. “Actually, I’ve got one from November, 1951 here, but there’s nothing else after that.”

 

“So this is a breakup letter,” Sharon said.

 

“And a tough one it looks like,” Maria said. “Look at this.” She held her letter down and Sharon and Natasha leaned closer to read the spidery, but still so very familiar handwriting.

 

Darling, it’s so nice to hear from you again. I’m glad you’ve made your way, but I must say that the winter feels a little colder this year without you here and I—

 

The last bit was scribbled out and impossible to read, but they could still clearly see the stains on the page where something—the context suggested Peggy’s tears—had smudged the ink.

 

The draft was dated December 24, 1952.

 

Sharon slowly set her stack of letters back in the box and withdrew her hands, folding them on her lap. Maybe they really hadn’t been right in snooping in that drawer.

 

There was a feeling that came with that shoe box; it felt thick somehow and heavy and like this was far too private for anyone other than Peggy to be seeing.

 

Sharon was pretty sure she would almost have preferred finding state secrets.

 

“Look,” Nat said, unfolding another letter and pointing at a line scrawled in the same messy handwriting as the first letter.

 

English, Hollywood is nice, but it’s way too hot. The sun is nice though. I never realized how we don’t see enough of it in the city. It’s nice out here, but it would be a lot nicer if you were here. I hope you can come out and visit soon! –A.

 

“When’s that from?” Maria asked.

 

“June 9, 1950,” Natasha said.

 

“This is weird,” Sharon said. “I think maybe we should put these back before—“

 

“Lunch is served,” Peggy declared as she kicked open the office door and set three boxes of pizza down on her desk. Then she stopped and finally took in Sharon, Natasha, and Maria all gathered around the shoe box full of old letters on the floor in front of the filing cabinet.

 

For a long moment she didn’t say anything.

 

“We’re sorry, director,” Maria said quietly. She dropped the envelope she was holding and hurried over to peer into the topmost pizza box.

 

“Yeah. Sorry,” Natasha echoed. She stood up and joined Maria at the desk and then it was just Sharon sitting on the floor with Peggy gazing down at her.

 

For a moment, Sharon was pretty sure she was royally screwed, but then she noticed that Peggy didn’t look angry. Instead she looked…distant. Not quite sad really, but her eyes were misty and when she did speak, her voice sounded almost foggy in a way that Sharon had never heard before.

 

“It’s alright. I haven’t given those notes much thought in years,” she said. “Just, um…Sharon, just put them back in the drawer and get up and get some lunch darling. I’ll, uh…I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

 

Sharon nodded and scrambled to her feet, but by the time she managed to get the lid back on the box and shove it back in the drawer, Peggy was already gone.

 


 

 

May 1946

 

“I need more clothes,” Angie declared as she practically draped herself against the closet doorframe.

 

“Excuse me?” Peggy raised one eyebrow in question as she set her makeup bag on the bureau on the opposite side of the room and turned around.

 

“You heard me,” Angie replied. “In fact, I think we could use more of everything. This place is huge! You know, when I was little, my sisters and I shared a room that was probably just the size of that closet and all three of us were in there with all out things.”

 

“Hmm,” Peggy hummed. She took a few steps closer, rounding the elegant four poster bed and sitting down on the plush purple duvet. “So I take it you like it here then?”

 

“Are you kiddin’ me?” Angie asked. It was clear that she couldn’t quite help the bright smile that was spreading across her face. “This place is amazing! I can’t believe we get to live here with no rent or anything. This is like a dream come true!”

 

“I’m glad,” Peggy said. She smiled and stood up. “Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that Howard told me to tell you that he knows a few people behind the scenes in the theater district, so while it may be a bit of a trek, he promised that he could get good seats for just about anything you want to see.”

 

Angie’s face lit up even brighter if that were even possible and before Peggy could react, Angie was running at her, throwing her arms around Peggy’s neck and sending them both toppling backwards onto the bed.

 

Peggy laughed and Angie just beamed down at her. Blue eyes locked with brown and Angie’s caramel-colored hair hung down just far enough to tickle Peggy’s cheeks.

 

“God, English, I could kiss you right now,” Angie murmured.

 

Then just as quickly as it arose, the happy mood disappeared.

 

Angie’s face flushed bright red and she pushed herself up from the bed.

 

“I should probably just, uh…I think I’ll just finish putting things away in the closet here and then I’ll…”

 

“Yes,” Peggy said. She sat up quickly and stood up. “Well, I think I’ll take the room at the end of the hall. I should probably go start unpacking in there.”

 

“Okay, that sounds good,” Angie said a little too quickly and in a voice that told Peggy that it most certainly was not good, but she didn’t want to pry at what seemed like an already-delicate situation, so she just did the only thing she could think of at the moment.

 

She grabbed her makeup bag off the bureau and carried it all the way down the hall into the other bedroom. It was about the same size as Angie’s chosen room with a red duvet instead of purple and a considerably larger mirror hanging above the sink in the en suite.

 

It was a nice enough room and Peggy flopped face down on the bed, not even bothering to take off her shoes.

 

It wasn’t until later that Peggy realized that nearly half of her clothing boxes were still in Angie’s room.

 

Chapter Text

 

“You are not getting so upset over this.”

 

Peggy was gripping the sides of the sink so hard that her knuckles were turning as white as the porcelain. She lifted her head and fixed her eyes on her reflection in the mirror.

 

“You’re not getting upset over this,” she repeated.

 

She almost believed it too.

 

Almost.

 

She hadn’t seen that box of letters in probably at least fifteen years. Ever since they had finished construction on the Triskelion and she had moved into the top office. She had never been able to bring herself to get rid of all the letters, but she still didn’t like having them around, so she had locked them in the filing cabinet and all but forgotten about them in the years since.

 

And now the girls had seen them.

 

“Director?”

 

Peggy jumped at the sound of the voice and curled her fingers a little bit tighter around the sink before turning to see Sharon standing half-in, half-out the doorway. Her eyes were wide, but when Peggy looked at her, she quickly turned them to the floor.

 

“Yes?” Peggy asked. She was proud at how steady she managed to keep her voice.

 

“We’re, um...I wanted to apologize,” Sharon said. “It was my idea to pick the lock and look in the drawer and I...I shouldn’t have done that and I’m sorry. Just don’t take it out on Nat and Maria, please? It was all me.”

 

Peggy paused and swallowed hard around the lump that was starting to rise in her throat.

 

“I’m not angry,” she said slowly. Sharon lifted her head to meet Peggy’s eyes and Peggy leaned back against the sink as she crossed her arms over her chest. “And I’m not really surprised either. I don’t suppose I can fault you for wanting to look when I asked you to clean everything else out, but I’d just appreciate it if you let it go, alright?”

 

Sharon nodded.

 

“Those were from a long time ago and I don’t think…” Peggy trailed off and bit her lip as she tried to think of something to say. “I don’t think there’s any use in playing with split ends.”

 

“Of course,” Sharon whispered.

 

“Good.” Peggy straightened up and gave Sharon a tight smile. “I think you girls have put in enough work for one day. Why don’t you finish up and maybe we can pick up where we left off on Monday.”

 

Sharon nodded again and turned on her heel to go back down the hallway.

 

Peggy, however, stayed where she was. She turned and looked back in the mirror.

 

There was a tiny part of her that wondered if Angie would still recognize her. That was ridiculous, though. Of course Angie would still recognize her. She had looked much the same for the last fifty or so years.

 

In hindsight, she should probably have never let Howard test his formulas on her in the first place.

 

She had told him as much when he had first approached her back in 1955. She had stopped wanting to help him with anything after what was supposed to be a cure for the common cold had instead turned a minor inconvenience into what Howard had called an intense cold.

 

Peggy had called him some rather colorful things that had had Angie laughing for nearly the entire week that Peggy was stuck at home.

 

Angie.

 

God, just thinking her name sent a jolt through her heart like she was picking at an invisible scab there.

 

Peggy needed to stop thinking about her.

 

She needed to stop thinking about those letters.

 

She splashed a little bit of cold water on her face and touched up her lipstick before she finally gave herself a nod of approval and turned on her heel to go back to her office.

 


 

 

May 1946

 

Peggy couldn’t sleep.

 

It was nearly one o’clock in the morning and she was certainly tired, but every time she tried to close her eyes, she could feel herself almost tense and she couldn’t quite get comfortable. She could hear every creak of the floorboards and every little gust of wind that hit against the windows.

 

That was when it hit her.

 

It was too quiet.

 

Peggy had spent the war in camps or on bases where even though she had her own tent or room, she could always hear other people walking around or talking or even just working on typewriters or scribbling in notebooks. Her apartment with Colleen had been pretty much the same and at the Griffith, it was impossible to find a silent spot. The walls were so thin that even after curfew, Peggy could normally hear Angie or Dottie moving around on either side of her.

 

This place, though, was nearly silent and it had Peggy too wired to rest.

 

Finally, after what felt like at least her millionth attempt at falling asleep, Peggy kicked off her covers and rolled out of bed. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do, but anything would be better than this.

 

She grabbed her robe off the back of the chair in the corner and slipped it on over her nightgown as she made her way out into the hallway.

 

Peggy tiptoed past Angie’s room, keeping to the very edges of the floorboards to keep from making a sound. Angie’s door was closed but Peggy knew from their time at the Griffith that Angie could be woken up by almost anything.

 

Peggy shuffled downstairs and was more than a little surprised to see a light on in the kitchen.

 

She paused in the living room and grabbed a heavy candlestick off an end table. She hefted it and held her breath as she stepped towards the kitchen.

 

“Peggy? What are you doing down here?”

 

Peggy stopped dead in her tracks and quickly hid the candlestick behind her back when Angie saw her in the doorway.

 

“Um…I was just…” Peggy gestured vaguely at the air and casually set the candlestick on the counter. “What are you doing up?” she asked.

 

“I just made some hot chocolate,” Angie said, holding up the steaming mug in question. “It helps me sleep. This place is too quiet for comfort, you know?”

 

“I do, actually,” Peggy said. “I suppose I’ve gotten rather accustomed to having background noise while I’m falling asleep.”

 

“Want a mug?” Angie asked. “I made extra.”

 

“No, thank you,” Peggy said. She sat down at the table anyway, watching as Angie sipped her cocoa in silence.

 

“Hey,” she said after a moment. Peggy arched her eyebrow in question and Angie took that as a sign to keep talking. “This is kind of a crazy idea, but what would you say to the possibility of maybe sharing my room tonight? It might help to have each other there so there’s a little bit of sound and then once we adjust to living here, we can split up again. What do you think?”

 

“I think that sounds like a lovely idea,” Peggy said a little bit too quickly. She felt a flush spreading over her cheeks and she looked down at the table, tracing the pad of her finger along the wood grain. “I mean, that is if you’re sure I won’t be too much of a bother.”

 

“Of course not, English,” Angie said. She drained the rest of her hot chocolate in one gulp and stood up, offering her arm to Peggy. “Don’t be ridiculous, just come on.”

 

Peggy tired in vain to hide her smile as she let Angie lead her upstairs and into her room.

 

The bed was certainly more than big enough for two and Peggy could feel the mattress dip just slightly when Angie slid in on the other side.

 

She had to admit, Angie was right. Just the sound of Angie shifting on the sheets and her breathing slowing down was enough to calm Peggy enough for her eyelids to start to droop on their own.

 

Angie was already nearly asleep and she rolled a little bit closer to Peggy so that her warm breath tickled the back of Peggy’s neck.

 

It only took a few more minutes before Peggy was asleep herself.

 


 

 

“So we’re not getting fired, right?”

 

“Course not, Hill. Sharon smoothed it all over, right Sharon?” Natasha asked around a mouthful of sweet and sour chicken.

 

“Mostly, yeah,” Sharon said. She pushed her chopsticks around in the carton of rice she was holding. After a moment, though, she just set the carton down on the coffee table and leaned back against the couch cushions.

 

“Then what’s wrong?” Natasha asked, stretching out her leg and nudging Sharon’s calf with her foot. “You’ve been bringing down the mood all night.”

 

Natasha’s little black cat Liho hopped up on the couch and practically forced her way onto Sharon’s lap. Sharon absently lifted a hand to scratch behind Liho’s ears.

 

“It’s just…I’ve never seen Aunt Peggy like that before,” she said. “When I went to go apologize to her, she looked really…not upset, but just, I don’t know. It was strange. I didn’t like it.”

 

“So what are we doing about it?” Natasha asked.

 

“What do you mean?” Sharon asked.

 

“We’re not just going to leave it at that, are we?” Maria stepped into the living room with three glasses of red wine that was far too expensive to have had any rightful place in Natasha’s apartment.

 

“Seriously?” Sharon asked, grabbing the glass that Maria held out to her. “We’re not going to go snooping around through Aunt Peg’s things again. I promised her we wouldn’t and you guys didn’t see her in that bathroom. There’s some heavy shit attached to those letters.”

 

She ran her free hand through her hair and Liho—obviously annoyed that she was no longer being scratched—stood up and settled again in Maria’s lap. She blinked her amber eyes slowly and purred loudly, making sure that Sharon could hear.

 

“You can’t seriously tell me that you’re not in the least bit curious about why the director of SHIELD has a box full of fifty-year-old love letters in her office,” Natasha said. She took a sip of her wine and snapped her fingers to get Liho’s attention. “Besides, she’s your aunt. It’s your family history or whatever.”

 

“No,” Sharon said firmly, shaking her head. “Absolutely not. Maria, back me up on this.”

 

“I don’t know,” Maria said with a shrug. “I’m kind of siding with Nat on this one. I mean, I’m kind of curious and I don’t think it’d hurt to do a little bit of digging just to see what’s going on.”

 

Sharon lifted her hands in mock surrender. “I want no part of this. Do not include me in this at all. If any of this gets back to Aunt Peg or anyone else at SHIELD, it’s your asses on the line.”

 

“Fine,” Natasha said. “Hill, hand me my laptop?”

 

Maria leaned forward, displacing Liho just the slightest bit as she grabbed the computer off the coffee table and passed it to Natasha.

 

“What are you doing?” Sharon groaned.

 

Natasha dragged her finger along the touchpad as she waited for her laptop to boot up. “Nothing that any idiot with internet access can’t do,” she replied. “Besides, I thought you didn’t want any part of this.”

 

“I don’t.” Sharon tipped her head back and downed the rest of her wine in a single gulp. She pointedly tried not to shudder as she did so, but there really wasn’t a good way to pair wine with crappy takeout. She stood up and set her empty glass on the coffee table. “I’ll talk to you guys tomorrow, okay?”

 

“Sharon, wait,” Maria tried, but Liho was still sitting on her lap and refusing to move, so she couldn’t stand up.

 

“No, it’s fine, just…” Sharon paused. “Whatever was in those letters hurt Aunt Peggy a long time ago and I don’t want to hurt her again, okay? Just promise me that whatever you guys find you won’t hurt her again.”

 

“Of course not,” Natasha replied. She glanced briefly up from her screen. “See you tomorrow.”

 

“Yeah. I’ll see you.”

 

Sharon grabbed her jacket off the arm of the couch and stalked out of the apartment, purposely shutting the door a little bit too loudly behind her. She paused for a moment at the top of the stairwell and briefly debated going back to Natasha’s apartment, but there was a voice in her head that sounded suspicious like Aunt Peggy that told her she shouldn’t be meddling in that sort of thing.

 

The voice won out and Sharon sighed as she made her way down the stairs and outside into the chilly night air.

 


 

 

June 1946

 

“Did you know you snore?”

 

“Do not,” Peggy murmured, more asleep than awake. She rolled over and pressed her face into her pillow. Her eyes were still closed and though she could feel the warm sunlight hitting her face, she wasn’t quite ready to wake up just yet.

 

Unfortunately, Angie didn’t seem to feel the same way.

 

“You do too,” she replied. “And you don’t move very much when you sleep which is nice. When I was little I had to share a bed with my older sister and she always moved around so much. Sometimes I’d even wake up with bruises from where she kicked me in her sleep.”

 

“Mmhm.”

 

“You want some breakfast?” Angie asked.

 

“’m still asleep,” Peggy replied.

 

Angie giggled. “Come on, English, I’ll make pancakes.”
 
Peggy felt the mattress shift as Angie got up and she rolled over, slowly blinking one eye open and then the other.

 

“Good morning to you too, sleepyhead,” Angie said with a grin.

 

Peggy just propped herself up on one elbow and squinted against the light streaming in through the windows. “What time is it?” she asked.

 

“Almost 7,” Angie replied. “Do you want pancakes?”

 

“And coffee?” Peggy asked.

 

Angie giggled. “Whatever you want, English. I’ll call you when they’re ready.”

 

“Angie, you’re an angel,” Peggy proclaimed, dropping back onto the pillows with a sigh.

 

“And you call me dramatic,” Angie said as she stepped out into the hallway, easing the bedroom door shut behind her.

 

Peggy rolled over and pulled the blankets back up around her chin.

 

Sleeping with Angie in the room had helped her sleep more than she had hoped, but she could hardly hope that this was going to be a permanent arrangement. Like Angie had said, this was just until they had adjusted to living in the mansion and then Peggy would be back in the big bedroom down the hall with nothing but silence to keep her company at night.

 

God, just the thought of it was enough to wire her up again.

 

Peggy knew that there was no hope of her getting comfortable again and it wasn’t like she’d be going back to sleep, especially not now that she could hear Angie singing in the kitchen, her voice wafting up stairs and wrapping around Peggy like a warm hug.

 

Peggy finally decided that lying in bed wasn’t worth it, so she tossed the blankets to the side and rolled out of bed.

 

The hardwood floor was chilly on the bottoms of her feet. Maybe she should talk to Angie about getting some rugs.

 

Or maybe not. After all, she wasn’t going to be in this room for very long anyway and summer was coming soon anyway. There really wasn’t much of a need and she’d probably get used to it soon enough.

 

Peggy padded downstairs to find Angie singing along to the radio as she poured the pancake batter onto the griddle. There was a fresh pot of coffee on the counter and Peggy paused for a moment in the doorway just watching. She felt her lips twitch with an involuntary smile as Angie caught her eye and winked at her without missing a beat in the song.

 

Peggy would really have to remember to thank Howard for all this at some point.

 


 

 

It was late.

 

Well to be more accurate, it was very early.

 

Peggy wasn’t quite sure how early—she hadn’t bothered to check the clock in at least the last few hours—but she was pretty sure she could sunlight peeking in the bottom of her window.

 

It had been over a decade since she had last laid eyes on those letters, but just flipping through them again, they still held every ounce of emotion they had when she had first opened them. The edges of the pages had grown softer with age and Peggy ran her fingers along the fibers.

 

She heard her alarm go off on the dresser.

 

It was already five o’clock in the morning.

 

Peggy had a meeting with the directors of the FBI and the CIA in three hours and she was long past the age where she could stay up all night and still function well, but she supposed she could always just come back home after the meeting and nap. She could tell Fury she was sick or something.

 

It wasn’t really a lie. She felt like crap and she probably looked the part too.

 

Peggy folded the last of the letters and set it back in the shoe box. It felt strange having them all back in her apartment. Angie had never even seen this place and yet somehow it felt like she was there.

 

Peggy sighed and got out of bed. Her joints cracked in protest from being still for so long and her head felt heavy. She caught sight of herself in the mirror and stopped. Her eyes were red and puffy and there were tear tracks drying on her cheeks.

 

Over fifty years later and here she was, a mess over words on a page.

 

That was unacceptable.

 

After a shower, a cup of coffee, and a significant amount of perfectly-applied makeup, Peggy was feeling considerably better. She touched up her lipstick in her bedroom mirror and was just about to leave when her eyes fell on the box of letters on her nightstand.

 

She grabbed it without very much thought and tucked it under her arm as she walked out into her kitchen. She had the trashcan open before she finally paused for a second and looked down at the box again.

 

Well, she couldn’t exactly bring it back to the office now and she didn’t want it in her apartment, but she wasn’t ready to throw it. That felt too final in a way and it twisted the pit of her stomach in knots.

 

Peggy’s phone vibrated in her pocket, alerting her to the fact that if she didn’t leave right then, she was going to be late to her meeting. She sighed and set the box down on the counter.

 

“I’ll deal with you later,” she snapped as she slipped on her shoes and hurried out the door.

 


 

 

June 1946

 

“Hey, Pegs? C-can I talk to you for a second?”

 

Angie’s voice sounded much smaller than usual and Peggy stopped dead in the living room doorway. She turned to see Angie sitting on the sofa facing the fireplace so that all Peggy could see was the back of her head.

 

“Of course, darling,” Peggy said. She moved to sit down next to Angie. She didn’t miss the way Angie ducked her head slightly and started playing with her thumbs in her lap. “What’s wrong?”

 

“I, um...” It seemed like Angie’s words were thicker than usual like she was trying not to cry. “There’s something about me that I haven’t told you and I think you deserve to know, even if it’ll make you hate me.”

 

“Angie, I could never hate you,” Peggy said. She reached out to take Angie’s hand, but Angie flinched and Peggy quickly pulled her hand back. “Can you at least look at me?”

 

Angie hesitated for a moment, but then slowly lifted her head and turned to face Peggy. She reached up and brushed a lock of caramel-colored hair out of her face, revealing a purpling bruise around her left eye.

 

Peggy sucked in a breath through her teeth and had to fight her instinct to reach out and try to get a better look. “Angie, who did this to you?”

 

“Some creep outside the automat,” Angie replied quietly.

 

“Why would anyone do this to you?”

 

“I…” Angie balled her hands into fists in her lap and looked down at them.

 

“You can tell me you know.”

 

“I, uh…” Angie uncurled one hand and started picking at the pink polish on her fingernails. She swallowed and Peggy could see just from the motion of her throat that she was on the verge of tears and it was pretty clear that she was choosing her next words very carefully.

 

“Peggy, I, um…I l-like girls.”

 

The words hung there in the air for a moment, thick and heavy and Peggy didn’t know what to say. She tried opening her mouth a few times, but somewhere along the line, there was a disconnect and the words weren’t coming to her.

 

“I should, uh…” Angie started fiddling with the hem of her skirt and she started to stand up. “I should go.”

 

“No, don’t,” Peggy said a little too quickly. Her hand shot out and closed around Angie’s wrist before she could think. Angie tensed and Peggy quickly let go. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…Angie, please. You don’t have to leave.”

 

Angie’s watery blue-green eyes met Peggy’s and her lower lip trembled.

 

“I…” Peggy bit her lip as she tried to think about what she wanted to say next. “I do too.”

 

“You what?” Angie asked, clearly taken aback by Peggy’s confession. “But I thought that you—“

 

“I like both men and women,” Peggy explained. “I’ll admit I’ve never really had a serious relationship with another woman, but I—“

 

“You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you, English?” Angie’s tone was almost teasing and Peggy could see the slightest hint of a smile playing at her lips.

 

Peggy smiled. “I suppose I am.”

 

Angie looked down and brushed her hair behind her ear to hide her smile, but it also drew more attention to her black eye and Peggy winced in sympathy.

 

“Do you want me to take a look at that for you?” Peggy offered.

 

“No, it’s okay,” Angie said. She stood up and smoothed down her skirt. “I’m gonna go get dinner ready. I’ll call you when it’s done.”

 

“Of course,” Peggy said. She knew better than to push the matter any further, but as she stood up, she stopped. “Angie?”

 

Angie spun on her heel in the doorway and raised one eyebrow in question.

 

“Thank you.” Peggy said.

 

“What for?”

 

“For telling me. I know that can’t have been easy, but I promise you, nothing as simple as that is ever going to make me hate you.”

 

Angie flushed and smiled. “You too, Pegs.”

 

With that, she disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Peggy alone in the living room.

 

Peggy swallowed hard as she made her way to her study. She was all-too-conscious of the way her heart was beating faster than usual and her palms were starting to get clammy. She balled her hands into fists and tried to just ignore it, but it was no use.

 

She had thought that maybe she might have feelings for Angie practically from the moment they had met, but she hadn’t dared say anything to anyone, especially not Angie.

 

But Angie liked girls. That was an interesting development and it made it feel like there were butterflies fluttering in Peggy’s stomach.

 

When she made it to her study, she shut the door behind herself and leaned against it for a moment, splaying her fingers across the cool wood.

 

That conversation was not the way that Peggy had pictured her evening going and it had opened up a whole new set of…not problems really. More like issues that were neither inherently good nor inherently bad. They just were.

 

The first issue on the table as Peggy sank down into her desk chair, though, was one that she wasn’t sure she’d be able to solve.

 

She was in love with Angie.

Chapter Text

Natasha showed up in the training room the next morning with a cardboard cup of coffee and a cool, unreadable smirk on her face.

 

Sharon first noticed her out of the corner of her eye, but she didn’t even pause in her assault on the punching bag.

 

“What’s up?” she asked.

 

“Just came by to say good morning,” Natasha replied. “And to bring you coffee. Cinnamon latte with whipped cream and nutmeg.¨

 

¨You know my order?¨ Sharon asked. ¨How do you know my order? You never bring me coffee.¨

 

¨Maria told me. Said she used to bring you coffee all the time when you were in training and that you hadn´t changed your order in all the time she's known you.¨

 

¨Guilty as charged,” Sharon said. She put her hands on either side of the punching bag to stop it and started unrolling the gauze from her hands. She flipped her ponytail over her shoulder and caught her breath as she made her way over to the edge of the mats and grabbed the coffee from Natasha.

 

She took one sip and practically spit it out when she realized that it was ice cold.

 

Natasha grinned and dodged the punch that Sharon aimed at her shoulder.

 

¨Is that any way to thank the girl who brought you coffee? ¨

 

¨You’re the worst,” Sharon said, rolling her eyes. She took another sip of her drink. It was a little bit better. Not very much, but her need for coffee trumped the temperature. She paused and tucked a short lock of hair that had come free of her ponytail behind her ear. ¨So what do you want?” she asked.

 

¨Why do you assume that I want something?” Natasha asked.

 

¨Because this isn’t like you,” Sharon replied. “What’s up?”

 

Natasha crossed her arms and leaned back against the wall. “I just wanted to let you know that Maria and I didn’t find anything last night.”

 

“What’d you guys end up doing?”

 

“We just googled her for a while and looked for anything that had to do with a relationship, but we couldn’t find anything. The closest we could get was a picture of her old marriage license, but that wasn’t until the late fifties anyway. Long after that breakup letter came.”

 

Sharon didn’t say anything. She just took a long sip of her coffee and waited for Natasha to continue.

 

“We didn’t hack into her classified files or anything if that’s what you’re worried about,” she said.

 

“It was, actually,” Sharon said.

 

“Well we didn’t do that. I’m not that curious.”

 

“Good.”

 

“It’s just bothering me because I know that handwriting,” Natasha said. “You know that feeling when you’ve got a word that you just can’t think of and it sits on the tip of your tongue for the longest time?”

 

“You literally just said you weren’t that curious about it.”

 

Sharon finished her coffee and tossed the empty cup in a nearby trash can before heading back into the locker room. Natasha just followed and leaned against the doorframe as Sharon started to get changed.

 

“Well yeah, but I know that handwriting and I want to find out who it is,” Natasha said. “At least to satisfy myself and if you don’t want to know, I won’t tell you.”

 

Sharon thought for a moment. She pulled the elastic out of her hair and shook it out over her shoulders. Finally, she turned back to Natasha with her hands on her hips.

 

“I guess you can tell me when you find out. But that’s it. None of this gets back to Aunt Peggy, right?”

 

“Scouts’ honor,” Natasha replied, holding up three fingers.

 

“Uh-huh,” Sharon replied. She shot Natasha a one-fingered salute of her own and she heard Natasha laughing as she slipped out of the locker room.

 


 

 

June 1946

 

Peggy wasn’t entirely sure where Angie kept getting her alcohol from, but Peggy was definitely not complaining. At least not as long as Angie was sharing.

 

They were both sitting on the sofa in the living room with a half-empty bottle of peppermint schnapps on the coffee table and a completely-empty cake plate that Angie had snagged from the automat. There was still a little frosting smeared around the edge and Angie giggled as she dragged her finger through it and stuck it in her mouth. She sucked the frosting off and released her finger with a small pop.

 

Peggy heard herself laughing, but her head felt a little fuzzy.

 

Maybe she shouldn’t have had that third glass of schnapps. Or did she have four? She couldn’t quite remember. But there was a glass in her hands that was still mostly full of alcohol and Angie was still giggling and practically draping herself over the arm of the sofa and really Peggy could care in the morning.

 

“So, English,” Angie said, once she had finally managed to sit up long enough to actually form the words. “Do you like anyone?”

 

“Hmm?” Peggy raised her eyebrows as she took a sip of her drink.

 

“You know,” Angie said. “Do you like anyone? Any of those beefcakes you work with catchin’ your eye?”

 

Peggy practically choked on her drink and had to set her glass on the coffee table to keep from spilling it. “Lord, no,” she said. “No of course not, I would never even think about any of them like that.”

 

“Okay, well then what about girls?” Angie asked.

 

Peggy felt her cheeks flush before she could even open her mouth and Angie grinned.

 

“You do!” she exclaimed. “You like a girl! Who is it? Do I know her?”

 

“Of course not,” Peggy scoffed. She pulled her feet up underneath her on the sofa and tried to keep her face from going any redder. “I don’t fancy anyone, I just—“

 

“Yeah right, you can say it all you want, but for a super spy, you’re awful at lying,” Angie said. She was giggling again now and she ran her finger through the frosting on the cake plate and swiped a glob of it onto the tip of Peggy’s nose. “At least tell me what she’s like?”

 

Peggy thought for a moment. “She smells nice.”

 

“You like a girl just ‘cause she smells nice?”

 

“That’s not the only reason,” Peggy said defensively.

 

“Well then what are some more reasons?” Angie asked.

 

“They’re…classified.”

 

Angie rolled her eyes and flopped back against the arm of the sofa. “Are you kiddin’ me?”

 

Peggy just shook her head—a little too hard, she realized, as the room started to swirl around her like she was looking through a kaleidoscope—and started to reach for her drink, but she felt herself start to tip off the sofa and had to brace her hand on the edge of the coffee table.

 

“You okay, English?” Angie asked.

 

“I don’ know,” Peggy replied. Part of her brain was aware that she was starting to slur her words and she half-wondered if maybe she had had more to drink than she thought. Either that or the time she had spent sober since the end of the war had really lowered her tolerance. “Maybe I should go to bed.”

 

“Aw, come on, I’m just messin’ with ya,” Angie protested, but Peggy just shook her head again. “Come with me?”

 

Angie rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically, but she got up, swaying just a little bit and took Peggy’s hand to pull her to her feet. They stumbled over to the stairs and made their way up to the bedroom where Angie flopped facedown on the bed without even bothering to change. Peggy briefly debated getting her back up to at least make her wash her face, but Angie was already asleep and Peggy didn’t really have it in her to disturb her.

 

Peggy headed into the bathroom and washed her face in record time. She slipped into her nightgown and gently pushed Angie over so that she had enough room to slide in. She pulled the blankets up over them both and curled up on her side.

 

Maybe it was just the alcohol clouding her mind, but for the first time in the month since they had started sleeping in the same room, Peggy was highly conscious of the space between them.

 


 

 

Peggy’s meeting only lasted about an hour—which was much shorter than she had expected given that her meetings with the World Security Council tended to last at least twice that long—and by the time it was over, Peggy needed another cup of coffee.

 

By the time she made it back to her office, she was already halfway finished with her cup and still no closer to staying awake than she was when she got out of the meeting.

 

She paced the length of her office a few times, dodging the boxes that were stacked all around to be moved down the hall over the next few days. She didn’t even realize that she had practically fallen into a trance until she heard a knock at the door.

 

She jumped and turned so fast that she had to brace herself on the corner of her desk to keep from falling over.

 

“Agent Carter, are you okay?”

 

Sharon was standing in the office doorway with one hand on her hip and a concerned frown on her face.

 

“Hi, darling, yes, I’m…I’m fine, thanks,” Peggy said. “I just didn’t sleep very well.”

 

“You look terrible,” Sharon said. It suddenly seemed to dawn on her that maybe that wasn’t exactly the right thing to be saying. Her eyes widened just a little bit and her cheeks flushed. “You don’t look like you should be here today.”

 

“Nonsense,” Peggy said, waving her hand dismissively. “Is there something I can help you with?”

 

“I just thought I’d come by and see if there’s anything else you wanted me to help you pack up, but I guess you’ve got it pretty much covered.”

 

“Yes, Agen—Director Fury came by last night and boxed up the last of it. He’s going to help me bring most of it back to my apartment and the rest will be moving down the hall.”

 

“Huh.” Sharon crossed her arms and nodded vaguely at the boxes scattered around her.

 

“Is there anything else?” Peggy asked suddenly.

 

“Um, no I think that was all.” Sharon paused and then finally looked up and met Peggy’s eyes. “It just won’t be the same without having you in the corner office.”

 

“Oh, darling, come here,” Peggy said. She set down her coffee cup and opened her arms, gesturing for Sharon to come closer. Sharon met her halfway and Peggy wrapped her arms around her.

 

Peggy chuckled. “You know I’m going to be just down the hall, right?”


“I know,” Sharon said. “But it’ll be weird. You’ve just always been here since the very beginning and I know things have to change at some point, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it just yet.

 

“No,” Peggy replied, letting go of Sharon and taking a step back. “No, I suppose it doesn’t.” She started to reach behind her for her coffee, but ended up swaying again and practically fell into the edge of her desk. She caught herself just in time and frowned. “And speaking of things that should end, perhaps this day really is one of them.”

 

Sharon nodded.

 

Peggy grabbed her purse off and jacket from the back of her chair and sucked down the rest of her coffee in a single gulp, tossing the cup in the trash can as she walked by.

 

“I’ll see you soon, alright, darling?” she asked, resting her hand gently on Sharon’s shoulder as she passed.

 

“Yeah, of course,” Sharon replied. “I’ll walk you outside.”

 

Peggy just nodded and flicked off the lights. As she and Sharon headed silently towards the elevators, she found her mind already wandering to just how nice her bed was going to feel when she got home.

 


 

 

When Peggy got back to her apartment all she barely even had the energy to kick off her shoes and take off her jacket before she collapsed facedown on the couch. The cushion was scratchy against her cheek and the couch itself was so narrow that one of her arms was hanging down, her hand brushing against the rug which could really use a vacuum now that she was thinking about it.

 

She closed her eyes, but sleep refused to come.

 

Peggy groaned and rolled over on her back and tried again, but even though she was exhausted, she couldn’t seem to get to sleep.

 

“Oh for the love of…”

 

Peggy trailed off as she got up and padded into the kitchen. She put the kettle on to boil and pulled a mug out of one of the upper cupboards. She dropped a bag of earl grey tea into it and leaned against the counter as she waited for the water to boil.

 

The box of letters was still on the edge of the counter where she had left it that morning.

 

Peggy crossed the kitchen and took out the lid. Without even looking, her hands settled on one particular yellowed envelope. She pulled it out and unfolded the letter inside. She already knew the words by heart and she had since the first day she had gotten it, but she could still feel a slight smile tugging at her lips as she read it.

 

July 8, 1950

 

Dear English,

California seems to get hotter every single day. At least it’s a dry heat so it doesn’t make my hair as frizzy, but it’s still so hard to get used to. It’s beautiful though. Of course you’ve seen the palm trees and the beaches and everything, so I’m sure you remember, but the city itself seems so much brighter than New York. But don’t worry, this is still only temporary. I’ll be back for Broadway soon enough!

I wish I could say so much more, but I’ll see you again soon enough. I can’t wait for you to come out and see the set! It’s so amazing and I still can’t believe it’s all real!

Love you with all my heart,

-A

P.S. The bed’s really too big for just one person.

 

Peggy’s finger traced around the bubblegum pink lipstick stain on the bottom corner of the paper and maybe it was just her exhausted brain making things up on her, but she swore she could almost still smell a hint of that floral perfume.

 

The tea kettle started screaming and Peggy jumped. She quickly shoved the letter back into the envelope and slammed the lid back on the shoe box before she yanked the kettle off the burner.

 

She poured hot water over her tea bag and stirred it gently.

 

When her mind was this tired, it was almost easy to pretend that she was still as happy as she had been the day she had gotten that letter.

 

Peggy carried her tea into the bedroom and set it on her nightstand. She crawled into bed, pulling the blankets up over herself and reaching for her mug to take a few sips.

 

She set the mug back on her nightstand and her last conscious thought before she fell asleep was that her bed was really too big for just one person.

 


 

 

June 1946

 

“Angie, I need some advice.”

 

Angie was standing at the stove stirring a pot of what smelled like chicken cacciatore and she didn’t even look up when Peggy came in. “On what?”

 

“I, um…I need your help with…well, there’s a woman and I—“

 

Angie tapped her spoon on the rim of the pot and set it on top before turning around with her hands on her hip and a wicked grin on her face. “Pegs, are you asking me to help you woo a girl?”

 

Peggy’s cheeks turned a bright pink and her eyes fell to the floor, but she nodded.

 

“Well geez, all you had to do was say that then.” Angie wiped her hands on a dish towel and tossed it in a crumpled pile on the counter as she stepped closer. “You’re still not gonna tell me who this lucky gal is though, are you?”

 

“Not just yet,” Peggy said. “But I promise that if she says yes, you’ll be the first to know.”

 

Angie smiled. “Okay, well the first thing you gotta do is talk to her. Just strike up a conversation with her so that you’ve got her undivided attention.”

 

Peggy nodded.

 

“And then the next thing is to pay attention to her,” Angie explained. “Watch her eyes, her lips, her hands. Pay attention to how she moves and what she does. You can tell more about a woman by her eyes than just about anything else.”

 

Peggy watched as Angie’s eyes fell to her lips for the briefest of moments before they quickly flashed back up again.

 

“And then what?” she asked.

 

“And then it’s really a judgment call,” Angie said. “If you think she really likes you, then you can just put your hand on her shoulder like this.” She took Peggy’s hand in her own and guided it to her shoulder. “And then if she doesn’t move away, you can touch her waist like this.”

 

This time Peggy’s hand moved before Angie could reach it and she wrapped her arm gently around Angie’s waist, her hand on the small of Angie’s back pulling them ever so slightly closer together.

 

They were so close now that Peggy could feel Angie’s breath warm against her lips and she could smell the sweet traces of her perfume still clinging to her pulse points.

 

“Is that it?” Peggy asked.

 

“Yeah. If you make it that far, I think you’ve got her,” Angie replied.

 

“So did it work?” Peggy asked again.

 

“You’re damn right it did.” Angie’s voice was barely more than a husky whisper.

 

“Can I kiss you?”

 

This time Angie didn’t have to speak. She tipped her head up just the slightest bit and met Peggy’s lips in a soft, gentle kiss.

 

Peggy was the one who pulled back first. Her cheeks were nearly as red as her lipstick, but she was smiling just the same.

 

“You know, you can be really romantic when you want to be,” Angie said with a smile and only the faintest trace of a blush on her cheeks.

 

“What can I say?” Peggy asked. “I have a fabulous teacher.”

 

Angie looked like she was about to say something else, but then she sniffed the air and whipped around to grab her wooden spoon again. The cacciatore was steaming and Angie started stirring it again, but she turned back to look at Peggy.

 

“How about after I get this dinner done, we pick up where we left off,” she suggested.

 

Peggy just smiled and wrapped her arms around Angie’s waist, resting her chin on Angie’s shoulder.

 

“Or this is nice too,” Angie said. She moved her free hand down to rest on Peggy’s and started rubbing small circles with her thumb.

 

Peggy hummed in agreement.

 

“I love you, Pegs,” Angie murmured.

 

“I love you too, darling,” Peggy said. She pressed a soft kiss to the side of Angie’s neck and smiled. “I love you too.”

 


 

 

Sharon was having a pretty good night.

 

She was sitting on her couch with a half-empty bag of tortilla chips and a completely empty bowl of chili on the coffee table in front of her. There was another three hours left in the impromptu Say Yes to the Dress marathon that she had been sucked into and she sighed as she pulled a throw blanket up over her legs.

 

Then her cell phone started to ring.

 

It was Natasha.

 

Sharon rolled her eyes and muted the TV before unlocking her phone.

 

“What do you want?”

 

“Well hello to you too,” Natasha said.

 

“Hi,” Sharon said. “What do you want?”

 

“I wanted to tell you that I remembered where I know that handwriting from.” Natasha said.

 

“And you couldn’t just text me about this why?” Sharon asked.

 

“You wouldn’t believe me.” Sharon could almost hear her smirk through the phone. “You need to get over here. I need to show you this.”

 

“Right now?”

 

“Yeah, why? You got a hot date or something?”

 

“No, but I—“

 

“Good, then get over here,” Natasha said. “Maria’s already on her way. I really think you need to see this. Besides, weren’t you the one who said just this morning that you wanted to know when I found something out?”

 

Sharon sighed. “I guess so.”

 

“So then get your ass over here soon. I’m pretty sure I know who wrote those letters and you’re not going to believe it.”

 

“I’ll be there in ten,” Sharon said. She ended the call before Natasha had a chance to say goodbye.

 

Sharon stood up, stretching her arms high above her head as she did. She rolled the rim of the chip bag down, switched off the TV, grabbed her jacket and keys, and headed out the door.

 

She and Maria just so happened to reach Natasha’s door at the exact same moment.

 

“Did she explain anything to you on the phone?” Maria asked.

 

“Nope,” Sharon replied. “You?”

 

“Of course not. Do you have any idea what could be so important that it couldn’t wait until morning?”

 

“There’s nothing coming to mind.”

 

Before either of them could say anything else, though, the door opened and Natasha appeared in the doorway in a hoodie and sweatpants that made her look even smaller than she was.

 

“Good, you made it,” she said. “Get in here.”

 

Sharon and Maria exchanged glances before stepping into the apartment. Natasha shut the door behind them and moved back over to the couch. Liho was sitting on the cushion, but Natasha shooed her away and grabbed her laptop off the side table.

 

“You guys need to come over and sit down,” Natasha said. “Because you’re not going to believe this.”

 

“Nat, we don’t need to sit, just show us,” Maria said, crossing her arms over her chest.

 

“Yeah, come on,” Sharon said.

 

“No, I really think you guys should sit down.”

 

“We’re fine,” Sharon snapped.

 

“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Natasha said. She brought up a new window on her screen and held it up. There was a picture of a handwritten note on the screen and even without reading it, Sharon could tell that it was in fact the same handwriting as they had found on Peggy’s old letters.

 

But that wasn’t the only thing about it that caught her attention. The signature on the bottom made her reach for the doorknob to brace herself.

 

“Holy shit,” she breathed.

 

“Is that—?” Maria started.

 

“Told you,” Natasha said with a smirk.

 

“No way,” Sharon said. She shook her head a few times to try to clear it. “There’s no way she actually wrote those letters. Aunt Peggy would have mentioned that at some point or something.”

 

Maria was silent.

 

Nat was just looking back at her computer. “I ran it through some of the matching software at SHIELD and it checks out,” she said. “Angela Martin was exchanging letters with Director Carter.”

 


 

 

June 1946

 

“Are you watching me?” Peggy asked.

 

“If I was, could you blame me?” Angie replied.

 

Peggy just rolled her eyes and went back to washing her face. There was lipstick and mascara smudged all over the washcloth she was using and she wrung it out under the tap until it all swirled down the drain in a single gray stream.

 

She set the clean cloth on the counter to dry and stepped back into the bedroom where Angie was laying across the end of the bed, propping herself up on her elbows so she could see through the open en suite door.

 

“You know, you’re cute without makeup,” she said.

 

Peggy raised an eyebrow in question as she ran a brush through her hair. She briefly debated doing her regular pin curls, but it really wasn’t worth the effort at the moment and she just set the brush back on the bureau and padded over to the bed.

 

“I mean, you’re beautiful all the time, but I like seeing your freckles,” Angie said. She sat up and scrambled up towards the pillows so that Peggy could pull the blankets back and climb into bed with her. Once Peggy lay down, Angie reached out and traced the pad of her thumb across the spray of light freckles across Peggy’s nose.

 

“Well if I had known that was all it took to impress you, I’d have just taken my makeup off earlier,” Peggy chuckled.

 

Angie didn’t say anything else. She just pressed her lips lightly against the tip of Peggy’s nose and smiled.

 

“So I suppose this means I won’t be moving back into the other room anytime soon then, doesn’t it,” Peggy said.

 

Angie giggled. “Not on your life, English.”

 

She got up on one elbow and reached over Peggy to turn off the light. She flopped back down and smiled to herself as Peggy started to roll over.

 

She curled in on herself like she had always done, but this time, Angie did something she had never done before. She scooted a little closer and pressed her body gently against Peggy’s. She wrapped her arms around Peggy and smiled as Peggy relaxed against her.

 

“Good night, Pegs,” she whispered. “I love you.”

 

“Love you too, darling,” Peggy replied, already almost asleep. “With all my heart.”

Chapter Text

January 1950

 

Peggy could tell from the moment she got home that something was wrong.

 

She had learned over the past three and a half years that Angie had a sort of energy to her that filled whatever space she was in. She was so naturally happy and bright and there were times that just being in the same room with her was enough to lift Peggy’s spirits. The other side of that coin, though, was that when Angie wasn’t feeling like herself, Peggy could tell in an instant.

 

And something was definitely off.

 

That was strike one.

 

“Angie?” she called as she slipped off her coat and kicked her heels off next to the door.

 

“Kitchen,” Angie replied.

 

Peggy couldn’t help but notice the lack of music. Angie always had the radio on when she was home.

 

That was strike two.

 

Peggy ran a hand through her hair as she stepped into the kitchen to find Angie surrounded by fresh batches of chocolate chip cookies.

 

Angie only ever made chocolate chip cookies when she was upset.

 

Strike three, she was out.

 

“What’s wrong?” Peggy asked, leaning against the edge of the counter and crossing her arms over her chest.

 

“Nothing. How was work?” Angie replied. She wiped her hands on her apron and stole a quick kiss before leaning back down to pull another tray out of the oven.

 

“Work was fine, but I don’t want to talk about work, I want to talk about you,” Peggy said. She narrowed her eyes at Angie, but once Angie turned to set the tray on the stove Peggy’s hand shot out and she grabbed a cookie. She bit it in half and was more than a little shocked when the molten chocolate chips in the middle hit her tongue. She gasped and spit the cookie back into her hand.

 

“Careful, they’re hot,” Angie said with a hint of a smile.

 

“Thanks for the warning,” Peggy replied. She moved toward the refrigerator and grabbed a nearly-empty bottle of milk. There really wasn’t enough left to warrant getting a glass for it, so she just pulled off the cap and drained the bottle in one swallow.

 

Angie giggled and leaned over to flick the radio on out of habit.

 

Peggy just leaned over and turned it off again.

 

“What was that for?” Angie asked.

 

“You’re hiding something,” Peggy said.

 

“I am not,” Angie insisted. She glared at Peggy and turned the radio back on, cranking up the volume just a little bit higher this time. “Maybe I just really like this song.”

 

“What song is it?” Peggy asked, one hand falling to her hip as she grabbed another cookie--a cooler one this time--and put the whole thing in her mouth.

 

“Thinking of You,” Angie replied with a smug smile. “It’s new by that Eddie Fisher kid everyone’s talking about.”

 

“Mmhm.”

 

Peggy waited until Angie had turned back around to the oven before flicking the radio right back off and stepping in front of it to keep Angie from getting at it again.

 

“What’d you do that for?” Angie asked.

 

“What’s the matter?” Peggy replied simply.

 

“Nothing’s the matter. I’m fine,” Angie said.

 

“No you’re not and I can tell you’re not. You may be a wonderful actress, but you’re terrible at lying to me. Please, just tell me what’s bothering you.”

 

Angie hesitated and started playing with the ties on her apron as her gaze darted down to the floor. There was a long moment of silence, but Peggy didn’t want to push it. Not just yet, at least.

 

“I had an audition today,” Angie said finally.

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yeah. And it didn’t go well at all.”

 

“What do you mean?” Peggy asked.

 

“I mean they basically told me in no uncertain terms that they think I’m terrible.”

 

“Oh, darling, I’m so sorry, but there will be other shows.”

 

Peggy reached out her hand and rubbed gently up and down Angie’s arm. Angie finally looked up at her and her blue-green eyes were sparkling with unshed tears.

 

“I know,” she said. “But it’s been almost five years and the only parts I’ve gotten are in the ensembles. At some point, I’ve just gotta take the hint, right?”

 

Angie’s lower lip quivered and Peggy didn’t say anything. She just closed the space between them and pulled Angie close. She rested her head in the hollow of Angie’s neck and started rubbing little circles at the small of her back just as Angie’s first sob broke loose and she wrapped her arms around Peggy to bury her head against Peggy’s shoulder.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Peggy murmured. “But it’ll be okay. I promise.”

 

“But I’m done waiting,” Angie said.

 

Peggy pulled back and kept Angie at arm’s length so she could meet her red-rimmed eyes.

 

“Angie, you can’t give up on your dream like this. Sure it’s been a while, but you need to keep on trying and I’m sure you’ll be a star soon enough.”

 

“Not soon enough,” Angie said. “I’m still working double shifts at a job that was supposed to be temporary and I love being here and I love you, but I--” Angie paused and sniffled and grabbed her dish towel to swipe at the fresh tear tracks making little rivers on her cheeks. “I’m done,” she said simply. She twisted the towel in her hands and forced a tight smile. “I give up.”

 

Peggy wasn’t quite sure what to say next, so she just wasn’t going to say anything at all.

 

Apparently her mouth didn’t get the message, though as she blurted out the first thing that popped into her brain.

 

“You know, I could talk to Howard. He’s at his wits end with Arlene French constantly calling out drunk and I’m sure he’d be willing to at least let you audition to be her replacement. I could call him tonight if you want me too.”

 

“Are you serious, English?” Angie asked. She perked up instantly, her smile growing and her eyes brightening. “You’d do that?”

 

“Well I can’t promise anything, but I can call, yes,” Peggy said. She could feel her cheeks flushing and she wasn’t quite sure why, but then Angie shifted to her toes and pressed a quick kiss to Peggy’s lips.

 

“You’re amazing,” she breathed. “I love you.”

 

“I love you too, darling,” Peggy said. She pressed her lips to Angie’s again, a little bit longer this time. They tasted salty from her tears, but there was a little bit of sweet too like maybe Angie hadn’t put all of the chocolate chips she had bought into the cookies.

 

It wasn’t until the egg timer next to the stove dinged, startling them both that they separated and Angie spun around to pull her last tray of cookies out of the oven.

 

“I’ll go call him right now,” Peggy said. She swiped a few cookies off the counter as she walked out of the kitchen and she smiled as Angie flicked the dish towel at her.

 

“They’re for later,” Angie insisted.

 

“Then I’ll eat them later,” Peggy called back.

 

“Yeah, yeah.”

 

Peggy could practically hear the accompanying eye roll as she headed to her study to call Howard.

 

Just as she picked up the phone, she could hear the radio get turned on in the kitchen and the soft strains of music flowed around the entire floor.

 

Everything felt normal again and Peggy couldn’t help but smile.

 


 

 

“There’s no way this is who it was,” Sharon said, crossing her arms over her chest. “There’s no way.”

 

“Of the three of us here, who has a nearly photographic memory and could pick out this handwriting in a heartbeat?” Natasha asked. “All I’m saying is that her handwriting perfectly matches the letters right down to the way she smears the dots on her ‘i’s.”

 

“That could just be coincidence, thought, right?” Sharon asked.

 

“It’s unlikely,” Maria replied with a shrug. “Sure, maybe someone could just so happen to have the exact same handwriting as a movie star who had just moved from New York to California at exactly the same time as the letter-writer did, but the chances of that are pretty damn slim.”

 

“My aunt was dating a movie star,” Sharon said.

 

Liho started winding her way around Sharon’s legs and rubbing her head against Sharon’s calves, but Sharon just shooed her away. “My aunt was dating a movie star,” she repeated. “I need to sit down for a minute.”

 

“I warned you about that,” Natasha said. She leaned down to pick up Liho and scratched absently between the cat’s ears.

 

“And not just any movie star either,” Maria said. “Your aunt was dating Angela Martin. She was the biggest star of the 50s and 60s. She’s bigger than Debbie Reynolds, Katherine Hepburn, everyone. I remember my grandparents used to have all of her movies.”

 

Natasha nodded. “She set the record for the most academy awards ever. She was nominated fifteen times in twenty years for best actress or best supporting actress and she won eight times.”

 

“That’s insane.” Sharon put one hand to her head and closed her eyes. “All of this is insane.”

 

“Hey, you’re the one that got us into this in the first place,” Natasha said. “Don’t blame us for digging into the hole you already started.”

 

“My aunt was dating a movie star,” Sharon repeated. “She was dating the woman who would become the biggest star of the twentieth century and she never even told me.”

 

“You okay?” Maria asked, crossing her arms and looking Sharon up and down.

 

“I will be, yeah,” Sharon said. “I just...Aunt Peggy’s always told me everything about her past that hasn’t been redacted or classified and this is just...I don’t know. I’m shocked. I need to process it I guess.”

 

“Take your time,” Maria said quietly.

 

Sharon ran a hand through her hair and moved to sit down on the arm of the couch. Liho scrambled out of Natasha’s arms and jumped onto Sharon’s lap, purring contentedly as Sharon started scratching the underside of her neck. Sharon let out a deep sigh and looked up at Natasha and Maria.

 

“So what do we do now?” she asked.

 

“What do you mean?” Maria asked.

 

“I mean Nat’s right,” Sharon said. “I started digging this hole and I kind of want to see where it leads, so what do we do next?”

 

“I’m glad you asked,” Natasha said with a wicked grin. She grabbed her laptop off the coffee table and opened it up as she plopped down on the couch. Sharon looked over her shoulder to see the screen and Maria sat down next to Natasha. “According to Wikipedia, Angela Martin was born Angela Martinelli, but she went by Martin because there were a lot of people in the industry who still didn’t think very highly of Italians after the war.”

 

Natasha scrolled further down the page past blocks of text documenting Angela Martin’s illustrious career, but Sharon stopped her when she scrolled past one of the only color photos on the page.

 

“Wait, go back. I want to see that,” she said.

 

Natasha wordlessly scrolled back up and clicked on the picture to enlarge it.

 

It was a candid shot of Angela Martin--Martinelli, Sharon reminded herself. If the dates on those letters were right, Peggy had always known her as Martinelli--sitting on a beach, laughing at the camera. She had a sunhat and sunglasses in her hand and her caramel-colored hair tumbled down her back in long, elegant curls. Her eyes were swirled with blue and green and her smile was so bright and happy and practically contagious.

 

So that was Peggy’s mysterious lover.

 

“Director Carter did well,” Maria said.

 

“Gross! That’s my aunt you’re talking about,” Sharon snapped. She grabbed a throw pillow behind her and whipped it at Maria who was snickering as Natasha kept scrolling. Liho just bristled and hopped off of Sharon’s lap to go inspect her food bowl.

 

“Wait, you guys haven’t even seen the best part of this yet,” Natasha said, scanning the screen as she scrolled. She finally stopped on a block of text accompanied by a black-and-white headshot that was dated 1952. “Look at that.”

 

“What, the picture?” Sharon asked.

 

“No, the heading.”

 

“Disappearance,” Maria said. “That’s right, I remember hearing about that at one point.” She sat back against the couch and hugged the throw pillow to her chest. “She was still going strong well into her fifties, but then one day in the mid-80s she just disappeared. No one’s ever really been sure what happened to her.”

 

“So what does that mean to us?” Sharon asked. “She and Aunt Peggy had already stopped writing years before that or at least Aunt Peggy stopped saving the letters.”

 

“Except for one,” Natasha said.

 

Sharon and Maria both turned to look at her.

 

“Nat, you didn’t,” Maria said.

 

“Except maybe I did,” Natasha replied. She slipped her hand in between the couch cushions and pulled out an enveloped folded in half to save space. It was addressed to Peggy in the same handwriting as all the rest, but the envelope itself looked much younger and sure enough when Natasha opened it and pulled out the letter, it was dated September 21, 1984.

 

“It wasn’t in the original box. I found it still sealed against the back of one of the bookshelves when we were helping her clean out the office. I thought it was weird, but I was going to leave it alone, but then we found the box and grabbed this just to see if maybe there was some connection.”

 

“And?” Maria prompted.

 

“I haven’t read it yet,” Natasha replied. She held the page out to Sharon. “I thought you’d like to do the honors.”

 

There was a tiny voice in Sharon’s head that sounded suspiciously like Peggy trying to convince her that this was a huge invasion of privacy and there was no reason to read it, but Sharon ignored it and snatched the letter out of Natasha’s hands and cleared her throat as she started to read.

 

Dear Peggy,

I don’t know if you’ll even get this letter, but it’s a risk I have to take since I don’t know your phone number anymore. I don’t know what Howard’s told you or even if he’s told you anything at all, but I don’t care about the rumors anymore. Believe whatever you want to. I don’t care. Just please know that I’ve made a career out of pretending to be someone I’m not, but I was never pretending when I was with you. I love you with all my heart. I always have and I think I always will. I know you probably can’t say the same, but I just want you to know that so that whatever happens next, you’ll know. It’s closure, I guess, or at least as close as we’ll ever get to it.

Thanks for the adventures, English. I’ll never forget them.

Love, Angie

 

It was silent once Sharon finished reading and the words hung in the air for a long moment.

 

“Wow,” Maria said finally.

 

Sharon just nodded.

 

Liho had long since given up on her food bowl made her way back over to the couch to claw lazily at the side.

 

“Hey, cat, knock it off,” Natasha snapped, waving Liho away.

 

“This was still sealed?” Sharon asked, holding up the letter.

 

“Yeah,” Natasha said. “And it was behind the oldest, dustiest books on the shelf like she wanted to put it somewhere that she’d forget about it.”

 

“She wanted closure,” Sharon said.

 

“That’s what it looks like.”


“Well then that’s what we’re giving Aunt Peggy.”

 

“And how exactly do you plan to do that?” Maria asked.

 

Sharon just stared down at the letter in her hands. “I think I might have an idea.”

 


 

 

March 1950

 

“You know when I told Carol and Gloria that I was leaving, they just wanted me to get them Judy Garland’s autograph.”

 

“And you’d rather then be devastated?” Peggy scoffed.

 

 “Well no, but a little more empathy would be nice too, you know?” Angie grabbed a hairbrush off her vanity and spun around, holding it up like a microphone. “I’m venturing off into the great unknown.”

 

“You’re going to Los Angeles for two weeks,” Peggy said, rolling her eyes as she folded a pair of stockings and set them in the suitcase on the bed. “The only ‘great unknown’ is how long it’s going to take you to get sunburned.”

 

“I’m Italian,” Angie shot back. “I can handle sun. Just because your delicate English skin was all red and peeling after you came back doesn’t mean mine will be too.”

 

Peggy straightened up and nodded at the suitcase. “What else do you need me to get?”

 

“Um…” Angie tossed her brush into the bag on the vanity and spun around to inspect the contents of the suitcase. “I think that’s good for now. I’m sure I’ll probably think of something else, but for right now that’s good. You feel like going out for dinner?”

 

“What do you mean?” Peggy asked.

 

“I mean do you want to go out to dinner with me tonight?” Angie asked.

 

“Tonight?”

 

“That’s what I said. Is that a problem, because we don’t have to, but I was thinking since it’s my last night in the city for a while and I’ll be on a plane early tomorrow morning, so I was thinking that maybe you and I could do something special tonight.”

 

Peggy bit her lip and glanced over at the phone on the nightstand. She was supposed to be coming in to pick up paperwork and cover the night shift, but she supposed Thompson would just have to wait.

 

“That sounds lovely, darling,” she said.

 

Angie’s entire face lit up and she squealed excitedly as she flung her arms around Peggy.

 

Suddenly, though, she pulled away, her eyes wide as she raced over to the bookshelf against the wall. She grabbed a stack of four or five books off of the shelves and hurried over to toss them in the suitcase.

 

“What are those?” Peggy asked, leaning over to catch a glimpse of one of the bright covers.

 

“Nancy Drew books.” Angie said. Her cheeks flushed a faint pink color. “I used to read them all the time when I was a kid and it’d be nice to have ‘em with me over there, you know? Something to do while I’m waiting for the time differences to overlap enough to call you.”

 

Angie shifted to her toes and pressed a quick kiss to Peggy’s forehead. Before she could back away, though, Peggy wrapped her arms around Angie’s waist and pulled her flush against her so that their bodies were pressed against each other.

 

“I’ll miss you, Angie,” Peggy said. “I…” She paused and looked down at Angie’s lips for a long moment, but then she finally swallowed and met Angie’s eyes again. “Just please promise you’ll come back?”

 

“Of course, Pegs,” Angie said. She lifted her hand to Peggy’s cheek and moved the pad of her thumb gently across Peggy’s cheek. “I’ll come back, I promise.”

 

Angie looked like she was going to say something else, but then Peggy closed the space between them and kissed her.


“I think I’ll miss this most of all,” Angie breathed against Peggy’s lips before biting down gently, running her tongue along the inside Peggy’s lip. “What do you say we just skip dinner and have a night in instead?”

 

“I’d say that’s a wonderful idea,” Peggy replied.

 

Angie just smiled and moved her head to Peggy’s throat to kiss her pulse point and Peggy felt her legs give way as she fell back onto the bed.

 

“God, I’m going to miss you,” she murmured.

 

Angie just giggled, her breath tickling Peggy’s neck and her lips leaving little pink stains wherever she kissed. “Shut up, English. You talk too much.”

 


 

 

“September 25, 1984. Angela Martin’s personal car was found on the side of the road in a ditch. No one inside, nothing that would lead anyone to suspect a car-jacking, nothing. And then she was just gone,” Natasha said. She closed her laptop with a little more force than necessary. “That’s it. The internet’s full of conspiracy theories, but no one’s got any real intel on her.”

 

“Conspiracy theories?” Maria asked from the kitchen where she was trying to pour a bag of microwave popcorn into a bowl as Liho purred and rubbed against her ankles. “Like what kind of conspiracy theories?”

 

“Alien abduction seems to be a pretty popular one,” Sharon said, scrolling through the list on her phone. “There’s a couple of people who think that she faked her own death to get out of show business. Oh, here’s a good one! This guy thinks she faked the whole thing not to get out of show business, but because she was pregnant with a genetically engineered super baby.”

 

“Are you kidding me?” Maria asked as she grabbed a trio of beers out of the fridge and kicked it closed before making her way back into the living room.

 

“Those are actually the least insane,” Sharon said. “Three words: mutant bear queen.”

 

“I don’t think I’ll ask anymore.”

 

“That’s probably best.”

 

Maria sat down on the couch and set the bowl of popcorn and the beers on the coffee table. Natasha grabbed one of the beers and downed it in just a few long sips.

 

“You okay, Nat?” Maria asked.

 

Natasha stood up. “Yeah, I’m good. I’m just going to run and check something real quick. I’ll be right back.” She set her beer bottle back down and disappeared into her bedroom.

 

There was a long pause before Maria finally scooted over on the couch and craned her neck to try to see Sharon’s phone screen.

 

“Okay,” she said. “I lied, I need to know about the mutant bear queen thing. What do they think happened?”

 

“I have no idea and honestly I’m a little too scared to click on the link,” Sharon replied, leaning over to grab a handful of popcorn. “But no matter what happened to her, this woman is just gone. Like, she’s completely disappeared off the face of the earth.”

 

“Yeah, okay, you’re the best and I’ll owe you a favor.” Natasha came back into the living room with her phone pressed against her ear and her other hand on her hip. “Alright, yes, fine, I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Thanks, Clint.”

With that, she hung up and flopped back down on the couch between Sharon and Maria.

 

“What was that all about?” Maria asked.

 

“Clint’s got some old connections that he’s going to talk to and see if he can dig anything up for us. He also mentioned that Coulson’s off on an assignment for the next few days, so we might be able to use his access codes to get into the databases and see if we can find anything on this woman. If anyone’s got any idea of where she might be, it’d be SHIELD.”

 

“That’s not a bad idea,” Maria said. “I think May knows Coulson’s codes and I can probably talk her into sharing. And if we do it under the radar, it shouldn’t get back to Director Fury or former Director Carter.”

 

“I like that,” Sharon said. “But what do we do if we actually find something on her?”

 

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Natasha replied. “You want to get your aunt closure? This is the first step. Are you gonna drink your beer?”

 

“Yes,” Sharon said. She grabbed it off the coffee table and scooped up another handful of popcorn.

 

“Nat, give me your laptop,” Maria said.

 

“What for?” Natasha asked.

 

“I have to see what that mutant bear queen theory is or it’s going to drive me insane.” Maria shifted her beer to her other hand and opened the laptop as Natasha passed it over.

 

“Alright, but before we do this, I want to say one thing,” Sharon said. She took a long sip of her beer and waited until both Maria and Natasha were looking at her before she continued. “Not a word of this gets to Fury or Aunt Peggy. If we get caught by Fury, our jobs are on the line and if Aunt Peggy finds out we’re looking into this after she told us not to, I don’t think I’ll be able to look at her again, so not a word of this goes to either of them. Deal?”

 

“Yeah, of course,” Natasha said.

 

“I won’t say a thing,” Maria said.

 

Liho purred and hopped up onto the couch, nestling in between Maria and Natasha. Natasha leaned her head on Maria’s shoulder so she could see the computer screen and Sharon finally got off the arm of the couch and leaned against the back so she could read along as Maria clicked on the first link she saw.

 

The top of the page featured another brilliant image of Angela Martin, this one of her smiling as she gave her very first Oscar acceptance speech. As Maria scrolled through the list of conspiracy theories to find the right link, Sharon found herself preoccupied staring at the little pictures of the actress scattered all across the page.

 

Angela Martin’s smile was dazzling and her eyes were so warm. It wasn’t at all hard to see why Peggy had fallen for her in the first place.

 

Now it was just a matter of finding out why it had ever left.

 


 

 

March 1950

 

The phone was ringing.

 

Peggy raced into the hall to grab it so fast that if she hadn’t grabbed the doorframe at the last second, she would have ended up on the floor. She was alone in the house, but she could still feel her cheeks flush and she waited until her breathing had evened out before she picked up the phone.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Hey, English.”

 

“Angie,” Peggy breathed. “I didn’t expect you to call until later. How was your flight?”

 

“It was pretty good. Except for how the guy next to me got super airsick and there was this one lady with a little kid who was crying for most of the ride, but it was still good and Mr. Fancy drove me straight to my hotel and the beds here are so huge and fluffy and I’ve got my official audition tomorrow and have you ever tried tacos? They’re so good and you really have to try them and I—“

 

“So I take it you’re settling in well then,” Peggy interjected quickly.

 

“Yeah, sorry,” Angie said. “I just got a little overexcited I guess.”

 

“No, darling, it’s fine,” Peggy said quickly. “I want to hear all about it, but do you mind if I hang up for a moment and then call you back? I’m in the hall and honestly I’ve had a long day and I’d like to get a little more comfortable before I hear everything about LA.”

 

“Yeah, of course,” Angie said. “You go get settled and I’ll call you back in five minutes, okay?”

 

“Perfect,” Peggy said.

 

She hung up the phone and hurried into the bedroom. She changed into her nightgown and slipped into bed. Angie had made sure to spray her favorite perfume all over her side of the bed and if Peggy closed her eyes, she could almost imagine Angie laying there next to her.

 

The phone rang again and Peggy picked it up.

 

“Hi, darling,” Peggy said.

 

“Hey, Pegs. You ready now?” Angie asked.

 

“Mmhm. I want to hear every last detail.”

 

“Okay, well the plane ride was pretty boring, but when we finally got to LA, it was so sunny and bright and it’s so much more colorful than New York and it was so warm out and I…”

 

Angie kept talking, but by the time she got to describing her hotel room, Peggy could feel her eyes growing heavy. She hadn’t been lying when she told Angie that she had had a rough day at work. Add to that the fact that she had really grown far too used to sleeping with another person in the bed—so much so that she had hardly been able to fall asleep the night before—and Peggy was positively exhausted.

 

When she yawned for the third time, Angie finally seemed to pick up on it and Peggy could practically hear her teasing smile through the phone.

 

“If you’re really that tired then maybe I should just let you get some sleep and call you again tomorrow.”

 

“No,” Peggy said. “I want to listen. I might not remember it in the morning, but it’s so nice to just hear your voice again.”

 

“You’re a romantic sap, you know that, English?”

 

Peggy blushed. “Please?”

 

“Alright. What do you want me to talk to you about then?” Angie asked.

 

“Tell me about that taco you had. I never got the chance to try one when I was out there.”

 

“Oh, well that’s actually kind of a funny story. You see, Mr. Fancy was taking me to my hotel and…”

 

Peggy was already almost asleep and she had given up on fighting it anymore. She rolled over and set the phone on pillow next to her so she could still hear Angie’s voice and she pulled once of the Angie-scented pillows against her back. When her eyes slipped closed, it was almost like Angie was there holding her again.

 

The last thing she was conscious of before she finally fell asleep was Angie giggling through the phone. “Good night, English. I love you. Sweet dreams.”

Chapter Text

Sharon was definitely having serious second thoughts about going through with this.

 

The plan was simple enough: Peggy and Fury were in a final meeting with the World Security Council to discuss the finer points of the regime change. That would give them half an hour at best and Sharon and Maria were playing lookout while Natasha hacked into the director’s computer and searched for anything and everything relating to one Angela Martin.

 

It was risky for sure. If any of them were caught, they could very well be disavowed, but Natasha and Maria seemed willing to risk it, so Sharon just swallowed her doubts and followed along.

 

Maria was stationed at the end of the hall near the conference room so she could see when the meeting ending while Sharon and Natasha were three floors away getting into the director’s office. It wasn’t Peggy’s anymore, but it almost didn’t feel right saying it belonged to anyone else just yet.

 

Sharon swiped her ID card over the panel next to the office door. The light blinked green and the lock clicked so that Natasha could push it open.

 

“You know, you being her niece really does have its perks in situations like this,” Natasha said as she made her way over to the desk.

 

“Yeah. That’s exactly what I was hoping for when I signed up under my mom’s last name,” Sharon replied dryly, crossing her arms and looking around the office. “God, Fury’s already making it his.”

 

“Well it is his now, so I’d say he’s got a right to make it his.” Natasha hummed murmured as she bent over the keyboard and started typing.

 

Sharon ran her finger across the edge of dark, sturdy desk. Gone were the tall bookshelves, the plush rugs, the leather chairs. Instead, there was slicker, more economical furniture: a pair of low chairs in front of the desk, a few stiff black couches around a single sheepskin rug on the floor, and screens and monitors taking up much of the wall space.

 

 He had kept the conference table though. It was wooden table that Peggy had once told her was the same one in the meeting room at the old SSR base in New York. Sharon dragged her palm along the scarred surface, taking special notice that there were a few marker-stains and bit of waxy crayon around the edges that she had personally left there when she was a little kid.

 

“Carter, aren’t you supposed to be playing lookout?” Natasha asked without looking up.

 

Sharon shook her head to clear it. “Yeah, I’m going.” She headed back over to the door and leaned against the frame, keeping her eyes on the hallway beyond.

 

“How’s it going?” Maria asked, her voice almost tinny through the comms.

 

“It’s going,” Natasha replied. “It would be going a little bit faster if Fury wasn’t paranoid enough to have five layers of encryption.”

 

“Says the woman hacking into it,” Sharon quipped.

 

“Laugh it up, Carter, I’m almost in.”

 

Natasha typed a few last commands and Sharon could practically hear her grin without even looking at her. “Bingo. Let’s see what we’ve found on this girl.”

 

“You’re backing it all up, right?” Maria asked.

 

“Of course,” Natasha said. “I’m just using her name as the search terms and downloading everything that comes up. We can sift through it all back at the apartment.”

 

“Well you better make it fast because I think they just finished their meeting,” Maria warned. There was a brief pause. “They’re coming your way. Get out of there.”

 

Sharon spun around. “Nat, did you—“

 

“I heard,” Natasha said calmly. Her fingers were still dancing over the keyboard and her were fixed firmly on the screen. “Hill, do you think you can get me five more minutes? I just need to copy a few more folders.”

 

“No can do. They’re already in the elevator.”

 

“Carter?” Natasha asked.

 

Sharon just sighed. “I can promise you three.”

 

“I can make that work.”

 

Sharon took a deep breath and stalked out into the hallway. She made her way down toward the elevator just as the doors slid open and Peggy and Fury stepped into the hallway.

 

“Sharon? What are you doing up here?” Peggy asked as soon as she saw Sharon standing there.

 

“Looking for you actually,” Sharon said. “I guess I kinda forgot your office isn’t up here anymore, but anyway, you know that picture that you had of me and my mom?”

 

Peggy furrowed her brows and crossed her arms as she tried to think. “You mean from your high school graduation?”

 

“Yeah, that one. I lost my copy of it and I was wondering if I could borrow yours and scan it or something.”

 

“Yes, of course. Why don’t you come up to my office and we can look for it right now.”

 

“Awesome,” Sharon said.

 

“I’d love to stay and help, but I should probably head back to my office and catch up on some of those briefings the council sent,” Fury said.

 

“Ah, actually, Nicholas, it would be a huge help if you could run this downstairs to the lab for me,” Peggy said, holding out a thick manila envelope that looked like it was ready to burst at any moment. “It contains all the authorization information for the changeover so that you have clearance to know about all of the projects. Even the top secret ones.”

 

Peggy shot him a tiny smile and Fury just grabbed the envelope. “Yes, ma’am,” he said.

 

She rolled her eyes. “I thought we talked about you not calling me that now that you’re technically my superior.”

 

“Only on paper,” Fury said. He stepped back into the elevator and pressed the button for the lab floor. The doors slid shut before Peggy could say anything else.

 

She turned to Sharon. “Let’s go find that photo then, shall we?”

 

“I’m clear,” Natasha said over the comms.

 

Sharon just smiled. “Lead the way.”

 

Peggy led Sharon all the way to her new office which looked surprisingly similar to her old one except for the fact that it was about half the size and significantly more cluttered.

 

“Let’s see. Photos, photos, photos, ah-ha!” Peggy exclaimed. She leaned down to reach a cardboard box in the corner and sifted through the contents until she pulled out a wooden frame painted blue in thick, messy strokes with little white star stickers peeling up at the corners. “Here you are. That is the one you were looking for, right?”

 

Sharon took the frame and studied the picture inside for a long moment: her standing there in a white graduation cap and gown, her mother smiling next to her, one arm thrown absently across Sharon’s shoulder, both of them smiling brightly at the camera. “Yeah, this is it. Thanks.”

 

“You’re welcome.” Peggy picked her way over to her desk and sat down. Sharon took that as her cue to leave, but just before she got to the door, Peggy cleared her throat and Sharon spun back around.

 

“I feel that I should tell you that I noticed Agent Hill in the hallway upstairs. I’m not sure why exactly she was keeping lookout and I’m even more uncertain as to why exactly you had to come distract me, but darling, I’ve been in this game long enough to know when someone’s keeping a secret from me. I don’t know what you girls are doing and for the moment, I’m going to pretend I don’t know you’re doing anything at all, but please don’t do anything foolish, alright?”

 

“Y-yeah,” Sharon said. “Of course.” She started to turn away, but then she stopped and looked back over her shoulder. “And thanks for the picture.”

 

She hurried out into the hallway before Peggy could get another word in.

 


 

 

June 1950

 

Peggy wasn’t nervous.

 

She was standing in Angie’s trailer with a bouquet of brightly-colored flowers of varieties she couldn’t name, listening to the general hustle and bustle of the movie set outside. She could hear footsteps and familiar laughter coming in her direction and she bit her lip, brushed an imaginary impurity off her skirt, tucked a stray curl behind her ear.

 

So maybe she was a little bit nervous, but she hadn’t seen Angie in nearly two months. She was pretty sure she had earned the right to be nervous.

 

The knob rattled and turned before the door was thrown open and there was Angie in the doorway, makeup caked on her shiny face, her hair falling out of its pins, looking simultaneously dead on her feet and like an absolute vision of perfection.

 

For a brief moment, Angie looked confused, but once she realized it was Peggy standing there, her face lit up and she surged forward, throwing her arms around Peggy’s neck and slamming her lips against Peggy’s before either of them could speak.

 

Peggy smiled against Angie’s lips. “Well hello to you too,” she chuckled.

 

Angie pulled back a little bit, but she kept her arms around Peggy, standing on her toes to be able to look directly into Peggy’s eyes. “What on earth are you doing out here?”

 

“I had a few vacation days saved up and I decided I wanted to cash them in to help celebrate your first wrap party,” Peggy said. “I’m sorry I didn’t call ahead, but I—“

 

“Are you kiddin’? I can’t believe you’re here at all!” Angie exclaimed. “Oh, are these for me?”

 

Peggy nodded and Angie took the bouquet from her and set it on her dressing table before wrapping her arms around Peggy’s waist, pulling Peggy as close as she possibly could, resting her head on Peggy’s shoulder and breathing deep.

 

“I’m glad you’re here,” Angie breathed.

 

“Me too,” Peggy said. She pressed a soft kiss to the top of Angie’s head and tightened her arms around Angie’s waist that felt a little bit smaller than usual, but not enough for concern.

 

They could still hear the general din of a set almost at the end of its use, but it felt like it was all happening a million miles away. There in the tiny trailer that smelled like hair lacquer and nail polish, they held each other so close that it almost made up for the three thousand miles that had been between them for the fifty-three days.

 

Not that Peggy had been keeping count. It was just hard to lose track of the days when she was hyperaware of every night she had to spend not snuggled securely against Angie’s side.

 

Once they finally broke apart, Peggy studied Angie’s face and realized that she might not be the only one who wasn’t sleeping well. Even under multiple layers of thick makeup, Peggy could make out the little half-moon shadows under Angie’s eyes and it sent a tiny pang through her heart.

 

“How long are you here for?” Angie asked.

 

“Only a week,” Peggy said.

 

“That’s still plenty of time,” Angie said. “I can show you the best beaches and take you all around Hollywood and it’ll be fantastic!”

 

“I’m sure it will be,” Peggy said, her lips twitching with the barest hint of a smile. “God, I missed you so much.”

 

“I missed you too, English,” Angie said with a smile. She turned and pulled Peggy close again.

 

Peggy just laughed. “You know, darling, you’re going to half to let me go at some point if you want to actually show me around, she said.

 

“Hug now, talk later,” Angie said. “I haven’t been able to do this in forever. I just want a little more time with you.”

 

“Anything you want,” Peggy said, kissing her hair again. “We’ve got all the time in the world.

 


 

 

“So is there any order to this at all or are we just going to dig and hope we find something?” Sharon asked. She was staring down a massive pile of papers that Natasha had spent over fifty dollars printing at the library. All the files that she had downloaded from Fury’s computer.

 

All of the secrets she had technically stolen.

 

Sharon couldn’t quite get Peggy’s words out of her head and if she was having doubts before, now she was pretty sure it was full-on cold feet.

 

“Actually, I’m going to run a search for any addresses on my laptop,” Natasha said. “It’ll take a few minutes to sort through everything, so we’re just going to be looking for any relevant information: pictures, letters, police reports, anything that might give us a clue as to where she disappeared to.”

 

“Sounds good,” Maria said. “You got any beers left?”

 

“No, but I think there’s some soda in the fridge,” Natasha said.

 

Sharon felt something strange on her leg and looked down to find Liho licking at her ankle. She picked the cat up and cradled her close to her chest. Liho just licked her wrist a few times and started purring.

 

“Hey, Carter, you okay?” Maria asked as she kicked the fridge closed and stepped back into the room with three cans of Coke in her hands.

 

“Yeah, I’m good,” Sharon said. “But she knows we’re onto something.”

 

“Who? Director Carter?” Natasha asked. Sharon nodded. “I’m not surprised. She was always good at seeing through everyone else’s bullshit. What’d she say about it?”

 

“She doesn’t know exactly what we’re doing and I don’t think that we should stop, but I just think we need to be careful how far we dig on this one. I mean, it’s one thing playing Nancy Drew, but once we start getting involved in other people’s lives, that’s when we’ve crossed a line.”

 

“Then we find that line and we decide whether or not to cross it when we come to it,” Natasha said. “Okay?”

 

There was a long moment of silence broken only by a sudden meow from Liho before she wiggled her way out of Sharon’s arms.

 

“Okay,” Sharon said. “Let’s do this.”

 

Natasha shot her a little half-smiled before she continued typing furiously on her laptop. “I also uploaded her picture and I may have downloaded an early copy of SHIELD’s facial recognition software a while ago. It’s rudimentary, but it should be able to hook up to any security cameras that operate with some variation of the cloud. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

 

“Is that what you do for fun on the weekends?” Sharon teased.

 

“Sometimes,” Natasha said. “Other times I kick Clint’s ass at bowling.”

 

“You bowl?” Sharon asked.

 

“You sound surprised.”

 

“Not at all. Just thinking about how easy it’d be to beat you. I’m kind of a bowling champion.”

 

“Oh really.” Natasha set her laptop on the coffee table and eased down onto the floor. “Care to put your money where your mouth is?”

 

“Only if you care to lose.”

 

“Hey, you two, sort now, flirt later,” Maria said, grabbing a stack of papers and kicking the rest towards Sharon and Maria. “Some of us would like to sleep at some point tonight.”

 

Natasha just rolled her eyes as she grabbed a stack of her own and maybe it was just her imagination, but she could almost have sworn she saw the faintest hint of a flush on Natasha’s cheeks.

 


 

 

June 1950

 

“Angie, it’s not funny,” Peggy snapped.

 

“Really? ‘Cause I think it’s at least a little funny,” Angie said. “And really if anyone’s allowed to laugh about this it should be me since I was the one who told you to put on the sun block in the first place, but you didn’t listen and now look at you.”

 

Peggy was pretty sure that if her cheeks weren’t already burned a light shade of red, she would be blushing. Or maybe she was anyway. It wasn’t like she could really feel it given the general heat that she was giving off. She had never been sunburned in her life and she had been totally unprepared for what it actually felt like.

 

“I have to go back to New York like this tomorrow morning too. This is horrible,” Peggy said.

 

“Oh, honey, just wait until you start peeling. That’s always the fun part,” Angie said. She was sitting on the edge of the bed in Peggy’s hotel room that had become a room for two over the past week.

 

“How about we talk about something else?” Peggy suggested.

 

“Like what?” Angie asked.

 

“Like how much I’m going to miss you when I leave,” Peggy said. She stepped closer to the bed, but Angie stood up to meet her halfway, pressing her lips against Peggy’s and lifting her hands to tangle in Peggy’s hair.

 

“I’m gonna miss you too,” she murmured against Peggy’s lips. “In fact, I’m gonna—“

 

Angie suddenly pulled away and Peggy could see that her face was pale and beaded with sweat.

 

“Darling, what’s wrong?”

 

“I’m gonna be sick,” Angie groaned. She twisted out of Peggy’s arms and hurried into the bathroom, falling next to the toilet just in time to be reacquainted with the contents of her stomach.

 

Peggy immediately knelt down next to her and started rubbing small circles between Angie’s shoulder blades until she stopped heaving and reached up to flush. Angie slumped back against the cool wall and let her eyes slip closed as Peggy grabbed her hand.

 

“Are you alright? Are you sick? Do you have a fever?” Peggy pressed the back of her free hand against Angie’s forehead and frowned. “You don’t feel particularly warm. Are you—“

 

“Peg, relax, I’m okay,” Angie said. “Would you mind just getting me a glass of water?”

 

“Of course,” Peggy said. She stood up and grabbed a cup from next to the sink. She filled it with water before sitting back down and passing it to Angie. “Here.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

Angie took a few long sips and Peggy couldn’t help but notice how shaky her hands were or how dark the shadows under her eyes were getting. Even though she didn’t have a fever, she looked sick and Peggy couldn’t help but be concerned.

 

“Look, it was probably just something I ate,” Angie said. “And anyway, it’s late and you’ve got an early flight, so what do you way we head to bed, okay?”

 

Peggy just nodded and grabbed the cup of water when Angie held it out. She stood up and set it on the sink before offering Angie her hands and helping her to her feet. She held Angie’s hand the entire short walk back to the bed and made sure she was comfortable before getting in herself.

 

Angie immediately moved forward to curl around Peggy just like they always slept when they were at home. She was especially careful not to touch the sunburned areas of Peggy’s skin and just like that, Peggy could almost imagine that Angie would be coming home with her the next day and they’d finally both be able to sleep in their bed again.

 

But that wasn’t the case and Peggy almost didn’t want to fall asleep at all. She didn’t want to miss a moment of being with Angie, even if she could tell by the long, slow breaths that Angie was already fast asleep.

 


 

 

It was nearly one in the morning when Natasha’s laptop suddenly beeped twice. Sharon jumped, starling Liho who had gotten quite comfortable on Sharon’s feet and scattering the stack of papers in front of her.

 

“The hell was that?” Maria asked without even looking up from the papers she was reading.

 

Natasha pulled her laptop onto her lap and studied the screen for a moment before she grinned. “That was the sign that we got a partial match on some grocery store security cam,” she announced.

 

“We got a match?” Sharon asked.

 

“See for yourself.”

 

Natasha turned the screen so that Sharon and Maria could both see the grainy security cam picture. It was blurry and a little difficult to make out, but there was a woman investigating a display of plums with just enough of her face in focus for Sharon to recognize her eyes.

 

“That’s her,” she said.

 

“Are you sure?” Maria asked. “You can barely even see her.”

 

“It’s her. Look at the eyes.”

 

Maria leaned a little closer and squinted at the picture, but after a moment, she nodded. “Yeah, I see it. How recent is this?”

 

“It’s from two weeks ago,” Sharon said. “From a little place in East Harlem.”

 

“That’s her,” Sharon breathed. “She’s alive.”

 

“And apparently she’s plumb tired of staying hidden.”

 

“Was that a fucking pun?” Maria groaned.

 

Sharon just rolled her eyes.

 

“It was appropriate,” Natasha said. “After all, this is the only match we’ve gotten all night and I’ve had it scanning years worth of security footage from everything from ATMs to traffic cams. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure that a woman who’s remained this hidden for this long isn’t going to slip up over a crate of plums. She’s got to be better than that.”

 

“Whether she wanted to be seen or not, is there any way we can track her down from the picture?” Maria asked. “If she’s still alive, that means she’s got to be living somewhere. Maybe we can find out where that is and pay her a visit to find out what happened to her.”

 

“Sharon?” Natasha asked. “You’ve been unusually silent. Any input?”

 

“I think we found the line,” Sharon said simply.

 

“I think you’re right,” Maria said.

 

“It’s your call then,” Natasha said. “We found out she’s alive. Do you want to chase this any further?”

 

Sharon bit her lip and reached down to scratch Liho’s ears as she thought about it. On the one hand, it felt like a direct violation to be digging this far into Peggy’s past without her permission. Those letters had probably been hidden away for good reason and Sharon really had no right to be dredging any of that up.

 

But on the other hand, there was a little voice that sounded a lot like Aunt Peggy telling her to ask questions, to explore, to look for the answers she wanted and if other people wouldn’t help her, to go find them herself. ‘The truth is always out there,’ she would say. ‘But sometimes it’s up to you to find it.

 

She thought of the photograph she had borrowed from Peggy. That had been the same day that she had told her mother that she wasn’t going to Yale. She was joining SHIELD instead. Her mother had been a little upset, tried to talk her out of it at first, but in the end she just sighed and admitted that Sharon had too much Carter in her, but maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

 

“Let’s do it,” she said.

 

“What?” Natasha asked.

 

“I said let’s do it. Let’s see if we can track her down. I want to find out the truth.”

 

“Nat, can you do that?” Maria asked.

 

“I can try. It’ll take longer than running it through the SHIELD database, but I can probably do it.”

 

“Awesome, then I for one am calling it a night,” Maria said, tossing her empty soda can in the recycling as she stood up. “Sharon, you coming? I’ll walk you outside.”

 

“You go on ahead. I’ll head out in a few minutes,” Sharon said.

 

“Alright, suit yourself.” Maria grabbed her coat and stooped down to scratch Liho’s ears before she headed out. “Good night, guys.”

 

“Night,” Sharon and Natasha chorused.

 

The apartment door opened and shut and once Sharon was sure Maria had had enough time to get all the way outside, she nudged Liho off her feet and stood up, stretching her arms above her head. “I think I’m gonna get going too. I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”

 

“Mmhm,” Natasha hummed.

 

“Good. Text me if you find anything in the meantime.”

 

“I will,” Natasha said. “Night, Carter.”

 

“G’night,” Sharon said. She grabbed her own coat off the back of the couch and slipped it on before heading out into the hallway and down the stairs. She didn’t stop walking until she reached her own apartment and even then, she didn’t give herself any time to think over her decision, question it like she knew she would if it was any other time except for half past one in the morning.

 

Instead, she just did the only thing she could do for the moment; she threw her coat over the back of a chair, kicked off her shoes and fell face-first onto her bed.

 

She was asleep before she could even consider getting up to change.

 


 

 

June 1950

 

“How’s that sunburn coming along?”

 

“You were right. It’s peeling,” Peggy groaned, flopping back against her pillows and shifting the phone against her ear so it wasn’t touching the sensitive burns.

 

“So are you admitting that I was right?” Angie asked.

 

“I’m doing no such thing,” Peggy said. “I will, however, admit that maybe it would have been better to have put on sun block and that next time I’m in California, I’ll remember that.”

 

Angie giggled. “Close enough,” she said. “How’s the city?”

 

“It’s the city,” Peggy replied. “The automat’s been sold, though.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Mmhm. They’re turning it into a diner or something. I’m not sure, but that means I have to find a different place to eat lunch everyday.”

 

“Aw, hun, I’m sorry,” Angie said.

 

“It’s alright. I suppose I’ll have to get over it somehow.” Peggy paused and rolled onto her side. “Anyway, I almost forgot to ask. How are you feeling? Do you still have that stomach bug?”

 

“Yeah, but I think I’m getting’ over it now,” Angie said. “In fact, just hearing your voice is doing wonders for me.”

 

Peggy wasn’t entirely convinced, but her flight had been long and her whole body was stinging and the jet lag was almost making her feel sick too.

 

“Hey, Pegs, you still awake over there?” Angie asked.

 

“Mmhm,” Peggy hummed.

 

“Yeah, I figured as much,” Angie said. “Listen, I should probably get going. I’ve got a big day tomorrow so I’m not sure when I’ll be able to call again, but I’ll try my best, okay?”

 

“Alright, darling. Get some rest and feel better soon, you hear me? Peggy’s orders.”

 

“Yes ma’am,” Angie said. She paused for a moment. “I love you, Peggy.”

 

“I love you too, Angie.”

 

“G’night.”

 

“Goodnight.”

 

The line went dead and Peggy set the phone back on the base before easing herself back down onto the pillows. A single week with Angie had set her almost right back to where she had started from, nearly unable to sleep without Angie beside her, but Peggy just grabbed a spare pillow and wedged it into place behind her back.

 

If she closed her eyes, snuggled into it, and tried her hardest not to focus on how tender and itchy her entire body felt, it was almost like she wasn’t alone.

 

Three thousand miles away, Angie hung up her phone with shaking hands and turned to see Howard standing in the doorway.

 

“You haven’t told her the truth yet?” he asked.

 

“No and if you do your job right, I’ll never have to,” Angie replied. “You’re sure this will work?”

 

“As sure as I can be,” Howard said. “According to every bit of research I’ve done, you’ll be cancer-free in a few weeks at most. By the time Peggy gets out here for the premiere, you’ll be your old self again.”

 

“And if it doesn’t work?” Angie asked.

 

“It will.”

 

“But if it doesn’t.”

 

Howard sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets. “The tumor’s inoperable. It’s too close to your brain stem. If this treatment were to fail, I think it’d buy you a couple of months at best?”

 

“That’s enough,” Angie said. “I just…I just want a little more time.”

 

“Then are you ready to get started?”

 

Angie’s eyes were hot with unshed tears, but she blinked them away and nodded. Howard turned and headed down towards his lab and she followed after him, every footstep reminding her that she was already living on borrowed time.

Chapter Text

The first text Sharon saw when she woke up in the morning was from Natasha. It was time stamped 4:27a.m. and there were only two words.

 

Got it :)

 

Sharon rolled her eyes, but she could feel her lips twitch as she typed out a quick response.

 

I’ll get coffee.

 

She set her phone on her dresser as she started digging through her drawers to find a pair of pants and a mostly unwrinkled top. By the time she looked back up, the screen was already lit up with another text from Natasha.

 

Don’t bother. On my way. Be at your place in 10.

 

Of course she was. Sharon dropped her phone on the bed and scrambled to throw on her clothes. She tucked her phone in her pocket, grabbed her coat and keys, slipped on her boots and managed to make it downstairs and out to the sidewalk just as Natasha’s Corvette Stingray pulled up to the curb.

 

Natasha rolled down the window and raised an eyebrow at Sharon.

 

“I see you got my text,” she said.

 

“Yeah. And I guess you’ve got my coffee?” Sharon countered as she slid into the passenger side.

 

“We can stop on the way. It’s a long drive to New York City.”

 

“Is that where we’re going?” Sharon asked.

 

In lieu of a reply, Natasha just pulled her phone out of her pocket, typed in the passcode without even looking at it and tossed it into Sharon’s lap. There was a memo open on the screen with the address of an East Harlem apartment entered in it.

 

“I thought you said this was going to take a while,” Sharon said.

 

“Longer than SHIELD,” Natasha replied, “but I’ve learned a thing or two about tracking people on minimal information over the years.”

 

“Hm. I’m impressed,” Sharon said. She locked the phone and handed it back to Natasha. “Where’s Maria?”

 

“In the office,” Natasha said. “Word is Fury’s eyeing her to be his second-in-command and he called her in early this morning. Unfortunately, that also means she can’t join us on our little adventure today.”

 

“Aw, then I guess she’s gonna miss out on all the fun.”

 

“You want breakfast?” Natasha asked.

 

“I want coffee,” Sharon replied. “And if you’re buying, I could go for a burger too.”

 

“A burger at six in the morning?” Natasha’s lips twitched and she flexed her fingers on the steering wheel. “I like the way you think, Carter.”

 

Sharon just smiled and leaned her head against the window as she watched the city zip by as they headed towards the highway.

 

“Any idea what you’re gonna say if we find her?” Natasha asked suddenly.

 

“Nope,” Sharon replied. “But I’ve got about five hours to figure something out.”

 


 

 

April 1952

 

The SSR officially no longer existed.

 

It had been disbanded nearly a year ago as President Truman’s Central Intelligence Agency continued to grow and quickly outstripped the SSR in both federal funding and federal usefulness. By the spring of 1951, the SSR had been reduced back to a single office in New York City and by December, it was Peggy, Sousa, and a handful of other agents that hadn’t already been recruited to climb the intelligence ladder.

 

On the bright side, though, it meant they were free for Peggy and Howard to take their pick of when Howard suggested that maybe they could do the president one better.

 

The idea was simple enough when they had come up with it: an intelligence organization that operated outside of the federal government because as Howard had reasoned, governments have agendas and the American one seemed more concerned about squashing potential communist threats than protecting people’s rights at the moment. A few calls to Colonel Phillips to coordinate things and keep the CIA off their backs and Peggy and Howard were in business.

 

Which meant that it was more than a little surprising when Colonel Phillips showed up in the office one morning with a scowl on his face and a newspaper rolled up in his fist.

 

“You two need to mind your tails,” he said simply, dropping the paper on Peggy’s desk. The front page headline seemed to glare up at Peggy.

 

McCarthy’s Witch Hunt Continues.

 

“Sir?” Peggy asked. She stepped forward to grab the newspaper and scanned the article. She could feel Howard looking over her shoulder and she angled the paper so that he could see it too.

 

“This senator’s putting a lot of good people out of work and on everyone’s bad side ‘cause he believes he can single-handedly save the country from communism. So far nothing good’s come of it and this new stunt you’re pulling is startin’ to turn heads in Washington,” Phillips said.

 

“All due respect, sir, we won’t be stopping,” Peggy said, dropping the paper back on the desk and planting her hands firmly on her hips.

 

“Didn’t say you had to,” Phillips replied. “Just be careful.”

 

“This McCarthy fella’s just a loudmouth upstart,” Howard said. “I don’t think we have to worry too much.”

 

Phillips just shook his head. “Sometimes I don’t know why I even bother with you two.”

 

“We can take care of ourselves,” Peggy said.

 

“I know. That’s why I don’t think I need to worry.” He snatched up his paper again and nodded at both of them before making his way out of the office.

 

As soon as he was gone, Sousa appeared in the empty doorway.

 

“Is everything okay in here?” he asked.

 

“Fine,” Peggy said. “Thank you, Daniel.”

 

“Who’s the loudmouth upstart I heard you talking about?”

 

Peggy opened her mouth to explain, but Howard just pulled a nickel out of his pocket and pressed it into Sousa’s palm.

 

“Here, pal,” he said. “Go buy yourself a paper and find out.”

 


 

 

May 16, 1952

 

LA in the spring was not half as bad as it was in the summer and Peggy almost found herself enjoying the warm sunshine. It was a rather nice change from the dreary rain and miserable chill that had taken up residence in New York.

 

There was also the fact that Peggy would finally be seeing Angie face-to-face for the first time since Christmas. That was always a nice bonus.

 

Well, she hoped it was.

 

Ever since Peggy’s last visit, Angie had seemed…off. Peggy couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but there was something different about Angie that Peggy wasn’t sure she particularly liked.

 

Of course, all that vanished when she saw Angie for the first time as the hired car pulled up in front of Angie’s (Howard’s) magnificent estate.

 

Angie was waiting on the front porch with a floppy pink sunhat on her head and a bright smile lighting up her face. As soon as the car stopped, Angie raced forward and Peggy barely had time to even get out of the car before Angie’s arms were around her neck. She stopped just short of kissing Peggy’s cheek as she noticed the driver getting up to grab Peggy’s bags and she settled for just grabbing Peggy’s hand and squeezing it hard instead.

 

“I’m so glad you’re here!” she exclaimed. “I’ve got so many things I have to show you and places I want to take you before the premiere and there’s this great bar that I found and I’m just so happy to see you!”

 

Peggy laughed. “I’m glad to see you too. Just help me get my things inside and you can catch me up about everything.”

 

Angie grinned and grabbed one of Peggy’s suitcases with one hand, using the other to keep her sunhat from falling off as she lugged it toward the house. Peggy just smiled as she grabbed the rest of her bags and followed.

 

The house seemed smaller than Peggy remembered, or maybe it was just that it was so much more lived in now.

 

Angie led Peggy straight upstairs to the bedroom that was overcrowded with books. There were books on every surface: the nightstands, the bureau, the vanity, even stacked on the floor. In fact, it seemed that the only place the books weren’t covering was the bookshelf that was loaded with small porcelain figures shaped like various animals.

 

“You’ve been busy I see,” Peggy mused as she set her suitcase at the foot of the bed.

 

“I had some extra time on my hands,” Angie replied. “Are you hungry at all? I know it was a long flight and I don’t know if you want tea or food or if you wanted to go out or stay in or—“

 

“Actually, darling, if I’m being quite honest, I would like a shower and then to sleep. It’s been a long day in an even longer week and I’m afraid I won’t be very good company until those things happen.”

 

“Sounds good to me,” Angie said. “You remember how the shower works?”

 

Peggy started to nod as she unlatched her suitcase, but then she caught herself and she looked up with a glint in her eye. “You know, I’m not quite sure. Maybe I could use a little bit of a refresher.”

 

She looked up expecting so see Angie grinning at her, but instead, she just saw Angie playing with a loose thread in the duvet. She was still wearing the same floppy hat that covered most of her face so Peggy couldn’t see her eyes, but she wasn’t smiling anymore.

 

“I’d love to, English, but I’ve got the premiere on Saturday and I’m not supposed to get my hair wet so that it can be set tomorrow night and I—“

 

“I understand,” Peggy said. “I can figure it myself just fine.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Angie murmured.

 

“Don’t be,” Peggy said. “I won’t be long.”

 

By the time she got out of the shower, Angie had already changed into a floral nightgown and was wearing a light blue silk scarf tied around her head.

 

It was a little strange, Peggy thought. Angie had always told her that she loved having her hair around her face, but there was no sense in bringing it up. Angie seemed so tense and Peggy really wasn’t willing to press the matter this early into her visit.

 

Angie looked like she was already half asleep and as Peggy slid into bed, Angie shifted up and cuddled up against Peggy’s side.

 

“I’m glad you’re here, English,” She murmured.

 

“Me too,” Peggy replied.

 

“I love you.”

 

“I love you too, darling.”

 

Angie threw her arm over Peggy, and Peggy placed her hand over Angie’s, rubbing soft circles on Angie’s skin with the pad of her thumb.

 

The bed was almost too soft and the bedroom was a little too warm, but it felt nice to have Angie in her arms again after so many nights of sleeping alone. After a long moment, she found herself falling asleep too.

 


 

 

May 17, 1952

 

The next morning, Peggy woke up to an empty bed and the smell of pancakes and bacon wafting through the open doorway. She rolled over, her eyes still heavy and her brain still a little bit fuzzy, until she heard the sound of Angie singing an old song that Peggy remembered from one of the musicals Angie took her to beck in New York years ago.

 

Peggy hadn’t heard Angie sing in a long time and she felt herself smiling.

 

She kicked off the covers and grabbed her robe out of her open suitcase on the floor. She slipped it and a pair of slippers on before padding softly down the stairs, keeping quiet so that she could listen to Angie for as long as possible.

 

She made it all the way to the kitchen without drawing attention to herself and leaned in the doorway. Angie was out of her view for a moment, but then she sashayed over to the refrigerator to grab a bottle of milk.

 

That was when Peggy noticed her hair.

 

The caramel curls at the back of her head were thin and patchy with bits of scalp showing through. What little hair she had left there didn’t have nearly as much movement as it once had and the hair that was just starting to grown in was at least a shade darker than the rest of Angie’s hair.

 

Peggy drew in an audible breath and Angie stopped dead, her fingers tightening around the neck of the bottle as she spun around. The blue scarf she had worn to bed was balled up on the counter. She snatched it up and tied it around her head, but it was too late. Peggy had seen it all.

 

“What happened?” Peggy asked quietly.

 

“Nothing,” Angie said quickly. “Just a little accident. I’m fine though. Really.” She shot Peggy her winning smile, but Peggy wasn’t buying it.

 

“Angie, what happened?” she repeated. She stepped a little farther into the kitchen and reached out to touch Angie’s cheek, but Angie shied away and hurried back to the stove where her pancake was scorching in the pan.

 

“Angie, please,” Peggy said.

 

“I got sick is all,” Angie said without looking up. “It wasn’t a big deal, but I was on some medication and it made my hair get patchy so I’ve been covering it up for a while and I’m wearing a wig to the premiere on Saturday so no one sees. It’s nothing, really.”

 

“You were sick?” Peggy asked, furrowing her brows. “You never mentioned it.”

 

“It wasn’t serious, so I didn’t feel like worrying you,” Angie said.

 

Peggy wrapped one arm loosely around Angie’s waist and though Angie didn’t step away, Peggy couldn’t help but notice the way that she flinched the slightest bit at the touch.

 

“What should I do?” Peggy asked.

 

Even though Angie was still focused on the pancake she was looking down at, the corners of her lips still twitched. “Are you asking about breakfast or in general?”

 

“Both I suppose,” Peggy said.

 

“Well then you can get me some plates out of the cabinet,” Angie pointed at the cabinet in question with her spatula. “And you can promise me that you’re not going to work at all while you’re here. We’re just going to have a nice weekend with just you and me and no classified emergencies coming between us. Promise?”

 

“It’s a deal,” Peggy said.

 

Angie flipped the pancake onto the stack next to the stove and fixed Peggy with a stern glare, her hands on her hips and her lips a thin line. “No, you have to promise me.”

 

“I promise,” Peggy said.

 

Angie smiled and turned back to the stove to pour the next circle of batter onto the pan. “Good. Now go get the plates for me.”

 

As Peggy passed by, Angie swatted playfully at her with the spatula and she giggled as Peggy spun around and kissed her hard.

 

“I really missed you, English,” Angie murmured against Peggy’s lips.

 

“I missed you too,” Peggy said. “And I promise it’s just you and me for the entire weekend.”

 

Angie smiled again and flipped the pancake she was working on. She started humming again and then soon she was singing, her voice clear and so familiar that it made Peggy’s entire body feel warm and she couldn’t help herself as she smiled.

 


 

 

“I spy with my little eye, something that is pink,” Natasha said.

 

“That,” Sharon said, pointing her finger at the driver of a blue convertible in front of them whose hair was a truly shocking shade of bubblegum pink.

 

“Yup. I spy with my little eye—“

 

“Wait, it’s my turn,” Sharon protested. “I guessed right so it’s my turn to spy something.”

 

“Well I’m the only spy here.”

 

“Nat,” she groaned.

 

“Okay, fine. If you want to spy something so badly, be my guest,” Natasha said with a hint of a smirk.

 

“Hmm…”

 

Sharon looked around and tried to find something good. She had plenty of choices thanks to an accident that had left them in standstill traffic for the last forty-five minutes and wasn’t looking like it was going to be cleared up for a good while after.

 

After about five minutes, they had both gotten more than a little bored, so Sharon suggested the alphabet game. That was entertaining enough for a good half an hour before they realized that there wasn’t a single ‘X’ anywhere and they just had to give up.

 

And so began the game of I Spy.

 

“Okay, got it,” Sharon said. “I spy with my little eye, something that is red.”

 

Natasha flexed her fingers on the steering wheel and scanned the traffic around them until her eyes landed on a red sedan stopped in front of the convertible. “Is it that?”

 

“Nope,” Sharon said with a hint of a smug smile. “Try again.”

 

“Is it the police lights?” Natasha asked.

 

“Still no.”

 

Natasha kept looking and brushed a stray strand of hair off her cheek. Suddenly she stopped, her fingers still in her hair. “Is it my hair?” she asked.

 

“Bingo,” Sharon replied with a grin.

 

Natasha rolled her eyes. “Alright, my turn. I spy with my little eye, something—“

 

“Okay, no I’m already getting bored of this,” Sharon said. She tapped her fingers against the window ledge and stared out the windshield.

 

There was a long moment of silence before she finally spoke again.

 

“Do you ever think about having a life outside of SHIELD?”

 

“What do you mean?” Natasha asked.

 

“Nothing, I just…all of this stuff that we’re finding out about Aunt Peggy’s old life and everything, it just makes me wonder what else is out there. What could have happened if I didn’t choose SHIELD.”

 

“Well I’d probably have ended up shot by SHIELD, so no, I think I’m good,” Natasha said. She turned and fixed her eyes on Sharon. “Why? Do you regret joining?”

 

“No, of course not,” Sharon said. “I just…I was wondering.”

 

Another pause.

 

“Do you want a life outside of SHIELD?” Natasha asked.

 

“At this point I don’t think I could have one,” Sharon said. “I’m in too deep. SHIELD is kind of my life.”

 

“Mine too,” Natasha said quietly.

 

There was more silence and before either of them could speak, the traffic started to inch forward again. Another few quiet minutes and they were off again, barely obeying the speed limit as they headed off towards New York and Peggy’s long-lost life outside of SHIELD.

 


 

 

May 17, 1952

 

The study was a magnificent room that marveled that in the New York townhouse. It was large, paneled with dark wood, and decorated to look more like a museum than an office with elegant portraits of Howard on the walls, a mirrored ceiling, and a sideboard stocked with more expensive liquor than Peggy had ever seen gathered in one place.

 

It also happened to be the room that Peggy and Angie were closest too when the phone started ringing almost immediately after breakfast.

 

Angie grabbed the phone first and Peggy leaned against the desk as she waited.

 

“It’s for you,” Angie said. She held the phone out to Peggy and pressed her lips into a thin line. “It’s work.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Peggy mouthed as she took the phone and pressed it to her ear. “Hello?”

 

“Peggy? It’s Sousa. I’m sorry to bother you on your vacation, but something happened and I thought you really needed to know about it.”

 

“What’s going on?” Peggy asked.

 

“You know that ‘upstart’ senator that was in the paper the other day?” Sousa asked.

 

“Senator McCarthy?” Peggy asked, knitting her eyebrows in confusion. “What about him?”

 

“Well, he’s gaining traction pretty fast and I don’t think he likes us very much.”

 

“Daniel, if you’re trying to say something…”

 

Sousa sighed and Peggy leaned back a little bit, pressing the backs of her legs against the desk for a little bit of extra support. Sousa cleared his throat and sighed once more before he finally spoke. “One of his aides stopped by this morning asking a whole lot of questions about SHIELD and you and the word ‘deportation’ got thrown around. As in you potentially getting deported if you and Stark don’t stand down.”

 

Peggy felt her blood run cold. She curled her fingers around the edge of the desktop and squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. “Deported,” she repeated.

 

“English?” Angie asked. She started to get up, but Peggy just shook her head and held up her index finger to tell her to wait. Angie didn’t look at all happy about it, but she just crossed her arms and stayed put.

 

“Look, it might not be as bad as it seems,” Sousa said. “I might have found a way around it, but I don’t know how happy you’ll be with it.”

 

“Well I can’t imagine it’s much worse than being de-deported.” The word caught in Peggy’s throat and damn, she could feel hot pinpricks at the backs of her eyes. She wasn’t even aware that Angie had gotten up until suddenly Angie’s hand was on hers, her thumb tracing soft circles on Peggy’s skin.

 

“It’s not something that I really think we should talk about on the phone,” Sousa said. “It’s a little bit more…I think when you get back we should talk face to face. Just enjoy the rest of your vacation and rest assured that no one’s letting you get sent out of this country. I’ll see you on Monday morning?”

 

“Y-yes.” Peggy cleared her throat and squeezed Angie’s hand. “Yes, I’ll be in first thing on Monday.”

 

“Alright, we can talk then. I’ll, um…I’ll see you later, Peggy.”

 

“Good-bye,” Peggy said. She heard Daniel hang up, but she just stood there for a moment, the phone still pressed against her ear, her heart beating in her throat.

 

“Are you okay?” Angie asked quietly.

 

“Fine. I’m fine,” Peggy replied. She pushed herself off of the desk and set the phone back down with a little more force than necessary before stalking over to the sideboard and pouring herself a glass a scotch.

 

“Pegs, what’s going on?” Angie asked again. “You said deportation. Is something happening? Are you getting deported?”

 

Peggy threw back her scotch, refilled her glass, and slammed the bottle back down on the sideboard, sloshing the amber liquid against the sides of the glass. She cleared her throat, but when she tried to speak again the words stuck in her throat and all she could do was curl her hands into fists as she stared down at her glass.

 

There was a soft hand on her shoulder and Angie brushed Peggy’s hair aside and pressed her lips to the nape of Peggy’s neck.

 

“Angie, don’t,” Peggy started.

 

“Then talk to me,” Angie said. She pulled back and pressed her hand gently against Peggy’s cheek, guiding her to turn her head and meet Angie’s eyes.  “Please, Peggy. You’re obviously upset and you can’t exactly throw words like ‘deported’ around and not expect me to worry.”

 

Peggy took a deep breath in and out before she finally replied. “I can’t tell you about it.”

 

“At all?” Angie asked.

 

“No.”

 

Angie truly was a fantastic actress and six years ago, Peggy wouldn’t have been able to notice any change in her face at all, but Peggy knew her well enough to see the pure hurt swirling in those blue-green eyes, the way Angie’s lower lip quivered just slightly before she locked her jaw and took a step back.

 

“Okay,” Angie said. “In that case, I should probably get to the studio.”

 

“That’s good. I need to make some calls anyway,” Peggy said. “Work things.”

 

“I thought so. I should have known better than to trust that promise.” Angie snatched her handbag off of the desk and clicked her way over to the door. “Don’t wait up for me,” she said without even pausing. The study door slammed shut behind her and Peggy brought her fist down hard on the sideboard, hard enough to slosh the scotch out of her glass.

 

“Oh bloody hell!” she cried. She grabbed the ratty towel that was balled up on the edge of the sideboard and roughly mopped at the spill. The phone started ringing again and Peggy cursed under her breath as she tossed the towel down and dove towards the desk to grab the phone. “Hello?”

 

“Peggy? Is that you?”

 

“Now is not the time, Howard,” Peggy snapped. She could hear the tears starting to taint her voice and she swallowed them back as best she could. “What do you want?”

 

“I guess you heard the news too then,” Howard said.

 

“I did.”

 

“Then I guess—“

 

“Maybe we should talk about this some other time,” Peggy said. “Face to face or after we figure out what to do. We don’t have enough support to go up against the Senate and with the threats that are being thrown around, I think we need to tread carefully. If we…” Peggy trailed off and leaned against the side of the desk again. “I just think we need to be careful.”

 

“Pegs, what we’re doing is important,” Howard said. “And I’m not about to stop just because a paranoid senator threatens us. It’s not the first time I’ve been questioned by the government and it most likely won’t be the last.”

 

“Yes, you’ve made a lot of enemies on Capitol Hill and paid your way to the top, but I’m being threatened with deportation, Howard. I’ve built my life in this country, built my work and my home and I’m on the brink of losing everything, so if you could just stop thinking about yourself for five bloody minutes while I try to figure out what’s going on, I would very much appreciate it.”

 

Her voice was breaking by the end of her speech and Peggy covered her mouth with her hand.

 

Howard was silent.

 

Peggy took a deep breath and screwed her eyes shut again before she spoke again.

 

“I’m flying back to New York tonight. Daniel might have a way to get around all this and I can’t just sit around and do nothing until Monday.”

 

“I thought the premiere was tomorrow night,” Howard said.

 

“It is,” Peggy replied. “But priorities change.”

 

“Alright, well good luck, pal. Call me if you hear any news.”

 

“I will and you do the same.”

 

“Mmhm.”

 

Howard hung up without another word and Peggy set the phone back down on the receiver before she moved back to the sideboard and drained her waiting glass of scotch. There was a tension headache beginning to pound behind her forehead and she moved her hand there as she took a few deep breaths to steady herself.

 

She didn’t give herself very long, though. She still had to pack and get on the next plane home.

 

She only hoped that she’d have time to make it up to Angie before she left.

 


 

 

May 18, 1952

 

When Peggy arrived back in New York, it was pouring rain. Peggy watched it through the window of her hired car, following the little rivers the drops made as they rolled down the glass. She tapped her fingers nervously against her leg and tried to keep her hands from shaking.

 

After what felt like an eternity, the car finally stopped in front of the New York Bell Co. Peggy dragged her bags out with her, leaving them in the switchboard room before Rose buzzed her into the office without a word.

 

Sousa was waiting for her just outside the elevator and he cracked a small smile when he saw her.

 

“Tell me you’ve figured this out,” Peggy said quickly.

 

“I think I have,” Sousa replied. He looked around at the few agents milling in the bullpen and he placed his hand on the small of Peggy’s back to steer her away from prying eyes. “Let’s talk in your office.”

 

Peggy nodded and followed his lead. Once they made it into the office, Sousa shut the door and sat down on the edge of the desk. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

 

“This is kind of a messy situation, but I—“

 

“Daniel, please, just tell me,” Peggy said.

 

“We have to get married,” Sousa said.

 

“That’s…what?” Peggy paused and put her hands on the chair in front of her to steady herself. “I’m sorry, you said—“

 

“Marriage,” Daniel said. “Yeah. I looked into it and it might not completely satisfy McCarthy, but it’ll take deportation off the table immediately.”

 

“Daniel, I…I don’t know. That’s—“

 

“It’s a little out there, I know, but it wouldn’t look too suspicious, especially since Violet’s gone and I’ve got the twins and it wouldn’t necessarily have to be forever. It would just be a way to make sure that no one’s able to send you out of the country, especially while SHIELD’s still so fragile.

 

“I—“ Peggy squeezed her eyes shut again and tightened her grip on the back of the chair. “If this is what has to be done, then let’s do it.”

 

“Well I want to give you a day or two to think about it since it’s kind of still a big deal,” Sousa said.

 

“N-no. If this is the only way out of this then I’m sure,” Peggy said.

 

“Okay,” Sousa said. “Okay. We can…why don’t you go home and get some sleep and we can talk more in the morning and work out the details. Nothing’s going to happen right away, so let’s not just jump into something too rashly.”

 

Peggy nodded even though she wasn’t quite sure she was understanding everything that Sousa was saying. Her knuckles were white, she was holding onto the chair so tight. “I should get home,” she said. “I’ll be back in tomorrow morning and we can meet with Howard and everyone else.”

 

“Yeah. Take your time, Peg. It’ll work out, I promise. No one’s going to send you out of this country.”

 

Peggy just nodded again and finally let go of the chair. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

“Yeah. See you tomorrow.”

 

Peggy nodded once more before making her way out of the office and back into the elevator. Rose didn’t even look at her when she stepped back into the switchboard room to grab her luggage. There was another car waiting for her outside and she got in and leaned her head against the cool window as the car rolled down the road toward the townhouse.

 

When she finally got home, Peggy’s first instinct was to curl up in bed and try to forget about everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours, but she couldn’t. Not just yet. She needed to at least try to call Angie first.

 

She wound the cord of the hall phone around her finger as it rang and rang and finally stopped.

 

There was no answer.

 

She tried again. Still nothing.

 

Peggy could feel tears welling up in her eyes, so she finally gave up and dropped the phone back on the base. There was a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.

 

She just dragged her bags into the bedroom and fell onto the bed without even changing her clothes. She felt hot tears start rolling down her cheeks as she curled into herself and fell into a restless sleep.

 


 

 

The Italian section of East Harlem was bustling despite the tenacious mist that hung heavy in the air. Natasha and Sharon found a free parking meter on the edge of the road and dropped enough quarters into it to last them for at four hours.

 

“Just in case,” Natasha said when she caught Sharon raising an eyebrow at her.

 

“No, I’m just wondering where you got all those quarters,” Sharon said.

 

“Stole them from Clint,” Natasha replied easily. “You ready?”

 

“As I’ll ever be,” Sharon said.

 

Natasha just nodded and lead the way across the street and down a few blocks until they came to an old building that looked almost out of place on the rest of the block. It was old red brick, crumbling a little bit at the corners with large, paned windows and huge stone steps leading up to the front door.

 

“This is it,” Natasha said.

 

Sharon just nodded.

 

There was no buzzer next to the front door and when Sharon tried the handle, she found that it was unlocked. She looked back at Natasha who shrugged and stepped into the main hall of the building. There was a thin wooden staircase that didn’t quite look entirely trustworthy on the right and a row of shiny metal mailboxes against the left wall.

 

“Do you know what apartment she’s in?” Sharon asked.

 

“Hold on,” Natasha said. She looked at the worn labels on the mailboxes and finally pointed at one. “A. M. That’s her in 203.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Not entirely, but it’s the best shot we’ve got,” Natasha said. She gestured at the stairs. “Feel like leading the way?”

 

Sharon grabbed the handrail and started upstairs, each step creaking underfoot. Natasha followed right behind her and when they reached the top of the stairs, apartment 203 was right in front of them. Sharon took a deep breath and finally knocked on the door.

 

“Coming!” a voice called from inside.

 

Sharon looked back at Natasha who just grinned at her.

 

They could hear footsteps from inside the apartment and the sound of a chain sliding out of the lock and then the door opened just enough for a woman to peer out.

 

Sharon couldn’t help the way her breath caught in her throat when she saw her.

 

Angela Martinelli looked exactly the same as she had in her picture from sixty years ago. Her blue-green eyes were just as bright and clear, her skin smooth and unlined, her hair still the same caramel color as ever. She looked maybe thirty at the oldest. There was no mistaking that this was the same woman who looked as though she had been frozen in time for the last sixty years.

 

“Can I help you girls?” Angie asked.

 

“Uh, yeah actually,” Sharon said once she found her voice again. “You’re Angela Martinelli, right?”

 

Angie’s face paled and she started to shut the door, but Sharon stopped it with her foot. “Please, we don’t want any trouble,” she said quickly. “We just have some questions for you. My name is Sharon Carter. I’m Peggy Carter’s niece.”

 

Angie’s face got even whiter, but she opened the door a little bit more and seemed to study Sharon’s face for a moment.

 

“You’ve got her eyes,” Angie murmured. She opened the door a little crack more. “What do you want?”

 

“We just want to talk to you,” Sharon said. “We found some of the old letters that you had written her and we wanted to get some answers about them.”

 

“The letters,” Angie said quietly. A strange look came over her face like she was remembering something from long ago. “Alright. But get in here before I change my mind.”

 

She stepped out of the way and opened the door enough for Sharon and Natasha to slip through and then let it fall shut heavily behind them.

 

Chapter Text

May 21, 1952

Three days passed before Peggy and Sousa dared to broach the subject again.

Just as Sousa had said, once the shock wore off, Peggy found herself thinking a little bit more clearly and assessing all of her options. Not that she really had that many. So far besides Sousa’s impromptu proposal, the only alternatives she had been able to come up with were actually heeding Philips’ warning to keep her head down or retreat to England and regroup from there. Neither option seemed particularly appealing, but in the light of day, they were probably better than getting married.

“Peggy?”

Peggy jumped at the sound of Sousa’s voice and she almost spilled the mug of tea she was holding. She spun around to see him standing in her office doorway and plastered a weak smile on her face. She could tell by the look on his face that he wasn’t buying it though.

“Do you need something?” she asked.

“You look tired,” Sousa said.

“I’m fine.”

“Yeah, I haven’t been sleeping much either.”

They both fell silent. Peggy sipped at her tea and Sousa looked down at the floor.

“You know,” he said, finally looking up just as Peggy opened her mouth. “Oh, sorry, did you want to say something?”

“No, no, you go ahead,” Peggy said.

“Okay. I think you should come to dinner some night,” Sousa said. “I mean, we haven’t really talked about the whole…you know, the offer much or at all really since it came up, but assuming that’s still on the table, I think you and I should have dinner at my house and figure out what we want to do. That and I know you don’t know the twins all that well, but –“

“That sounds…” Peggy paused. If she was being honest with herself, she wasn’t sure how it sounded. She had spent the last few sleepless nights trying to test the idea out, rolling Daniel’s name around on her tongue like maybe if she said it enough times she’d be able to actually make a decision.

“That sounds lovely,” she said finally with another smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“Okay. Great,” Sousa said. “Does tomorrow night work for you?”

“Tomorrow night is perfect,” Peggy said.

“Okay.” Sousa nodded at her and turned out of her office.

Peggy watched him go and quietly shut her door once he was safely out of earshot.

She sank down into her chair, set her mug next to a stack of paperwork she really should have finished reading through an hour ago, and dropped her head into her hands. At this point all she really wanted was a few minutes where she didn’t have to think about anything important.

Then the phone rang.

Peggy bit back an angry curse as she grabbed the handset.

“Hello?” she snapped.

“Hey, Peg.”

“Howard?” Peggy sighed and closed her eyes. “I really don’t have time for anything right now, please just –“

“Have you gotten the newsreels from yesterday yet?”

There was something wrong; Peggy could tell by his voice. It was rare that she ever heard him so serious and it sent a chill down her spine as she straightened up in her chair.

“I’m not sure. Why?”

“I just got out of a congressional hearing and not the fun kind. HUAC is really gunning for us, you know.”

“Howard, what the bloody hell are you talking about?”

“The CIA director was drilled on the floor for nine straight hours yesterday. It was mostly the usual stuff, you know, the homosexual communist infiltration of the intelligence community and all that, but then things turned to SHIELD and…just check the reels when you get a chance. Things didn’t sound too good for us.”

“Why am I getting the sense that that’s not all that’s happened?” Peggy asked.

Howard paused. “I got called in for questioning today, but I didn’t want to worry you, so I –”

“I’m worried now!” Peggy snapped. “You really didn’t think to lead with that?”

“It was so last minute and I barely had time to prepare, I was just about to fly back to New York when I got called in by McCarthy’s goons. I plead the fifth for most of it, but some of the questions they were asking were starting to get a little bit too close for comfort.”

“How close?” Peggy asked.

Howard didn’t say anything for a long moment.

“Howard,” Peggy pressed.

“They asked about Angie,” he said finally.

It was Peggy’s turn to stay silent and Howard took that as a cue to continue.

“I told them I could barely comment on some of my own relationships let alone those of other people, but they found a foothold and I think they’re really going to start gunning for you in particular.”

Peggy squared her jaw and leaned pressed her free hand against her temple. “How much do they know?”

“Not much,” Howard said. “I heard from some of my producer friends out west that there might be a lavender marriage on the horizon for her. It worked for Barbara Stanwyck, so that might quell some of their suspicion, but most of what they have is speculation. They know you two lived together for a few years and they know that you went out to see her a few times, but that’s it.”

“Speculation is all they really need though, isn’t it?” Peggy asked. “That’s enough to get me blackballed and deported.”

“It might be,” Howard agreed.

“Does Phillips know?” Peggy asked.

“He’s been in Washington a lot lately. He was there when I got out. I imagine he’ll probably get in touch later.”

“Did he – ”

“He didn’t ask,” Howard interrupted. “I don’t think he really cares. He wants the same thing all of us want: to keep our baby safe. And to keep you safe.”

“I don’t need to be kept safe,” Peggy protested. “I can…” she trailed off and sighed. “I can protect myself.”

Howard didn’t say anything else.

“When is your flight coming in?” she asked.

“Tomorrow morning,” Howard replied. “I’ll be in as soon as I land.”

“Then I’ll see you soon,” Peggy said.

“Be careful, pal.”

“And you too.”

Peggy hung up the phone, and grabbed her now cold mug coffee penguin from the corner of her desk. She drained the last of it in a single swig before folding her arms and letting her head drop heavily onto it.

Well, that was the end of it, she supposed. There was really only one choice.

After a long moment, she sighed and pushed herself up from her desk. She stalked out of her office and down the hallway, only stopping when she reached the door with the frosted glass pane that read Agent D. Sousa in gold letters.

Peggy was still for a long moment, but then she took a deep breath and knocked on the door.


December 23, 1952

English, I know I haven’t written in a while and I probably owe you an explanation. I wish I could give you one. I got a part in a film that you probably won’t see anyway, but I just want you to know that I’m okay. We didn’t part on the best of terms, but there’s still a part of me deep down that might miss you sometimes when it rains.
Merry Christmas,
-A.

Peggy was surprised that she wasn’t more…well, surprised by the arrival of the letter. She supposed a part of her had been expecting something like this to happen ever since her last rather disastrous encounter with Angie, but there was still a deep ache in her heart as she read the words over and over again without them every really sinking in.

“Hey, Peggy?”

Peggy jumped at the sound of Daniel’s voice and looked up to see him poking his head around the half-open door of her study. She quickly crammed the letter back into its envelope and shoved it into her desk drawer.

“Y-yes?”

“I’m making cocoa for the twins,” he said. “Do you want a mug?”

“No thank you,” Peggy said. “I have a lot of paperwork to finish tonight.”

“Okay,” Daniel said. He didn’t look entirely convinced, but he didn’t pry further. He never did. It was one of the few things that made Peggy feel like maybe this sham of a marriage was worth it after all.

He eased the door shut behind him and Peggy resisted the urge to pull the letter back out.

She had spent so long thinking that maybe when everything with the CIA and HUAC blew over, she’d still have Angie, but now Angie was leaving too.

She supposed that she deserved this a long time ago given all that she had put Angie through, but when things were good between them Peggy was the happiest she had ever been in her life.

At least she still had Daniel and the twins. It wasn’t a perfect life, but it wasn’t bad either.

At this point a sham was better than nothing at all.


 

April 9, 1960

It was a foolish accident really. One step too far back, one punch from the dark-haired Soviet operative,  and suddenly the railing gave way behind her, sending her freefalling down to the ground floor where a pallet of conveniently-placed rebar saved her from hitting the concrete.

She wasn’t sure exactly when she lost consciousness, but the next thing she knew, she was coming to in a bed that was not her own and a room that smelled too clean for its own good.

She was vaguely aware of a dull pain in her abdomen and when she slipped her hand under the blankets, she could feel a thick piece of gauze on her skin.

Right. She was in the hospital and probably on a whole lot of pain medication.

She was just starting to drift back off to sleep when she heard the sound of two pairs of high heels rushing down the hallway and a woman’s voice.

“Ma’am, you really shouldn’t go in there just yet, she’s probably still asleep and – ”

“All due respect, but I’m going in there, thanks.”

The second voice was familiar, but the drug-induced haze made it impossible to identify until the door to the room opened and Angie appeared followed by a rather frazzled looking nurse.

“Oh, you’re awake,” the nurse said. “I’ll let Doctor Turner know.”

She ducked back out of the room, easing the door shut behind her.

“Ang-“ Peggy started.

“You are unbelievable,” Angie interrupted, crossing her arms and glaring coldly at Peggy.

Peggy frowned and furrowed her brow in confusion, but Angie just started pacing in front of the bed as she continued.

“I can’t believe you never changed that stupid paperwork, I get a call at three o’clock in the morning that you’re in the emergency room and then I get to wait in that terrible waiting room for hours drinking the worst free coffee in the world while you’re in surgery and I get told that you almost died and if that spike or whatever it was had been just a few inches to one side you wouldn’t be here and I was supposed to start filming for a new picture today, but instead I’m here and I…”

Angie trailed off and just threw herself down on the uncomfortably stiff chair across from the bed with a huff.

There was a long pause and then Peggy gingerly pushed herself up against the pillows. The movement tugged at her stitches and she tried to hide her wince, but she could tell by the way Angie’s expression softened just the slightest bit that she hadn’t done a particularly good job.

“You okay?” Angie asked quietly.

“I will be,” Peggy replied.

The corner of Angie’s lips twitched and there was a hint of the old spark in her eyes. “You haven’t changed at all, have you, English?”

“Neither have you,” Peggy said. “You look like you haven’t aged a day.”

“You calling me old, English?”

“Of course not, d—” Peggy caught herself before the word ‘darling’ slipped all the way out. If Angie noticed she didn’t comment on it.

“What are you doing here?” Peggy asked.

Angie sighed. “I’m still listed as your emergency contact apparently,” she said. “I was the first person to get the call and you’re lucky I was already in the city for a show or else you’d be alone in here until at least tomorrow.” She cracked a small smile, but it disappeared when the door to the hospital room opened and Daniel walked in, trailed by two small children who both looked rather nervous.

“Or not,” Angie muttered under her breath.

“Peggy!” Daniel breezed past Angie, rushing over to the side of the bed to grab Peggy’s hand. “I’m sorry we’re so late, Rose only just called and we came as soon as we heard. How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine, Daniel,” Peggy said gently. “I was just…” she nodded towards Angie and Daniel finally turned to see the other woman in the chair.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t realize we –”

“No, it’s fine,” Angie said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I was just leaving anyway. I’ll see you around, Pegs. Oh, and by the way, happy birthday.”

Peggy opened her mouth to reply, but before she could, Angie was gone and she was left with the twins staring anxiously at her, Daniel holding her hand, and a strange emptiness in her heart that hadn’t been there before.


 

April 16, 1960

It was three whole days before Peggy was discharged from the hospital with strict orders of bed rest for the next two weeks from the doctor. Four days after that, Daniel returned to work because Peggy had finally convinced him that the safety of the free world was a bit more important than him doting on her for another week and a half.

In her own defense, he had taken her at her word when she promised to be in bed when he got home. What she did before then was her own business.

It hadn’t taken many phone calls to find out that Angie was, in fact, still in town for her show and it took even less time to find out exactly where she was staying.

The mere act of getting dressed pulled painfully at her stitches, but somehow she made it all the way to the theater district and to the third floor of Angie’s hotel. She paused briefly outside of door 317. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Then again, she had already come all this way. She might as well do what she came here to do.

She knocked on the door, but there was no answer. Peggy waited a moment and then knocked again.

Still nothing.

Peggy turned away from the door and turned to the elevator on the opposite side of the hallway, when the doors opened and she suddenly came face to face with the exact person she had been looking for.

“Peggy?”

“Angie.”

“What the hell are you doing here?” Angie asked.

“I was looking for you actually,” Peggy said. “I wanted to talk to you.”

“We have talked,” Angie said. “We talked last week before the apple pie family came barging in.” Angie moved past Peggy a little roughly and unlocked her door. “And I’m pretty sure we were done talking by then or I would have had a little bit of a warning.”

“Angie, please, let me explain,” Peggy said.

“Goodbye, English,” Angie said. She started to shut the door, but Peggy was too quick. She managed to get one foot in the door and pressed her hand against the top of it, but the sudden movement was followed by a hiss of pain.

“P-Peggy?” Angie had gone pale and she was staring at the bright spot of crimson blood that was blooming on Peggy’s blouse.

“I’ll be fine,” Peggy said.

Angie sighed. “I’ve heard that one before,” she said. “You might as well get in here so we can at least see if you need to get new stitches or not.”

Peggy nodded and stepped into the room. She moved slowly and kept her hand pressed against her side until she finally sank down into the dining chair that Angie pulled out for her.

They were both silent as Angie washed her hands and sat down in the chair opposite Peggy. She looked to Peggy for permission before carefully unbuttoning the lowest buttons on the blouse and peeling it back to reveal the still-fresh wound.

She used a damp washcloth to gently clear away the worst of the blood so she could get a good look at it.

“Well, it doesn’t look like you popped any stitches,” she said finally. “You’ll be fine once the bleeding stops. Here.”

Angie handed Peggy a fresh washcloth and Peggy pressed it against her side.

Angie stood up and started to rinse the blood out of the first washcloth.

“About the other day,” Peggy said after a long, tense moment.

“There’s nothing to say,” Angie said. “It’s been long enough. It’s not like I never expected you to move on with your life. I just admit, I didn’t think it would be with him.”

“Neither did I,” Peggy said. “But it was…”

“Let me guess. Classified.”

“Partly, yes,” Peggy admitted. She paused to lift the washcloth for a moment. “I think the bleeding’s stopped. I should really get out of your hair.”

Angie wrung out the washcloth and set it on the counter to dry before turning back to Peggy with a sly smile on her face.

“He doesn’t know you’re here, does he?”

“No.”

“Well that’s rich,” Angie said. “Glad to know I wasn’t the only partner you liked to lie to.”

Peggy didn’t say anything. She set the cloth she was holding on the table and stood up slowly, already buttoning her blouse as she went.

“I should really be getting on my way.”

Peggy made it all the way to the door, her hand on the knob before Angie spoke again.

“Why did you come here?”

Peggy paused and turned around.

“I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry I never wrote. I’m sorry for everything really.”

“Is that all?” Angie asked.

She was suddenly much closer than Peggy had thought she was so. She was so close Peggy could smell the same perfume that always used to rub off on her pillows at night. God, Peggy would recognize that perfume anywhere.

“Yes,” Peggy said. “All that matters at least.”

Angie’s hand slowly, hesitantly made its way into Peggy’s hair, her fingers tracing along the barely-there streak of gray that was starting to making itself known.

“You’ve still got the weight of the world on your shoulders,” Angie breathed.

“There’s no one else to take it,” Peggy replied.

She wasn’t sure which of them closed the gap first, but suddenly their lips were pressed together, so softly and gently that it almost felt like the last decade hadn’t even happened. They were back in the townhouse kissing for the very first time, all questioning and gentleness.

But just as soon as it happened, it was over.

Angie pulled back and looked away, but neither of them apologized.

“You still look the same as the day I met you,” Peggy said.

“Goodbye, English,” Angie replied, still not looking up.

The next thing she knew, Peggy was in the hallway leaning against the outside of the door with nothing but Angie’s unchanged face on her mind.


 

November, 1965

Peggy hadn’t realized that she had fallen asleep at her desk until she was jarred awake quite suddenly by the ringing of the telephone. She glanced briefly at her watch to confirm that it was, in fact, a rather ungodly hour of the morning before grabbing the phone and pressing it to her ear.

“Hello?” she growled.

“Peggy? It’s Howard. I need you to get down here as soon as you can.”

“Why? What’s happened?”

“Someone broke into my lab last night.”

“What?” Peggy stopped her pacing and placed her hand on her desk to steady herself. “But that’s not possible,” she started. “You told me so yourself.”

“I know, but I was wrong,” Howard said. “I’m still trying to figure out what happened, but the vials. Peg, they took the vials.”

Peggy’s blood was running cold in her veins. The phone suddenly felt like a brick in her hand and she leaned a little heavier on her desk.

There was a long pause.

“Peg, there’s something I really think I should tell you about them too.” Howard started.

“Not now,” Peggy snapped. “Just find them. I’ll be down as soon as I can.” With that, she slammed the phone down and sank defeated into her desk chair, pressing her fingers against her closed eyes like none of this would have happened when she opened them.


 

“Director Fury?” Maria rapped on the doorway to the conference room. Fury turned from the screens he was looking at and held up a hand so that the government officials on the other end of the conversation fell silent.

“What is it, Agent Hill?”

 “I’m sorry to interrupt, sir, but we just got an alert that I think you might want to see.”

She held out the tablet she was looking at and Fury swept closer and leaned down to look at the screen.

He paused.

“When did this come in?” he asked.

“Just now, sir,” Maria replied. “Within the last ten minutes.”

“This tracker’s been silent for…” Fury trailed off and frowned.

“What is it?” one of the women on the conference screens – the head of MI6 – asked. “Should we be concerned, Director Fury?”

“Not just yet,” Fury said. “Give me some time. I’ll look into it.”

With that, he flipped a switch on the table and the conference screens flickered out. He turned back to Maria, one hand on his chin and a stern frown on his face.

“What do we do, sir?” Maria asked.

“I need to alert Director Carter. You have Agent Romanoff meet me in my office in one hour. I want to keep this quiet for the time being. We don’t know exactly what we’re up against yet.”

“Yes, Sir,” Maria said. She inclined her head slightly before turning on her heel and leaving the room as quickly as she had entered.


 

“Has anyone ever told you that you have your aunt’s eyes?”

“Less often than you might think,” Sharon said as Angie swept over to the dining table with a tray of hot chocolate mugs balanced on one hand.

“Well you do,” Angie said. “I don’t know what your parents are like, but those eyes are Peggy through and through.” She set the mugs on the table in front of Sharon and Natasha and the two girls shared a brief glance.

Natasha pushed her mug to the side so subtly that Sharon hardly noticed it had moved it all.

Sharon just ignored her own mug and folded her hands on the tabletop “Ms. Martin, we –”

“Angie will do just fine,” Angie said dismissively. “You know, in all my years of living here I’ve never once actually been called that name, so I supposed you might as well get the privilege.”

“Angie,” Sharon amended. “We’re here because we…”

She trailed off and glanced at Natasha as words failed her. She had always prided herself on being a great liar, especially under pressure like this, but something about the whole situation just left her suddenly speechless.

“We found some old correspondence,” Natasha said, seamlessly filling the void in the conversation. “Some old letters that you had written to Agent Carter about sixty years ago and there’s a classified case that we have open at the moment that, suffice to say, required us to check in on you.”

“Classified,” Angie said, a soft smile spreading over her features as she shook her head. “That was one of Peggy’s favorite words. Everything’s classified. No one really gets to know anything except for her until it’s too late.”

Neither Sharon nor Natasha said anything. They just waited until Angie continued.

“Anyway, I’m sorry, girls, but I’m really not in the business of answering too many personal questions. “I’ll do what I can to help your case, but I’ve got a good thing going here and I’m not eager to change that anytime soon.”

“We understand that completely,” Sharon said. “And the last thing we want to do is pry too much, but we just need –”

She was cut off by the sudden buzzing of Natasha’s phone. She checked the screen and turned to Sharon.

“I have to take this.”

Sharon nodded and Natasha quickly excused herself into the living room.

“You know,” Angie said. “Peggy never really liked cocoa either except for when I made it. She said it just wasn’t the same.”

“There was never any cocoa in her apartment,” Sharon said. “Only coffee and tea.”

“That’s Peggy alright,” Angie said with a faraway expression on her face.

Sharon still wasn’t quite able to reconcile the fact that this woman who looked younger than Sharon and Natasha had once known Aunt Peggy, had once loved Aunt Peggy. It had seemed simple enough if pretty damn suspicious in theory, but now that she was actually face to unaged-face with this woman, everything that she knew seemed to disappear.

Just as Sharon was about to try to say something – anything – else, Natasha reappeared. Even though her expression was still neutral, Sharon had spent enough time around Natasha to know that something was off.

“We’ve got to go,” she said. “We’ve got to go right now.”

“Why? What happened?”

“There’s been some new activity that set off an old alarm,” Natasha said. “Operation Hourglass.”

“You’re right, we need to go.” Sharon turned to Angie and offered her an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, but it was nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too,” Angie said, although she sounded rather skeptical. “Do you girls need anything else from me?”

“No, I think we’re just about done here,” Natasha said. “Thank you for your time.”

“And for the cocoa,” Sharon said, taking a sip from her untouched mug. She could see why Aunt Peggy had liked it so much.

Natasha grabbed Sharon’s hand and half-led half-pulled her to the door. “Have a good afternoon,” she called over her shoulder before letting the apartment door slam shut and hurrying down the stairs.

She didn’t let go of Sharon’s hand until they were back in the car.

“What the fuck?!” Sharon finally cried now that they were safely out of the apartment. “She’s supposed to be in her eighties and she looks younger than us. There’s something really fishy going on here, I don’t like it.”

“Neither do I,” Natasha said. “But right now we’ve got more important things to deal with.”

“Operation Hourglass,” Sharon said. “But I thought you were the last one.”

“Yeah,” Natasha replied. “So did I.”

She shifted into gear and with that, they shot out into traffic leaving Angie Martinelli far behind them.

And on the other side of the street, a red-haired woman watching through the window of a bodega smiled.

Chapter Text

“You two are fucked.”

“Hi, Hill, we missed you too. How’s your day going?” Natasha asked as she got out of the car and started stalking across the parking garage towards the elevator.

“Fury wanted you here two hours ago,” Maria said. “He’s pissed.”

“I can only drive so fast, you know?” Natasha said. “It was supposed to be a four hour drive, you’re lucky we made it back in three.”

“Lucky is one word for that drive,” Sharon said. “A death-defying stunt, now that sounds a little more accurate.”

“We made it back alright and we can deal with Fury when we get up there, it’ll be fine,” Natasha said a little breathlessly.

They had reached the elevator and it dinged as the doors slid apart to let them in. Maria punched the button for the secure conference floor and a panel slid aside above the buttons to reveal a retinal scanner. Maria leaned in and the blue light flashed over her eye before the elevator jolted to life.

The ride was short but silent and it was only a moment before the doors slid open to reveal a stone-faced Fury waiting for them with his arms crossed.

“You’re late,” he said.

“All due respect, sir, but I was told it was my day off,” Natasha said as she breezed past him into the conference room.

Fury didn’t say anything and Sharon and Maria glanced briefly at each other before following Natasha’s lead.

The conference room – like most of the triskelion – was huge and sleek with one-way windows overlooking the Potomac on three sides and one giant built-in projection screen on the fourth wall. There was a long metal table in the center with black rolling chairs on each side.

Two of the chairs were already taken up by Phil Coulson and Clint Barton. Coulson was tapping at a tablet screen and Barton had a pencil in one hand and a penknife in the other that he was using to distractedly shave the pencil down. There was a growing pile of shavings in front of him that he quickly brushed onto the floor when he noticed the girls coming in.

Sharon, Natasha, and Maria took seats on the opposite side of the table. Barton glanced up and nodded at them, pausing to flash Natasha a small grin.

“Hey,” he said.

“I thought you were in Washington for the rest of the month,” Natasha said.

“Nah. Came back early. Couldn’t get anyone to feed my dog.”

Fury came into the room then and sat down in the empty chair next to Coulson who immediately set down his tablet. Fury didn’t say anything though and just as Sharon was about to ask what they were still waiting for, there was the sound of high heels clicking in the hallway.

A moment later, Peggy breezed into the room and sat down in the free chair next to Natasha. Sharon could feel Natasha stiffen just the smallest bit in the chair next to her.

“Sorry I’m late,” Peggy said. “I hope you haven’t been waiting long.”

“Of course not,” Fury said. “This is something we need your expertise on.”

Peggy just silently nodded in response to give Fury the floor.

“Hill,” he said. “You were the one who found this, so why don’t you start us off?”

Maria stood up and tapped the screen of her tablet a few times and suddenly the wall screen lit up with a grainy surveillance recording that was timestamped about four hours earlier. “So what we’re looking at here is an old Leviathan base in Siberia. One of about a dozen scattered throughout the former Soviet Union. Now these bases were a high-level priority back in the late 40s and early 50s and Agent Carter took down this base herself back in 1947?” Maria paused and glanced down at Peggy.

“Winter of 1948, but yes, you’re correct,” Peggy said with a curt nod.

Maria nodded and turned back to the screen. “After the SSR dismantled what was left of Leviathan and the Red Room, the base was left abandoned until it was reactivated in 1969 when it became the primary base of the then-budding Black Widow project.”

Sharon felt Natasha stiffen even more and she was aware of the way Coulson and Barton did their best to hide the fact that they were glancing at her. Sharon slipped her hand down underneath the table and waited for Natasha to make the next move. It didn’t come, but Sharon left her hand there anyway as a silent sign of comfort.

Maria continued, “We all know what happened next, so I won’t waste anyone’s time, but ever since SHIELD shut that operation down in 2003, it’s been quiet. We’ve had the base under routine surveillance ever since then, but nothing’s happened there until earlier today when this happened.”

The image on the screen changed.

The room was suddenly bathed in an eerie red light and there was a shadow on the wall facing the camera. And it was moving. It was definitely a human sneaking around, getting closer and closer to the camera until a hand came out of seemingly nowhere and covered the lens. A moment later and the feed was cut off, leaving nothing but static on the screen.

Maria set her tablet down and leaned on the conference table, bracing her arms and looking to Sharon like she had been taking her cues from Fury lately.

“This is the first time that anything has changed in this place in over a decade and we know there was a lot of heavy stuff going on there in the past, so naturally we need to do something. The question is what that something should be.”

“Director,” Coulson started. “This feels like something that Agents Hand and Sitwell should be seeing too given their clearance levels.”

“Agents Hand and Sitwell are both out of the country on assignments at the moment. They’ll be briefed after this meeting,” Fury said. “But I’m sure they’ll appreciate the concern.”

Coulson nodded and it seemed like the focus was going to shift back to Maria, but then Peggy cleared her throat and stood up.

“Forgive me, Agent Hill, but I was thinking that given my experience within this area, I would be able to offer some suggestions.”

“The floor is yours,” Maria said, looking more than a little grateful to be able to sit down.

“Thank you. May I?” Peggy held out her hand and nodded at Maria’s tablet. Maria handed it to her and Peggy slid her finger along the bottom of the screen so that the security footage froze on the image of shadowy hand before it clapped over the lens.

“The first course of action I would recommend is to explore all the relevant channels of information that we have. I have a few contacts that I might be able to reach out to, but I might also suggest sending out a small reconnaissance operation to monitor the site and gauge what’s happening.”

“So when do I leave?” Natasha asked.

There was a pause in the room and everyone looked at her.

“I assume that’s what all of this show is for, right? It’s going to culminate in someone asking me to go to Russia. I’ll do it, just someone tell me when the quinjet’s leaving.”

“Agent Romanoff,” Fury started.

“Is she going to Russia? Because if she’s going to Russia I’m in too,” Barton said. “As long as I can get someone to take care of my dog that is.”

“Barton,” Coulson interjected.

“Actually that’s exactly what I was going to suggest,” Peggy said, looking firmly at Fury. “Of course, I’m no longer the director so assigning missions of this clearance level is no longer my responsibility, but I believe sending Agent Romanoff and perhaps Agent Barton as well would be the wisest course of action.”

“I agree,” Fury said. “Coulson, you’ll act as handler?”

“Yes, sir,” Coulson said.

“Good. You leave in two hours then.” Fury looked directly at Natasha. “And I mean two hours.”

“Yes, sir,” Natasha said without breaking eye contact.

Fury stood up. “Hill, with me,” he said before sweeping out of the room leaving Maria to catch up with him before the elevator opened.

“Well that went better than expected,” Peggy said. “Girls, do you suppose I could speak to you two downstairs for a moment?”

“Of course,” Natasha said before Sharon could respond. She stood up, the back of her hand brushing gently against Sharon’s shoulder in a subtle gesture of support which was ridiculous. Sharon should be the one supporting Natasha right now, but she also wasn’t about to complain.

Peggy and Natasha were already heading for the door and she got up to follow them but, she glanced back at the sound of her name.

“Hey, Sharon,” Barton started.

“Yeah, Clint, I can feed your dog,” Sharon sighed.

“Cool, thanks,” he said.

It looked like he was going to say something else, but Peggy wasn’t waiting and Sharon jogged after her before Clint could finish.

The girls followed Peggy to the elevator in silence and it wasn’t until the door dinged open that Peggy looked back at them.

“I suppose it would have been better to tell you this at the start, but neither of you are in trouble,” she said.

“What’s this about then?” Sharon asked.

“A few things actually,” Peggy said as she pressed the button for her floor. “First and foremost I want the two of you to be aware of the fact that Director Fury is currently in the market for a right hand if you will and he’s been expressing quite in interest in Agent Hill.”

“That’s great,” Natasha said. Her voice was level, but she raised one eyebrow at Sharon in a silent question.

“It is,” Peggy continued. “It would be good for her and she’s more than capable of handling the responsibility, but I should caution you that the other side of that coin is that she will be working much more closely with Director Fury and if she did anything to risk compromising her position, it could have drastic consequences.”

“What does that mean?” Sharon asked.

“It means I’m not an idiot,” Peggy said.

The elevator stopped and the doors slid open. She stepped out into the hallway and kept walking toward her office with barely a pause in her speech.

“I’ve known both of you long enough and I’ve known this game longer. I do know the importance of sometimes having to work outside of the system to accomplish things, but if Maria wants to keep her job, she will need to take a step back from that. If she turns over the wrong stone the consequences could be much more severe.”

“And what about us?” Natasha asked.

They had reached Peggy’s office door and she paused to look back at them, her hand hovering just above the handle and a strange glint in her eye.

“I trust you two not to get caught.”

She opened the door and Sharon and Natasha exchanged a silent look of confusion, but Peggy wasn’t done yet.

“I also have something for you, Sharon.” She made her way over to her desk, opened a few drawers, and finally pulled out an envelope. “It’s just some old pictures of you and your mother. I found them when I was going through everything and I thought you might want them.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Sharon said. “I’ll go through them later.”

Peggy looked like she was going to say something else, but she was cut off when the phone on her desk started ringing.

“Excuse me a moment,” she said as she picked it up. “Hello?”

She waited a moment and then frowned.

“Hello?” she repeated.

Apparently there was still no answer and she hung up.

“That was odd,” she said. “There was no one there.”

“Maybe it was a mistake,” Sharon suggested.

“Maybe,” Peggy said, but she didn’t look entirely convinced. “That’s all I had for you and Natasha, it would appear you have a trip to prepare for.”

“Yes ma’am,” Natasha said with a small nod.

With that, she turned around and left the office, Sharon trailing behind her.

“So what do you think?” Sharon asked.

“About?” Natasha replied.

“About Maria.”

 “I think it’s great. She’s good at what she does and she deserves a promotion.”

“You know that’s not what I meant.”

Natasha was quiet.

“I think Hill’s a big girl and she can make her own choices about whether or not she wants to be involved in this,” she said after a moment. “I’m sure you know better than most that getting frozen out of an op because someone else is trying to protect you isn’t always what’s best.”

“Yeah,” Sharon said. “I guess you’re right.”

“I usually am,” Natasha said with a small smirk and a twinkle in her eyes.

They were walking aimlessly around the hallways now, passing doors and elevators and more than a few nervous-looking recruits, but they stopped in front of a large window overlooking the city.

“Can you do me a favor?” Natasha asked. “Feed Liho for me while you’re gone?”

“Yeah, course,” Sharon said. “I’ll just have to add ‘official pet-sitter of Strike Team Delta’ to my resume.”

Natasha cracked a real smile then and before Sharon knew what was happening, Natasha was hugging her.

It took her a moment, but she found herself hugging Natasha back and enjoying the contact that was usually so rare.

“Be safe out there,” she whispered in Natasha’s ear. “Liho’d probably be pissed if you didn’t come back in one piece.”

Natasha pulled back and shot Sharon a playful grin. “Just Liho?”

“And maybe I’d miss you a little bit too,” Sharon said. “Maria doesn’t know my coffee order like you do.”

“I’ll miss you too, Carter,” Natasha said. “I should get going. I’ll get in touch when I can.”

Sharon wasn’t entirely sure that what happened next wasn’t just a figment of her imagination, but she could have sworn that she felt Natasha’s lips brush softly against her cheek and a quick pass of thin fingers through her hair and then suddenly Natasha was gone, stepping into the elevator just before the doors slipped closed.


 

November 1947

Things had been quiet lately.

Eerily quiet.

Ever since Peggy had gotten back from LA, it seemed like there were no new cases to solve, no new investigations to start, nothing. Except for paperwork, of course, but even that was starting to dwindle now and Peggy could tell that even Thompson was starting to get restless. Peggy was pretty sure if they didn’t get a new case soon, he was going to blow something up himself.

Peggy was definitely not avoiding doing her paperwork by twirling her pen between her fingers and counting down the last five minutes of her shift.

Then her phone rang.

She dropped her pen and felt her energy lift significantly as soon as she picked up.

“Hello?”

“Peggy?”

The voice on the other end of the line was quiet but urgent and it had a more-than familiar tone that made her blood instantly freeze in her veins.

“Angie?” Peggy asked.

“Pegs, I think there’s someone in the house,” Angie whispered. “I heard the floor creak and I saw a person’s shadow at the bottom of the stairs and I don’t know what to do!”

Peggy shot to attention and she could already feel the adrenaline coursing through her. “Where are you?” she asked.

“The bedroom.”

“Alright, listen to me very closely. You need to find something heavy to block the door with and stay back from it. There’s a gun in the drawer next to my bed and bullets in the false bottom of my jewelry box. I’m coming home right now. Stay away from the windows and don’t move until I come tell you it’s safe. Can you do that?”

“Y-yes,” Angie said with a surprising amount of conviction in her voice.

“Good. I’ll be right there.”

“Peggy?”

“Yes darling?”

“I love you,” Angie said quietly.

“I love you too,” Peggy said. “And I’ll be right home, I promise.”

Suddenly, she heard the sound of something shattering on the other end of the line and a scream from Angie and then absolute silence.

“Angie?” Peggy asked. “Hello? Angie?!”

But there was no answer.

The line was already dead.

Peggy hung up the phone and shot up from her desk, grabbing her jacket off the back of her chair and slipping it on as she made her way towards Thompson’s office. She poked her head around his door and knocked harshly on the frame to get his attention.

“I’m leaving,” she said. “Something’s come up at home.”

“This something can’t wait –” Thompson glanced at the clock. “three more minutes?”

Peggy fixed him with a stony glare and he sighed, lifting one hand in mock surrender. “Fine, go ahead.”

“Thank you, sir,” she said with a little more venom than usual, but she didn’t have time to pay attention to Thompson anymore.

She didn’t have time for anything really.

She hailed the first cab she saw and at her rather forceful urging, the driver dropped her off a block from the townhouse in record time. Peggy already had a loaded gun in handbag and though she still wasn’t even sure if there was really any threat, she wasn’t about to walk in there with nothing like an idiot.

As soon as she made it to the townhouse though, she could tell that something wasn’t right.

Nothing seemed horribly out of place or destroyed like someone had broken in. No, this was something more than that. The front door was unlocked and cracked open just the slightest bit, almost like someone wanted her to know that they were there.

Peggy pulled her gun all the way out of her handbag as she stepped slowly into the house, easing the door shut quietly behind her.

“Well it’s about time you showed up here, I feel like I’ve been waiting for hours.”

Peggy whirled around and fixed her gun on the intruder: a tall woman with bright blue eyes and a wicked smile who – save for her red hair – looked an awful lot like…

“Dottie, what the hell are you doing here?” Peggy growled.

“Believe it or not, Pegs, I’m not the one who broke in here,” Dottie said.

Peggy didn’t say anything. She just cocked her gun. The threatening click sounded even more dangerous than usual in the silent foyer.

Dottie lifted her empty hands and rolled her eyes. “Come on now, Peggy, is this any way to greet the woman who just chased a Leviathan agent out of your house?”

“You’ve got about ten seconds to explain before I blow your head off,” Peggy said through gritted teeth.

“Fine, don’t believe me,” Dottie scoffed. “I’ve still got contacts in my old field and let me tell you, after that stunt you pulled at the base last year, there are a few people who are more than a little interested in you to the point that some of them decided to get a little nosy, but I swear to you it wasn’t me.”

“And you really expect me to believe that?”

“No, but I think you’ll believe this,” Dottie said. She slowly reached into her jacket pocket, keeping one hand up while Peggy kept the gun trained on her. “I’m going to toss you a key. Don’t shoot me for it. Got it off the girl I had to rough up to get to leave here.”

She tossed the key through the air, and Peggy moved one hand to catch it. She took her eyes off of Dottie just long enough to see that the key was the one to her safe deposit box. The same safe deposit box she kept her own possibly-illegal, definitely-classified files on Leviathan.

“Why do you have this?” she asked.

“Because I’ve been keeping tabs on you, Peggy, and as soon as I found out that some of my old people were watching you, I wanted to make sure that I could give you a heads up.”

“Why?”

Dottie sighed. “Because contrary to what you might believe, you intrigue me and I don’t have a vested interest in either side at the moment, so I just want to see how this plays out.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You’re going down quite the rabbit hole, Peg, and if you’re not careful, you might find more than you bargained for,” Dottie said.

She still had her hands up, but throughout the whole exchange, she had been creeping closer and closer to the door and by the time she finished, she was able to slip out.

There was a part of Peggy that wanted to go after her and end all of this once and for all, but she didn’t.

Instead, she just sighed heavily, partly in frustration and partly in relief. She tucked the safe deposit box key into her own pocket and shut the front door, clicking the clearly-unreliable lock into position.

She did a quick sweep of the whole house and sure enough, there was no one there and nothing else out of place. Peggy still wasn’t entirely sure if she believed Dottie’s version of events, but she didn’t have the time nor the energy to decide right now. She had other matters to attend to first.

She left her gun in her study before making her way upstairs to the bedroom.

“Angie?” she called, knocking softly on the door. “Angie, darling, it’s alright. Everything’s fine. You can come out now.”

“Are you sure?” came Angie’s muffled reply.

“I’m sure,” Peggy said. “Just open the door a crack for me.”

There was a long moment of silence, but then Peggy heard footsteps and the sound of something heavy sliding across the floor before the door opened just a crack at first so that Angie could peek out, but once she saw Peggy, she flung the door all the way open and practically threw herself into Peggy’s arms. She was crying; Peggy could feel the tears on her neck.

And she was still holding the gun Peggy had told her to get. She gently eased it out Angie’s hand and let it fall to the floor. Not the safest place for it, but she could worry about that in a moment.

Angie pulled back just enough to look at Peggy’s face and Peggy got her first good look at Angie’s too. There was a wild look in her eyes and her mascara was smudged all underneath her eyes. Her lower lip was trembling and it looked like she was shaking all over.

“Peggy,” she breathed, tracing her thumbs along the outline of Peggy’s face.

“I’m here, darling, it’s alright. Everything’s alright now.”

“Are you sure?” Angie asked.

“I’m sure.”

“It sounded like there were people fighting down there. I didn’t know what was happening and I broke your music box when I was trying to get into your jewelry box and I dropped the phone and I –“

“Shhh, darling, you didn’t do anything,” Peggy said. She guided Angie over to the bed and sat down next to her, gently tucking a stray lock of hair behind Angie’s ear. “Are you sure you’re not hurt? You’re okay?”

Angie sniffled and wiped underneath her eyes as she nodded. “I’m a little shaken I guess, but I’m okay. Was there actually anyone here?”

“There might have been, but they were gone by the time I got here,” Peggy said. “But just in case, I think we should call Mr. Jarvis and stay with him for at least tonight. Just to be sure.”

Angie nodded before immediately wrapping her arms around Peggy again and pressing her face into the crook of Peggy’s neck.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “I love you so much, Peggy.”

“I love you too,” Peggy said, smoothing her hand over Angie’s hair.

 She kept the motion up, a silent physical comfort for as long as Angie needed her, but while her body was there, her thoughts were with the gun on the hallway floor, the shattered music box in front of the dresser, Dottie somewhere in the wind, and the safe deposit box key that felt like a cold dead weight in her pocket.


“Agent Carter?”

Peggy looked up at the sound of a soft rap and a softer voice at her door. A young agent – Agent Johnson, she vaguely recalled – was standing there with a stack of papers held together by a rather large paper clip in her hands.

“Come in,” Peggy said.

Agent Johnson gave her a small, nervous smile. “I’ve got the results of that phone number you wanted traced,” she said. “This is just a preliminary report of course. I could get a lot more with a little more time, but I figured you should see this now.”

“Thank you very much.”

“You know, I’ve got a friend in the R and D division who would really love to get to meet you. Dr. Simmons? She – “

“Is that all, Agent Johnson?” Peggy asked with a pointed glance up from her paperwork. “I don’t mean to be brusque, but I – ”

“You’re busy, I get it,” Johnson said, setting the file on Peggy’s desk and backing towards the door. “I’m sorry, I should go.”

“Thank you,” Peggy said.

Agent Johnson slipped out of the room, pulling the door shut behind her and Peggy was left with what looked at first glance like a rather sparse report of information, but at least it was something to put her mind at ease. After the mysterious phone call with no answer earlier in the day, she had decided to double check, but even just staring at the papers in front of her, something felt…off.

As if on cue, the phone started ringing.

Peggy jumped a little bit before snatching the phone off the base and pressing it to her ear.

“Hello?” she asked.

There was no reply, but unlike the last time, she could hear movement and someone’s labored breathing and the sounds of footsteps and breaking glass.

“Hello?” Peggy repeated, furrowing her brow and leaning forward a little bit in her chair.

There was a scuffling noise on the other end and then a soft voice that Peggy hadn’t heard in decades choking out one word.

Peggy.”

“A-Angie?” Peggy asked. She snapped to attention instantly, every cell of her body now focusing solely on what she was hearing.  “Who is this? What’s going on?”

But there was no answer.

The line was already dead.

Chapter Text

November 1947

“Whatcha working on?”

At the sound of Angie’s voice in the study doorway, Peggy quickly closed the file she had open in front of her and folded her hands on top of it.

“Nothing important, darling,” she said breezily.

“Something classified,” Angie said.

It wasn’t a question, but Peggy nodded anyway.

“Any plans to come up to bed soon?”

When Peggy didn’t answer right away, Angie just crossed her arms and leaned against the doorframe. “Yeah,” she said. “That’s what I thought.” She stepped a little farther into the room and let one hand fall to run her fingers along the arm of the couch in front of Peggy’s desk. “Do you think I could at least stay down here until you’re done? I promise I won’t even try to look at anything.”

“Of course,” Peggy said.

In the week since the ‘break-in,’ Angie hadn’t been sleeping well and practically refused to be home alone anymore. Peggy supposed she could understand, but it was beginning to be a little frustrating to barely have any time to herself anymore.

Ever since Dottie had made her rather spectacular reappearance after vanishing in LA over the summer, she had reignited Peggy’s interest in Leviathan and its actions and Peggy was finding it rather difficult to actually make sense of the un-redacted copies of files she really wasn’t supposed to be seeing when Angie was constantly hanging around her.

Angie sat down on the couch and grabbed the thick blanket that was hanging over the back, dragging it down to cover her as she curled up in a little ball and laid her head down on a throw pillow. It didn’t look very comfortable, but she didn’t move and it seemed as though only moments passed before her breathing evened out in front of Peggy’s eyes.

Peggy started to go back to her work, but she found herself getting distracted at the end of every line, glancing back up to look at Angie, peacefully asleep in a position that looked anything but comfortable. Peggy tried to focus on the file in front of her, but there was no way that was happening again tonight. She shut the file folder with a sigh and set it back in its drawer.

She stood up, stretched, and walked around her desk to tap Angie’s shoulder.

Angie yawned and blinked slowly up at her.

“Bedtime?” she asked.

“Bedtime,” Peggy agreed.

Angie gave her a sleepy smile as she got to her feet. She pressed a quick kiss to Peggy’s cheek before leading the way up the stairs, Peggy trailing just a few steps behind.


 

“Where is she?”

Sharon startled at the voice behind her and narrowly avoided the punching bag that came swinging back at her as she spun around. Peggy was standing in the doorway to the gym, her hands on her hips and her face stormy.

“Who?” Sharon asked. “Natasha? She just got on the jet. I think they left a few minutes ago.”

“Not Natasha,” Peggy snapped. “Don’t you dare play games with me right now, Sharon. Where . Is. She.”

Her tone was deadly in a way that Sharon had never heard in person before. It sent a chill down her spine and she knew that she should definitely not push her luck.

“New York,” she said. “East Harlem. What’s going on?”

“I think you should be telling me that,” Peggy said shortly. “And lucky for you, you have an entire drive to New York to explain it to me.”

Sharon didn’t even try to protest. She was pretty sure it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The woman was standing before her was not her Aunt Peggy who used to buy her cookies and teach her how to load a gun behind her mother’s back. No, this was Agent Carter, the most respected person in her field for good reason.

Sharon had never really understood the distinction until that very moment.

“Parking garage. Five minutes,” Peggy said.

“Yes ma’am,” Sharon replied.

Peggy spun on her heel and stalked out of the gym. The heavy door sounded like a gunshot as it swung closed behind her and it made Sharon rush into action.

She left the punching bag behind and hurried into the locker room to change in record time. There was only one other woman there doing what looked like tai chi on one of the benches, but if she was paying any attention to Sharon or the conversation that had just happened, she didn’t show it.

Sharon changed in record time and made it to the parking garage just as Peggy came stalking out of the opposite elevator with a set of keys.

“Natasha’s Corvette,” she said, nodding towards the sleek black car that Natasha had affectionately dubbed her baby. “You know the way?”

Sharon nodded.

“Good. Drive.”

Peggy tossed the keys and Sharon caught them with one hand and opened the driver’s side door. She was pretty sure that under normal circumstances, Natasha would have murdered her for just touching the steering wheel, but these were definitely not normal circumstances and Natasha was on a plane to Russia at the moment, so she would probably never have to know.

Peggy slid into the passenger seat without saying a word. She had a bag that was likely filled with a decent number of weapons at her feet and as Sharon peeled out of the parking garage, she pulled out a handgun and started tracing her fingers along it in a way that made Sharon a little nervous.

“So,” she finally dared as they left Washington DC behind them. “Can I ask what’s going on?”

Sharon glanced at the rearview mirror and she could see Peggy glaring at her in the glass.

“That seems like something I should be asking you, don’t you think?” she asked.

“Fair enough,” Sharon said. “We – ”

“I changed my mind,” Peggy said. “I don’t want to hear a word from you right now.”

Sharon nodded and flexed her fingers around the steering wheel.

She could only remember one other time that Peggy had been anywhere near this cold to her before. She had been eighteen and it had been less than a month since she had graduated high school when she came home one afternoon to find her house swarming with SHIELD agents and her mother leaving their apartment in a body bag.

She remembered begging Aunt Peggy not to spare her, to tell her what had happened, but it was all classified and Sharon wasn’t allowed to know anything more than the official story: it was a random break-in gone wrong and the only reason SHIELD was the first to respond was because the director’s niece was the one killed, but even back then, Sharon knew enough about SHIELD to know that that was bullshit. When she started pulling at loose threads, though, Peggy had shut her down in an instant.

That had been different, though.

Peggy had been disappointed in Sharon and worried about her, but she had never been quite this angry.

Sharon had no idea what this meant.

Her knuckles were white on the steering wheel and she tried her best to focus on the road, not daring to look up at the tight-lipped woman who didn’t quite look like her aunt anymore.


 

December 24, 1947

“You know what I want for Christmas, Pegs?”

“Tell me, darling.”

“I just want to fall asleep with you on Christmas Eve and wake up with you on Christmas morning. No work, no shows, no interruptions. Just you, me, and maybe some cocoa and the radio and that would be more than enough.”

Peggy kept hearing that exchange playing over and over in her head, probably because it was almost midnight on Christmas Eve and she felt guilty every time she thought about how Angie had probably given up waiting for her to get home by now.

She kept trying to tell herself that it was okay. She’d make it up to Angie and all would be forgiven, but she knew there were only so many promises she could break before something much more serious got broken.

“Hello? Peggy?”

Dottie’s voice jarred Peggy out of her thoughts and she shook her head to bring herself back to the task at hand which happened to be picking a lock on an abandoned warehouse near the pier. It was freezing and her fingers felt slow and clumsy as she worked, which unfortunately gave Dottie enough time to lean against the brick wall and flash Peggy a wolfish smile.

“You want to talk about it?” she asked.

“Talk about what?” Peggy asked through gritted teeth.

Dottie crossed her arms and gazed out toward the harbor. “What does Angie think you’re doing tonight?”

Peggy’s angry huff formed a little cloud in front of her face and she gave the lock pick an exceptionally hard twist. The lock clicked open and she pulled it out of its spot to slip it into her pocket for safe keeping.

“Let’s get this over with,” she said.

“You know, lying is really not a basis for a healthy relationship.”

“I didn’t ask.”

“First thirty minutes are free,” Dottie said with a shrug before pushing open the door and slipping into the dark warehouse.

Peggy followed her, one hand closed around the handle of her gun as she scanned the empty facility. Shafts of broken moonlight on the floor gave the whole building an eerie glow and Peggy felt like even the shadows were watching them.

“Are you sure your contact is here?” she asked as Dottie marched confidently into the center of the room.

“Oh, she’s here all right,” Dottie replied. She gazed up at a metal catwalk that ran the width of the warehouse. Peggy followed her gaze and finally noticed a shadowy shape looking down at them.

“Hello, Yelena,” Dottie said. Even in the dim light, Peggy could see the way that Dottie’s lips curled back in a wicked smile.

“You’re late,” the figure on the catwalk replied.

There was a sudden flash of movement and before Peggy could even lift her gun, the figure flipped off the catwalk and straightened up in front of them, barely making a sound when she landed on the concrete floor.

She was a tall woman with long hair pulled back in a thick braid and piercing green eyes that seized Peggy up and down.

“Peggy, this is Yelena Belova, AKA Madame B,” Dottie said. “We trained together as children. Yelena, this is Peggy Carter, AKA English.” Peggy narrowed her eyes at Dottie who just ignored her. “She’s been monitoring the Leviathan situation and her interests may overlap with ours.”

Yelena hummed as she studied Peggy’s face. Without looking at Dottie, she broke into Russian.

“Why exactly would an allied agent’s interests overlap with ours?”

“Leviathan remains a threat to the global intelligence community. I want them wiped out,” Peggy replied in perfect Russian of her own.

If Yelena was surprised at all, she didn’t show it. She turned to Dottie. “Are you sure we can trust her?”

“Not at all,” Dottie said. She glanced from Yelena to Peggy and smiled. “But then again, she can’t really trust us either, so I suppose we’re on a level playing field of sorts.”

Peggy and Yelena held each other’s eyes for a long moment before Yelena finally moved one hand to reach into the inner pocket of her coat. Peggy didn’t raise her gun, but she moved her finger so it was brushing the trigger just in case.

Yelena withdrew a folded piece of paper that she held delicately between two fingers.

“What is that?” Peggy asked.

“A map,” Yelena said. “Encoded of course, but break it and you’ll find the location of several known Leviathan bases. Help us flush them out and we might be more inclined to help you.”

“Help me with what?” Peggy accepted the paper as Yelena held it out to her.

“I think you’ll find that out in time,” Yelena replied.

With that, she turned on her heel and disappeared into the shadows as mysteriously as she had arrived.

“Is she…”

“She’s gone,” Dottie said. “Which means we’re gone.” She turned and headed back out the same door they had come in through. Once they were outside, Peggy slipped the padlock back into place and clicked it shut.

It had started to snow and Peggy rubbed her hands together.

“So,” she asked before Dottie could disappear too. “Do I get to know anything at all about why the two of you are against the very organization that trained you?”

“Opportunity, Pegs,” Dottie said brightly. “You really think the Red Room answers to Leviathan? The world is a big place and there are so many interesting people out there who can help each other out in new ways. But not everyone is a fan of regime change, so we have to do what we can.”

“That’s what you’re calling it?”

“What, a regime change?”

“Helping,” Peggy said.

Dottie laughed and looked straight up into the slate-colored sky.

“Enjoy that map, Peggy. Consider it a Christmas present.”

Peggy looked down at her watch and saw that sure enough, it was five minutes past midnight. It was Christmas morning.

A heavy feeling settled in the pit of her stomach.

She looked back up, but Dottie was already gone.

By the time Peggy got back home, it was almost one in the morning. She found Angie asleep in the bedroom, curled around a pillow so that she barely took up any room on the bed.

Peggy hadn’t even unfolded the map yet. It could have been a blank piece of paper for all she knew, but she had other things to worry about at the moment. She stashed the map in the false bottom of her jewelry box along with her gun and the small box that contained Angie’s Christmas present, although she wasn’t sure how well that was going to be received now.

She changed out of her clothes and slipped into bed next to Angie.

Angie didn’t stir, but she was a light sleeper at the best of times and Peggy knew she was listening.

“I’m sorry,” Peggy said quietly. “I wish I could give you an explanation, but I’m so, so sorry.”

Peggy wasn’t sure how long they laid there in the silence, but eventually, Angie abandoned her pillow and rolled over to wrap her arms around Peggy.

“I’m not sure how much more sorry I can take, Pegs,” she murmured.

Peggy didn’t know what else to say, so she didn’t say anything at all. She held Angie’s hand in her own and brought it to her lips, pressing a gentle kiss against Angie’s skin.

Neither of them spoke, but the unsaid words hung thick in the space between them until Angie’s breathing evened out again and she fell back asleep.

It wasn’t long until Peggy did the same.


 

It was decidedly dark out by the time Sharon stopped the car next to the dilapidated bodega across the street from Angie’s apartment. Neither she nor Peggy had spoken a word the entire drive and her voice sounded almost foreign to her own ears when she said “This way,” as she led Peggy toward the building.

Peggy hadn’t told her what exactly had happened, but Sharon could tell it was something bad.

There was nothing obviously wrong at first glance. The main floor of the building looked much the same as it had that morning, which was to say it was dingy and had clearly seen better days, but it was intact as was the staircase that led up to the second floor.

Sharon went up first, holding a gun that Peggy had given her. The door to apartment 203 was closed, but when Sharon tested the knob, she found it unlocked. She glanced back at Peggy who nodded and lifted her gun in a silent indication that she had Sharon’s back.

Sharon took a deep breath as she turned the knob and then flung the door open, her gun raised and her finger on the trigger.

“Woah! What the hell is this?!”

Sharon turned her gun toward the source of the unfamiliar voice just as she heard Peggy burst into the apartment behind her.

“Hands up!” Peggy demanded.

“Peggy?”

Peggy stopped and stared at the figure in the kitchen doorway for a moment.

“Dottie?”

“Hey, Peggy. Long time no see. You’re a little late to the party though if you’re here for the reason I think you are.”

“You know what happened?”

“Better than that. I can tell you where she is.”

“Sharon, it’s alright,” Peggy sighed. She lowered her weapon and Sharon did the same.

“Sharon, this Dottie Underwood or whatever alias she’s going by these days,” Peggy said. “Dottie, this is my great-niece, Sharon.”

“I remember,” the woman – Dottie – said. “Look at you, all grown up and playing with the big toys.”

Sharon frowned as she studied Dottie’s face. The age lines on her face put her somewhere in her late fifties, maybe early sixties, but her hair was bright red with not even the slightest hint of grey and her blue eyes were sharp and clear.

Sharon remembered those eyes.

She remembered being little, coloring in the corner of Aunt Peggy’s office on nights when her mother had to work late. There always seemed to be people coming and going through that office, but there was one woman – a tall one who smiled like a wolf and always left Peggy agitated for reasons Sharon never knew. She had been blonde back then, but Sharon would know those eyes anywhere.

“I remember you,” she said.

“She looks so much like her grandmother,” Dottie said to Peggy, her gaze still fixed on Sharon. “But she definitely got her eyes from your side of the family.”

“No games, Dottie. What happened?” Peggy growled.

Dottie sighed started pacing along the length of the living room, dragging one finger absently along the bookshelves that lined the front wall.

“They’re restarting the program,” she said. “A fresh new crop of kids under new management, but this time it’s different. They want to take it farther than before. Farther than Leviathan and the KGB and whatever secret agency Yelena sold herself to after that. Farther than the soldier program even. They’ve been trying to track down Howard’s little lab rat since he died and I’ve been throwing them off the scent, but then I see her – ” she paused and looked directly at Sharon. “and her little friend coming in here this morning and that was the tipping point.

“I tried to stop them, but I wasn’t enough.”

“She called,” Peggy said. “She called me.”

“I left the number here years ago,” Dottie said. “Just in case of an emergency. She never knew about me.”

“Where did they come in?”

“Bedroom,” Dottie said, nodding towards the closed door on the far side of the room. “But I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.”

Peggy crossed her arms and glared at Dottie with such ferocity that Sharon was rather impressed Dottie didn’t burst into flames.

“You said you knew where they took her?”

“Yeah,” Dottie said. “I think we both know exactly where they’re bringing her.”

“They knew,” Peggy said. The color drained from her face.

“That’s right,” Dottie said grimly. “Those agents you sent out there? They’re heading right into a trap.


 

December 25, 1947

“I know about the ring.”

Peggy was standing in the kitchen doorway in her dressing gown, sleep still clouding her eyes and it took her an extra moment to process Angie’s statement.

“What?” she asked.

“The ring,” Angie said. She had a mug of coffee in each hand and she held one out to Peggy as she walked over. “I found it in your jewelry box the night that…well, I was looking for something else that night, but I saw the ring too. Sit.” She nodded towards the table and pressed the coffee mug into Peggy’s hand.

Peggy was still somewhat dumbfounded, but she managed to nod as she took her mug and made her way over to the kitchen table to sit down. Angie sank down into the chair next to her and set her mug down so that she could put her hands over Peggy’s.

“I think we need to talk,” she said. “And I don’t mean we need to talk like I want to break up with you, I mean we need to have a real conversation like real adults because otherwise I don’t know what to do.”

“Angie, is this really the best time?” Peggy asked. “I’ve only just got up and – ”

“This is the only time because I’ve already rehearsed this in my head and if I stop now I might never be able to say this again,” Angie replied. “And I really need to say it.”

Peggy took a sip of her coffee. “Okay,” she said. “So you know about the ring. I know we can’t really get married in the legal sense, but I meant it more as a promise that I want to spend my life with you and I wish I had brought it down here with me, but in my defense, I did have it all planned out.” Her cheeks flushed pink as she spoke and she stared into her coffee rather than at Angie.

“I have no doubt,” Angie said. “And I do love you, Peggy. I really, really do.” She reached out with two fingers under Peggy’s chin to guide Peggy’s gaze back to her. “For most of this past year and a half, I have been happier than I have ever been in my entire life and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. But like you said, that ring is a promise and you seem to have a bad habit of breaking those lately.”

Peggy didn’t say anything.

“Listen,” Angie continued. “I know that it’s part of the job and I understand that. I know that I can’t always know the things that you do and that sometimes you’re going to come home late or hurt or both. I knew what I was getting into, but these past few months something’s changed. I don’t know what it is, but I feel like you’re keeping so much more from me. I don’t know if it’s something I said or did or – ”

“Oh, Angie, no,” Peggy said quickly, one hand moving automatically to Angie’s cheek. “No, I promise this is nothing to do with you. It’s just…”

“Work?” Angie tried.

“Work,” Peggy agreed.

Angie nodded and pulled away from Peggy’s touch to take a sip of her own coffee.

“Listen, Peg, I don’t want to give you an ultimatum. That’s not what this is at all. I just…you’ve been breaking so many promises lately and they’re usually so little, but they’re stacking up and I don’t want to be just another broken promise.”

“Darling, you never could be,” Peggy said.

“Okay,” Angie said. “Then I don’t want that ring.”

“Wh-what?”

“I don’t want it,” Angie repeated. “I don’t want to look at it and think about how it’s just another promise that you’re going to break because I love you. And I know that even if you do keep your word this time, I’ll still always have that thought in the back of my mind that I’m just another promise and promises seem so breakable to you these days.”

“Okay,” Peggy said. “No ring. What would you like me to do?”

Angie paused and bit her lip like she hadn’t thought this was the way the conversation was going to go.

“I just want you,” Angie said. “No strings, no promises, just you and me and we’ll make it work as we go along.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Peggy said. “And what should I do with the ring? It was supposed to be your gift after all.”

Angie thought for another long moment.

“Keep it,” she said. “And maybe one day, if things go well, maybe you can give it to me then?”

“Of course,” Peggy said.

Angie smiled brightly and leaned across the table to kiss Peggy full on her coffee-flavored lips.

“Merry Christmas, English,” she murmured without fully pulling away.

“Merry Christmas, my love,” Peggy replied.


 

The bedroom was in complete disarray.

Sharon only caught a glimpse of it when Peggy opened the door, but it was clear that Angie had put up one hell of a fight. The mirror on the vanity was shattered and there were shards of glass all over the floor, some of them tinted red with what could be blood.

There was a streak of blood on the wall like someone had dragged their hand through it and more small pools on the floor. The nightstand and the bureau had been ransacked and there were random odds and ends all over the place: a broken lamp with the shade cast halfway across the room, playbills from old musicals torn like confetti, books and photographs strewn all about.

The whole scene was in stark contrast to the rest of the apartment that was still in perfect condition and it made Sharon feel sick.

“We just saw her this morning,” she said, more to herself than to anyone else, but Dottie picked up on it.

“It happened not long after that,” she said. “They were waiting for you to leave.”

“I need to make some calls,” Peggy said.

She shouldered past Sharon and made her way back into the living room. Dottie, however, didn’t move from the doorway as Sharon stepped further into the bedroom.

“It’s all my fault,” she said. “And now Nat’s…shit! Nat and Clint are flying into a trap!”

She reached for her phone, only to find that it wasn’t in her pocket.

She checked her other pockets and her coat and her pockets again before the memory of her plugging it in to charge about halfway through the drive came rushing back to her. It was still in the car.

Sharon hurried past Dottie back out into the living room. She could hear Peggy arguing with someone on the phone in the living room, but she didn’t stop to listen on her way out of the apartment.

She made it all the way down the hallway, to the bottom of the stairs, and she opened the front door of the building just in time to see Natasha’s beautiful black car go up in flames.

Car alarms started going off all along the street and she could hear people screaming and a moment later, sirens in the distance.

At some point, Peggy and Dottie had come out of Angie’s apartment and Peggy took Sharon’s hand and squeezed it, but Sharon hardly even noticed.

All she could think was that Natasha was going to murder her when she got back.

At least she would if she made it out of whatever trap was waiting for her in Russia.

Chapter Text

Spring 1948

The first few months of working with Dottie was like playing hide and seek with a child who was frustratingly good at hiding. Dottie had a tendency to disappear for weeks or months at a time with no warning and without leaving any trace of her whereabouts, but just as Peggy was ready to give up hope of looking for her, she’d turn up again in the most mundane of places: waiting on a street corner, sliding into a booth at a diner, or – as was the case on this particular evening – in the form of a note resting on top of a file folder that Peggy was sure she had left in her locked desk drawer.

What do you think, English? Ready for the fun stuff?

Underneath, there was a dash followed by a string of numbers and what looked like a radio frequency.

“Really,” Peggy murmured as she leaned back in her desk chair and grabbed the file folder. She flipped through the papers, but it didn’t seem like anything had been changed. Nevertheless, the mere fact that Dottie had chosen this particular file was more than a little unnerving. She wasn’t even supposed to have these files, they were so highly classified, and she had called in more than a few favors to get her hands on them.

She wasn’t sure what Dottie wanted with her brother’s service record, but whatever it was, Peggy knew it couldn’t be good.

For the past few months since the meeting with Yelena at the pier, Peggy and Dottie had gone through the motions. A few break-ins here, an information exchange there, and it had proved to be a pretty good partnership so far: Dottie gave Peggy information about isolated Leviathan cells that were easy pickings for agents in the field, and Dottie clearly got something out of it. What that was, Peggy wasn’t sure, but she wasn’t going to pry as long as nothing came back to her.

Needless to say, this was unexpected, but Peggy decided – probably against her better judgement – to see what happened next.

She picked up the note again and noticed for the first time another set of numbers directly underneath the radio frequency:

23:30.

She glanced at the clock on the opposite wall and found that it was nearly 11:30pm.

Peggy knew exactly what this was. The SSR had often used numbers stations during the war; they were more effective than codes, more convenient than drop points, easier to use than almost any other form of communication. All it required was a short wave radio, a code, and time to tune in, all of which Peggy had handy.

Her radio was on an end table next to the sofa against the opposite wall, so she grabbed the note and a pad of paper and a pen, and migrated to it. It took a moment of adjusting the dials, but just as the clock struck 11:30, she landed on the frequency that Dottie had left for her and was greeted by a loud, static-y bell tone.

It sounded three times, and then dissolved into static. There was a long pause, and then a swell of what sounded like wind, and through it, a woman’s voice was speaking, reciting a string of numbers in what Peggy quickly realized was Russian.

She kept pace with the woman’s tinny, monotone voice, scribbling down the numbers on her pad as fast as they were listed:

7 4 7 5 2 pause 9 1 1 1 0

Once the sequence was over, the voice and the wind sound faded, the bells chimed again. Then the woman’s voice repeated the numbers, and the bells sounded one more time before the station dissolved back into complete static.

Peggy clicked the radio off and moved back to her desk to look at the note again. The string of numbers that Dottie had left her was broken up by punctuation in a way that looked vaguely familiar:

–  68.4 8 8 9-14 108.2 10 7 7-5

It almost reminded her of coordinates, and she was pretty sure she knew exactly how to get the right set. The beginning dash told her to subtract, but the numbers beside the dashes seemed to be a little different. On a hunch, she simply converted them to letters. Sure enough, she was left with a plain and simple set of coordinates:

61.0137° N, 99.1967° E

She wasn’t sure what exactly they were for, but unless she was awfully mistaken, she was pretty sure that that location was somewhere in the Soviet Union, and more specifically somewhere in or at least very close to Siberia.

There were a few different thoughts swirling through her mind, not the least of which was her jumping to conclusions about why Dottie had chosen this particular file for this particular message. More than likely it was just to rattle her, though, or so she kept telling herself.

There was another, more haunting possibility that Peggy didn’t even dare to let herself consider: there were rumors that had circulated among the SSR, especially, that maybe they weren’t the only extra-military organization looking to experiment on people. There were always rumors about the things that happened to men who were captured, missing, or even killed in action; most of the men chalked them up to scary stories for the fires, but even back then, Peggy had seen and heard enough to know that some of those stories had more merit than she or anyone else would like to believe.

If anyone would know about the existence of these projects, and the people that were involved in them, it would be Dottie, and although Peggy wasn’t sure what answer she wanted, she had a sinking feeling that she was going to find out one way or another.

The front door opened in the peripheries of Peggy’s senses, and she was vaguely aware of Angie twirling into the foyer from a rather late night with some of her friends from the Griffith.

“Oh, English, you would not believe the night we had,” Angie declared as she poked her head into Peggy’s office.

“Really? I’m sorry I had to miss it then.” Peggy hurriedly swept her files and papers off her desk, dropping them rather unceremoniously into a desk drawer.

If Angie had noticed, she didn’t say anything. Instead, she just leaned against the doorframe and batted her eyelashes. “Are you still going to be up for a while?”

Peggy paused, surveyed her desk, let out a soft breath and stood up.

“No. I think I’ve had quite enough of working tonight. And I can’t wait to hear all about your night.”

Angie beamed and kissed Peggy’s cheek as she met Angie in the doorway. Her mind was still swirling with thoughts she didn’t want to be having, and the weight of her secrets was threatening to crush her if she wasn’t careful, but when Angie kissed her again – this time on the lips, just a little too hard to be completely innocent – she could push it all to the back of her mind, at least for the rest of the night.


 

The very next morning, Dottie was waiting near the bus stop when Peggy arrived at work. She swung into step beside her like they had done this a thousand times before.

“Good morning,” Dottie said so warmly that Peggy could practically hear the grin in her words.

“Fancy running into you here,” she replied without breaking her stride. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Me needing an answer,” Dottie said.

“About?”

“Oh, come on, Peg, don’t play coy with me. There’s a very small window of time coming up, and I need to know if you’re in.”

“I’m afraid I’m not usually a fan of walking blindly into enemy territory with nothing more than your word to go on.”

“Peggy, I’m hurt.”

They were crossing the street in front of the SSR building now. There wasn’t time to say much else, but Dottie wasn’t done yet.

“You remember our friend Madame B, right? I’ll be seeing her tomorrow night. You’re welcome to join us, and whatever you choose, I suppose we’ll have your answer.”

They were practically at the door, but Peggy had half a mind to stop and try to press Dottie further. At least, she did until she turned her head only to find that Dottie had already disappeared. She sighed, rolled her eyes, and continued straight into the building, trying to shake the curiosity that Dottie had stirred up once again.

Dottie had, of course, neglected to tell Peggy exactly when and where her meeting was taking place, but she knew that she probably wouldn’t have to wait very long to find out. Sure enough, when she got home that afternoon, there was a sheet of paper in her typewriter that she was sure hadn’t been there before.

Same place. Same time. Be ready.

Peggy snatched the paper out of the typewriter and crumpled it in her fist. It ended up in the trash can before she could even think about it, but even when she did start thinking about it, she didn’t really need it anyway. What she really needed was more information, and the only way to get that was to meet Dottie and Yelena again.

So she did. Or she tried to, at least.

Dottie was waiting outside the warehouse, leaning against the heavy metal door with her arms crossed, and an apparent indifference towards the dock workers moving about near the water who could have seen her if they only just cared to look up.

“I wasn’t sure you’d show,” she said when she caught sight of Peggy. She sized Peggy up, but there was none of her usual bite in it.

“What’s happened?” Peggy asked.

“We got stood up,” Dottie replied. “Yelena’s not coming.”

“How can you be sure?”

“She doesn’t run late, Peg. And besides, she sent one of her lackeys in to try to take me out. Some gorilla with a gun was waiting for me inside.” She dipped her head back towards the warehouse. “It was almost too easy to take him out.”

“Where is he now?”

Dottie shot a not-so-subtle glance at the docks that Peggy chose to ignore.

“Where’s Yelena?” she asked.

“By this time, probably somewhere in Siberia.”

“What does that mean?” There was a harder edge to Peggy’s voice now, and she crossed her arms.

Dottie paused and swept her gaze from the black waters beyond the pier, the dock workers who still hadn’t seemed to notice them, and finally met Peggy’s eyes with a steely expression. “Sorry Peg,” she said. “I’m not a fan of airing family drama before I have all the details. I’ll be in touch eventually.”

“That’s not good enough,” Peggy said. She had half a mind to bring Dottie into custody right here and now, put an end to this twisted game of cat and mouse, but something held her back.

“You don’t trust me.” It wasn’t a question, and the glint in Dottie’s eye told her that Dottie wasn’t expecting an answer. “You might not believe me yet, but you and I have more…let’s say overlapping interests than you know.”

“Perhaps that’s why I don’t trust you,” Peggy said coolly.

Dottie laughed, a sharp sound against the gentle breeze, and then before Peggy could react, Dottie was right in front of her, one finger underneath Peggy’s chin so that Peggy could just barely feel the needle hidden underneath Dottie’s fingernail. Peggy didn’t move. She stood her ground, steeled her gaze, and waited until Dottie laughed again and took a step back, letting her finger trail just a little too long on Peggy’s jaw.

“What about now?” she asked.

Peggy didn’t say anything.

Dottie shrugged. “Have it your way then. Try and figure it all out on your own if you want to. I’ll be touch, like I said, but it’s up to you whether or not you listen.”

With that, she turned on her heel, paused for a moment, called over her shoulder, “See you around, English.”

Peggy bristled, but before she could react, Dottie had already disappeared into the shadows, and she was left all alone.


 

April 1951

Angie came back to New York for her father’s funeral. His passing was sudden, and Angie was in between films when it happened, so was able to stay for a while, and even though Peggy didn’t have much room to spare in her new apartment, she still offered what she had to Angie. Their letters had been sporadic at best over the past few years; Angie didn’t really want to talk about the previous summer, but they were talking more and more in general now, so Peggy was as optimistic as she could be about Angie flying in for a funeral.

There was also the added benefit that she’d have a bit of a distraction from the overwhelming amount of paperwork that she had been accumulating lately. Not only was she dealing with the death throes of the SSR and the establishment of a brand new intelligence organization, but she was also still trying to keep up with the scattered remains of Leviathan, which she had found nearly impossible ever since Dottie had gone underground.

It had been nearly four years since the last time that Peggy had seen her, and there had been nothing but radio silence ever since. Whether Peggy wanted to admit it or not, Dottie really had given her more than her fair share of useful information, and there was only so much that she could gather on her own. Officially, Leviathan had been dead for years, and there was only so much that Peggy could get through her shrinking official channels.

The little that she had managed to get her hands on was deemed low priority compared to the more pressing matter of establishing SHIELD and was therefore relegated to a cardboard box that lived on the kitchen table that was serving a dual purpose as her makeshift office.

She had moved out of the townhouse only a few months prior, but it hadn’t taken very long to get herself comfortable in the smaller space. Once it became clear that Angie wasn’t going to be moving back to New York anytime soon, Peggy had realized that the townhouse was far too big for just her. Angie had always managed to fill the space just by walking in, but with only Peggy, it just felt empty.

If she was being honest, her new apartment was a little bit bigger than she needed, too, but it suited her well enough, it was close to the office, and the rent was low. It also had a second bedroom, which was perfect, because Peggy wasn’t sure how Angie would feel about sharing a bed at the moment.

Peggy spent most of the morning cleaning and making sure that all of her extra classified paperwork was tucked away and hidden, just in case. Out of sight, out of mind, and she really didn’t need to be thinking about anything related to work this weekend.

Mr. Jarvis picked Angie up from the airport at Peggy’s request; she wasn’t sure where she and Angie stood at the moment, so she opted to wait and make sure everything was perfect before Angie arrived. Her heart was beating faster and faster with each passing moment, but when the knock on the door finally came, it seemed to stop beating altogether.

She wasn’t fully aware of moving to the front door or opening it, but the next thing she knew, she was looking Angie in the face. Angie whose hair was loose and down to her shoulders now, but otherwise she looked exactly the same as she always had.

“Angie,” Peggy breathed.

She gave Peggy a small smile and an even smaller shrug. “Hey, English. Long time no see.”

There was a pause, and Peggy wasn’t sure who moved first, but suddenly Angie was in her arms, or maybe she was in Angie’s, and it felt so right. Angie was warm and her skin was glowing from months in the LA sun, but she was still wearing the same perfume she always used to, and god, Peggy had missed this. She didn’t want to let go, but then Jarvis cleared his throat, and Peggy finally noticed him standing in the hallway with a suitcase in each hand, a third on the floor next to him, and a pocketbook slung over his shoulder.

“Well I suppose you packed enough then,” Peggy said, cracking a half smile.

“You think so?” Angie asked. “Because I forgot my favorite sunglasses on the hall table, but I hope you’re right.”

“Miss Carter, if you don’t mind,” Jarvis started.

“Oh! Yes, right. Just put them anywhere I suppose,” Peggy said, gesturing to the space around her. “The, um…the bedroom is down the hall and to the left.”

“This is a nice place,” Angie said. She was walking around the living room, running her finger absently along the surfaces Peggy had spent the morning polishing. She stopped and looked back at Peggy as Jarvis staggered down the hallway with all of Angie’s bags in tow. “It’s cozy.”

“Yes, I thought so,” Peggy said. “I didn’t need so much space, and besides, I think Howard is planning on moving one of his most recent bad decisions into that house soon.”

Angie’s lips twitched like she was trying not to laugh.

“What?” Peggy asked.

“Nothing,” Angie said. “I’m just thinking about those years that it was ours.” She paused. “Thinking about all of the bedrooms. And the couch in the library, and that wall in the foyer, and that section of counter next to the – ”

Jarvis coughed, and Angie giggled for real this time as she and Peggy saw the flush rising in his cheeks.

“Is there anything else I can do for you this afternoon?” he asked.

“No, Mr. Jarvis, thank you,” Peggy said.

“Of course, Miss Carter. Miss Martinelli. It’s good to see you both again.” With that, he bowed out the door, and suddenly Peggy was very aware of the fact that it was just her and Angie.

“Geez, English, it’s so good to see you again.”

“It’s good to see you too,” Peggy said. “You look wonderful.”

“You think?” Angie perked up a little bit and did a kind of half turn as she looked down at her skirt. “I feel great too. I had a doctor’s appointment last weekend and I’m the picture of health. Guess Howard really knows his stuff.”

“That’s fantastic,” Peggy said, a genuine smile spreading across her face.

“Yeah, I guess it is.”

There was a long moment of weighted silence. Peggy wasn’t sure what to say, but then suddenly she heard words in her voice that she wasn’t fully conscious of saying.

“I’m sorry about your father.”

“Don’t be,” Angie said. She looked down at her hands, and there was an edge to her voice. “I’m mostly here for my mother. My father and I didn’t really talk much after I moved out to LA. He wasn’t really that happy about it, so…” Angie trailed off and glanced up at Peggy, and then quickly changed the subject. “So are you just gonna keep me standing out here all night, or are you gonna give me the grand tour?”

“Oh, right, of course,” Peggy said, a hint of a flush warming her cheeks. It was good to know Angie still had that effect on her, even after so much time apart. “I’m afraid you’ve already seen most of it, but I suppose I can show you the bedroom.”

“Lead the way,” Angie said.

The door to the spare bedroom was open just a crack, and Peggy could see that Jarvis had completely ignored it. Sure enough, when she looked into her own bedroom across the hall, she found Angie’s bags stacked neatly in front of the bureau.

“Well, this is the bedroom,” Peggy said, pushing the door open and stepping inside so Angie could follow. “I know that Mr. Jarvis put your things in here, but I wasn’t sure how...” she paused, took a breath, and looked past Angie instead of at her as she continued. “There is a second bedroom right across the hall, and given the circumstances of our last time together, I wasn’t sure where you’d prefer to sleep.”

“Oh,” Angie said. Peggy couldn’t tell whether or not she sounded disappointed, and her heart seemed to twist in her chest.

“Of course, you’re more than welcome to sleep in here,” she said quickly. “I wasn’t sure what you were used to anymore and I – ”

“Peg, it’s fine.” Angie placed her hand on Peggy’s forearm, and Peggy finally met her eyes. She had nearly forgotten how bright and beautiful they were, how easy it was to get lost in them. “I’ll be fine in the other room. I’m already putting you out, and on such short notice too. I’ll move my stuff over there before you can blink.”

“You’re not putting me out at all,” Peggy insisted. “I just thought that –”

“What, that I was still mad or something? Because I’m not. I just...haven’t really known what to say, especially in letters, but it’s all water under the bridge. After these past few years, I’m not sure there’s very much that you could do that would keep me angry at you.”

There was a long pause then. Peggy was very aware of the fact that Angie’s hand was still on her arm, and she averted her gaze, her cheeks growing warm as the words left her mouth without her permission.

“Would you rather just sleep in here then?”

“Why, Miss Carter, I thought you’d never ask,” Angie said with the hint of a grin on her lips.

When Peggy looked at her, she was met with a wide smile, and then suddenly Angie was kissing her, or maybe she was kissing Angie. She supposed it didn’t really matter either way. At least, it didn’t matter until Angie pulled back, and looked down at the floor.

“What’s wrong?” Peggy asked.

“Nothing’s wrong,” Angie said quickly. “I just…I’m getting ahead of myself, which is exactly what I knew I was going to do.

“What are you talking about?”

“Peggy, I love you so much. But I think that maybe we should try to…God, I don’t know. I just don’t know if it’s a good idea if we pick up like nothing happened.”

“I agree,” Peggy said. “So what exactly did you have in mind?”

Angie didn’t say anything at first. She looked at her bags, then at Peggy’s bed, and finally at Peggy, although her gaze fell just short of Peggy’s eyes.

“You know what? Maybe it would be a good idea if I took the other bedroom.”

Peggy was vaguely aware of agreeing, and then everything after that seemed to blur together. She helped Angie move her things into the other bedroom, they ordered takeout from a restaurant around the block that Peggy frequented so often that they knew her by name, and at some point, they had found a bottle of peppermint schnapps, and the next thing Peggy knew, they were lounging on the sofa, Angie rattling off various tidbits of Hollywood gossip that she was privy too. It felt almost like no time had passed at all, like they were still at the Griffith, falling off of one of their beds long after curfew with Angie recounting stories of her most colorful customers.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, a lot of gals will sleep with whoever’s highest up the food chain at the studios to make sure they can pay their dues, but this girl skipped the execs entirely and went straight for the lead actress! And I guess it worked, because it only took a few days before she was signed with Warner Brothers, but I could hardly believe it.”

Peggy frowned. “Does that kind of thing happen often?”

“What, sleeping around? Oh yeah, I mean I don’t do it, but –”

“No, not that,” Peggy said. “The…” she trailed off and waved her hand like she was trying to find the words.

“The actresses sleeping together?” Angie asked, and Peggy nodded. “Oh yeah, you’d be surprised. It’s a different world out there, English. I mean, obviously things aren’t too different on the surface, but there are a whole lot of people out there with our kind of inclinations. They have these ‘lavender marriages’ set up by the studios to keep things on the up and up, but it’s an unspoken secret out there and it’s amazing.”

She paused and tipped her head so that she could look into Peggy’s eyes, and for a moment it seemed like she was going to say something else, but then Angie blinked, bit her lip, looked away. Then she glanced at the clock and covered a yawn.

Peggy took the hint and set the mostly empty bottle of schnapps on the coffee table before getting to her feet.

“I didn’t realize it was so late.”

“Time flies,” Angie said with a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sigh. “I should probably get to bed. I promised my mother I’d meet her and my sisters early tomorrow.”

“And I have to go into the office tomorrow too,” Peggy said.

“You’re working tomorrow?”

“Yes, for a little while. I have a few meetings, and I’ll be traveling to DC in a few weeks, so there’s a lot to be done.”

“Oh,” Angie said. “Right. Of course. Then I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Maybe it was just Peggy’s imagination, but she swore that Angie sounded crestfallen. That was erased from her mind, though, when Angie came up next to her, wrapped her arms loosely around Peggy’s waist, and ghosted her lips against Peggy’s cheek.

“G’night, Pegs.”

“Goodnight, Angie,” Peggy replied, her voice a little shakier than she expected.

And then as soon as it happened, it was over, and Angie made her way down the hallway. She disappeared from view, and Peggy heard the bedroom door close. She stood there in the living room for a moment, looking down at the bottle on the coffee table, the feeling of Angie’s lips lingering on her cheek.


 

By the time Peggy woke up the next morning, Angie was already awake, dressed, and getting acquainted with the contents of the kitchen. Or perhaps getting the kitchen acquainted with herself was more accurate. There was a steaming pot of coffee on the counter, and Angie was on her toes, shuffling the spices in the cabinet around. Peggy could count on one hand the number of times that she had opened that cabinet since she had moved in, but the scene was so familiar, and Peggy couldn’t help the small smile that played at her lips.

After a moment though, when it became clear that Angie wasn’t anywhere near stopping on her own, Peggy cleared her throat lightly like she had only just walked in. Angie tried to turn around so quickly that she hit her head on the cabinet door, and Peggy bit back a laugh as she offered Angie her hand.

“Thanks,” Angie said, rubbing lightly at the sore spot on her forehead. “I made coffee. Sorry for getting into everything. It’s your home, I should have asked first. I just needed something to distract me for a few minutes before I leave.”

“It’s alright,” Peggy said. “Truth be told I’ve been meaning to organize that bloody thing for a long time, but I’m afraid I just don’t have your touch for it.” She reached up to shut the spice cabinet and grabbed a mug from the one next to it. “Thank you for the coffee, by the way.”

“Of course,” Angie said. She looked at the clock on the wall behind the kitchen table and bit her lip. “I guess I should probably get going.”

Peggy turned her attention to the coffee pot as she filled her mug. “What time will you be back?”

Angie shrugged. “We’re having a full Mass for him, and that doesn’t start until 3, so I have no idea. Will you be back tonight?”

“Yes,” Peggy said. “I’ll be here.”

“Then I guess I’ll see you tonight,” Angie said with a small smile.

Peggy hummed in agreement, and she looked down at her coffee as Angie took a deep breath, and then breezed past Peggy out of the kitchen. Another beat and Peggy heard the apartment door open and then close again. I was only then that she let herself turn around. She leaned against the counter, her hands braced behind her as she closed her eyes and took in the scent of fresh coffee mingling with Angie’s vanilla perfume.

The spell was broken by the chiming of the clock not-so-gently reminding her that she was going to be late for work if she didn’t hurry. She finished her coffee, grabbed her things, and raced out the door. She made it nearly all the way to the office until she noticed a flash of red hair crossing the sidewalk in front of her, a hand brushing against her own, and then she realized that there was something in her hand.

A slip of paper that looked blank, but Peggy had a feeling she knew exactly what it was.

She didn’t bother stopping or looking around; Dottie was probably long gone by now anyway. If anything, Peggy quickened her pace, tightened her hands around the paper in her hand, and continued straight into the office. She was no longer in the bullpen, which she was particularly grateful for as she shut her office door, drew the blinds, and turned on the lamp on her desk.

It only took a moment for the lightbulb to heat up, and she unfolded the slip of paper and held it over the bulb. Sure enough, as the paper began to warm, words started to appear in the brownish hue of invisible ink that Peggy knew very well.

As soon as the words were legible, Peggy snatched pulled the paper away from the heat and held it up to the light so she could read it better.

It’s been a while, but times are changing. I’ll be in touch.

It wasn’t signed, but it might as well have been. Peggy stared at the words on the paper, for how long she wasn’t sure, but she was jarred back into reality by a sharp knock at the door.

“Come in!” Peggy called as she tore the paper in half and dropped it into the trash can just as Thompson stepped into her office.

“What the hell are you doing in here with all the blinds down? You napping on the job, Carter?”

Peggy ignored him and crossed her arms. “Can I help you with something?”

“Actually yeah. We just a call in from your guys, and I think you might want to see it.” Thompson’s voice had changed; it was softer somehow, like he was almost…nervous about whatever he was about to give her. “You remember all that shit with the spy girls a few years ago?”

“Yes.”

“Well, apparently they’ve evolved, and…well, I guess you can see for yourself. Here.” He dropped a heavy folder on Peggy’s desk. “I’ll be calling a meeting on it once we get the green light from DC, but I figured you might want to see it first.”

Peggy narrowed her eyes at him. “What’s this about?”

“Just…just take a look at it.” With that, he turned around and walked back out of the office, letting her door slam shut behind him.

Peggy frowned and sat down at her desk so she could pull the folder closer. There was nothing special about the folder itself, but when she opened it, she was met with photos that she had never actually seen before, but that she felt like she recognized anyway. They were of some kind of facility that looked an awful lot like the one that she and Thompson along with the 107th had raided years ago. There were metal beds with mattresses barely thicker than a sheet of plywood, and handcuffs hanging off the bars at the head of each one.

There was another picture that showcased some kind of control room with huge machines lining the walls, and something in the corner that reminded Peggy of a metal coffin, except there was a small round window on it, and there were wires connecting it to the machines around it. The photograph was a little grainy, and perhaps it was just Peggy’s mind playing tricks on her, but it looked almost like there was a face visible through the little window.

No.

Peggy wasn’t entire sure what this was, but there was a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as she turned her attention to the reports on the other side of the folder. The first few pages were heavily redacted, but the parts that she could read referenced a facility conducting unknown experiments on soldiers during the war who had been declared Missing in Action or assumed dead. Only three identities were confirmed, but there were at least seven men, and an unknown number of “various female subjects” who were housed in the facility.

That had to be the girls. Peggy knew it had been foolish to assume that the Soviets had terminated a project that was clearly successful and effective, but now that they were confirmed to be experimenting on prisoners of war, there was no telling what they were doing to those girls.

There were more reports from the 107th, each covered with more black ink than the last, but the last three sheets in the folder were different. Peggy flipped to the first one and found the enlistment and service briefing on one Andrew M. Logue. There was a picture of him too; he was a handsome young man from Boston, barely over the enlistment age.

The next page was much the same, but the name read Jacques P. Devoreau from a small town somewhere in France.

Peggy knew what was coming next before she turned to the last page, but her throat still tightened when she saw it with her own eyes.

The last confirmed prisoner was Michael F. Carter from Hampstead, England.

Peggy had seen his enlistment photo many times before, but it was still striking. Even though his hair was neat and his uniform was sharp, there was still that same laughter in his eyes, and a slight upturn at the corner of his mouth. It was almost as if he was just joining in a game of some sort that he was confident he was going to win. God, everything was always a bloody game to him.

Peggy had stopped crying over Michael long ago; she learned very quickly that when you were surrounded by loss, it was easier to focus on the future rather than fretting about the endless what-ifs, but this was different. She had been lead to believe that her brother was dead. It had been nearly a decade that she had taken it as at least the most likely scenario, but the mere existence of this report meant that the truth was far worse.

“I’m going,” she said as soon as Thompson announced to the briefing room that they were sending a team out to investigate.

“That’s what I figured,” he said. His voice was tight and strained, and he rubbed the back of his neck as he looked down at the papers in front of him. “But there’s more.”

The room was quiet. Even Peggy waited until Thompson continued.

“You all know that we no longer function as an independent intelligence organization. Officially, we are an arm of the CIA, and that means we can’t just send people to foreign countries to blow shit up anymore without authorization, and when I was on the phone with the brass in DC, I was told that this will be our last chance to prove that we are worth keeping around even within the CIA.”

There was a noticeable change in the room. The air suddenly seemed ice cold, and no one spoke for a long moment.

“Carter,” Thompson started. “I’m giving you this op. I know you’ve been opening back channels with Stark and Philips, but I am trusting you here. This mission is strictly reconnaissance. They want information on how many more prisoners there are, who’s running the show, and what kinds of shit they’re cooking up, understood?”

“Thompson, you know this is a trick,” Sousa interjected. “You know every ranking agent at the CIA has it out for us; whether we get this done or not, they’re going to use it against us. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had already sent their own team out there to sabotage it or something. I say who gives a shit about them, we go in and do whatever we can to shut this operation down.”

“My hands are tied, Sousa.”

Thompson sighed again. He had been doing it a lot lately, Peggy had noticed. He was spending more and more nights at the office too, working when Peggy left, and already at it again by the time she arrived in the morning. Things were going downhill fast, and it was apparent just by looking around the briefing room. There were two junior agents still in bullpen, and besides Peggy, Thompson, and Sousa, there were only two other men in the briefing room. They were relatively new and for the life of her, Peggy couldn’t remember their names, but they were all that officially left of the SSR.

“Peggy, are you going to let him do this?” Sousa asked.

“I don’t know,” Peggy said.

“Well there’s a first,” Thompson muttered under his breath. Peggy chose to ignore it though, and she continued.

“I understand that we currently function under the jurisdiction of the CIA, but I also think Agent Sousa is right. There’s a very good possibility that the CIA is counting on this mission to fail in some way, and I don’t think that we should play into their hand quite so easily.”

Thompson closed his eyes and leaned down to brace his hands on the conference table in front of him.

“So what exactly do you propose we do?”

“Officially I’ll go alone,” Peggy said.

“The hell do you mean officially?” Thompson asked.

Peggy glared at him. “I mean, as far as you have to report to DC, I will be the only agent on this mission. I will have another agent with me, and I may be able to meet up with at least part of the 107th when we reach the facility, but that way no matter how things play out, the fallout won’t hit you as harshly.”

Sousa frowned. “Another agent, what other agent?”

“Underwood,” Thompson said. Peggy didn’t reply, but apparently her silence was answer enough. “Of course you’re in contact with Underwood. Of course you are.”

“She’s an invaluable resource in this case,” Peggy said. “She may be able to provide further information that we don’t have, and I trust her. She may have her own motives, but I have reason to believe that she wants this operation ended as much as we do.”

“You trust her,” Thompson repeated flatly. “Next you’re gonna tell me I should just make her an agent, give her security clearance, why not? Carter trusts her.”

“This op is a death knell for this entire agency, and we all know it,” Peggy snapped, slamming her hands down on the table as she stood up to meet Thompson’s eyes. “Regardless of whether this is a success or not, this is the last chance we have to prove that the SSR was worth something. If that means ignoring the CIA to stop whatever’s left of Leviathan, that’s a chance I am willing to take, but I cannot allow anyone else to put their intelligence careers on the line for that. I will go with Dottie Underwood, and we will do whatever we can to stop these operations, and I won’t wait around for your approval to do it.”

She kept her palms planted flat on the table, and she could feel heat behind her eyes, not from tears, but from the sheer weight of her words. She kept her narrow gaze on Thompson, silently daring him to try to change her mind.

Your move, she thought.

Thompson looked away first, staring down at the paperwork in front of him like an answer was just going to appear there. Apparently it didn’t, though, because he grabbed the top sheet of paper and crumpled it in his fist before looking back up at Peggy.

“Okay.”

“Okay?” Peggy and Sousa asked at the same time.

“Yeah,” Thompson said. “You’re right. Go for it. Rain hell on those Reds from all of us. Any questions?” No one said anything, and Thompson nodded. “Alright. Dismissed.” He sank down into his chair and started looking at his files again.

The other agents gathered their things and shuffled back into the bullpen. Sousa took a little longer, and for a second Peggy thought he was going to say something to her, but then he seemed to think better of it and turned around. Peggy was the last one to leave, but she was stopped just as she reached the door.

“Hey, Carter?”

“Yes?” she asked as she turned back to Thompson.

“When all of this blows up and this office goes under…” he lifted his eyes from his report and looked at Peggy with an expression that she could only read as nervous. “Put in a good word for me somewhere?”

There was a part of Peggy that was tempted to tell him exactly where he could shove his good word, but she didn’t. Maybe it was just the sheer emotions that were roiling inside of her at the moment, or maybe it was just the fact that she knew that things were really going to change soon. Either way, the words left her mouth before she quite realized what she was saying.

“Of course, Jack.”

Thompson seemed nearly as surprised as Peggy at that. His eyebrows raised just the slightest bit, and he started to open his mouth, but then shook his head and turned back to his work.

“The first plane I could get you on leaves at 11pm,” he said without looking at her. “Are you sure you can do this?”

“Absolutely.”

“Good. Don’t let me down, Carter. Now get outta here.”

“Yes, sir,” Peggy said before turning and heading back to her office.

She was supposed to have meetings with several members of the DC brass that they had been complaining about during the briefing that night, but a phone call to Howard explaining the bare bones of the situation was all it took to make sure that things were rescheduled.

The problem, however, arose when Peggy finally had a moment to remember that Angie was in town. It had been so long since she had last had someone else to consider. Well, it was still Angie; there had been no one before Angie, and although Peggy was scared to admit it, she wasn’t sure there would be anyone after. And now she had to go home and leave right now when Angie had only just arrived, and she was at a funeral for God’s sake, Peggy couldn’t just leave.

But not going wasn’t an option either. It just wasn’t. But it felt like she and Angie were balancing on a landmine at the moment: one wrong move could blow up whatever delicate balance they had struck, and Peggy wasn’t sure there would be any chance of reconciliation after that.

She was going to have to do something, though, and waiting around the office was hardly going to do any good. Besides, she had to get in touch with Dottie quickly, although she was pretty sure that wouldn’t be too hard.

It was nearly five pm when she left the office and headed back towards her apartment. It was only a few blocks before she felt eyes on the back of her neck. Someone was watching her, following her, and that was exactly what she wanted.

She made a detour after a few blocks. She seemed to know the way even before she consciously decided where she was going. The green lights of the L&L automat loomed ahead of her, and she could still feel her tail as she stepped inside. She got a sandwich from the coin-op at the back, sat down in the second to last booth, ordered a coffee from the waitress, and waited.

She didn’t pay much attention to the door, but she heard the bell jingle a few times, and after a minute or two, someone sat down in the booth behind her.

“You’ve got a nice place,” Dottie sad in lieu of a greeting. “I mean, I always thought the building was a little worn out, but I like what you’ve done with the place.”

“Pleased to hear it,” Peggy said, taking a long sip of her coffee. “Although I assume your reasons for breaking into my home extend beyond interior design?” She couldn’t see Dottie’s face, but she could practically hear the grin in her voice.

“I left you a little present,” she said. “I have a feeling that it’s relevant to your interests at the moment.”

“Is it even worth asking how you know about that?”

“Who do you think tipped your guys off to the base out there in the first place?” Dottie asked. “You know, it really takes forever for you people to get intelligence to the right places.”

“And you think I’m the right place?”

“I know you are. I even went through all the official channels just so that you could get full support on this, but I’m guessing because you’re here, that didn’t happen.”

“This is full support,” Peggy replied dryly. She took another sip of her coffee as another waitress walked by and then looked down at the sandwich she didn’t feel like eating. “Well, this and a plane leaving tonight. Eleven pm. Can I count on you?”

“That depends. Why are you so sure that I want to help you?”

“Because you’re here,” Peggy said. “I won’t pretend to know your motives, but I believe that your goals are close enough to ours to warrant helping each other.”

“Oh, I’ve missed you, Peg. I’ll be there. Take a look over the gift I left you. It might be a little more helpful than black ink on an incomplete report.”

Peggy heard the creak of the vinyl booth, and when she glanced over her shoulder, Dottie was already gone. Peggy tucked a few bills under her barely-touched mug of coffee, and went back outside. She made it to her apartment rather quickly, and was rather surprised to find Angie on the sofa when she got inside. She was leaning over a glass of what had to be whiskey judging by the bottle on the coffee table. She didn’t look up when Peggy walked in, but she clearly didn’t miss it.

“I thought you said you had meetings tonight.”

“They were rescheduled,” Peggy said breathlessly. “Are you alright? How was it today? I didn’t expect you to be back so early either.”

“I didn’t feel like hanging round after it was all said and done. I thought maybe I’d come back and make dinner or something so we could talk tonight, but I think maybe it would be best if I just stayed at a hotel.”

Peggy frowned. “What’s going on?”

Angie slammed her glass down on the coffee table, sipping whiskey on her hand. She barely even seemed to notice that, though, as she grabbed something Peggy couldn’t see that had been resting on the sofa next to her. She dropped a brown file folder with a yellow note attached to the top with a paperclip.

“Why don’t you tell me, English.

Angie spat the nickname like it was poison in her mouth, and Peggy felt numb as she stepped closer and picked up the file. The note on top was in Dottie’s handwriting.

A little gift from me to you. Enjoy, English.

The writing on the folder itself was in Russian: Red Widow and Project Ghost.  Peggy didn’t open it immediately, but it was hardly a mystery what the information inside pertained to.

“Angie, I –”

“When are you leaving?” Angie demanded, looking down at the coffee table rather than at Peggy.

“I’m…I don’t –”

“I’m not an idiot, Peggy,” Angie snapped. She turned on Peggy with a cold fire behind her eyes. “When are you leaving?”

“Tonight,” Peggy said quietly. “I’m leaving tonight.”

“When will you be back?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Where are you going?”

Peggy didn’t answer right away and Angie let out a dry laugh. “Classified. I figured. When were you going to tell me?”

“I only just found out this morning, and I thought I might have to leave before you got back,” Peggy started, but Angie cut her off.

“So what, you weren’t going to tell me at all?”

Peggy didn’t answer.

“You were just going to up and leave without a word, without knowing when you’d be back, without even saying goodbye?” Angie’s voice was thick like she was trying to keep herself from crying. “You haven’t changed a bit.”

“What does that mean?” Peggy demanded.

“It means that no matter what, nothing is ever going to be as important as your work,” Angie said. She had grabbed her glass off the coffee table again, and she was gesturing wildly with it. “You’re so wrapped up in trying to change the world that everything and everyone else has to be secondary, and I thought that maybe things would be different this time, but I can’t do it anymore.”

“Angie,” Peggy started.

“No, I can’t,” Angie said. She turned away and crossed her arms. “I’m done. There’s always, always going to be something more important than me, and that may be fine for you, but I can’t do that anymore.”

“What are you saying?” Peggy asked. She crossed her own arms, and she could feel heat rising to her cheeks like she had been slapped.

“I’m leaving.” Angie turned back around and Peggy could see tears in her eyes. “I’m going to check into a hotel, and then I’m flying back out to LA and I’m not coming back. There’s nothing here for me anyway.” Her chin was trembling, but she set her jaw as she traded her glass for a suitcase that Peggy hadn’t even noticed on the floor next to the coffee table. Angie shouldered past Peggy to get to the door.

“What about the rest of your things?” Peggy asked.

Angie didn’t falter as she wrenched the door open. “I’ll be back for them later. It’s not like you’ll be here to help anyway.”

She didn’t look back; just slammed the door behind her. Peggy dropped the file and pulled the door open again just in time to see Angie’s back as she stepped into the open elevator. She wanted to call out something, anything, but the words were stuck in her throat, and the elevator doors closed before she could get anything out. She didn’t even realize she was crying until she felt the tears running down her cheeks.

She closed the door again, and leaned back against it like it was the only thing holding her upright. She wrapped her arms around herself as if to hold herself together, but she hardly felt like she was going to break at all. She wasn’t sure what she felt. She just felt numb, empty, like her tears were escaping and taking her feelings with them.

She wasn’t sure how long she stayed like that, but eventually she straightened up, pulled herself together – or at least as together as she could be – and noticed the file she had abandoned on the floor. She snatched it up and sat down on the sofa to open it, pulling the whiskey bottle a little closer without even thinking about it.

Angie was right. There was no use trying to convince herself otherwise: her work was the most important thing in her life, and if it was going to cost her this much, then damn it, she was going to make it count


.Russia in the wintertime was easily one of Peggy’s least favorite places on earth, and even though it was April, it may as well have been January in the remote corner of the forest that Peggy and Dottie ended up in.

Much to Peggy’s displeasure, the 107th had been driven out of the area by a storm only the night before, so she and Dottie were completely on their own. It was mid-afternoon when they landed a few miles away from the facility, and they immediately started their trek. Dottie had been eerily quiet and focused since they had left New York, and Peggy was grateful for it. She wasn’t entirely sure why that was, but she would take silence over Dottie’s usual lines of questioning any day. She didn’t feel at all like talking about what had happened the night before.

It took a few hours, but eventually the facility appeared on the horizon. It looked like a simple concrete bunker rising out of the snow.

The file that Dottie had left at Peggy’s apartment contained blueprints to the facility, and details of the security measures that were in place. They were surprisingly minimal, but then again, the bunker was the only thing around for miles in any direction, so realistically they didn’t really need much else.

Dottie crouched down behind a snow-covered boulder and Peggy did the same. Dottie studied the bunker through her binoculars, and then sighed.

“Shit.”

“What?”

“It looks like they’ve already cleared out,” Dottie said. She picked up a chunk of ice off the ground and threw it against the boulder.

“They knew we were coming?” Peggy asked.

“I don’t know. Chances are they just got a little too comfortable here, or maybe the storm drove them out, or hell, maybe they just needed to go kidnap more people to experiment on. They’re just not here.

Peggy frowned and studied the bunker herself. “How can you be sure?”

“Look above the door,” Dottie said, pointing over the boulder to direct Peggy’s vision. “See that tiny ring of red along the top of the frame?” Peggy nodded. “That means the building’s been abandoned. There are some nasty experiments going on in some of these places, and the red means that this was a sensitive facility that was left in a hurry, so there may be things left behind.”

“So am I correct in assuming that that means there could be people coming back for whatever got left behind?” Peggy asked.

“Possibly.”

“Should we be worried?”

Dottie grinned at Peggy and started tapping the gloved fingers of one hand against her thigh while she used the other to adjust the knife clipped to the side of her boot. “I think we can handle ourselves.”

Before Peggy could say anything else, Dottie stood up and started walking straight across the snowy ground towards the bunker.

“Bloody hell,” Peggy muttered as she scrambled to her feet. She waited a moment, kept her eyes on Dottie, and watched as Dottie walked straight up to the door of the bunker. She kicked the padlock on the door, and it broke right away. It was almost too easy, but hell, it was what they were doing now.

She caught up to Dottie and helped her get the heavy door open. Inside was a short, dark hallway that lead to an even darker metal stairwell that stretching downward as far as Peggy could see. She turned to Dottie and raised one eyebrow.

“After you.”

Dottie’s lips twitched, and she grabbed kept close to the side of the stairwell as she started walking. Peggy waited a few steps, and then followed after her.

They kept completely quiet until they reached the bottom of the stairs. Dottie found a switch on the wall next to her and flipped it. The lights flickered a few times, but suddenly there was light all around them and Peggy could hear the distinct hum of electricity in the wires that ran in either direction above their heads.

They were in another hallway, this one long and narrow and stretching farther than Peggy could see. There were metal doors along the walls on either side, and Dottie was inspecting both of their options. She looked up at the ceiling, seemed to fix her eyes on the wires above them, and pointed to the right.

“That way.”

“You’re sure?” Peggy asked.

“Absolutely. The main lab is that way, and anything that we could still use would be in there.”

“Then lead the way.”

“What’s wrong, Peg, you don’t trust me to follow?” Dottie asked with a grin.

“Not even a little bit,” Peggy replied.

Dottie said something that Peggy could have sworn sounded like “Me neither,” but she couldn’t be sure, and she didn’t bother asking Dottie to repeat herself. Instead, she just followed as Dottie lead the way toward a door at the end of hall. It was nearly identical to all the others, but when they got to it, they found the padlock had already been broken and the door was open just the slightest bit.

Dottie pulled one of her gloves off with her teeth and raised her finger to her lips. Peggy grabbed her gun out of the holster at her thigh, and nodded. Dottie pulled the door open enough for them to slip inside, and Peggy followed.

The room – the lab, she supposed, it had to be the lab – was dark, but neither she nor Dottie dared to flip the switch. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, but as they did, she could make out machines along the walls that looked exactly like the ones in the photos she had seen. The ceiling was higher than she would have expected, and there was a metal catwalk all the way around. The machinery cast strange shadows across the concrete walls and floors, and it was nearly impossible to tell what was actual movement and what was just Peggy’s mind playing tricks on her.

She didn’t have to wonder for very long though.

All of a sudden, light flooded the room as someone flipped the switch, and both Peggy and Dottie whirled around, weapons at the ready, but they weren’t fast enough.

There were hands around Peggy’s neck, sharp nails scratching at her skin, and Peggy gasped, clawed at the hands, tried to break their grip, but then she heard a loud crack and the hands loosened. Peggy whirled around to see Dottie holding a metal pipe, and for the first time, Peggy got a good look at her attacker. It was a young woman, lithe and athletic with a tight, dirty blonde braid.

Just as soon as Peggy caught her breath, though, the woman was back on her feet. Dottie grabbed the woman’s arm and twisted it behind her back, but the woman was quicker, and she turned Dottie’s momentum against her to wrench her shoulder with a noise that made Peggy cringe. Dottie gasped, and Peggy snatched her discarded pipe off the floor. She swung it hard towards the woman’s shoulder, but she caught it easily and pushed it back with enough force to make Peggy stumble back.

That was enough of a distraction to give Dottie a chance to turn around, catch the woman’s face in her good hand, and drag the nail of her index finger down her cheek, hard enough to draw blood.

The woman wrapped her legs around Dottie’s waist, grabbed Dottie’s shoulder with one hand, and managed to force her onto the concrete floor with a loud slam, but then her movements seemed to slow. She blinked like she was confused, like she didn’t know what was happening to her, and then before Peggy had figured that out, the woman went completely limp, rolled off of Dottie, and was still.

“Is she dead?” Peggy asked, not taking her eyes off of the woman’s body.

 “Yeah, she’s dead.” Dottie got to her feet slowly, grabbed her own dislocated shoulder, and clenched her jaw as she wrenched it back into place with little more than a hiss. She looked down at her fingernails and then curled her fingers towards Peggy. “This is a pretty strong neurotoxin. It would probably be illegal if any government actually knew about it, but it’s effective. Although you really could have just shot her.”

“She was too close, I didn’t want to risk hitting you,” Peggy snapped.

“Aw, Pegs, I didn’t know you cared.”

Peggy rolled her eyes. “Why was she here? Are there going to be more coming?”

“Once she misses a check-in or something, they’ll probably send someone after her.” Dottie paused, looked back at the woman, and shrugged. “Probably. But she’s not why we’re here.”

Dottie wandered over to one of the machines and flipped a switch on the side. It started to whir to life and a few lights on the front began blinking. She punched a few buttons, and there was a sound like a typewriter, and that was when Peggy noticed a long strip of paper ejecting out of slot on the side.

“Yes,” Dottie breathed.

“What the hell is that?”

Dottie tore off part of the paper and she grinned.

“This is the result of the Project Winter tests.”

“Project Winter?” Peggy moved a little closer to read over Dottie’s shoulder, but she couldn’t quite make out the words.

“A super soldier project,” Dottie clarified. “Except they’re not focused on making soldiers. They want a new breed of assassin.”

Something caught Peggy’s eye: a series of metal hooks on the wall behind one of the strange coffin-shaped machines from the reconnaissance photos. There were chains hanging off of each one, and as Peggy got closer, she could see they were dog tags. Twelve sets of them to be exact, with one empty hook on the end.

Some of the tags were so worn that Peggy couldn’t make out the names on them. Most of them she could read just fine, and she recognized two of the names as those from the reports. Her throat felt tight as she grabbed one of the last chains in her hand and found the name she was most terrified to see: M. Carter.

Her brother’s dog tags felt heavy in her hands, and almost warm, like he had only just let go of them, and she could still feel the heat of his skin on it.

“Hey, Peggy?” Dottie called, her voice high and tight and instantly indicative of something bad. “We should probably get out of here.”

“Why?” Peggy shoved Michael’s dog tags in her pocket and spun around just in time to see Dottie pointing to a something on the catwalk above them. It looked like a small piece of metal with a blinking red light on top, and Peggy immediately felt her instincts take over.

She grabbed the rest of the dog tags off of the hooks; if she couldn’t do anything else, at least she could save them. Dottie had amassed several pieces of cream-colored paper that she rolled up tight and slipped into her boot, and then both she and Peggy raced out of the lab, back down the hallway, up the stairs.

Maybe it was the weight of everything that had happened the past few days or how little sleep she had gotten or even just the fact that she hadn’t been out in the field for a while, but Peggy felt like the air was getting thicker around her, like she was running underwater. Her legs felt weak, and apparently Dottie noticed, because as they neared the top of the stairs, she wedged her god shoulder underneath Peggy’s arm and practically dragged her out of the bunker just as Peggy heard an explosion somewhere behind her.

Dottie practically dove out of the way, and she pulled Peggy with her, taking cover behind a large pile of rocks just as a wave of heat washed over the clearing.

“Peggy, are you – shit.

“What?” Peggy asked. “What’s wrong?”

“You’re bleeding,” Dottie said. She pointed to the spot where Peggy’s neck met her shoulder, right where their attacker had tried to grab her. She pressed two fingers against the spot, and when she pulled them away, sure enough, there were tiny drops of blood.

Her surroundings were starting to swirl together, and her mind was getting foggy. She was vaguely aware of Dottie saying something to her, but she couldn’t make out what it was. She pressed her stiff fingers hard against her neck.

“Bloody hell,” she murmured.

Every muscle in her body seemed to go weak all at once, and then everything went black.

Chapter Text

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, time became fluid, moving in and around itself, doubling back, then jumping forward, leaving Sharon dazed and confused even as she fought to remain level-headed.

It felt like it took an eternity for her to register the chaos that was developing around her, but by the time she had, she already found herself moving back into the apartment, walking calmly down the hallway, standing in a grimy alley with brick walls around her that muffled the sounds of the approaching sirens.

“You better get out of here while you can, kiddo.”

The voice was coming from above her, and Sharon looked up just in time to see Dottie drop down from the fire escape and land almost silently in front of her. She must have hesitated for just a moment too long, because Dottie flashed her a sharp grin.

“You know,” she said then, faltering just the slightest bit. “You look familiar.”

“It’s the eyes,” Sharon said, a little surprised that she still had her wits about her at a time like this. “And I can handle myself.”

“Oh I have no doubt about that.” There was a gleam in Dottie’s eye that sent a chill down Sharon’s spine. “You’re good at your job. But looking at everything that’s happened, I think you’ve either found a reckless streak, or you’re trying to prove something. And in this business, I don’t know which one of those is more dangerous.”

“For who?”

“I guess we’ll find out. Now get the hell out of here before anything else explodes.”

Sharon didn’t need to be told twice. In fact, she hardly even needed to be told once. A single heartbeat and her training took over.

She made her way down the alley, shedding her jacket as she walked. She tossed it an open dumpster as she passed, and dug around in her pockets until she found a stretched out hair tie that looked like it was one tight ponytail away from snapping. It did its job, though, and Sharon kept her head down and her eyes forward as she stepped onto the busy sidewalk. By the time she glanced back into the alley, Dottie had disappeared without a trace.

The key to not being noticed in the crowd was to look like she belonged, so she let herself get dragged along by the gathering crowd, looking when people pointed at the burning remains of Natasha’s favorite car, being careful not to draw attention to herself as she headed in the opposite direction.

She put a full block between herself and the site of the explosion before she started taking more drastic measures. She hadn’t noticed anyone tailing her, but she had always been taught to trust her instincts, and at that moment, they were telling her to wander down side streets, stop at a food truck for a cup of coffee, browse the windows of the stores around her, anything to make it look like she was any ordinary person who was exactly where she wanted to be.

About forty minutes and another five or six meandering blocks later, Sharon found herself at the counter of a small diner that looked like it literally had not been changed since the 1950s. The stools were covered in sticky vinyl, the fingerprint-covered napkin holders were chrome, and the Formica countertops and grungy linoleum tiles had probably been due for a replacement a decade ago, but it was a nice enough little place with only a few people inside.

She ordered a burger from a woman in a powder blue uniform, and turned her attention to the small TV set behind the counter that was tuned to some celebrity news channel that was covering some Tony Stark sex scandal or another. Sharon wasn’t really interested at all, but it was nice to see something that reminded her that outside the nightmare she was living, the world was still turning as usual.

The waitress returned with her burger, and Sharon was reminded that she hadn’t eaten in hours. As she dug into her food, she watched as another waitress stepped behind the counter, whispered in her coworker’s ear, and then switched the TV channel to a different news station where a composed young woman was standing just in front of a barrier of police tape that had been set up in front of Angie’s apartment building.

“If you’re just tuning in, this is continuing coverage of an explosion that went off in East Harlem approximately one hour ago. Information is still coming in, but as of right now, the facts suggest that the cause was a car bomb. First responders are still on the scene, and so far there have been no reported casualties. No suspects have been named as of yet. We’ll be sticking with this story as it continues to develop. Jim?”

The screen flashed back to the news anchors in the studio whose words about ‘senseless violence’ and ‘swift justice’ were already rushing together in Sharon’s head. She was only halfway through her burger, but she crumpled her napkin in her fist and tossed it on her plate as she stood up. She left enough cash on the counter to cover her unfinished meal and a sizeable tip, and headed back outside.

It was well and truly starting to get late. The sky had turned the inky purplish-blue of a bustling city after sundown, and there was a chill breeze whipping around the buildings. Sharon almost regretted tossing her jacket, but eventually she managed to find a small souvenir stand that was still open, and she picked up a rather garish tie-dyed NYC sweatshirt.

It was warm enough to ward off the chill, touristy enough to help her blend in even more on the streets, and tacky enough that if she kept it, it probably wouldn’t end up mysteriously migrating to Natasha’s apartment like some of her other sweatshirts had recently for reasons she didn’t know.

Natasha.

Sharon felt cold dread curling in the pit of her stomach as she remembered that there was a trap waiting for her in Russia, but Natasha was smart, perceptive. She could take care of herself, and it wasn’t like worrying was going to do her any good anyway. The only thing Sharon should really be worried about was how Natasha was going to react when she found out what had happened to her car.

Sharon still couldn’t quite believe that things had quite literally blown up so quickly. Of course, hindsight was always twenty-twenty, and now, weaving her way through the streets of New York City in the encroaching darkness with Dottie’s parting words echoing in her head, she could pick apart every stupid decision that she had made that got her to this moment.

Dottie was right: Sharon had been reckless, but it wasn’t just a streak. She had long since outgrown her days of being too reckless for her own good, being cocky for the thrill of it. No, Dottie had been right in that she knew that Sharon had something to prove.

All she had ever wanted to do for as long as she could remember was live up to the stories of Aunt Peggy, and to make Aunt Peggy proud, but now she had gone and gotten herself most likely fired and burned, and had probably ruined Maria’s and Natasha’s careers too, and all she had to show for it was a bruised ego and an absolutely horrendous sweatshirt that still smelled vaguely of burned plastic.

She found herself thinking about how Natasha had maybe sort of kissed her before leaving, and more specifically about how she maybe sort of wanted it to happen again, but with everything that had happened in the past forty-eight hours, that chance was probably blown straight to hell with the wreckage of Natasha’s car, all because Sharon had let her emotions get the best of her.

She remembered the day that she had first told her mother that she wanted throw away her scholarship to MIT to join SHIELD. Her mother hadn’t said anything for a long moment, but eventually she just sighed, met Sharon’s eyes from across the table, and then smiled a little bit sadly.

“You know I’ll love you no matter what, but I just hope you know that you don’t have to prove anything to anyone.”

Now she could add ‘disappointing her mother’ to the list of stellar choices she had made recently, which was really just the icing on the cake.

Night had well and truly settled by then, and she still wasn’t sure where she was supposed to be. If this had been an ordinary mission, she would have headed to the closest SHIELD safe house and laid low until she could get back in touch with the rest of her team or until someone told her to do something else. This wasn’t an ordinary mission, but then again, almost all of her relevant training was for extraordinary circumstances, which really should have occurred to her earlier.

There was an old telecommunications building that she knew of that doubled as a now-defunct base of operations. It hadn’t been used much since the construction of the Triskelion and other more high-tech bases, but it was still around, so maybe that was a good place to start.

She knew roughly the location of the building, and as she started paying attention to the street signs as she passed them, she was able to get her bearings pretty quickly. Another few blocks, and she was staring at the dirty brick façade with the words: New York Bell Co. spelled out in crumbling letters.

There was no sign that anyone was there, or really that anyone had been there in a while. She made her way to the back of the building via a rather sketchy-looking alley and found a rusty metal door set in the wall. It only took Sharon a moment to find the retinal scanner next to it that was designed to blend into the bricks around it, and she heard a soft click that let her know that the door was unlocked. It was heavier than she expected, but she pulled it open and stepped inside to find herself staring down a long hallway that was partially lit by yellowy backup lights.

So someone had been there recently. That didn’t necessarily mean danger – there were plenty of other SHIELD agents who had access to places like this, and most of them probably didn’t even know about Sharon’s absolute mess of a day. Nevertheless, she was on edge as she eased the door shut behind her. The lock slid back into place with a sharp click that seemed to fill the empty space, but there was no other sound, so Sharon let herself take a deep breath before she moved forward.

There were a few other doors along the hallway, but all of them were closed, and most of them had some form of chain or caution tape in front of them. The only way out of the hall was a flight of metal stairs that led up to another heavy metal door, which then opened into what looked like a lobby that had seen better days. There were cracked marble tiles on the floor, a dusty crystal chandelier dangling from the ceiling, an elegant desk in front of a wall of mailboxes.

Sharon didn’t notice all of that at first, though. Instead, she noticed that there were lights on, and the air didn’t feel as stale as she would have expected for a building that looked like it hadn’t been in visited in a decade or more, and most importantly, she noticed that she didn’t feel like she was alone.

“Hey look at that, you were right. She’s a smart kid.”

Sharon spun around at the sound of Dottie’s voice and noticed her and Peggy standing in the corner of the room, mostly in shadow, but still visible enough that Sharon really should have noticed them right from the start.

Peggy’s arms were crossed, and though Sharon couldn’t see her expression, the short hum of agreement she gave Dottie was almost worse than seeing anything at all.


 

A FEW HOURS EARLIER

“You’re predictable.”

That was the first thing Dottie said once she caught up with Peggy in a sandwich shop in midtown, which would have been more worrying if Peggy had been trying harder to hide. They both knew there wouldn’t be a tail. There was no reason for anyone to tail them. Hydra, Leviathan, the Red Room, or whatever the hell they were calling themselves these days had – for all they knew – the only thing of value in this game they were playing, and now they just had to sit back and wait for Peggy to come to them.

Peggy knew how this was going to play out, and she knew what they wanted from her, and that alone was an asset.

“Predictable doesn’t always mean obvious,” Peggy replied as Dottie slid into the booth across from her.

“Maybe so.” Dottie reached across the table and stole a fry off of Peggy’s plate. “So how are you planning on playing this?”

Peggy sighed.

“You haven’t gotten that far yet,” Dottie said flatly. “Come on, Pegs, you’re not softening up on me after all this time? We’ve been waiting for something like this to happen for decades now, and you don’t know what to do?”

“There are a lot more moving parts at play than I thought there would be,” Peggy said. “And besides that, we’ve spent a lot more time shoring up our defenses and keeping things hidden than coming up with contingency plans for situations like this. After all, how much do we even know about what it looks like these days?”

“Not much,” Dottie said. “Which is admittedly mostly my fault, but given the amount of times that you’ve roped me into destroying facilities rather than actually carrying out reconnaissance, I can’t really take full responsibility for that.”

Peggy rolled her eyes, but she didn’t say anything yet.

“That being said, we have more than you might think.”

Peggy arched an eyebrow. “Care to elaborate on that?”

“Natasha,” Dottie said simply as she swiped another fry.

“What about her?” Peggy asked, although she was almost sure she knew what that meant.

“We’ve been chatting for a while. Nice girl. Reminds me of myself when I was her age.” Peggy snorted, but Dottie ignored her. “Let’s just say she has an idea of what she’s getting herself into.”

“You made my agent into a double agent.” It didn’t come out as a question, but then again, it wasn’t really meant to.

“No, I just gave a spy more chances to do her job. There’s a difference. Besides which, can’t really be a double agent if we’re technically on the same side.

“Technically,” Peggy repeated.

Dottie shrugged. “Technically.”

Peggy leaned back against the vinyl booth with a heavy sigh, squeezed her eyes shut, pressed her fingers to her temple.

“Oh, don’t you go blaming yourself for this or feeling sorry for yourself. You won’t get any sympathy from me,” Dottie said.

“I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m thinking,” Peggy snapped. “You’re right, I have gotten predictable. I’ve been out of the field too long.”

Dottie paused, and when she didn’t say anything for a long moment, Peggy opened her eyes.

“Predictable doesn’t mean obvious,” Dottie said, more to herself than to Peggy. “Of course, we should have seen this coming.”

“What is it?”

“Maybe we’ve both been out of the field for a while, but so have they. Think about it, Pegs. Sixty years is a long time. The world has changed, espionage has changed, and for the most part we’ve changed with it. We’re not thinking the same way we were taught to, because those ways aren’t supposed to work anymore, but maybe that’s exactly how we need to be thinking.”

Peggy frowned. “I’m not following.”

“They’re not just playing for what they want, they want to make a statement while they do it. This isn’t just about getting their hands on something, this is about winning and making sure that the entirety of SHIELD knows about it.”

“A car bomb, like an exploding vest,” Peggy murmured. “Throw us off the trail, confuse us, and then make a statement.”

“Exactly.”

“They’re not trying to beat us at our game, they’re just playing it in a way that we haven’t had to in a very long time.”

“Worried you’ve gotten rusty?” Dottie asked, shooting a pointed look at the gray in Peggy’s hair.

“Of course not,” Peggy scoffed. “I’m just trying to figure it out.”

“Figure what out?”

“What’s the midnight oil in this situation? The elixir is impressive, sure, but it’s far less dramatic, to put it mildly.”

At that, Dottie froze, and her face went deathly pale.

“What?” Peggy asked. “What’s happened? What do you know?”

“Drama isn’t always about violence,” Dottie said. “Sometimes it’s just making a statement.” She paused, looked Peggy dead in the eyes, leaned in close so that her voice was low enough that the non-existent other customers in the restaurant couldn’t have heard her if they tried. “Your niece. How much does she know?”

“What does that have to do with…” Peggy caught herself short, ‘with Angie’ on the tip of her tongue. “with any of this?”

“Really, Peggy, do I have to spell it out for you?”

The realization hit Peggy like a bullet between the eyes, and she cursed herself for not seeing it sooner, for not doing something about it, for being so hopelessly preoccupied for so long that after a while she had managed to convince herself that things could just stay classified for as long as the truth stayed…inconvenient, to say the least.

“I should have known the day you called in that favor that your family drama was going to be the end of me,” Dottie braced her hands on the table and pushed herself up with a heavy sigh. “So I suppose that our first order of business is you figuring your own shit, and then finding a place for a long-overdue heart-to-heart, which I think your old office would be perfect for.”

“I agree,” Peggy said. “Sharon’ll know to find us there.”

“Great,” Dottie said. “Thanks for the food, but I need to make some calls, and I’m sure you do too. Just don’t be late. That girl’s a lot more like you than you think.”

With that, she turned and stalked out of the restaurant, disappearing onto the sidewalk faster than Peggy could hope to track her. Peggy sighed, dropped her head into her hands, ran her fingers through her hair, and that was enough for her to snap out of it. She steeled herself as she slid out of the booth, kept her eyes straight ahead, and stalked out into the stilted light of the sun setting over the city.

 


March 2001

The days after Sharon announced that she was going to join SHIELD were tense, with both her and her mother dancing around the topic with all the tense grace of a game of Russian roulette.

Even though the decision had always felt inevitable to Sharon, now that it was staring her in the face, her resolve was starting to waver. She had gotten into plenty of good schools, she had gotten scholarships to most of them, and the look on her mother’s face when she had opened that MIT acceptance packet – well, it was enough to make her wonder if maybe she should just take the safe route: go to college, study something she knew she was good at, make her mother happy.

It wasn’t like she was a natural-born spy anyway. Sure, she was pretty good at sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night, and getting the smell of weed out of her clothes, and lying to anyone who asked her who asked where she got the bruises on her neck, but none of that made her a spy. She was too heavy on her feet, not perceptive enough, too headstrong and impulsive, and maybe just not SHIELD material after all.

Her mother, too, seemed a little apprehensive. They still hadn’t talked about it at all in the three days since the dinner, but Sharon couldn’t help but notice that the MIT brochure and the pamphlets for a few other schools she had been accepted to had conveniently showed up on the kitchen counter, on the table, on the bulletin board near the door, and a handful of other places that were perfect for making Sharon question her decision even more.

It wasn’t like they were actively avoiding the inevitable conversation, but Sharon’s schedule rarely overlapped with her mom’s, and even when they were both home, the timing was just never right. Sharon had graduation to prep for, and decisions to stress over, and there just weren’t enough hours in the day for it all.

She talked to Aunt Peggy, though. Or more accurately, Aunt Peggy talked to her.

She was waiting outside of Sharon’s school on a dreary Tuesday afternoon, and even though Sharon hadn’t been expecting to see her, it didn’t feel like that much of a surprise.

“I thought we might go out to dinner tonight,” Peggy said. “Perhaps catch up a little bit.”

It wasn’t a question, but Sharon would have been surprised if it had been.

“I assume my mother called you?” Sharon asked, even as she opened the passenger door of Peggy’s shiny black Benz.

“That’s a fair assumption,” Peggy admitted. “But I also think it’s fair to assume that my feelings on this matter are going to align more with yours than hers.”

“Oh really?”

Peggy’s lips twitched as she got into the car, but she didn’t reply. Instead, as she pulled out onto the street she said, “I just need to make a quick stop by the office before we go.”

“Cool, I can wait in the car,” Sharon said.

“You can if you want to, but I could use some help carrying some things down from my office,” Peggy said smoothly.

Maybe calling it a trap was a little too harsh, but Sharon knew that Peggy was up to something, she just didn’t really care enough to question it any further.

It was a short drive to the SHIELD building in Manhattan, and Peggy led the way into the elevator from the parking garage, scanning her fingerprint multiple times as they moved up the floors through different clearance levels. A few people got on and off the elevator, and a few of them nodded at Peggy, but no one spoke, and Sharon felt herself standing just a little bit straighter against the shiny metal wall.

“Here we are,” Peggy said as the doors slid open on the seventeenth floor to a crisp, clean hallway. Her heels clicked rhythmically on the white tile floor as she led the way to her office at the very end of the hallway. There was no secretary out front; Peggy had never told her why, and Sharon had never even thought to ask.

The inside of the office looked much the same as Sharon remembered years ago when her mom would work late and Peggy would let her sit at the desk, color on the floor, show her simple gadgets and photos and tell her heavily-censored stories of what it was to be a spy. The only real difference between now and ten years ago was that everything was packed up in cardboard boxes, clearly waiting to be moved out.

“What’s going on?” Sharon asked. “Are you leaving?”

“Not quite,” Peggy said a little absently. She was behind her desk, sifting through the contents of a desk drawer that hadn’t yet been emptied.

“Retiring?” Sharon asked.

Peggy laughed. “Good Lord, no!” She paused. “Ah, there it is.”

“There’s what?”

“This.” Peggy held up a small package neatly wrapped in newsprint with a red bow left over from Christmas stuck on top. “I’ve had this for a while. I was waiting for the right time to give it to you, but I think now is as good a time as any.”

Sharon kept her wary eyes on Peggy as she accepted the package, and she made a bit of a production of slipping her thumbnail underneath the tape, peeling back the paper rather than tearing it off. Inside was a circle of black elastic lace, and Sharon held it up, examining it to try to figure it out.

“It’s a garter holster,” Peggy explained. “Functional in more ways than one, and easier to conceal than the standard models.”

“I don’t understand, I don’t even own a gun. What is this for?”

Peggy shrugged. “Well, it’s still a functional garter, and it could certainly be a pocket for anything really, but it’s also one of the simplest and most versatile field tools.”

“Oh, I get it,” Sharon said. “This is you trying to go behind my mother’s back, isn’t it?”

“Absolutely not,” Peggy said. “Actually, I’m moving to Washington DC, and I found that hidden away the other day when I was packing, and I thought you ought to have it, regardless of what you want to do. The new buildings are up now, and there’s been quite a bit of pressure to move our headquarters there, so that’s where I come in.”

“You’re moving to the Triskelion?”

Peggy hummed her confirmation. “Research and development is down there now, and most of the training facilities. We’re expanding the academy too. Communications, operations, and science and technology are all getting their own programs.”

“Okay, you’re starting to sound like an admissions counselor now,” Sharon said drily, shaking her head and wandering over to the desk. The topmost item in the box on it was a small frame with a copy of her senior picture in it. She started to reach for it, but then hesitated and settled for dragging her fingers along the top of the cold desk before looking back at Peggy, who hadn’t said anything yet.

“I don’t know if I’m cut out for SHIELD,” Sharon said.

“I think it might be better if you thought about whether or not SHIELD is cut out for you,” Peggy said. She had her arms crossed, and she was looking at Sharon like she wasn’t really expecting an answer. “No matter what you choose to do next, it’s going to be hard, but you’ve always been tough, and I am confident that you’ll excel anywhere.”

“But…” Sharon prompted.

But I think that your mother would agree that you should make your choice based on what you want, not what you think will make us happy.”

Sharon paused and looked down at the garter that she was still holding onto, thought about how easily it would fit under her prom dress, how exhilarated she felt just thinking about wearing it. But there was still that sinking feeling of doubt in the pit of her stomach and she bit her lip.

“Do you think I could live up to it?” she asked quietly.

“To what, darling?”

“To your legacy.” Sharon raised her eyes to meet Peggy’s gaze. “What if I don’t make it? Or worse, what if I do and everyone thinks it’s just because I’m your niece?”

Sharon half expected Peggy to laugh, but she was a little bit surprised to see the faint sheen of tears over her eyes, and then Peggy came closer, put her hands on Sharon’s, and looked at her in a way that made Sharon want to squirm, but she held herself just as firm.

“You’ve spent far too long making choices to protect yourself from the disappointment of other people,” Peggy said. “I think it’s high time that you gave yourself the luxury of a real choice, without anything else getting in the way. You don’t have to have an answer today, and you don’t have to feel guilty about wondering what you could be giving up, but you need to be sure of what you’re saying yes to, because that’s the only way to be sure of yourself.”

Sharon didn’t know what to say to that, but she didn’t have to say anything at all when Peggy moved her hands to Sharon’s shoulders, drew her closer, and hugged her tight, and though she didn’t say it out loud, she knew in that moment that she had already made her choice.


Present Day

There was a near-stifling amount of tension in the air as Dottie and Peggy led Sharon around a corner, up a small flight of stairs, down a short hallway into a bullpen straight out of an old cop show.

“Oh, it’s been quite a while since I’ve been back in here,” Dottie said. She ran her finger along a dusty desk and looked down at the path she had cut. “Love what you’ve done with the place.”

“Are we looking for something or meeting someone here or something?” Sharon asked.

“The former,” Peggy said as she stalked across the room to a pair of metal filing cabinets on the back wall under a rather imposing SSR eagle. “After we officially closed this building in the sixties, everything was cleared out, but we retained the building, so I and a few of my older colleagues began using this as a place to store…shall we say, irrelevant, but still sensitive.”

“Irrelevant?” Sharon repeated.

“Relevant in different ways,” Dottie said. “And I also don’t think that storage is enough to describe this place. For years during the Cold War this was a communication and drop point for those of us in the intelligence game who weren’t quite so eager to just pick a side and stick to it.”

“That too,” Peggy said. She was picking the lock on the middle drawer of one of the cabinets, and she pulled it open with a loud metallic scrape. “As you are very well aware, there were a handful of secret Soviet programs that were officially shut down after World War II, but they continued running, and Dottie and a handful of other spies who made it out of the Red Room helped smuggle out information and sometimes prisoners.”

“Other girls?” Sharon asked.

“Sometimes,” Dottie said. She had moved to stand next to Peggy, gazing over her shoulder as she thumbed through the files. “More usually though it was just information, some files here and there, a few bottles of the toxin that nicked your aunt when we stormed a base.”

“Yes, well, Howard fixed that well enough, didn’t he?” Peggy pulled out a thick manila folder with a black elastic band holding it shut. “And besides, that’s hardly the point here, and if you’re not going to tell it properly then I will.”

Sharon frowned. “Tell what properly?”

“This.”

Peggy opened the folder and dropped it on one of the desk in front of Sharon. The document on top was mostly in Russian and also mostly redacted, but there was a note in English on yellow notepad paper that was paperclipped over a photo. The note was in Peggy’s fluid cursive, and it read:

Sbt 13: ‘Kate Howard’ circa 1949(MmeB)-June 29, 2001 (r.w.s.)

Sharon didn’t know yet what she was looking at, but the hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach warned her that whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

“What the hell is this?” she asked. “That’s my mother’s name, and that’s the date she died. What the hell is going on?”

“You know, there were probably more tactful ways to do this,” Dottie said.

“Yes,” Peggy snapped. “But tact requires time, and that is a luxury that we do not currently have.”

Sharon lifted the corner of the yellow note, and there underneath it, was a grainy black and white photo of a girl around ten years old. She was looking at the camera head on with dark, almond-shaped eyes and a tight mouth turned into a deep scowl. There wasn’t much detail, and Sharon couldn’t read the note in Russian underneath, but she knew those eyes. Hell, she knew that expression. It had looked back at her from the mirror for most of high school, and as she made the connection, she felt her entire body go rigid for a split second before the anger took over.

“My mother was a Red Room girl,” she said, more to herself, testing the words as events fell into place around them. When she looked up at Peggy, it took every ounce of strength she had to keep her voice level. “My mother was a black widow and you never thought I deserved to fucking know.”

Peggy didn’t say anything, but she didn’t turn away from Sharon either, even as Dottie laughed from her perch on the dusty desk at the side.

“Oh, honey,” she said. “That’s the least of what she didn’t want you to know.”

Chapter Text

The story, as Sharon had always known it, was this:

Her father had died before she was born, that much she knew for sure. Aunt Peggy’s brother, Michael, had been in the military and there were pictures to prove it. He had been captured and killed before Sharon was even born, and she had his nose, his smile, his bright personality to show for it.

Her mother, on the other hand, was very much alive for Sharon’s childhood, and very much involved, even if she wasn’t always around. She worked as a flight attendant, but when Sharon was little, she rarely traveled. She worked at a dance studio down the block from their apartment where she was known as the best ballet teacher the studio had ever known. Around the time that Sharon turned ten, though, she started working more. She could be gone for days at a time, but she never forgot to call before bed, and she always brought something small back for Sharon. She had a drawer full of random like trinkets –keychains, bottle caps, matchbooks, coins –from places she had never even heard of before.

On particularly long trips, Aunt Peggy would invite Sharon to stay over at her penthouse in midtown and even though Sharon was sure that she was long past the age of needing a babysitter, Aunt Peggy was different. Aunt Peggy was interesting and mysterious and she had so many stories about so many interesting people, and she would teach Sharon all manner of little tricks and secrets like the spies in the movies: basic codes and ciphers, how to roll secret notes around the teeth of her hair clips, how to write backwards and in shorthand. She insisted that any niece of hers was going to learn how to keep herself safe no matter what she did with her life.


June 18, 2001

Sharon was nearly a block away from her apartment when she realized that something was very wrong.

There were lights flashing and part of the street was blocked off with yellow crime scene tape. As Sharon got closer, she counted three cop cars, one firetruck, one ambulance, and one red Corvette that she recognized as Aunt Peggy’s. Something twisted in the pit of her stomach, and her mouth went dry, but she kept walking. She was balancing an overly-full grocery bag on her hip, and she tightened her grip on it as she got close enough to make out the people between the vehicles.

“Aunt Peggy?”

Peggy was in a heated conversation with a uniformed officer, but she spun around at the sound of Sharon’s voice, and her face fell.

“What’s going on?” Sharon asked. “Did something happen?” She tried to walk closer, to peer around the yellow tape, but Peggy held her back.

“Don’t,” she said. “There’s…there’s been an accident.”

“No,” Sharon said. “No, I was only gone a few minutes. I was just around the corner, I was –”

“Sharon,” Peggy warned.

“You’re the feds, right?” asked one of the other cops.

“Something like that,” Peggy replied.

“What the hell do the feds want with a jumper?”

Sharon felt sick even before the words sunk in as if her subconscious knew what was coming before she did.

“Sharon,” Peggy said firmly.

There was a thick sheet over a shape on the sidewalk and another officer was unspooling a roll of yellow tape around the scene. Sharon was only aware of dropping her bags when the milk splashed onto her shoes. There were arms around her, and then she was being guided away. The next few weeks were a blur of questions and answers that led to even more questions.

The final ruling was that her mother’s death wasn’t a suicide. She was shot in the shoulder by whoever had broken into and ransacked the apartment while Sharon was out, and when that hadn’t been enough, she was tossed off the fire escape in a sloppy attempt to cover their tracks. Or at least it would have been sloppy if whoever had done it hadn’t completely avoided leaving any trace of their identity. Or if they hadn’t used a Soviet-made bullet with the most distinctive rifling the medical examiner had ever encountered. The police never told Sharon that part though, and neither did Peggy. It was redacted in the report, although Peggy did give Dottie a piece of her mind for using something so conspicuous.

The cause of death was ruled to be a homicide. A burglary gone wrong with the killer in the wind. Kate Howard was just in the wrong place in the wrong time.

A week before Sharon was supposed to move to MIT she bought a one-way ticket to DC to join SHIELD and she never looked back.


The reality, as it was briefly revealed to Sharon, was this:

Her father had died before she was born, that much was true. Aunt Peggy’s brother, Michael, had been in the military and there were pictures to prove it. He had been captured and killed before Sharon was even born, and she had his nose, his smile, his bright personality to show for it.

Sharon had never been told about the circumstances of her father’s death. Neither her mother nor Aunt Peggy liked to talk about it, and when they did, the answers they gave were vague in a way that suggested they were intended to shut down the conversation rather than resolve it. When she had started at SHIELD, she had tried for a while to find some trace of her father in the record, but everything related to his name except for the photo on Aunt Peggy’s desk was so highly classified that she doubted anyone in the agency had clearance to access it.

As it turned out, he had served in World War II and had been captured mere months into his service in 1939, and he was then presumed dead until he was found in a raid of a Soviet base in 1982. He was killed in the ensuing firefight.

Her mother, on the other hand, was very much alive for Sharon’s childhood, and very much involved, even if she wasn’t always around. She rarely traveled when Sharon was little, though. She worked at a dance studio down the block from their apartment where she was known as the best ballet teacher the studio had ever known, even if she wasn’t allowed to work with the little girls, and even though her harsh critiques had sent more than one teenage prodigy home crying. She had a reputation for getting the best out of her students, which was only fitting after all her training for the Russian ballet.

Yekaterina Ivanovna Sokolov was born in Moscow in 1949 to redacted parents, orphaned in 1953 under redacted circumstances, and quickly became one of the brightest stars in the newly-reinvigorated Red Room program. As the battles of the Cold War became more and more obscured by proxy wars and false diplomacy, espionage was more important than it had ever been, and new bases seemed to spring up on the radar faster than SHIELD could bring them down.

In 1982, at the time of the firefight that killed Michael Carter, the official SHIELD policy was to tie up any loose ends, which was code for leveling the base and leaving no survivors who would be able to disappear back into the Soviet intelligence ranks. So it was a direct violation of orders that led the SHIELD agents that day to spare the Russian girl who looked just nineteen and who promised information on the experiments the Red Room was conducting, but only to Margaret Carter herself.

The information that Yekaterina Ivanovna Sokolov gave was heavily redacted, but it must have been good, because seven and a half months after she had defected to the United States, Kate Howard gave birth to a daughter who had her father’s nose and her mother’s chin and a never-before-seen combination of genetically-enhanced blood running through her veins.

For the better part of a decade, things stayed relatively quiet. There were always rumors, whispers, ghost stories about the crippled Soviet intelligence apparatus, but it wasn’t until the Soviet Union began to fall that things really began to move again.

That was around the time that Sharon turned ten, and her mother began working and traveling more. She could be gone for days at a time, but she never forgot to call before bed, and she always brought something small back for Sharon who had no idea that the keychains, bottle caps, matchbooks, coins, and other random little trinkets were mostly pilfered from the pockets of unconscious agents regardless of what side they were on.


June 11, 2001

“Listen, Peggy, you can’t save them all.” Dottie was sitting in the chair in front of Peggy’s desk with her feet up on the desktop. “I mean, if I’m being honest, I’m impressed she lasted this long. We’re talking about Madame B’s daughter for Christ’s sakes. If you really thought she was going to last forever, you were kidding yourself.”

“Believe me, I’m aware,” Peggy said. She dropped her head into her hands, squeezed her eyes shut, drew in a deep breath.

“She has to go,” Dottie said. “Especially now that Barton brought back that Romanov girl. I don’t want to be callous, but if she gets away with this…”

“I know,” Peggy growled.

“You know she’s the reason they sterilize the girls now. Kate, not the Romanov girl. The Romanov girl was sterilized because Kate ddefected to keep the baby, which I guess means we should have seen this coming sooner, but –”

“What would it take to get you to stop talking?” Peggy snapped, glaring at Dottie from across the desk.

Dottie ignored her and took up playing with a little flag in Peggy’s pencil cup even as she turned her own icy glare on Peggy.

“The longer we keep putting this off, the longer she’s a threat to us and the more she’ll start to suspect something. We need to take care of this.”

“I’ll let you do your job, you let me do mine,” Peggy said. She pressed her fingers against her temples and squeezed her eyes shut. She knew that Dottie was right –she had the intercepted communications locked in her desk drawer to prove it –but it didn’t make it any easier to give the order.

The plastic flagpole was clicking against the pens in the cup and Peggy’s hand shot out to yank it away.

“Hey!”

“After the weekend,” Peggy said.

“What?”

“Sharon’s graduating on Friday.”

“After the weekend,” Dottie said with a mock salute. “Scout’s honor.”

Peggy rolled her eyes and pressed her head into her hands. Dottie slid her chair back across the floor and stood up. She was almost silent making her way to the door, but Peggy looked up at the last moment.

“Whatever you do, make it convincing.”

Dottie grinned. “I always do.”


Present Day

To say that Sharon was blindsided would be an understatement, but if there was one thing that she had gotten really good at over the years, it was keeping her priorities straight under pressure. In this particular case, her priorities were, in order:

1: Get a line into the New York SHIELD base and to DC to get their hands on more resources, get a bigger picture of the situation, figure out their next move. Granted this hadn’t been a by-the-book operation from the start, so Sharon wasn’t sure whether or not that was going to happen.

2: Get in contact with Nat and Clint –who by this time were almost certainly over Russia if they weren’t already on the ground –and find out what they were looking at on their end. And also maybe tell Nat that her favorite car had just gotten blown up so that she’d hopefully cool down before she got back. Objectively that part wasn’t as important, but Sharon didn’t really care.

3: Find Angie. Which of course required finding out what happened to Angie first. Sharon suspected that Peggy had more information on that, or at least knew ways of getting it, which would be helpful, but Sharon couldn’t help but feel responsible, and she was determined to at least fix the mess that she had made before she got burned.

4: Process and react to the news that her entire life had been a lie, that her mother had been a Russian spy and that her aunt had ordered her assassination. That part of the file had, of course, been redacted to hell and back, but it didn’t take much to put the pieces together: Peggy had ordered her mother killed and Dottie had carried it out. On any other occasion, that would have topped everything else, but Sharon could compartmentalize for now.

5: Figure out what the fuck all of this meant for her.

All of that went through her mind before she could really process it, and it only took an instant to steel herself as she met Peggy’s eyes.

“So what the fuck do we do now?”

“That’s where I come in.”

“Hill?” At first Sharon couldn’t tell where Maria’s voice was coming from, but she quickly noticed a radio that looked like it hadn’t been turned on since World War II on one of the desks near her. It didn’t look like any kind of two-way radio that Sharon had ever seen before, but a moment later Maria’s crackly voice came through again.

“Who else?”

“God, it’s good to hear your voice,” Sharon said.

“Save the sentiment, Thirteen, you’ve got work to do,” Hill said. “I’ve been keeping tabs on the area around the apartment block all afternoon and I will say that whoever planted that bomb is really good at ducking a camera. But lucky for us, Miss Martinelli had a really good security system that backs up to an encrypted server whenever it’s triggered, and lo and behold, that server just so happens to be connected to a private network within SHIELD.”

“You were stalking your ex?” Dottie hissed to Peggy who didn’t say anything, but Sharon could practically hear her glare. For a brief moment, she had almost forgotten they were there.

“Did you get anything?” she asked.

“We got a face,” Hill said. “It’s already been sent to every agent in the New York area under a basic APB and we’ve been watching every bridge, tunnel, flight, and ferry. So far no hits.”

“They’re still in the city,” Sharon said.

“Narrows it down, I know,” Maria said. “But you might be pleased to hear that there are reports of a small cargo boat coming up the Sound. No idea where it’s from or if it’s connected to anything, but there are an awful lot of abandoned buildings along the coast that might be the kind of place where someone could lay low before disappearing.”

“Hill, you’re amazing.”

“Well someone has to look out for your dumb ass. And on that note, I should also probably tell you that Romanoff and Barton have reached their drop point and have strict orders for a pure recon pass with no engagement until we get a clearer picture of the situation on this end.”

“So what are my orders?” Sharon asked.

The voice that crackled back wasn’t Maria’s. It was Fury. “Your orders are to run the damn op.”

“Sir?”

“Is our connection that bad? I hate to repeat myself.”

“No, sir, I heard you,” Sharon said. “I just don’t know that I understand.”

“I like you, Carter,” Fury said. “And it would be a real shame to lose one of my best agents before I even get my new desk delivered. I’m giving you a chance to prove that you’re worth keeping around, but I can only do so much. Handle this shit before it gets any more out of hand and maybe you’ll still have a job next week.”

“Sir, I –”

But before Sharon could say anything else, the radio went completely silent and the glow on the face faded and it went back to looking like just another artifact in the unintentional shrine all around her.

“So,” Dottie drawled, prompting Sharon to spin around on her heel. “What are you going to do?”

Sharon didn’t answer right away. Almost instinctively, she glanced over at Peggy, but as soon as she did, she felt herself steel all over again and she looked straight ahead.

“You know,” she said finally. “It might be helpful to know exactly what I’m looking at. SHIELD’s been chasing the Red Room project for decades and they’ve always survived because they don’t set random explosions in broad daylight, so whatever they’re willing to draw that much attention for must be pretty important.”

Peggy sighed, crossed her arms, leaned back against the desk behind her like she was just lounging in her office. “The Red Room may have predated Project Rebirth, but its goals are the same: creating super humans. Angie was ill decades ago, and Howard Stark saved her life with an experimental treatment modeled after the original serum and it was more successful than he bargained for.”

Dottie sighed loudly before Peggy could continue, and she rolled her eyes. “Cut the theatrics, we don’t have time for this. You faked her death, but a certain former Red Room legacy with an awful lot of blackmail material hanging over her leaked it anyway and now history is repeating itself except worse this time because someone’s sentimental ass couldn’t hide a damn box of letters effectively.”

The last part was clearly directed at Peggy who didn’t seem to pay Dottie any mind. “Well,” she said. “You heard Director Fury. This is your op now. What are you going to do?”

Sharon wasn’t immediately sure. Ordinarily she would retreat and regroup until she could make a calculated decision about how best to use her resources to achieve her mission objective which –in this case –was vague, but seemed to amount to: find Angie Martinelli, preferably before the Red Room agents could get anything useful from her. The problem was that she didn’t have the luxury of retreat or time or resources. All she had was a shot in the dark at a location, a sketchy boat on the Sound, and her own intuition motivated by the threat of her ass on the line. She supposed she also had her retired aunt and a Black Widow-turned-frustratingly-blunt SHIELD agent.

God, if only Natasha were there, or if she knew how to get that dinosaur of a radio to connect to Maria again. They were so much better at this big-picture, op-running shit than she was. All she had ever really been good at was...

Sharon froze, and in an instant she knew exactly what she was going to do.

“I don’t know about you two,” she said. “But I’m going undercover.”