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All of Me

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I.

There is nothing in Ana that’s suicidal or seeking out death. She knows that Whitney Frost and the man with her are dangerous, but if you’ve survived the Arrow Cross thugs and the worst genocide of your time, an American film star and a gangster simply don’t register as threats in the same way. Ana isn’t conscious of risking her life, she simply has no intention of letting these two kidnap Dr. Wilkes. There was a time when she could do nothing when witnessing bullies abuse people; that time is over. So she steps in their way.

Ana loves American movies; it’s one reason why she enjoys living in Los Angeles much more than her husband does. So of course Whitney Frost is instantly familiar to her. She’s seen her in Scarlet Sinner, she’s rooted for her to win the Oscar for playing Lydia Gwilt in Armadale and was crushed when Ingrid Bergman won for Gaslight instead. Upon reflection, though, Ingrid Bergman, who was the only film star to follow her one night stand with Howard Stark by raiding the pantry and being thoughtful enough to leave a tip for the cook and servants, was a worthy winner as well. Despite all she’s heard about Whitney Frost’s recent endeavors , despite Jason Wilkes having told her how deeply frightening that substance he and Mrs. Frost have inside them feels: Ana can’t help it. When Whitney Frost aims a gun at her and pulls the trigger, one of the thoughts going through her head is the indignant: You looked far more convincing when doing that to William Holden in Born Bad!

The other thought is that it can’t end like this. Because who would listen with Edwin to Benny Goodman then? And because that’s what they had in store for her: Szálasi and his Arrow Cross scum, shooting people at the banks of the Danube, or making them go into the water to drown with machine guns. No. She can’t let them win. She has to survive.


 

II.

When you’re an immigrant or an exile, or both, people sooner or later ask you what you miss most about the old country, and whether or not you want to go back, now that the war is over and you can. But they don’t really want to know, and Ana doesn’t really want to tell. So she has a joking reply at hand, about missing the baths, the glorious baths of Budapest, the most luxurious bathing opportunity for everyone since the Romans and their thermal baths, and no, she doesn’t really miss them since she has the entire ocean here. It makes people smile, and that’s good. Edwin knows that she did love the public baths but hadn’t been allowed to use them during her last years in Budapest, and that she loves walking through the sand of the beach with her bare feet but hasn’t been able to bring herself to enter the water because the dreams of the Danube full of corpses still come to her on some nights. Edwin doesn’t enlighten anyone but holds her hand when she says this and lets her tease him out loud about his pale British skin and how she only got him to don a bathing suit by sewing one and threatening divorce if he didn’t.


 

III.

Hungarian is very unlike most other languages, save, they say, Finnish; Ana has never heard Finnish, so she wouldn’t be able to tell. But she still hears Hungarian, now and then; there are Hungarian actors and directors in Hollywood and thus at Howard Stark’s parties, like the Kordas, Michael Curtiz whom she first knew as Mihály Kertész Kaminer, or Zsa Zsa Gabor and Ilona Massey. She’s also heard Edgar Ulmer tell Bela Lugosi exasperatedly: “We’re in America now, speak German!”

She could speak German. In fact, she grew up with it as well as with Hungarian. But she doesn’t, for all the obvious reasons. She does, occasionally, sing it, because she refuses to give up Kalman’s and Lehar’s songs, too.

English she loves, though she’s still navigating through its intricacies now and then. Not to mention that it is several languages at once. Edwin once told her he’s trained himself out of the accent he grew up with; he had to, because going into service with the aim of managing one of the big households in an estate would have been impossible otherwise. Now he speaks in the clipped, impeccably dignified fashion Noel Coward does in the radio version of his plays she’s listened to on the BBC. She’s never heard Edwin sound otherwise, not even when they’re having sex. It’s one of her goals to find out whether she can change that.

Of course, now Edwin isn’t heading the household of Lord Astor or someone like that, he’s working for Howard Stark, who wouldn’t notice if Edwin spoke like Tommy Handley. Or maybe he would. Howard Stark’s English is very different from Edwin’s; he sounds like Humphrey Bogart with some James Cagney thrown in. But when Ana first met him, after Edwin had forged those papers for her and had ended up accused of treason, imprisoned, her own English vocabulary had fallen apart, which she’d been so proud of while working at one of Budapest’s best hotels. She had searched for the right phrases to ask about Edwin and they wouldn’t come, and then Howard Stark had replied in Yiddish. Her own Yiddish was rusty; her parents had been so proud of being Hungarians, of not being like their cousins from Poland who were embarrassing everyone when visiting. But Mr. Stark is fluent, and while they had never, not once, talked about what that means, and have in fact not talked in Yiddish again after Ana had calmed down and set herself to master English once more, she hasn’t forgotten. It makes her suspect that one of the reasons why Edwin and she feel comfortable with their employer in all his outrageousness is that Howard Stark, too, knows what it is to recreate himself, down to the words coming out of his mouth.


 

IV.

Ana loves clothes. Growing up, she’s had dreams of becoming a fashion designer, like Coco Chanel in Paris. Working for a tailor shop in a leading Budapest hotel wasn’t the same thing, but it did make her happy, for a while. When she first met Edwin, she’d wanted to dress him as much as undress him; he has lovely shoulders, and calves made for form-fitting flannel.

Peggy Carter turning from a story into a reality means Ana wants to dress her, too. Coming up with something that’s both comfortable and elegant, practical for concealing weapons yet not wasting what is an admirably trim figure is an inspiring challenge.

“You’re wasted, working for Howard,” Peggy Carter observes after praising both the garter with a gun holster that’s not chafing the other thigh and the scarf doubling as handcuff replacements.

“Is that a job offer?” Ana asks lightly.

“No,” Peggy replies. “At least not yet. Because even if I ever make station chief somewhere, the SSR will probably have to operate on an even tighter budget than now, given the way the government keeps cutting us down. I wouldn’t want you to give up a comfortable existence for something that doesn’t pay what you’re worth.”

There’s an unflinching honesty to Miss Carter that makes Ana wonder how she operates as a professional spy; not to mention the recent time when she had to lie to her entire department for weeks while clearing Howard Stark’s name. Perhaps it comes down to Peggy Carter having a sense of herself that’s certain, iron clad, no matter the circumstance.

Peggy Carter never had to recreate herself, not the real core of her. It’s both enviable and a little bit annoying, though Ana is careful not to show the latter.


 

 

V.

Having children, or not, hasn’t been an option for Ana through her early adult life. Not because she couldn’t have married. But even if she had said yes to one of the proposals she received, she wouldn’t have wanted to bring up a child in Horthy’s Hungary. Later, after the war had ended and Edwin’s and her existence in the US with Howard Stark began to look like a permanent fixture, Ana still hadn’t begun to make plans for a child; she was still getting used to not having to live with the uncertainty of the next moment being able to change her life all over again.

And then she survived being shot in the abdomen and was told there never would be any children, not ever. It was like a door closing, a door to a place you hadn’t even been able to say you wanted to enter, not with complete truthfulness. But now it isn’t an option any more, now she would never enter that place regardless of her own wishes, she feels oddly empty.

“We could still adopt,” Edwin says, but that’s not the point. Of course they could. But that, too, is a decision she should be able to make depending solely on whether or not she and Edwin would want to. Not on a bullet fired by Whitney Frost simply because Ana was an impediment at that moment.

“I wanted to kill her for you,” Edwin says, reading her mind, and Ana forgets about having a child, or not, and sits straight up in her hospital bed. Because by the sound of it, he’s not just speaking in theory. In fact, she’s never heard him speak like this before, literally. Not just the words, but the voice. There are slurs here and vowels that don’t belong to Edwin Jarvis, impeccable General’s aide and later butler; they must hail from Ned that was, the boy he used to be before training himself out of them. “She should be dead, the bloody…”

Now the fact that he made Rose Roberts sit with her during his latest expedition with Peggy Carter takes on ghastly new colors. As does Rose staring at a document in Edwin’s handwriting and then putting it hastily away.

Ana doesn’t feel numb anymore, or empty. She’s just plain furious.

“Mr. Jarvis,” she says, her own voice taking all the clipped edges he’s just discarded, “how could you? What on earth made you think I’d ever forgive you if you got yourself killed?”

“I didn’t mean…” he protests, but she cuts him off.

“Never,” she says. “I don’t need you killing anyone for me, Edwin. Including yourself . I need you to live with me, and if you don’t know that yet, then what have we been doing these last years?”

They don’t argue often; if they do, it usually ends with her making a joke. Not this time.


 

VI.

Ana isn’t lacking for visitors at the hospital, both friends she’ s made since arriving in Los Angeles and members of the SSR, but nonetheless, the whirl of chiffon and perfume that signals Zsa Zsa Gabor’s arrival is a surprise. They’d met, though given the circumstances, Ana hadn’t assumed Miss Gabor, currently married to Conrad Hilton, would remember.

“Darling!” Zsa Zsa Gabor cries in Hungarian after hugging her as if they were old friends, and the effusive sounds roll around Ana in comforting waves, “Howard told me I’d find you here! Now you must get well as quickly as possible. You see, I’ve finally gotten Conny to spring the money for a production of The Czardas Princess. Starring me, of course. But I can’t let an American design the costumes for a Kalman operetta, I simply can’t, and so I thought: what about that sorceress from dear old Pest who made my ball gown even better with a bit of improvisation and silk after Howard spilled all over me because he came early?”

Embarrassment and Zsa Zsa Gabor are clearly strangers to each other. It’s so familiar of Budapest without evoking the bad parts of the past that Ana starts to smile before the actual content of what Miss Gabor has said, and more importantly, offered, catches up with her.

“Well, if it’s Kalman,” she says, using all of Edwin’s restraint in order not to squee at the prospect of being offered costume design for a big production. Of course, it’s always possible the whole thing will collapse, or that Zsa Zsa Gabor will lose interest, but Ana has always been an optimist, and this could be the start of an incredible adventure for her. She refuses to caution herself before it even starts. And she really needs to get out of bed.

Edwin arrives later, armed with a new set of Benny Goodman recordings, news about Whitney Frost having ended up in a luxurious mental hospital, and repentance in every sound and gesture.

“I shouldn’t have done it. Any of it. I’ve been a schmuck,” he says, and the expression, pronounced, surprisingly enough, the correct way, makes her eyebrows go up. He reads her effortlessly. That, of course, is part of why she’s been so angry with him. They might have been near strangers when they fell in love in Budapest years ago, but by now they know each other inside out, and that means he should have known better.

“I asked Mr. Stark for the right word,” Edwin confesses in reply to her unasked question. She imagines never seeing his dear face again, not ever, as she has done since he’d told her about his idiotic revenge quest, and decides enough is enough. Curving her finger, she beckons him to her so she can kiss him thoroughly.

“Just don’t do it again,” she murmurs, when they interrupt because they both need some air, and they both know she doesn’t mean language lessons from Howard Stark.


 

 

VII.

“Are you sure?” Rose Roberts asks her, as they stand on what Rose has said was the best of the Malibu beaches, Rose holding a surfing board. Ana is wearing her new bathing suit. She can feel the scar it covers, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a part of her now, just like the nightmares about dead bodies in the Danube. A part, but not all of her. And certainly not more important than the joy she takes in being right here, right now. In being alive.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Ana Jarvis replies, and starts to run into the waves.