Spoilers & Desirable Foreknowledge: Marvel’s Agent Carter.
Characters & Relationships: Peggy x Colleen
Summary: There comes a time in every SSR agent’s life when the phone company excuse just doesn’t cut it anymore. For Peggy, that turns out to be Christmastime. // ... words
Author’s Note: Enjoy!
Have Yourself (Be Yourself)
Peggy had forgotten what had led her to ask such a stupid, stupid question the moment Colleen answered it with a grimace and:
"No... not this year. They’re, uh... they’re all dead now."
"Oh god, Colleen, I’m so sorry. I had no idea," Peggy had immediately said, wishing the carpet would swallow her.
"It’s okay," Colleen had answered with a smile, because that was just the kind of person she was. "Our parents died a long time ago, and Patrick... he went with honor."
But the damage had been done, and Colleen’s confession had brought Peggy’s own myriad griefs right back to the surface, and they had spent the rest of the evening talking only about Patrick and Michael, and Steve, and Sergeant Barnes, and so many other good men now gone.
So much for Peggy’s Very Smooth attempt at securing a Christmas date with her kissable roommate, in other words.
So when, two days later, Chief Dooley said there had been a breakthrough in the case (she’d heard, she was there, thankyouverymuch), and they were planning a sting on Christmas Eve when even crooks would least expect it, and all the boys from the night shift would be needed because they were thinly staffed over Christmas as it was, so could Peggy please pitch in all day and man the phones for the night? – the overtime pay would of course be adjusted according to the occasion – Peggy inwardly rolled her eyes, made an admittedly lackluster offer to put Gladys ‘Humbug’ Johansson on phone duty and join the mission herself to free up Agent Sousa, who still hadn’t found the time to pack for his transfer to L.A. because the holiday season staffing situation was so dire and he was too nice and conscientious to say no, but ultimately accepted.
She’d use the extra cash to buy Colleen that expensive perfume they’d tried out at Tiffany’s for Boxing Day. They had Boxing Day here in America, right? Oh well, they would now.
Cue two days after that, when Colleen said, quite out of the blue:
"Hey Peg, you never said – are you doing anything Christmas Eve? Because I know your folks are overseas, and I thought maybe if you weren’t otherwise engaged, you and I could make some plans? Just the two of us?"
She had that look in her eyes that gave Peggy so much hope that the two of them were on the same wavelength about each other. She was biting her lip and fluttering her eyelashes, for crying out loud.
And Peggy wished, once again, that the carpet would just swallow her whole and spit only her shoes back out. Her shoes, at least, were both nice and sensible. Colleen had helped pick them out. Colleen could stuff some newspaper in the toes to compensate for the size difference and they’d suit her so much better than Peggy herself ever could.
Stupid stupid stupid stupid!
"I’ve got a double shift that day," Peggy said, numbly. "I – I’ll be working."
Colleen frowned. "You can’t mean all day?"
"All day and night."
"On Christmas?!" Colleen exclaimed, dismayed. "Peg..."
"The phone company can’t just close down on Christmas," Peggy lied miserably. "And everybody who could has already secured their free days. They put in the requests months ago, I didn’t even think of it –"
"What kind of work could possibly so important on Christmas Eve?"
"People like to wish their loved ones Merry Christmas in person," Peggy answered smoothly, if not happily. It had been months since she’d last hesitated or threatened to break character.
Peggy Carter, British expatriate and almost war widow, worked at the New York Bell phone company. Her bosses were unreasonable maniacs who demanded insane hours, and with few (soon to be even fewer) exceptions, her male coworkers were pigs. The stairs to the lady’s room were a bona fide health hazard, and Peggy had tripped and fallen down more than once.
The Peggy Carter Colleen thought she knew was a lie.
"I see. Okay, I understand," Colleen said, averting her eyes. It was a transparent lie. She was clearly hurt and upset.
Colleen didn’t have Peggy’s training in hiding it.
But then she visibly braced herself, squaring her shoulders and pasting her smile back on, and looked Peggy in the eye for another moment more to say: "You’re right, people should get to call each other if they can’t be there in person. That’s important work. And I’m sure the other girls will help bring the cheer into the office. Good luck, Peg."
Sometimes (just sometimes) Peggy wondered what people like Steve and Colleen saw in her.
Or Daniel, for that matter. The cup of coffee he put down in front of her the next day startled her so much she almost knocked it off her desk.
"Careful, I’m not making that lap again for a refill," he said, the cheeky bastard.
"Oh, sorry." Flustered, she tried to brush back a lock of hair and only succeeded in almost dislodging the pin holding it in place. "Thank you."
Daniel sat down on the edge of her desk. "What’s got you so down?"
Peggy made a ‘who, me?’ face at him, and he made a ‘yes, you’ face back.
She sighed. "You know I accepted the phone shift during the sting operation?"
"Yeah, you said."
"Turns out in doing so I abandoned someone very dear to me to a Christmas spent with only the ghosts of her dead family for company. And the only excuse I could give her was the bloody phone company."
Daniel grimaced sympathetically. "This the roommate you mentioned?"
"Why don’t you just tell her? Yeah, it makes things awkward at the dinner table – ‘so, what did you do today, honey?’ ‘oh, that’s classified, sorry darling’ – but we are allowed to tell civilians the basic gist of the job."
"No, you men are allowed," Peggy huffed. "They made us sign contracts saying we would resign in advance of telling potential husbands anything whatsoever. They think we can’t be trusted to maintain confidentiality in the face of marriage."
"Oh shoot, you’re right, I forgot. Sorry," Daniel said with a wince. But then he forged on with: "She’s not a potential husband though, now is she?"
Peggy stared. In another life, she thought – if Daniel had not been bound for Los Angeles from the day she met him, if not for Colleen – she might have kissed that crooked smile off his face one day.
"No," Peggy said, smiling back slowly. "No, she is not."
"You’re welcome," Daniel said with a wink, and limped away. "Enjoy the coffee."
"Daniel," Peggy called after him.
"Take care of yourself in Los Angeles, alright?" she said fondly. "Don’t go being lonely over there."
He smiled. "I won’t. Promise. I already know loads of people there."
Peggy raised an eyebrow. "Do you, now?"
"No," he admitted with a laugh. "But the VA hospital nurse I spoke to on the phone sounded very friendly."
To her surprise, Colleen was just shrugging on her coat when Peggy came home that night.
"You’re leaving already?" Peggy asked.
"Oh. Yes. I, um... yes," Colleen said awkwardly, and grabbed her purse.
You were trying to avoid me, Peggy thought. That hurt. But at the same time...
It felt odd to consider such a strong sense of rejection a good thing, but Peggy could only hope it was a sign.
"Colleen?" Peggy said. "About Christmas..."
Colleen’s head shot up.
"Yes?" Her voice was unusually high and her expression filled with badly concealed hope.
Peggy couldn’t help it, she smiled fit to burst. "Would you come to the office to visit me? Say at, oh, ten p.m.? There’s something I’d like to show you. Tell you."
"I..." Joy and confusion warred for dominance on Colleen’s face. "Wouldn’t I just be in the way?"
"I’m sure you won’t."
"Well – okay." Colleen beamed, flustered but delighted. "Sure. Want me to bring eggnog?"
Peggy met Colleen in the switchboard room at ten p.m. sharp. Colleen had dressed her best; an emerald dress, cinched at the waist, throat and wrists with gold ribbon, matching sprigs of berried evergreen holding back her hair, lashes for miles and bright red lips.
Peggy was quite sure she was in love.
"You look so much more festive than I do," she said. The fanciest part of her outfit was the white skirt. A devil to keep clean, honestly.
"Well, I’m not on the clock," Colleen countered with a grin, a peck on Peggy’s cheek, and a squeeze of her hand. Colleen looked around. Peggy did not let go of her hand. "So this is where you work? I gotta say, I expected something bigger. And busier."
"Yes, about that..." Peggy tampered down her smile and took a deep breath. "The reason I asked you to come is that I don’t actually work for a phone company. This building – the parts of it available to the public – is just a front."
Colleen’s eyes widened, and she looked around again with dawning horror. "Peg, don’t tel me this is a –"
"Not a brothel, if that’s what you’re worried about," Peggy hastened to say, tugging her back around to face her and taking both hands in hers. "No, darling, no. I work for the government. You see, during the war, I was... in intelligence. And the work I do here is a continuation of that."
Colleen looked around once again. There wasn’t much to see, but Peggy understood the urge to try nonetheless. "Intelligence."
Peggy nodded and swallowed thickly, her heart beating in her throat.
"So you’re... a spy?" Colleen said, frowning.
"Sometimes. Usually I’m demoted to file clerk around here, but..."
"And should you be telling me this?"
Peggy barked out a laugh. "Probably not." Then she sobered. "Are you mad at me? For lying?"
"To be honest..." Colleen tugged her hands free and planted them in her sides while casting yet another, pointed look around before raising an eyebrow at Peggy. "I’m not sure I believe you. And even if I do, I find it hard to imagine any sensitive military operations going on in here."
"Hm." Peggy considered that. "I can’t fault you that. We’re not military anymore, though."
"Are you sure it’s not a brothel? I’m not judging, I just hate to think you might be forced to resort to..."
Peggy made a scandalized face.
"Hey, they call it all kinds of things these days," Colleen said, at least half joking.
"Turn around and close your eyes," Peggy ordered. "I’ll give you the tour upstairs, but I’m not showing you how to get in or I’ll lose my last shred of plausible deniability for when my boss finds out about this and tries to court martial me for breach of confidentiality or some such."
"You just claimed you guys aren’t the military anymore."
"Won’t stop him from trying. It’ll be worth it, though. All the cups and dishes are upstairs. You did say you were bringing eggnog?"
Peggy summoned the elevator and led Colleen upstairs, where she showed her the bullpen, the world map notice board in the conference room, the interrogation rooms and cells, the viewing windows into the vault and the labs. Colleen didn’t let go of her skepticism until Peggy pulled a pin from her hair and pried open Thompson’s locker right there on the spot.
"You’re a spy, not a telephone operator. Gotcha." She shot Peggy an uncertain look. "Was everything else just a ruse too?"
"No. No, Colleen, no. I’m Peggy. I’m from Hampstead. I met a nice American on the continent and he died. My war record is sealed because so much of my work was classified – I’d be put away for treason if I told you what I did, or anything more than I already have about what I do now – but you must believe me, I hated lying to you and I’ve done it as little as possible."
"Your boss isn’t an unreasonable maniac?"
"He’s very a competent commander. Just frustrating. And I needed an excuse for the erratic hours that come with the job."
"And your male coworkers aren’t pigs?"
"Oh, no, that was all true," Peggy said frankly. "I can’t back up what I say with ink on paper because my war record is sealed, so they choose to believe I can’t back up what I say at all, to bolster their own tiny little egos."
Colleen bit her lip. "And that one nice one..."
"Is leaving," Peggy answered. Her stomach did a backflip.
"So much for your marriage prospects," Colleen joked weakly.
Peggy drank in the way the curls of her hair shone in the lamplight, and how very green her dress made her eyes look. "That’s not Daniel’s fault. My marriage prospects were quite poor to start with."
Colleen met her eyes.
"Yeah, I never had much faith in mine either," she murmured, but she needn’t have bothered; Peggy knew.
They both knew.
Peggy’s well-deserved interrogation was not over, not by a long shot. But by the end of the night, Colleen’s flask of eggnog was empty, and they were cozied up more intimately than even the way Colleen, giggling, kept playing with the big, floppy white bow on Peggy’s navy blouse warranted.
And when New Year’s came around and the countdown reached zero, they finally kissed. Happy New Year, indeed.