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Agent Carter fic: Team Player (1/8)

December 10th, 2015 (11:49 am)
indifferent

feeling: indifferent

Title: Team Player

Disclaimer: I do not own Agent Carter.

A/N: Set post-S1 but written without any spoilers of the coming season. Fills my disappearing square for hc_bingo. This is painfully unbeta’ed, so I apologize to anyone who actually happens to read this.

Summary: This was what it meant to be part of a team, to know that the outcome was not solely yours, for better and for worse.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE
PART SIX
PART SEVEN
PART EIGHT



-o-

“I’m telling you,” Angie said. “I don’t even care if I work as a waitress for the rest of my life, as long as I’m living here.”

“Well, it’s not necessarily a permanent solution,” Peggy returned idly.

Angie stared at her, stopping mid-chew in her breakfast. “Are you serious?”

Peggy shrugged as nonchalant as possible. “We were told this was at our disposal as long as we needed--”

“And we need it,” Angie told her flatly. “Possibly forever, okay?”

Peggy couldn’t help but chuckle. “I don’t want to accrue too much of a debt--”

“To Howard Stark?” Angie asked. “You mean the man whose life you saved and whose honor your restored? Or are you talking about to the SSR and the American people since you basically stopped an insane madman--”

“As opposed to those sane mad men,” Peggy quipped.

Angie glared at her, picking up her glass of orange juice. “That’s not the point.”


“Oh?” Peggy asked.

“The point is, you can’t hide this stuff from me anymore,” Angie said. “You’re a hero and I know it. So, yeah, we’re going to stay here. Because you’ve earned it.”

Peggy raised her eyebrows, watching as Angie took a drink and helped herself to another piece of toast. “So we’re doing this for me?”

“Damn straight,” Angie said, smearing the surface with jelly.

“And the fact that you’re getting upscale living arrangements for free--”

Angie grinned. “Just icing on the cake.”

At that, Peggy pushed back from the table, rolling her eyes. “I’m so glad you’re looking out for my well being.”

“Anytime, English,” Angie said around a mouthful of food. “Oh, and hey--”

Peggy turned. “Yes?”

“Could you stop by and tell Mr. Fancypants that the faucet is still dripping?” Angie asked.

Peggy gave her a long suffering look. “His name is Mr. Jarvis--”

“All the more reason you should talk to him,” Angie said with a shrug. “Besides, I called him yesterday and didn’t get an answer.”

“Well, I suppose I can stop by Howard’s place on my way to work,” Peggy said.

“Thanks!” Angie said. “And if he could get it fixed by tonight--”

Peggy turned back again, giving her roommate an incredulous stare. “Angie!”

“What?” Angie said. “I’m just worried about their water bill!”

Trying to hide her bemusement, Peggy shook her head. “You are certainly are having no problems adjusting to a life of luxury.”

“Oh, I have problems,” Angie said. “Like how this place makes me never want to go to work at all--”

“We can fix that--”

“Don’t you even dare,” Angie threatened.

With a chuckle, Peggy turned to leave again. “See you tonight?”

“Oh, yes,” Angie said, around another mouthful. “You better believe it!”

-o-

As much as Peggy loved her mornings with Angie -- and Jarvis had not done justice to the power of al fresco dining -- she couldn’t deny that she looked forward to going into work. She had always been a dedicated public servant, all the way back before the war, and she’d always felt best about herself when readily engaged in productive and meaningful work.

That said, her time since the war had been somewhat less engaging. The work had been important, but her role in it had be frustratingly stymied. After all, she was thoroughly interested in catching criminals. She was far less interested in fetching coffee while her colleagues caught said criminals.

Even working as a double agent for Howard, while it had been thrilling and purposeful, had been unduly stressful. She had always been willing to go above and beyond for her job -- for the greater good -- but the level of subterfuge had taken its toll on her.

So now that her position at the SSR had been properly respected and her work for Howard was more or less over, work was quite possibly the highlight of her day.

With her breakfast dishes put away, she stopped back in her bathroom, putting on a fresh layer of lipstick and making sure her hair was acceptably coifed. Satisfied, she adjusted the belt on her dress and picked up her hat and bag before giving herself a smile in the mirror.

It wasn’t vanity. No, Peggy wasn’t concerned with her appearance, at least not how one might expect. Because she wasn’t the secretary anymore. She didn’t fetch coffee or take lunch orders or answer phones. No, when people called her Agent Carter, they meant it.

And Peggy would be damned if she didn’t look the part, too.

She’d earned this, after all. Adjusting her hat one last time, she figured she ought to enjoy it.

Not that it was all fun and games. To the contrary, Peggy had actual cases to work on that required actual expertise. This wasn’t about the honor, which Thompson had hoarded, or the affection, which Sousa seemed intent on giving her. It wasn’t even about the house, though seeing Angie so happy certainly made her life better. And if Peggy were being honest, which she did try to be, it was far easier to work out of a residence without a curfew, all things considered.

Besides, Howard owed her.

This was just the tip of the iceberg in that regard.

And it was nice not to hide it. She would be reluctant to admit it, but she was fond of Howard, and having her association with him more visible wasn’t problematic as far as she was concerned. Besides, it was the best way to keep him from doing anything else stupid with his utter genius.

More to the point, she didn’t mind seeing Jarvis from time to time either. With the full support of the SSR and its ample resources, she had far fewer reasons to be in contact with Howard’s butler, but Jarvis certainly hadn’t been a stranger since moving into Howard’s home. Indeed, Jarvis may have served primarily at Howard’s mansion, but as much as he handled Howard’s affairs in, well, everything, he was the one who kept a high level eye on every property, including the one Peggy and Angie were occupying.

Most of the time, Peggy tried to be an unobtrusive presence, but contacting Jarvis about broken windows, clogged chimneys and inadequate security was just too compelling to pass by. She might have backed off on some of the more minor issues that came up with the house, but it wasn’t hard to see how much Jarvis enjoyed hearing from her.

Oh, sure, he acted put out, and he always talked about the many things he was supposed to be doing, but that never stopped him from showing up whenever there was an issue or sounding truly delighted when she called.

It was Jarvis who had said, after all, that she needed to learn to accept help.

A leaky faucet might not have been what he had in mind, but that was far closer to Jarvis’ purview anyway.

All of which was to the point that stopping by Howard’s mansion would be a bit out of her way, but as she exited out the door and down to the street, she thought it would be to everyone’s benefit.

Including, she wasn’t ashamed to admit, her own.

-o-

She had lived in New York since the war ended, but it had never felt much like home. It had felt haunted, if she were honest, and she’d found herself wondering if Steve had ever been to the same place, seen the same sights. She had thought it would be a comfort, coming to New York, but it had just made it harder to let go.

In the past month, however, she’d made her peace with the city. Because it was as much a part of Steve as anything else, and once she could accept that he was gone, she could enjoy the fact that his legacy lived on here. It had never been about his blood. It had never even been about Captain America, and the symbol he had come to represent to the American people and the world.

It had been about a boy from Brooklyn, striving to make the world better, one bully at a time. Keeping the city safe, that was how she could honor Steve. And as long as there was integrity and justice in the streets, he would always be with her.

That was a legacy Peggy could live with. Moreover, it was the only legacy she wanted to live with. That alone was the reason why she wasn’t about to leave the SSR. Because New York was just as much a part of her as Steve was.

She had always been keen on public transit in the city, but with the stop at the mansion, Peggy hailed a cab instead. The ride was short and comfortable, and she asked the driver to wait while she jogged across the cobblestone drive and took the steps two at a time to knock on the door.

Rocking back on her heels expectantly, she straightened herself and bounced slightly. Anxious, she leaned forward and knocked again.

After a long moment, she leaned forward again, pressing her ear toward the door. She was surprised not to hear a sound.

Glancing around, she knew that Howard could very well be traveling -- business, pleasure or both, knowing him -- and at this hour, it was possible that Jarvis simply wasn’t at the main house just yet.

Curious, she glanced at her watch. With a wave to the cab driver, she asked for one more minute, moving quickly around toward the small house where Jarvis lived at the back of the property.

She had asked for a minute, but it took her a bit longer than that. Howard’s property wasn’t exactly small and it wasn’t exactly unsecured, either. Not that she had any problem with the security system, but it did take her a bit longer than she desired.

The moment she got close enough, she also knew her effort had been for nothing. The back house was dim with the curtains drawn. While this may not have been overtly suspicious in any other home, this was Jarvis. With the sun up, there was no way he’d have his home shut up in that manner unless he wasn’t there.

Even so, she’d come all this way. It was a risk, perhaps, knocking in case Anna was around, but even that was no longer exactly a secret.

Anxious, she knocked there, waiting hopefully for the telltale sound of movement within. She couldn’t help but notice that Howard’s main car was still there, parked nearby. Though, to be fair, Howard had many cars, and now that he wasn’t on the run anymore, he probably was enjoying using more of them.

Chewing her lip, she knocked again, but her suspicious had already been confirmed to her.

No one was home.

Not Anna Jarvis; not Edwin Jarvis.

That wouldn’t be unheard of, Peggy knew. Jarvis had vast responsibilities, and Anna surely had hobbies and interests of her own. They could be anywhere; they could be doing anything. Maybe they took a well earned vacation, though she highly would have expected to have heard about it.

That wasn’t the point, though.

The point was that Jarvis wasn’t home, which meant Peggy’s errand was in vain.

She would have to try calling later, or check back tomorrow. It was only a leaky faucet, after all. Even Angie, and her appreciation of finer things, would be okay with that.

With one last look through the darkened window, Peggy made her way back to the front of the property, slipping through security and back toward her waiting cab. Climbing inside, she smiled. “Seems like they’re not home after all.”

The driver looked at her through the mirror. “Kind of strange, don’t you think? Such a big house and not a single person home?”

“Not as strange as you’d think,” Peggy said, checking her purse and coat as the driver started to pull around the drive.

“But you’d think the maid would be there,” the driver said. “Or even the butler!”

“Well,” Peggy said. “Even butlers have things to do sometimes.”

The driver chuckled. “I guess you’re right, ma’am,” he said. “What was that address again?”

Peggy supplied the downtown address to the SSR building and settled herself back, giving the house one last look.

Besides, if empty houses and leaky faucets were the biggest issues of the day, then there wasn’t anything to truly worry about at all.

-o-

By the time Peggy arrived at work, she had her mind on other things. Because while she enjoyed Angie’s company and she took pleasure in finding new reasons to bother Jarvis, the SSR -- her job -- would always be her absolute favorite thing.

For the first time since the war, she could walk into the office and truly love what she did.

Needless to say, that was a heady feeling.

It was a good feeling.

Walking inside, she smiled at the women at the switchboard, making her way neatly through security and into the back room.

In truth, it had never been the derision or the eye rolls that had bothered her before. It had been the fact that no one had seen her at all. They’d simply looked past her, as if she was a nonentity.

She wasn’t foolish enough to trust any of her colleagues as friends. Not after the way she’d been treated. But she couldn’t deny some satisfaction at being treated like a professional. From shop talk to polite chitchat, Peggy would never be one of the guys.

But she was, finally, an agent.

At least, she wouldn’t trust most of them as a friend.

Daniel Sousa, however.

Well, that might just be a different story.

He was watching her as she approached, though he made an admirable effort of appearing nonchalant about it. Setting her bag down, she offered him a warm smile. “Good morning,” she said.

With due attention, he pretended to be enthralled in his paperwork. “Good morning, Agent Carter.”

Settling down, Peggy matched his tone as best she could. He hadn’t asked her out again, but his demeanor had grown increasingly confident around her. She wasn’t sure exactly what to make of it, because she wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to make of it. She’d never had much time for relationships, and after Steve, it had been too hard anyway.

But things were different now. Rather, she was different. Now there was Howard and Jarvis and Angie.

And quite possibly, Daniel Sousa.

“And how are you this fine day?” Peggy asked, starting to go through the fresh papers on her desk.

“Oh, you know,” Daniel said with an affected shrug. He looks at her with a smile. “Another day of fighting crime.” He paused, as if trying not to appear too anxious. “How about you?”

“I’d say the same, I suppose,” she said, glancing over the paperwork. “But I can’t seem to catch anything interesting right now.”

Daniel snorted a laugh. “After playing double agent for Howard Stark and stopping a massive attack on New York, I think everything’s going to seem a little dull to you.”

She gave him a withering look. “I’m afraid all my leads on our female accomplice have dried up,” she said, putting her papers back down. “And there’s no indication that our crazy scientist had any other associates in the United States.”

“That’s a good thing, isn’t it?” Daniel asked, eyebrows up. “Less crime is generally what we’re looking for.”

“Just because we don’t know about it, doesn’t mean it’s not there,” Peggy said. “I have never believed that ignorance is a policy well suited for anyone.”

“Well, if there’s something out there to find, you’ll find it,” Daniel said, attention back on his work now.

“Oh?” Peggy asked. “What makes you so sure?”

Daniel looked up. “Because I’ve seen you in action, Agent Carter,” he said. “There’s nothing you can’t do.”

It was a compliment, and not just one intended to flatter her.

It was a compliment long in coming, one she had earned.

And one, she had to admit, that would never grow old to her.

She didn’t need the approval of others, but she couldn’t deny that it still felt pretty good.

Before she could come up with an acceptably appreciative and reciprocal reply, however, Jack Thompson showed up.

He had a habit of that, anymore. Since Chief Dooley’s death, Jack had become the poster boy for the SSR. He was well suited for such a position, and Jack certainly had no qualms with taking credit where it was due, and even where it wasn’t.

It would be easy to resent Jack for that, but somehow she couldn’t quite muster up a hearty dose of it in his direction. Because, while Jack Thompson was an egotistical pain in the ass, he was also quite aware whose thunder he was stealing. He wasn’t taking credit for Peggy’s work blindly. Indeed, he knew it was Peggy’s credit, or he wouldn’t feel he had to steal it at all.

Sure, it meant Jack Thompson would never be her friend.

He was, however, her equal and for the first time since joining the SSR, the other agent was at least aware of that.

“Carter, Sousa,” Thompson barked. “See me in the conference room.”

“Do we need anything--” Daniel started.

“I would have told you if you did,” Thompson said, already moving away.

Daniel looked at Peggy, the question in his eyes.

Peggy shrugged. “I don’t have a clue.”

Daniel made a face. “As if I needed more reasons to hate Thompson,” he muttered, reaching for his cane. “Now he has to be my boss, too.”

“Oh, cheer up,” Peggy said, pushing her chair back and pressing her dress flat as she got to her feet. “Another day of fighting crime, like you said.”

Daniel rolled his eyes, following after her. “Whose side are you on, anyway?”

Peggy cast him an innocent glance. “Why, Agent Sousa,” she said, the corners of her mouth upturned salaciously. “The side of justice, of course.”

-o-

In the wake of Leviathan, Jack Thompson was clear-headed, organized, to the point and nearly insufferable. His bold audacity almost impressed her. His ability to continue on as though he wasn’t the most selfish human being in the room was nothing short of spectacular. If he weren’t so good at his job, she wouldn’t even give him the time of day.

As it was, however, Jack was exceptionally good at his job. As Chief Dooley’s replacement, Jack served the roll well. As it turned out, being a good person was not a prerequisite to being a capable leader.

“So,” Jack said, slapping a file down on the table before sitting down. “How are my two favorite agents?”

Peggy gave Daniel a discerning look. Daniel shrugged, and made his way to the nearest chair. “Depends,” he said. “Because it feels like we’re being called into the principal’s office.”

Peggy followed, taking the next chair.

Jack rocked back a little bit, smiling. “Come on,” he said. “This isn’t even my office.”

“Still,” Daniel said. “Just the two of us?”

“Discretion,” Jack said. “Goes with the territory sometimes.”

Peggy glanced with interest at the file. “Discretion with what?”

Following her gaze, Jack flipped open the file before reclining back again, giving Peggy and Daniel a good, long look.

It didn’t take more than a second for Peggy to recognize it. “That’s Howard Stark.”

“That’s quite observant, Agent Carter,” Jack said, a little derisively.

She gave him a look.

Daniel had his brow furrowed. “You think there’s something going on with him?”

Focused on the case again, Jack nodded. “We’ve had an uptick in the chatter,” he explained. “One day, and I think it’s coincidence. But we’re going on three days now--”

Peggy shook her head. “We always have chatter on Howard.”

“Not like this,” Jack said, flipping over to a fresh page of notes.

Prepared to be indignant, Peggy found the emotion hard to come by. If not for Jack’s natural off putting personality, she might have found the evidence compelling.

Based on the people involved -- high level criminals -- and the price points being talked about -- something even Howard would consider a bit more than pocket change.

Still, this was Howard Stark. Everyone wanted to be him, date him or kill him. Sometimes all at once. She couldn’t understand his reasons. There were times when he called it genius but she saw it for insanity.

Even so, he wasn’t a bad man.

Not at the very heart of things.

“You can’t possibly think he’s a problem again,” she said, looking at him across the table. “Can you?”

For his part, Jack seemed unfazed by her incredulity. “Can you honestly tell me he’s probably not up to something?”

She resisted the strong urge to roll her eyes. “Of course he’s up to something,” she said. “But I would have thought after your last encounter with him, you’d be convinced that it was something in favor of your national security.”

“He wasn’t the bad guy before,” Daniel said. “But a lot of that mess was still his fault.”

She cast him an annoyed look. “If there was a problem, he wouldn’t make the same mistakes again,” she said.

“Well, that’s one reason why you’re here,” Jack said, looking at her expectantly.

She lifted her brows. “You think I know something?”

Jack shrugged coolly. “You can’t say it’s an unreasonable question.”

Indeed, she could not. After playing double agent, her colleagues had every right to suspect her. In fact, she could deny a certain pleasure in the question now. Because they didn’t doubt her because she was a woman.

They doubted her because she’d done such a fabulous job of duping them before.

That didn’t change the simple fact that she hadn’t heard from Howard in weeks.

“The last I saw him, he wanted to get back to business,” she said. “He had an idea for some heat ray that could melt tanks, but that was several weeks ago.”

“So nothing that would explain this,” Jack said, pointing to the intel again.

With a frown, Peggy flipped to the next page.

“I mean, there’s something here,” Jack said. “Multiple sources over several days. That’s a hell of a coincidence.”

He was right. The verified sources all contained the same basic information, suggesting that there was a sale going down -- and soon. Based on the buyer and the price point, suspicion was only natural.

“I don’t know,” she said, chewing her lip. “That price point -- it’s higher than anything he’s sold before. It’s far above what we saw when his inventions were on the black market.”

“So maybe it’s his new toy?” Daniel suggested.

“A heat ray might be useful, but I’m not sure it’d fetch that sort of price,” Peggy said.

“Unless it’s not a heat ray,” Daniel said.

Jack inclined his head, as if that’d been the point he’d wanted to make from the beginning.

“He wouldn’t be selling to a third party,” Peggy said. “Surely we all know that by now.”

“Then how do you explain this?” Jack said, nodding at the paperwork again.

Peggy sat back, uncertain.

“We nearly had to shoot him out of the sky last time,” Jack said. “I don’t care if he’s got a heart of gold -- sometimes gold melts.”

“But it was a month ago,” Peggy reminded them. “Assuming he does have something to do with this, to think that he’d be so foolish as to turn around in that amount of time--”

“He’s confident enough,” Daniel said.

“And full of himself,” Jack agreed.

Peggy found herself scoffing. “This is far too obvious to be his style anyway,” she said. “There’s no way Howard Stark is orchestrating something like this.”

“Hey, we’re just going with what we have,” Jack said.

“You have to admit, Peg,” Daniel said, a bit more gently. “It’s fairly suspicious.”

She straightened, folding her hands neatly on the tabletop. “You know, there is an easier way than base conjecture,” she said. “We should just ask him.

Jack rocked back in his chair again, smiling widely once more. “Well, Agent Carter,” he said. “Why do you think you’re really here?”


-o-

So, here she was.

Back to making phone calls.

In some regards, Peggy found this annoying.

After all, hadn’t she risked enough getting beyond this point? Picking up phones and trying to prove Howard Stark wasn’t an enemy of the state?

In other regards, though, she had to admit, she was the only person well suited for this job. Howard Stark was no longer on bad terms with the SSR, but it wasn’t exactly hard to see that they didn’t like him. Moreover, Howard didn’t exactly like them, which meant Peggy was the only person able to see rationally enough to prevent conflict between America’s leading intelligence unit and the world’s most stupidly progressive inventor.

Someone needed to make a radio program about that -- it would be far less annoying than the Captain America drivel, though she hated to think what her character would be forced to endure in terms of attention from Howard.

It was all just as well that most of this was need-to-know.

However, to be fair, she needed to know it first before any of it could be deemed classified.

Of course, it would only be her luck that the one time she wanted to be in charge of the phones, no one was answering.

She tried all of Howard’s official numbers at all his known residences. When none of those proved the least bit useful, she tried his private numbers -- the ones he’d given to her in case of emergency.

Yet, every answer was the same. Howard Stark was indisposed at the moment, could they take a message?

And to make matters worse, the only phones that didn’t get answered at all were at the main house and at Jarvis’ residence. Which made her task all the more infuriating.

Hanging up the phone from her latest call, she checked another number off her less with a scowl. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Daniel come back in, sighing as he sat down at his desk, rotating back to look at her.

“You look like you’re having fun,” he commented.

She threw down her pencil. “Howard’s not answering his phone.”

“Well, he probably has more than one,” Daniel offered.

“And he’s not answering any of them,” she said.


“Ah,” Daniel said. “I wish I could say I’m surprised--”

She narrowed her gaze, lips coming together. “Not you, too.”

Daniel shrugged disarmingly. “I’m just saying he has a roundabout way of doing the right thing,” he said. “And if not for you--”

“Well, we all need a little help from time to time,” Peggy countered abruptly.

“Like you?” Daniel asked, eyebrows up. “When was the last time you willingly took help from anyone around here?”

She adjusted her posture, trying not to appear so obviously cornered by his observation. “Do you have something to offer?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” Daniel said, holding up the paper from his desk. “I was tracking a few of the names related to the information we gathered.”

Peggy sat forward with new interest.

“And I have a few leads I might follow up on,” he said.

“Oh?” she asked.

Daniel put the papers back down. “Now look who wants to play nice.”

“After all your talk about teamwork--”

“This is a two-way street!” Daniel protested.

She considered using her feminine wiles to get what she wanted. No doubt, on Sousa it would be quite effective.

But unnecessary.

She gathered a breath with a practical shrug. “This will go faster if we split up your list and work separately,” she said.

Daniel looked doubtful.

“And then we can get back to real cases,” she said.

“You still think this isn’t real?” Daniel asked.

She huffed somewhat, getting to her feet and moving toward his desk. “If it is real, I promise to drag Howard Stark in here myself,” she said. “And we won’t need Thompson’s aggressive interrogation techniques, because I’ll have him talking before Jack can even crack his knuckles.”

At that, Daniel grinned. “Is it bad that I sort of want to see that?”

She reached for the paper, plucking it off the top. “You really do hate Howard Stark, don’t you?”

Daniel shrugged one shoulder. “Among other things.”

Peggy refused to indulge what those other things might be. Instead, she looked at the list. “So what do you say?” she asked. “I’ll take the first three, and you can do the final three?”

Daniel sighed, shaking his head in bemused resignation. “I don’t suppose there’s much point in arguing.”

“Not really,” she said. “If it’s any consolation, I bet we’re both done by lunch. Meet me back here, and it’ll be my treat.”

“You know that’s not really how it’s supposed to go,” Daniel started.

“Oh, please,” she said, copying down the information for herself. “I’m just trying to make another case of tracking Howard Stark less frustrating -- for you and the SSR.”

“And it’s a picnic for you?” Daniel asked.

Peggy neatly folded her copy of the addresses with a smile. “After what happened last time, I figure this is the least I can do,” she said.

Daniel let out a low breath. “You’re something else, Agent Carter.”

She gave him a cheeky grin. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“No, no,” Daniel said. “I really don’t.”

“Good,” she said, brightening. “See you back here for lunch, then.”

“It’s a date,” Daniel agreed.

Peggy arched an eyebrow.

“A professional date,” Daniel amended quickly. “You know what I--”

Peggy did her best not to smile. Sometimes, it was entirely too easy. “Certainly,” she said. “Until then, Agent Sousa.”

She dipped her head and grabbed her purse before heading toward the door. It was a strange thing, to have the attention of a man again. Professionally and possibly something more. She wasn’t sure she was ready for that; she wasn’t even sure that was what she wanted.

But it certainly was an interesting prospect.

She wouldn’t take the risk with most men. Outside the SSR, there were few who respected her. Howard Stark was far too difficult to deal with, and Edwin Jarvis was far too married to even think about. She wouldn’t risk it with any of her other colleagues at the SSR -- it would likely undo whatever work she had done to gain credence in their eyes -- but there was something about Daniel.

Something she had recognized in Steve, long before he’d become Captain America.

Something she recognized in herself, when she’d been nothing but a little girl who refused to believe that finding a man would be her only purpose in life.

The desire to fight for what mattered, all the harder against the odds.

He would make a good friend, at any rate.

Now that she was finally at a place where friendship was something that she would allow herself to have.

Glancing back, she wasn’t surprised to find him looking at her. He turned his eyes away hurried, cheeks turning red in obvious embarrassment.

She smiled to herself, resuming her course out the door.

It was a whole new world for Agent Carter. With her new home, with the SSR’s confidence, with Angie, with Daniel.

For the first time in what seemed like years, things were finally looking up.

-o-

Things were looking up in most ways.

In terms of this latest case, things weren’t looking up at all. Not that they were looking down. It was just that they weren’t looking anywhere.

Three leads and none of them could tell her anything. Within an hour, she had cross checked every name and address on Sousa’s list, and all she could confirm was that no one wanted to confirm anything.

It wasn’t entirely unexpected. These sources were all ones with ties to less than reputable people. If it was information divulged under duress or gleaned in questionable ways, there were few instances where criminals wanted to actively talk about their own criminality, even tangentially. More to the point, none of them seemed like viable sources for anything related to Howard. They were too small and entirely too stupid. If Howard was involved in something, it would cause far bigger ripples than this.

That said, she had no doubt that somebody knew something. This intelligence didn’t appear from nowhere, and while she doubted its authenticity, if someone was taking the time and effort to drop Howard’s name into the mix, then it was something of importance.

Unfortunately, every last business man she met that day, reputable or not, was giving her the same brush off. While she could play to their masculine weakness, Peggy was not so inclined to play that game.

Not when there was another avenue of information to pursue.

One that no one would see as a risk, because, like herself, no one saw it at all.

“You can make an appointment, still,” the secretary offered when the last door closed in Peggy’s face.

Peggy studied the woman carefully. She was young -- younger than Peggy, at any rate -- and quite attractive with full lips painted red and black curls buffeted around her rounded cheeks. Her desk was neatly organized and sparsely decorated, although she did see a copy of a current magazine tucked discretely at the bottom of her paperwork.

“Ma’am?” the girl asked expectantly. “Do you want to make an appointment?”

Peggy came back to herself and smiled in her most friendly fashion. “I don’t suppose there’s much point in that.”

The woman gave her an absent nod, and Peggy took her chance.

“Honestly, if they knew why I was here, they’d throw me out anyway,” Peggy said, her voice hushed now as she leaned in.

The girl raised her eyebrows, not sure what to say.

Peggy leaned in closer. “I’m a journalist, you see,” she said. “Following a lead on Howard Stark.”

This was her gambit, based on her general understanding of this girl at a glance and her knowledge of Howard Stark’s supposedly irresistible appeal.

The girl’s eyes widened, and she sat up straighter. “Howard Stark?”

Peggy nodded. “I had a tip that he was set to do business here,” she said with a careful, surreptitious glance to the closed office door she had just been denied access to.”

“And why should it matter?” the girl asked, eyes wider still. “Howard Stark does business all over the place.”

“Because it’s Howard Stark!” Peggy said, adding just enough inflection to make herself cringe inwardly. “Nothing is ever just business for him.”

The girl’s eyes lit up, a smile pulling at her lips as she glanced backward nervously. “He is amazing, isn’t it?” she asked. “That press conference last month -- when he was honored so heroically and then almost died. I couldn’t sleep for a week, I couldn’t.”

Just Peggy’s luck. The girl was an avid fan. Peggy could only hope that she never had the misfortune of meeting Howard and finding out the truth.

Still, in her time serving as a double agent, she had done less auspicious things than play on some girl’s ridiculous infatuation with Howard.

Some things.

But not many.

Wetting her lips, Peggy sat down hastily in the chair across the desk. “I know!” she said. “That’s why I’m hoping to get fresh photos. Something candid, maybe. The news cycle is definitely ready for another blast.”

The girl let out a half-suppressed giggle. “I’m ready, too!” she said, before stopping herself abruptly and collecting herself. She adjusted her hair primly and sat back as nonchalantly as possible. She tried not to look too anxious, but was only marginally successful. “So you think you can do it?”

“Get the photos?” Peggy asked.

The girl nodded.

“Well,” Peggy said, sitting back herself this time. She had dangled the bait, and now it was time to try reeling it in. “That’s why I wanted to know if Howard Stark really was slated to do business here.”

The girl glanced back, more nervous than before. “Look, I can tell you, he’s not going to be here,” she said.

“But…?” Peggy ventured expectantly.

“But here isn’t really where the big deals go down,” the girl said. She cast a nervous eye about again before flipping through the address book on her desk. “I really shouldn’t tell you this--”

“I’m not interested in anything to do with your bosses or your business,” Peggy promised her.

“So this would all be, I don’t know, off the record?” she asked.

“This is about Howard Stark,” Peggy said. “No one actually cares about business.”

The girl visibly relaxed and turned to one final page before picking up a pencil and a piece of paper from her notepad. She wrote quickly, tearing off the sheet and handing it to Peggy hastily before closing the address book as quickly as she’d opened it. “There,” she said, sounding both relieved and proud.

Peggy looked at the paper, noting the address. “And this is--?”

“If Howard Stark is going to do business with anyone here, that’s where it’s going to be,” she said confidently.

“You’re positive?” Peggy asked.

The girl huffed. “Yeah,” she said. “Trust me.”

Peggy smiled warmly, folding the paper and slipping it into her purse. “Thank you,” she said, getting to her feet.

“No, really, thank you,” the girl said. “I’m pretty sure this is a public service!”

Peggy did her best to laugh. “Yes,” she agreed. “I’m quite certain it is.”

-o-

Although Peggy was quite glad to be more active in the field, she had to admit she had grown far too used to Jarvis’ role as chauffeur. True, she had bristled against his constant need to meddle in her investigations, but having a car at her disposal had been particularly useful.

Even if Jarvis’ insistence on opening her door for her had made her attempts to be discrete nearly impossible.

Her only consolation as she criss-crossed her way across the city by herself was that Jarvis was probably missing it more than she missed him. For as much as he talked about pot roasts and freshly pressed linens, Jarvis had been a far too willing man of action.

Albeit, not an exceptionally nuanced one.

All that aside, Peggy was able to get to the address in decent time. She had a cab drop her off a few blocks away, in a small business sector that quickly gave way to warehouses. She hadn’t asked the cab to wait, and she made sure to note the number of taxis on the street for when she needed a ride back.

She scaled the rest of the distance on foot, though she slowed her pace to dampen the sound of her heels on the pavement. It wasn’t hard to find, though distinguishing one dingy building from the next was somewhat easier said than done. The area was quiet with the distant sound of construction in the distance but not a soul in sight.

Checking her watch, she noted that she had a good half hour to investigate before heading back to the SSR headquarters for her lunch with Daniel.

She glanced up at the building in front of her. It looked ominous, truthfully. Which only made her feel more confident that this lead, wayward though it may be, might just pay off.

It was hard to say what excited her more: lunch or the lead.

Smiling to herself as she started toward the building, she took comfort in the fact that Daniel, at the very least, would never make her pick.

-o-

The place was locked, but it was also seemingly unoccupied. That was a bit curious to Peggy. Although if this was a criminal branch of a legitimate business, it might serve to reason that it only operated after hours.

At any rate, there was only one real way to find out.

Picking the lock wasn’t overly hard, and since she had no legitimate cover or way to disguise herself, she opted for speed instead. The burst of adrenaline took her all the way inside, where she drew refuge in the shadows of the main room, taking a moment to catch her breath and gather her bearings.

The building was as quiet inside as it was out, and the large open space was clearly a warehouse. With large doors on the back end, it seemed like a logical place for shipping and receiving. There were several darkened offices near the far portion of the buildings, and she made out several smaller storage closets not far from where she was.

In all, it was smaller than she would have expected, but given the vast volume of items stored there, she could only assume it was an active site.

Once she was thoroughly convinced that it was relatively safe to move from her cover, she started toward the nearest rack. It was substantially taller than she was, but the crates on the lower shelves were easy enough to see.

She wasn’t sure what she had been expecting, so at first, it was hard to tell if anything was out of the ordinary. Her research on the business had suggested a wide range of technology, which meant there might be a range of products expected in any storage facility. She looked at the information on the first box, noting several rows containing the same information. Making her way farther inward, the identification changed.

Inside the crates, she couldn’t make heads or tails of what she was seeing. But as she moved from one item to the next, she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something of note.

She frowned, looking at the latest label.

Product 2286, VanDenBosch.

She knew that name.

She knew that name.

Carl VanDenBosch, one of Howard’s competitors. At least, VanDenBosch considered himself a competitor, she highly doubt Howard gave the man a second thought, but still--

VanDenBosch could be a coincidence.

She mentally catalogued the other names.

Product 3847, Tyvelt.

Product 5877, Sharon.

Product 1289, Kilty.

Ross Tyvelt; Morgan Sharon; Johan Kilty.

All weapons developers. She’d investigated every last one of them while trying to figure out who had broken into Howard’s vault. They’d all been clean, ultimately, which didn’t explain why all of their products were here.

It was possible that this wasn’t as illicit as she might have believed; maybe this was all legitimately purchased material set for legitimate buyers.

Set on finding out more, she wrenched off one of the lids, sifting through the contents. Advanced weaponry was not her area of expertise, but she had worked long enough in the war effort and Howard Stark was someone she considered a friend. She wasn’t an expert, but she wasn’t a novice either.

The boxes were nondescript from the outside, but she quickly realized they were full of things that had no business being stored in a poorly secured warehouse. Guns, ammunition, grenades.

Concerned, she turned one of the automatic pistols in her hand, noting its shape and weight. It was designed to be powerful, she could tell, but the craftsmanship was spotty.

Looking closer, she could see the welding marks, sloppy and visible.

The clients she’d recognized weren’t at the level of Howard Stark, but neither were they low level dealers. Many of them had supplied for the United States military, and no matter how Howard felt about most of these companies, Peggy knew they weren’t noted for slipshod production.

Which was what was here.

It wasn’t just one box either. Each box showed signs of cheap, mass produced weapons. In short, these were knockoffs.

Putting the lid back on the latest crate, she stopped to consider this development. This wasn’t what she’d expected, and it was possible that such business would be reasonably relegated to lesser known locations by request of the original manufacturer. Or, Peggy could only imagine, it was possible that these were illegally duplicated.

And most of all, there was no way at all Howard would have anything to do with any of this. Howard sold products, but not his ideas, and there was no price anyone would pay that would get him to consent to this.

That couldn’t stop someone from asking, which would explain the intelligence. It could be that the SSR’s intelligence was fumbled a bit; that Howard wasn’t paying a price but being offered a price. It would certainly explain the entire situation, and since she did not doubt that Howard would be offended by any such offer, there would be no problem at all.

In short, it was entirely likely that there was no case whatsoever and that Thompson was nothing but paranoid.

Of course, paranoia wasn’t altogether a bad thing.

Peggy glanced around with renewed awareness of her own situation. She was, after all, technically breaking and entering in what could be a moderately criminal area. Paranoia would serve her well in a case such as this.

But not in regards to Howard.

Howard would have no business here.

Therefore, Peggy had no business here.

Checking her watch, she smiled to herself.

Still plenty of time to make it for lunch.

-o-

Peggy was right on time, but Daniel was late. She took the liberty of picking up something for them both. One advantage of playing office runner all those years was that she knew what he liked. This way, he could argue that she was footing the bill.

Besides, she rather liked being first.

And the look on Daniel’s face…

Made all her hard work even more worthwhile.

With a sigh, he came to his desk, putting his crutch aside as he sat down heavily. His sandwich was already out on his desk, and Peggy grinned at him.

“I thought you were done getting lunches for everyone,” Daniel said, inspecting his sandwich with some interest.

“I had a little extra time, so I figured why not,” Peggy said with a shrug as she took a bite of her own sandwich.

Daniel chuckled. “Did you do any real work this morning?”

“Three leads, all checked out,” she said breezily. “How about you?”

Settling back on his chair and turning back toward her, Daniel picked up his sandwich. “Three leads checked out, but I didn’t learn anything,” he said. “No one wanted to say anything.. Not about business; not about Howard Stark.”

Peggy gave a diffident shrug. “Maybe you were just talking to the wrong people.”

He swallowed his first bite, looking at her critically. “Are you saying got something?”

“Something might be a generous term,” Peggy said. “Since I don’t think Howard has anything to do with any of this.”

Sousa’s expression deepened, away from the lunchtime banter to the particular of their case. “Why do you think that?”

“I found a warehouse of weapon knockoffs,” she said. “Enough to start an investigation in its own right, just to be sure, but there’s no way Howard’s involved with something like that.”

“He does like to make a buck,” Daniel said.

She gave him a plaintive look. “Please, like he needs any more money,” she said. “No, it’s a matter of pride for him. Even if he was looking to sell some of his technology -- which, he’s not, for the record -- there is no way he’d sell it to someone who would mass produce it so shoddily. That’s not his style, and you know it almost as well as I do.”

Daniel chewed, looking almost disappointed. “You’re probably right,” he said. “And if it’s a low tier arms operation, they could be looking to shore up their reputation. Dropping Stark’s name--”

“Would have quite the effect,” Peggy said. “Which would explain the sudden increase in chatter.”

Daniel nodded in agreement. “Though, we still need to check it out,” he said. “Did you have an address on that warehouse?”

“Yes,” Peggy said, picking up the slip of paper off her desk. “You want to follow up on it?”

“Seems like I’ve got nothing better to do this afternoon,” Daniel said before taking another bite. Around the meat and lettuce, he nodded at her. “What about you?”

“Well, like you said,” Peggy said. “We should still check everything out.”

“Stark?” Daniel asked.

“It can’t hurt to talk to him, just to be sure,” Peggy said. “He’d like to know his name is being used anyway.”

“You doing this for him or for us?” Daniel asked, only half joking.

“If it serves both purposes--”

“Ah,” Daniel said. “Well, just don’t forget your loyalties, Agent Carter.”

She didn’t quite roll her eyes, but she tossed her hair in airy condescension. “You forget, I never have.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. He averted his gaze ever so slightly. “You just always seem pretty intent when it comes to Howard Stark.”

She narrowed her eyes, tilting her head just a little. “With someone like Howard, you have to be,” she reminded him. “Unless you’ve forgotten what happened last time.”

“Oh, no,” Daniel said. “That’s my point.”

“Funny,” Peggy said, more cheekily now. “Mine, too.”

“Well, then,” Daniel said, lifting his sandwich once again. “What do you say, since you bought lunch, I pick up dinner?”

Peggy didn’t blush, but she smiled in apology. “Daniel--”

He held up his hand. “I know, I know,” he said. “Another time.”

“I mean it,” she said earnestly.

He nodded. “It’d be easier to believe if I didn’t know how good of a liar you are.”

“Why would I lie about this?” she asked, although the moment she asked it, she knew it wasn’t the right thing to say. She sighed. “I just need some time, is all.”

“Time for what?” Daniel asked.

Time to live; time to breathe. Time to not look out at the river and wonder if Steve’s blood was still running through it, making its way to the sea. Time to wonder if she could ever think about moving on, if she could ever imagine herself with a man who made her feel like he did. It was a dangerous thing, falling in love. She had never been afraid of anything, and she wasn’t one to back away from a fight, but she wasn’t Steve.

Some fights, she’d accepted, just weren’t worth the licks.

She needed time to figure out if this one was.

“Just time,” she said finally. “Please.”

It wasn’t much of an answer, but it was an honest one, even if not entirely truthful. She had more in common with Jarvis than she thought.

Fortunately for her, Daniel Sousa was as good natured as Anna Jarvis in such matters.

“Okay,” he said. “But, just so we’re clear, that’s not a no.”

“That’s definitely not a no,” she said.

“So, if I keep asking,” he ventured. “That’s not a bad thing?”

“Definitely not,” she said. “In fact, I have always found that persistence is one of the most noble qualities in a person. It is, at the very least, the most productive.”

Daniel’s lips turned up. “That’s good to know,” he said.

She smiled back, inclining her head mischievously. “Very good, indeed.”