Anachronisms

March 07, 2018:

Old Peggy Carter calls Phil Coulson and Agent 13 to visit her under mysterious circumstances.

Nursing Home - Virginia

Characters

NPCs: Eddie

Mentions: Steve Rogers, Michael Carter

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

A call was sent to Sharon Carter and Phil Coulson via a nurse. A request for a meet in a small, SHIELD enhanced hospital outside of Virginia. This is where Peggy Carter - the one who lived through the Cold War and everything after - resides. Her hair is thin and white, though still curled. However, she no longer wears makeup, the trademark red lipstick long since removed. She looks almost frail in her bed. A white nightgown her clothing, the bedclothes pulled up to her chest.

Her bedside table is overstuffed with framed pictures. A very young Sharon features in a few. Michael - in his WWII military uniform - is in others. There is a picture of her with Howard Stark, Edwin Jarvis, Ana Jarvis and Colonel Phillips featured near the center. It seems to be an outtake, each of them in the midst or already laughing, glasses of champagne held in their hands.

While both Sharon and Coulson know that Peggy drifts in and out of consciousness and awareness, when they arrive she certainly looks cognizant.

*

It was a little startling meeting her own CO in the lobby of Peggy Carter's retirement home. Of all places she'd expected to see him, it wasn't here. She's clearly off duty in a white angora sweater and blue jeans, but she doesn't even bother hiding her puzzlement when she sees Coulson.

But the conclusion comes even before she speaks: "Aunt Peggy called you, too, didn't she?" Not that she has any remote idea why. But she'll accept it from one of the greatest (if not _the_ greatest) agents SHIELD has ever known.

She'll usher him to the room, her mind racing. A warm smile breaks over her face when she sees Peggy: she's always loved the woman like a second mother, admired her like the greatest mentor, and while it kills her to see the woman like this, it's still Aunt Peggy more than the woman who came forward in time the short way.

"Hey, Aunt Peggy. I brought you those biscuits you like," she says, patting her handbag. "Though I'm guessing you have something on your mind other than these." She glances to Coulson at her side, but she says no more for now.

*

"She did," Coulson agrees. He's as impeccably dressed as ever, though minus a tie, the first few buttons of his dove-grey dress shirt unbuttoned. He bites back on the urge to apologize to Sharon for that; intruding, as he feels he is, on family time. He may have developed a relationship with Peggy Out of Time, this woman, the one before them in the bed, may have given him her pin and the frankly life-and-career changing advice that has guided him, but he didn't exactly pursue her out of her retirement. He sent Christmas cards, when he remembered to, because of his very warm feelings. When he remembered it was Christmas, which he often didn't, with his back pressed to walls in dusty Hellholes while bullets banged around him, his voice going hoarse while he yelled into comms. He didn't imagine she'd want a visit from Random Agent #75, which is how he thought of himself.

Indeed, he's shocked she has any idea who he even is to ask for him at all. That stays off his face though.

"Agent Carter," he greets, with the gentle equinamity and unruffled calm he's now known for. He had flown back home for this meeting; he'll return to Genosha in very little time at all, but despite his own confusion when this woman calls he gets on the plane and shows up no matter where in the world he happens to be. Just period.

And if nothing else, the words know your own worth, boy ring in his head and in his memory enough that he keeps all of the surprise locked neatly away in favor of displaying little more than curiosity and amicability.

*

Peggy pushes herself up in the bed a little more as Sharon and Phil enter. "Punctual." There's a curt smile at that, nodding in approval. She appreciates punctual.

"Thank you, dear," she tells Sharon. The smile turns fond as she looks at the woman that she helped train and survive a life of espionage. "I will indulge later, of course. I've asked for tea. They know how I like it." As if on cue, a nurse enters with a tea tray. A large pot of tea sits on it with three mugs. Peggy gestures at Coulson and Sharon to sit at the chairs that have been pulled from the wall in a very distinct way to set nearby the table that is right beside her bed. "Sit, please."

As they enter and eye each other, she gestures at them, her hand noticeably shaking. "Agent Coulson, Agent 13," even in this place, without Sharon's permission she does not call her more familiarly than dear. "Thank you for traveling all this way. I have asked you both here as…" she drifts for a moment. Why did she ask them here? "You both work together. That is important."

*

It's a surprise, if not a real shock, that Coulson and Peggy have met. He's the sort Peggy would want to encourage — steadfast, thoughtful, moral, but not above or against doing the right thing rather than the by-the-rules thing.

It's a SHIELD tradition, really.

Sharon settles herself in a chair alongside the bed, setting the box of tea biscuits aside for later. She accepts the tea gratefully — Peggy's way of drinking tea is the only way Sharon knows, therefore the only right one — and listens before adding: "Agent Coulson is my new CO. Did I remember to tell you?" Which is the way you remind beloved relatives of things they may have forgotten. "For you to call us both, something very particular must be going on."

*

Coulson of course accepts his own tea. And, as is his wont, does exactly what he does to his coffee. He puts a cloying amount of both creamer and sugar into the stuff, so that ultimately he is having a little tea with his diabetes. But he does this all with the same gentle smile on his face, absently. Hazel eyes don't leave the elder Carter's. His XO basically says all he would have to say for the moment, so he sips his tea. Concern crinkles at the corners of those eyes, the deep laugh and worry lines that decided to take up residence there not too many years ago.

Because even with Agent Carter drifting, his gut tells him this is, in fact, serious business. It's not at all just an elder losing the thread and deciding to do something erratic.

*

"Yes, yes of course." Peggy gives Sharon a smile. It's hard to tell for a moment if she really does remember what Sharon told her or if she is using that innate training to never bely weakness. Then, though, there is a moment of confusion as she looks between Coulson and Sharon. Peggy looks troubled as she looks down at her hands, then at the pictures at her table. "No, no, that's not your father."

A panic seems to raise in her for a moment. Then, she shakes her head. A hand, trembling reaches forward for her tea cup. It's plastic - nothing that can be easily tossed or dropped to break. The liquid inside it wobbles. Either Peggy takes her tea black or she has decided to do so right now.

"Michael, didn't I invite Michael? He should know this." Then, she shakes her head. "No, Michael is dead. He's supposed to be dead." Her eyes cloud as she tries to think this all through, works through everything that is happening. "This has to do with MI:6. That was after. After him."

*

They hadn't actually decided for certain yet whether they were going to tell Peggy that Michael was alive. Sharon's eyes flick to Phil's and she bites her lip, then looks back to Peggy and furrows her brows. She looks at the pictures around Peggy and murmurs, reaching out: "That's my father, there. Harrison."

But she's talking about Michael, too, and something about the way she says it… a deep breath. "This probably isn't the best time to tell you this," she murmurs, "but Michael…" She hesitates. "You know he's alive," Sharon finishes. "Don't you. The way you said that. Not 'he's dead' but 'he's supposed to be dead'. He was. But he's been disavowed by MI:6. Not that it was his fault."

They hadn't decided whether to tell her. It's probably not fair of Sharon to be the unilateral decider there, but Peggy doesn't have many years left. Better she get to spend as many of them as possible with her beloved brother, and while she can still understand that he's really there.

*

Family business.

When given his druthers? Phil Coulson plays his cards close to his chest. Unfairly, in fact, quite often. He has been known to keep secrets, out of habit, that just don't even really require keeping. Then again, in 30+ years he has sometimes found those little secrets to be the one tripping up point later on, the one thing that, had he revealed, might have sunk him or a member of his team.

Would he have, if consulted, suggested leaving Michael a secret?

The answer is a 90% chance of yes.

But this is not really his decision to make. At the very least, there is no censure, either for Sharon's assessment of what Elder Carter may know, or for her decision not just to share it, but to confirm it. In a world of paranoid, close-lipped people Phil routinely kicks it up to 11; he knows this about himself.

And in any case, it doesn't matter.

His soft-spoken voice offers the first words since his initial, decorous greeting. "What about MI-6, ma'am?"

*

Peggy reaches out to the picture that depicts Sharon with Harrison. It's beseeching, a bit out of her reach. "Harrison. Yes. Of course. I—-" She looks to Coulson. A strange expression on her face. It's clear for a moment, a known quantity. "I'm sorry. I know. Yes, I'm sorry Agent Coulson." Her eyes cloud and she looks down, annoyed.

As for Michael, there is a moment there where she looks truly guilty, upset. "Michael. Yes. Yes. I meant to tell you about what I knew about Michael. I'm sorry. He's alive, Sharon. He's alive." A hand reaches out from her tea mug to grab at her. "That is very classified. I shouldn't have said. I shouldn't even know."

Coulson's reminder about why she called them here is met with a few slow blinks. "Yes." Yes, she called them there for a reason. Specifically them, too. "MI-6. They have…there is some bad blood. I saw something. Someone told me something recently." A crease in her brow. Who told her?

"Something is coming. Something is after SHIELD. It's possible they're already in."

*

See? Not the horrible fallout anyone expected. Peggy Carter's still there, still tough as nails, even if those nails are getting a touch rusty. She needs to get Uncle Mike down here. Peggy needs to see him. That's… important. It has the immediacy in Sharon's mind of something incredibly important and incredibly soon.

She takes her aunt's hand, squeezing it warmly and running a thumb over it. "I understand. You couldn't tell anyone. It was classified. We're a classified kind of family; we understand when people keep secrets."

Coulson's reminder is met with a glance and a slight nod. Keeping them on track like a good CO. She takes Peggy's free hand, keeping it warm in both of hers. Her expression turns a little more grim, though, as she hears this.

"Do you remember who told you this? Or when?" Her eyes flick back to Coulson. "We might know a little. Someone has been leaving traces."

*

Coulson nods back at Sharon; for the most part, he really is content to let her lead this interaction. His brow furrows though; Sharon's not wrong, but this latest warning causes him to wonder what he has missed. Or rather, what else he has missed, considering none of the moles are in custody yet. This rather speaks to a larger magnitude of problem than the one he'd initially identified. If, indeed, they are even linked. He's not sure how MI6 should play into this, for example, and that uncertainty alone bothers him.

He is a man of patterns, and he leans back in his seat, crossing his legs at the ankles. He's analyzing them now. Was Michael's betrayal and disavowment part of a larger picture that he hasn't seen yet? He makes a resolution to begin trying to look for oddities out of MI6 communications and maneuvers that he might not have looked at before; on the flight back it will be something to do. He's not sure what he's looking for, but many, many of his best finds have been simply a result of spotting things that didn't mesh well. Discordant notes in what otherwise looked like a harmony.

Maybe it's time to really scrub back over his agent's efforts to find the mole or moles, too.

*

Sharon's hand in her own anchors Peggy a bit. She grips the hand in hers. It is not strong, but it is firm. "Yes. Our family is classified. It is entirely classified, Sharon. You know. Thank God." There is a soft sigh of relief. "You know."

The other hand clasps onto hers and she looks up to Coulson. "No. It was a man. A man in a suit. He visits me sometimes. He talks about things. The old days. He talks about SHIELD and MI:6. Mostly, he talks about the war."

A head tilts. "He brought someone who says he knows you both: Sharon, Phil. It's why I wanted to talk to you. He says he knows you. Knows you're both in terrible danger, but he couldn't warn you himself. He trusted me. I needed to warn you."

*

'The war'. Presumably Peggy's war, though there have been enough between then and now thatt one might actually wonder. Sharon racks her brain: who could this be? Someone she knows, and someone who knows Phil? Someone who also has access to see Peggy? The only person she could think of who meets all those requirements is not someone Peggy would refer to as "a man in a suit". That man has a name, and the only suit he leans toward is spangled.

"Did he tell you what kind of danger? Who is he? Apart from a man in a suit. I'm sorry to press, but if this has something to do with Uncle Michael, with SHIELD and MI-6…"

In the back of her head, she's taking notes. Connecting things. But she's also aware that there's a lot of puzzle pieces still not even visible.

*

This is a nursing home. There's likely to be a sign-in log that all guests are required to sign. There are likely to be lobby cameras. And guards that Coulson can talk to. He doesn't like vague warnings from vague people. They could be genuine warnings. They could be traps. "Keep pressing," he tells Sharon. He gently pats Peggy on the arm, murmuring, "We won't let SHIELD down, Agent Carter, excuse me."

Because Sharon doesn't need his help to investigate matters with her aunt. In fact? It could make matters quite a bit worse, stressing her with trying to remember for two rather than her beloved niece. Meanwhile, he can be doing what he does best…finding out the names and descriptions of everyone who has come to see her, looking for any codes or references they might have left buried for him, and most of all?

Increasing security on this place. Vague visitors who know precisely who Peggy is? She still has secrets in that head of hers, secrets that are at risk simply because she's fighting her valient but losing war with senility. She could even be in danger, were someone feeling vindictive and nasty enough to harm an old woman.

Phil's having none of it, not if he can do anything about it, anyway. There are no guarantees; there might be someone just that good in spite of him, but he'll be damned if he doesn't take every due precaution he can think to take.

*

Peggy has quite a few secrets. For the most part, they have not been revealed or her care has been trained well enough to not allow that to happen.

The hand that holds Sharon tightens. "He knows things," she tells Sharon. "He knows things he shouldn't." The other hand is put over hers. "I love Sharon. You are like a daughter to me. You understand? This man. He is dangerous. Keep yourself. You must keep yourself. I didn't."

As Coulson leaves to find out more, the nurses and administrative assistants start to look into things. It takes a little while but he can go through all the names that have signed are familiar to Coulson. Most of the names end in Carter. One, however sticks out. It is George Carter. He has only started to visit in the past year. There are logs of his visits, however, the visual logs will take longer to extract.

*

Sharon's breath catches in her throat. Phil's off checking on the guest list, the people who have visited Peggy, and now that they're alone…

"I — keep myself?" She blinks rapidly. "I don't know what you mean, Aunt Peggy. I'll keep myself safe. And Coulson. Two eyes and two ears on him, as often as I can, but we can both defend ourselves. What. What does he know?" Because he has Peggy scared, and anything that scares Peggy Carter, even centenarian Peggy Carter, is nothing anyone else wants to be messing with. Not by a long shot.

*

George Carter does not exist.

At least. No George Carter that is connected to the Carters in question.

Okay. So just an alias, not a code.

Phil is growing itchier by the second. He nods to the head of security. "Yeah, I'm going to need to look at that footage," he says grimly. "And we're going to need to set up some protocols for anyone who is coming in to see her." He's already flashed his badge by this point. The long line of his mouth and the flat set of his eyes speaks to how on edge he really is; normally these are things he'd hide.

But the cryptic warnings, the even more cryptic visitors, some apparent trouble that involves MI-6 too, what recently happened to Michael Carter and how it might all play in…

It's all enough to have Phil Coulson's instincts screaming.

*

"Not just safe." Peggy looks to Sharon, eyes a bit wild but meaningful. "You. Keep who you are." She knows that she is scaring Sharon and she doesn't wish to do so. This is someone she loves and she doesn't know how to communicate with them properly. Confusion starts to take over her face. "He knows too much," she repeats. "Be careful. You have to be careful."

The head of security gives Coulson something of a frown. "We are very thorough, Agent Coulson," she tells him. "We check all credentials, all IDs and we monitor everyone. You are more than welcome to the footage of the last month. We only keep that much on our hard drives before the data is overwritten, unless here is a call for it. Those files are saved to a separate server. It doesn't happen very often."

A well trained security guard, she can tell that Coulson is on edge. "I'm glad to help where I can. What is it you are looking for, exactly?"

*

Keep who you are. Sharon's mouth quirks up at the corner. It's hard to be wry right now. She tries anyway.

"That's easier said than done sometimes," she admits. "But I remind myself every day. Who I am. Why I do what I do." Her brow furrows: "What about you? Aren't you… keeping who you are? As much as you can?" Age and time and exhaustion, she knows, are taking away who and what Peggy Carter was and is. Could something else be doing the same?

"How does he know—what does he know?" It's too many questions. She knows that. The honesty has to come out: "I'm worried for you, Auntie." And she is. Almost desperately. "I'll keep myself. I'll do what I need to."

*

Coulson tries to soften his stance for the woman a bit. "I'm not trying to indicate you didn't do your job well, Officer Olson. I apologize if I gave that impression." He thumbs through the book, making note of dates and times throughout the month where George Carter appears. He jots them down, then hands them to her. "I'm looking for arrivals and departures for these dates, around these times— but he could have lied about times, so let's not go too narrow— for this fellow calling himself George Carter. Does your facility take driver's licenses or anything when visitors arrive for the first time?"

He was never part of setting up any of the accomodations here, so he can't be sure.

*

"It is. It is the hardest thing." Peggy nods to Sharon, acknowledging the fact that keeping ideals in the wake of horror and tragedy can be the hardest thing. Worry crosses her brow. "I'm me. Don't worry." Sometimes. She doesn't like to think about the her that doesn't remember. "He knows." That seems to be enough. "Talk to Michael. He's alive, Sharon, he's alive."

As Coulson softens his approach, Olson softens her own defensiveness. She looks to him and then back to the book. Taking it, she starts to flip through. "We require check in and ID verification, however that is through the security guard on duty. We don't copy every ID of every visitor. However, we do have red flags and warnings."

Moving to her computer, she types in a few commands. "Agent Carter is under a strict watch. Only authorized family members and friends as well as those they have personally vouched for are allowed visitation rights. It will take some time, but I can try and find who verified George Carter's accessibility. I will also look for those tapes, though it seems like his last visit was over two months ago."

*

She's asked and asked what he knows. It's giong to be something rough, she knows it. But what? He knows… something Peggy knows. And that's all she knows about it. What does Peggy know that would affect her and Phil? …Decades of things, frankly. Sharon's mind races. It might not be anything recent. Peggy's been here for a while, and she doesn't exactly get regular updates of top-secret information. What would be the point? So maybe it's an old thing that He Knows. But what could that be? What could be relevant these days?

"I'll bring Michael to see you," she says, her smile widening a little. "You… knew he was alive." Another puzzle piece. "This… 'he'. He knows Michael's alive? That he's here?"

*

"Thank you. I really appreciate this," Phil says, with the kind of gentility he's more often known for. "We are all concerned for Agent Carter's safety, and whatever this visitor said to her seems to have had an adverse impact on her health." Which could mean anything, but truthfully, the aged Agent certainly doesn't need to be drawn back into the blasted game, even if her mind is so rock solid that she didn't have trouble articulating what was said or meant.

He furrows his brow. "Over two months ago? What happened within the last several days, do you know? Agent Carter asked me to come out today, and I don't think she'd have waited two months to respond. Something else must have shaken her."

*

Michael to see her, that is something that brings a smile to her face. She leans back against the pillows. "It's been so long." A shake of her head, though she looks more tired than she did when they first entered. Sharon's questions are heard, but what she says instead is, "He'll come after you. He's after us. He thinks Coulson is the continuation of our legacy. All of SHIELD is in danger, Sharon. You have to…you have to help it."

Turning from the computer, Olson stands and shakes her head. "I don't know about her health or her visitors other than what I can see here," she tells him, gesturing at the computer and the book. "I respect Agent Carter quite a bit, but I am not her doctor. I am only here to make sure the resident's safety is taken care of.

As for the last several days, she shakes her head. "Agent Carter hasn't even had any visitors for the last week. I'm not sure why she would have called you, however I don't think it has to do with outside forces. The people here? They are sick, Agent Coulson. They are dying. And the people from SHIELD? They tend to have a lot they wish to get off their chest."

*

"Help… SHIELD?" Sharon hopes, sort of, that that's what Peggy means. "Our legacy…" It doesn't make any sense. Sharon has a nasty gnawing sensation in the pit of her stomach that when she does find out, it's going to be too late to prevent it happening. Whatever it is. "Coulson's your kind of agent. How did you two meet? Was he in when you were still active?" Sharon's trying to… to lighten up the conversation. As much as she can. It's hard to get much heavier than where it was.

"But I'll take care of SHIELD. I promise. I won't let it become anything you wouldn't be proud of. And if it tries, I'll take it apart, piece by piece, and put it back together. So will Phil."

*

Phil frowns at that and texts Sharon. "Ask her why now," the text says. "She has not received visitors for 2 months."

Because this truly makes no sense to her. The look in his hazel eye says he really doubts this is a case of a woman from SHIELD with a lot to get off her chest.

"Let me know about that authorization as soon as you have it, Officer Olson," he says quietly.

He goes walking around. There are sick and dying people here, but not all of them are senile. He heads towards the dining hall. There is always that one, talky ,bossy, fully lucid old person who knows everything. He's going to find him or her and he's going to give that person lots of attention.

*

"He started when I was pulling away," Peggy answers about Coulson's activity. "I knew he would be good." As Sharon promises that she will take care of SHIELD, she exhales and the tenseness with which she was holding her blankets relaxes. "Good. Good."

As Phil leaves Olson, the woman nods and attends to her duties again. Instead, Coulson looks about the building. In the dining hall, he starts to look about. A man as observant as he is will find Eddie. He's playing solitaire at one of the tables and there are one or two other elder women sitting about him. The are gossiping with each other and Eddie will every once in awhile interject. He seems pretty lucid as well as very much a man of his own. In fact, as Coulson enters, he looks up, meets his eyes. Then, he seemingly dismisses him and then returns to his cards.

*

Lucky for her, Sharon has a smartwatch. She doesn't have to pull out her phone to get a little 'bzzt' and a message on her wrist. Better than Dick Tracy.

"He is. He understands what a team is supposed to be. It's a real privilege working with him. Peggy…" Sharon scoots her chair a little closer. "Why now? It's been a while since he visited you last, hasn't it? Two months, Phil says." She tips her watch toward Peggy as a kind of explanation.

Her hand lifts from Peggy's to rest on her shoulder, and she smiles. "You taught me how to be a SHIELD agent. What I am, you helped make me. The same with Coulson. I won't let what you made crumble. I won't let it fall."

*

Perfect.

Phil heads up to the table and slides across from Eddie. He smiles at the ladies, but holds out a hand to him. "Agent Phil Coulson," he says to Eddie. "You look like you're the person around here who knows what's going on, and I need your help."

Sometimes ,one plays coy with the potential sources. This is not that time. He smiles at the woman but doesn't seem too concerned. They might let a few things slip too. "Would you be willing to indulge me for a few minutes?"

He meets those eyes with serious hazel ones, sadly, he's not just here for the annual SHIELD volunteer night or somesuch.

*

"Two months?" Peggy frowns. "Has it been that long?" She looks confused, first focusing on the window and then back to Sharon. "I thought he was here the other day. He talked about you. He talked about SHIELD."

Eddie looks up to Phil with a skeptical look and then a raised eyebrow. "It doesn't seem like I'd have a choice. You're the one with the badge and all. What are you looking for, exactly?"

*

"It's possible," Sharon admits. "Coulson's checking the records. He says it's been two months. It may have been less. Why would he talk about me?" Sharon's half talking to herself when she asks this, pulling out her phone to send a response. It's not that she can't manage it with the watch, but the phone's a lot easier. "Apart from being your niece, I'm not exactly the most highly-placed SHIELD agent." But she's connected to Michael and Peggy and Phil. She's in that nexus. Her mouth twitches to one side as she takes a brief moment to text her CO:

"AC remembers within last few days. -SC"

*

"A man has been visiting Peggy Carter here at this facility. He goes by the name of George Carter. But there is no George Carter. I was hoping you might have spotted him. Might be able to describe him." Their phantom might have hidden from security cameras even, but he won't have successfully hidden from the Angry Old Gossip with the cards.

Sometimes, one needs to find intel the old fashioned way. It can't all be about the tech. "And we're not clear on when his last visit was. Two months ago, according to the logs, though I'm not entirely sure that's true. He might have stopped signing in, or scrawled a different name, when he did."

He smiles faintly, aware that nobody likes someone plopping down with a badge to ask questions, but tolerant of it.

He has a brief, fond moment. Is this going to be him in thirty years? The old dude playing solitaire in the nursing home, annoyed because usually nobody takes him seriously? He'd have beaten the odds much like Peggy herself for sure, if so.

He checks the message on his own watch. "Could have been a few days ago for sure."

She could be losing time. Or she could be absolutely correct. It's really hard to tell in this situation.

*

"He mentioned that he knew of you. And as you are close to me, I believe that makes you something of a target." Peggy frowns, looking down at her wrinkled hands, over the blankets. "My legacy…it is rather patched, Sharon. And, for better or worse, you have inherited it. It may not be fair that you can be held accountable for it merely because you are a Carter. However, you are a Carter and I know you will do right by SHIELD - and right by me - by doing what the right thing, even when it is hard. Remember what I told you about the tree beside the river. It can be a lonely, hard thing, the life that we both chose. I hope one day you'll forgive me."

Eddie flips another three cards and checks his spread as Coulson talks. After allowing him near and talking to him, he has turned back to his game. The women next to him pause, obviously interested in what it is an officer may want with the solitary old coot.

"Carter. Yes, I know her, doesn't leave her room, has a bunch of men and women in suits that come to visit her. Thought I saw Captain America go into her room once. Everyone here told me I was crazy, but I know that walk, a soldier's walk." Taking a card, he places it on the left most pile. He frowns as he thinks about George Carter. "I'm not a snoop a spook or a spy, got it? People around here? They all have stories, all have reasons they're here and not in another place. Me? Son wants me in here. Thinks I'm a target. Can't defend myself. Pht. They've got good food and I don't have to clean my own bathroom anymore, so I go along with it."

For a moment it looks like that's all he has to say on the matter. However, unable to help himself, a head tilts. "Can't say I've ever heard of a George. You sure that's the name? I usually know all the names. Around here? Almost always the same few visitors. People don't like to come around here. Reminds them of endings."

*

Sharon's smile becomes… downright sappily sweet, frankly. "To plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth and tell the world to move. I know. There's a — another one like it; maybe someone was listening the first time you said it, because he put it in a book in the words of a brave queen to her daughter. About trees, even. 'Once bend a little, and they will bend you further until you are bowed down. Sink your roots into the rock, and face the wind, though it blow away all your leaves.'"

Her eyes are bright and she nods once, letting out a heavy sigh. "I've had to do things I don't love. But every time I do, I ask myself: would Aunt Peggy be proud of me? And so far, I keep moving forward. I've always had to deal with being Peggy's great-niece. But I've made my own name for myself. In more ways than one. I'm my own woman, and my own agent. And I'm lucky enough to work under a fellow I trust."

*

"If someone would clean my bathroom for me," Phil quips, "I have to admit it would be a selling point. And you probably did see Cap walk in here."

After all, it's not like Peggy's identity isn't already compromised to Hell and back. He makes no comment on who Eddie is. Right now with that explanation he could be ex-mob, but Phil hardly cares.

"I don't think that's the name at all," he adds, with a pained sort of a smile. Not for Eddie's answer, but mostly for the growing concern that's gnawing at his gut. "I think it's an alias. That's why I'm hoping you saw someone new. Someone who wasn't one of the regulars, who started coming in recently. And that you can describe him."

*

Peggy's own eyes glisten with tears as Sharon speaks, eyes briefly looking up to her and then back down at the duvet. "I know you have. I am so proud of you, my darling." A hand reaches out toward the dresser nearby the bed. "The drawer, please. There's something I'd like you to have." The dresser Peggy gestures toward is filled with photographs of family members. However, something that was not been there the last time Sharon visited is a vase of dark colored roses. They almost look black.

Phil's question is met with a shrug of Eddie's shoulders. Water off a duck's back, cards to be dealt, things happen as they happen. "New? Naw, haven't seen anyone new around here in ages. I think you're one of the first new faces I've seen in a year. 'Course, I don't know everyone. I'm not nosy, just mind my own business, play solitaire."

*

Sharon straightens in her seat and nods, blinking back her own tears. Damn it. She's here on a mission, but this… this is important, too. And so she reaches back to the drawer and… pauses when she sees the roses. Almost-black roses, but not dried and desiccated. She pauses to check the name on the tag, if there is one, before opening the drawer.

She knows, at least she thinks she knows, why Peggy might want to apologize to her. After all, this life they lead is a hard one. It's never going to be a normal one. But neither one of them would give it up, not for the world, so it hardly bears talking about.

*

"Can you list out names and descriptions of those— besides Cap— you saw visiting Peggy, new or not?" Phil asks. He's patient, it's one of his well-honed assets. If one approach does not work, try another. Nobody new? That could mean the visitor has been here a long time. Worming his way in, insinuating, taking advantage of Peggy's health.

*

There is a short note attached to flowers. As Sharon gets closer, she will notice that they are not just dark. They're not just almost-black. They are black. A red, white and blue twisted ribbon is tied about the vase on which the card is attached. It reads: "For all that you did."

Inside the drawer are notebooks and photo albums and on top of it all a small box, the size that would house a ring or earrings. It is dark green and velvety. "The box," Peggy elaborates when the drawer is opened. The flowers are paid no mind.

Eddie pauses flipping three more cards down and looks up to Phil. "That's quite a few people. Don't know if I got the energy for all of them. I can give you a few that I know, though." And, despite his warning, much like Coulson suspected, he gives a pretty good description of at least a dozen of Peggy's visitors in the past three months, down to the color of clothing.

Once he's done, he flips three more cards. "'Course, I don't know anything, you hear?"

*

Palming her phone, Sharon texts somewhat blindly—

Black flowers with a ribbon. See if you can find out who brought those. -SH

She withdraws the box, then, and passes it to her auntie. "Do you remember who brought you the flowers?" Sharon inquires. Though it seems like a maybe-dangerous question. One she doesn't want to answer? She starts looking a bit more closely at the vase, half-distracted, but she turns away from it in a moment to focus on Peggy.

*

And Phil sits there and writes it all down. He gets the text and asks quietly, "Any of these bring black flowers to Peggy? Maybe with a ribbon?" Narrowing it down some, but he can at least check this list against the list of authorized, known visitors. Everyone who does not match up is someone they can begin trying to track down. There's also still the footage being so carefully compiled back in the security office.

He texts back to Sharon:

'Not good. Throughout history, black flowers have been sent to assassination targets as a sort of gentleman's warning.'

*

Taking the box from Sharon, Peggy pushes herself up a little against her pillows. A glance is given to her flowers. "I thought I did." Her brow creases as she looks at them. Then, she shakes her head and refocuses on Sharon. She opens the box and holds it out to Sharon. "I want you to have these." Inside the little velvet box are two small pins. Much like the SSR pins that she gave to Coulson all those years ago, these look as if they were made to adorn lapels or dress uniforms. They are similar in design, however they have the SHIELD logo. "Howard made them for me, after we formed SHIELD. A reminder that even as we change, everything has its roots." SHIELD was born of SSR, as was Peggy.

The mention of flowers to Eddie is given a frown and a shake of his head. "Don't remember any visitors with flowers. Black flowers?" He shakes his head, frowning. "Bad omens. Woulda remembered something like that."

*

"Oh. Oh, goodness." Sharon takes them, cradles the little box in her hand, traces a fingertip along their edge. "They're beautiful. Howard made them?" This is going to irritate Tony to no end. And possibly baffle the younger Peggy. Heh.

"I'll wear them. For… I was going to say for you, but for both of us. To remind me of why we're here and what we're doing. Aunt Peggy…"

Someone has you marked for death, Peggy. Someone brought you flowers and you don't remember them and nobody saw them which makes sense if it's a skilled assassin. Your days are even more numbered than usual, and why would someone want to kill you when you're over a hundred? Because of something you've done. So it's someone old, maybe, and someone powerful, certainly, and maybe not someone coming in through the front door.

The back of her mind is racing, but her face just shows a faint smile, even if her eyes are troubled. "I. I love you so much. We're — " She lets out a brief peal of laughter. "I don't have your stiff upper lip or your English reserve, but it's in our blood, because Carters never say that to each other. I don't tell you that enough. You helped me be everything I can be, and you helped me realize that I can always be more."

She just thumbs in a brief response to Phil then:

We need to tell Rogers. -SC

*

'Yes. Contact him. Take the flowers. We need to get them up to the lab. Schedule a SHIELD medic to come in here and give her an exam right away, in case there was something on them.'

"You've been a big help, Eddie," Phil says grimly. And he rises. Sharon has a decision to make. He writes a codeword on the back, a simple scrawl of manatee. He slides a card across the table. "You've earned a favor. For you or one of your own."

And then he's striding back towards Peggy's room. He needs to pull Sharon into the hall for a quick talk that does not need to be right in front of the venerable founder of the organization they've both given their lives to.

*

The badges passed, Peggy smiles and then leans back against the pillows, seemingly tired now. "I know you will." It's almost certainly why she gave them to Sharon. Passing little pieces of history to those who will follow, that's the job of those who came before. For a moment, she watches Sharon, eyes sharp. Then, a hand reaches out to gently take and squeeze Sharon's for a quick moment, eyes glassy with tears. "I love you too."

The card is picked up and Eddie gives the word given a raised eyebrow. "Manatee. Got a thing for sea life, Agent Coulson?" However, there's a nod and he slips the card into his shirt pocket. Then, without much ado, he goes back to his solitaire game.

*

Just a brief glance at her wrist to read Coulson's message. And then Sharon actually leans forward, reaching around her frail great-aunt to give her a tender hug. She rests her cheek against hers for a moment and whispers just a few words, just enough.

A part of her is sure, absolutely sure, that she's never going to see Peggy again. Not the one she grew up with. The rest of her chides her for being foolish and shoves that thought away, that aching feeling away, behind the facade of an agent who doesn't have things like feelings or families.

Just a few words. "I will protect you. And who you are."

She straightens then, rising and tucking a little of those white waves behind one of Peggy's ears. "You eat your biscuits with your tea," she says, clutching the little box in her hand. "And give your nurses just enough trouble." She raises a hand to drag a finger below one eye, then the other, and briskly picks up the vase of flowers just as Coulson steps inside.

*

He waits for Sharon to step out. He can read the tender emotion. Normally respect would tell him to give his own farewells, but not this time. This is family, and he is here as a colleague and as a friend. Not to intrude. He is here, too, as a guardian.

He closes the door gently behind Sharon to let Peggy rest, and says quietly, "You're her next-of-kin, legally, since the other candidate is still very dead on paper. I can have her moved, get a SHIELD medical team on her care in a safehouse. That may not be safer. At this point our ship has sprung half a dozen leaks, and we're sinking fast. She could be safer, and she could be more vulnerable than ever, with the added complication that moving the elderly tends to invoke a great deal of distress, especially as senility takes hold."

He looks at her frankly. "Or we can leave her here. Increase security. Knowing that someone who has managed to dodge any witnesses, come in and here half a dozen times at least under her nose, someone who I'm still waiting to find out got verified to come in at all…might be able to get into her even if I put an entire team of specialists and agents all over this building and turn it into a fortress to the detriment of all the other residents and their families."

He looks her in the eye, hazel ones grim, mouth in a thin line. "I don't envy you this call Sharon. There are no good options."

There's the third, bad one.

They leave things just as they are, slip a few agents in, and see who shows up, knowing Peggy could die as a result.

*

Sharon Carter, Agent 13, is known to be as icy as a glacier, as hard as rock, and as capable of Doing What Needs To Be Done as the next SHIELD agent. More so, in some cases. She's a lot like Phil in that way, honestly. They're both people who can put their emotions in a steel box and drop it down the darkest well and out of sight of anyone in range.

Sharon's blue eyes are brimming with tears that she can't actually stop right now. She managed to hold them in, mostly, when she was in the room with Peggy. In the hallway, her composure slips, and for a moment all she can manage is to close her eyes, put the little box in her pocket, and hold her hand over her mouth, controlling her breathing through her nose in slow, careful breaths that are becoming a little damp. There's almost no sound, not unless you're close. Inside, she's screaming. Outside… it's a tic of hers, almost. It's almost never too much, but when it is, it's like she's kidnapping herself, making sure she doesn't make a sound.

For a long moment this is all Phil gets. She gives herself two minutes, and then she takes strong hold of herself again. Sharon clears her throat. Her eyes are red-rimmed, but their steel is not gone.

"You're right. We're not doing either one of those. The list of people we trust is short. We." She swallows hard. "I'm. Going to set up some more visits from family. We're not setting up a bunch of soldiers in here with metal detectors and — and sniffer dogs. We're not. Peggy knows, sir. She knows what's coming. Even if it's not on the surface. But I'm not going to let her go without a fight, and I'm not going to let her go alone, not if I can help it. We'll take a different path."

And we'll try not to think of it as sacrificing one of the world's greatest unsung heroes to die.

"I. Need to do some research. See if I can figure out who this is. This is personal, Phil. Someone from her past. But her mind can't grasp it. And she's SHARP. She can grasp so much else. Remember so much else. But this… something, I think it messed with her mind. Either that, or…"

She shakes her head sharply. "Either that or something else, and I need to find out. So we tell Rogers and… and I'll make sure Michael comes to visit here as soon as he can."

*

Phil nods, respecting her choice. It's the call he'd make.

He reaches out to try to put a hand on her shoulder, offering a gentle squeeze. "I'm sorry," he says, because they both know. "I'll stay here for the time being. It will give you some room and some time to gather the others. I'm still waiting on information from security anyway. We have some directions we can take this investigation. There is a slim chance we will take care of this before we get outmaneuvered. I do need you to make sure she receives that tox screen right away; I can't order that, you can."

At this point Peggy, old Peggy, is not SHIELD, not under his command, for him to do that. Only her next-of-Kin can.

He makes himself meet her eye, his own compassionate, steady. Lines have etched themselves into his face that weren't there this morning, and new ones, along with patches of silver in his already short, receeding hair, had already been forming over all the rest of what has been going wrong. "Other than that, you tell me what you need, I make it happen. Okay?"

*

Big brave breath. Sharon smiles, but she's clearly not feeling it. It doesn't remotely get to her eyes. She meets his eyes, though, and there's something in them that reminds them of other eyes. Peggy's eyes. Steve's eyes. Eyes you could moor the world to and keep it steady. It's what she wants to be. It's what she usually is.

"I'll make the arrangements," she says simply. "I… whatever we do, we do it quietly. To everyone not perfectly trusted and not involved, Peggy's just…" Her smile grows strained. "Having one of her little moments. It was nothing, really."

And she hates that facade, that lie. She's told a thousand lies to a thousand people and this is one of the worst.

"See about that security footage." It won't show anything, but they should check it. "I'll get her checked out from stem to stern." They won't find anything, but she's going to make sure.

*

Sharon puts in the request to the nurses. While they might give her a bit of a strange look at the desire to have a full physical and toxicology report, they respect her and do not actually say anything to that effect. The forms are filled out and the doctors start to make their moves to take blood and to ensure Peggy Carter was not infected with something introduced since the last time they checked.

After the request is filled in, it takes a little while, but as Phil Coulson waits, keeping a vigilant eye on the hallway outside Peggy's room, the Officer Olson returns to give Phil his requested items.

"Here you go," she says, handing him a small drive that contains all the footage they have of the last month that remained on their server. There are also copies of all the log books.

"Also, just checked in with administration. The person who authorized George Carter's visits was Margaret Carter."

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