Flustered

December 26, 2016:

Peggy accidentally walks in on a lecture of Jane's. The conversation takes a turn when Jane asks Peggy how she got the bruises on her neck.

The Triskelion

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Agent Coulson, The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Peggy is finally cleared again for active duty after her run-in with a metal armed man who shall not be named. There is a determination in her desire to find Bucky, now. It's not just Steve's sad expression at the thought that his best friend may be alive and attempting to kill people. It's that if the descriptions are right and her own experience matches up properly with it, that means that this may go far beyond just a rescue mission.

The woman from the 40s moves through the research and development area of SHIELD - the quickest way back toward her office from the med bay - lost in thought. Though she may not exactly have resting bitch face, the expression is certainly one that makes people give her a wide berth. That is possibly why she doesn't realize she has taken a few wrong turns until she opens a door she believes will lead to the hallway and instead finds herself in another lab. Blinking, the hardened expression turns into one of surprise and possibly dismay. "Oh! I'm—-bollocks."

—-

Sometimes there are downsides to being leashed to the evil, soulless, shadow-agency that is SHIELD. Downsides that Dr. Jane Foster did not realize upon signing her contract. Downsides that the smiling Agent Coulson only asided after a fact, once all the paperwork was in order, once her lab was arranged, once her list of equipment was approved… "Oh, by the way, Dr. Foster, it would be an honour if you could host a few seminars for SHIELD's up-and-coming minds."

Jane's eyes burned as he shook her hand and laughed. And said, "I knew you would agree. Fantastic!"

This is what brings her here today, SPECIAL VISITOR tag in place, and literally dying inside, dying, connections breaking between atoms, electrons scattered, water vaporizing, soul draining away, as she stands in a lab before an equation-encrusted whiteboard, corner to corner layered and layered with graphs and numbers.

Jane drones on with sad eyes. "No — the Kruskal-Szekeres graph coordinates event horizons. Here you can solve for their hyperbolic contours and literally find coordinates for your singularity. This is where my work comes in. I'm using these coordinates as a marker. Like a — roadsign. It's a route where I'm taking my, I guess, highway, which is — more a geodesic than anything — and then I'm —"

The door opens. The lecture pauses. About ten R&D interns turn around and… immediately go starry-eyed. "It's Agent Carter!" one whispers excitedly.

—-

Oh dear. This is not what she was expecting. She thought this would be and empty hallway, instead it is a seminar with scientist agents. It's hard to miss the whispered exclamation as someone recognizes her. Sheepishly, she smiles and then does the only proper thing she can think to do, clasp her hands in front of her and pretend as if she is supposed to be here. While the angry purple vaguely hand-shaped bruise on her neck has mostly faded, it's still visible, especially as she has stopped wearing scarves and turtlenecks in order to hide it.

"Ah, yes, I was hoping I might borrow…" she looks at Jane - at the front, therefore most likely the lecturer - and quickly reads her badge. "Spec—" she stops talking as her reading comprehension catches up with her mouth. That badge says Special Visitor not a title and name. Dammit. Taking a calculated leap, she simply says, "That is, the good doctor. If you don't mind?" She gives a raised eyebrow to Jane.

—-

On any other day, Dr. Foster would be rolling back her head and, with her eyes, beseeching God and the heavens above to please strike her down, because she's lost a room's attention in all of half-a-second after spending the last HOUR trying to explain and re-explain and re-explain what are elementary concepts in general relativity, who the hell is even teaching these kids —

But she's too busy staring too, a little wide-eyed, transparently recognizing Agent Carter, her mind stalled like a car left out a cold night in winter. Too many thoughts whirlpool through Jane's anxious head, thoughts of James Barnes, thoughts of Steve Rogers, and — she read extensively about Peggy Carter too, the woman who gave the most candid information about the two men when they were lost.

Her eyebrows lift when it seems the Agent is not just walking in accidentally, but — appearing to need her assistance. Or just her person. She's staring at that bruise on Miss Carter's neck, a little too obviously, when spoken to, blinking quickly and clearing her throat. "I — ah, sure, you guys can just… I don't know. Read the board and… learn something." With that, Jane steps forward, something like a spooked doe in the way she moves, pixie-tiny in her jeans and sweater. She lingers, waiting for Carter to take the lead.

—-

Take the lead Carter does, gesturing for Jane to follow her back outside the doors the seemingly famous agent just entered through. As soon as the doors close shut behind her, she exhales a relieved breath. "Ah, thank you," she tells the brunette scientist. "That was a remarkable blunder, I believe I missed a turn somewhere. This place is an underground labyrinth of hallways in depressing steel and fluorescent lighting. I might have just slipped back out, but, well, I didn't want to come off as a total nutter."

Ruffling a hand through her curly hair, she smiles apologetically and sticks a hand forward to shake. "Agent Carter. Forgive me for interrupting your lecture, Doctor…?" After a moment, her other hand drifts to her neck, where it's clear the scientist was studying her bruising. "Perhaps I should have kept wearing the scarf," she sighs under her breath.

—-

Even in a change of overhead lights, Dr. Foster still looks like a deer in highlights. It may not be anything new. Agent Carter is famous. People act weird with celebrities.

"I, uh, I can't even take the trains here — sometimes. It's — you're talking to the master of getting lost," Jane hears herself babble, knows it's babbling, and yet, at the same time, cannot seem to stop herself. Her thoughts are elsewhere. Twenty different directions elsewhere. She's close with Captain Rogers, isn't she? Close close? Or close-close.

"It's Dr. Foster. I'm Dr. Foster!" Jane pauses. "Call me Jane!" She didn't need to yell that part. She clears her throat, takes another too-long glance at those bruises, and cringes when realizing she's been politely caught. "I know you! Well, I've — read about you. Read a lot about you. You're… famous. Really famous. And — sorry. I need to stop staring. Always staring. It's not you, it's me, being a total inept weirdo right now."

She can absolutely remember how it is to be polite. "Can I ask how you —?" Jane, that is not being polite.

—-

There is a certain amount of babble and celebrity that Peggy has started to become used to in the present day. It's something that has taken quite a long while to understand. It was always Steve that got the attention back in the 40s, she by both the nature of her job and her gender was relegated to the sidelines. That so many people seem to know her name and her legacy is a strange thing she has continually attempted to handle.

However, she gives Jane a smile at the accommodation at the trains comment and then the introduction. "A pleasure, then, Jane. I usually have a good sense of direction. A lot on my mind lately." The mention of being famous is met with a bit of a blush and an embarrassed glance downward. "It's quite alright. Really, it's my fault for barging in on your lecture."

The question of the bruising on her neck is met with a shrug, fingers still gently prodding at it. Attempting to make light of the situation, she replies, unworried, "Interrupted a man with a metal arm attempting to assassinate someone. The usual SHIELD Tuesday."

—-

As of today, here and now, it's obvious the famous Agent Carter has won her own fair share of attention, that being the starry eyes of Jane Foster. For all the spite she holds for SHIELD, more than enough of it that it makes her skin itch to be inside these walls, and she's pretty certain Agent Phil Coulson is her immortal nemesis spawned by the fires of Hell to plague her forever, she can't help but see Peggy Carter as a light among it — really, a hero all girls aspire too.

Especially those doomed to work in male-dominated fields.

But even then, it's not entirely star-struck awkwardness that seems to plague the scientist, as Jane rubs a little nervously at the back of her neck, fidgets, straightens her ID tag a few times, and tries to pretend she's not glancing again and again at those neck bruises. In the shape of a hand.

Polite as the agent is, she even obliges Jane's bold question. And Jane, for her part —

Just stares forward, straight at a wall, her tiny neck ribbing with a swallow. She feels her stomach flip over. Metal arm. Assassinate. All those times he's come to her — repairs for that arm — it can't be — a coincidence — it can be something else — it's not like she's actively upgrading — something that could — something that would — do that — and, and, and —

"Are you OK?" Jane asks, out of nowhere, turning a wide-eyed look on Peggy. Her eyes are almost begging. "You're not — hurt? H- hurt badly?"

—-

The flippancy with which Peggy offhandedly states that her injury is from a man with a metal arm certainly has a certain assumption that Jane will either knowingly nod or assume Peggy is not being serious. Of course, she should have also accounted for that 'very famous' and 'not an agent' x-factor into the equation.

As Jane fidgets more and focuses more and more on her neck bruises, the Agent Emeritus studies the scientist in front of her more astutely than before. There is little change in her actual demeanor, however. The smile remains in place. She's not quite sure why hearing more about the bruises on her neck may have rattled the other woman, but she's certainly curious.

"I'll be alright. It's certainly not the first time someone tried to kill me, nor will it be the last." There is a genuine attempt to calm Jane in her response, though she also may still not be going about it in the right way.

—-

The first time someone tried to kill me, says the agent.

Dr. Foster averts her eyes, unable to look at her, glancing away instead at one of the faceless white walls. Her gazes flinches at the corners and her mouth, very minutely, tightens at the corners. She tries to breathe through the guilt eating her alive. She's an idiot if she thinks this a coincidence. The evidence is present, and clear, and writ around a woman's THROAT. Did she make those modifications to worsen the grip? Was it her doing in part of that? Of course Jane did. Of course. She has to learn. She has to advance. She has to better the world around her.

Isn't that what a scientist does? Isn't that the role of an engineer? Create tools? Create weapons?

Would she have still helped him, knowing the effect it could cause? Will she continue to help him?

Of course she will. And not because she was coerced — she doesn't think she is at this point, not any more, not any longer. And not entirely for her own pride, because she knows what she's capable of. And yet —

She tries to sort through so many complicated feelings. In the end, Jane can only feel like she's earned a dark etching on her soul. A tally to count her acts — but to what end, she is not sure.

The scientist glances back up. "Do you… I read once… well. I read you were — are — close with Captain Rogers. Are you still…?"

—-

As Peggy continues speaking, it's clear that everything she's said has only made things worse. Crossing her arms in front of her, she watches the shorter brunette as she looks away. It doesn't take much to realize that the other woman feels uncomfortable, perhaps guilty about something. It all, also, started at the mention of these throat bruises.

The smile fades into a more serious expression as she wonders just what, exactly, it is that might make Jane feel guilty about her injury. Then, however, she is side-swiped by her own emotional baggage when the scientist brings up Steve Rogers.

The serious look is immediately replaced by a bit of a flush of her cheeks. That is certainly not something she expected to be asked. The surprise of it knocks her completely off guard. "What Captain Rogers and I do in the privacy of our lives isthat is, not that there isor wasanything" For once in this conversation, it is Peggy that is flustered and babbling and not Jane. "past or present" There's a pause and she attempts to put herself back on track. Going the more traditional line, she says firmly, "What I mean to say is that Captain Rogers and I are friends. And coworkers. And I respect Captain Rogers and his devotion to protect others."

—-

The guilt begets an idea of sorts — or something that Jane tries to sort through her head. An idea that wades in through the guilt.

Dr. Foster deals in facts. She needs facts. She /trusts/ facts. And they are many and undeniable when it comes to the strange relationship of Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter. Now, Jane is less knowledgable when it comes to matters of the heart — really, her own experience is, what? a few bad blind dates in college, seriously, the worst was the guy who wouldn't stop ranting about sand, and then with Donald, biggest mistake ever, letting him in, letting him /have/ her, for him to just forget the moment he was out of eyesight, just up and left, just never even looked back —

Jane pulls her overactive mind out of that dead end. Her first priority, which is probably more than a little possessive at this point, is protecting James Barnes. Or whatever of James is lost in that Soldier — the same one whose hand is etched in bruising around Peggy's throat. Fact maintains Peggy knew the man, just as she knew Steve — they were all comrades, perhaps even closer friends — no definitely closer friends — braving the second World War together. So much can change in decades, even to a man and woman both lost to time —

And Peggy's response befuddles Jane all the more, who balks backward a half-step, blinking askance as the Agent seems to… fluster, and take great and significant pains to attest that, no, absolutely no, it was just a professional relationship, and coworkers, and it was respect, respect for the shield, and the valor and bravery needed to hoist it, and and and —

Jane stares passively. She doesn't look all that convinced. She doesn't look all that anything, as she tries to sort out whether she should even try to — bring this woman some facsimile of knowledge she has. Because she needs help. Captain Rogers needs help. James really, really needs help. But she needs to protect him, needs to protect how she's come to know him, needs to guard him, needs to trust —

She purses her mouth through all those excuses. And says, "But… you two are close."

—-

Strange, that could be quite the apropos word the relationship between Steve and Peggy. Two people from World War II, out of their element, lost each other, found each other again in a different century….yes, strange. The so-called famous Agent of SHIELD is on a little more sure footing when she finally understands what Jane is asking. It was not an insinuation.

"I—yes. I would consider us good friends." Now that the shock of the question is fading, she continues to study Jane closely. There is something here, something that she is picking up, but is unsure what it all is. "Why?"

—-

Why? is a good question. It's a very, very good question. It's the sort of question Jane respects. Hell, it's question of the year where her entire life is concerned.

Why?

Jane's eyes reflect the desperate words she wants, wants, wants to say: so I know your friend from seventy years ago, the dead one, Steve Rogers' best friend, hit a bell? He's alive and not himself, he has metal for an arm and some sort of torture-made MK ultra program for a mind. But he's there, and I promise it, because I'm evidence for that, because I'm still here, still alive, and he hasn't killed me yet. I fix his arm because it's beautiful, and I'm going to upgrade it because he deserves what I can do, and I probably made the adjustment to make him hurt you and I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. He didn't mean it, he's a lost man and he's alone and he's in pain and he's looking for his friend, his best friend like he's somehow lost him, and he seems to trust me in a way though he won't let me close. He's getting tortured and one day he's going to disappear, disappear when his mission is over and I can't do this alone, I need help, please, please please —

"I'm sorry," Dr. Foster says instead, a cringe pinched into her dark eyes. "I know you don't know me, and this is all strange —"

She pauses. Ears everywhere, Jane. In the walls. In the ceilings. In the ugly, ugly carpet. "I met Captain Rogers the other day. He spoke… he spoke of you. A lot. He said we should meet, and I'm glad we did. You should… you two should catch up. I think he misses you." Her strained eyes seem to say something else. But the woman is already backstepping, lingering back to the closed door of her lab. "I should… I should get back. Paycheques and all. It was really great to meet you."

—-

Whatever Peggy was expecting Jane to say, that was certainly not it. There are a few blinks as she processes the information. It's, truly, not a lot, but at the same time quite a bit. "Ithat is"

After a moment, Peggy swallows, trying to look more professional. She's usually not quite this surprised this often in a casual conversation. Though, could this conversation be considered causal any more? Instead, she watches Jane, more curious about her now than she was before about this Special Visitor whose lecture she interrupted. There's a lot unsaid here, she can sense it. "Perhaps I will." In Peggy-speak that means she will certainly do that. If Steve has the answers to this enigma, they need to meet.

"Yes," the agent nods to Jane as she allows the skittish scientist to return to her lecture. "It was nice to meet you as well. I'm sure we will see each other again soon." Most likely because Peggy tends to keep tabs on people she has randomly alarming discussions with in hallways. She waits till Jane is back in her lecture hall before turning back toward where she thinks the elevator banks truly are. As she goes, she pulls out her phone to start searching for Doctor Jane Foster and what kind of research she does and what she may be doing for SHIELD.

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