"I keep seeing her."
Jack shifted the phone so he could rest his forehead against the wall. It was too early for this call, but it was earlier still in LA, which meant Daniel was probably looking at dawn from the other side. He didn't sound like he'd been drinking, but he did sound like he should have been.
"Yeah," Jack said, not knowing what else he could say. His own senses were still tuned for Peggy, some part of him looking for her in every face in every crowd. They'd both looked for her for such a long time.
"Every time I see..." Daniel started, then trailed off. He could have finished that sentence a hundred ways, and Jack still would have heard them all, or thought them, at least.
The line crackled, and for a moment Jack thought it would cut them off. It was so fragile, that wire that stretched between coasts, more fragile still the relationship still holding between them. They'd known each other before her, but she'd brought them together, and now she was gone.
"Damn, her," Jack whispered, and the connection must still have been holding, because he heard Daniel gasp, shocked. "No, I mean it," Jack insisted. "Damn her for pulling that shit." For going off while he'd still been in the hospital, not able lift a finger, let alone help. For not taking back up. For vanishing without a trace. While he was at it, damn her for showing him that he could be a better man, that he could have it all without selling his soul, and then snatching it away just when he'd started to figure out what he wanted.
"You don't, Jack," Daniel said, "not really." Then static buried his voice and the connection did drop out.
Jack thought about calling him back, just to tell him to go to bed, but couldn't seem to summon the will. He set the phone down and knotted the tie that he'd looped around his neck before the phone had rung. He'd get coffee and a pie or something at the automat, and a sandwich from the girl at lunch, and the same for dinner, probably.
It was still dark when he left his building and headed for the subway, dawn not even trying to lighten the drizzle this late in the year. Jack flipped his collar up and dipped his head to keep the rain out of his face, which made it drip off his hat brim instead.
He caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye, another pedestrian, not the rain, but down an ally, and he glanced after it as he passed, but it was gone already. It'd probably just been a cat. Or a reflection. Or a shadow. Only, just for a second Jack had thought he'd seen...
I keep seeing her.
Damn Daniel, too, for putting it in his head.
Jack hunched his shoulders against the cold and dropped down into the subway.
Marge–and the kicker was the new secretary actually was called Marge–had been in already and stacked the mail on his desk. Jack thumbed through it first for anything from Eastern Europe, then for anything from England, and failing that prioritised in order of importance. There was nothing to do with Peggy's disappearance, just as there hadn't been any other morning in the four months since he'd had to officially drop the search.
He'd written a letter to the Carter family that day, and another to each of the contacts he still had across the pond. The first had started, "I regret to inform you," the rest had said, "Keep looking."
Flipping open the first of half a dozen files stamped urgent in block red, Jack yelled for the agents responsible to get in his office if they valued their jobs.
His agents–or possibly his idiot children, sometimes he could nether tell nor care–kept him in the office until after nine that night. The best thing that could be said at the end of it all was that nothing was on fire and no one had died, but the mop up was still extensive.
Jack took one of the S.S.R. cars home, even though he'd have to park it on the street, and turned the radio up and drummed in time on the wheel to keep himself awake. All he wanted was a bath, a drink and his bed.
The traffic was light, and the sidewalks increasingly deserted as he drove uptown: there a woman with her dog, there a couple walking hand in had. Jack glanced away until he'd passed them. The woman had had dark hair and wore trousers, and he'd have sworn at Daniel again, except it wasn't like Jack didn't see Peggy all on his own.
When he looked back at the left side of the road, he saw another woman, also brunette, also in trousers, but alone and leaning against the corner, and for a moment he thought...
Jack pulled over hard, making the driver behind him lean on his horn. He rolled down his window and leaned out, but the figure at the corner was gone. The drizzle had lightened, and there were no obvious places even someone quick-footed could have gone.
"Damn," he muttered, and slid the car back into gear. He was seeing shadows again.
He had to walk half a block back from where he'd parked, and he immediately found himself peering into every shadow and tracking every pedestrian and every car. Jack tried to tell himself that he had no evidence he was being followed–they weren't even working on anything worth the trouble of kidnapping or assassinating him–but the hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end, and he felt like he had rifle sights levelled at his spine, right between his shoulder blades.
He bent and untied than retied his shoe, glancing casually behind him, but saw nothing but pools of streetlight and passing cars.
Jack shook his head and stood, rolling his shoulders to stretch the kinks out of his back. He was just overtired, and Daniel had gotten him keyed up that morning, and he should skip the hot bath part of his plan and just go to bed with a glass of whiskey.
The feeling of eyes on him left as the street door closed behind him and he crossed the foyer to the stairs, and he'd almost relaxed by the time he opened the door to his apartment.
He still had his gun in his hand a second after he saw the figure standing in the doorway to his bedroom, illuminated by the light from the corridor. His heart was in his throat, and he wanted to either fire or back out the still open door and run like hell, but he froze instead, because, oh, Christ, it was Peggy.
"Jack," she said, and he kicked the door closed and turned on the lights. She looked older, but that could be the light, or the lack of cosmetics, or the way her hair was scraped back into a tight braid. She had dark rings under her eyes, and a green tone to her skin, and she wore welder's coveralls almost baggy enough to hide her curves, and twisted a cloth hat in her hands. "Jack," she said again, her voice thick as it drew out his name, and he marvelled at hearing her again. "Do you really need that?"
She meant the gun, which he still had levelled at her. Jack ejected the round he'd chambered, put the safety back on and holstered it, hands working automatically, eyes never leaving Peggy's, half thinking that if he blinked, she might vanish again. "So you're not dead," he said, stupidly. He winced and scrubbed his hand over his mouth.
"I very nearly was," Peggy said, she started to step towards him, then stopped, and he realised that she was staying out of the line of sight from the windows, curtained though they were. "It was a good deal safer that everyone believe that I was, for the S.S.R. especially."
Jack wanted to argue that it was neither safer nor better that she'd let Daniel fall in love with her and then broken his heart (that she'd had Jack scrambling all over Eastern Europe, spending hundreds of man hours and Christ knew how much of the S.S.R.'s budget, every day concluding that some new horror must have happened to her, each worse than the last) but the words choked him. He leaned into that anger, trying to drum up enough righteousness to block out the grief and betrayal, but mostly he just felt tired.
What he ended up asking was, "You want a drink?" When she nodded, he crossed to the little bar, and poured them each a neat finger of Johnnie Walker. He held onto them both, not wanting to pass one to her lest their fingers touch, and he lose control. "So," he said, trying to make his voice hard and ironic enough to hide the hurt, "what brings a girl like you to a place like this?"
Her mouth tightened and he saw her head tilt in the way it did when she was jamming down more hurt and soldiering on–he hated that he knew her well enough to read her like that–but she didn't whip back with a needle-sharp retort the way she always had.
Instead she reached across to and laid two fingers on his wrist, then took the glass with her other hand. "I need your help," she admitted.
He should have asked why now, or why him and not Stark or her army buddies; he should have asked what right she had to be here, after all that–and later he probably would. Jack nodded and said, "Sure, Carter. Whatever I can do."
Peggy took a deep breath, one that hitched a couple times, and her eyes glistened, but she didn't sniff or wipe at her eyes. Instead, she knocked back the drink and said softly, "Oh, Jack. I'd never have thought I'd miss you this much."
Jack's throat tightened again, and he glanced away. He wanted to embrace her and let her cry on his shoulder, while at the same time proving to himself that she was actually there and alive, but he finished his own drink and asked, "So what the hell happened to you?"