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Elementary, My Dear Carter

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Being ripped out of her own reality and dumped rather inelegantly into the future got a little easier—and a little harder, she wasn’t too proud to admit—every day. She wasn’t shocked by technology or the look of the world, but she was shocked by the continued capacity for evil. There was always an underlying thrum of disappointment that the hard choices she’d made—the things she’d done—had not, in the end, been for the benefit of the greater good.

She couldn’t imagine how Steve felt—sacrificing his life for what managed to feel like nothing in their lowest of moments.

“Commander?” Peggy rapped her knuckles against the frame of Maria Hill’s office door. “You paged me?”

“Carter, yes—sorry, just give me a minute.” Hill gestured to the seat across from her desk and turned her full attention back to the screen of her computer. Peggy made herself comfortable, gazing out the window at the heat-hazed outline of the city beyond the window. She smiled to herself in anticipation of Manhattanhenge in the coming days. It was a beautiful, if simple phenomenon—every so often the city and the sun would align perfectly. The sun set would make the streets blaze with an orangey-red glow that reflected back tenfold from the glittering windows of the buildings. She was sorry Steve would miss it. “Sorry, okay, I’m ready for you.”

“You mentioned it was just a basic observation job? I’m not sure why that’s so urgent.”

“It’s not necessarily that the job itself is particularly urgent. It’s more… well, it’s more what we don’t know that’s the urgent part.”

“Alright, I’ll bite.”

“So, we’ve been monitoring this kind of online group. It’s a little bit of hacking, some vaguely black market business, an entire encyclopedic series worth of conspiracy theories—it’s just… it’s a lot. They call themselves Everyone. Kind of pretentious if you ask me.”

“And where do I come in?”

“Normally, a lot of the things they talk about amount to nothing. A lot of it winds up turning into really relatively harmless pranks in the long run, nothing that would pose any truly significant risks. The group is more about information than acting. And, honestly, we’ve noticed them doing a lot of help your fellow man sort of things, too.”

Peggy waited patiently, increasingly confused about what her mission could possibly be.

“Normally, a lot of this would be handled by the local agencies—NYPD most often, FBI if things got out of hand—we just keep an eye open and an ear to the ground. But recently… recently the chatter has been more than a little concerning.”

“You don’t make that face when things are just at the level of concerning.”

“There’s been a few new voices. Some of them are sounding suspiciously like—“ Maria pinched the bridge of her nose, suddenly looking very tired. “Agent Carter. Peggy. I—I’m not sure how to say it.”

“So just say it, Commander. However comes out first would certainly be the most direct.” Peggy smiled through the awkward clench of worry in her stomach.

“It’s sounding like HYDRA.”

“What?” Peggy laughed, half convinced that this was a terrible attempt at a joke. “That’s impossible.”

“That’s what we thought, too. But the language they’re using, well, it’s all very reminiscent of someone you personally put away—a lot like Werner Reinhardt.”

Peggy’s heart hammered in her chest, the sound of her pulse rushing in her ears like the waves of the ocean in a storm.

“Carter, I’m so sorry.”

“We destroyed HYDRA. It stopped growing heads.” Right?

“Peggy, there’s a catch.”

“What kind of catch could there possibly be?” What kind of catch mattered when the cause she’d devoted the entirety of her adult life to was completely null?

“You can’t tell anyone.”

“Who would I tell?”

“You can’t tell Rogers.”

“Why would there be any reason to keep this from Steve?”

“There are larger things than any of us at play here. You of all people should understand that, Peggy. If Steve knew—especially since we don’t have all the details yet—it could put him in danger. It could make him a threat. It could me him, and you, a target.”

She looked away, down at her knees. “I understand.”

“Good.” Maria slid a thick folder across the desk toward Peggy, a dossier on her target. “You start tonight. We just want information. Where she goes, who she speaks to, basic recon. If she makes you—get the hell out, don’t engage her.”

“Alright.”

***

Peggy set about her day following her target from afar. It was something both easy and difficult in a city as crowded at all times as New York was. Easy, because Peggy could get lost in the crowd. Hard, because her target could get lost in the crowd.

The less populated streets of the Upper West Side only served to complicate matters. Peggy swerved in and out of Central Park, thankful for the tech that let her track the signal from her target’s phone even without having planted a tracer. Peggy watched the blinking blip on her own phone’s screen as she darted around a school group on the twisting pathways and made her way back out onto the sidewalk. Sometimes being in the future made her job very easy.

She learned quite a bit—and developed a novel’s worth of questions she was determined to see answered before her mission was done.

***

“Hello, Darling.”

“Hey, Peg O’my heart.”

Peggy laughed, “Where in the world are you?”

“Would you believe me if I said I was flying over Paris on a pleasure tour?”

“Not in the least.”

“What are you up to?”

“Researching.”

“Oh?”

“Mm. Classified, darling.”

Steve laughed under his breath, a low snuffling sound into the receiver he was speaking into. Someone said something Peggy couldn’t quite make out in the background. “Yeah, Rumlow! I got it here—nah, I don’t need one. Peg? We’re getting’ close to our drop point. I’ll call you later?”

“Are you going to jump out of a plane sans parachute?”

“Yup.”

“Has everyone seen you do it before?”

“Nope—STRIKE’s trainin’ a couple of probies.”

“Ah, have fun then.”

“I love you, Agent Carter.”

“I love you too, Captain Rogers.”

***

On the second day of her intelligence-gathering, Peggy found her way into a private gala. She nearly startled herself as she passed by a mirror in the lobby of the theater of the Tribeca Grand Hotel. She was utterly unrecognizable—her face covered with a barely-there electronic mesh that had transformed her into someone else. Her blue-black hair shone like a pool of ink in under the light, the fine fibers of the wig tickling as the short cut brushed against her jaw.

“Hm?”

“Your identification, ma’am?”

“Oh, yes, of course.” Peggy handed over a passport with her borrowed face and fabricated name. The hulking man in front of her examined the passport.

“Sokovia?”

“Yes.”

The man took a small UV flashlight out of his pocket and shone the light on the ID page. “Is this a biometric document?”

“Of course.”

The man waved to another a few paces off who approached with a small scanning device. When he read the chip embedded into the back cover of the passport, the appropriate information appeared on the scanner screen. Peggy let out a relieved breath slowly and pulled her features into her best put-upon expression.

“Alright, go ahead.” He handed her passport back to her without another glance.

When Peggy finally got inside, her mark was already in her own seat. Peggy chose one that was close enough to observe but far enough that the selection didn’t appear deliberate. She pursed her lips as she perused the program she’d been handed on her way in.

“Ms. Jurko?”

Peggy turned toward the man who had taken the seat directly beside her. “Doctor Jurko.”

“Ah, my apologies. I could not help but overhear—you’re from Sokovia?”

“Yes.”

The man smiled. “I’ve been there for some time now, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of you in these circles.”

“I’ve not been home in some time, Mister…”

“Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, at your service.”

“Baron.” Peggy let a slow smile curl across her lips. “Perhaps your presentation this evening will persuade me to return.” She glanced down at his hand as it came to rest on her knee.

“I very much hope it will.” His gaze and touch lingered just a beat too long for Peggy’s liking. “You must excuse me, we’re about to begin.”

Hours later, Peggy sat down in her own living room and sighed as she kicked off her heels. She carefully peeled the mask off of her face and arranged it back into its case. She tapped at the screen of her phone and opened her laptop, ready to find out everything she could about Von Strucker.

“Commander Hill speaking.”

“It’s Carter.”

“What did you dig up? I didn’t expect a call this early in the game.”

“Do we know anything about Wolfgang von Strucker?”

“Depends on what you’ve found out.”

Peggy pinched the bridge f her nose, mildly annoyed. “He’s trying to… enhance people? Unlock some gene—not everyone has it, some of his test subjects have died.”

Peggy could hear Maria typing on the other end of the line. “And how does this relate to our person of interest?”

“That gala this evening, she was there to hear von Strucker speak. She certainly seemed very interested in what he had to say.” Peggy paused puzzle pieces clicking together in her head. “Maria?”

“Yeah?”

“We know she’s a supplier. We know she’s a supplier for HYDRA. We know she’s interested in von Strucker’s work.”

“Oh, shit.”

“I’m going to try to get closer tomorrow.”

“Be careful, Carter.”

***

On the morning of the third day of tailing her mark, Peggy became acutely aware that she had a tail of her own. She’d foregone the electronic mask. It made her feel utterly alien in her own skin to see her reflection and not see herself. The wig wasn’t terrible though. She did look rather fetching as a blonde.

She thought the wig might find its way back to her apartment. Steve had been gone for a few weeks. Perhaps they could have an exciting reunion.

Peggy shook her head, physically trying to dislodge thoughts of anything aside from the task at hand. She knew exactly what she was doing, distracting herself from the frustration that somehow, someway, HYDRA had never been truly gone. Not if all the things she was learning now were true.

Peggy situated herself at a table in the café that her mark would be strolling into within the next fifteen minutes for her morning coffee and pastry. She flipped her hair over her shoulder and batted her eyelashes at the young man who came to ask her for her order, establishing a tentative rapport with him.

Peggy sipped her coffee, some bizarre concoction the waiter had recommended that seemed more cream and syrup than actual coffee with a large dollop of whipped cream on top, while she pretended to be absorbed in the harlequin romance paperback in her hands.

She caught the waiter by the hand as he passed by to collect her empty plate. “Tell me, Max, that lovely woman in the corner there—does she come here often?”

The waiter turned and grinned, the expression all Peggy really needed for him to give away the information. “With the way people get creeped on today? I’m sorry, ma’am, but I can’t really tell you that.” Peggy raised a brow, mildly impressed. “You’ll just have to ask her yourself.” He winked and started to pull away.

“Wait!” Peggy chewed her lip and looked at the flakey bits of pastry remnant on her plate. “Can I have another one of those?” She swiped her finger through an errant bit of cream and the waiter flushed bright pink. The human shield he provided gave Peggy the opportunity to observe the striking woman who’d been following her most of the morning who had just sat down at a table near the door.

“Uhh—uh—yeah. Yeah. Another bear claw, coming right up.”

“You’re a peach.”

Peggy waited a few minutes after her mark had left, pretending to be engaged in an animated text-messaging thread while she tracked the woman’s movements, intent on not losing her.

Peggy’s own tail departed a few minutes later, while she was asking the waiter what museums were worth visiting in the area, claiming that she was new to the city.

Eventually, when her mark had moved out of range of her tracker, Peggy left the café. Given that she’d acquired her own shadow—and given that she was nearly certain that they were dealing with HYDRA or some incarnation thereof—Peggy stayed away from her mark for most of the afternoon. She checked in at the woman’s usual haunts—her workplace, her usual lunch spot—staying just close enough to see that little flashing blip on her phone and leaving before she became obvious.

The sun was blazing bright down 42nd Street as Peggy made her way through the crowds, hot on her mark’s heels. Something seemed to be awry. There had been several urgent phone calls that afternoon and now the woman she was struggling to keep her eye on was very determinedly getting lost in the crowds of tourists. For her part, Peggy had relented and put the electronic mask back on at Maria’s request. There wasn’t a chance she’d been made, she’d been so careful—

“Why are you following me?” Peggy whirled around to confront the woman she’d noticed earlier that morning.

She wrinkled her nose and squared her shoulders, “I could ask you the same thing—stalking someone?”

“Absolutely not.” Peggy shifted her weight to a more defensive stance. Peggy moved to the side, putting herself in a better position to escape if the need arose. Passersby looked, frowned and continued on their way. The woman mirrored her movement, not giving Peggy any leeway.

Peggy feinted left and darted right, taking off up the block, plowing into the woman’s shoulder and knocking her into a group of confused looking tourists with heavy mid-Western accents. Soon enough there were hard footfalls against the pavement behind Peggy as she desperately made her way through the crowds.

“Mysterious British lady—who can apparently change her damn face at will?” Her grip was hard on Peggy’s shoulder, forcing her to stop. “Yeah, not suspicious at all—oof!”

Peggy jabbed her elbow back hard. The grip on her shoulder loosened and she turned to face her pursuer.

Maria was going to be so disappointed.

Hands shot out toward her, startlingly fast, and landed sharp blows that made Peggy stumble. She ducked under the next strike, sweeping her foot out to knock the woman off balance.

The sun continued to sink, the angle of the light reflected off of the glossy buildings on either side of the street changing and making Peggy squint in the glare—she needed to get the altercation turned around, at the very least, get her back to the fiery glow. People on the sidewalks stopped and stared, cell phones coming out on all sides. Betrayed by the very solar phenomenon she was so looking forward to—blinded for a moment as she dodged a foot headed for her gut—Peggy found herself kissing pavement. With a knee to her back, she attempted to twist her arm out of the tight hold she was in.

“Hey! Hey! What the hell is going on here?” A police radio squawked, a squad car flashed it lights and whoop-whooped! to clear the crowd.

“We could have just talked, you know.”

The knee at her back disappeared, the weight gone. Peggy found herself hauled to her feet by a wall of a man in a blue uniform. “Officer, I—“

“Have the right to remain silent.”

“Ms. Watson?” The woman nodded and sighed and allowed herself to be cuffed.

Peggy gritted her teeth and submitted to the hand on her head, guiding her into the back of the waiting squad car.

***

“I’m Captain Gregson.” He smoothed his tie and sat down in the seat across from the woman that the patrol officers had brought in with Watson for fighting in the street. The woman, who they were calling Jane Doe for the moment, let out a slow, controlled breath.

“Hello, Captain.”

“Now, I’d really like to hear your story from you because, frankly, my officers sounded like they were giving me the synopsis of some B-rated spy flick.” Gregson put a hand up to stop the woman when she began to speak. She seemed to be revving up for a confrontation.

He paused and slid all of the woman’s various identification cards in a plastic bag across the table along with a print out of her fingerprint hit. “Now, we’ve got just a few problems here to clear up before I let you tell that story, because really, I would like to know the truth so that we can get this business between you and Ms. Watson cleared up and decide what the heck to do with you.”

Gregson tapped the driver’s license through the plastic. “Now, problem number one—you say that this is you-and I know, I really do, I know that hair dye and makeup can work miracles, but, this doesn’t look a damned thing like you. So, red flag for me. You follow?”

The woman seemed to struggle to not roll her eyes. “If you would just—“

“Now, I’m not finished yet.” He turned the hit sheet toward her. “This here, is problem number two. It might not seem like a problem at first, and you’ll think this because, hey, the ID and the hit match—case closed. But then there’s that thing about none of this ID matching you at all. And then I noticed, the earliest date on this hit sheet is for a military file.” Gregson gave their Jane Doe a deadpan look. “From the second World War. I have to admit—it’s a pretty ballsy move to steal a war hero’s identity. Especially one who literally has entire college courses dedicated to studying her life. But I guess ballsy doesn’t really equate to smart, now does it?”

“I keep telling you that I can explain this. If you’d just listen and call Maria Hill at SHIELD.”

“Oh, we called ‘er, don’t worry.”

Joan turned to Detective Bell and raised a questioning brow as they watched the exchange from behind the two-way mirror. Marcus shook his head, “Nope.”

“Nobody’s called SHIELD yet?”

“There’s not a reason to yet. So far it’s just an identity theft and a little bit of stalking—even if the identity theft is pretty epic.”

Sherlock made a thoughtful noise, one arm crossed over his chest, supporting his elbow, his fingers resting against his lips.

“What is it, Sherlock?”

“I’m trying to wrap my head around why someone would want to steal Peggy Carter’s identity—and so poorly at that.”

“Well, the client—“

“Yes, Ms. Avery. She was very distraught, wasn’t she?” Sherlock raised a brow and pressed his lips together.

“Did we ever get that background check back?”

“Mm. Yes, just before Detective Bell called to let me know you’d been arrested.”

Joan pursed her lips. “Didn’t come back as anticipated, did it?”

“Aren’t you glad I suggested we run it?”

Marcus looked from one to the other, “I hate when you two do this.”

“I—“ Sherlock stopped himself, frowning hard and fishing his phone from his pocket. He tapped away furiously with his thumbs, searching for something as the stalemate on the other side of the glass started to ebb.

“May I show you something, Captain?”

“Depends on what that is.”

“Can you remove these?” She raised her hands, so calmly flat in front of her before, and shook the chain connecting the cuffs to the table.

“Nope.”

Jane Doe sighed heavily. “Fine, then.” She lowered her head, her cheek resting against the table to allow herself access to the back of her head. She ignored Gregson’s questions as to what on Earth she was doing. After a moment of fiddling, her hair came off—a blonde wig. Dark hair was braided tightly and wrapped around her head like a crown.

“Doesn’t mean much of anything, ma’am.”

“Ah, but you haven’t seen my best trick yet, Captain.”

“And what’s that?”

Jane Doe reached up to her face and seemed to be feeling around her forehead for the edge of something. Marcus leaned closer to the window, “What the heck is she doing?”

The woman found whatever she was feeling for. There was an electronic kind of flicker and she peeled something away from her forehead.

“Oh my God she’s peeling her damn face off.”

Marcus stood with his eyes wide, staring at Jane Doe’s face and then the glossy mesh thing in her hands. “Why is this my life? Ever since you two showed up—why?”

“Ah!” Sherlock turned the screen of his phone toward Joan and Bell. “Look.”

A news clip began to play after a moment of buffering.

Last week, New York City saw one of its most devastating events. The clean-up continues in Lower Manhattan as well as the search for the missing. While the team that’s being tentatively called The Avengers did manage to defeat the Chitauri invaders and deliver the disgraced god who brought them here into the hands of the proper authorities, the question begs—did they do more harm than good? While the numbers of the missing have shrunk significantly, the total casualties are inexcusable.

In other news, time travel seems to have been made possible—although no one is sharing how quite yet. Coinciding suspiciously with the alien attack on the city and the arrival of this new superhero team was the arrival of a woman seemingly ripped from the pages of history.

The three of them peered at the grainy cellphone footage of a woman having a rather loud altercation in the subway then at Jane Doe.

After an unusual arrest and reportedly spending time under observation at Belleview Hospital, it was revealed in a press conference with the Mayor early this morning that the woman in that footage is none other than Margaret Carter, founding member of the security agency SHIELD. Carter was declared dead after—

Sherlock tapped the pause button and rapped on the window hard with his knuckles. Gregson glared over his shoulder. “Captain!”

“Call SHIELD. Now.”

***

When Commander Hill arrived, they gathered in the conference room and closed the blinds.

“Please, let me apologize, Agent Carter.” Captain Gregson looked contrite.

Peggy waved it off. “It’s not necessary, Captain. You and your officers were simply doing your jobs.”

Maria leaned back in her seat and crossed her legs. “Peggy’s not the most patient individual in the world. People who don’t know her that well tend to take it as hostility.”

“Well, we can’t all be perfect.” Peggy raised a brow and absentmindedly rubbed her wrists.

“Now, in the interest of cooperation, I think we all need to share information.”

Detective Bell regarded Peggy suspiciously. “So, I get that you actually are a secret agent, but what were you doing stalking their client?”

Maria put up a hand before Peggy could speak. “Let’s start from the beginning.”

They discussed Everyone—the knowledge that Holmes was at least peripherally involved with the group made several oddities suddenly make sense to Hill, some of the weirder pranks at the very least—and then got down to the business at hand.

“Without putting too much international security in danger, we have reason to believe that Ms. Avery is involved with,” Hill cleared her throat, “An underground terrorist organization.”

“Yes, it’s certainly become apparent she’s quite the skillful liar.” Sherlock leaned forward in his seat. “What is her real name?”

“Classified.”

Joan stood, turning to the closed blind with a hard expression. “How can we help?”

“We can’t get civilians involved in this.”

“We’re already involved. And we’re not just civilians.”

Gregson cleared his throat. “Watson, the two of you are remarkable—but you’re not officers and you’re not agents.”

“But we do know Avery.”

“After one evening of chatting?”

“You can tell quite a lot about a person in one evening of chatting, Captain Gregson.”

“Holmes is on pretty good terms with Everyone, Captain. He might be able to get some more information.”

“Ah yes, I do wonder what the latest humiliation will be. Always such a charming group to deal with.”

Bell grinned. “Two weeks ago they made him post a video doing the moon walk in a wedding dress.”

Peggy suppressed a laugh. “I saw that. It went viral, didn’t it? Steve sent it to me.”

Bell seemed to straighten up in his seat. “Steve? As in Steve Rogers, Steve?” Peggy nodded. “This day just keeps getting more unbelievable.”

***

By the end of the week, Avery was in SHIELD custody.

It had been almost too easy in the end, Holmes had simply called her up to give her a final report on her case, claiming that her stalker had been apprehended. Hill was waiting for her.

After that, he set to work trying to get Everyone to divulge whatever information they had on Avery that hadn’t already been intercepted. After some coerced begging and a demand to see Peggy Carter in person—or rather, in front of Sherlock’s webcam—to ensure that the situation was truly as Holmes claimed, Everyone agreed to help.

For a price.

The next morning, several clips on YouTube surfaced of a British man in a yellow jumpsuit quacking and flapping his arms as he walked around the ledge of Bethesda Fountain.

By noon, a pair of tickets to another exclusive gala—one that had managed to stay completely off of SHIELD’s radar—arrived on the doorstep of the Brooklyn brownstone Watson and Holmes called home base.

Peggy’s phone rang while Gregson and Hill—looking utterly out of place at the table in the kitchen—argued over who would attend the gala.

“Hello?” She walked through to the front room, away from the planning and arguing, and sat down on the stairs.

“Hey, Peg.”

She couldn’t help but smile. “Darling. All’s well?”

“Yup. I should be home late tonight.”

“My home or yours?”

“Yours. Fury’s office-hopping again, I gotta give my field report.”

“How many of the probies did you manage to give heart failure?”

He barked out a laugh, “Four.” He was quiet for a long moment. “I miss you, Peg.”

“I miss you, too. You have your key, right?”

“Yeah. You not home?”

“Working, unfortunately.”

“Same case from earlier?”

“Yes. I’m hoping we wrap this up but somehow I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

“Everything okay? You need an assist?”

“No, but—no.”

“Peg—“

“Just get home, Steve.”

“Alright, I’ll text you when I’m there.”

“I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Watson politely cleared her throat. “Are you finished with your call?”

“What? Oh, yes. Sorry.”

“Don’t be.” She motioned for Peggy to follow. “I need help wrangling everyone.”

“Oh gosh.”

“Yeah. Hill wants to keep this in-house. Sherlock is insisting that we work the case. Gregson and Bell think we should send in some undercover officers—it’s a mess.”

The sound of arguing got louder as they approached the kitchen. Peggy pursed her lips. “Can you whistle?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Count of three?”

The group at the table—except for Sherlock, who managed to just look exceedingly irritated—slapped their hands over their ears and groaned.

Peggy could feel herself going into command-mode. She knew, she knew, that she shouldn’t—that the people sitting around the table were competent, and that she was taking very large liberties addressing her superior officer in the manner that she was about to—

“You’re all acting like children.” Maria looked taken aback. Peggy felt her face flush. “We need to cooperate.”

Bell opened and closed his mouth, at a loss for words for a moment. “She’s right.” He turned to Gregson. “This is the most cooperation I’ve ever seen from any kind of federal level agency, this shouldn’t be this complicated.”

Hill and Gregson stared each other down for a moment longer. “Holmes,” he said, eyes still on the SHIELD commander. “You’re uncharacteristically quiet.”

“I’m interested to know what Agent Carter has to say.”

Peggy turned to Watson, nervous. Joan nodded, encouraging. “I think I should continue working the case. If this gala is anything like the last one, some of the same characters should be there. I’m already a familiar face, I know what to expect.”

Hill seemed surprisingly unconcerned with Peggy’s blatant insubordination when she turned to address her. “Carter, I’m not sending you in there alone. They’re bound to know we’ve got Avery by now. We don’t know how many of them were embedded in Everyone and we don’t know who she was in personal contact with.”

“I agree.” She paused, thinking. “Can we get in contact with Agent Morse?”

“No, and none of your usual partners are appropriate for this job—every one of them has the potential to be compromised. We don’t know how deep this goes.” Eyebrows went up all around. “Have I mentioned the extensive non-disclosure agreements you’ll all be signing?”

“What about Ms. Watson and Mr. Holmes?” Peggy was surprised with her own suggestion. But they were already involved, so—

Bell and Gregson geared up for a protest. “Gentlemen, before you say anything, I believe I’m going to decline.”

“What?”

“I believe that my particular temperament will draw too much attention. I’m under the impression that that is quite the opposite of what Agents Carter and Hill would like to do.”

“Ms. Watson?” Peggy looked to Joan hopefully. Something in Peggy’s gut told her to trust Watson.

“I—I don’t know.”

Hill shook her head. “It’s out of the question. She’s a civilian. I cannot put a civilian at risk like that.”

Gregson looked undecided. Marcus spoke up first. “You know, I don’t think Joan would be bad for this job at all.” The captain raised a curious brow. “Hear me out—this is supposed to be pure intelligence gathering, right? No engagement unless your engaged? Watson knows how to handle herself in those upper-crusty circles. She knows how to talk to these kind of people. She’s smart, she thinks outside the box. She’s quick on the uptake. And if it comes to it—she’s quick on her feet too. We can send in an undercover cop, sure—but an undercover cop is going to think like a cop. Joan thinks like Joan.”

Maria raised a brow, “Ms. Watson?”

Joan chewed her lip, considering it all for a moment. “I’m in.”

***

“I feel like I’m signing my life away.” Watson scratched her pen across the thick stack of papers that were dropped down on the table in front of her at Maria Hill’s office at SHIELD’s New York headquarters.

“You are.”

Joan took a deep breath and finished scrawling her signature across the page. “Alright. When do we start?”

At eight sharp Peggy and Joan were pulling up in front of a sprawling estate in Garrison, New York. Hill turned around in the driver’s seat and looked them over once more. “Remember, it goes south, you hit the panic button. This is not worth either of your lives. We’ll find another way to get information if we need to.” She paused, frowning. “Watson, this is your last chance to back out.”

“No, I’m good. I’m going in.”

“Alright, ladies. I won’t be too far away. I’ll be watching you on the tracker. Let me know when you’re ready for extraction.” She turned back around in her seat. “Be careful.”

“I always am, Commander.”

“Bullshit, Carter. You and Rogers are the most reckless fools I’ve ever met. Now get in there.”

Watson raised a brow as they walked up the path to the front door. “Reckless?”

“We like to skip the parachutes.” Peggy grinned. Steve liked to skip them, Peggy liked to watch the reactions.

“Good to know.”

The pair of them were ushered inside, their invitations checked against the guest list. “Ah, Doctor Jurko, a wonderful last minute addition to the list. The baron is looking forward to seeing you again and meeting your guest.”

“I’m looking forward to it as well. Mina?” Peggy put out her elbow and waited for Joan to take it before following a waiter into the dining room.

Seated, Joan examined herself in the reflection of her highly-polished silverware. “This is so weird,” she said under her breath. She touched her face, looking completely unlike herself. Hill had insisted on the mask for Watson’s personal security since they wouldn’t be able to wear much in the way of bodily protection under their evening gowns.

“Very. Doesn’t get any less so.”

Dinner went off without a hitch.

“And now we mingle.”

It wasn’t long until Baron von Strucker found them. “Ah, Doctor. It’s truly a pleasure.” Peggy struggled not to grimace as he took her hand and kissed her knuckles. “And your companion.” Joan seemed to be much better at masking her disgust if that was what she felt.

“Mina Ives.”

“Ah. And what interest do you have in our little operation, lovely Mina?”

“Mina is my associate.” Peggy took Joan’s hand out of the baron’s grasp and laced their fingers together. “In business and in life. My interests are our interests.”

Von Strucker didn’t suppress his frown. “Well, I certainly hope that that the two of you can come to an agreement in joining us.”

The baron seemed to have one eye on Peggy and Joan the whole night. It didn’t matter much since they also had an eye on him. Peggy turned to Joan at one point, standing to excuse herself for the powder room. “I’ll be right back, darling.” She laid a soft kiss against Joan’s cheek and stepped away from the group they were making polite, albeit disturbing, conversation with.

“Ah, the two of you are such a lovely couple!” Peggy heard one of the women of the group proclaim. “You simply must come join us in Venice—you can tour our laboratories and we can show you the city.”

Peggy checked the bathroom for listening devices, quickly scanning the room with a sweeper that fit neatly into her purse, before dialing Hill’s number. “How are we doing Maria?”

“Good, Carter, really good. They’re eating you two up with a spoon. Nice touch.”

“Spur of the moment decision.”

“Well, it’s working. A couple is easier to relate to than a single, powerful woman—at least for this group.”

“How’s the footage, do we need to adjust anything?”

“No, we’re good. Button-cams are clear, the audio we’re getting from the mic in Watson’s glasses is excellent.”

“Alright.” Peggy let out a breath and dabbed at her glistening forehead. Even if the wig was a good one, it was hot.

“How are you doing? You haven’t done a job like this in a while.”

“I’m okay.”

“And Watson?”

“Surprisingly adept.” Peggy applied a fresh layer of lipstick and smacked her lips together. “Can we recruit her?”

Maria laughed. “It seems like things are winding down. Give it another hour and I’ll meet you out front, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And Carter?”

“Mm?”

“I know our relationship is pretty unconventional considering the circumstances of you being here, but if you speak to me that way again I’m grounding you.”

Peggy felt her face get hot. “I apologize, Commander. Sincerely.”

“I know you do. Just don’t let it happen again, Carter. Now get your head back in the game and get back in there. They’re asking Watson too many questions.”

Joan and Peggy walked arm in arm toward the door at the end of the night. The baron suddenly appeared at their elbows, assisting them with their wraps. “It’s a chilly night for such a warm summer day.”

“It is.”

“It was a pleasure to see you again, Dr. Jurko—and very much a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Ives.” He kissed their hands each in turn. “I hope to be seeing much more of the both of you.”

Watson smiled, broad and easy. “We hope to be seeing much more of you as well, Baron.” She slipped her arm back into Peggy’s and nodded at the man who would hold the door open for them. “Have a good night.”

They slipped into the backseat of the car and stared straight ahead as Hill drove them off the property. Out on the main road and out of sight of any potential security devices hidden along the way, Peggy turned to Joan and seized her by the shoulders, planting a firm, exuberant kiss at the corner of her mouth. “You were brilliant!”

Maria glanced at the two of them in the rearview mirror, “Excellent work, Watson.”

Joan let out a breathy laugh, “Thanks. Can’t wait to tell Sherlock all about it.”

Maria chuckled, “Absolutely not.”

***

Peggy sighed heavily and tossed her keys into the dish near the door. She groaned and stretched and kicked off her shoes right there in the hall, smiling in the dim light when she noticed Steve’s gear bag on the floor, his boots neatly beside it.

“Steve?” She moved deeper into the apartment. The light was low all around. The smoky, spicy scent of her candles lingering in the air, though they weren’t burning. “Darling?”

There was a bottle of wine open on the coffee table, two glasses beside it. The white bakery box with its twisty red twine sat untouched.

Peggy made her way around the table and picked up the bottle to shove the cork back into it. She quietly gathered up the box and set both in the fridge before returning.

Steve was mostly upright on the couch, his head tipped back and his mouth hanging just slightly open. Peggy took in the view—pressed trousers and suspenders, the dark green tie she’d bought him for his birthday the previous year—oh, the fun they’d had with that tie! He did look slightly ridiculous sans shirt, but Peggy wouldn’t complain. No doubt he’d meant to meet her at the door, a romantic if amusing evening planned.

Peggy stepped lightly over his extended legs and set herself down gently across his thighs. He startled awake in spite of her efforts and then smiled at her dreamily. “Peg o’my heart.”

“Darling.” She kissed him softly and ran her fingers through his hair, stirring up the clean scent of the light wax that held it in place.

Steve shifted underneath her and blinked in the low light at his wristwatch, “Christ, it’s three in the morning.”

“I’m sorry. Job ran a little late.”

“Don’t be.” He leaned up toward her, pressing his plush lips against her throat. “You’re home in one piece. Could’a been six-fifteen and three days from now—long as you’re safe.”

Peggy smiled and sighed and curled into him, fatigue hitting her hard now that she’d stopped moving with any kind of forward purpose.

“How was it?”

“I met the most fascinating woman, darling.” Peggy sat up, grinned, and pecked a kiss against the tip of his nose. “We’re having coffee Tuesday. Stay in town and meet her.”

“Sounds like a plan.” He moved languidly, nosing and mouthing at her throat again—enthusiastic but clearly in no state for any real action. “Bed?”

“Mm. Bed.”