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The Lady’s Second Song

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Peggy runs a cotton pad with cold cream over each eye to remove her make-up. The cool, wet drag of it is a daily ritual.

She believed Thompson when he said that Daniel asked for her.

She puts the cotton pad aside, opens the long zipper of the dress Ana loaned her and steps out of it, then unclasps the small hooks of her brassiere. It sticks to her back with sweat and there are thin, red lines left behind on her pale skin. She trades it for a soft, silk nightgown with a robe over it. The fabric whispers against her bare back, cool and barely there.

She didn’t even question it - she rushed out here, to Los Angeles, only to walk in and see Daniel’s face crumple at seeing her again.

Peggy walks to the window and opens it. A faint breeze carries through the dark room and along with it, the smell of hydrangeas at night. Outside, she can see a reflection from the pool and hear a distant insect. The moon is out, far and white.

Thompson was a right idiot in sending her away. He’s not getting anything from Dottie - Peggy’s sure of it. If only he could put his pride aside for a moment!

There’s a knock on the door, and she turns around. It’s Mr. Jarvis, naturally.

“Dreadfully sorry to disturb you, Miss Carter, but I thought you might enjoy a cup of tea before bed?”

He’s holding a small tray with a cup of freshly made tea on it.

Peggy finds herself smiling. “There is always time for tea, Mr. Jarvis.”

Jarvis walks in and sets the tray on the side table next to her, careful not to spill a drop. There is a gentle curl of steam coming from the teacup, and she can smell the familiar bitterness of Earl Grey.

“Is there anything else I can help you with?” Jarvis looks at her. “Something stronger, perhaps? Mr. Stark does have a fully stocked bar. And a wine cellar. I can give you the keys?”

“No, thank you, I’m fine.” Peggy chides, “Now stop fussing over me, Mr. Jarvis!” He has done nothing but that since she arrived.

“Of course.” Jarvis nods and walks to the door, but he hesitates in the doorway. “It’s just that it’s such a pleasure to see you, Miss Carter.”

“Likewise, Mr. Jarvis.” She means it. It has been six months since she had his assistance, and Peggy finds that she had forgotten how very easy it is to have him by her side. How very fond she is of him, truly.

“I do hope you will be comfortable here?”

Peggy looks around the room. “Yes, other than Howard staring at me while I sleep. Is there a portrait of him in every room, or is it just my bedroom in particular?”

“Every room.” Jarvis cringes. “Even in the bedroom Ana and I share, I’m afraid. Mr. Stark insisted.”

Peggy laughs. “You are a brave, brave man, Mr. Jarvis.”

“Well…” Jarvis tilts his head. “Some have said so.” He briefly seems sad. “Not recently. I have rather been missing out.” He sobers. “But then I did get hit in the face tonight, so I believe it all evens out.”

“Ah yes, what did Ana say?”

“She thinks I tripped over a basket of freshly-laundered linens and fell down the stairs.” Jarvis’ face pulls. “Clumsy me.”

Peggy smiles again. “You should get to bed, Mr. Jarvis.” She can feel a hint of expectation, now. They will solve these murders, the mystery. “I promise I will still be here in the morning. And so will the adventures.”

“Yes, of course.” Jarvis hesitates. “Good night, Miss Carter.”

“Good night, Mr. Jarvis.”

Peggy drinks her cup of tea. It’s made exactly as she would have made it.

She is not surprised in the faintest.

 

-

 

Peggy sits by the opened bedroom window. A day and a half has passed, that’s all.

Merely a day and a half.

There’s a light early morning breeze playing with her hair, but she barely feels it. She wants to close her eyes - they are burning with fatigue and tears she stubbornly refuses to shed - but she can’t quite manage it. Instead, she leans her face on her hand, with her knuckles pressed to her chin in a tired balancing act.

She is still wearing her make-up from last night. The same earrings. She undressed but she can only remember it distantly, as if it happened to another person.

She’d been so happy to go out.

She had wanted to forget about Daniel - and Steve, always Steve - for just a moment. To allow herself to be charmed by something new. To look into the eyes of a man, Doctor Wilkes, and see nothing there but simple joy and someone who does not realise what it is she does, or what she is capable of.

Who she has been.

A man who doesn’t see Captain America’s girlfriend, or Agent Carter, but who looks at her as if she’s Peggy.

She hasn’t been just Peggy in a long time. She enjoyed it more than she should have, pulling Doctor Wilkes close and feeling his body against hers. Kissing him. It filled her with something bright, a little wild. They stole the car, made it to Isodyne and…

Peggy is holding the glass of whiskey Ana gave her. It’s gone tepid in her hand now. Wet with condensation, and the nearly-melted ice cubes are clinking around inside. She brings it to her mouth and numbly takes a slow sip.

Then drinks it all in a swift burn.

She got him killed.

Doctor Wilkes was a civilian. A kind, good man. But she treated him like someone who could defend himself, like a colleague, or an agent. Like a soldier.

So now he’s dead. Gone.

Again.

The gentle rap on the door is Jarvis’ - Peggy can tell without even turning her head. “Enter.”

Jarvis seems sombre, even a little anxious, so she forces a smile. “I am fine, Mr. Jarvis.” He feels for her, she knows.

“Ana suggested I bring you the bottle. I, however, wonder if perhaps...” Jarvis swallows. “Going to sleep might be an idea?”

Peggy admits, “I don’t know if I can.”

“Well…” Jarvis walks up and closes the curtain with a business-like tug that she thinks he must have perfected all the times he has needed to wrangle Howard into bed. “Giving it a try never hurt.”

Peggy looks at him, standing here in the darkened room, and feels a flash of gratitude that is almost overwhelming. Oh, Mr. Jarvis.

It is why she says, “There will be more to the investigation. Will you drive me to work in the afternoon for my statement?”

“Certainly.” Jarvis sounds relieved. “I will wake you around one so you have time to dress.” He pulls back the bedcovers for her and pushes them aside.

Peggy rises out of the chair and sits down on the bed. She toes off her slippers so they fall on the floor. Jarvis glances at them, but lets them be.

Instead, he looks at her and reaches out a hand. It connects with the side of her arm, and he touches her there, lightly.

Peggy lies down. She is still in her robe, but it hardly matters. Jarvis pulls the covers over her. They feel entirely too soft. So does the deep, cool crinkle of cotton on the pillow. As if she will sink into the bed.

Jarvis glides out of the room. She hears his soft, “Sleep well, Miss Carter,” as he quietly closes the door, expecting her to rest, now.

She won’t, but she will pretend to. That is the closest she can get to sleep, sometimes.

The best she can do.

 

-

 

Another day and a half.

Peggy was boxing. Overflowing in a rough, familiar way. Doctor Wilkes isn’t dead after all, so her grief was misplaced. Howard is as ridiculous as ever, Thompson as idiotic, Daniel is... here. The case is frustrating, all of it felt so very, very!

And now, one man and four minutes later - Peggy’s beaten up and soaked to the skin.

Jarvis is holding her up.

Jarvis doesn’t let go, even though she is dripping with pool water and it will ruin his suit. Peggy would tell him that, but she is currently gasping for breath.

“Well! That was, I did, what should we...” Jarvis is frightened, Peggy can hear it in his voice. He looks at her with wide eyes, and then settles on saying, “You should get out of those wet clothes, Miss Carter.”

Peggy wants to laugh, only her breath is still painful and rough with the edge of pool water. I would expect a line like that from Howard, not you.

It’s hard to swallow. She touches her neck and can feel the deep throb of a bruise forming. Jarvis’ eyes follow her hand, and he says, “Can you breathe?

Yes. It’s painful, but doable. Peggy gathers her voice. “Yes.”

“Oh, thank god!”

Jarvis still hasn’t let her go. He was supporting her, but now that she is standing on her own two legs his arm around her isn’t entirely necessary.

“I’ll wake Mr. Stark and... call the police? Mr. Sousa?”

“No...” Peggy’s voice breaks, and she continues in a whisper, “That won’t be necessary yet I think.”

Jarvis leads her inside. “We need towels. Or a bath? Yes, a hot bath.”

He takes her to her room, sets her down on the bed, then immediately goes to the bathroom while he is still talking to her. She can’t make out the words over the rushing sound of the tap filling the bath, something about installing alarms.

Peggy rises, takes off her soaked clothes down to her underwear, and catalogues her bruises in front of the dresser mirror with a military detachment. There is a thin line around her neck, already throbbing and gearing up to bruise spectacularly. There are red boot prints on her side and stomach. Her fingers are rubbed raw where she held the tie as she was being choked. She can feel the echo of the fabric, still. See the brief glance of night sky, and then the fall, backwards.

Taste the burning gulp of pool water in the hitch to her breathing.

Jarvis says, quietly, “Miss Carter?”

He looks pale still. If Jarvis hadn’t come back, if he hadn’t helped her - stupidly, bravely - if she hadn’t had him, if the assailant’s gun didn’t misfire, if she didn’t reach her gym bag in time, if... The truth is that Peggy had been more afraid for Jarvis than for herself.

She whispers, “I am perfectly fine, Mr. Jarvis.”

He hesitates for a long moment, his eyes fervent on hers, and then says, “Of course, yes.” His voice softens, “I will be right here, if you need anything. “

She finds a smile. “Thank you, Mr. Jarvis.”

Jarvis leaves her.

She will need to go after Isodyne. Find a cure for Doctor Wilkes, deal with Daniel, and find out who the killer sent after her was. Peggy looks down at her hands, expecting them to shake, to betray something, anything, but as ever, they do not.

There’s not a chip in her nail polish.