THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU READ THIS FIC:
1) Angie has a four-year-old daughter named Sophia.
2) Sophia spent all but the last few months of her life living with the Martinellis, under the impression that Angie's mom was her mother, and Angie her favorite big sister.
3) After many, many pep talks from Peggy, Angie has taken Sophia out of her parents' custody and is now raising her on her own.
Angie sighs and leans her head back against the cool mirrored wall of the elevator, watching the floor numbers tick by through heavy lids. The fancy couple sharing the car with her keep shooting baffled, judgmental looks at her stained diner uniform, but she's too exhausted to pay them any mind. She took a double shift today, working from noon to close, and all she wants to do is get off her feet and sleep for a thousand years. Maybe two thousand.
But she's got to open the L&L again in the morning, and at best she's looking at six hours of sleep. Six and a half, if she goes straight to bed without stopping for anything.
That's literally never happened, but hey, tonight could be the night, couldn't it?
God, her feet are killing her.
When she'd first moved into Howard's penthouse with Peggy, Peggy hadn't understood why Angie kept all her shifts at the automat. Surely, Peggy had ventured one night, you're now free to work a little less, and take more of those classes you're always talking about? Perhaps audition more? Angie had blown her off with something sunny and sarcastic, as was her custom, and every other week or so the cycle would repeat. Then Peggy had found out about Sophia, and she'd stopped asking.
It still feels like a dream, what her life's become in these last few months. Coming home to Peggy every night had been a fantasy come true, but getting to spend time with Sophia every day, having a second chance to be her mother… Angie walks a tightrope every day, more grateful than she can express for the time she's been given, and terrified of somehow screwing it up.
The fancy couple gets off on the ninth floor in a swoosh of fur and perfume, leaving Angie alone with her thoughts.
She's not gonna screw this up. She can't. She's almost doubled her hours at the automat; has taken to saving every penny. It's not a new habit by a long shot—since Sophia was born Angie's been sending entire paychecks home to take care of her; only ever keeping enough for her own rent and half her groceries, making up the rest in stale pie and yesterday's sandwiches taken home at the end of each day, stolen rolls in her purse the following mornings. Every shift she skipped for an audition felt like Russian roulette, but she had to, she had to, because what if this one was the one? Every risk was one step closer to making it, and on a Broadway headliner's salary she might be able to move her whole family out of that cramped tenement in Harlem, let alone her daughter.
Moving in with Peggy had been a blessing, allowing Angie to send every single dime and penny she made home for the first time. Now that Sophia's living with them, how can she do any less? She'll be damned if she relies on Howard Stark's money to take care of her daughter. Sophia is her responsibility—she won't forget that this time.
It's not perfect. The downside to this new balancing act is that the one thing Angie thought she'd be gaining—time with Sophia—is coming in shorter and shorter supply. Sure, Angie made a little over ten bucks in tips today, but it's hard to be thrilled about it when the trade off is that it's Peggy who read Sophia a bedtime story tonight, Peggy who made her dinner, Peggy who combed her hair after her bath. The whole point is that it's supposed to be different now. No more substitutes, no more exchanges. But she's figuring it out—she is.
The elevator dings; Angie digs out her key.
Stepping out of her shoes is a small slice of heaven, but her appreciation is short-lived when she hears voices down the hall. Puzzled, Angie drops her purse and makes her way towards Sophia's bedroom. They've settled into a routine, she thinks—Sophia's calling her mama now all the time, the nightmares are fewer and farther between—so hearing her awake at this hour puts up red flags.
"Sophia, we're not going through this again."
"That's not fair!"
Angie speeds up, only to pause again at the unexpected chime of Peggy's warmest, most charmed laugh. The kind Angie fell for while pouring coffee, a little over a year ago.
"Okay, darling, okay. One more and that's it. You must sleep after, do you understand? Promise me. Your mother will be cross as it is that I let you bully me into such a late bedtime. If she gets home and you're still up, I'm afraid there will be steep consequences for both of us."
Through the slight crack of the door, Angie can see Sophia curled up against Peggy on her brand new big-girl bed, Fossy the stuffed bunny held loosely in her grip, the soft light from the bedside table illuminating all three of them. Angie finds herself wishing she had a camera, so she could capture this moment of pure contentment and carry it with her wherever she goes.
"I'm not a bully," Sophia says, in her most reasonable voice. "You like it."
Peggy rolls her eyes good-naturedly and cuddles Sophia closer to her. "I suppose you're right. I'm just a soft touch."
Not wanting to interrupt their moment, Angie turns her back on them and sinks against the wall until she's sitting on the floor. Happy, now, just to listen, as Peggy cracks open a book and starts to read—
"Sighed Mayzie, a lazy bird hatching an egg: 'I'm tired and I'm bored and I've kinks in my leg…'"
Horton Hatches the Egg. One of the few books for Sophia that Angie bought new, carried with her from one cramped apartment to the next so that they could only ever read it when she brought it back to Harlem on visits. Peggy doesn't know that story—still doesn't understand how jealously Angie would hoard some experiences, ones her Ma probably deserved to share—but somehow, it doesn't hurt the way Angie thought it would to hear someone else read it. Or maybe it's just because that person is Peggy.
Angie closes her eyes as Peggy tells the story of loyal Horton, tricked into incubating an egg while its mother Mayzie vacationed in Palm Beach, only to be captured and put in the circus for his trouble. The big chorus of the book—I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant's faithful one hundred per cent—has long been a favorite of hers, and it's only more appealing as Peggy's lilted vowels sound out the rhymes. If she's not careful, Angie thinks Peggy might find two Martinellis lulled to sleep by her voice tonight.
"Mia?" Sophia asks quietly when the story's over, and Angie melts all over again at her nickname for Peggy. They're not sure how she came up with it—Angie suspects a melding of mama and zia while Peggy, in a rare moment of pure affability, suggested it was some kind of reference to mamma mia!, an expression Sophia has literally never used in her life. (Peggy's grasp on Italian culture is still spotty at best, but bless her, she is trying.)
"Yes, my darling?"
Seriously, is Peggy trying to kill her?
"Is Mama like Mayzie bird?"
Moment shattered. Angie's breath catches in her throat, heart thudding painfully.
"Do you think that's why I read this to you?" Peggy demands, shocked, and Angie winces. Peggy's still new to the whole interacting with kids thing, still doesn't always get that the accent makes phrases like that sound completely different; she comes off judgmental and strident and Angie knows she didn't mean it that way, obviously she didn't, but does Sophia?
"I'm—I don't know." Sophia's voice is withdrawn and hard-edged, like she thinks she might be in trouble. Contrite but ready to defend herself.
There's a pause. When Peggy speaks again, it's softer, more careful. "I'm sorry, darling, I didn't answer your question. It's just that your mother is the most Horton-esque figure I've ever encountered outside of storybooks. Why do you think she's like Mayzie?"
Angie finds herself hyper-focusing on Peggy's vocabulary, frustrated that she's not yet completely broken the habit of talking to Sophia like a very tiny adult, rather than a little girl. It's easier to think about that than their conversation, about what Sophia might say, about how much damage Angie may have done. Damage that can never be erased. (She knows the passage by heart, is what gets her. "But it's MINE!" screamed the bird, when she heard the egg crack. The work was all done. Now she wanted it back.)
"Because I lived with Mama Gina, and she never read me this book. Only Angie—I mean, Mama. It's our special story."
Tears sting at Angie's eyes. It's been hard enough, having to settle for Sophia calling her Ma Mama Gina because they just can't make Nonna stick, but it's the first time in weeks she's been called Angie by her daughter and it hurts. More than she thought it would. She'd had no idea those walls had broken down so completely so fast.
"So," Peggy says slowly, processing, "You wonder if she was comparing herself to Mayzie? Because this was the book the two of you liked to read?"
"And she left me there." There's no malice in the words, there's not even sadness. To Sophia, this is just a fact, neutral and uninteresting. Angie holds her hand to her mouth and bites down to stop herself from sobbing aloud.
"She did," Peggy allows, "but not so she could go on vacation. The book says Mayzie is lazy. Does that sound like your mama to you?"
There's no hesitation. "No."
"No, not to me either. I don't think I know anyone that works harder than her. Come to think, she's even at work right now, isn't she? She's there all the time. To make money to take care of you."
"And she practices all her dances and scales," Sophia adds proudly. "Because that's her work, too. For odd—oddshuns."
"She does practice for her auditions, you're right. And she cuddles you to keep you warm, and she always visited when you needed her, even when you were living with Mama Gina, didn't she?"
"And who does that sound like?"
"Horton," Sophia decides, sounding quite sure now. "…Can I stay awake until Mama gets home so I can say g'night?"
"Much as I'm sure your mother would love to see you, you were supposed to be in bed hours ago."
"But I am in bed."
Angie swears she can hear Peggy roll her eyes. "That is not what I meant and you know it. You need to go to sleep, darling. You promised."
Sophia giggles. "I didn't promise, you only said I should."
"Why, you—" Peggy grumbles. "I've got to be more careful around you, you little troublemaker."
"Spoken like a true Martinelli." Peggy's voice is warm and affectionate. "Do you know, Sophie, that I love you very much?"
"Sophia," she corrects, as she always does. "And yes."
"And you know your mama loves you?"
"Of course I know that," Sophia confirms, still giggly. Making fun of Peggy, even, for being so silly.
"Good." Angie hears the creak of the bed spring, the light smacking noises of Peggy's lips on Sophia's forehead, her left cheek, her right, the tip of her nose—the order Angie always kisses Sophia in, when she tucks her into bed. Angie hadn't realized Peggy'd noticed. "Now get some rest."
"Okay. G'night, Mia."
"Sweet dreams, my darling."
Peggy closes the door behind her and nearly trips over Angie on her way out.
Angie makes frantic shushing gesticulations, trying to get Peggy not to make any noise and alarm Sophia. Unfortunately, nothing can be done about the fact that she's obviously alarmed Peggy, what with the fact that she's home and clearly overheard and has been crying and Peggy can see it.
Looking somehow both contrite and accusatory, Peggy offers Angie a hand and pulls her up to her feet. Once up, however, Peggy does nothing to stop Angie's momentum, swinging her into a hug Angie clearly gets no say in (like she'd ever turn it down). They stand there for minutes, embracing, Angie tucking her nose into the curve of Peggy's neck and letting her soft scent and her hands on Angie's back calm her. Home.
When they let go, Peggy reaches down and entwines their fingers, leading Angie down the hall. She's surprised when Peggy takes a right turn, guiding them towards the kitchen and not the bedroom.
"Pegs, I gotta be up in a few hours, I can't—"
"How long were you sitting there?" Peggy asks, ignoring Angie's protests as she starts filling up the kettle with water. Because apparently what Angie needs right now is tea, and not sleep.
"I'm sorry I—I wasn't trying to—I never intended—" Peggy stutters, fussing with the stove so her back's to Angie.
Angie remembers the first time Peggy saw Sophia, how she'd known instantly who she was—who she belonged to. Angie had watched Peggy's face as Peggy reconfigured every thought she'd ever had about Angie, recontextualized every encounter: the auditions, the giggly schnapps-filled nights, the lazy weekend mornings in bed. Angie watched and waited for Peggy to realize how irresponsible she is, how unloving, and somehow it's never happened.
But then, Peggy's never known much about caring for children.
"Aw, Peg, I ain't mad at you. Is that what you think? You handled it really well, an' I'm grateful." Angie paints on a smile for good measure as Peggy turns. "I didn't know you thought me Horton-esque."
"As if there's any other way to think of you."
"Soph seemed to find one," Angie blurts before she can stop herself, then cringes. She didn't mean to say that. This isn't a conversation she wants to have ever, but it's certainly not one she wants to have now.
"Be fair," Peggy says. "She's young, she can't possibly comprehend—"
"No, she can't," Angie agrees, voice hard. She sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose, trying to fortify herself against the look Peggy's giving her. "Look, my dogs are barking and I've got a killer headache comin' on. Don't wait up."
She beats a hasty retreat, stripping out of her clothes as she goes. She bathes and sets her hair in record time, focusing on the familiar physicality of the movements in order to get a grip on herself. Tomorrow Peggy has work and Anna Jarvis has some sort of women's labor meeting, and if Angie can't calm down then the act of taking Sophia to the L&L with her in the morning along with Fossy and a packet of crayons might actually make her cry.
By the time Angie's putting in the last of her pins at the vanity, Peggy's walking into their bedroom with a steaming cup of tea.
"Drink," Peggy says, not an order but not not one. It's only when Angie raises the china to her lips that she realizes it's not tea at all, but hot water with honey and lemon—Angie's usual post-audition fare. Whether Peggy selected it so as not to keep Angie up or because she thought Angie could use the comfort of a ritual, Angie doesn't know, but it's Sophia's goodnight kisses all over again. Angie's spent so much time learning how to take care of Peggy—she hadn't realized Peggy's been learning how to take care of her right back.
And if that went over her head, how much more has she been missing out on, lately?
"Thanks," Angie says belatedly, realizing she's holding the cup in her hands like an idiot. She gets a flash of a smile in return.
"Of course, darling. I know I'm not… not a particularly forthcoming conversationalist—"
"—but I do hope you know that I'm here to listen. If you want."
Angie doesn't want, not really, but the words are still swirling in her head, haunting her. It's our special story. And she left me there.
"I didn't just leave her there," Angie rasps, throat dry.
Whatever Peggy expected her to say, it wasn't that. She looks affronted. "I know you didn't just leave her there, you—"
"No, I mean—I tried to keep her. I did keep her," Angie clarifies, before clearing her throat and taking another long, deliberate sip of her drink. She's not gonna cry about this. Not now. "For the first few months I was livin' with my folks, sure, but… I was the one up all night with her when she was fussy, I was the one feeding her and playing with her and changing her diaper. I was her ma, you know? Once she was grown enough for solid food I figured it was time, so when I moved out she came with me. I hadn't thought… well. I was a stupid kid. I hadn't thought. I couldn't make enough to keep the both of us clothed and fed, and I didn't—I didn't want her to remember it bein' hard. Growing up with her first memories bein' not having enough to eat, not having a bed of her own. So I… I just sent her back. Gave her a second chance."
"And it worked," Peggy soothes weakly, trying on a smile. "Your parents did right by her; she's a happy, healthy little girl."
"Who thinks I gave her up without a fight." Angie paws at the tears on her cheeks, mad at herself for letting them fall. "I shouldn't be upset. I made this bed, now I gotta lie in it."
Peggy's looking at her curiously. "Is this why it took so much convincing for you to give this a chance?"
Angie nods. "Kinda hard to tell yourself you'd be a good mom when you already know from experience you ain't."
"But Angie, that's not true—"
"It is, though; I lived it. I barely lasted two months with her all to myself."
"But don't you see? That's my point. You were trying to support her all on your own. You should have had help."
"From who? My family? They did help, that's why I sent Sophia back to them."
"That's not—I was trying to refer to a certain other potentially-interested party," Peggy says primly, and—oh.
In all these months Peggy has never, not once, asked Angie who the father was. At first, Angie'd thought it was just some kind of tit-for-tat courtesy—Peggy realizing that, as someone with plenty of secrets of her own, she didn't have any right to know Angie's.
Now Angie thinks it's because Peggy has a jealous streak a mile wide and she's been trying to keep it in check.
"You wanna know about him?"
"I want to know why he wasn't honorable enough to help you at least financially, if not in a more… intimate manner."
Angie sighs, drains the last of her honey lemon water, and joins Peggy on the bed. "Ricky Delmonico was a year ahead of me in school; he hung around with my brother Matteo. We kinda became friends when he started working in my uncle Vince's restaurant with me, and then it all went to shit."
Peggy goes rigid. "Did he force himself on you?"
Angie's first instinct is to laugh, which she knows isn't fair. Peggy's just looking out for her, and it's a reasonable question. She knows plenty of dames who ended up in the family way under those circumstances. "No, not even close. I caught him eyeing our busboy's backside one too many times and let him know I knew."
"You didn't," Peggy gasps.
"Not in front of anybody! In the alley, on a break. Nearly gave the poor kid a heart attack, though. We started getting pretty chummy after that, but then everyone suddenly thought we were going steady, and… well. We kinda thought, why not?"
It's unnerving, watching the amusement fall from Peggy's face as she realizes what Angie's saying. Angie's never told the whole story before, not like this, and it's strange to watch it affect someone else. "Angie…"
"We only ever did it the once. Just to see. He was real sweet about it, but he said some fella's name when he finished, and I'd spent the whole time thinkin' of Marlene Dietrich. So we never tried again. But we laughed about it. It was… he took care'a me." She swallows hard. "Two weeks later his brother caught him with that busboy, and he stopped showing up for work. Two weeks after that, I missed my period."
"Did you tell him?" Peggy asks, before amending, "Could you even find him?"
Angie shakes her head. "I went 'round to talk to his folks, but they wouldn't tell me a thing. I mean, here I was giving 'em everything they wanted, but they couldn't get me outta there fast enough. I think they shipped him off to one of those hospitals, you know, where they…" She has to clear her throat. "Guess they thought if I knew where he was I'd try and break him out or something."
Angie grins, fast and feral. "It's like you know me, English."
"We could look for him now, if you wanted. To make sure he's safe."
Typical Peggy, wanting to burst in and be the hero. Always thinking of everyone else's happiness. Angie smiles through the ache in her chest. "Nah, I've got his address these days. West 153rd, between Broadway and Riverside."
Peggy frowns. "That's—"
"Trinity Cemetery, yeah."
"How did he…?"
Angie can't keep the bitterness out of her voice. "How do you think?"
"Angie, I'm so sorry. Does Sophia know?"
"What? No. Christ, Peggy, she's four years old."
"Right. Right, of course," Peggy mumbles, off-kilter, and Angie can't help but smile. Peggy's still so out of her element when it comes to Sophia—how to talk to her, how to give her what she needs—but Angie doesn't think she's ever seen anyone try harder to do anything. "She's lucky to have you," Peggy says, breaking Angie out of her reverie.
Angie stares down at the quilt on their bed, picking at a loose thread. "Yeah, maybe."
"No, I mean it. Perhaps it's not my place to say, but… someone told me once that the fact that you're so worried about hurting her is the one thing that proves that you won't."
It's a speech Angie'd given Peggy about eight thousand times when they first got together, when Peggy was worried Angie just being near her might get her killed. The situations couldn't be more different, but to hear her own words echoed back to her has Angie scooting across the bed and into Peggy's embrace, the two of them finally burrowing themselves under the covers.
"Sophia is a sensible girl," Peggy goes on. "She's resilient and she's smart and she's young. The time you've spent apart will fade, and all the old wounds will heal. You just have to help her understand."
Angie swallows, wanting to believe it but unable to respond. Instead, she says the only thing she can force through the lump in her throat: "Thank you for loving her."
Peggy huffs, not nearly as impressed with herself as Angie is with her. "Honestly, darling. It's hardnot to love someone so extraordinary. You might as well thank me for loving you."
She says it like it's funny, like it's absurd. Angie tucks herself in closer.
"I would, if you'd let me."
Peggy sighs. "Oh, Angie." With a graceless twist, Peggy bends to plant a kiss beneath each of Angie's eyes. No amount of Max Factor has been able to hide the bruise-like circles that have taken up permanent residence on that thin skin, and Angie appreciates the gesture—like Peggy could kiss away the exhaustion. It's strangely thoughtful, for Peggy, and more delicate than Angie's used to. She must look pretty rough, to merit this kind of treatment.
Or maybe this is just how things are now, and she's been too busy to notice.
"I'm crazy about you, you know that?" Angie whispers, before tilting up to kiss Peggy properly. Finally, the tension of the day—the tension of a lot longer than that, if she's being honest—seeps out of her shoulders. Peggy kisses back slow and soft, one hand cupping Angie's neck as she plays with the hem of the scarf Angie's tied to keep her pin curls in.
"I assure you," she says when they pull apart, "the feeling is entirely mutual."
"Jeez English, stop with this dirty pillow talk, you know I gotta be up in the morning," Angie teases, rolling over to bury her face in the pillows and avoid her feelings. Peggy just rolls with her, though, curling around Angie until they're spooned.
"You shouldn't work so hard," she says into the back of Angie's neck.
Angie snorts. "Yeah, you're one to talk."
Peggy's hum of agreement thrums through Angie's skin, her lips are so close. "I suppose you have a point."
"I'm full'a good points," Angie says sleepily, starting to lose the thread a little. "I'm a very pointy person."
"Salute," Angie ribs back, accepting Peggy's playful bat at her shoulder with grace.
"Alright, you menace, enough. Sleep," Peggy says, not an order but not not one.
Angie mumbles a vague response, already drifting.
In the morning, Angie will call in sick to work, go back to bed for several more hours, then make pancakes with her daughter before they spend the day together. It'll feel like the best decision she's made in weeks.
But right now, she's sleeping in Peggy Carter's arms, and that's more than enough.