Escape from the Dowager

December 12, 2016:

Peggy Carter meets Bruce Wayne at a charity ball.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Part and parcel of politics is seeing people, and being seen. Hobknobbing is a way for the wealthy to justify their status and for the powerful to gain their support. Favors are curried and exchanged at many events such as this, a ballroom gala benefit for wounded veterans of metahuman crises. It's political theater as much as anything else— the governor, the mayor of Gotham, a few military officers, some invitees from the Federal service, and potentially millions of dollars of charitable donations from some of the wealthiest and most powerful families, persons, and individuals in Gotham.

It's the sort of party most practical people find supremely distasteful, but it's a necessary enough evil that few can avoid attending them periodically.

Following a bombastic speech by the governor, who goes on at length abotu Gotham's struggling health care reform system and more empty promises about how the donations will help veterans, the party breaks up into mingling applause and people start circulating to talk to one another again.

"so I think we can just kick back and relax, friends," the fellow nearest Peggy remarks, continuing his line of thought almost unbroke. A supercilious and smug Congressman, he'd managed to ensnare Peggy and a few others in his own little lecture about his plans (schemes) to 'help' the veterans and injured. "And with referendums and even elections right around the corner, well a new change of leadership might be just what Gotham needs, eh?"

—-

Peggy Carter is not generally the type to attend these fundraisers. She's really only here as a favor to Howard. After all he's done for her, well, she can attend an elbow running event for him. She's dressed nicely in a long vintage dress, the angry bruise on her neck is covered with a nice scarf.

"I would have to disagree," she tells the Congressman. She doesn't sound angry, just annoyed that she managed to get trapped into this conversation. "This seems the time to act. Forgive me, I should get another drink." Looking down at her glass, she realizes it's still pretty full. With a quick swig, she knocks it back, sets the glass down on a nearby surface and moves to the side in an attempt to avoid him. She's used to hobnobbing with unsavory characters due to spy work, but it's never been a pleasant endeavor.

—-

"Y-you don't say. Three daughters, huh?"

The voice carries a slightly nervous warble from the other side of the bar, within earshot of Peggy as she goes to top off her beverage. These sorts of shindigs bring out Gotham's young and best and brightest— and some of the old money, aristocrats in everything but title. One of them, a wizened woman well into her seventies, seems to have pinned a strapping fellow in his late thirties into a corner. She's hunched, dressed entirely in matching shades of azure, and the heavy cane in her hand is neatly preventing him from making a polite exit, bouncing against his knee to emphasize her words. The 'Dowager' Lady Amelia Marelli, heir of the Marelli paper fortune.

"Oh, yes, three of them, they're all single and I think they'd be just your type," she wheezes, digging for a cell phone and forcing the fellow to look at pictures of her daughters. "Unmarried, you know, they just never found the right fellow, and— my goodness, you've got shoulders like a likebacker. That's good! Good baby maknig genes, that's what you've got," she creaks, thumping the tall, dark-haired fellow in the arm with her cane.

He looks around in wild desperation, but in this circumstance, it appears he's been skillfully out-maneuvered by the woman trying to set him up.

—-

Attempting to discourage more politicians from approaching her, Peggy remains at the bar even once her drink is filled. Taking another long drink, she actually coughs into her glass as she hears, 'good baby making genes.' Glancing around, she sees the man and the older woman nearby and is quick to assess the situation.

Generally, she would leave him to his own devices, but his expression is just comical enough to warrant an intervention. Putting a hand up, she orders a whiskey, neat and then slowly makes her way up to the pair. "Oh, there you are, dear." Ignoring the Dowager entirely, she holds the glass out to him. "Did you need a drink? I got completely cornered by Congressman Larion, simply could not escape. I was hoping to introduce you to someone, if you don't mind?"

—-

"I did, and yes, of course— Dowager, it's so nice to see you," the big fellow says, relief flooding over his features. The woman turns to scowl angrily at Peggy's interruption with the sort of New York scowl that's not really a /scowl/, per se, but her eyes contain enough fire to kickstart a nuclear reactor.

The dark haired fellow kisses the Dowager's cheek and dodges to the other side, and slipping past his jailor, links arms with Peggy and beats a hasty retreat.

Once they've made a few steps out of view, he turns to Peggy, loosening his elbow a little so her hand isn't clenched tight. "I owe you one for that," he admits, ruefully. "I'm pretty good at maneuvering through these hoity-toity fundraisers but that one— she could be a commando in another life," he admits. "She flat out had me pinned." He grins at the woman— despite his dark hair, his eyes are an unusually bright, crystalline shade of blue. "Bruce, by the way," he says, offering Peggy a handshake.

—-

Peggy uses her British charm and merely smiles politely at the Dowager. She's not about to be out scowled. Easily, she holds her arm out to be taken by Bruce, as if they had practiced it. She's used to improvising. "Pleasure," she tells the Dowager, the British accent making it all the more pointed. No one can do snooty like the British.

"I could see that. I would have left you to your own devices were it not for 'good baby making genes,'" Peggy smirks, her tone turning more conspiratorial. "No one deserves to be cornered by that. I've known quite a few women like her in my day." Her mother certainly ranks highly among them. "Peggy," she takes his hand in a firm grip. "I generally do not attend these functions, but I owe a friend a favor."

—-

"You too, huh?" Bruce remarks, dryly. He shakes Peggy's hand gently— not softly. He must climb rocks or something, because there's muscle and calluses there you don't get from a boardroom. "I had to make a deal with my friend Terry. He covered for me at a gala last month. I was sick." Recovering from a bout of Joker Gas, actually. "But, he told me I would have to step into his spot for one and lo and behold, here we are. We try to spread it out a bit so we can hit up as many of these events as possible while still having some kind of social life."

A clicking cane sounds not far off and he whirls, eyes widening. "Wow, she moves quick for an old woman," he mutters. He glances around, then nudges Peggy's waist with a few gentle fingertips, lifting his chin urgently across the room. "Quick, let's get on the dance floor before she kneecaps me with that walking stick," he mutters, trying to shuffle out of her approach path.

—-

There's no mention or visual cue that she notices his callused hand. It's unusual, but not enough to bring up at the moment. Peggy, instead takes a drink from her glass and nods. "Luckily, galas are not generally what I deal with. Though, I believe some would consider going to these events as having a social life."

Hearing the cane, she can't help but smirk. "I do believe you are scared of a ninety year old woman, Mr. Wayne," she tells him with an amused raised eyebrow. "And if she was going to 'accidentally' knee-cap one of us, I believe I would be the source of her ire. I was the one that robbed her daughters of your good genes." Peggy allows herself to be led to the dance floor to escape the the potential injury. "They could be nice women, though."

—-

A light waltz strikes up and Bruce leads Peggy into an easy four-point step, with a surprisingly deft balance. For a big fellow, he's light on his feet and he's got good rhythm. Under his jacket, though, there's not an ounce of fat to be had. Must be one of those actors who gets brought into these social events to make it more appealing to the tabloids, or some celebrity looking to buy his way into polite society.

"What do you do, Peggy?" Bruce inquires, once they're safely out of reach. "You said you owed a friend, that's why you're here?" His hand rests lightly and genteely on her right hip, while the other is held at shoulder level as he leads the step through the dance.

—-

For a moment, Peggy gives Bruce a surprised look at his nimbleness. He's a large guy, she did not expect him to be quite such a good dancer. However, if he's been to quite a few of these, perhaps he had to learn. "I work for SHIELD," she tells him. "I also owe Howard Stark a few favors. I'm starting to see why it was he wished someone else to come to this event in particular." She's also a good dancer, though perhaps a little out of practice. A waltz is, at least, something easy to follow.

"I would ask what you do, but I do believe I already know." She gives him a smile. Her own hand rests gently on his shoulder and she keeps the other one in his. "I had trouble placing you at first."

—-

"I try not to walk around with a giant nametag on," Bruce says, shaking his head minutely. "I feel like I don't get the best impression of people if they come at me knowing what they think they know. 'Bruce' is just another guy at just another shindig," he remarks, swaying back and forth through a neat little turn. "I even get to overhear funny jokes now and then, instead of everyone just trying to make me laugh."

"So SHIELD, huh? How long have you been a 007, Jane Bond type?" he inquires, leading Peggy through an under-arm turn.

—-

"Well, when you have been on the cover of a magazine, I believe the name tag might have been taken care of for you." Peggy smirks. "Though, I must say I do admire the singular name introduction. It did throw me for a little while." Twirling through the move, she returns back to Bruce in time with the music. "I will assure you, I truly only came to your aid due to your most pathetic look and not due to your last name."

Grinning, the dance moves come back to Peggy easily. While she is not the most light on her feet when it comes to fights, she knows how to move in order avoid both bullets and embarrassment. "There is more to SHIELD than typical espionage, you realize," she tells him, without actually confirming. "We make incredible scientific breakthroughs, as well as deal with international diplomacy at times."

—-

"'And tonight's feature presentation: Peggy, Agent of SHIELD,'" Bruce says, in a resonant theatrical baritone. "'Watch as our intrepid heroine processes form 447-Rs for the Turkish Consulate, and then a little after her lunch break, goes down to the labs to sign off on research expenditure reports and sit in on the weekly staff budget allocation meeting. Film at 11!'"

Bruce leads Peggy quite expertly through a tricky pas de deux, and when they belly up, he grins down at her. "Don't kid a kidder, Peggy, I happen to know that scientific innovation is 1 brilliant lab breakthroughs and 99 budget analysis meetings for the rest of us."

—-

There's a snicker from Peggy. For quite a few years of her SSR life, that was her job. With a truly amused laugh, the Agent follows through the pas de deus breezily, if not perfectly. "It is as you say, very boring ninety-nine percent of the time."

As they return to the slower part of the dance, she raises a mischievous eyebrow. "Ah, but isn't kidding the kidder half the fun?" She moves with the music, a pause held there for a moment. "The ratio is really no different for SHIELD. Though, I must say, Wayne Enterprises has come out with quite a few scientific innovations in the past few years. The budget analysis meetings must be quite intense."

—-

"I try to skip out on them as much as possible," Bruce admits, shaking his head. "I hire good people and I try to give them as much leeway as possible. They've got better things to do with their time than sit around justifying every purchase they make to me."

The music ends and Bruce offers Peggy his elbow to escort her to the edge of the dance floor. "Can I offer you another drink, Peggy?" he inquires. "Seems like the least I can do after you saved my pathetic provebial bacon back there."

—-

"Ah, so what you are saying is that I did kid a kidder," Peggy gives him an amused smile as the dance ends. "Though, honestly, I wish we had the freedom to do what we want without the need for constant justification in SHIELD, to be frank. But, that is a government agency for you." There's a pause, but then she loops her arm through his. "You may. Though, I must say, I have been using you as quite a buffer against eager politicians. So, it has been equal opportunity saving." As they saunter off the dance floor, she moves the topic. "You'll have to tell me where you learned to dance"

—-

"I wouldn't know— everyone says I don't have a sense of humor," Bruce remarks, with a positively Saharan wit.

"It's not that I have more freedom per se— I'd say that I'm just better able to duck the liability if someonthing goes wrong. I can cover our losses if we eat five million dollars in bad R&D, but do that in a government job, someone's gonna get fired."

He guides Peggy to the bar and orders her a whiskey, and for himself, a cranberry juice. "I've got a physical tomorrow," he says, by way of explaning his lack of an alcoholic beverage as Peggy bellies up to a stiff one.

"Oh, don't you know? Snobby rich brats all have to learn how to dance and which of the ten forks to use," Bruce explains, with a sly smile. "So we can impress the parents of the girls our families pick out for us. How about yourself? You dance the waltz very smoothly, you've got great technique. Where'd you learn?"

—-

"Yes, you seem like a very humorless man, Mr. Wayne," Peggy replies dryly. Having been given a whiskey while he takes a cranberry juice is certainly something she takes note of, perhaps due to the fact that she gave him a whiskey before to try and pry him from the Dowager's clutches. "I see," she says. There's multiple reasons to not drink alcohol. Being a multi-millionaire alcoholic could be something he doesn't wish to broadcast to a near stranger.

Not commenting on that, though, she adds, "Oh, didn't you know? The British are taught ballroom dancing practically from the womb. It's part of our heritage. That and our love of the Queen. Where did you think the American snobs got the idea from?" She grins.

As she takes a sip of her drink, she does add, more truthfully, "My mother insisted on lessons."

—-

"Too bad it's going out of vogue," Bruce Wayne says, slowly shaking his head. "No one wants to learn how to dance together. It's all about clubbing. At the risk of a social debate," he chuckles, apologetically. "It's a generation of people who are only interested in using one another, not building something excellent with one another." He shrugs at Peggy again. "Sorry. I've always liked partner dancing. It's much harder to move someone else to the music than just move yourself."

He takes a sip from the drink in his hand. "How are you liking America, then? I take it you're not a recent import to the States," he inquires of the lovely agent, a free hand resting loosely in his trouser pocket. "You haven't asked for the loo or a lift in the last five minutes, anyway."

—-

"Yes, I was always fond of dancing, though it is hard to find a proper partner who knows what he is doing," Peggy tells Bruce with a bit of a smile, moving away from the bar, but not back toward the dance floor again just yet. "I have yet to 'club', though I guess I am rather old fashioned in that respect." Understatement of the year, but that's not exactly public knowledge.

The smile turns warmer as he states his reasonings for preferring partner dancing. "I'm not sure it's exactly generational. I know—heard of many people from previous generations who thought of others as stepping stones."

With a laugh, she mimics his sip and takes a small one of her own. "Oh, I have been living here for quite a few years. And I worked with the American Armed Forces quite thoroughly before that. If it would make you feel more comfortable, I could use what little Cockney slang I know. Or, I could put my pinky up as I sip this drink." Grinning, she shrugs her shoulders. "I quite like the States. I know it is cliche, but I find a certain…optimism here that is lacking elsewhere."

Pausing, she glances about the room and then back at Bruce. "While you have said you don't enjoy the parties, do you enjoy what you do? I imagine with the resources at your disposal, you could easily hire others to run Wayne Enterprises without even the need to go to budgetary meetings, send money to charities instead of actually attending."

—-

"I suppose I do well enough," Bruce concedes, taking long enough to answer to show Peggy he's giving it serious thought. "I know how lucky I am. I don't have to punch a clock or swing a hammer to make a living. I could retire tomorrow and live out my days off my savings."

"I think I must love it, then. I'm not really doing it for the money, it's just a way of keeping score. The game's the thing," he grins at Peggy. "Negotiating deals, building jobs— helping people by giving them the means to help themselves. I've found nothing makes a person feel more like a man— or woman," he amends— "than giving them the means to build up a life of success for themselves. I've never been a fan of handouts if it's at all possible."

"So yes, Miss Carter, I /do/ enjoy it," he says, nodding once. "It's what I'm good at and it just so happens that I'm in much demand. But still— it's nice to descend from those ivory towers and actually enjoy humanity once in a while," he says, with a self-effacing humor. "Even find a good dance partner now and then. I don't want to end up being one of those cold bastards who sits at home counting his money all day."

—-

There's a matched grin at his response. Peggy takes another swig of her drink. "I believe you would need more of a Scottish accent to portray yourself accurately. Also a duck bill. I don't suppose you have three nephews with rhyming names by any chance? That could certainly help with the image." Continuing that train of thought, she swirls the liquid in her glass. For a moment, she faux studies him. "Though, perhaps you could have a bit of a Citizen Kane aura. You don't happen to have a beloved sled in your garage somewhere?"

More seriously, she nods. "It's good to enjoy what you do. Ivory tower or no. Giving people an opportunity…it's an important thing. It can be surprising what they can show you."

—-

"Just a Radio Flyer wagon with one missing wheel," Bruce tells Peggy, deadpanning though a grin. "But I can do some mean circles in the street with it."

He considers her whiskey, then shakes his head— clearly tempted to join her for a drink, and thinking better of it. Still, they stand close enough to talk without having to raise their voices to one another, and he doesn't seem to mind her proximity in the swirling melee of the ball. "Is that a cartoon reference? The … old duck, with the top hat?" he asks, scrunching his nose up in thought. "Sorry. Never watched much television as a kid."

He gives Peggy a speculative look, then smiles abruptly. "I'm glad I've got this opportunity," he says, gesturing vaguely between the two of them. "I don't meet a lot of interesting new people in my line of work. You're surprising me quite a bit— American pop culture refernces? Good whiskey? And you aren't married," he remarks, glancing at her hand. "You must be as busy as I am. Or just not met the right person?"

—-

"Cartoon?" Peggy tilts her head slightly, surprised. In her mind, Citizen Kane nor Scrooge McDuck are cartoons. Then, she remembers, she did see some of those while Howard was trying to update her cultural references. Since she had once compared him to the Scrooge McDuck comic, he thought himself hilarious to show her the cartoon. "Oh! Yes, forgive me, I was thinking of the comic. It took me a moment. But, yes, the duck that impractically dives into a vault of gold coins. Tri-colored nephews. I did not watch TV as a child, either." As, well, there was no such thing. "I've been trying got make up for it."

Peggy certainly notices him glance at her hand as they talk. "It's been a pleasure to speak with you, as well. Though, I imagine it certainly can't be all dowagers and hangers on." The question of meeting or not meeting the right person is met with raised eyebrows, a pause as she attempts to figure out how to answer that landmine of a subject. Again, she goes with deflection. "I, well, I am mostly married to my job."

—-

Bruce seems to sense he's treading into dangerous territory. Peggy looks younger than he does, by at least a few years— despite the no-nonsense look, she's clearly not approaching 'lonely spinster' age. Her reticence is adequate deflection and graciously, Bruce doesn't follow that line of discussion.

Still, a flirty rejoinder would have put him onto more even footing.

"It's either them or businesspeople trying to get some face time to hear their investment proposal. I once agreed to a date with a nice young lady, only to discover her father was at the restaurant ahead of us to pitch an idea about automated tomato peelers." He shakes his head. "And once in a while, good old fashioned corporate espionage, or a little attempt at entrapment. I like to carry a little sheaf of 'classified WayneTech data' in an envelope and let my pocket get picked," he tells Peggy, conspiratorially. "Then I get to laugh while Hammer or one of Luthor's subsidiaries try to invent the automatic meat tenderizer, sure that they can beat us to the punch by bypassing R&D."

—-

The moment between the pair of them after the question does not hold tension, exactly, but their banter falters just slightly. Peggy is, clearly, ready to sidestep more. Avoidance is familiar territory for the spy. As she watches Bruce over the glass of her whiskey, she can see him decide against following that topic of conversation and her body language relaxes slightly.

In fact, she seems both amused and impressed at his story of business espionage. "That's rather brilliant, Mr. Wayne," she says. "Though, I must say, I did not realize the world of automated tomato peelers was that cut throat." Conspiratrially, she leans forward. "You should put a rudimentary code on some of that classified data. It would give the others an even greater sense of accomplishment at having cracked something so important to WayneTech that it had to be coded."

—-

"I think I've got a decoder ring from a packet of Cracker Jacks somewhere," Bruce responds, matching Peggy's tone of voice. "Would be a lot of fun to see how much money they'd spend trying to decrypt the modern version of 'Drink your Ovaltine'." He laughs easily at Peggy's good humor, grinning at her.

"Could leave the core message something like 'Buy Wayne Stock' and listen for the screams of anger from Luthor Industry's main tower." He finishes his juice and sets the glass on a passing waiter's tray, turning back to Peggy. "You've got a good mind for this sort of thing, too. If you ever are looking for work in the private sector, let me know. The dental plan isn't as good, but there's a lower risk of getting shot at and the paychecks are a bit bigger."

—-

"Perfect." Peggy laughs and finishes the last of her whiskey. "And the best part is how they can't say anything, as they acquired the documents illegally. It also sets up good corporate gifts of decoder rings to Luthor Corp and Hammer Industries." The woman can be downright happily vindictive, should the mood strike her.

Setting her own glass down on the same tray, she shrugs. "I do appreciate the offer, however I don't believe the private sector is for me. Larger paychecks, worst dental plans and all." Looking at a clock, she smiles. "I do hate to be the woman who says, 'Oh look at the time!' But, I believe I should go. Plus, I wouldn't wish to take up any more of your mingling time. Making it to the gossip columns tends to be frowned upon in SHIELD."

—-

"And I'm sure that your bosses want to debrief you and analyze every word I said," Bruce agrees amicably, offering a handshake to Peggy. He clasps his other hand over her knuckles, quite gently and only for a second. "It was a sincere pleasure to meet you, Miss Carter. I appreciate your help. I'll try to take some of your advice to heart while I go back to dodging the Dowager." He grimaces, looking around the ballroom. "I might beat a hasty retreat, myself. But good luck to you out there, and thank you for your service."

—-

With a laugh, Peggy shakes her head. "Perhaps, if any of them knew I was here. But, this was a personal favor to a friend." Leaning forward, she says teasingly, "Your secrets are safe with me, Mr. Wayne. All the more reason to stay out of the tabloids."

Shaking Bruce's hand, she smiles. "It was lovely to meet you was well. I hope we cross our paths again soon in situations including less Dowagers. I wish you good luck and Godspeed. For what it may be worth, I noticed a side exit by the back stairwell. It may be perfect for slipping away unnoticed by cane wielding matchmakers."

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