The first time Peggy walks into the automat, Angie pegs her as a coffee person. Black coffee, to be specific. The strongest stuff they have. Peggy's face is impassive, yes, but Angie's seen so many faces enter and leave the automat that she can tell one kind of impassive from another. This lady's impassive face just screams I'm going to punch one of my coworkers very soon.
Then she sits at the bar and says simply, "Hi." English accent. Angie's crossing the t in tea before the word even leaves the woman's mouth.
Peggy Carter isn't so much a woman as a woman-shaped bundle of knives held together by a crisp white shirt and a pencil skirt. Angie eyes the taut, pale tendons in her clenched fists as she slides the plate over to Peggy, wondering if she even needed to bother cutting the turkey sandwich on it. Peggy could slice it in half purely by her gaze.
"You doing okay, English?" she asks, leaning on the bar with both elbows. "That fella Kerpinski being a jerk again?"
"It's Krzeminski," Peggy corrects her, but she cracks a smile anyway. Angie never remembers that one's name anyway, but she likes purposely butchering it. It always gets Peggy to loosen up a little.
"Kazinsky. Whatever. Now eat up, English. You've got phones to connect and jerks to put in their places."
"You make it sound so noble," Peggy says, lifting half the sandwich to her mouth. She takes a sizeable bite, chews in record time, and swallows decisively. "It's a bloody phone company, not the front lines."
Angie figured out a while ago that Peggy was ex-military. It explains a lot about her, really - closed off, businesslike manner, looks like she could kill you ten different ways with one shoe. It also explains the ghosts Angie's seen dancing behind her eyes, in those moments when she catches her staring into her tea as if it's a window or an open locket. She gets the feeling Peggy doesn't want to talk about any of it. "Don't put yourself down like that, Peggy," she says, reaching for the teapot and refilling Peggy's nearly-empty cup. "You're on the front lines of the workplace, helping us womenfolk keep the jobs we got so good at while the men were taking potshots at Nazis." She replaces the teapot and leans on the bar again, flashing back briefly to her own days as a timer calibrator in a bomb factory before shaking her head a little, dislodging the memories. "Someone's got to tell the men they weren't the only ones who won the war."
Peggy smiles at her, more genuinely than she ever has. Angie can tell there are stories behind that smile, and she suddenly wants to hear every single one. "Well, when you put it that way, it does sound a smidge more noble," she replies before taking another huge bite of her sandwich. "I didn't know I'd get a shift in perspective with my lunch."
"Free of charge, English, free of charge." Just then, an imperiously raised finger catches Angie's eye. Wonderful, it's the blowhard with the gin-reddened face again. He's probably going to complain that his cheese isn't melted enough. "Enjoy the sandwich," Angie says quietly, resting her fingers lightly on Peggy's arm for a second. "I gotta go defuse a bomb."
Her fingers tingle as she crosses the room, and she tells herself it's just the heat from the kettle.
Angie's tempted to ask Peggy, the next time she comes in, if she took care of the blowhard. The blowhard definitely didn't look so desperately cheerful before Peggy left, and he's never left Angie a tip before, let alone one that could pay for the nice eggs instead of the cheap ones.
She's very tempted, to be sure. But when Peggy holds her coffee mug (Angie managed to convert her, finally), she looks as if she's gripping a gun instead. She twirls a fork between her fingers, and it flashes in the feeble overhead light like the blade of a razor. Her eyes are steady, somber, steely.
Angie decides some things are better left to the imagination.
Her heart leaps perhaps more than it should when she sees Peggy pacing outside the automat. It’s a terribly busy night, and she’s juggling five tables, but she strides over to the window and shouts Peggy down anyway. “Don’t make me come out there,” she says, as if it’s such a joke, but she would absolutely go out there without a second’s hesitation.
But Peggy comes in, and Angie can’t keep the smile off her face. She talks way too fast when she’s listing off the apartment specs. When she looks up at Peggy and says, “3C if you need a cup of sugar,” she hopes to God she doesn’t betray how much she really wants Peggy to say yes to the apartment. She smiles, but she’s on tenterhooks.
Peggy’s perfectly lipsticked mouth has fallen open, and for a moment Angie’s convinced she’s about to say yes. But then something in her face, behind her eyes, closes off.
“I really shouldn’t, Angie.”
Maybe she did betray how much she wanted this. Angie tries to swallow the sudden lump in her throat - surely it just came from the onions frying in the kitchen - and she hoists half a smile onto her face as Peggy leaves.
Peggy’s ride, as it turns out, is a man. A horribly handsome man, too, impeccable in a gray suit and waistcoat (Angie’s never mooned over men, not like her sister, but she can appreciate this one). It’s the same man with whom Peggy covertly talks in the middle of the diner every couple of days. (She thinks she’s being so sneaky, but Angie can tell exactly what they’re doing.)
And Peggy’s getting in the car with him and leaving. As the car trundles down the street, the back bumper winking a few times in the light from the streetlamps, Angie feels something in her chest clench. She stands there for another minute after the car disappears, as if by sheer force of will she can make the car reverse and give Peggy back to her.
“Martinelli, for God’s sake, the order for table seventeen was ready two minutes ago!”
Her boss’s shout startles her, and she teeters on her heels for a split second before squaring her shoulders and heading back to the kitchen.
Angie hears Peggy sneak out at night, every single night. She’ll be in the middle of some book, Austen or Wilde or Stoker, and the fire escape will creak ever so slightly, and Angie knows. Whether Peggy’s meeting in secret with the handsome man from the diner, though, Angie doesn’t know. It certainly doesn’t explain the haggard look in Peggy’s eyes every morning at breakfast. (At the very least, Angie hopes it doesn’t.)
All she knows is that she breathes a sigh of relief and finally turns out her light when she hears Peggy’s shoes on the fire escape again, whether that’s at two or five in the morning.
Peggy’s lived in the hotel for a week before she finally drops by Angie’s apartment unannounced. Angie grins as she opens the door wide. “Thought you’d never come to see me, English,” she says. “What’s the emergency?”
“Oh, well, I’ve been baking, and…” Peggy pauses, looking down at the covered bowl in her arms. “I actually do need that cup of sugar.”
She looks as put-together as she always does, perfect hair and perfectly pressed shirt and perfect lipstick, but Angie can see something different behind her eyes. Warmth, not steel. “Say no more, I’ve got you covered,” Angie replies. “Come on in.”
Peggy stands in the middle of the living room, balancing the bowl on her hip, as Angie goes to the cupboard and gets out her bag of sugar. She’s suddenly absurdly glad she cleaned her whole apartment two days ago. “What’re you baking?” she asks, raising her voice a little over the Gershwin tune on the radio.
“Oh, just chocolate chip cookies,” Peggy says. “I’ve been wanting some lately, and I had a free couple of hours.”
Angie gently shakes the excess sugar off the cup. “C’mere.” Peggy obeys, uncovering the bowl, and Angie pours the sugar inside. “There you have it-”
“And now,” comes the overwrought announcer’s voice from the radio, “it’s time for the Captain America radio show!”
Angie’s hand flies to the off button faster than she thought possible. The room is suddenly dead silent. Peggy stares curiously at her, and Angie isn’t sure if it’s the radiator that’s making the sweat bead on the back of her neck.
“Thank you,” Peggy says quietly after a moment. Her smile is faint, but it’s one of the most genuine things Angie’s ever seen on her.
Angie relaxes a little. “Not a problem,” she replies, turning around to put the sugar away. “It’s a terrible show anyway. A nurse as a damsel in distress, honestly?” She faces Peggy again as she adds, “My older sister was a nurse in Verdun. You wouldn’t believe the sort of stuff she could treat without batting an eye.”
“Oh, I think I might.” Peggy’s smile just gets wider as she covers her bowl again. “Thanks, Angie. I’ll bring a plate of these over for you when I’m done.”
Angie’s cheeks are suddenly warm. “Aw, you’re too sweet, English.”
This time, when Peggy leaves, it doesn’t feel like she closed a door on Angie.
It’s 3 am, and she’s just turned to chapter 5 in Le Fanu’s Carmilla when a thump near her window startles her. She’s launched herself out of her chair and is halfway to the window when she hears a muffled swear word in a familiar British accent.
And then another one.
She closes the remaining distance to the window, hoists it open, and pokes her head out. Peggy is on the fire escape, frozen in place, one hand to her calf. Angie can’t see that well in what little light spills out from her room, but she’s pretty sure that’s blood on Peggy’s fingers.
Angie sighs, and before Peggy can move a muscle or open her mouth, she says, “C’mon in, I’ve got a bandage and I can make you a cup of tea.”
Peggy’s eyes narrow ever so slightly, and she scrutinizes Angie for a second before muttering, “Oh, all right then,” and climbing in through the window. She winces every time she steps on her right leg.
Once she’s inside, Angie shepherds her to the other chair in her living room and puts the kettle on. By the time she gets back, a roll of bandages in one hand and a damp washcloth in the other, Peggy has already propped her leg up on the coffee table. Her dark brown curls, looser than usual, fall in her face as she inspects her calf.
“What’d you do?” Angie asks as she sits on the coffee table and peers at the wound herself. It’s bleeding like a stuck pig, but Angie can see the glint of sutures in the lamplight. “Pop a stitch?”
“Looks like.” Peggy shakes her head. “Who would have thought simply climbing up the fire escape could do that?”
Angie shrugs. “Sarah probably could have told you that,” she says as she gently touches the washcloth to the wound. Peggy barely flinches. She should have expected no less. “God knows she scales that thing five times a night, probably.”
“Maybe I should take tips from her,” Peggy says with a snort. “Jarvis thought he did such a good job, too. I’ll hate to tell him about this.”
Jarvis. Angie looks up at Peggy as she puts the washcloth aside. “Is that the looker you always meet at the diner?” she asks, trying her utmost to sound nonchalant. She rips the cloth on the bandage roll a bit more sharply than she intended, though.
Peggy laughs, but it sounds too casual to Angie. “No, no - it’s not-”
“He looks like a hell of a catch,” Angie cuts in, threading the bandage under Peggy’s leg. “I’m happy for you.”
“No, Angie, it’s honestly not like that. He’s married.”
“So you’re seeing him on the sly?” Angie asks, somehow managing to keep her voice level despite the nerves that make her hands quiver. “I can’t say I would have expected that of you, English.”
“Angie, for God’s sake.”
Angie’s heart stutters when she feels Peggy’s hand on her shoulder. She forces herself to breathe as she looks at Peggy. “Jarvis and I are merely friends,” Peggy says. “And coworkers, sort of.”
“Really?” The word twists petulantly as it leaves Angie, but she’s not ready to hope just yet. She’s heard this line before. All the other women who tried to feed it to her ended up lying at some point or another.
Peggy nods, her lips curving into a soft smile that makes Angie’s poor heart flutter a little. “I wouldn’t lie, not about something like this.”
God help her, Angie believes it. “So…” she says slowly as she ties off the bandage, “what are you actually doing with Mister He’s-Married, and why does it involve you slicing your leg open?” She picks up the washcloth again and starts sponging the blood off her coffee table.
“Oh, I can’t tell,” Peggy replies, her smile shifting and becoming distinctly wry. “Top secret stuff. By the way,” she adds, scrutinizing the bandage, “you did a good job with this.”
Angie grins. “I learned a few things from my sister. So is it corporate espionage? Trade secrets? God only knows what sort of gossip you hear at the phone company.”
“Something like that,” Peggy agrees, taking her leg off the coffee table. “I really shouldn’t say anything else.” Her eyes flicker to the window. “I also really shouldn’t keep you.” With a grunt, she stands up, leaning on her injured leg as if to test it.
“No, wait-” Angie stands up as well and catches Peggy’s arm. She’s not sure what the next words out of her mouth were going to be. She’s forgotten them, actually, because Peggy is barely an inch from her and Peggy is looking right at her and good grief, she probably has a death grip on the poor woman’s arm.
Angie draws a shallow breath, leans in, and kisses Peggy gently, right on that flawless lipstick.
She’s almost afraid to look at Peggy once she pulls away. She doesn’t want to see Peggy’s reaction. She isn’t sure what would be worse - disgust, pity, or that studied blankness Peggy does so well. She stares instead at Peggy’s earlobe, of all things, trying to remember how to inhale.
Then Peggy’s finger catches her chin and tips her face up, and before Angie knows it, Peggy is kissing her right back. Angie’s last coherent thought is I’ll have to wash lipstick stains off my face in the morning, and then she slides her arms around Peggy’s waist and forgets everything else.
The kettle whistles, after a minute or maybe an hour - Angie’s really not sure which. “You think,” she says breathlessly against Peggy’s lips, “you could stay long enough for that cup of tea?”
Peggy chuckles, and the sound sends thrills down Angie’s spine. “I think I could manage that,” she replies.