Peggy wipes her brow with a rag and tosses it onto the small table in the corner. She watches Angie guzzle water from an enormous glass, all the while eying the clock in the corner as the second hands race toward the twelve. “Not too much now,” she reminds her.
“Oh, stuff it,” Angie mumbles, and Peggy flattens her lips into a very firm non-grin.
Soon as the second hand passes the twelve, she calls, “Time.”
“Double damn,” Angie says to herself, returning to the center of the room. The heavy bag looms large as Angie approaches it.
“Five minutes, then I'll get the mitts.”
“'Kay,” Angie nods. Peggy watches for a moment as Angie wails on the bag, punch after punch, then abandons her to her own devices and takes a turn on the speed bag. Angie's already done her time on this bag; she's improved over the eight weeks they've been training. It's been excellent for the both of them, although Angie is not nearly as enthusiastic about the workout by the last quarter, every time.
During her time with the SSR, Peggy hadn't been able to stay as fit as she liked working behind a desk, so when Angie asked if she could learn to fight even a little bit like Peggy did, she jumped at the opportunity. She supposed that evening at Ruby's had been more than just their first night out on the town together; it was the start of yet another exploration between them.
She's learned much about Angie during their sessions. One, she is agile, and flexible, and determined. Two, she unequivocally hates jumping rope. Three, she produces a remarkable
amount of sweat during her workouts. Four, she gains lean muscle faster than Peggy does; she'd noticed the shapes of her biceps and triceps changing after only two weeks. Angie is a born athlete, but she'd only played sports in the street as a child, and later channeled her abilities into dancing. Angie loves to dance, too, and she's good at it. Great at it, really. She's great at everything, far as Peggy is concerned. Except maybe jumping rope.
Peggy takes her turn with the speed bag, catching the rhythm after just a few swings, and getting lost in the repetitive music of the bag against her wraps. Over and over she breathes into it, only breaking concentration when she hears Angie cursing behind her. “Been five minutes yet, Pegs?” she asks.
Peggy glances over at the clock. “Almost. I'll get the mitts.”
She slides the thick pads onto her hands and watches Angie knocking at the bag. She holds her tongue when she wants to correct something; Angie is drained after a morning shift at the automat and now an afternoon session. Tomorrow she has an audition, and she’d wanted to train to keep her mind off it. Tonight's dinner with Howard and Jarvis at Zanzibar will help too. She loves the shows there, and Peggy has come to appreciate them as well. “Okay, time. Come on over.” Angie does. “Shake out your arms. How are you feeling?”
Angie grunts. “I'm beat.” She hops up and down, shaking her arms as instructed. “But this is my favorite part, so I'm ready.”
“I like this part too.” She holds up the mitts and decides, “Let's go right left for a bit.” Angie sets her mouth and starts punching quickly, far faster than she had only a month prior. A few seconds later, Peggy barks, “Cross,” and Angie switches to right and left crosses. “You're holding your breath. Breathe through it when you make contact,” Peggy explains, analyzing her technique. Angie corrects her breathing, and Peggy nods. “Okay, upper cuts, now.” Angie changes her punches as Peggy changes the position of the mitts, holding them down so Angie can make proper contact. “Okay, break.”
Angie steps back with a great gasp, and the color comes back to her cheeks in an instant. Ninety seconds of punching takes the wind out of anyone's sails. “You're doing beautifully, darling.”
“Yeah?” Angie asks, and there's a hint of pride in her voice.
“Yes,” Peggy assures her, watching the clock. She gives her thirty seconds of recovery. “Go again. Right left right,” she says, and Angie follows. “Left right left,” and so on, feeding her different combinations for over a minute. “Keep your eyes open,” she reminds her. “You close up on your hooks. You want to see your opponent take the punch.” Angie's nodding as she continues, and the little furrow across her brow deepens. “Break.”
Another minute passes. “Last one,” Peggy says, and she sees the little smile on Angie's lips. This is good, for both of them. “Give me all you've got, crosses, uppercuts, hooks. Repeat.” Now Angie's smile grows; she likes to go hard and fast at the end, and she does not disappoint. After almost a minute, Peggy can tell she's winded. “Left hook,” and Angie does as she's told. “Again. Again. Again.”
When Angie's form starts to go haywire, Peggy counts down in her own mind—three, two, one, and says, “Last one, hard as you can,” and Angie smashes her fist against the mitt so hard Peggy feels it through her whole body. She smacks the mitts together in celebration. “Fantastic. That was fantastic, darling.”
“Oh, goddamn,” Angie sighs, face tilted toward the ceiling. “Goddamn.” Her arms fall to her sides in surrender. “Don't know how you ever got so good, Pegs. This is damned hard.”
“You're a natural. You're far ahead of where I would have been after two months.”
“Sure, I am,” Angie replies in a disbelieving tone.
Peggy laughs. “Seriously. I was strong but I had no technique. I also telegraphed every move I made. It took me years to build my stamina up to be as good as yours was the day you stepped into this room.” None of this is a lie; Peggy had grown up with muscles and a few extra pounds that set her apart as slightly overweight compared to the most popular girls in her class. But she'd taken to field hockey, and one day she looked in the mirror and the ever present puppy fat had vanished. She'd kept her hourglass figure, but packed on muscle and sinew that she'd held onto all these years. “You could beat me in a race, darling. I've seen you on Howard's treadmill contraption over there. You must run six miles an hour on average.” Angie was as fleet footed as any woman or man Peggy had ever seen. If Peggy didn't worry constantly for her safety, she might even recruit her for the SSR.
Angie shrugs. “Don't know. He doesn't have any kinda measuring thing on it. You'd think a guy who could make us that crazy human hamster wheel mighta thought ahead.”
Grinning, Peggy says, “I'll ask him to work on that. I expect it won't take long.” She steps closer. “Now, let's cool you down. Turn round,” she says, her voice dropping.
Angie's eyes flash in anticipation. “Yes, ma'am.” She holds her arms out, palms flat and facing forward, as she always does to start their end of session. Peggy pulls her arms back like wings, watching the muscles of Angie's back and shoulders relax as her chest expands. There's a groan, and Angie's head falls back in pleasure. “I lied before. This is my favorite part.” The only sound in the room is that of their breathing as Peggy moves to different parts of her body to stretch them out; lower back, lats and shoulders, hamstrings and quadriceps, hips and groin, calves and feet. She keeps Angie's forearms and wrists and fingers for last, and their faces drift together as Peggy pulls on one thumb and hears a slight crack. “You're the best, love,” Angie murmurs, and Peggy's neck grows hot. “You make it all worthwhile.”
Peggy doesn't bother finishing Angie's right hand, and moves in for the kiss she's been waiting for this whole day.
They don't make it to the showers, or even a bedroom. The hallway outside the training room is as far as Angie goes before shoving her fingers down into Peggy's sweaty shorts, and as usual, it takes her nearly no effort at all to wring a perfect, powerful orgasm out of her as she leans against the wall. But she puts Angie on the floor, nearly knocking her down to shove up Angie’s short dance skirt. Her ensemble is probably designed to distract Peggy from working her too hard. Not that it does, of course, but it has its particular conveniences. She loves Angie like this, her scent strong and earthy, wet down her thighs with desire. When Peggy slips two fingers inside her and licks, Angie's pushing up against her mouth like she's nearly there already.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Angie chants, “harder, yeah, Peggy.” Peggy is as good at following instructions as Angie is, and a few moments later a hand yanks at her head and there's a delicious pulse beneath her kiss. Angie's cry of release is loud and long, ending in a series of amusingly sexy groans as she contracts with delight around Peggy's fingers. Gone are the days of Angie's silent orgasms; she's taken to making as much noise as possible. Perhaps because she knows how much Peggy loves it, or perhaps because she's discovered how well it enhances her own enjoyment of sex.
Either way, the sound makes Peggy happy, every single time.
They lie still, until Peggy realizes that Angie very may well fall asleep prone on the floor. “Let's shower, my darling. We both need one.”
There's a heavy sigh above her. “Share?” Angie asks, rousing herself.
“Mm,” Peggy agrees.
The car picks them up at half past six, and they’re both in their best evening wear. Angie’s dress is new, because she had nothing to suit a night out at Zanzibar. Her fanciest clothes are still for church, since before moving into Howard’s place she hadn’t had a lot of expendable income. Now she’s got a little extra dosh she can spend where she likes, all the while saving plenty for a rainy day. Peggy imagines this is the first time Angie’s ever had the opportunity to do so. Her family's house is nice but just barely large enough for their brood. Angie never complains about what it was like for her as a girl because at least she didn't have to share a room. Now over holidays the place is filled to the brim and overflowing with life, but shows its age and wear. Her father somehow managed to support his family on his salary as a butcher, but there were no exotic trips, no expensive furniture, no excesses or extravagances of any kind.
Peggy feels pleased to be able to allow such things for her beloved now. She wonders if Howard would fly them somewhere warm this winter. Surely he would agree, especially if it means he would be able to come along and try to weasel more details about their relationship out of both of them. He is intensely curious about their love affair but thus far has been very sweet to allow Peggy her privacy. He and Angie get along surprisingly well, since Angie can easily hold her own against his teasing and jokes. Peggy has less patience, so when she's done listening to him, he just focuses on Angie. Their banter has kept frequent dinners together amusing, particularly during their recent night out at Ruby's. Howard has yet to forgive her for that little stunt, yet he went home with a smile on his face after finding Angie to be a dance partner worth his time. They'd done the Lindy for hours, and Peggy had wished she'd carried Howard's camera pen with her, because the sight of the two of them in matching suits and ties, with Howard following his female lead, still makes her smile.
Their driver tonight is unknown to Peggy; Jarvis and Anna will be joining them for supper, and Peggy is pleased. She misses seeing him on a regular basis, and feels that funny pull in her chest at the thought of having a night out with those closest to her. Somehow she's managed to make a family in this city, and it feels only right to be settled here, continuing Steve's work while honoring his memory. It doesn't hurt so much anymore to think of him, though she allows herself to shed a few tears when she crosses the Brooklyn Bridge now and then.
“You're quiet, English,” Angie says, taking her hand surreptitiously. “Feel okay?”
“Better than,” Peggy assures her, squeezing her fingers.
Zanzibar is a mob scene, and Peggy and Angie have to dodge the masses to get to the door. The bouncer eyes Peggy up and down. “We're meeting Howard,” she tells him. When she notices a well dressed man in spats sidling up to Angie, she has to clamp down on her vicious jealous streak. It's something she's always known she's had, although it's not as bad as it used to be. She hasn't pulled a gun and shot at anyone over it lately, so she considers that progress.
The bouncer looks down at a list of something on a clipboard, and she rolls her eyes. “Okay then, go on in.” When the well-dressed man tries to follow them in, Peggy feels vindicated when the bouncer stops him. “Not you, buddy. Back in line.”
“Aw, come on, we were just gettin' to know each other--”
His voice fades away in the din of the crowd. Angie sidles up next to her, her perfume a sweet relief from the heaviness of the smoky air inside. “I can't take you anywhere, can I?” Peggy asks her. “Not that I blame him. You're the most stunning woman here. Or anywhere.”
“Sweet-talker. Trying to get lucky later? 'Cause I can tell ya, you've already got it in the bag,” she says, keeping her eyes on the crowd.
“Just being honest.” She looks over and Angie meets her eyes. “You are beautiful.”
Angie takes a deep breath, and shakes her head. “Geez, Peg. You're makin' it awfully hard not to kiss you, and I really don't feel like getting arrested tonight.”
“Save it, darling. I'll be waiting.”
Sometimes when she thinks about the fact that her love for Angie is not just frowned upon but actually illegal, she considers abandoning her position working for a government that values her so little. During the war she knew highly-ranked, successful homosexuals, both male and female, who did little to hide their proclivities. It seems odd that outside the structure of the army that there would be more risk rather than less. She wonders what Colonel Phillips would say if he knew about Angie. He'd probably not say a word, then a few weeks later take her aside to ask how she got such a wonderful girl, considering what a pain in the ass Peggy is.
“There they are. Oh damn, where's Anna?” Angie says, pulling her toward a table in the circle around the dance floor. Jarvis sits stiffly across from Howard, whose attention is elsewhere. Peggy follows his eyeline to a blonde on the arm of a man who appears to be the quintessential mob boss, although Peggy's never seen him before. But there's a subtle bulge at his left side, and there are matching bulges at the sides of all the men at that table. Figures Howard would have designs on the woman who is the least available in the entire place. Other than Peggy and Angie, naturally.
Jarvis spots them and appears relieved, standing right away. “Miss Carter, Miss Martinelli. I'm very happy you've finally arrived.”
“We're not late, are we?” Angie asks.
“No, not at all, but each moment with Mister Stark as he mentally undresses each woman here is an eternity. I can assure you, your presence will be a most welcome distraction.” He greets each of them and holds out Peggy's chair as Howard does the same for Angie.
“Hey, doll, so glad you made it,” Howard says, bussing Angie's cheek. “You look like a million bucks in that dress. Did Ross call you yet?” he asks. “I know there's a part for you in a show he’s got comin’ up, and I gave him all your details last week.”
“Yeah, thanks, pal. I’m going in tomorrow, but it’s no big deal if it falls through. Someday the right producer's gonna notice. Till then, I got plenty to keep me occupied. Peg's teaching me to box, did you know?”
“Figures,” Howard quips, punching Peggy gently in the arm. He asks Angie, “She show off her skills doing push ups for you yet?”
Without warning, Peggy flushes from the top of her head down through her chest, and prays Howard won't look in her direction. Her prayer goes unanswered, though, and his eyes grow comically large when he sees her. “What'd I say?”
“Nothing,” Peggy replies, stealing his glass of champagne and downing it in one.
Angie laughs though, and the sound is silk along Peggy's spine. Surely Angie remembers that afternoon she’d first performed her push-ups trick as well as Peggy does. That day they’d christened the training room with a bout of lovemaking so enthusiastic that Peggy hasn't yet recovered. Angie is usually the shyer one between the two of them, but that day Peggy was putty in Angie's hands. Not to mention her mouth.
“Oh, God, please don't let's talk about whatever you're thinking of,” Jarvis asks, and Peggy closes her eyes in embarrassment.
“That's our cue, Martinelli. Get on the dance floor and tell me everything,” Howard crows, grabbing Angie. She follows him with a gleeful grin, and Peggy puts her head into her hands.
“I hate them both,” Peggy says into her empty glass. She has a sinking suspicion that Howard knows much more about her love life than he needs to, but she can't very well tell Angie not to say anything to him. Peggy could ask, but she doesn't feel right making the request. It's not her business to tell Angie what to do. But right now, she wishes she could sink into the floor as she watches the two of them gab to each other with such eagerness on the dance floor. “I don't deserve this.”
“Nor do I,” Jarvis says. “I was meant to have a night out with my wife and friends, yet here I sit with no wife, and I must be subjected to lewd conversations and Howard trying to steal a gun moll out from under the nose of a mob boss, while said boss sits ten feet away. I expect I shall be murdered before the night is through, or perhaps I shall simply die of embarrassment.”
“I wondered about the blonde. Do you suppose they're really mafia?”
“Where is Anna? I hope she's not ill.”
“No, but her dear friend Nancy gave birth this morning, so Anna has offered her services. She's very good with children, you see,” he says proudly.
“I've no doubt.” Peggy tilts her head, curious. Should she ask the question? She certainly doesn't want to make Edwin more uncomfortable, but she is interested to know--
“We're trying,” he says, without prompting. “So far without success.”
“Ah.” She smiles at him, and he looks away. “Good things come to those who wait.”
He clears his throat. “If we're fortunate. There are other options, and we're considering those as well, if it comes down to it.”
“I'm glad to hear it. Any child would be lucky to have you both as parents,” Peggy says sincerely.
“You're too kind,” Jarvis replies, although he seems pleased by her words.
They watch Howard and Angie dance. Angie's smile sparkles under the lights, her eyes glowing with mirth and pleasure. Peggy can't help herself; she puts her chin in one hand and admires her without censoring herself. No one will be able to tell which one of them she's looking at, so why not?
“I hate to interrupt your reverie, Miss Carter, but there's something I'd like to discuss with you. Something of concern,” Jarvis says, and his tone is edged with something Peggy does not like.
She sits up, placing the drink she'd been nursing down on the table. “Sounds grave.”
“It may not be, but I—well, you know Mister Stark. He is foolishly arrogant at the best of times.”
“That I do know. Tell me how I can help.”
Jarvis sighs. “I don't know that you can. Mister Stark has already dismissed the issue, because he receives a number of threatening messages each month, but--”
“Threatening messages?” Peggy barks, and a few people at the next table glance at her reflexively. She smiles easily and laughs, holding an uncomfortable grin while asking, “What on earth does that mean?”
“I mean that Mister Stark has made many enemies through the years, certainly more enemies than friends. He writes them all off, but this one doesn't threaten him directly, but mentions harming a loved one in order to get to him.”
That puts her on alert. “Loved one. What was the wording exactly?”
“It says that someone will, and I quote, 'borrow the girl always on your arm, to show you we mean business,'” Jarvis says, as though he's memorized the message. “Unfortunately, the woman Mister Stark spends the most time with is, well, you. You share meals constantly, often in public, you work together, and you live in his home. I believe you may be in danger, Miss Carter.”
Peggy actually sighs in relief. “Well, that I can handle. I thought it was something serious.” She actually laughs. “Surely you know I can take care of myself, Mister Jarvis. I'll just be more vigilant than usual. What does this threat demand?”
“Financial remuneration, naturally, to the tune of two million dollars. Which of course Mister Stark does have in his bank accounts, but gathering such assets and distributing them as a ransom would be quite challenging for any institution in this day and age. We have cash on hand but nothing close to that amount.”
Peggy preens. “Two million. I suppose I'm worth at least that much.”
Jarvis pales. “Miss Carter, this is not a joke. Your life could be in danger.” His mouth twitches. “More danger than usual, rather.”
“No more danger than I was at the hands of Leviathan, or Miss Underwood,” Peggy replies, still smarting at Dottie's escape and continued absence. She really should have swung harder with that baseball bat. “I will be rather more aware of myself then, just in case. And thank you, Mister Jarvis, for the warning.” She smirks. “I'd like to see them try. I have been working on my training lately. I'm quite prepared. And armed, as always.”
Jarvis turns to her. “Even now?” He peers at her figure-hugging dress, and her tiny handbag, just large enough for a lipstick and a set of keys.
“Of course.” Sweet Dreams 101 is one of two lipsticks she always carries, and her trusted PPK warms her thigh in its holster. She's got an extra magazine tucked in her brassiere; Angie sewed in a special new pocket for it just last month. “One never knows, Mister Jarvis. I do not let my guard down.”
He sits back in his chair. “I suppose that's all I can ask. I shall be your driver again for the time being. I've already informed Mister Stark. He's agreed.”
Peggy rolls her eyes. “I don't need a driver to take me the ten blocks to work. I won't stand for it.”
“I shall pick you up tomorrow morning at 7:45am. I understand you like to arrive at 8 sharp.”
“I shall not take no for an answer, Miss Carter. Your safety is paramount, to Mister Stark, to me, and above all, to Miss Martinelli. How would she react if she were to discover there were a threat to your safety and we did nothing about it?”
Peggy frowns. That's something she hasn't thought of. She wouldn't be angry. She would be enraged . And an enraged Angie is something she does not want to encounter. Not ever again. “Fine. But let's not discuss it with her now. I don't want to ruin the night. I'll--” Peggy takes a breath – “I'll mention it to her tomorrow, after her audition. I don't want her distracted by something inconsequential. Her classes have been paying off, and the fact that she's not constantly working hours at the automat has helped as well. She can focus on preparation, rather than making ends meet.” She looks back out on the dance floor and catches Angie watching her with a little frown between her brows. Peggy realizes she herself is frowning, and relaxes her expression into a loving smile. Angie smiles back, but she must know that their topic of conversation is serious. Damn . “This could be the break she's been waiting for.”
“Tomorrow. No later, Miss Carter. I will hold you to that.”
“Of course. I keep my word.”
Not long after, Angie and Howard return to their table, winded and starving. “Stark, you're footing the bill tonight, right?”
He barks out a laugh. “You got it angel. What's on the menu tonight?”
“Let's get some more of that bubbly. I can tell you already killed that first bottle all by your lonesome. Pegs and me are gonna catch up with you right quick. Aren't we, honey?” she asks, that little frown back between her brows.
“Of course, darling.” Peggy laughs and flicks her hair back behind her shoulder coquettishly, but it's too late. Angie will be interrogating her on the way home about their conversation. “Let's have lobster, shall we?”
“Surf n' turf all around, let's do it,” Howard says, waving an arm in the direction of a waiter. “Garcon, we're ready to order!”
That night, once they get ready for bed, Peggy welcomes Angie’s arms around her. They’re both very tired, and it’s nearly two, and Peggy has work very early. She will be fine with five hours’ sleep, but she will be completely silent getting ready in the morning so as not to disturb Angie. She must get plenty of rest, and Peggy will phone her at noon to wish her luck (or rather, to break a leg) before her audition. She has a very good feeling about this one; she was not lying to Jarvis when she said so.
She rests her head against Angie’s chest, and listens to her heart beat, soft and slow beneath her ear. “I love you, darling,” she whispers.
“Me too, English. Love you so much.” Arms tighten around her shoulders, and she feels the rise of a deep breath in Angie’s body. “You make life good,” she sighs, and in a moment she’s asleep, practically before her last word leaves her mouth.
Peggy strokes her arm gently for a few minutes, lulling herself to sleep as the sounds of the city grow quiet below.
In the morning before she leaves for work, she presses her lips to Angie’s forehead as she slumbers on. Her eyelashes are crescents against her cheek, and Peggy wants so much to crawl back under the covers and joins her. She wonders, briefly, how long this feeling of yearning will last. She’s known Angie for many months now, and the longer they’re together, the worse it seems to be.
In the blink of an eye, Peggy glances at her watch and it's half past 12. She curses. Normally she'd have stepped out into the street to ring Angie and wish her luck, but she doesn't want to waste another minute. The line rings endlessly, long enough for the operator to cut in and report that there is no answer. Peggy thanks her curtly and sends up a silent wish that Angie lands the job, and that somehow she knows she's thinking of her.
Hours go by and she's buried under paperwork, but at least she's not alone in handling it. The whole team has been working to uncover a mafia connection around the governor’s mansion and they're all in the hot seat. With Thompson as the figurehead running the SSR, Peggy glances around and wonders how long he'll last before he cracks under the pressure. She believes that he is not cut out to be a leader, and even though he knows Peggy's skills, he won't put her out front on missions in the field unless she pushes.
She's starting to think that Howard's idea of involving her in a separate organization might be better for her after all. At this rate she'll never get out from under Thompson, or his cronies, or the men in government who still have no idea of her value. Sousa is her only real friend here, but even that has its limits. His crush on her has faded into invisibility, but it still exists. If Peggy snapped her fingers, he'd pursue her again in a hot minute, and she doesn't want to encourage him. She keeps him at arm's length, mostly so he won't catch wind of her affection for Angie.
Her phone rings, startling her out of her reverie. “Carter here,” she says.
There's an intake of breath on the other end of the line. “Peg?” the voice says, and she frowns. It sounds like Howard, but not like him too.
Another breath, and the clearing of a throat. “So, uh, listen, Peg,” the voice says, and she interrupts.
“Yeah. Uh, I gotta tell ya something. It's um, it's some news about something.” She waits; whatever it is is serious. His voice shakes as he continues. “I got a letter today.”
Odd. He sounds extremely odd. “A letter.”
“Yeah.” The seconds move slowly between the next words. “It's a ransom note.”
“Ransom?” she replies, and she’s immediately brought back to her conversation with Edwin just the night before. “Is this about what Jarvis was talking about last night? I told Edwin that I was in no danger.” Her spine stiffens. “Oh good lord, has one of your lady friends gone missing? I'll do whatever you need, dear. Just tell me what's happening and I'll get to work.”
“Peg, turns out we were wrong about the dame in danger.” He starts to laugh, but to Peggy's ear it sounds more like a sob. Something inside her twists, and he says, “It's--it's Angie. They've got her.”
The floor drops out from under Peggy. She remembers, out of nowhere, the floating sensation that she experienced one morning in the Blitz, so early on in the war, when she walked out of a house where she'd been staying only to realize that it was the only one standing within a two hundred meter radius. This is like that, she thinks, and knows that Howard's speaking but she can't hear him, because there's an ocean raging in her ears. “Howard,” she says, “I can't understand you, there's something wrong with the line. Would you repeat that?” She sounds perfectly normal, which is good. No one is looking in her direction. Except—Daniel--he's staring at her.
“Somebody took Angie, Peg. They want two million bucks in three days. I'm gonna try to get it, I swear, but I don't know if the banks will be able to make it happen. If it was anybody else I'd try like hell to figure out who it was and go after their asses, but Jesus Christ, Peg, it’s Angie. I'd never let anybody harm a hair on her head, and not just 'cause she's your girl. I love her like my own family, Peg—oh Christ, I cocked up this one but good.”
“How do you know it's her?” Peggy's face is aflame; the pressure on her chest is so much that she's having trouble catching her breath. It's like jumping out of a plane, not knowing exactly how to inhale properly when the air is rushing into your lungs.
It takes Howard a few seconds to gather himself. “She must have been wearing the earrings I gave her a couple months back, something pretty to wear for auditions, you know?” He swallows. “They sent one, and, uh, they sent some of her hair.”
She stands so forcefully that her chair smashes against the wall. “What?”
“Her hair. Not that much, just some, I don't know. Inches. It's the right color.”
Someone puts a hand on Peggy's arm, and she is vibrating. Angie's beautiful hair, so soft, so golden as it catches the morning light in their bed. “That's not possible, Howard. Angie had an audition this morning. She went straight back to the house, I'm quite sure of it.” Except she's not sure at all, because she hasn't exchanged a single word with Angie all day. “She's certainly not been kidnapped.”
“Oh, hell,” Daniel says from next to her, and Peggy starts and jerks out of his grasp. She meets his eyes, and his expression softens. “It's okay, Carter.”
She feels hysteria closing in, drowning her, stealing all the life out of her body. She shakes her head. “This is not happening.”
“Peg,” Howard says from the other end of the line. “Peg, you want me to get the money, or should we try to find her ourselves? 'Cause if anybody can, it's us. Right?” When he laughs again, she decides that high pitched bark is something so terrifying she never wants to hear it again.
“Both, Howard. Both. You will squeeze every penny out of every bank in this city or I swear to god, I will burn them all to the ground, do you understand me? I'll set the whole city on fire--” her voice is growing louder, and Sousa is standing so close in front of her, shushing her.
He shakes her by the shoulders, hard, and when their eyes meet again, he says in a low, firm voice. “Pull yourself together, Carter. We've got a job to do. And there's no time to lose.”
Somehow, she takes a full breath then, and she realizes she'd nearly fainted. The edges of the world are still a bit wobbly for a moment, but after a second breath, everything comes into focus. His eyes peer into hers; the dimples at the sides of his mouth stand out, as does the curve of his chin, the color of his amber eyes. “Right. Howard, where are you? We'll be there as quickly as possible.”
“At the lab. Somebody dropped off the package sometime in the last hour.”
“An hour. All right.” A thought occurs to her. “If someone's been watching you, they may still be. We'll have to be very careful. Can you disguise yourself?”
“'Course, Peg. I got some stuff here.”
“Disappear then, Disappear into a crowd, and come straight here. Speak to Rose at the switchboard, she'll let you in.”
“Yeah. Yeah, Peg, I got it. I'll be there in—“ he pauses briefly-- “less than 15. I'll bring everything. You'll be able to get an analyst on it all right away. Okay?”
“Yes. Come as quickly as possible, Howard. I'm--” her voice breaks, but she holds it together, like Daniel has insisted. “I'm counting on you to help get her back.”
“Anything, Peg. Gotta go.” He hangs up, and the click is loud in her ear.
She drops the phone into the cradle. “Oh, hell.”
“Angie?” Daniel asks. “That's the cute brunette I met at the Griffith.”
Peggy nods. “She's my housemate.”
His eyebrows lift. “You live together?”
She sees the thoughts flitting across his face; curiosity, interest, confusion. “Yes. After I was accused of treason neither of us was very welcome in Miss Fry's establishment any longer. We've since found another place.” She leaves out the rest of the details. “It just didn't occur to me that she sees Howard nearly as much as I do. Of course anyone would think they were seeing one another. The question is why didn't I see it? I could have stopped this whole thing before it started had I known, I could have protected her--”
He takes his life in his hands a second time and shakes her again, hard enough that she sees stars. “Listen to me. What's done is done, Carter. Put aside any guilt you've got going on and focus on the facts. Tell me what you know.”
“What I know,” she repeats, but Angie's face is all she can see. Is she in pain? Is she hurt, and terrified, or God forbid, worse? If anyone has put their hands on Angela Martinelli, Peggy will kill them, slowly. She's never seen Angie truly afraid for her life; how would she look, if she thought she was about to die? Would she be angry with Peggy for ever putting her in such danger? Because it's Peggy's fault, of course, her fault that—
“Carter!” Daniel shouts right in her face. “Stop it. Stay here. Talk. Now.”
Peggy glances around, and there are faces all around her. Thompson, Miller, Hahn, even Johnson, who never gives her the time of day. All of them are gazing at her with concern. She remembers she is not alone. She remembers her past, her training, her strength, even in the face of the greatest dangers the world has ever known. She survived a war. When she fights, she wins. She's experienced enough casualties in her life, and she won't lose another person she loves. Not ever. She is Peggy Carter, and she will lay down her life to rescue Angie, no matter what it takes.
“Right. Gentlemen, shall we adjourn to the conference room?”
Daniel's hard nod of agreement gives her strength, and she leads the way to a room that smells of stale coffee and cheap aftershave. As she takes a seat at the head of the table, she feels right at home.