Angie is bubbling over by the time they get to the bar. She’s torn between wanting to shut up because Peggy probably doesn’t want to hear her yammering on and wanting to keep talking because she actually got Peggy to go out on a Friday night. The bar is close to the Griffith, mostly because Angie’s feet hurt something awful from her double shift at the diner. It’s the kind of place Mrs. Fry would take one step in and declare the entirety of its occupants miscreant heathens. Sure, the lights are a little dim and the crowd can be a little rough, but Angie’s been here before and it’s nothing she can’t handle. And with Peggy by her side, they’ll be just fine. (Unless Mrs. Fry smells the booze on them and bars them from ever entering her lobby again.)
Angie has the inkling Peggy could sneak them in through a drainage pipe if they had to. She’s not stupid, and she’s seen Peggy crawling up the fire escape past curfew more than once.
She sits down on a stool that tilts a little when she adjusts her weight and slips her coat off. Peggy is out of her coat, too, and she’s wearing a bombshell red dress under one of her many blazers.
“You ever take those off, English?” Angie shuffles out of her own coat and lays it down at her feet. She’s wearing her Sunday best even though it’s Friday. She thought it would look nice, that’s all. It’s not like she’s trying to catch anyone’s attention. And besides, who would ever look at her when Peggy’s looking like a million bucks with hair all curled up like that and lips painted a sinful red that matches that dress of hers?
“It’s a bit chilly in here, don’t you think?” Peggy answers. She flags down a bartender whose eyes linger a little too long on that red lipstick.
“Could be.” Angie leans forward on the bar and clears her throat loudly enough to catch the man’s attention.
“Gin and tonic, please,” she says, maybe a little too snappily, but hey, he’s not getting paid to ogle the customers.
A small smile appears on the corner of Peggy’s lips as she orders the same. When the bartender leaves, Angie starts up again.
“So how many jackets you own anyway?”
“Maybe too many,” Peggy says. “But the office is a bit cold, you know? It’s not like they set the thermostats for the women in skirts, anyway. The suit trumps the skirt.”
The bartender returns and places the drinks down on the hard wood. Peggy opens her purse to fetch her wallet, but Angie puts a hand on her arm.
“Oh, no you don’t. I’ve got this one.”
“Angie, I insist-“
“Not another word.” Angie almost places a finger to Peggy’s lips, but catches herself halfway there and feels her cheeks redden. She dips her head under the guise of reaching for her own purse, hoping it hides her blush. She clears her throat.
“Uh, why don’t you go sit down at one of the tables in the back and I’ll pick these up.”
Peggy hesitates for a second, and Angie isn’t sure she’ll do it. But then, sliding off the barstool, Peggy’s heels hit the floor with a sharp clack and she carries their coats away.
The bartender leans over to take the money from Angie’s hand. When his fingers reach around the bills, he pauses and leans in a little closer.
“Hey, uh.” He pulls her hand down onto the counter. “That lady friend of yours got a man?”
Angie feels heat rise up on her cheeks again. She snatches her hand away, leaving the bills crumpled in the bartender’s fist.
“That’s none of your damn business,” she snaps. She closes her purse and turns away from the bar (leaving no tip, the slimy bastard), scanning the room to find Peggy.
Peggy is sitting by herself at one of the rickety tables in the middle of the crowded room, sticking out like a sore thumb in a sea of blue and grey. Angie steps around the people congregating on the bar floor, mostly men in their works suits, muttering low “pardon me’s” and “excuse me’s” and maybe shoving a few guys a little too hard in the side to get through. She reaches their table and sets the drinks down, letting out a long sigh and feeling the heat finally recede from her neck.
A gal’s gotta look out for her friends, right? Especially friends as pretty as Peggy.
“Sorry I couldn’t find somewhere closer,” Peggy says, quickly moving aside so Angie can maneuver around the table and pull out the other chair. “I’m afraid it’s all packed up, and I thought you wouldn’t enjoy staying at the bar.” Peggy takes a glance across the room at the bartender. He’s staring over at their table, and Angie swears Peggy rolls her eyes.
She nods and instead of answering, picks up her drink and takes three big gulps before putting it down and letting out a long breath. It burns real good.
Peggy almost laughs, and it’s a beautiful sight. Her lips purse together tightly and her eyes get all small, little crow’s feet adorning their edges. Angie wishes she would just let loose that little bit extra, and smile real big and wide like she does on the rare occasions when something really tickles her.
“Rough day at work?” Peggy asks, picking up her own drink and sipping a bit off the top.
“Oh, you have no idea. But enough about me. How come you got so many men in suits in your office? You said you work at a phone company, huh? Isn’t that all ladies?”
Peggy’s face falters for just a second—just the tiniest fracture of a moment. But, just as quickly as Angie sees her eyebrow twitch, that half-smile appears again.
“Mostly, yes. But the men, even the few of them, always seem to get their way.” She grips her glass. “To the men in our lives.”
Peggy raises her glass. Angie, taking a second to realize what’s happening, grabs her drink off the table. A little bit of it spills onto the table, and they clink their glasses together with stifled giggles.
So maybe Angie forgot to mention that the drinks here are really strong.
She’s on her third, and she thinks Peggy is on her third, too. Maybe fourth. All Angie knows for sure is men keep buying them drinks and neither one of them cares enough to decline. Peggy put up a little bit of a fight at first, shooing the men away from their table with her hat or her handbag. After Angie’s insistence that free liquor is the best liquor, Peggy relented. So here they are, tipping over a little in the chairs and now Peggy’s laughing like the world isn’t quite so serious all the time.
Angie’s head is a little fuzzy and her stomach keeps fluttering every time Peggy makes another snide remark about her workplace, or the bartender, or threatening to stab rude patrons with a fork. (Angie nearly falls off her chair laughing at that, and her sides hurt so bad when she finally manages to sit up straight again.)
“I don’t believe you, Peggy Carter,” she manages to gasp in between wheezing breaths. “Not even a little bit.”
Peggy doesn’t answer, just picks up her (fourth, fifth?) drink and gives Angie a look that makes her head spin even more.
Before Angie can say anything else, there’s a raucous shout from across the room. Peggy’s head snaps to the noise and her jaw tenses so hard the muscles form jagged lines along her cheeks.
Angie turns more slowly, focusing in on the crowd of men in a corner of the bar. They’re huddled together around a table, bumping shoulders and spilling their drinks onto the floor as they observe whatever it is that’s happening.
“What the heck is going on?” Angie mutters, chewing the little plastic straw in her drink she had snatched from the bar. She looks back to Peggy, whose jaw has returned to it’s relaxed state, and who is now craning her neck to catch a glimpse of the crowd.
“I’m not sure,” Peggy says, and then Angie decides she wants to find out because it’s Friday and she’s feeling pretty good.
“Get your butt up, English. We’re investigating.”
Peggy doesn’t have a chance to get a word in, because Angie’s off, nearly knocking over a chair on her wobbly path to the back corner. She glances back once to make sure Peggy follows, and keeps going when a flash of red dress emerges from the crowd. The bar lights spin just the tiniest bit above Angie, and she steadies herself with a hand on the top of a booth before sneaking up behind the crowd. Peggy arrives next to her moments later, tripping into the crowd.
“What on earth?” Peggy slurs her words, and tries to stand on her toes, bracing herself on Angie’s shoulder. Angie’s arm erupts in goosebumps, and she’s glad Peggy’s not looking, or at least too out of it to notice.
“I think…they’re having some sort of arm wrestling competition.”
Angie can’t help but giggle, then using Peggy to steady herself as she strains her neck to glance over the men’s heads. Sure enough, there are two men sitting at the table with the elbows pressing against the wood, cheeks red and fists clenched together.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Angie says, letting out a low whistle.
It’s then that one of the men is pushed, or trips, or is too far gone that he can’t even stand straight. Either way, Angie suddenly finds herself face first in a grey suit.
“I beg your pardon!”
At first Angie thinks the words must have come out of her own mouth, but then it hits her that unless the gin or God has given her an English accent, that ain’t no voice of hers.
Peggy’s eyebrows are knit together like someone sewed them that way, her red lips pursed tightly. They twitch as she glares at the man, face tilted upwards to look him in the eye. Angie’s seen her fair share of impervious gazes and what Peggy’s trying to pull off is nothing more than a slightly squinting grimace.
“Please do watch where you’re going.” Even with her lipstick smudged clear off her lips, Peggy’s demands respect with her tone.
Angie takes a step back and straightens out her dress, heart racing from the sudden sense of doom brought on by 200-pounds of man falling into her. She nudges Peggy, not wanting to cause a scene. God knows they don’t need to cause a scene—her day’s already had enough snide comments in it to last the whole month.
“Hey, Pegs, let’s just get back to our seats. Ain’t nothing good to see here.”
The man grunts at them, and Peggy just keeps glaring. He ignores her, turning back to the shouting crowd.
“I want to watch one.” Peggy stays on her toes, craning her neck to see past the throng of people in front of them.
Peggy’s never struck Angie as someone who would get all irrational after a couple of drinks, but the woman never does stop surprising her.
“Hey, listen. One more drink and then we can go sneak back and pretend we haven’t just been out debasing Mrs. Fry’s rules. Besides, I bet you could beat any of those blokes, even with your eyes closed.” Angie’s joking, but Peggy’s eyes light up.
It was just a joke.
Peggy doesn’t budge an inch when Angie tugs on the sleeve of her blazer. Instead, she pulls away, dragging Angie behind her as she nudges aside the men with until they have a clear view of the table. The men’s faces only give them a passing look, too focused on the match going on to notice two women parting the crowd.
It isn’t until Peggy shoves a man out of the way to slam a dollar bill down on the table that anyone gives them the time of day.
The man sitting on the left sneers up at Peggy and Angie presses up close against her, aware of the stares now all facing them. Her whole body is buzzing with the booze and the lights and the feel of Peggy’s blazer pressing into her bare arm.
“Who you betting on, pretty lady?” the man asks.
Peggy puts both hands on the table and leans forward. “Next match is mine.”
Angie snorts into her sleeve. “I was kidding, English. We can just watch if you wanna stay.”
Peggy isn’t listening to her anymore, that much is clear. Angie thinks for a moment if she should grab her and run, but maybe it would be kind of fun to watch. Maybe that’s the gin talking.
“Well?” Peggy reiterates.
She crosses her arms. The men around them snicker and start to whisper, nodding at where Peggy stands.
The man sitting on the left side of the booth raises his hands and smirks, moving out of the seat.
“All yours, sweetheart.”
As he slides past Peggy he leans over and whispers just loud enough that everyone hears, “Don’t break a nail.”
“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind,” Peggy shoots back. She takes her place across from the other man. He’s got a big toothy smile on him and he reminds Angie a little bit of her cousin Louie. His face looks like it’s been hit in a few times, and the closer she looks, the less teeth he seems to have. She shuffles closer to the edge of the booth, trying to distance herself from the crowd, and ends up pushed right up against the edge of the seat.
“Sit,” Peggy orders as she moves over. The booth is plenty big enough for the both of them, so Angie complies.
“What in the ever-loving world are you doing?” The men in in the front of the crowd start tossing bills and coins on the table, mostly at Cousin Louie. A few nudge each other and toss some nickels that roll and land in front of Angie, no doubt in pity. She wants to throw them right back. Peggy’s got a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Louie, sure, but that doesn’t make Angie any less indignant.
“I’m going to win us a round of drinks,” Peggy replies, and starts to take off her blazer.
Angie’s still feeling lightheaded and it isn’t helped by the fact that they’re in a throng of drunken men. She tilts her head back and stares at the ceiling, both painfully aware of how close to Peggy she is and how hard it is to focus on one thing. That is, until Peggy shucks off her blazer entirely.
Peggy’s got nice arms.
Okay, that’s an understatement. Peggy has great arms.
The man across from them whistles and Peggy ignores him, throwing her blazer practically on top of Angie and rolling her neck from side to side.
“Do be careful I don’t hit you in the face,” is the last thing she says before nudging Angie over and lifting her arm onto the table.
Okay, so Peggy’s got great arms when she’s just sitting there, but that’s nothing compared to when she’s actually using them. Gals aren’t supposed to have arms like that, not a regular gal like Peggy Carter.
Angie watches awestruck as Cousin Louie grips Peggy’s outstretched hand, and then another man shouts “go!” from the crowd and it’s all over in a matter of seconds. Peggy’s face goes totally steely and the muscles in her arm (oh, God, the muscles) tense up and get all defined and she’s got him beat and she knows it. Maybe it’s because Louie wasn’t really giving it his all, on account of his opponent being a lady, but he’s down for the count.
His fist hits the table with a loud thump and the chatter behind them stops abruptly. Peggy shakes out her hand and smiles real small, pretty red lips curling up just at the edges.
Angie’s chest tightens as she stares at the table where Peggy’s arm is still resting. She wants to say something to her, maybe congratulations, or where in the world did you learn to throw a man down like that?, but all that comes out is a small squeak.
Louie pleads to go again, insists he wasn’t trying at all, but is quickly thrown out of the circle as the men start roaring about having a go themselves. Angie finds herself filling men in as they take on Peggy, shuffling them into a sort of line and having them sit down one by one. Some of them are clean-shaven and still in their work suits, and some look just as beat up as Louie did. She takes their bills and holds them in a fan she waves back and forth as they fight each other to go first.
The first one up is a suit guy. He whispers something across the table that Angie can’t hear, but it must have been something pretty bad. Not only does Peggy knock his arm down the moment the call is given, but it looks like she digs her nails hard enough into his fist to leave big dark crescents when he pulls his hand back. He slinks off without another word.
Patrons from the bar who hadn’t been watching before start filtering over to get a look at what all the ruckus is about. Angie keeps them all an arms length away as Peggy gears up for another go. In between the shouts and money being tossed onto the table, Angie takes a moment to turn and look at the woman in the process of nailing another fist into the wood.
Peggy’s face is contorted now, as the man against her is rather bulky and proving to be more of a challenge that those previously. Her forehead is wrinkled in concentration and sweat is beginning to bead along her hairline, but her gaze holds steady. Her eyes are alight, whether with fire or fury Angie’s not sure, but she sure looks ready to kill a man.
And those arms. Angie’s seen some nice ones on some nice people, but none of them really come close to Peggy’s straining biceps as she slams down another fist onto the table. The noise she makes as she forces her opponent down is so animalistic Angie can tell she’s turned red as a tomato.
“Next!” Peggy’s call snaps Angie out of her reverie.
Angie leans down, wary of the leers coming from the crowd now that Peggy’s taken out at least half the men. “Hey, English. You, uh, okay?” Angie can’t help that her eyes go right to the curve where Peggy’s arm creases.
“I could go all night,” Peggy says, and laughs. “But this will be the last one, promise.”
Angie nods and leans back against the booth crossing her arms and letting the buzzing in her head carry her.
One man steps in front of her and tips his hat, settling down into the seat afterward. Angie doesn’t like the look of him one bit, from the grease that gathers above his top lip to the way he smiles at Peggy as he leans over.
“I’m afraid this is the last one,” Peggy calls to the crowd, and they moan and gripe until Angie tells them to shut up in her best Mama Cartinelli voice.
“Can you go lefty?” the man asks, and Angie bristles at his voice. Smooth, self-assured, and as greasy as that top lip.
“I suppose I can make the accommodation,” Peggy replies, dropping one arm down and putting the other up. “Can you?”
The man doesn’t talk again, just keeps on smiling as he raises his hand to lock with hers.
It’s clear Peggy’s struggling this time, probably on account of her using her weaker arm and maybe because she’s pinned at least fifteen guys previously.
“Come on, Pegs,” Angie finds herself urging after a minute. She finds herself leaning closer over the booth. She can smell the sweat and perfume on Peggy, and it makes her light head even lighter. “You promised me a drink.”
Peggy’s jaw clenches and she lets out a harsh breath and the tendons in her arm tighten even more, the other man’s arm going lower and lower until his fingers touch the table.
The bar erupts into cheers, and maybe some more crude noises, but Angie’s still leaning over the booth seat and only an inch away from Peggy’s face. She pulls away quickly when Peggy turns her head and her hair grazes Angie’s nose. Clearing her throat, she reaches out an arm for Peggy to take.
“So, you gonna buy the whole bar drinks or keep that for yourself?” She’s referring to the large pile of cash that’s accumulated by Peggy’s spot, bills and coins all made into a small mountain.
“I think I honestly earned it all, what about you?” Peggy begins to gather the money and stuff it into her purse. The crowd clears away, men going back to conversations at the bar and playing darts across the room, no longer concerned by a woman in a red dress and her mousy little friend.
“Yeah, I think you did.” Angie takes Peggy’s hand (hot and sweaty) and pulls her up. Once Peggy’s standing, Angie gives her a light punch to the shoulder.
“What the hell, English! You didn’t tell me about that over schnapps!” Angie’s still got those goosebumps, first from Peggy running into her, lingering from watching her beat guy after guy.
“There are a lot of things you don’t know about me, Angie.” Maybe she’s just giddy and still riding on the high of watching Peggy go, but Angie swears there’s more than one layer to that statement.
“Why don’t you tell me over another drink, then?”
Peggy shrugs and slips her blazer back on. Angie almost groans as those arms disappear. The red dress almost makes up for it, but only almost.
“Well, what do you want to know?”
As they walk back to the table they’d been sitting at before being lured to competition, the man who Peggy had replaced in the first round comes up and grabs her by the arm.
“You looking for something a little more challenging tonight, darling?”
Before the words even finish leaving his lips, Peggy spins around and twists the man’s hand upside down, clenching her fingers around his. His eyes bug open and a little yelp escapes his mouth. Peggy moves in so only the man and Angie can hear her.
“I’d be careful if I were you. You wouldn’t want to break a nail.” She gives his hand one more jerk and he cries out. She lets him go, and whisks Angie away until they’re back at their table.
Angie’s heart is fluttering all over the place and the more she looks at Peggy, the more she knows she’s getting herself into something dangerous.
“Got anymore tricks up your sleeve, English?” She starts laughing at her own joke, soon dissolving into hiccups. That just makes her laugh more, Peggy finally relenting and joining.
After calming them both down, Peggy flags down a bartender and pulls the wad of bills out of her purse. She puts her elbows up on the table and leans in. Angie can see where her lipstick has worn away, no doubt when she had been biting her lip earlier, and all she wants to do is reach out and wipe the rest off.
“If you can keep a secret,” Peggy starts, and Angie is nodding before she even knows what she’s doing. Peggy smiles and lowers her voice.
“I’m a bit of a specialist in one-armed pushups.”
And just like that, Angie throws herself into the flames because hey, if you’re gonna go after a dame, it can’t hurt to go after one with arms like Peggy’s.