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In the Apartment After the War

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When Jarvis showed them in to the swank "apartment" he's letting them use on Howard Stark's dime, Angie was incredulous. Awestruck. But not so incredulous that she lost sight of the important things. The first was to confirm that Jarvis meant it when he said they could live there rent-free. The second was to call her mother (who wouldn't have batted an eye if Angie had slept with Stark to get this place, but would believe Angie when she said she hadn't) and give her the new address. The third was to notice that Peggy took it all in stride. 'On the small side' she said! As a joke, yeah, but still!

This wasn't the suave "I've seen this in the movies and I can fake being comfortable in a joint like this" type of show that Angie herself might have put on to impress someone. No. This was a genuine dyed-in-the-wool seen-it-before-not-impressed blasé.

That last stuck with her through her call with her mother. "Well, even if he does change his mind and kick us out after a week or two, I'll take it," Angie said. She eyed the gorgeous sofa, wondering if she dared sit down on it. Who was she kidding? She flopped down. Apparently looks weren't everything—it was gorgeous, but not comfy. Well, that’s what pillows were for. She could live with it. "You gotta come see this place, it is worth getting kicked out of the Griffith for."

"I believe it," her mother said, "I know what kind of money Stark makes. Well, used to make, anyways—though I suppose he'll be back at it now he's no longer a fugitive. You'll tell me all about it, sweetheart?" Mrs. Martinelli's hobby was following the celebrities in the gossip columns.

"'Course I will, Ma," Angie said.

"Well, I'm supposed to be helping with the funeral meal for old Mister Agostini, and I'm already late," Ma said. "And I don't suppose you want to run up the phone bill, give Mister Stark an excuse to throw you out."

"You haven't seen the place," Angie said, running her fingers along the smooth satin finish of the end table. "He can afford it."

"I know he can, but rich men are often misers in odd ways," Ma said.

"Come see it for yourself," Angie said.

"I will," Ma said. "Are you going to tell your father about it?"

Angie shuddered. Her Papa was a proud man, and very Italian in his views on suitable behavior for his only daughter. "No, he'd hit the roof."

"He might try to kill Stark for touching you," Ma agreed, "and then Stark would kick you out. I don't suppose there's any harm in letting him think you're still at the Griffith—it's not as if he could visit you there, anyways. I'll give you a day or two to get settled in, then we can have lunch together and you can show me around, how's that?"

"Sounds great! Talk to you later!"

Angie hung up and headed back into the, what was it Jarvis had called it, the drawing room. Jarvis had left, and it was just her and Peg alone in this swank place. "So if this is the kind of friends you keep, English, I can see why you didn't know how to sneak food—" Angie broke off, taking in the way Peggy was blinking. "Hey, Peg, you all right?"

"Of course," Peggy said, forcing a smile as she set her purse down on the table. "It's only that there have been so many ups and downs in the past few weeks, I'm quite beside myself. I'll be all right after a good meal, a hot bath, and a good night's sleep."

"All right, then tell me all about it," Angie said, taking her arm and leading her over to the couches. "We've got plenty of time, now, and I can't wait to hear the story of how you ended up on the outside of the Griffith third floor—and how you got arrested between my apartment and the front door. I promise, I will be as sympathetic an ear as you could want."

"It's a long story, are you sure you don't want to explore first?" Peggy asked.

Angie fixed her with a look. She didn't know whether it was all that English Stiff Upper Lip nonsense or something else, but she'd had way too much experience of Peggy avoiding the subject to fall for such a transparent excuse. "We'll have plenty of time to explore. Spill."

"I can't tell you much," Peggy said, as they sat down. "And by rights, I shouldn't tell you anything at all—the whole business is quite deeply classified."

"And loose lips sink ships, I know," Angie said. "War's over, English, we won."

"The espionage continues," Peggy said. "I am not, nor have I ever been, employed with the telephone company."

Angie nodded. "Kinda figured that one out already. I know a lot of the pieces, all I want's the context. I can keep a secret—never did tell anyone about the time that my—although I suppose, if I'm trying to convince you I can keep a secret, I shouldn't tell you either."

"I can tell you a little, I suppose, and I owe you … more than that," Peggy said. "I know I haven't always been a good friend to you, but you have always been the best to me, better than I deserved."

"Aw, Peg, you're making me blush," Angie said, reaching over and taking her hand.

Peggy squeezed it. "I am an agent with the SSR, the Strategic Scientific Reserve, and have been since before the war started. The SSR is a joint project by all the Allies, though mainly based here in the States. Our most famous project, though not necessarily our most important, was the one that produced Captain America."

"Produced, like, what do you mean?" Angie said. She frowned. "Scientific—you mean that the comic book guff about a mad scientist creating the peak of human perfection was true? He wasn't just some big guy in a funny suit?" Huh. Her kid brother believed that Cap had been a product of a science experiment just like the comic books said, but personally Angie was skeptical. If science could do that, why couldn't they cure her cousin Mable's bum heart?

"Doctor Erskine was a brilliant scientist, he was certainly not mad," Peggy said stiffly.

"And … you knew him?"

"I was the one who smuggled him out of Nazi Germany when he wanted to defect," Peggy said.

"You smuggled a guy out of Nazi Germany?" Angie stared at Peggy.

"More than one," Peggy said. "And into, at various times. It was neither the hardest nor the most dangerous thing I've done as an agent. During the war, my record spoke for itself. I was regularly assigned difficult and important tasks that suited my skills and abilities."

"And that didn't continue afterwards, huh," Angie said. "I know a lot of girls with the same problem."

"I don't need applause or special treatment," Peggy said, "but I do need basic respect for my competence. On the other hand, being overlooked did come in quite handy during this whole mess over Stark." She shook her head. "Stark and I worked together during the war, and I knew him well enough to know that while he is most definitely a bloody sod, he's no traitor. He was being set up, and I set out to find out who was doing it and stealing his technology."

"And how did you do that?" Angie asked. This was better than listening to the Captain America Adventure Hour.

"I can't share the details, Angie," Peggy said. "But Jarvis and I tracked down the stolen weapons, handed them over to the SSR anonymously, and were well on our way to catching the real criminals when my fellow agents realized I was investigating and decided that I was a traitor helping Howard Stark."

"Instead of a loyal agent doing their jobs for them," Angie said, nodding.

"Precisely," Peggy said.

"And then they came to arrest you, and you went out the window," Angie said.

"Yes, and then you put on an Oscar-worthy performance to distract them." Peggy smiled. "It was wonderful, I could tell that just from hearing it. I don't think they've figured out yet that it was an act, even after finding me in the hall just later."

"And how did that happen?" Angie asked.

Peggy pursed her lips. "Dottie Underwood."

"What about her?" Dottie was sweet but stupid, the kind of pretty girl who might not make it in ballet but would definitely find a husband to take care of her and do her thinking for her.

"She was a foreign agent," Peggy said. "Involved in the theft of Stark's inventions—she'd seduced him, you see, and Stark's always been led around by his libido. He showed her his vaults to impress her, and she figured out from there how to break into them. And I was getting close to finding her, and so she tried to kill me. I'm actually quite lucky that Agents Thompson and Sousa were there and found me so quickly—I'd have been dead within a few minutes if they hadn't interrupted her. Of course, they then promptly dismissed her as a stupid girl, allowing her to get away and wreak quite a bit of havoc, but I suppose one can't have everything, hm?"

"Dottie." Angie shook her head, thinking of the stupider things she'd heard Dottie say. "We are talking about the same girl, right? Tall, slim, blonde, cheerful, wants to be a ballerina?"

"That's the one," Peggy said. "I'd always felt so superior to the male agents, for the way they overlooked women and missed things. It is so lowering to find myself doing the same thing."

Angie snorted a laugh, clapping a hand over her mouth to stop it. It wasn't funny—Peg nearly died! And she looked so down about underestimating her nemesis. But she had this picture of Dottie blankly saying "Gee, do you think he might think I'm pretty?" and then pulling a Tommy gun out of her purse like a gangster in a movie. "Dottie. Well, there's one for the books. Did you catch her?"

Peggy shook her head. "No, although we did foil her plans. Stark's inventions are back in the right hands, his name has been cleared, a murderous plot foiled, and we've learned quite a bit about our enemies that we didn't before. Dottie's escape isn't the worst part of it—we lost some good men—but overall, we must consider it a victory."

"You have been busy, English," Angie said in wonder. "I never would have guessed—you're a much better actress than I am, to have pulled all that off."

"I learned in a harsher school," Peggy said. "Most of the agents that I started the war with are dead. And it's a very different sort of acting, you know."

"Still, maybe you can give me some pointers," Angie said.

"Perhaps, although I'm not sure it's the same kind of acting one does on the stage," Peggy said. "Rather more improvisational, and also it generally means trying to slip by unnoticed, which of course would be death for someone on stage. I was always trying to fade into the background, while of course you would never want to." She smiled brightly. "Now! Shall we explore?"

"Sure!" Angie said, and off they went.

The dining room was absurd, for the two of them—fortunately, there was a table in the kitchen, because Angie couldn't see the two of them sitting on either end of the long dining table, yelling back and forth to pass the salt. The library was big and full of books that looked expensive, but Angie couldn't see herself reading any of them except maybe the Shakespeare. (He had Shaw's complete works, too, but no Chekhov or Ibsen, and nothing more modern, either.)

The bedrooms were, well, built on the same scale as the rest of the place. (Who needed a sitting area in a bedroom, anyway? What would you even do with it?) Angie tried out each bed, and Peggy looked in the closets.

"Aha!" she said in the fourth or fifth one.

"What?" Angie said, trying to determine whether she liked this bed better than the three (was it four?) she'd tried so far.

"The last time I was in one of Howard's secondary apartments, he had a whole closet full of clothes for the girls he brought there," Peggy said. "Apparently Jarvis didn't think to clear it out before giving us the keys to this place."

"Clothes?" Angie said, sitting up. "How would he know their sizes, or what they liked?"

"I highly doubt that what they liked was high in Howard's priorities," Peggy said dryly. She held up a negligee to the light. You could see through it! The lace was beautiful, but there wasn't much of it.

"Oh," Angie said, feeling less sophisticated than she'd thought she was.

"And, hah! Another lab coat." Peggy held up a doctor's white coat and tilted her head. "Howard must really like playing doctor—there was one of these in his other apartment as well. I used it to masquerade as a health inspector to find the milk truck the thieves were using to transport their stolen goods."

Angie started giggling. "You used a sex costume to infiltrate a milk company? Oh, English, I wish I could have seen it!" Peggy was laughing along with her. Angie bounced off the bed and started rooting around in the closet herself, pulling out one after another to suggest ways Peggy could use them to infiltrate a series of ever-more-implausible organizations. They spent a good hour or more coming up with ideas.

The Cleopatra headdress was the cream of the crop, though, it looked like it had come straight out of a prop shop. Angie put it on and acted out Cleopatra's soliloquy from Act IV scene xiii of Antony and Cleopatra.

"No more, but e'en a woman, and commanded
By such poor passion as the maid that milks
And does the meanest chares. It were for me
To throw my sceptre at the injurious gods;
To tell them that this world did equal theirs
Till they had stol'n our jewel. All's but naught;
Patience is scottish, and impatience does
Become a dog that's mad: then is it sin
To rush into the secret house of death,
Ere death dare come to us? How do you, women?
What, what! good cheer! Why, how now, Charmian!
My noble girls! Ah, women, women, look,
Our lamp is spent, it's out! Good sirs, take heart:
We'll bury him; and then, what's brave, what's noble,
Let's do it after the high Roman fashion,
And make death proud to take us. Come, away:
This case of that huge spirit now is cold:
Ah, women, women! come; we have no friend
But resolution, and the briefest end."

She finished and looked over at Peggy. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears, and Angie blew out a breath and took off the head-dress. Maybe the speech after Mark Antony's death wasn't the best choice, but it was the only one she knew from that play.

"That was beautiful, Angie," Peggy said.

"Thanks, Peggy," Angie said. "Boy, I sure killed the mood."

"No, it was … it was perfect," Peggy said. "In more ways than one."

Angie stared at her. There was something about her tone.... "You're not looking to go chasing death, are you, Peg?"

"No!" Peggy said. "Good God, no, though I do understand her sentiments. It's hard to go on, after the death of the one you love, but I've learned to."

"You had a guy during the war?" Angie asked, softly, sitting down beside Peggy. "Somebody serious?" She didn't think Peggy had been married—but then again, Peggy had lied about her job—but you didn't have to be married to love someone.

"Yes," Peggy said. "And he died, towards the end, and it's time for me to put him in the past, where he belongs. He is dead, and I am not." She looked out the door, but Angie didn't think she was seeing anything.

Angie put her hand on Peggy's. "I'm so sorry, English."

"Thank you, Angie," Peggy said. "While Cleopatra may have had 'no friend but resolution,' I am more fortunate." She squeezed Angie's hand.

Angie smiled. "So am I. You know, Peggy, I'm so glad we met in that diner."

"I am, too," Peggy said. "I am, too."