Peggy wished she could say the last time she saw Dottie Underwood had been across the battlefield, sword crossing metaphorical sword as the wind whipped their hair about and the blood and shit of combat faded around two old enemies meeting again. Peggy had always been weak for high romance. But theirs was a small war, waged between the gasps and cracks of a bout between titans. There would be no proper battlefields for them.
Once, oh, a long time ago now, Peggy had caught up with her somewhere in the wilds of Czechoslovakia, her ammo gone, her hands empty. Peggy should have cuffed her then and there, should have dragged her back to the SSR to rot in a cell for the rest of her strange, sharp life, but her lipstick had held through the firefight and the slash of blood and soot framing her eyes had only made them bluer—
No, the last time Peggy saw Dottie Underwood, she was sat across the table from her as steam from the tea service rose between them. Her hair was dark again, though she’d cultivated a silver streak that swooped effortlessly over her eyepatch like the crest of a wave. She sat as straight and graceful as ever, at ease everywhere she ever went, and her mouth, battle-crimson, twisted to one side in an expression that Peggy flattered herself was reserved for her alone.
“Peg,” Dottie said, crossing her legs. “It has been an age, hasn’t it?”
“Indeed.” She lifted a teacup to her lips and took a long draw, peering at Dottie from beneath her lashes. “And what shall I call you today?” The tip of Dottie’s tongue darted out to wet her lips as she leaned delicately forward.
“Let’s go with Dottie,” she said. “For old times’ sake.”
Held up against the scraping bark of a tree as if by magic, but the only magic there in the dark was Dottie’s strong shoulders hooked under Peggy’s knees, a hand rough beneath three layers to tweak at a nipple, three fingers beckoning quick inside her as that red, red mouth sealed over her clit. Obscene—the sound of it, a wet slosh that echoed among the leaves, the strangled gasps. Slicking up that hatchet-edged face, red like blood, like beauty smeared across the creamy borders of her pubis. She wrenched at Dottie’s hair as if to haul her closer, take her deeper inside where all her hunger, all her desperation could finally be satiated to the flash of blue eyes and the stretch of too many knuckles against the most sensitized flesh inside her. Dottie tucked her smallest finger into Peggy’s quim and pushed until the flat of her hand slid inside, too big, too much, a dull, huge pain that made stars cascade behind Peggy’s eyes even as wetness rushed out of her. She choked on her own breath as Dottie’s tongue flickered quick and even just there, just there, just—
“Dreadful weather we’re having,” Peggy said, tilting her head toward the sunny outsides just beyond their window. Her eyes stayed on the one eye Dottie had left—arctic and otherworldly as ever, unclouded by age but betrayed by gentle crêping at the corners.
“Oh, horrific.” Dottie swirled two sugar cubes into her tea.
“I suppose you’ve heard the news,” Peggy said.
“Lots of news out there these days, Peg,” Dottie said, lifting her teacup. “You’ll have to narrow it down, I’m afraid.” She blew over the top of her tea and a plume of steam unfurled in Peggy’s direction. She didn’t blink so much as swept her gaze down Peggy’s body and up again. Peggy smiled, a withered, sad thing.
“The Red Room,” Peggy said. “We’ve dismantled it and razed it to ashes.” Dottie’s eye grew bright, her chin tilted at a proud angle.
“Never heard of it,” she said. “Sounds a bit too young and happening for a couple of old crones like us, darling. Don’t think we could get in.”
“Hm, quite,” Peggy said. “The youngest was, what, five? Rather shameless, really.”
“They’re resting in SHIELD’s care,” Peggy said. “The ones who lived.”
Dottie snorted, ladylike.
“SHIELD,” she scoffed. “Oh, Peg, I’m disappointed in you.”
“We have all the files,” Peggy went on. “Everything they ever did to…any of the girls. Meticulous notes on torture, Dottie. Brainwashing. Assault. Indoctrination.”
“Shocking, Peg, truly.”
“They have families, you know,” Peggy said. “Some are even still alive, and they’ve been waiting for their daughters to return for years. Decades. We’re helping them, Dottie. Even if all we can do is offer answers, we’re helping.”
Never had Dottie betrayed herself in all the years Peggy had pursued her; she wasn’t about to start now. She was knowing and unknowable, and Peggy admired her. Always had. Probably always would. She was resigned to it. Dottie set down her teacup and let her mouth curve in a small, symmetrical smile. It even looked genuine.
“Is this where we cut a deal?” she asked. “My my, what is my girl’s angle? Let me guess—” Dottie shifted and in an instant she was different, softer, more lush. She pursed her lips and then flawless RP was dripping from her red pout like honey. “‘We can help you, Miss Underwood. You have a family, Miss Underwood. They miss you, Miss Underwood. Just turn yourself in, Miss Underwood.’” A smirk. “Or maybe… ‘Don’t you want to help these poor girls, Miss Underwood? Lost in a decadent capitalist hell they’re not prepared to navigate—you could redeem yourself, Miss Underwood, After everything you’ve done, don’t you want your slate wiped clean?’”
She sat back and produced a cigarette case. She tapped one out and offered the case to Peggy, who held up a hand and shook her head.
“I’ve quit, I’m afraid,” she said.
“Shame,” Dottie said. She snapped the case shut and placed the cigarette between her lips. Dottie’s gaze lingered on Peggy’s mouth. “You’ve always been such a little girl scout, Peg. But there was always something about you anyway.”
Peggy sipped her tea.
“There’s no accounting for taste,” she said.
Another year, another collision of skins. Paris now, all the high romance Peggy could inhale in her gluttony. Shabby curtains in Quatier Pigalle, stale tobacco in the air and Peggy’s handcuffs on Dottie’s wrists, looped through the posts on the headboard, her dress hiked up around her waist. Peggy sucked greedy at Dottie’s breast as Dottie ground her wetness into Peggy’s thigh and keened.
“C’mon, Peg,” she panted. “C’mon and give it to me good.”
“You shut your mouth.”
“Make me,” Dottie growled.
Peggy tore Dottie’s dress open and pulled her bra down to catch her other breast in her mouth. Dottie’s legs came up to lock around Peggy’s waist.
“You know what your problem is, Peg?”
“You, I imagine.”
Peggy gagged her with a pillow case and thrust three fingers into her quim to the hilt. Dottie jack-knifed forward and screamed into the gag as she flooded Peggy’s hand, eyes wide and unseeing. Peggy hooked her fingers rapidly against the spongy tissue that spanned her anterior wall until Dottie was writhing beneath her. She leaned down to suck hard on the perfect pebble of her nipple and Dottie’s breath hitched. She rocked her hips up into Peggy’s, but Peggy pinned her down, gathered her slick and pushed two fingers into her arsehole without warning. Dottie let loose a muffled bellow and splashed down Peggy’s hand as she set a punishing rhythm, hole impossibly tight and smooth around her fingers. She reached down with her free hand and pinched Dottie’s clit, quick and merciless, and then Dottie seized up beneath her. She twisted and shook, abdominal muscles clenching as her body fluttered under Peggy’s hands, screams muffled in worn cotton.
Dottie, Peggy thought, believed Peggy’s problem was the discrepancy between appearance and ability. But Peggy knew exactly what her problem was.
It was power.
“Has anyone told you you’re intolerably smug?” Dottie asked.
“I’ve never heard such a thing before in my life,” Peggy said.
Dottie pursed her lips even as the corners of her mouth curled upward. Her gaze cut to the window and the small dramas of the world outside. A dog tangling its leash in its owner’s legs as the owner shouted admonishments. A bustling businesswoman adjusting a shoulder pad. Car horns blaring and hands gesticulating from open car windows.
“It’s over, Dottie,” Peggy said, too gentle.
“Don’t you pity me, Peggy Carter,” Dottie murmured. She didn’t look at her. The smooth length of her neck spasmed as she swallowed. “The fat lady hasn’t sung yet.”
“Gorbachev is in talks to dissolve the Soviet Union even now.”
“It’s sweet of you, to think such a weak little man can speak for a philosophy. For a way of life.”
“This way of life of yours—it’s ended, darling.” Peggy reached across the tabletop, but Dottie pulled her own hands into her lap. Peggy left her fist between them. “Why don’t you come in from the cold?”
“You think you’ve won,” Dottie said. “No matter how many children were napalmed in Vietnam, no matter how many Korea vets were forgotten, no matter how many handsome sweethearts poor girls just like you have lost. You think you know what war is. How oblivious of you. How hypocritical. How naive.”
Her poor boys—their memories didn’t hurt her anymore. She could call them up in her mind without feeling the pang in her heart she’d grown so accustomed to in the decades that had passed since last she’d seen them. She had lived so fully without them, and she could imagine neither of them resenting her the bursting brim of it all. She’d founded a new intelligence agency. She’d raised squalling babies into good, kind, decent human beings. She’d captured fascists and Nazis and all manner of monster in every corner of the Earth. She’d laughed and cried and cursed and danced and leapt full speed into the embrace of life. They would be proud of her, her brother and her lost love. But she’d put their ghosts to rest, and there was no more ache where they used to be.
“I’m not that easy, Miss Underwood,” Peggy said. “I’m rather disappointed in you, really.”
Dottie’s mouth twisted. Her eye tracked a couple tangling fingers on the sidewalk. She lifted her head to face Peggy one last time. Peggy’s pulse quickened, her nipples tightened, and she made every effort not to clatter her teacup into its saucer too hard.
“Give you five seconds’ head start,” Dottie said.
She wore garters as if she knew nothing on a woman made Peggy’s blood pump faster. She probably did. She knew everything, it seemed. Everything Peggy had done, was going to do. Everywhere Peggy had been, was going to be. And she was there, a statuesque silhouette moving like mist in the backdrop of Peggy’s life. Familiar and comforting, in her way.
She reclined against the pillows, putting out her cigarette and flicking it away. Vienna. Sumptuous silks. Ashes in the fireplace, a wedding looming. This was moment out of time. Her legs fell open. Peggy slid out of her blouse, her bra, knelt between Dottie’s knees and sighed as Dottie took the weight of Peggy’s breasts in her hands. Peggy trailed her fingertips up Dottie’s thigh and hooked them beneath the garters. She did not touch the raw skin around her eyepatch, nor let her gaze linger at the emptiness there. It did not diminish her.
“I do so hate you, Peggy Carter,” Dottie said with a sigh. Peggy could smell the molten core of her: rain on a cool spring night, when all beating things are green again.
“Tell me again,” Peggy said.
She leaned down and Dottie’s fingers twisted like talons in her hair. Her teeth were sharp, gleaming white in a gash of red, and she kissed harder than any man who’d ever pressed his lips to Peggy’s, thinking he was worthy of it.
“I hate you,” Dottie said as Peggy swallowed the words. “I hate you.”
“Yes,” Peggy said. “Yes, yes, always.”
She let her lips trace their way down to the garters.
Dottie was there when the wall fell. When countries split apart and reemerged with new names. When families reunited to celebrate and to mourn. She had evaporated like ether, but she was there nonetheless—in the periphery of Peggy’s vision, in the perfume that lingered just beyond the reach of memory, in the play of muscle and sinew Peggy glimpsed in every young woman whose appearance hid the depth of the raging ocean inside her.
Dottie wasn’t going anywhere.