Angie auditions for a lot of Hallmark TV movies. Mostly she plays murder victims or suspects on cable crime shows, and a couple times she's been on sci fi shows, either in alien makeup or without it, but at the end of the day, Angie is a girl-next-door type, and she's been working her way up from playing the cheerful salesgirl to the best friend and now, at this audition, actually going for the lead.
She's got a decent chance—they were specific about looks, and she fits the type, plus she knows this kind of story. There was some kind of mixup with a princess when she was a baby and she got shuffled into the American foster care system. Somehow, somebody figures out who she is when she's an adult trying to get her life together and she goes to take her rightful place on the throne and falls in love with some nobleman who was charmed by her American manners. And it's Christmastime. It's textbook.
The big difference is that this one is based off reality, at least a little bit. A wishful thinking version of reality. Because Princess Angeline of Vengia, a European country nobody pays much attention to, disappeared when she was a year old, some kind of political plot involving an election, and she hasn't appeared again.
Anyway, that's all to say that when Angie comes into the audition room, there's a really gorgeous woman with an accent sitting on the audition panel who introduces herself as a political aide here from Vengia to assure that the movie puts things in the best possible light.
“Charmed, I'm sure,” says Angie, and turns to the rest of the panel. “Want me to start?”
“Please, Ms. Martinelli.”
Angie actually likes the audition scene, the one where some faithful butler tells her she's royalty. She braces herself and waits for them to feed her the line.
“You're the princess of Vengia,” the director says, monotone. She's probably the fiftieth girl he's seen today.
“Yeah, you're real funny.” Mostly they don't go for the big city stories, but the last place anyone saw Princess Angeline was in the middle of Rockefeller Center, gaping at the tree the day before Christmas Eve. Angie can let the Brooklyn go. “If I was a princess I wouldn't be working here.” She gestures around at a nonexistent store, probably one selling ornaments. She knows this kind of movie.
“Nonetheless, it's true. You're the spitting image of your grandmother, and a quick look at your background all but confirms it.”
“No, okay? I am not a princess because if I was one I wouldn't be working like this, I'd be home in some kind of castle, with some kind of family, and that's not true.”
“Princess Angeline went missing years ago.”
“And my name isn't Angeline, it's Claire.” She crosses her arms, looks away from the director. “I know every girl wants to be a princess, but life just doesn't work like that.”
“What if it did, just this once?”
“Some people just don't get Christmas miracles. If I was going to get one, it would have come for me years ago.” The script says she touches a necklace she's wearing, one that's no doubt going to turn out to be an heirloom that she was left with when she was kidnapped, like anyone would leave something that identifiable with a kid who was supposed to disappear. Angie wore her favorite necklace for the occasion, but it's new. “I was holding out for one for a long time,” she says, low. “But I'm not anymore. Could you please leave?”
“Thank you, Ms. Martinelli,” says the casting director, but it's not the dismissive kind of cutting her off. She hopes.
Angie drops the character. “Thank you, sir. Did you want me to do anything else for you again? Read the lines a different way?”
By some miracle, they actually do, and Angie reads for them for another ten minutes before they tell her they'll call her. It's a good sign. It was a good audition.
She knows it was a good audition, but mostly she was really unnerved by the way the political aide from Vengia watched her the whole time.
Well. Unnerved or turned on. It's a fine line.
Two weeks later, after a table read and a lot of prep work and her agent weeping a little with joy, she shows up for filming, and the person to greet her on the set is the political aide from Vengia, who introduced herself on the second audition as Peggy Carter. “I'm glad you got the role,” Peggy offers when she's walking her to hair and makeup. “You were by far my favorite of the actresses.”
“That's nice to hear. We're all kind of one type, so it's good to stand out from the crowd.” She shrugs. “Maybe it's a foster kid thing. Getting into the role, you know?”
“I didn't know.”
“It's not like I advertise it. If I get famous, it's going to be the big part of my story, but for right now, who cares if the girl doing Hallmark movies has a tragic past, right?”
“I certainly care.”
Angie just shakes her head. “I'm not going to disgrace Vengia or anything, I hope. You don't need to care much past that, right, Ms. Carter? It's not like I'm actually the princess.”
“I suppose you're not.”
Peggy doesn't really need to be intimately involved in the proceedings once they get started, but she sticks around, and Angie suspects it's mostly because she gets a kick out of Angie, even if she claims it's to teach her royal etiquette so it's more realistic that she gets better about it as the movie goes on.
Angie kisses her three weeks into filming, when she had to spend the whole day pretending to be madly in love with Daniel Sousa, the guy they cast as her love interest, and Peggy takes the lead almost immediately, backing her up against a wall and messing up her makeup so bad that Angie is glad she's done filming for the day.
“I have been wanting to do that,” whispers Peggy when they're done.
Angie pulls her back in. “Well, why didn't you?”
Peggy laughs. “You must admit that it's a bit strange that I've got a crush on the actress who is supposed to be playing the missing princess of my country.”
“Well, my crush on you isn't strange at all. You're hot and badass and you've got a great accent.” She grins, puts on a flirty voice. “We could roleplay that I'm actually Angeline and you're my hot bodyguard and we're keeping our romance behind closed doors ...”
“We do not need to do that.” Peggy smiles at her. “I'd like to be just us, this first night, if you don't mind.”
“Well, you sure know how to charm a girl,” says Angie, and kisses her again.
Peggy rolls over. “One could wonder if you're just in my bed to get the gossip about my missing princess.”
“I'm getting kind of fond of her, playing her for TV. It's made me nosy.”
“The conspirators swore, when they were caught, that the intention was never to kill her. So I imagine she's out there somewhere, but I don't know where, and there's no way of knowing. She was too young to remember being a princess. And while you look quite like the family and it's part of the reason they cast you, there's no telling if she's grown up looking anything like them.”
“I think every foster and adopted girl my age in the world has wondered if it was her.”
“Did you, ever?”
“Sure.” Angie kisses her, because she's there. Peggy Carter could get to be very distracting, which sucks, because she has a job and Angie suspects it's more important than she lets on and that she's just doing this as a vacation from something else, so she's going to lose her at the end of filming. “I mean, I came with the name Angela, in the same city she got lost in six days after she went missing, even if it was parent surrender.”
“Did you ever take advantage of the DNA test program they tried to set up?”
“No. Some things are better as dreams, you know?”
“I suppose so.” Peggy looks kind of upset, so Angie kisses her again, and one thing leads to another, and makeup yells at her in the morning for the bags under her eyes but they were definitely worth the lack of sleep.
Angie doesn't like to think too much about Hallmark's wholesome image and how much they'd love it if one of their leading ladies came out as gay. They might try to be okay with it, but she probably wouldn't get too many more leads playing the love interest. “Good thing I'm not actually a secret princess. Then I'd really be too famous to be having this dinner.”
“Good thing indeed.” Peggy looks kind of glum.
“You're going back to Vengia in a couple days, right?”
“Yes. I've got other duties to attend to. I was … indulged, wanting to stay here. But you'll be there as part of some press events in November or December, won't you? The family is throwing its full support behind the movie. As a tribute to her.”
“They could have afforded to throw their support behind a tragic blockbuster too. Or a big action film where they've been holding her in a remote location for the past twenty-five years and she finally breaks free.”
“I couldn't guess as to their intentions. But I suppose, knowing the royal family … perhaps this is the most optimistic ending they could have imagined.”
“Do you know any of them?”
“I—yes, actually. The prince is a dear friend of mine. He is a good deal better than Mr. Thompson plays him.” Peggy frowns. “If they ever do find Angeline, she'll be very lucky to have a brother like Steve.”
Angie covers Peggy's hand with her own. “I'm sure she will.”
In November, though, Angie gets to go to Vengia with Jack Thompson and the director of the movie to make nice and take a few pictures so Hallmark can do a little ten-minute documentary before the movie airs to try to get people excited about Angeline's story again.
Peggy greets her at the airport and squeezes her hand instead of kissing her in public. “You look very impressive,” Angie whispers, because Peggy is in a dark suit that makes her look like James Bond and Angie really wants to kiss her.
“I've got us scheduled for dinner tomorrow night when you've got some free time in your agenda,” Peggy whispers back.
They don't have time to do much but whisper, but Angie stays busy, talks to a few local reporters about honoring Angeline's story and how she feels uniquely qualified to take this version of it on because she's a foster kid herself, and they all clearly like the story, especially all the coincidences that made her, at eight years old, completely sure that she was the lost princess.
The morning of the second day, she and Jack get a short meeting with Prince Steve. She'd be pretty annoyed, if she were meeting an actor playing her missing sibling, but he's charming and huge and pretty clearly fond of Peggy. He ignores Jack, which Angie gets a certain petty satisfaction out of (he got cast as the lead in some indie action film and now he feels like he's above this press tour) and asks Angie about her life and her interests and how she likes Peggy.
“I'm really glad I met you,” he says before he has to go take care of something actually useful, and gives her a big hug that's so good she almost wants to cry. “Thank you for making this movie.”
Angie goes on with Jack and shakes hands with the host and answers a round of questions, politely watches the clip they chose and feels a little surreal about it, because Vengia is treating this like a real movie and not a made-for-TV one.
“Now, Angie,” says the host when they're wrapping up the segment. “You've said in interviews that you're a foster child yourself, one with some coincidences that connect you to Angeline's story. You also said, though, that you never took the DNA test when the scholarship program was happening seven years ago.”
Angie's an actress. She can keep smiling. Because she may have mentioned that to one blogger who definitely doesn't have the cachet to get the point up this far, but she also mentioned it to Peggy a long time ago, and Peggy is the one who prepared the briefing for this show. “Never wanted to have it confirmed that I wasn't her,” she jokes, and hopes her voice isn't as tight as she feels like it is.
“Well, in honor of the movie you made, we thought we'd offer you a little cheek swab right now.” The host, like magic, produces a little DNA kit from under the desk.
Jack finally seems to get that she's upset and acts like a co-star should. “What, you aren't going to ask me to take one? I've always wanted to be royalty.”
Angie can't get out of this, not while they're taping, but at least now it's firmly a joke. She'll take that and ask them to throw it out during the commercial break. “Fine, fine, if you want me to be your princess that bad I'll give you a sample. At least it won't implicate me in any crimes.”
She does it and hands it over and they manage to keep up light chatter until commercial break. As soon as someone calls that they're not rolling anymore, Angie stands up. “Ms. Martinelli, are you okay?” the host asks.
“I'd like you to throw away that sample, please. Now excuse me, I need a minute.”
People clear a path on the way to the green room, and Angie goes and paces around it and takes a few deep breaths and isn't surprised when Peggy slips in after her less than a minute later. “Angie—”
That's what Angie was waiting for. She spins, turns on Peggy. “That was you, right? You're curious, or you think I should at least try it, I don't know what your motivation is but you don't spring that on a person, Peg. If I thought it was me I would have taken the test years ago. But you want my hopes up just so I can get them really publicly dashed? That's cruel.”
“I did it because I really think it's you.”
Angie scoffs. “Sure you do. I may have the looks, but that's it. You think I'm princess material?”
“Yes. I think you are. And Steve thinks you are.”
That brings her up short. “You brought this up with Steve? God, you don't need to get his hopes up like that, why would you do that? He deserves better than that.”
“I'd mentioned you not taking the test when he was teasing me about you months ago, and he remembered it. After he met you he said he thought that maybe it could be you. I had to try.”
“He thinks it could be me because I'm playing his missing little sister in a movie. He's not objective about this. We can't do this.”
“The commercial break is almost over. Come on, just listen to what he has to say.”
“It will be twenty-five years this Christmas since someone took my little sister from me, and I know every year the chances get smaller that she'll come home, but I can't stop trying yet.”
“And this year there's the movie about her.”
Steve smiles. “Yes. We got a lot of movie studios asking about writing her story over the years. Action films, political thrillers, biopics, but this was the script we chose to give our official approval. It's the most hopeful script we saw.”
They talk about Angeline and the movie for a little longer, Steve sharing his few members of his baby sister and talking about the search and how he's still hoping for a miracle. “Now, your Highness,” says the host, and Angie knows this is it, “I don't know if you saw before the break, but Angie Martinelli, the actress playing your sister in the movie, just gave us a DNA sample to see if maybe she's the long-lost princess after all.” Steve frowns then, only a flash but definitely a frown. He definitely heard that she isn't happy. “It would be a storybook ending to this movie. You've met her. Do you hope it's her?”
“I think Angie is wonderful,” says Steve, and it sounds warm and genuine. “If she's my sister, I couldn't ask for a better one. But either way, I'm glad to have met her and glad that she got to play Angeline in the movie. If my sister is anything like Angie Martinelli, I'm going to be happy.”
Peggy taps her on the shoulder and takes her back to the green room. Apparently that was all she wanted Angie to hear.
“Just … stay here a few minutes, would you?” Peggy asks when they're safe in there. “I'm going to get Steve and we'll sort this out.”
“Look.” Angie sighs and gestures him into a chair. Peggy stays in the room, in the corner, and Angie guesses she won't grudge her that. “I'm honored that you think I'm cool enough to be your sister. But I'm a little worried that the role I played in the movie is coloring your judgment. You're used to thinking of me as being her, so it's an easy jump to make.”
“I'm used to thinking of you as Peggy's adorable girlfriend,” Steve corrects her gently. “I like that you're in the movie, but I heard about you from her before I ever saw clips, and she didn't talk about the filming, she talked about your dates.”
Angie swallows. He just gave Peggy back about three quarters of her girlfriend points in one speech, but she can't afford to get derailed right now. “Also, I like you a lot, and if you get your hopes up and then it inevitably turns out to not be me, it's going to make things bad. You'll be sad, and you won't want to be friends, and Peggy will get tragic and break it off.”
Steve shakes his head. “I like you. That's not going to change. And if it's not you, it's not going to make us find her any faster. You can still be my friend. And Peggy's girlfriend.”
“If you don't break up with me for being high-handed,” Peggy puts in. “What do you say? Are you willing to try? I wouldn't tell you to try if I didn't think there was at least a chance.”
“Oh, what the hell.” Angie looks between them, a pair of hopeful puppy dogs. “Let's give it a shot. But don't blame me if this isn't the Cinderella story we're all waiting for.”
She kicks Peggy out of her room when they should be getting the paperwork messengered over from the lab, tells her to intercept it and read it with Steve and then come in with the news.
She regrets that immediately, but she doesn't take it back, just spends twenty minutes pacing back and forth all over her room, telling herself that she can't get her hopes up and she can't be too disappointed if Steve never wants to talk to her again and it changes things with Peggy.
There's a knock on the door eventually, and when she opens it, Peggy and Steve are standing there, both of them crying, and after a second, Steve staggers forward and hugs her so tight her ribs creak a little. “Angie, Angie,” he's saying, and she doesn't know if it's joy or disappointment until he says “Angeline,” and then she's crying too.
Peggy, snuggled against her, smiles. “It mostly just makes me happy.”
“Yeah, me too.” Mostly. She also wants to cry for missing this for her whole life, and for all the things she's leaving behind in the States, because she knows she's moving to Vengia. No one has said it yet, but it's assumed because it's going to have to happen. “Are you going to be my bodyguard?”
“I very much hope not, that would be a conflict of interest if I've ever heard of one.”
Peggy is definitely starting to sound sleepy, but Angie's mind is going a hundred miles an hour and doesn't seem likely to stop any time soon. “This is going to be hell on my acting career.”
“I'm sure you can have one if you still want one. There's a robust tradition of theater here in the capital. You might get some special treatment at first for being the princess, but the shine will wear off eventually and you'll get roles on your own merits again.”
“I can't believe my one and only movie is the literal story of my life.” Angie sits up on her elbows. “Oh my God.”
Peggy looks alert again. “What?”
“I just gave Hallmark its best publicity in years, didn't I? It's going to be maybe two years before they make a story of me acting out the story and turning out to be the actual princess.”
Peggy laughs and relaxes. “I very much look forward to seeing the movie. I wonder if they'll have your girlfriend in there or if they're just going to lie terribly.”
“They'd better not lie. I'm powerful now, I'll yell at them.” She cuddles a little closer to Peggy. Castles are drafty, it turns out. “But I have to say, I'm looking forward to the movie too.”