Avengers-Jack Peggy

Agent Carter fic: Boxing Lessons

Another one from SSR Confidential (#5 of 8).

Title: Boxing Lessons
Fandom: Agent Carter
Word Count: 2600
Pairing: gen (though it could also be seen as flirty, light Jack/Peggy)
Summary: Jack and Peggy each have things to learn from the other, and they're slowly realizing it. Set after the season two finale.
Crossposted: http://archiveofourown.org/works/7118839


The worst part about recovery was the forced down time. Jack figured the guys back at the New York office would laugh their asses off if they heard him complain about lounging around a pool in a millionaire's mansion, but he hated it. He wanted to be out in the field, doing something.

It wasn't precisely that there was nothing at all to do. He had files by the hundreds to pore over as the investigation into SSR corruption continued. Right now they were operating under the assumption that his shooting was related to that, which meant digging deeper into a network of corruption that went all the way into the highest levels of government. Like worm tunnels in rotten wood, it undermined the institutions he'd spent his adult life defending, and Jack had surprised himself with his willingness to pursue the investigation as far as it went.

In some small way, he'd helped break it, even if that wasn't what he thought he was doing at the time. And now he wanted to fix it.

But sitting around sifting through financial records wasn't his thing. He wasn't a paperwork guy. He was a man of action, damn it, and right now he was a forcibly sidelined man of action, and it was making him climb the walls.

... all the more so because he got the distinct impression that Peggy and Sousa were trying to keep him out of the line of fire as much as possible. It was annoying as hell, even while it warmed him in a weird deep-down kind of way. And it wasn't like he could argue; he knew he'd be a liability in a fight. None of them were entirely sure if he was still a target or not. He carried a gun around with him in the mansion; right now it was on the table beside him, in easy reach, next to the half-empty glass of bourbon he'd been nursing for the last hour or so.

He wasn't sure if it was the inactivity, the painkillers, or what, but he'd completely lost his head for whiskey. This was his second glass, and he was already lightheaded and dizzy in a way that made him think getting back to his room without falling in the pool might be tricky.

The Stark patio was dark, too dark to read. (The gun, resting on top of a stack of files, was also being used as a paperweight.) In the shadows beside the pool, he leaned back in one of the patio chairs and took another sip of the whiskey.

The trouble with downtime was that it gave him too much time to think, and with the Arena Club investigation occupying most of his mental real estate, it kept bringing him back around, again and again, to mistakes both old and recent ... to Vernon, once very nearly a surrogate father, now presumed dead ... to his own father, and the close friendship between the two older men, and the question of just how deep that rabbit hole went ...

He was jolted out of his dark thoughts by brisk, light footsteps on the patio tiles. Peggy, he thought; he'd know her tread anywhere. He'd thought everyone was in bed, but there she was, marching out onto the patio. Her hair was tied up in a tight bun and she wore loose, light clothing; her hands were wrapped. She went straight to the punching bag hanging in its frame not too far from the end of the pool.

Jack was fairly sure she hadn't seen him, sitting in the shadows as he was. He'd paused when he saw her, the whiskey glass halfway to his lips, so there was no movement to betray him. Slowly he set the glass back on the table.

It was interesting being able to watch her when she thought herself unobserved. There was always something of a performance in the way Peggy carried herself. She used her impeccable makeup, stylish clothing, and manners like a defensive barricade -- something Jack could relate to. People reacted to you based on the image you put forth, and Peggy was well aware of that.

She wasn't that different when she thought herself alone, but there was something a little more relaxed about her. She wasn't softer; if anything, she seemed harder around the edges, as if the diamond-sharp strata underlying her feminine exterior was a little closer to the surface when she wasn't trying to hide it. Jack allowed himself a self-indulgent moment to appreciate the lethal coiled strength of each punch as it struck the bag, the supple grace of her muscles gliding with each movement she made. He'd watched her fight before, but it was fascinating to stay back and watch it from a distance. Hers was a wild fighting style, all power and strength and fierce grace. Any of Jack's boxing coaches would've dinged her immediately for her sloppy footwork and poor follow-through, but Jack knew from experience just how effective it was in the field. She threw her whole heart into it, he thought; that was what made it work.

He let himself have a few moments and no more. He wasn't planning to spend all evening spying on her.

"Terrible form, Marge," he called across the pool.

"Gah!"

Jack smiled to himself in the dark. She really hadn't noticed he was there.

"What are you doing hiding over there?" Peggy demanded, one fist resting on her cocked hip.

"Hey, you're the one who didn't properly secure your perimeter."

It was a joke and it wasn't; there were dangerous people out there, dangerous enemies they'd made. She might feel safe enough to walk around in Stark's mansion without checking dark corners, but that didn't actually make it safe.

"You're planning to sit there and mock, then, are you?"

"From a safe distance. I do have some sense of self-preservation."

"I don't know, some of your recent decisions make me wonder." But there was warmth and humor in her voice.

Jack got out of the chair (with an effort) and circled around the pool. At least he was able to accomplish that much without wheezing and nearly passing out, which hadn't been the case when he first got out of the hospital a couple of weeks ago. He was steadier on his feet than he'd been afraid of; still, he gave the pool a wide berth, because he didn't relish the idea of falling in and needing Peggy to pull him out.

"Are you here to show me how it's done?" she inquired archly as he came closer.

"Yes, actually, but only because your footwork is lousy and so's your defense. You've got a lot of power but not a lot of finesse."

He wasn't sure how well she'd take that from him, but she merely raised her eyebrows. "Do you box, Jack?"

"Not like a pro, but it's a good way to stay in shape for the job."

"As well as a useful way of working out the day's frustrations." She said it like someone who knew.

"Better than punching your coworkers."

"Oh, I don't know." She turned to face him as he stopped beside her. "I find it rather cathartic myself."

He acknowledged this with a rueful grimace. Being on his feet was clearing his head, or maybe it was the challenge of verbally sparring with a canny opponent; he wondered if half the reason he'd been feeling so foggy lately was because he spent too much time with no company except a stack of SSR files and a few of Ana's mystery novels. "Yeah, but there's more to boxing than just hitting people."

"It's worked well for me so far."

Jack held out a hand, fingers spread and open: a silent question, which she answered with another little quirk of her eyebrows as she allowed him to place his hand on her arm. He repositioned her fists with light touches, one high, one low.

"You're leaving yourself wide open when you throw a punch. You got a good right hook, and don't I know that from personal experience, but I think you're leaning on the fact that people don't see it coming so they aren't prepared. You can get in two or three hits before they're ready to fight back."

"As I said," she replied with a hint of that underlying rock that made up her core, "it's worked for me."

"So what happens when you go up against an opponent who sees you coming? You gotta think about protecting yourself." He moved behind her; she turned her head to keep him in sight. "You mind?"

"Go ahead." She sounded curious.

He reached around her from behind, placed a hand lightly on each of her wrists. The close proximity made him think of those first few days after he'd been shot, when he'd still been kitten-weak. He hadn't wanted her help, but had gotten it anyway: Peggy giving him the firm grip of her hand to help him stand up, a shoulder to lean against when he faltered. Those memories were blurred by a haze of drugs and pain and embarrassment ... but he thought of it now, with all of Peggy's strength caged between his arms, and Peggy bemusedly allowing him to grasp her wrist and bring her arm slowly forward. At the same time, he moved her left in to compensate for the opening, carefully so she could feel how it worked the muscles in her arm.

"That solid right cross punch is one of your favorite moves, so get used to blocking with your left while you're throwing it." He leaned forward and she instinctively leaned with him as he moved her right arm in a slow-motion punch, moving the left up and in at the same time. "Those really powerful punches you like best have a lot of wind-up, and you're telegraphing 'em a mile in advance."

"It didn't stop me from landing one on you," she pointed out.

"You're never gonna let that go, are you?"

Peggy threw him a grin over her shoulder. He was acutely aware of how effortlessly she could break away from him, if she wanted to -- how easily she could pivot a shoulder into his healing chest and throw him. But of course she wouldn't; he knew that. Trusted that.

"So the point is, you gotta make sure they don't hit you while you're winding up for the next punch. You always want to have one fist ready to block. And you're not doing anything with your feet at all." He tapped her heel lightly with a slippered foot, pushing one of her feet outward to balance her weight better. "You've got a good stance already. Good weight distribution. But you can do more with your feet. For starters, you can use your footwork to punch with your whole body. You're kinda doing it anyway, but see what happens if you take a step forward, land on your right foot, and do one of those right crosses off that while your body's still moving."

She gave him a skeptical look over her shoulder.

"Just do it. Start on your left foot, step to your right, and use the momentum to pivot from the hip and throw the punch with your whole body."

He stepped back quickly, letting her go and getting out of the way. She gave him a wry glance, then took a step backward as he'd instructed, and -- he'd seen this coming; it was why he made sure to stay as far away as possible -- threw herself into it wholeheartedly, bounding forward and throwing her body's momentum into the punch. Her right fist smacked off the bag. She was keeping her left up, he noticed, just as instructed. Damn, she was a natural. He wondered idly if it would be possible to put her in as a ringer in one of the Friday night matches at Tony's ... assuming he ever managed to peel her out of California and get her back to New York.

Peggy gave him a sparkling, exhilarated smile. It wasn't very often he got to make her light up like that. "Stronger, right?" he said, trying not to sparkle back at her too much.

"Much stronger. I could feel it all the way up to my shoulder." She shook out her fingers.

"Now, if you were in the ring, as soon as you deliver the punch you'd do what you just did in reverse. Quick step back, shift your weight onto your left foot, get yourself out of reach before they can recover." He couldn't help smiling. "You don't ever do that, not from what I've seen. You just pile in and beat them down."

"My trainers in the SOE were more concerned with taking advantage of the element of surprise."

It caught him off guard to realize that she had actually been combat-trained. Of course she had. He hadn't realized until that moment, though, that he'd been assuming she was mostly self-taught. Her brawling style had little in common with any formal fighting technique he'd seen. But of course, what she'd learned had been the kind of dirty, results-oriented fighting that she'd need to know for dangerous undercover missions behind enemy lines.

No wonder she was so damn good at it.

"I don't mean you're fighting wrong," he said, irritated with himself for assuming things, and with her for the way she was smiling at him. "Just thought you could use some pointers, that's all."

"Jack Thompson, boxing coach." But her smile was alarmingly fond. "And, no, you have a valid point. Different styles for different kinds of fights."

"Did you just imply I'm right?"

"I'll regret that, won't I?" Peggy shook her head and began unwinding the wrappings from her hands. "As much as I'd like to continue the lesson, I have an early morning."

Jack had a feeling that she wasn't as ready to cut her workout short as she was to get him off his feet; the lightheadedness was back, and he had a bad feeling he was swaying where he stood.

Still, he went back to his chair to get the gun and files before Peggy could beat him to it, on the general principle of the thing. He expected her to go into the house, but she was waiting for him by the punching bag when he got back, and she paced herself to his necessarily slow speed.

"So you'd be up for more lessons," he said, testing the waters.

"I would. I can see I have room to improve. And ..." Cheeky grin. "If we're having lessons, I'd like to give you a few pointers, too. Starting with ways to counter an unexpected throw."

He had a feeling that this was a test disguised as an olive branch, because the way she was looking at him now was very much like the expression on her face when she'd asked him to take dinner orders for the office. It was a challenge: If you can dish it out, can you take it?

Well, why not? If she was one of the guys, he thought, an experienced agent with commando training, he'd have happily swapped boxing tips for combat throws.

"I'd be up for that," he said with an easy casualness he didn't quite feel. But it was easier than it would've been a few weeks or a few months ago. It was all getting easier. "You might have to hold off on anything too athletic for another week or so, though."

"I wouldn't suggest otherwise. In any case, I expect it'll be an improvement over brooding in the dark." And she smiled at him.

This entry is also posted at http://sholio.dreamwidth.org/1091120.html with comment count unavailable comments.
Hee! It's going to take you a month to repost everything you wrote recently :P

I loved this one too, particularly post-injury!Jack internalizing everything as his fault for being too weak, rather than concern from the people around him.
Especially at the rate I'm going. I'll be lucky if I manage to finish before the aufest fics are revealed ...

Anyway, I'm very happy you liked it! I do love writing hurt!Jack.
Aww lovely friendship fic, love seeing a softer side to Jack