South of Limoges, Occupied France
"Need a leg up?" Peggy asked.
Susan put her boot into the cup Peggy made with her hands, and, with a strong heave, she was able to scramble up the tree.
"I know," Susan replied. "If this works, I owe Stark the finest bottle of champagne France has ever produced."
"If it doesn't work, we'll all be dead," Peggy said.
"If this doesn't work, a lot more people than us will be dead."
The Das Reich Panzer division had been ordered to the Normandy beaches. In the midst of the largest offensive the world had ever seen, Stark had managed to fly her and Peggy to Limousin from Normandy, zig-zagging through gliders, bombers, fighter planes, and mortars the size of jeeps being hurled inland from the big battleship guns in the Channel. They'd parachuted in to help Peggy's old network and the French Resistance slow down the Nazi tanks headed north to wipe out the Allied landing before it could take hold.
Delay, harry, harass, that was the best they could do. They were but gnats and Das Reich was among the most ruthlessly fearsome of all the tank divisions of the Wehrmacht. There were terrible rumors of what units within this division had done as they advanced north towards Normandy.
Later, Susan firmly told herself. If she dwelt on what was reported from Tulle, she'd be too angry to aim properly.
More optimistically, Peggy squeezed Susan's dangling foot and said, "Good luck. We'll see you back at the rendezvous."
"And, Agent Carter, don't you dare damage my new gun when I've not even had the chance to use it yet!"
Peggy affectionately patted the precious DeLisle sniper rifle slung over her shoulder. "Maybe I'll just keep it for myself, Mrs. Caspian. I did give it to you, after all. And trained you how to use it."
"I'll need it when we move on to retake Paris."
Peggy's mouth quirked into a small grin. "That's the spirit. For now, it's time to test Stark's latest."
"What is his success rate?" Susan asked, leaning down, hands outstretched to take this newest weapon from Peggy. She'd met Stark only the day before, though Peggy had mentioned him when they'd been together in England. He was a tinkering American similar to the magicians in Churchill's toy shop. He was obviously a brilliant flier and Susan assumed she could trust him because Agent Carter did – Susan still hadn't figured out what an Agent was and what outfit Peggy was officially attached to.
"Stark is very good," Peggy said crisply. "Not perfect. But very good."
It was sticks and stones against tank armor. Peggy had given her the DeLisle, but it was useless against a Panzer. Stark, who had heard of Mrs. Susan Caspian's special fondness for archery, had redesigned one of the SOE's Little Joe crossbows as an anti-tank gun. If it worked, it would be a very thoughtful and practical gift. If it didn't work, she would probably die.
"I'm ready," Susan told Peggy softly. She hefted the crossbow on to her back and clambered deeper into the tree.
"The first column should be here within the hour," Peggy said.
Then, Peggy melted away. The other members of the team were laying a chain of daisy bombs that might (or might not) successfully cripple the first tanks in the column. Others on the team, further back, would affect a pincer manoeuvre, and lob Gammon and sticky bombs at the rear of the column. Hopefully, the stickys would adhere to the tanks and not to the shirt of the Resistance fighter throwing them -- a regular hazard of the things. Peggy said someone in a commando group she had been running with before coming back to France had perfected a way to get the sticky bomb on the tank and not on something else. If this worked, at best, they would create a lovely mess and then, hopefully, disappear back into the countryside of Limousin, regroup at the farmhouse, and plot the next attack.
Susan moved carefully and found a sturdy branch to hide in with plenty of green, leafy cover. She was far enough from the road to not be in an obvious line of fire, and to be just, barely, still within her crossbow's range – assuming that Stark's addition of a 1.1 kg, armor piercing mortar round didn't alter the aerodynamics too much. Stark insisted it was as powerful as a Piat, the (only, and highly temperamental) portable anti-tank weapon of the British Army.
The light slowly ebbed as nightfall neared. Even before she heard the birdcall warning, the leaves in the tree began to tremble. She felt the vibrations of treads and then heard the slow rumble of heavy armor moving down a French country byway.
She pushed the shell Stark had designed into place, where it settled with a click. She'd have to talk to Stark later about how to muffle the sound. Bracing her back against the tree against the certain recoil, Susan sighted through the branches at where the tank would appear. The lumbering, metallic clanking was nearly upon them. The long gun appeared first, swiveling about like a scenting hound; the body of the tank would follow. Susan thumbed off the safety on the Little Joe.
In Narnia, when she had hunted with the wolves, she had often waited for prey thus. Now, prey was turning on predator. She squeezed the release.
London, St. James Park
Allied troops were dancing Conga lines in the streets of London with the announcement that the Empire of Japan was responding to, and possibly surrendering under, the Potsdam Treaty.
It had taken her over two months since receiving Peter's cryptic message – Find Ag Carter – but Susan had finally managed to track down Agent Peggy Carter to invite her for something stronger than tea. How Peter even knew Peggy, Susan could not begin to fathom. She'd not seen Peter in over two years and where he'd ended up after D Company was so secret even her own soon-expiring SOE access couldn't access it. The War in Europe was over – it was all just mopping up. Yet, Peter obviously was still doing something that required a very large mop and dustbin. And she still didn't know what an "Agent" was.
They arranged to meet on a bench outside the Horse Guards, Susan surmising that it would be convenient for Peggy who was likely doing something close by in the War Rooms. Susan got there first on the warm and hazy day. She wondered idly what it would be like to feel stockings again on her bare legs. Surely it would make summer more uncomfortable? It was impossible to believe it was all over, after so long, after so much had happened. She felt her own war had been longer than most, as she'd already spent her first young adult life somewhere else.
Now, it was time to rebuild another nation, again. Except she wasn't a Queen this time and her contributions and impact would necessarily be so much more limited. It wasn't very satisfying to contemplate. She pushed it all aside.
Peggy arrived only three minutes late, carrying a briefcase and looking as perfectly coiffed as usual.
They embraced, kissing French style. "I had heard you made it out of France," Peggy said.
"I did. I heard you were back in London now, hence my note."
Susan had hoped for an explanation for why Peggy had, a year ago, in Paris, just disappeared one night. She had tried to find the truth, and the whereabouts of the woman she had considered as close an intimate as the War permitted. She had eventually found Stark, who had told her that Peggy was fine, that it was orders, and to just forget it.
Those must have been some very high priority orders to pull Agent Carter out of the battle to liberate Paris.
Now that she saw Peggy, Susan still couldn't piece all the parts together, but a few things were clearer. She recognized the look in Peggy's demeanor all too well and now was not the time to seek explanations and apologies. The War had cost them all but Peggy had obviously lost something dear to her.
"As you said you did not have much time, I thought to bring our celebration here." Susan opened her handbag and removed a canteen and two glasses.
"You are always prepared, Susan," Peggy said, sitting down on the bench.
"Still no Scotch, but Caribbean rum, at least, is still flowing." Susan poured them each a glass and raised her own. With Peggy, blunt was best. "I don't know who you lost, Peggy, but I'm sorry."
"Thank you," Peggy said. She took a sip and stared into her glass.
"I know that sometimes it's especially difficult because no one ever wants to talk about it. I don't know what happened or who, but if you want to tell me about the person you are missing, I'd be glad to listen to you for the time you do have."
It took another two glasses of rum before Peggy began telling a story about a GI named Steve. He'd been a weedy, tiny, sickly person who, nevertheless, turned out to be a remarkable leader and soldier. Peggy talked about a clever episode with a flagpole and that Steve, repeatedly, sacrificed for the good of others and the mission. He was an idiot around women, and honest enough to admit it, which Peggy had found very refreshing. He was a damned fine soldier and a good man. Now he was lost, presumed dead.
It was beginning to get dark and Peggy said she had to go back to the War Rooms. Susan held the mirror while Peggy straightened her make-up and dabbed away a few lines the tears had caused. She earnestly chewed a stick of gum to mask rum, then corrected her lipstick.
"Now that the war is over, what will you do?" Susan asked.
"New York, I think," Peggy said briskly. "There's still work to do."
In the past, when they had both been in London together at the same time, they had gone out dancing together. This time, Peggy didn't offer. Given the date that Peggy had never had with Steve, Susan didn't suggest it, either.
Through the thin office walls, Peggy heard Colonel Phillips say, "Thank you, Mr. Secretary," and his telephone clanking back on the cradle. As it wasn't a slam, it was surely good news.
She thought herself very patient to wait exactly 30 seconds before marching into Phillips' office.
"Couldn't you wait a minute, Agent Carter?" Phillips snarled.
She expressed her gratitude to the American Department of Defense by dropping her armful of files onto Phillips' desk. "These are my first choices for new recruits, Colonel. All are individuals either Stark or I, or both of us, knows personally. All are excellent candidates for S.H.I.E.L.D."
Colonel Phillips awarded her one of his very special, patented, long-suffering looks. Why he bothered, Peggy didn't know. She was thoroughly immune to them, and certainly not moved to pity.
"I shall press you on these hires only twice a day for the next week. Thereafter, my requests…"
"Don't you mean demands, Agent Carter?"
"After one week, my requests for your review shall increase in tempo and intensity, exponentially. Also, I won't help with any of the office's typing and filing until you approve and we hire more personnel."
The Colonel swore. He was a two-fingered typist and hated typing his own reports.
Neither of them flinched at the sound of a muffled explosion in the adjacent laboratory.
"It's alright!" Stark shouted from the next room as acrid smoke drifted under the door.
Phillips flipped on his desk fan, and then had to put a hand on the files to keep the papers from blowing about.
"I hope one of these is someone with demolitions experience," Phillips said, wearily taking the first file from the top and putting a coffee cup on top of the rest. "Or a firefighter."
Peggy actually didn't need to carry through on her threats to hurry Phillips along. The Colonel was as anxious as she to staff their fledgling office and they had an ample pool to select from. The alphabet mélanges of intelligence services in the Allied forces during the War had yielded many excellent potential recruits. There were dozens of men and women who, like herself, valued competence and loyalty, had become accustomed to working in dangerous situations autonomously, and had found the return to civilian life a trifle dull.
Phillips was moving through the files rapidly, assessing the candidates, and, of particular value, was telephoning his military contacts to gather information that had been omitted from official records. At the end of each day, she and Stark would join him and they'd go through the candidates and separate the best from the very good.
"Here's one you both know," Colonel Phillips said. He pushed the file across the table at them. "Caspian, Susan."
"Whatever she's doing now, it's probably a waste of her talent." Stark leaned forward, pulled the file closer, and flipped it open. "I'd like to work with her again. We both would," he added with a nod to Peggy.
"You just want to design more unorthodox weapons for her," Peggy replied, knowing that Stark had, in fact, already been testing a line of archery-inspired devices for Susan.
"Agent Carter? What do you think of Mrs. Caspian?"
From Phillips' odd tone, Peggy sensed something off. She glanced at Stark – he'd caught it, too, and was frowning now.
"I met her when she was doing her SOE training, Colonel. She wasn't especially comfortable with guns, but improved significantly. She was a terrific asset to the SOE in Normandy and showed a very steady hand in Limousin; by all accounts she acquitted herself well in Paris. Personally, I like Mrs. Caspian. I had no reservations about recommending her. Like Stark, I was hoping to work with her again." She paused as the Colonel slowly let her hang herself on her words. "Did I miss something, Sir?"
"Not exactly, Agent Carter. But she fooled you. Fooled you both."
"How?" Peggy demanded. "Is she a double-agent?"
"I don't believe it," Stark said, furiously paging through Susan's file.
Infuriatingly, Colonel Phillips laughed at them both and pulled an envelope out of a notepad at his elbow and tossed it on to the table. "Took me all week to track this down and you can sure as hell bet this isn't all of it. I can count on one hand the number of people who know the truth of Mrs. Susan Caspian. You're right though, Stark, she's no double-agent."
"What then?" Peggy asked, relieved but now very confused.
"Mrs. Susan Caspian is an alias that goes back to at least '42 when she was wrangling a British agent in Washington. She and her thirteen-year-old brother -- who we'll talk about some other time -- ran a cipher out of the British Embassy for three months before anyone caught on. Her real name, by the way, is Miss Susan Pevensie."
He looked at her pointedly.
Stark was reaching for the envelope, but Phillips put a hand on it first. "Before you see what's in there, I'll tell you what the man who gave it to me, said."
Stark fingered the flap. "And that was?"
"Paper can lie."
"Is Susan related to Corporal Pevensie, who was with the Howlers?" Peggy asked, trying to catalog the conflicting information.
"His sister," Phillips answered.
Peggy hadn't known Pevensie well. They'd been on a few operations. He'd been the youngest of the Howlers, by far, but had done well and was highly regarded for his close-in fighting – a skill Susan also possessed. Family recreation must have included hand-to-hand combat. She recalled Pevensie had been significantly affected by the 0-8-4 artifact they'd found at the last Hydra base and the soldiers who had been killed by it – Pevensie hadn't been afraid, precisely, but he'd been very wary of it, and angry.
Next to her, Stark was scanning pages from the envelope and suddenly sucked in a startled breath. "I don't believe this, either. It's impossible."
"Says the man who helped create the Super Soldier?" Phillips countered.
Recalling her interactions with Corporal Pevensie, she could see how he and Susan were cut from the same competent cloth. They were both mature, self-possessed, confident, decisive individuals who were comfortable both taking and giving orders. "I'd complimented Corporal Pevensie once on a willingness to take orders from a woman," Peggy said. "He said failure to accord respect to his sisters' skills would have lethal consequences, which knowing Susan I can well believe. But, I'm sure he said younger sisters and Pevensie wasn't more than twenty. Something doesn't add up here."
"Oh it adds up," Stark said and handed her a yellowed British identity card. "You're right, Colonel. The paper's a lie."
"Except that it isn't," Phillips replied.
Peggy stared at the birth date on the card. Doing the quick math, Susan Pevensie had been only seventeen when they'd parachuted into Limousin and she'd taken out a tank with a crossbow augmented with an armor-piercing mortar.
"Good news is that however old she was then, she's definitely old enough now," Phillips said. He closed up the file and put it in the "cleared" stack. "Better news is that if she was good enough to fool the two of you, she's good enough for me. So, who's next?"
London, S.H.I.E.L.D. Safehouse
"Very cheeky of her, isn't it?" Stark mused.
"Spycraft is what she was trained in," Peggy said. They had been monitoring Susan's mail to her parents' home where she was currently living. Four days ago, Peggy had opened one letter addressed to Miss Susan Pevensie. Written inside was a beautifully penned, "Aren't you bored yet?"
Peggy had added a note, saying, "Exceedingly," and asked for Susan to meet them at a safehouse in Camden to discuss the prospect of employment.
Upstairs, they could now hear her and Mrs. Harris, the babysitter for the safehouse.
"You can just leave that knife here with me," Mrs. Harris said.
"It's my sister's," Susan replied. "It is her third favourite throwing knife and we will both be very cross if something happens to it."
"It will be safe here. Agent Carter and Mr. Stark are waiting for you, dearie. Just go through that door."
They heard the secret panel swing open and then Susan's footsteps on the stairs.
"We're down here, Miss Pevensie," Stark called.
"Hello? Mr. Stark? Agent Carter?"
"We're waiting for you," Peggy answered. "You are almost late."
Susan alighted from the final stair, stepped into their office, and looked carefully about the room, though there wasn't much to see in this part of the facility.
"I apologize for my tardiness," Susan replied.
Stark stood from his seat at the table they shared and held out a chair. "Please join us."
"A knife?" Peggy asked as Susan primly sat at the edge of her seat, removed her gloves, and folded her hands over her handbag. Peggy was amused at the contrast between the impeccably coiffed young woman and throwing knives secreted on her person.
"I am still not accustomed to going about without a weapon. They made me turn in my guns and I can't very well travel London with the DeLisle or a crossbow."
"You should have turned them in, too," Peggy reminded her.
"They were gifts!" Susan exclaimed. "I couldn't possibly." She smiled, charmingly, and now Peggy saw what the others they had interviewed had said about Mrs. Susan Caspian – that she had many faces, could play many roles, and one that came very naturally to her was Gracious Queen.
She continued with that performance. "To what do I owe this," she gestured about the room, "dramatic and secretive pleasure?"
"We have some questions for you," Peggy said. "And if you answer us truthfully, as I wrote, we're also prepared to extend an offer for employment in a very special venture."
"Are you interested?" Stark asked.
Susan nodded vigorously. "I confess that being an office assistant and typist are not terribly engaging."
"We all do our own typing," Peggy said. "And we definitely need someone who knows how to set up an inventory system." They had heard from the British Embassy that Susan's office filing was miraculous. They were all terrible at filing and though S.H.I.E.L.D didn't know what exactly they had, they really needed to know where it was.
"We have a very simple question, Miss Pevensie," Stark said.
She tilted her head to the side. "And that is?"
Peggy leaned forward and placed her hands on the table. "What we wish to know, what we must know, is how."
"What do you mean, how?" she said archly. "Surely you know the truth now. You've been intercepting mail to my parents' home for weeks. You are calling me by my real name. You know the truth, about my age, and who sponsored me, and why. There can't be any mystery to it."
Peggy knew that Susan would try this tactic first. It was classic interrogation training. Admit to the obvious. Concede what they already know.
Stark rolled his eyes. "We didn't come all the way here for that old news."
"You know very well what we mean, Susan. You waste our time and patience being deliberately obtuse." Peggy pressed the point. "You fooled some very clever people, including us, for years. We want to know how and if you tell us, a job more rewarding than anything you've yet done is waiting. If not…"
"We pack up and offer it to someone else," Stark said. "I am hoping you level with us because we really want to know and are prepared to hear it."
Susan stared at them, silently, for a very long time. Surely, Susan knew something of what her brother had done and seen with the Howlers. Susan could see they weren't part of any regular, military outfit or intelligence organization. She had been in all those before. Would Susan take the risk and trust them? Really trust them?
Perhaps she needed a push. "Something happened during the War," Peggy began. "The War changed all of us, but something happened to you and your brothers and sister that made it possible for you to do far more than what you appeared superficially to be." Peggy wouldn't go so far as to mention the Super Soldier program, but she was counting on Peter having said something to Susan about Steve.
"We've got some experience with these sorts of changes," Stark said. "What's different with your change was that it was inward, rather than obviously physical. We're very curious about how that happened."
It was barely perceptible, but after another long, long silence, Susan finally said, with an air of mixed resignation and hope, "Any explanation I could give, you would dismiss as mad."
Stark's mocking guffaw should have provided the confidence Susan needed to tell them the truth. "You will have to do better than that to put us off, Susan. I'm an inventor. I begin with the mad idea and make it real." He smiled. "Or at least try."
"I don't think you have any idea how far my credulity and imagination can stretch," Peggy added. She turned over and pushed across the table one of the photographs taken at the Hydra base in Austria.
"It's disturbing," Stark warned.
It was a picture of one of the soldiers who had been killed – and altered - by the 0-8-4 artifact.
Susan flinched as she looked at the photograph of the gray, charred, and stony Nazi soldier.
"It was only once I put the pieces together that I realized the significance of your brother's reaction during the operation," Peggy said. "He'd seen something like this before. And so have you."
Susan slowly nodded.
"Tell us," Peggy demanded. "If you want to work with us, you have to share what you know, Susan. You have insight we don't have."
"Stone," Susan finally answered. "What I saw was different but still, similar, in its effects. It turned things, people…animals…"
Peggy wondered why the significance of animals. "It turned animals to stone," Susan finished.
"How?" Stark asked. "What was the mechanism? Something electrical? Radiation? An injection that worked from within? "
Susan straightened her shoulders and said very clearly, "It was a wand."
"A wand?" Stark repeated. "Like a rod? Or a staff? So, a power source of some kind? Could you draw it? Describe it?" He was pulling out a sketch pad and a pencil.
It was a significant step forward, maybe enough for Stark, but Peggy wanted more. "You still neglect to tell us where. And when? It must have been something unusual, extraordinary, even. Something that no one else would believe."
She glanced down again at the picture. "Somewhere, not here." Susan admitted. "Somewhere ... else. I can't explain it. It just happened. We were taken away, all four of us, for years, and when we came back, it was…"
"As if no time had passed," Stark finished. He was already scribbling equations on the sketch pad. "How long were you gone, from here? And how long were you there? Can you be more specific?"
Oh bother. Now, they'd never get out of here. "This is your time travel theory based on Einstein, isn't it, Stark?"
"I have no idea. Possibly." Stark kept writing. "How do you think it happened, Susan?"
"If I told you that the only explanation I could offer is magic, what would you say to that?"
Stark didn't bother looking up from his paper. "That from your perspective, that's consistent with what humans have done throughout our entire history. Things like a telephone or airplane would be unearthly to someone 200 years ago, or 1,000 years ago." He waved his pencil at the photograph. "Magic may be some natural event or manufactured technology in need of a scientific explanation that just hasn't been discovered yet."
Peggy was thinking about Susan's somewhere else part. They needed to know more about that. A lot more. Where had things like the 0-8-4 device and Schmidt's cube come from? Had Susan already been there?
So, you want me to join your organization?" Susan asked. "You are going to hire me? As an Agent?"
"Not even hired and already angling for a title?" Stark replied.
"But what do you do?"
Peggy gestured to the picture of the frozen, gray soldier. "The War revealed that there are things in this world of tremendous power. We don't know how all these artifacts got here. It's our job to find the dangerous ones and keep them safe."
She could see the understanding dawn in Susan's eyes. "And because I've been somewhere else, you think I can help."
"Bluntly, yes. We're very concerned with what else could end up here," Peggy told her.
"You should be concerned, though I don't think there's any danger from the ways I traveled."
Susan paused and her silence and frown were so worrisome, Stark even looked up from his equations.
"There are other ways, aren't there?" Peggy said. "Ones you didn't use, but are still out there?"
Susan nodded. "At least one way is very safe. Though, with the War, it might have been disturbed and we really should look into that because it absolutely must not be tampered with. As for others, I understand there are fewer of them than there used to be, but they were out there and may still be."
Stark looked up from his notes. "For curiosity, just how old are you, really?"
Susan smiled. "Older than both of you, by a decade, at least."
Peggy had guessed more than 15 and less than 20 years, so she had just beaten Stark in the office betting pool.
"Don't look so hopeful," Stark said sourly, setting down his pencil and reaching for his wallet. "We assign offices based on seniority, so age isn't going to help you get a bigger one."