Peggy hates all kinds of things about her Shady Government Agency Job (as Bucky likes to refer to it), though her least favourite of all of them is her alarm that goes off at five-thirty in the morning, every morning. She’s had to get an old-fashioned metal clock with bells on the top; the plastic ones broke too easily when she dumped them onto the floor, half asleep and annoyed. She sighs, dragging herself out of bed and wrapping herself in her dressing gown, shoving her feet in her slippers, and heading in the direction of caffeine.
There’s a pretty young woman in her kitchen, handling Peggy’s French press with casual confidence and humming Fairytale of New York. Peggy’s willingness to be festive hasn’t previously extended to people singing Christmas-related songs on the second of December, but right now she’s overlooking her usual cynicism because wow.
The woman looks up, startles, and then gives Peggy a white-toothed grin that makes Peggy swallow hard and try not to think too hard about how terrible her hair must look right now, just rolled out of bed. If she’d known there’d be surprise lovely women in her kitchen, Peggy reflects, she’d definitely have grabbed a hairbrush and some eyeliner before she entered.
“Sorry to intrude,” the woman says, tucking her hair behind her ear in a nervous gesture, “I figured you’d be asleep and I’d be long gone before you knew anything about me.”
Peggy looks at her, big blue eyes and a wry grin and untidy curls. “Sorry, are you some kind of… coffee elf, perhaps?”
The woman laughs, a bright glittering laugh that Peggy wants to catch in her hands and keep. “You can have the first cup,” she says, “you kinda look like you need it.”
Peggy watches as the woman moves around Peggy’s tiny kitchen with ease, looking in cupboards until she finds what she wants, setting out mugs. She already looks more at home in Peggy’s kitchen than Peggy ever has. It’s possible that this is some kind of trap, and she’s going to pull a gun out of those skinny jeans and ruin Peggy’s entire day, but Peggy doesn’t think she’s going to. Peggy’s not sure what’s happening right now, but she thinks it’s a good thing.
“Not that having coffee made unexpectedly for me by a complete stranger who’s turned up in my flat isn’t somewhat pleasant,” Peggy begins, “but, what are you doing here?”
The woman raises a perfectly shaped eyebrow. “Wow, English,” she remarks, and Peggy can hear her turning up the New York in her accent, the way Bucky gets more and more Brooklyn when he’s tired or when he’s teasing Peggy. She grins again, sudden, shining, and adds: “Howard.”
Peggy feels her shoulders drop, and something like disappointment bite in her throat. She’s letting Howard crash on her sofa at the moment, because he’s an old friend (“I’m between…” “Apartments?” “…bank accounts.”) and because Steve did it last time. She’s fond of Howard, even though he has a habit of – depressingly successfully – seducing most women he comes into contact with; perhaps it’s how you remain fond of a dog that likes to hump legs until you whap it on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. Or maybe Peggy would just like to hit Howard in the face with a rolled-up newspaper; the idea is appealing.
Anyway, the point is that Peggy loves Howard despite his many, many flaws, but she would have liked this lovely woman to be in her kitchen for any reason other than that he’s been seducing her. On Peggy’s sodding sofa, no less.
“Oh,” Peggy says, and looks at her mugs, and wishes there was coffee in them now, and that Howard wasn’t the worst person in the whole world.
“Yeah,” the woman continues, “he passed out in our bar, and it turns out your place was on my way home, so I said I’d drive him. He’s unconscious in your bathtub.”
“Oh,” Peggy says again, and her relief and delight is probably obvious, but her mystery bartender is grinning, so maybe that’s no bad thing.
“I go drinking in a lot of places, Peg,” Howard says.
Peggy’s been to work, and come back, and he hasn’t changed position from where he’s sprawled across her couch looking lopsided and wan.
“I swear to God, Howard,” Peggy begins, glaring, and he manages to quirk a grin that looks like it hurts.
“It’s this cocktail place,” he manages. “Little, cute, lots of fairy lights, ridiculous cocktail names, all that stuff.”
“That sounds like a list of almost everything that you hate,” Peggy reminds him. She presumes that there’s a girl involved somewhere here; almost all of Howard’s motivations involve a woman of some description, if you peel back enough layers.
Howard laughs, and it looks like it hurts. “I didn’t start out the evening there,” he tells her, mouth curling ruefully. “Not entirely sure how I ended up there, actually.”
“You never are,” Peggy sighs, and hopes he’s got something more to go on, because she’s not googling “cocktail bars in New York with fairy lights”, that’ll end well. She could probably do something unprofessional at work and track it down, but she’d rather start out with pumping Howard for information. His pained expressions really are delightful.
Howard groans and looks like he just wants to burrow physically into the sofa, but he’s the one who made himself so incapacitated that a random bartender had to bring him home. Normally they pour him into cabs, which is probably better than them showing up in people’s flats and making them coffee, but Peggy’s ignoring that logic because she would like to see the woman who turned up in her kitchen this morning. Angie. She’s got a name, but not a whole lot else.
“They call it the Automat,” Howard provides at last. “Don’t ask me why. Or anything else at all, ever, actually. I’ll just be here, dying.”
“Enjoy,” Peggy says, getting up and leaving him to it. Maybe later she’ll take him some painkillers and some coffee, but for now, she has some googling to do.
The Automat is small, so small Peggy nearly misses it, tucked as it is between a clothing store and a Starbucks. Its sign isn’t ostentatious, and while its windows are warmly lit, spilling light out onto the pavement, there’s something about it that implies that it’s only for those in the know.
Peggy hesitates for a fraction of a moment, but she supposes she counts as one of those people now, so she squares her shoulders and pushes open the door.
Howard wasn’t lying about the fairy lights, which hang from the walls and ceiling, drape over shelves, and are bundled into clear glass jars. The other decoration mostly seems to be gold spray-painted foliage; Peggy can see holly and pine and mistletoe too. Peggy will probably get a small tree and decorate it a little, but it’s only the fifth of December; she doesn’t need Christmas to arrive this early at all.
The place is maybe half-full, and Peggy weaves between tables and booths to get to the bar itself, which is across the back wall. There are comfy-looking stools placed at intervals along it, and Peggy levers herself onto one, waiting to catch the eye of one of the bartenders. None of them, she notes, are Angie, but that’s okay; if there’s one thing Peggy is good at, it’s improvising. While she waits, she watches as a redhead mixes a drink, spinning various bottles between her hands with practiced ease.
“What can I get you?” A tall strawberry-blonde woman appears in front of Peggy, hair pulled back in a neat ponytail, smile comfortable and professional.
Peggy scans the bar quickly, and realises that there aren’t any menus anywhere.
“I’m… not sure actually,” she admits.
The bartender’s smile changes, just slightly. “Wait here,” she says, and hurries off down the bar and through a door labelled Staff Only. Peggy is reasonably sure that this isn’t a convoluted trap, but, nonetheless, she finds herself assessing how quickly she could leap the bar and pull one of those bottles of expensive-looking gin from the wall to use as a weapon. There was possibly a time in her life when Peggy didn’t immediately jump to thoughts like this, but it’s been so long she can no longer recall exactly when that was.
The door bangs open a couple of minutes later and Angie is there, wearing a ruffled blouse and a bright grin.
“Peggy!” she says, and any awkwardness Peggy thought she might have about tracking down a stranger she met for a handful of minutes in her kitchen the other morning dissipates.
“Hello, Angie,” Peggy replies, a warm flush in her stomach that she doesn’t try to flinch away from. “I wanted to thank you for the other morning.”
Angie waves an easy hand, still grinning. “Forget it, English. What’re you drinking?”
Peggy’s not sure she was planning on drinking at all; she has work in the morning, after all, and she only meant to come here to- well, she only meant to see Angie.
Still. “I’ll have a martini, please.”
Angie rolls those bright eyes. “Boring,” she says.
“Classic,” Peggy counters.
“I’ll make you something else,” Angie decides, reaching behind her for a glass. “And don’t let Nat try to give you any eggnog while I’m doing it, we made it ourselves. It’ll knock your socks off, but not in a good way if you’ve got a five-thirty alarm.”
“Is that what you did to Howard?” Peggy asks, unable to resist.
Angie laughs, but doesn’t deny it.
Peggy watches with interest as Angie adds various measures of alcohol to a shaker, swaying her hips unconsciously to the music playing in the background, occasionally sending Peggy a little smirk.
“Do you know how many cute English girls we’ve sent Angie’s way over the last couple of days?” asks another bartender, eyes twinkling behind her glasses.
“How many?” Peggy asks, as Angie flushes, snapping: “Darcy!”
“Three,” Darcy says. “Who knew there were that many cute English girls around here?”
“Not me,” Peggy replies. “Maybe we could start a club.”
Darcy laughs and then goes to another customer; Angie is shaking together Peggy’s cocktail now. She doesn’t have the easy grace of the redhead, but she looks happy and confident, and Peggy has no qualms about resting her chin on her hand and watching her do it.
“Here,” Angie says, pouring the liquid out over ice, adding a mini candy cane to the rim of the glass. “Apparently we’re calling this a I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, which is vaguely horrifying, but it tastes good.”
Peggy arches an eyebrow, but she takes a sip. It’s sweet, but there’s a sharp bite of mint underneath, not enough to make it medicinal, but enough to make Peggy blink. It is good, though Peggy can barely taste the alcohol in it, which she takes to mean it’s really strong; her second sip is more cautious.
“See?” Angie says.
“It’s still a horrifying name,” Peggy replies, but she’s laughing as she says it.
Possibly Angie is supposed to be actually working tonight, but the other three women take care of any customers who come to the bar, leaving Angie free to talk to Peggy. She’s chatty and bright, talking circles around Peggy, but listening honestly when Peggy responds, laughing at the right moments. The fairy lights reflect off her shiny curly hair, and she looks happy here, relaxed and at home.
“Want another?” Angie asks when Peggy’s finished her drink and tucked the candy cane into the corner of her mouth, Angie’s eyes fixed on her when Peggy’s tongue swipes across her lips.
“I shouldn’t,” Peggy says, in that tone of voice that’s already an agreement.
“I won’t make it too strong,” Angie says, winking, “I don’t finish for a few more hours so I can’t drive you home.”
Again, she starts adding ingredients to a cocktail shaker with swift ease, muddling the liquid together while carrying on an anecdote about the last customer to hit on Pepper, giggles spilling out between her words. It’s possibly the minty alcohol talking here, but Peggy thinks she’d be quite happy to watch Angie’s hands for… well, an inappropriately long period of time, anyway.
“There,” Angie says, pouring the drink over ice and mint leaves, and adding a little pink umbrella to it. Peggy’s not sure the umbrella is meant to go with it ordinarily, because the colour clashes horribly, but she takes it out and spins it between her fingers anyway, because she appreciates it.
“What’s this one called?” she asks.
Angie leans over the bar and looks at Peggy through her lashes. “It’s called a Gimme Your Number,” she says.
The minute the clock shows six, Peggy turns off her computer, checks her lipstick in her compact – still flawless, as ever – scoops up her handbag and hurries into her coat. All nondescript things, but Peggy can’t remember the last time she actually left the building on time, so it’s enough to get her noticed.
“Hot date?” Daniel asks neutrally, looking up from a file in front of him.
“Yes, actually,” Peggy replies.
Daniel raises an eyebrow, because it’s been a while since Peggy answered that question with anything other than a mocking laugh. “She nice?”
“They’re always nice, Daniel,” Peggy tells him drily.
“Dottie wasn’t,” Jack helpfully reminds her, leaning so far back in his chair that Peggy perversely hopes he’ll lean too far and slip. Peggy glares at him, because she thought they’d all agreed that they were never going to mention Dottie’s existence ever, ever again. “Tell you what, Carter, if this one turns out to be as awful as her, I’ll kick her ass for you.”
Peggy rolls her eyes. “I can organise that for myself, thank you, but I’ll take that in the spirit it’s meant.”
He grins and winks at her and turns his attention back to where he’s either working or playing solitaire. Daniel rolls his eyes at Peggy, but there’s a fondness there; the two of them have got used to working with Jack Thompson by now, after all.
“Have fun,” he says quietly.
Peggy means to say I intend to, but she’s just nervous enough to pull her scarf tight around her throat and just smile in reply.
It’s been snowing all day, because it’s New York in December, and Peggy texted Angie earlier to see if she wanted to cancel; Angie replied with a string of emojis, which Peggy has taken to mean that they’re still on.
She sees Angie before Angie sees her; Angie is bundled up in a coat with a cute knitted hat on, hands shoved deep into her pockets. Angie’s face lights up when she sees Peggy, pulling her into a hug before Peggy can decide what to do to greet her. This part of first dates is usually awkward, but apparently Angie never got that memo, because she’s already tugging Peggy into the tiny cosy restaurant where she suggested they get dinner (“It’s a cliché, I know, but I really do know all the really good Italian places around here”).
Angie’s eyes are bright and her cheeks are pink from the cold, and even with the hat, when they first sit down, Angie has snowflakes melting in her hair. Peggy’s a little self-conscious about what her own hair must look like, whether her make-up is damp and ruined now, but Angie seems to have none of that, divesting herself of what looks like a handknitted scarf and a thick sweater to reveal a pretty blouse, one low-cut enough to make Peggy blink a few times and then settle in comfortably to the view.
“I know most people go for drinks for their early dates,” Angie tells her, flipping open the menu and running a practiced eye down the wine list, “but the only place in his city I want to go drinking is my bar, and I’m not having a date there, the girls would never leave us in peace.”
Peggy laughs. “It’s sweet that they’re invested.”
“They’re the worst,” Angie says darkly, but her eyes are glittering.
They share an antipasti platter, Angie telling Peggy about her co-workers and amusing bar regulars, Peggy adapting a handful of work stories to tell in reply, removing all the classified bits and rearranging them to sound more boring than they really were. If she’s lucky, Angie might have questions about the scars that litter Peggy’s body, but Peggy has practiced responses for those, too. She hates having to lie about her job, but it’s not like she has a choice.
“I love this time of year,” Angie says happily, watching the snow flutter down outside. Peggy makes a face, almost without meaning to. “You not big on snow, English?”
“Not really,” Peggy replies. “It’s just like rain, only freezing as well. And I grew up in England, where there was more than enough rain.”
Angie rolls her eyes. “You’re missing the whole point of snow, you know. If this stuff settles, I’m gonna show you.”
Peggy could refuse, she supposes, but there’s something happy and childlike in Angie’s expression that Peggy wants to capture and keep, and she hears herself laugh. “Fine,” she says, “I’ll let you show me.”
They split a tiramisu and drink brutally strong coffees – “I’m used to being awake all night,” Angie says, and Peggy has pulled so many all-nighters she’s not sure caffeine really has any effect on her at all – and carry on talking, talking talking talking. Peggy would’ve thought they’d have run out of things to say by now, but somehow they haven’t, there are no gaps or silences or uncomfortable moments. Peggy thinks she could listen to Angie talk for hours (“I wish more people agreed with you,” Angie says, cheeks flushing from the compliment, “I go to audition after audition and zip.”).
Finally, the waiters start looking sulky and are ostentatiously clearing the tables around them, and Peggy realises with a start that they’re the last people in the restaurant. They get up to go, giggling embarrassedly, fumbling with knitwear and coats and tipping heavily to make up for overstaying their welcome.
On the walk back to the subway station, Angie’s swinging hand catches Peggy’s easily enough; they’re both wearing gloves, which seems like a pity to Peggy, but it’s easy to lace their fingers together and walk hand in hand through the snow, still sheeting down in white.
“I had a wonderful night,” Peggy says. Part of her wants to prolong it, invite Angie back to her apartment and get her to make coffee in the morning, but Howard’s probably there, and she has work too early in the morning, and she likes to at least try and wait for a second date.
“Me too,” Angie says simply, then adds: “you’ve seen Bridget Jones, right?”
This seems like something of a non-sequitur, but Peggy nods. “I don’t think they let you have a British passport if you haven’t.”
“Good.” Angie grins. “Now you get a Bridget Jones moment. Part one of my campaign to get you to enjoy snow, English.”
Peggy’s about to ask for clarification, when Angie cups her face with her damp gloves, and leans in to kiss her.
Angie’s lips are cold, but her mouth is warm, and when she licks into Peggy’s mouth she tastes of coffee and wine and some kind of sweetness that Peggy wants to chase, settles herself for fisting her hands into Angie’s coat instead. They finally draw apart, breath fogging in the cold air between them, and Angie’s lips are smudged with Peggy’s lipstick, messy and red in a way that makes Peggy’s stomach clench with desire.
“Snow kisses,” Angie tells her, sounding a little breathless, “you can’t beat ‘em.”
Currently, Peggy is perfectly willing to agree.
Peggy is very emphatically not an intern or a tealady or anything else of that nature, but she does go mid-morning to their breakroom and make herself a cup of tea, and coffees for Jack and Daniel. Teams work better when caffeinated, and anyway, it’s her turn; Daniel will get the drinks this afternoon. Jack… well, it just works better if they don’t let Jack anywhere near their coffee machine.
“Thanks,” Daniel says, accepting his coffee and wrapping his hands around it. It’s warm in their office, but it’s snowing again outside, making Peggy shiver a little every time she looks up.
Someone went a little mad with tinsel a couple of days ago, because even when you work with classified intelligence for the government, Christmas must inevitably happen. Peggy hid the creepy little angel figurines that showed up on her desk, because she refuses to get festive until about the twentieth of December. Anything earlier than that is just ridiculous.
Jack accepts his coffee with a nod, without looking up, and then frowns and tips his head at Peggy.
“Peg?” he begins.
Peggy settles down in her chair again, taking a sip of her tea. It’s just cool enough to avoid burning her tongue, although not by much; just how she likes it.
“Mmmm?” she responds.
“…are you humming Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!?” Jack asks doubtfully.
He’s probably right to be doubtful; Peggy’s moratorium on Christmas music at any point other than the obligatory Christmas party is well-known in their organisation.
“She is,” Daniel says, looking away from his own computer. “Huh.”
Both of them are watching her, looking both amused and suspicious.
Peggy feels herself flush a little. “Oh shut up, both of you,” she mutters. “Get some work done like proper adults.”
Angie takes her to the park at the weekend, even when Peggy suggests plenty of cosy activities they could do indoors, where there’s heating, and hot chocolate, and blankets, and no frozen water of any kind outside of a Bailey’s glass.
Peggy suspects that she would let Angie talk her into all kinds of things, and that Angie is already perfectly aware of this. That can be the only reason Peggy is wrapped up in a hat and scarf and gloves and thick boots, trudging after Angie.
“Cheer up,” Angie tells her on a grin, and then starts singing Do You Wanna Build A Snowman until Peggy pushes her into a snowdrift. After that, what was possibly going to be a sedate afternoon walking through the sparkling white descends quickly into a snowball fight of the kind Peggy hasn’t had in years. Steve and Bucky were her flatmates when she first moved to New York, and they dragged her out for a snowball fight for her first snowfall here. Peggy’s told herself that she’s grown up since then, but she clearly hasn’t, because she can’t remember the last time she enjoyed herself this much, her gloves soggy and wet from snow, ducking behind a tree and laughing as Angie throws a snowball at her and misses.
Eventually, they call a truce, and make snow angels as the sun sets, casting shadows across the churned-up snow.
It takes Peggy a while to notice that she’s shivering, the cold finally setting in as the adrenaline wears off, but her cheeks are flushed and her eyes are bright and when Angie ruins their angels by rolling over and planting a half-frozen kiss to Peggy’s mouth, she doesn’t mind being cold and damp much at all.
They get warm back at Peggy’s, going through the uncomfortable pins-and-needles feeling of numb fingertips getting their warmth back, and make hot chocolate to cosy up on the sofa in front of the television. Howard has mercifully made himself scarce for the night, so they can cuddle up under a blanket, hair still damp from the snow.
Angie channel hops, head on Peggy’s shoulder.
“What are you looking for?” Peggy asks.
“One of those garbage lifetime Christmas movies,” Angie replies. “The ones no one will cast me in, even though I’m totes festive.”
“You are totes festive,” Peggy agrees mildly, adding: “aren’t half of those movies about people with terminal illnesses trying to achieve the impossible with their last Christmas?” Angie raises an eyebrow. “Howard has a soft spot.”
Angie finds something ludicrous-looking and sets the remote down, snuggling further into Peggy, all warmth and skin and contentedness. “Don’t worry, English,” she says, wriggling to plant a kiss on Peggy’s nose, “I’ll cheer you up after.”
Calling it a Christmas party would be glorifying it somewhat, but anyway, when Peggy’s friends gather together to drink heroic amounts of mulled wine and eat angel-shaped cookies, Peggy invites Angie along.
They go over to their friend Jarvis’ house, because it’s bigger than everyone else’s, and anyway he makes the best mulled wine. His wife, Anna, makes piles of latkes for them all every year, and Steve bakes cookies, and Peggy always makes mince pies that only she and Jarvis eat, because everyone else is ridiculous and American and doesn’t want them.
Howard brings brandy and mistletoe and generally good-naturedly terrorises them all, because Howard is Howard and he will never change.
Still, later on, when Peggy is warm and a little tipsy from all the mulled wine, Angie corners her with a handful of mistletoe, her grin broad and smug before she kisses her. Peggy kisses back, chasing the tastes of cinnamon and sugar into Angie’s mouth.
Every year, Jarvis organises a meticulous Secret Santa within their friendship group; they’ll all buy each other presents anyway, which is why their Secret Santa has actual rules. No one can spend more than ten dollars on their gift, and they’re given the names at the end of November so they’ve got time to find or make or otherwise acquire their inexpensive presents.
Peggy has been spending slow shifts at work scraping up the knitting skills she always pretends she doesn’t have, and has successfully made Bucky a pair of gloves. She’s actually quite pleased with herself, though if anyone else asks for a pair, she’s going to magically forget how to knit again. She likes doing it, but only in incredibly small doses.
“I got Peggy’s name,” Howard announces when it’s his turn.
Peggy looks expectantly at him.
Howard raises his glass of mulled wine and nods in Angie’s direction. “You’re welcome.”
Peggy looks at Angie, who bursts out laughing, and then back to Howard again. “You’re kidding.”
Howard shrugs. “I brought Angie straight to you,” he says. “She didn’t cost me a penny.”
“What about all the alcohol that you had to drink so you’d pass out and need to be driven safely home?” Peggy asks drily.
“My hangover wasn’t part of your gift, no,” Howard replies. “Anyway, why are you questioning this? I got you a hot gay bartender. I think I win Secret Santa.”
“You can’t win Secret Santa,” Jarvis mutters.
“I dunno,” Angie says, pressing a kiss to Peggy’s cheek, “I kinda think Peggy here did.”
Peggy leans into her and says: “I’m rather inclined to agree.”