Chapter Fourteen

Namor's people land them on the shore near Guz. He pretends to be gracious and carries Angie to the ground himself. Then Natalie leaps lithely down and throws one of Angie's arms over her shoulder and walks them towards the light of the base.

Peggy stays behind. Just to give her thanks. Angie glances back at her and seems to understand what's happening because she just nods and keeps walking.

"She is not just a friend," Namor observes.

Peggy bites her cheek.

"But she's also not a man. She can't even compete fairly for your affection."

"Denigrating her entire sex is hardly the way to a woman's heart," she sighs.

He tilts his head, sharp eyes still on Angie's back. "More a handmaiden."

"Please stop."

"Handmaidens are not worth a continent Peggy."

"Good thing she isn't one."

His arched brows soften, "I cannot think your world government will be pleased with the deal you made."

"They probably won't."

"But I expect you to honor it." His tone leaves nothing for discussion.

Peggy lifts her chin, "I'm a woman of my word Namor. By the decade's end you'll have your continent."

Its a gamble and she can see the way he has to swallow a sudden bout of petulant anger. He glares. Then he laughs. It's a haughty swashbuckling sword of laugh that booms as loud as cannons. "Decade's end."

"You're long lived. That's what—a sneeze and a day to your people?"

He shakes his head, "The surface is full of liars and cheats."

"And here you are madly in love with one."

"Not love I think." He appraises her. "Perhaps just respect."

It's a step down.

One she's glad for.

####

Peggy is escorted to the same room Angie and Natalie were taken to, but when she arrives there's just an exhausted Angie sitting on the cot with an IV in her arm.

And two guards unconscious on the floor.

"Where—"

Angie makes a flying motion with one hand and accompanies it with a sharp whistle, "As soon as the MPs turned their backs."

"You didn't help her did you?"

"She helped rescue me. Figured the least I could do was make sure she doesn't go up river for treason."

Peggy sighs.

"She's a good kid Peggy."

"And an assassin."

"They're still breathing." Angie leans forward, sudden concern etched on her face, "they are still breathing aren't they?"

Peggy checks for a pulse, "Seems so. She didn't by chance mention where she," Peggy mimics Angie with a whistle and whoosh of her hand.

Angie frowns, "I don't…I don't think so?" She shakes her head, "Sorry, most things are kind of foggy. Like that time at the Griffith when 4A brought moonshine home from Tennessee."

Peggy winces. One girl nearly went blind from that night and the moonshiner herself was evicted the next day.

She remembers thinking at the time that it was likely the only thing short of jet fuel that would have been able to get Steve drunk.

"Hey." Angie's looking at her from the bed. She's so curious. And concerned.

And alive.

Pale and worn and alive.

Peggy's not quite sure what to do. She's not accustomed to this measure of success.

Steve would give her a playful shove and tell her she's supposed to be the brave one.

She starts towards her. Stops. Her hands ball into fists.

The brave one wouldn't do what she wanted. She'd do what was right. Right for the woman sitting in that bed.

"I expect they'll want to speak to you."

"Yeah? Why do I suddenly get the feeling they're the only ones?"

Peggy shakes her head. "I…I do, it's just we—both of us will need to be debriefed. And I wouldn't want to compromise—"

"English." Angie's brow is furrowed. Peggy's left her confused. Which isn't unusual. Particularly early on she was often leaving Angie confused.

She sighs and stands tall. Steps over the men on the floor and takes a seat on the bed. Just out of reach. Far enough away that Angie would have to work to touch her with anything more than her leg. Her mouth keeps threatening to pull into a frown, but being the Oscar-winning actress she is she schools her entire face into a mask.

One Peggy can't bear to look at.

"I realize," she starts, "that you've kept me at arm's length despite my overtures because you are brave enough to admit what I couldn't."

Angie shakes her head. Opens her mouth to speak.

Peggy quickly holds her hand up. Not so high as to be an abrupt silencing gesture, but high enough to show Angie she needs to continue to speak.

She has to.

It's just like plucking stitches, she tells herself. Quick and clean and it will be over in no time.

"You're a tremendous actress with a career that puts you in the public eye, and I'm married, and a woman, and supposedly a master of spies."

She feels Angie's fingertips, cool and kind, on her wrist. Why is it now that she feels the need to reach out?

"You were abducted, and abused, and imprisoned because of me."

"I know."

Of course she knows. Of course she's figured it all out.

Angie's often been clever.

She closes her eyes so she doesn't have to look at her. It makes things easier. The fingers on her wrist make things harder.

"Then you know why, however much I care for you, I won't be back."

The fingers dig. Just for a moment. "Save me from a burning boat and leave me on the shore?"

She fidgets. Shrugs. "You've always been so fond of calling us a disaster Angie. I've just finally realized you were right."

MPs dash and in abort any further argument. They pull Peggy away and usher her to another room where, as if by magic, Colonel Phillips has arrived and is looking less than pleased.

The days that follow are a blur of shouting and berating and near firings.

And no Angie.

"She's gotta be debriefed," Phillips tells her. His tone is shockingly kind. "We gotta know what they did to her."

The benefactors of SHIELD, the shadowy World Council that governs their every action, are not as kind. They are not happy about Peggy's reign of terror against HYDRA. Two world class Leviathan trained assassins are on the loose and HYDRA's research element is in tatters and their sites destroyed. Nothing is recoverable. The only reason she still has a job, they say, is because she secured a HYDRA asset.

That's what Angie is to them.

An asset to be used. Poked and prodded and observed until they're done with her. Doesn't matter what the Director of SHIELD thinks.

Peggy doesn't see Angie again. They're transported to the United States separately and Peggy goes back to work. "You're too damn good to be drummed out on account of a woman," Phillips admits when she asks.

She hugs her children when she gets home and circles Daniel warily and they don't discuss the months—months—she's been gone. She wants to tell him it's normal. Wants to explain that this is why her own parents had her in boarding school as soon as she could walk. Wants to answer the unsaid accusations of bad parenting.

Of being a bad mother.

And wife.

Instead she works and smiles and acts like the last few months haven't happened.

At least until she's walking through the halls of SHIELD and finds a little weasely scientist carrying a tray of blood vials and walking the other direction.

She doesn't even need to see the labels on the vials to know to whom they belong and she doesn't stop walking. She marches. Her feet lead her directly to Phillips' office where Phillips is bowing his head against his steepled hands, and Howard is sitting on the edge of the desk and his new pet German from Research is on the couch leaning forward as though he were saying something that causes Phillips actual pain.

"Let her go," Peggy growls. Her words not lost even when she slams the door.

"Peg—"

"Now Howard."

"Told you she wouldn't be happy," Phillips says.

Howard stands up to defend what Peggy frankly finds indefensible. "She was worked over by HYDRA for over a month—"

"Precisely, and the last thing she needs is to be poked and prodded like a lab rat by her own countrymen!"

He smirks, "Technically this fella's German."

Normally, when Peggy punches Howard, it's a solid jab to the cheek. Enough to hurt, and maybe even swell, but it does no lasting damage.

This time she feels the cartilage of his nose crunch against her knuckles. He's thrown back into Phillips' desk and his hands fly up to protect his nose. Which has already begun to liberally stream blood.

Phillips glares hard at Peggy. Enough for her to feel duly chastised for an action for which she has no regrets. "You finished?"

She shakes her hand. Nods. "Yes sir."

He looks at Howard, "And you're letting the actress go?"

"Her blood results and EEG scans are bananas we need her—"

Phillips sighs, "Let the woman go before Carter rams her fancy heel right up your smart ass. Am I clear?"

Howard starts to protest, but he looks from Phillips back to Peggy and can only acquiesce. Weakly. "Peggy, you got to know it isn't personal—"

"No, it never is with you."

He flinches.

Her words leave him more bruised and broken than her fist ever could.

####

Work and family. The balance has waffled a tad over the years, but the two have always been Peggy's primary devotions. Super soldiers and Oscar-winning actresses aside.

Work and family.

They're a soothing routine she mires herself in.

She does not call Angie.

She can't bear it to reach out. Not after what's happened. Not after what Angie's endured under her watch.

So Peggy returns to work and family and she gets so very, very good at one and fails so miserably at another.

It's Daniel who finally looks at her from across the breakfast table and pulls the curtain away from her bit of awful theater. Simply says, "I think we should get a divorce."

The children are still upstairs and breakfast is on the table and Peggy's only just come in from work. There are dark circles under her eyes and every step she's taken has required calling on reserves she didn't know she possesses.

And when Daniel speaks it as comforting as a hot bath.

She slides into the chair opposite him with a sigh. Says nothing.

"You were gone for nearly two months," he explains, "and the only time you called was to check in on the kids."

"I knew you could take care of yourself."

He has a weak, but kind, smile for those words. Nicer than the one she offers up as she speaks.

"Are you chucking me out?" She's prepared to fight if he is. Though she isn't sure she has the energy to do it in the present moment.

Perhaps there's a motor lodge nearby. She should really investigate that—

He shakes his head, "No." Shrugs. "I thought about it." Laughs darkly. "But half this house was built by SHIELD."

More than half. Peggy's sure it could take the payload of a B-36 and little more would happen than the windows rattling.

Daniel holds up a key ruefully. "Got an apartment closer to work." He puts it gently on the table and pushes it towards her. "Figure it's better to give you a copy than find poor Janet trying to break in."

She won't tell him it would be good practice for the girl.

Instead she takes the key and feels, perhaps a little, stunned. The divorce. The break up itself. Everything. She understood it was coming intellectually. It had to after what she's done. Yet having a key in her hand, warmed from its stay in Daniel's pocket, makes it all so much more tangible.

They agree not to tell the twins immediately.

They agree to keep things quiet.

He goes to work.

The children are taken to school.

Peggy collapses onto the couch in her bedroom. It gives her a look into the half-empty closet.

She stares and stares and stares.

Then.

Sleeps.

####

In her dreams Angie's sitting on the edge of the couch and her hand is on Peggy's cheek and she's forgiven her and asking why it is they have to be so madly in love.

####

She wakes up in her rumpled work clothes and the clock far away on the bedside table reads after four in the afternoon. She realizes it was the squeal of her children playing in the backyard that woke her and it drags her mouth into a smile.

She changes into a pants and a button down shirt that's just a little too big and rolls the sleeves as she pads down the stairs barefoot.

The nanny's in the den putting away freshly polished silver Daniel's grandparents insisted on buying them and looks startled to see her employer home and dressed down.

"She said you were home, but I didn't believe her," she mutters.

Peggy raises an eyebrow, "She?"

"Your friend watching the children. When we got back from school she was coming down the stairs."

Peggy is sure a girlfriend just "popping over" is perfectly normal for many women. Unfortunately most of her girlfriends were actual girlfriends and nearly all of them have reasons to want to stab her with a knife.

She races through the house, her bare feet slapping on cold tile and plush carpets and lunges out into the yard, just shy of breathless.

Then stops. Toes digging into cool grass. Because Angie is sitting on a swing with sunglasses hiding half her face and her high heels piled with her purse on the ground. And she's smiling and playing with Peggy's children.

She's here.

She must hear Peggy because she looks up sharply. Her whole head whipping around. Her face is impossible to read with the sunglasses, but her smile is at least sunny.

Genuine.

She goes back to playing with the children and Peggy finds her feet carrying her over until she's sitting in the other swing and her son is sitting in her lap.

He's nearly too heavy for this sort of thing. He and his sister are both five and well on their way to six. His sister continues to play at pirate, jabbing a wooden cutlass at Angie and shouting about what a "scaryless bleeding landlubber" she is.

Peggy should tell her daughter to watch her language, but her children are both so American they ride bald eagles to kindergarten so she smiles and allows herself a measure of content and never ever questions why Angie Martinelli is sitting in her backyard and willingly playing house.

####

They dance around each other until dinner. Smiling. Chatting like the old gal pals the nanny assumes they are. Their hands sometimes touch and Peggy will gasp and Angie will look away, but it's all very quiet. Reserved.

Then dinner comes. That's when the nanny, who has accidentally acted as chaperone, leaves for the night.

Then Angie is looking at Peggy with a poker face that would earn her a job in any spy organization in the Northern Hemisphere. She's accepts the proffered drink with a soft "thank you" and is animated only when talking with the children.

With them she's Angie.

It's just the glances at Peggy that reveal some other mystifying and enthralling woman. At one point she winks at Peggy and she's so startled her knee flies up into the underside of the table and rattles her wine glass right onto its side.

When Angie laughs as Peggy mops up the mess she's enigmatic.

It's maddening. Because of course Peggy just wants to ask why she's come. Angie's thought they were doomed ever since the car they took broke down in rural New Jersey. She was particularly clear on her feelings in Italy when she'd whisper them between kisses and look at Peggy as though she needed her there and very far away all at once.

Peggy's given her the out. She's let her know it's okay. She's made the sacrifice that was needed so Angie could have a proper and healthy life.

But she's sipping her drink and behaving as mysteriously as any of the spies Peggy knows. The sphinx gave Greek heroes less trouble.

"Do you need help getting them ready for bed," she asks after dinner.

Peggy's son is already at the top of the stairs and she's got her daughter in her arms, her knobby knees poking into her ribs.

"We'll be fine," she says softly.

Angie nods. Squeezes Peggy's upper arm as though they're, the both of them, something. "I'll be waiting in the study then."

And she is. When the children are in bed and nearly asleep Peggy climbs back down the stairs. Too softly judging by the way Angie startles when she appears in her line of sight.

She's turned on the fire in the fireplace and poured brandy for the both of them, and until she sees Peggy she's staring into that fire and seeming to weigh all the troubles of the world in her head.

But then she's startling and snapping around and finally simply staring.

So long that they both might blush.

"Hi." A greeting as oblique as German code when whispered by Angie Martinelli.

Peggy doesn't know what to say so she takes her brandy and sits in the club chair opposite Angie. The space between them seems a chasm.

She nurses the drink.

Angie breaks this second silence by cutting straight to the heart of things. "Have to say I thought you were joking back in England when you left." She peers at Peggy. "Usually you spend a month and change trying to find a woman you don't up and leave her as soon as you got her."

"You were hurt because of me."

"I was hurt because some nut jobs kidnapped me."

"And they targeted you because—"

"Hitler invaded France. Or the Red Skull wanted to become a god on earth." Angie shakes her head. "Peggy whatever part you think you played does't matter. If I want to blame someone it's gonna be the guys who did the abducting."

"Like your Soldier acquaintance?"

She glances down at her drink, "I don't know. When your SHIELD friends were poking me like my ma's pincushion did they tell you about—" She taps her temple.

"I was told you didn't remember anything." That things had been irrevocably lost and other parts of her mind were now, fundamentally different. Enough that Howard still poured over the EEG reports every day in an effort to understand.

But they told her, too, that nothing presented in the other tests they subjected Angie too.

That Angie still seemed herself.

Angie nods. "All I've got is you and me in the car. The rest of it's just flashes I can't make sense of." She looks down with a winsome smile, "Which, I suppose, isn't so bad. If you're gonna be tortured best not to remember it right?"

Peggy can still see the blood streaked down her arms. And that chair.

"I'm sorry."

"I told you—"

"I know. I shouldn't blame myself. And I'm rational enough to understand that what's happened to you isn't my fault. But the fact of the matter is you were on that ship because I invited you into a war and then left you ill-equipped to wage it."

"So when you showed up in New York you should have had a rifle and some fatigues ready for me."

"No. I should never have invited you in the first place. You shouldn't have to fight this w—"

"And you should?"

"It's my job."

"Yeah. It's a job Peggy." She's peering at her. "Not a life, and right now it seems to me you're living it like it is."

"I have a family," she fires back.

"You do. You've got two gorgeous kids—"

"And—"

Angie tilts her head, "And Daniel left you. He called me a quarter of one to tell me."

"He was out of bounds."

"Probably. Think he's still stinging about how you'd rather spend a month getting rejected by me then in a bed beside him."

Peggy has to laugh, because otherwise she might blush and Peggy is an adult and does not blush.

There's a whisper of fabric and Angie is then just there. Kneeling in front of her.

"How did—"

Her questions of how Angie could possibly move so fast are stopped by brandy-brushed lips.

"Shut up and kiss me English."

"I thought—"

Angie's hand combs through Peggy's hair then pulls her close so they can kiss again.

And again.

And again.

Peggy likes kissing. She does. And she likes sex too. She's had all sorts of partners and found a way to waste quite a bit of her life by doing nothing more than kissing another person.

But kissing Angie is like coming home after the longest day. It's comfort and warmth.

And sweet. Even as ardent as Angie is, kneeling between Peggy's thighs and holding her close. With nails scratching at her scalp and teeth tugging at her lips. Even then she's sweet.

Wonderful.

God help Peggy she loves Angie Martinelli. In spite of all the very good reasons she shouldn't. In spite of how utterly impossible a relationship can be.

She loves her.

And not only desires her, but needs her.

Angie's kisses stop much like the flow of water down the side of a house after a rain. Her nose brushes against Peggy's before she opens her eyes and smiles at her.

She's still close. Her hand is still in Peggy's hair, but her fingers have relaxed and now just gently cup the back of her head. "There you are," she says. As if she's been searching for her. She darts in again for a quick reassuring kiss. "You know I'm here because I'm crazy about you don't you?"

Peggy swallows. Tries not to scan Angie's face to sort out if she's telling the truth and fails miserably.

One of Angie's hands has fallen onto Peggy's thigh and her thumb moves in lazy, confident circles. She watches her hand. Refuses to look at Peggy. "I've been spending so long really trying to not be. Reminding myself of how badly it could go. I kept telling myself we were a disaster English." She glances up and gives Peggy a sort of watery smile. "Then your husband calls and I come over here and accidentally watch you sleep for an hour and a half." With just a look she pleads with Peggy to understand. "And I think I could do that for the rest of my life."

She swallows. Her voice is quiet. "What are you saying Angie?"

"I'm saying disaster's a small price if I get to spend the rest of my days with you."

####

One day. Years later. Angie might regret what she said. Might consider disaster too high a price.

But that night she curls up naked in the arms of the woman she loves and listens to her heartbeat drum steadily and feels the rise and fall of her chest and thinks that disaster can try and wreck what she has.

But it'll have a helluva time doing it.

The End

Peggy and Angie and all the rest will return soon in part 3, The Man That Got Away.