“Hold up, Agent Carter.” Colonel Phillips gestured Peggy toward his desk as she turned to leave the command tent. “We need to have a quick chat about Rogers.”
“What is it, sir?” asked Peggy, her expression carefully neutral.
Phillips shot her a shrewd look. “Whatever the hell is going on between the two of you personally, I don’t have time for it, and neither do you. The fact is, you’re his liaison and we've had a complaint about him. I need you go deal with it.” He rummaged through a folder, then handed her a single sheet of paper.
Peggy, who had successfully avoided all personal interaction with Steve since his team’s return from their first field mission the previous day, took the paper with some trepidation. Blast it, she should have insisted on going along. Steve had good instincts, but he simply didn’t have the experience to - she scanned over the paper quickly, then blinked. “He’s been what?”
Phillips’ lips twitched. “Yeah, I wouldn’t have expected it of him either, but your boy’s been caught swearing a blue streak in front of a movie camera three times in the past two weeks.” He shrugged, “Now, I don’t particularly care what kind of language comes out of his mouth out there in the field, but Public Affairs is complaining he’s been wasting film.”
Peggy raised her eyebrows, somewhat bemused. “Understood, sir. I’ll speak with him.”
“You do that,” Phillips said, waving her out. “Oh, and Carter,” he added, as she pulled open the tent flap to leave. She turned back again to see him smirking at her. “Don’t shoot him this time. Hydra’s been doing enough of that these days.”
After a short search, Peggy found Steve returning his tray in the mess hall. She took one deep, fortifying breath and then strode briskly up to him. “Captain Rogers. You and I need to have a talk.”
Steve regarded her warily. To be fair, she supposed, she’d still been terribly angry with him the last time they’d been alone together. She sighed. “I’m not going to shoot you. It’s official business.”
An almost implike smile flickered faintly over his face before he schooled his features into a neutral expression. “I thought shooting me was official business, Agent Carter. You were helping Stark test my shield?”
Peggy found that the corners of her own mouth were lifting slightly despite herself. She raised an eyebrow. “You might want to be certain I’ve forgiven you before you move on to impertinence, soldier.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said, sounding rather too pleased with himself.
“Regardless, I shouldn’t have shot at you,” she admitted as he fell in beside her and they began to make their way through the camp towards the small tent that was currently serving as her office. She did, in fact, regret it, and not only because the story had spread like wildfire throughout the camp, leading to the many interested looks she and Steve were currently attracting as they walked together through the maze of tents.
Steve flushed slightly, obviously not oblivious to the looks. “Agent Carter - Peggy,” he said, hesitating. “I know what the whole thing looked like, with Private Lorraine. But I - she backed me up against that table and just kept coming at me, and I didn’t know what to do.”
Peggy gave him a rather incredulous look. “One would have expected that, after so much time spent surrounded by showgirls and crowds of adoring young ladies, you would have learned how to politely fend off unwanted advances of that sort.”
“I did, sort of,” Steve said. “But she caught me off guard, and - I guess I just panicked.”
“But, I do owe you an apology,” he added, unexpectedly, as they finally reached her tent. “For what I said about you and Stark. I’m sorry for implying what I did.”
That had, in fact, been the thing that had stung the most, once she’d gotten over the initial white-hot rage at finding him kissing Private Lorraine. To have Steve Rogers, the only man she’d thought might have had some understanding of how differently the world worked for her, hurl the same sort of accusations she was accustomed to receiving from soldiers like Private Hodge - she took a deep breath and busied herself with opening the tent flap and ushering him inside.
“I appreciate the apology,” she said, finally, as she sat down behind her tiny desk, gesturing to the only other chair in the tent.
The unstated implication that she hadn’t quite forgiven him hung heavily in the air between them as he settled himself into the chair.
“In my defense,” Steve said tentatively, into the silence, “I really didn’t know what fondue was. I thought he - ”
“Yes, I know what you thought it was,” Peggy interrupted, a little wearily. “And frankly, you weren’t entirely wrong about Howard’s intent. I don’t believe he’s ever dined out with a woman he didn’t proposition at least once before dessert. But you didn’t hear me accept the offer, did you? Bloody Nora, Steve.”
Their eyes met, and something fierce flashed between them.
“At any rate,” she said, clearing her throat, “we have business to attend to.”
“Yes, right,” said Steve, straightening his shoulders.
Peggy settled more firmly into her chair, then held out the sheet of paper from Colonel Phillips for his perusal. “I’m afraid you’ll need to choose your language more carefully when there’s a camera crew in the vicinity,” she said. “We’ve received a complaint that you’ve been wasting film.” She raised an eyebrow at him, still a little bemused.
Steve flushed. “Oh.” He looked very much like a small boy who’d just been caught at something. Specifically, something he thought was going to make her angry, which didn’t entirely jibe with the offense he was accused of.
She watched him without speaking, waiting for him to elaborate.
“Yeah,” he said finally, his ears a bit pink. “I - I guess I have. Sorry. I’ll make sure to keep a lid on it when the cameras are around from now on.”
Peggy frowned. “Have you been doing it on purpose?” she asked. He seemed -
“No,” Steve said, quickly. “I guess I just picked it up from the guys. You know how they all talk.” Good God, he was a truly terrible liar.
Peggy sighed. “Steve, I am perfectly aware that ‘fuck’ is probably the most commonly used English word in the combined Allied forces, and I expect your new team throws it about as liberally as any, but speaking amongst fellow soldiers is one thing, and speaking to a camera is entirely another. And the Steve Rogers I’ve known since Camp Lehigh is perfectly aware of the difference.”
Steve shrugged, not quite meeting her gaze, and she narrowed her eyes. “Goddamn it you sodding bastard, this is utter bollocks. There’s clearly something you’re trying not to bloody tell me, although I can’t imagine what in the fucking hell it could be.”
Steve’s mouth dropped open slightly, and she felt the corners of her lips turning up slightly. “Well? Shall I go on?”
“Go ahead,” he said, politely, and now that he seemed to have recovered from his initial shock his lips were twitching a little too. “I think you forgot a couple. Shit. Son of a bitch, maybe?”
“Now you’re just being an ass,” she said, primly. “You know I couldn’t possibly fit all the profanity I know into two short sentences.” She gave him a haughty look that somehow turned into a little grin, and he grinned back at her. Damn it, she was still angry with him. Why, on top of constantly fighting the urge to pull him across the desk and kiss him senseless, did she have to like him so much?
“I guess I do owe you an explanation,” Steve said, finally. “But you really might shoot me again.”
Peggy waited, eyebrow raised.
“Okay,” he said, and took a deep breath. “Well, the first time really was an accident. And it wasn’t even me. We had a couple of cameramen getting footage for a newsreel while some of the guys were horsing around, and they stopped filming and asked us all to watch our language because they couldn’t use the shot at all if someone was swearing somewhere you might be able to read their lips.”
“So then - ” Steve took a deep breath, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a compass. “Well, open it.” He set it gingerly down on the desk.
Peggy took it, flipped it open, and blinked at the newspaper photo of herself nestled inside the cover.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I know we’re not - I know I didn’t really have the right. But I just - Peggy, sometimes I don’t really know what I’m doing.”
Peggy snorted. “You don’t say.”
“Not like that,” Steve said, his ears turning red. “Well, like that too, I guess. But it’s just that - Peggy, you do know what you’re doing. You’ve been fighting this war a hell of a lot longer than I have, and you’ve never once given me bad advice. Having you there in my compass reminds me to stop and ask myself what you’d do. What you’d tell me to do, if you were actually there.”
It wasn’t often that Peggy was at a loss for words, but she found herself staring at him, mouth slightly open, for a long moment. He watched her, equally silent.
Finally she cleared her throat, retreating to firmer ground. “And so - you thought I would tell you to swear in front of a camera crew frequently enough that Public Affairs would feel the need to complain?”
“No,” he said, flushing again. “But, when I put the picture in, I didn’t realize how often I’d actually have to open the thing in front of people. The guys teased me about it, but they knew it was just - that it was one-sided. But the thing is, sometimes it’s hard to remember to leave my compass in my pocket and let someone else take his out instead whenever we’ve got a camera guy with us.”
“Ah,” said Peggy, suddenly enlightened. “Yes, I see.”
Steve nodded. “The first time I realized I’d opened it in front of a camera, I guess I just panicked. I didn’t want to compromise you, either as a spy or as - well, I knew what everyone would think. So - I just started cursing.”
Peggy’s lips twitched.
Steve’s ears were red again. “It only happened a few times,” he said.
Peggy nodded solemnly. “Well, I suppose it was effective, but perhaps in future you could find a more private place to keep my photograph. Or, alternately, learn to look over your shoulder before opening your compass.”
Steve blinked at her, looking so adorably, hopefully startled that she gave up on trying to hide her smile. “The entire SSR already thinks we’re an item,” she said, “but I would prefer not to compromise my ability to take on undercover assignments.”
He opened his mouth, then closed it again. He was so still otherwise that she thought he might have actually stopped breathing.
“It isn’t one-sided, you know,” she said quietly.
He swallowed, then nodded. “But you’re still mad at me.”
She shook her head. “No,” she said, and cleared her throat. “Not - not particularly, as it turns out.” Their eyes met, and they watched each other for a long, electrifying moment.
“You should kiss me now,” she added, helpfully.
The second time Steve led the Howling Commandos into the field, he and Peggy parted on considerably better terms.
They’d had a full fortnight together while the Howling Commandos’ next mission was prepared and planned, although much of Peggy’s time had been taken up planning for her own undercover rendezvous with a contact in the French resistance. Nonetheless, they’d managed to find time for a great deal of kissing, in stolen moments - behind various tents, amongst the trees at the edge of camp, in Peggy’s office, and once, daringly, up against one of the jeeps in the motor pool late at night, hidden from plain sight only by darkness. Now that their misunderstanding had been cleared up, Peggy felt again the thrilling certainty that Steve was, in fact, still the same ridiculous man she’d fallen so unexpectedly hard for at Camp Lehigh.
In the general bustle as the team got ready to board the transport plane that would drop them over Poland, she pulled him swiftly behind the nearest supply tent, tangled her hands in his parachute straps, and kissed him, fiercely and thoroughly. “Now go get on the plane before they come looking for you,” she said a bit breathlessly.
Steve looked a little dazed. “Yeah. I - I’ll see you in London.” He laced his fingers through hers and squeezed her hand. “Be careful in France. I know you know what you’re doing, but - ”
“Cap!” called Dugan. “Plane’s leaving!”
Peggy smiled at him, reaching up with her thumb to wipe a bit of lipstick off the side of his mouth. “I’ll be fine. And so will you. Just keep that photo out of sight - and for God's sake, watch your language.”
In the flickering light of the newsreel on the screen in front of her, Peggy watched as Steve entirely failed to keep the photo out of sight, although she supposed, ruefully, that he must at least have watched his language. When she glanced sideways at Phillips he was eyeing her, lips twitching a little, but he didn’t say anything until the lights came up.
“So,” he said. “Things going better between the two of you, I see.”
Peggy sighed. “I didn’t give him the picture, sir.”
“Maybe not,” Phillips said dryly, “but I somehow get the feeling you don’t mind too much.” He gave her a narrow-eyed look. “And now, I’m going to have to go tell Public Affairs that America’s golden boy just wasted more of their film, because you and I both know your picture can’t be on that newsreel.”
“Alternately, you could inform them that their camera crew has wasted film by including a close-up shot of a highly classified map,” Peggy pointed out. “It was visible the entire time the compass was open. My picture doesn’t have to enter into it at all.”
Phillips sighed heavily, then regarded her, calculatingly, for a long moment. “All right,” he said, finally. “But you’d better tell him to get that picture out of his damn compass before it does.”
The next time Steve tried to open his compass in front of a camera, Peggy, who’d been with the Howling Commandos in the field for weeks by that point, stepped smoothly between the camera and the compass before he’d gotten it fully open. “Always stay alert to potential danger, soldier,” she murmured, her back to the camera, and he sheepishly returned the compass to his pocket.
“I miss the swearing,” complained Dugan after the camera crew had departed. He grinned at Peggy. “You should have heard some of the words that used to come out of Cap's mouth whenever he’d accidentally open that thing in front of a camera. Hell, I hadn’t even heard some of ‘em before.”
“I sure learned a few new ones,” agreed Jones, his mouth full of luncheon meat.
Peggy hid a grin. She supposed that growing up picking fights in every alley in Brooklyn might teach one a wide range of profanity. “Unfortunately,” she said, peeling open her chocolate wrapper, “Public Affairs has complained to Phillips. Steve’s one complaint short of an official reprimand for wasting film.”
Dugan snorted, setting down his tin. “Ha.” He shrugged. “I’m pretty sure the whole SSR already knows about the two of you anyway. Don't know why you need to worry - what's the problem with Cap carrying around a picture of his best girl?”
“Carter’s a spy, Dum Dum,” said Barnes, stretching out his legs. “She needs to keep a low profile.” He looked at her and cleared his throat pointedly. “Like, maybe not shooting Captain America. Or kissing him in dark corners all over camp. Or, you know, stepping in front of the camera to hide a picture of herself.”
Peggy made a face. “My back was to the camera, and my hair was tucked up. It’s my face that can’t be seen.”
“Okay,” said Morita. “But we don’t all have those spy instincts. I think we might need a Plan B in case he messes up again when Peggy’s not here.”
“I just - I really thought I had it by now,” said Steve, frustrated, reaching up to break off a dead branch and then adding it to the bundle of firewood tucked into the crook of his other arm. “I should probably just move it somewhere safer.”
Peggy bent down to pick up a fallen twig. “Oh, very probably. But - I rather like knowing it’s in there. And you’re getting much better at remembering.”
“Yeah,” he said, stopping and facing her, “but what if I forget again?””
“Well,” she said slowly, taking a step closer to him, “you don’t have cameramen with you very often, in the grand scheme of things. You’ll just need to remember to be extra cautious when they’re around. And,” she shrugged, “I believe the team is working on a Plan B.”
Steve raised his eyebrows, the corner of his mouth quirking upward. “Oh well then. I won’t worry.” A rush of heat flared through her as he smiled more widely and leaned down to kiss her.
She met him eagerly, the firewood scattering over the ground at their feet, her arms sliding around his neck as he gathered her up tightly. He was terribly warm despite the chilly autumn air, but she shivered at the weight of his hands, one tangled in her hair, the other splaying over her backside. “We should probably get back,” she murmured, after a too-short time.
“We should,” he agreed, not moving, and she smiled against his lips.
A throat was cleared loudly behind them. “And this is why we don’t send these two out alone together for firewood.” Peggy sighed and turned in Steve’s arms to face the intruders.
Jones grinned at Morita. “Could be worse. I can see all four hands.”
“Right,” said Dugan, “but I, for one, won't be able to unsee the one Cap had on Peggy's ass.”
“I hate you all,” Peggy informed them, bending down to pick up her armful of branches.
Dugan shrugged, but she could tell he was grinning beneath his mustache. “Maybe so, but I guarantee you’re gonna love Plan B.” He turned to Steve. “You ever hear of that Russian fellow who trained a dog to drool when it heard a bell ring?”
Steve blinked at Barnes. “This is easily the dumbest plan you’ve ever come up with, Buck, and that’s saying something. How the hell is it any different than me just swearing at the camera?”
“It’s a great plan,” said Barnes, leaning forward to poke at the fire. “Right, Carter?”
Peggy shrugged. “It’s a solid plan, Steve. If all goes well, it will never be deployed, but if necessary, it should stop you before you get the compass open. And with everyone taking turns, it’s very likely that nobody will ever notice a pattern.”
“I should just move the picture,” said Steve.
Peggy accepted the bottle of bourbon from Morita on her left, and took a healthy swig. “Leave the picture in the fucking compass, Rogers.” She passed the bottle past Steve to Barnes, who grinned at her.
Peggy spent the next several months undercover in France, rendezvousing finally with Steve and the Commandos in a small village near the Belgian border. The others, despite a great deal of teasing about the conspicuously long walk she and Steve took together as soon as they’d stopped for the evening, seemed genuinely glad to see her, and she them.
It was another several weeks before she had the opportunity to watch Plan B in action.
“Son of a BITCH!” bellowed Morita suddenly, and Peggy looked over to see Steve sheepishly sliding the still-closed compass back into his pocket, glancing at the camera out of the corner of his eye.
“Language!” he said, sternly. The cameraman sighed. It had become common knowledge that, although popular fodder for newsreels, the Howling Commandos had a bit of a reputation for occasionally cursing on camera. It never seemed to be the same fellow twice, though, and to his credit Captain America did call it out every time, so the general consensus was that it didn't seem entirely fair to complain.
“Has Steve ever even managed to get it all the way out of his pocket on camera since Plan B came into effect?” Peggy asked Barnes, as they stood together, well behind and to the left of the camera crew.
Barnes grinned. “Nope.”
“Only one problem,” said Dugan, from behind them. “I let out a coupla choice words after I stubbed my toe the other day, no cameras in sight, and he told me off for language. Said it just slipped out.”
Barnes looked delighted. “Oh my God. This might actually be the best idea I ever had.”
Washington DC, 1949
Peggy let the man on her doorstep step into the house to avoid unwanted attention from her neighbours, but kept him at gunpoint.
It seemed impossible that this could actually be Steve, but - it seemed equally impossible that an imposter could mimic him so perfectly, right down to his smell, right down to the feeling he gave her, that fierce, magnetic pull that she’d never felt so strongly for anyone else.
But then, she wasn’t entirely sure how to explain the tiny signs of aging that he hadn’t had when she’d kissed him goodbye on that car in Schmidt’s stronghold. It had only been four years, and the serum -
“Peggy, I know it seems impossible, but it really is me,” he said. “Ask me anything. And here, I’ve got - ” he reached for his pocket, and she brought her gun up again, sharply, then lowered it slightly as she saw what it was he’d taken out. He showed her that his hands were empty otherwise, then slowly moved to open it.
“Bloody, fucking hell,” she whispered as her picture came into view. He’d had it with him on the Valkyrie, she thought, wildly. It couldn't have -
He smiled at her. “Language!”
With a sob, she holstered her gun and threw herself into his arms.