Avengers-Peggy smile

Agent Carter fic: Teamwork

STILL NOT DONE reposting the SSR Confidential fics, aargh. Two more to go after this one!

Title: Teamwork
Fandom: Agent Carter
Pairing: gen (with a little Jarvis/Ana in the background)
Word Count: 3900
Summary: Another day, another narrow escape for Peggy and Jarvis. This one is perhaps narrower than most.
Crossposted: http://archiveofourown.org/works/7139117



Edwin didn't register the gunshot at first, didn't even understand he'd been shot until everything stopped working and he went down hard on the concrete floor of the warehouse.

He was only dimly aware of rough hands manhandling him like a sack of flour. Someone said, "No, that's Stark's butler -- keep him alive --" and then they were pulling his hands behind his back, making him cry out as his arm was wrenched with a bolt of blinding agony. He was shoved into a cramped space that stank of petrol and metal: I'm in the boot, he thought, dazed.

Peggy had been searching the premises while he, fool that he was, provided the distraction. She would blame herself, he thought. The worst part was, this had been his idea -- this off-book investigation into crooked contractors siphoning off raw materials from Howard Stark's far-flung network of labs. This time, Peggy had been helping him, not the other way round.

At least she was safe and free.

Miss Carter will realize something's gone wrong. She'll find me.

Then the car jolted over something in the road, wrenching his arm again, and there was nothing.

*

A splash of cold water in the face jarred him into unpleasant, painful consciousness. He coughed and squinted. The room was dark but for a bright light aimed into his eyes.

"You're Edwin Jarvis, right?" one of the shadows half-blocking the light growled. "Work for Howard Stark?"

No point in denying it. They'd have been through his pockets while he was out, like the filthy sneak-thieves they were. Besides, at least one of them had recognized him at the warehouse. Anger rose up in him and he clung to it. Being angry was better than being afraid.

"I should say so," he snapped, squinting into the light and wishing he could focus better. His arm throbbed brutally, and he couldn't feel his hands; he only knew they were tied behind his back when he tried to lurch forward and was brought up short. He appeared to be sitting on a chair, his feet bound to the legs. "And he relies on me heavily, I'll have you know. Mr. Stark is not a man you want to annoy."

His interrogator made a sound of satisfaction and moved back. "Yeah?" another asked, leaning in from the side. "How much you think he'll pay to get you back, limey?"

Oh dear. "A good deal, I should think," he said weakly, hoping it was true. It was true, wasn't it? At the very least he didn't want to give them the idea that he was of no value to them, and therefore expendable.

Every minute he stalled gave Peggy more time to come up with a plan.

*

Stalling turned out not to be particularly necessary; they left him tied to the chair for what felt like hours, while his muscles cramped and a slow itch crawled along his arm. He didn't realize it was blood until he looked down and found it was dripping onto the floor, pooling under the leg of the chair as it dripped off the fingers he couldn't feel.

They'd left one person behind to guard him, sitting on a chair nearby with a shotgun across his knees. As far as Edwin could tell, he was being kept in another warehouse, this one empty and perhaps abandoned. He tried to catalogue all the details, in case it was useful, but he wasn't sure which ones were pertinent. Walls. Floor. High ceiling with windows for both light and ventilation near the top. Were those the sort of details that would be useful for escape?

"You might loosen my bonds," he tried. "I doubt Mr. Stark will pay highly for a butler without functional hands." Oh no, that was likely to elicit entirely the wrong reaction. "I mean to say," he amended hastily, "a slight loosening of my bonds would quite likely raise my value, as far as Mr. Stark is concerned --"

"Quit whinin'," was his guard's unsympathetic response. "How much you think he'll pay for a butler with no tongue?"

"I take your point," Edwin murmured and shut up.

It was only a few minutes later when the door opened and the one who had started the questioning earlier, a disconcertingly handsome brute who might almost have been a matinee idol but for the scar across his cheek, strode back in. He had a small pistol in one hand. "Good news for you. They're paying your ransom. The little wife's bringing the first payment, cash on hand, see? After that, we'll negotiate for more."

It took him a moment, in his dazed state, to realize they meant his wife. "Ana?" he said, and threw himself forward against his bonds. The surge of pain nearly whited out his vision. "You leave my wife out of this, you bastards."

His interrogator tapped the barrel of the gun against his opposite palm. "See, that's the thing. You cooperate and the little lady doesn't get shot full of holes."

"Hey, Johnny," the guard with the shotgun said. He rose and went to the door. "Lady's here."

Already? They were some way northwest of the Malibu property, and Ana had been at the Hollywood house ... surely she couldn't have driven here so soon --

"Darling!" a voice cried in familiar RP tones. He'd never been so glad to hear it in all his life, particularly because it wasn't Ana's.

Peggy came in with a large, bulging handbag gripped tightly in both hands. Two thugs escorted her, one with a shotgun pressed into her back, the other covering them both. It was obvious they expected some kind of trap. As well they might.

She'd changed from her sneaking-around clothes into a dress and gloves, probably taking advantage of the extensive closets at the Malibu estate. When she first walked in, she wore a wide-eyed ingenue's expression, but Edwin saw her face change briefly, her eyes narrow as she took in his disheveled and bloody condition, and he had a feeling that what came next was going to be very satisfying to watch.

"Let's see the bag, sweetheart," Johnny said. Something cold touched the side of Edwin's neck: the muzzle of his gun.

Peggy clutched the handbag to her chest. "I did what you said," she said in a tearful voice that hardly sounded like hers. "I cleaned out the safes in Mr. Stark's house. You said you'd let me see my husband first. Oh, darling, what have they done to you?"

The last few words had a grating undertone of steel. Yes, he was definitely going to enjoy the next few minutes, if he managed to stay conscious for it. And avoid being shot, of course.

"You can see him," Johnny said without sympathy. "He's right there."

"Let him go," Peggy whimpered, twisting and untwisting the straps of the handbag with a credible impression of desperate anxiety. "Please. This is all the money in the house."

"Yeah, but it's not all the dough Mr. Moneybags has got, is it? This here's a down payment on your husband's life. You keep the payments coming, he gets to keep it. So let's see the bag."

Peggy had been slowly coming closer all this time, step by step. She was still not close enough to punch Johnny, and there was that man with the shotgun at her back -- Edwin sincerely hoped she had a plan beyond simply hitting people.

"The bag, doll," Johnny prompted.

"But of course," Peggy said, and she let go of the handbag with one hand and swung it from the strap, which was securely twisted around her wrist and arm. The heavy bag smashed into Johnny's hand, missing Edwin's ear by a hair, and the gun went flying. Before it had even finished its swing, she was lashing out behind her with one heel, catching her guard between the legs. The shotgun swung wide and discharged into the floor.

Peggy brought the bag around and walloped her other guard in the face before he had a chance to pull the trigger. By now the astounded thug at the door was trying to aim at her, but she dived for the nearest of the dropped weapons and came up shooting. He went down.

Peggy continued her spin and came to a stop with the shotgun pointing over Edwin's head, just as cold metal brushed the back of his neck.

"Nice try, doll. Now drop the gun." Johnny's voice sounded strained. She'd hit him hard enough Edwin thought she might have broken his wrist or at least a finger or two. Good, he thought vindictively, wondering at the same time when he got so bloodthirsty. Still, they'd been willing to make Ana walk into this den of robbers to deliver their money. He would happily watch Peggy break more than a few fingers.

"I suggest you put your weapon down," Peggy said, her voice flat. "Right now. I will shoot you."

"Before I pull the trigger? I don't know who the hell you are -- oh wait, you're that British dame Stark runs around with sometimes, aren't you?"

"Who I am is irrelevant. I suggest you consider your options carefully. You can't shoot him," Peggy said, "because then you know I'll kill you. Thus your threats have no meaning."

"Yeah, but you know what? All I gotta do is keep you busy 'til my other boys get in here. Trump card, baby."

"Miss Carter," Edwin began.

"Unless the words you're about to say are 'look out behind you,' not now, Mr. Jarvis." Peggy kept her eyes on Johnny.

"I was going to respectfully suggest that you take advantage of the opportunity to leave."

"Shut up," Johnny snarled, grinding the muzzle of the gun into the back of Edwin's neck. It hurt, but compared to everything else, the pain didn't seem so bad. How interesting.

"You said it yourself, Miss Carter," Edwin said, trying to ignore the gun digging into the top of his spine, along with the growing agitation of the gunman at his back. "He cannot kill me, or take the gun away from me to point it at you, without eliminating the one thing that keeps him safe. Therefore you can walk out and he will not be able to stop you."

"I'm not leaving you here." Her voice was still hard and sharp: Peggy the soldier. But he sensed something else underneath, an emotional edge.

"If you allow yourself to be pinned between our imbecilic friend and the rest of his crew, we will both die."

"And I should accept one death as the price of my own life? Survival is not an equation, Mr. Jarvis!"

"Hey!" Johnny snapped. "Anybody want to pay attention to the guy with the gun over h --"

The words were cut off when Edwin lurched forward in the chair. He'd meant to kick back the chair legs and knock Johnny's feet out from under him, but all he succeeded in doing was tipping himself sideways and crashing painfully onto the floor. However, this did remove his neck from the vicinity of the gun, at least for an instant, but that was all it took. The shotgun boomed over his head.

A moment later, Peggy was crouching next to him, working at his bonds with the shotgun on the floor beside her. "Excellent distraction. I could not have come up with a better plan myself."

"It wasn't meant --" He lost the rest of the sentence in a white haze of pain as the rope parted and his injured arm came loose. The next thing he knew, Peggy was helping him to his feet. His hands hung at the end of his arms, feeling like blocks of wood.

"Can you walk? There will be more of them at any moment."

He didn't really see that he had a choice, especially with Peggy helping him along now, her other arm around him. She paused to sling her handbag over her shoulder and trade her shotgun for a much smaller pistol, easier to aim with one hand.

They'd almost made it to the door when two more of Johnny's men burst in. Peggy fired from the hip; they jerked and collapsed before they could get off a shot.

We were supposed to be done with this when we left the war behind, Edwin thought dazedly while Peggy peered out the half-open door.

"Come on. We're going to have to steal a car."

"Oh good," he murmured.

Getting to the car was refreshingly anticlimactic. Peggy helped him into the backseat and then slid into the front and vanished from view. A moment later the engine roared to life.

"Did you just hotwire a car?"

"I am a woman of many talents, Mr. Jarvis." She threw the car in gear and veered around the other parked vehicles. For the moment, there seemed to be no further activity. Edwin tried to do the mental math for exactly how many people they'd ... incapacitated, but gave up. Sensation was returning to his hands now, like a swarm of bees under the skin. Waves of pain passed through his arm, prickling hot and cold under the skin. It was all too much. Still, there was one thing he had to know ...

"Ana is all right, isn't she?"

"Ana is fine," Peggy said over her shoulder. "She doesn't even know. They called Howard's Malibu house, and the only person they ever talked to was me."

He managed to sit up, and watched the dark countryside fly past as Peggy drove much too fast for comfort on the winding highway. Somehow, impossible as it seemed, he managed to doze, or at least lost some time, because the next thing he knew they were pulling behind a closed restaurant in a dark, shuttered small town. His first thought was to wonder if something terrible had happened here, before remembering it was the middle of the night.

The front door of the car slammed, and then Peggy slid in beside him on the seat, in a wash of night air. She snapped on a small torch.

"Where are we?" he asked blearily.

"About halfway to Malibu, so a bit of driving to the hospital yet. I would have stopped sooner to have a look at you, but I didn't dare until I found a place we could pull off without being seen."

She grasped his arm gently, but he still gasped in pain, a wave of shivering going through him. He tried not to look at the blood-matted sleeve. He had dressed Peggy's wounds after she was impaled, he'd helped Ana change her dressings when she was shot, but somehow it was very different when it was his blood.

He was braced for further pain from her ministrations, but nothing happened. His head had settled to rest against the back of the seat. With an effort, he raised it, and found Peggy holding his bloody arm in gentle hands, gazing down at it. "Oh, Mr. Jarvis," she said softly. "I am so, so sorry I allowed this to happen."

The note of self-recrimination in her voice hurt more than the bullet wound. He couldn't allow that. "You were helping me. I think we should both keep that in mind."

"Yes, but if I hadn't been there, what would you have done? You'd have gone to Howard, I expect, or to the police. I'm the one who's got you thinking it's a good idea to ride out like a cowboy, righting wrongs. And this is what happens. I can't imagine how I'll explain to Ana ..."

"Miss Carter." He reached for her with his good hand. The fingers were still tingling and painful -- he didn't have much of a grip yet -- but he rested it against her arm. "I am responsible for my own decisions. I've told you in the past, you cannot take the weight of the world when there are others to help you carry it, and any blame that is to be passed around is certainly shared. Besides ... we did find them, did we not?"

"I suppose we did," she conceded. "Although --"

"I didn't take this matter to you because I wanted to be a cowboy, Miss Carter. I simply wanted to try to resolve it quietly, without involving the police in Mr. Stark's affairs, and I knew you were the right person to ask for help. We work well as a team, and I hope to do so again in the future, although ..." He grimaced as a fresh wave of pain rolled up his arm. "Perhaps after some painkillers and a good nap."

"Yes. Of course." He could see her pull herself together. "The bleeding seems to have slowed a good deal. I'll bind it and drive you to the hospital." She reached into the front seat for her handbag. "I have a scarf that will serve as a bandage to bind it until we get there. This may hurt, I'm afraid."

When the handbag was open, he glimpsed brick-shaped bundles inside. "Is that ... Mr. Stark's money?"

"I had no intention of coming empty-handed to meet them. I wasn't lying about emptying Howard's cash reserve at the Malibu estate. Don't worry," she added, working busily on his arm. "I'll put it back."

"I didn't know you knew the combination to Mr. Stark's safe," he murmured.

A glimmer of the familiar mischief came back into her eyes. "You don't think this is the first safe I've cracked, do you?"

*

He woke to an angel, haloed in sunlight shining through her loose red hair. "Ana," he murmured.

"Edwin, we really must stop meeting like this." She leaned down to kiss him. He relaxed into the sweetness of her lips for a long moment. She was the one to draw away, but she still bent over him, her hair falling like a curtain over her shoulders. Gently she laid a hand on his cheek. "Are you in pain?" she asked.

"Not now." There was a certain amount of pain, aching and muffled beneath a thick insulating blanket of what was probably morphine or some relative of it. But he wasn't about to deprive himself of her presence to send her in search of a nurse.

"It seems I am the one who must fuss over you for a while." She smiled. "I will be sure to ask if you've taken a chill every five minutes, and bring you enough blankets to smother you."

"I wasn't that bad," he protested weakly.

"No, you were much worse." She kissed him again.

The awareness percolated slowly from his drug-hazed subconscious that there were a few things they needed to talk about. "Er ... Miss Carter has appraised you of the particulars of the situation, I hope?"

"I had a good long talk with Miss Carter about your freelance crimefighting activities. We will talk about it more, I am sure, but not until you are back on your feet."

"Oh. Good?" Something to look forward to.

He sipped some water she brought him, and slept again. When he woke, the sun through the blinds was low and golden; it appeared he'd napped most of the day away. Ana was gone, and Peggy was fussing with what appeared to be an entire garden of flowers stuffed into a basket the size of a small washtub, taking up much of the space in his hospital room. Nestled into the middle of the floral arrangement was a stuffed ... thing of some kind. It was gray and furry and looked, from his vantage, like a moldy avocado the size of a large dog.

Edwin cleared his throat. Peggy jumped and dropped a handful of tulips. "Ah! You're awake."

"What is that?" he asked, sitting up a bit.

"Proof that Howard doesn't go in for small gestures," Peggy sighed, shoving the tulips into a random section of the massive floral arrangement. "Oh ... that is a stuffed koala. He seems to think you've bonded with the one at the estate."

"I can't stand the creature."

"I know that, but apparently Howard doesn't." She brushed off her hands on her skirt. "Ana's gone home to eat something and pick up a few items. The doctors say you'll be released in the morning, but she intends to spend the night here."

"I should hope you tried to talk her out of that ridiculous notion."

"I didn't make the slightest effort." She pulled a chair over to his bedside. "How are you feeling?"

"As if I tried to fight a room full of gangsters and lost."

"Actually, you did quite well." She smiled briefly. "Take it from one with experience."

She still seemed ill at ease. There was little else he could think to say to lay her guilt to rest, though. She would have to ease past it, in time, as they had both got past what had happened to Ana.

"I assume our friends are behind bars?" he asked. "Any of them who survived their encounter with you, that is."

"Most of them were left in a more intact condition than they deserved," she protested. "Yes, the police and the SSR are working jointly to clean up their operation. I ... may have given the impression it was an official SSR investigation, being handled without involvement of the local authorities due to the sensitive nature of Howard's work. Neither Chief Sousa nor Chief Thompson are terribly happy with me just now. As for Howard, he's grateful for our help and also annoyed that we didn't tell him what we were up to."

"I'm sure Mr. Stark's involvement would have improved the situation immeasurably."

"Mmmm. I am also given to understand he's upgrading the security on his warehouses and on the safe in the Malibu house."

"Safecrackers are a serious problem, I hear."

"Howard made half the gadgets that I used to break into his safe anyway," Peggy grumbled. "Are you quite sure there's nothing I can bring you? A glass of water, perhaps."

"I'm well taken care of here, I can assure you."

"Very well then, but let me know if you want anything." She loosened her belt and squirmed a little lower in the chair, getting comfortable.

"You needn't stay, Miss Carter. Ana will be back soon."

"It's hardly for your benefit alone. As long as I'm here, I'm unlikely to be discovered by anyone wishing to shout at me or force me to fill out paperwork."

"I doubt I'll be good company. I've been napping a good deal."

Peggy smiled and reached for one of the spare pillows not currently in use to prop him up. "A nap sounds lovely. Between recent events with Ana and with Chief Thompson, I've become a deft hand at camping in hospital chairs. And none of us had much sleep last night."

"Miss Carter ..." But there was nothing really that he could say. It wasn't as if he could budge her from an intended course of action when he was on his feet with two functional arms, let alone now.

"Do take care of yourself, Mr. Jarvis," he heard her say, as he drifted on the edge of sleep, and he felt her hand brush along his uninjured arm. "These adventures are only enjoyable if you return from them, as well."

This entry is also posted at http://sholio.dreamwidth.org/1093050.html with comment count unavailable comments.