Characters: Angie, Peggy, Howard, Jarvis, Bond
Warnings/Triggers: slight innuendo, passing mentions of war wounds
Spoilers: A few general ones for Agent Carter Season One
Word Count 7,892
Summary: Angie’s attempts at a Very British Christmas don’t go quite to plan, but luckily there are people who like each other around to help make it a memorable day anyway.
Author's notes: Follows Ships in the Night, The Second Threat, and Next Time, Dinner, but I don’t think those need to be read to follow this at all. This was one of the fics salvaged from the Great Flash Drive Disaster of 2015, and I’ve managed to get it done for Christmas! Go me. I tossed Bond in here, because this will probably all be AU once Season Two of Agent Carter rolls in, anyway. I haven’t seen Spectre, and won’t until it hits DVD, but this isn’t canon anyway, so I don’t think it matters if there are any discrepancies.
I hope everyone who celebrates Christmas has a lovely one, and that everyone who doesn’t has a lovely break, too.
There was nothing worse than a crowd of chorus girls backstage.
Angie ran off into the wings with the others as the MC told some jokes between numbers. She had to elbow her way through.
"I gotta change, move it!" she said, to a tall blonde standing outside the quickchange room door, blocking it with her long legs.
Tall Blonde just blinked at her.
"It's her solo, Ronnie, get out of the way!" Maureen said, pulling Tall Blonde away from the door. "Geez!"
It wasn’t that big a deal, this gig. It was just a charity Christmas concert, raising money for the troops overseas keeping things orderly in Europe now that the war was over. She wasn’t even getting paid except in bus fare. But there were also some big, rich folks there to support it, and it was being filmed to show the soldiers, and Angie was doing a number all by herself. That was if she made it back out in time.
Maureen unzipped the back of Angie's dress, while Angie undid her tap shoes, and stepped into her heels. Maureen pulled the dress down and Angie stepped out of it, then into her evening gown, all while yanking pins from her hair to let the back fall, and fluffing the curls back into shape. Her dress still wasn't zipped back up when she hurried from the dressing room and ran to the wings. Maureen pulled the zipper into place, just as the MC announced that Angie Martinelli was here to sing a Christmas favorite for all the boys who couldn't get home this year.
Angie put a big smile on her face and took center stage behind the ribbon mic with the Stark Industries logo on the bottom as the audience clapped politely. The pianist hit a few fancy notes and the spotlight hit her full on, blinding her so that she couldn't see the audience for a minute. Her parents were there and Peggy was coming unless something came up at work to prevent her, but Angie couldn’t find any of them and was glad. She was nervous enough already.
She took a breath to calm herself and started to sing when the intro was done. The first two notes were a bit breathy with the nerves, but by the time she was at the end of the first line, her voice was full and carrying out to the back row, echoing around through the Stark mic.
God, she loved that sound.
The song went by in a blur and there were some sections she couldn't remember singing and wondered if all the words had been right. There was a row of vets in the front; boys in wheelchairs and with limbs missing and scars. A lot of them were crying. She guessed she'd managed to sing the right words.
"I'll be home for Christmas...if only in my dreams..." she finished off, letting the last note linger and hum in the air.
The pianist lifted his foot from the pedal and his notes died away. A great, enormous round of applause hit Angie in the face, and she had to really try hard not to look like this was a big deal for her. She was a professional singer, used to audiences cheering. She was cool and collected.
But wow! She loved that sound, too.
She smiled, gave a curtsy, and left the stage, immediately into the chaos of changing back into her chorus girl outfit for the next number. She was still jamming pins into her hair when the music started and she was pretty sure her chignon held itself together for the rest of the show through sheer determination.
She got to do a special bow at the end with the other featured performers and posed for a picture for the papers. When the curtain finally fell, she was walking on air. It was fun to be a star, even if only for a few minutes.
She went back to the chorus girl's dressing room after the show to get changed and gab with the others about how it had gone. She washed some of her make-up off and reapplied something more appropriate for going out. Her parents were going to take her to get dinner or something to celebrate. Peggy would join them, if she’d made it.
Maureen was standing near the stage door, blowing smoke through it into the cold. "There's a fella out there waiting for you," she told Angie, who assumed she was talking about her dad, until she added, "lucky girl."
Papa wasn't a bad looking guy, but he sure wasn't anything to write home about. She stepped past Maureen and looked around.
"I hope you don't mind my speaking to you, Miss Martinelli, but I'm a big fan," James Bond said, deadpan.
Angie's stomach did the little flip it did when she saw him. Not a soppy flip, like a lovey-dovey thing. Just the 'oh!' of pleasant surprise she got, because it was always a surprise. He showed up out of the blue--at the diner or at her and Peggy's place--and they had dinner or drinks or went out (or stayed in), and then he disappeared again for a while. And Angie didn't mind it. It was fun. No pressure, and neither of them cared what the other got up to in between times. Sometimes Angie's Catholic guilt reared up and told her she should be ashamed of herself. But she wasn't really.
"Hey, Sugar," she said. "I didn't know you were coming."
"Oh, I never miss the chance to support a charity," James said. "I'm a philanthropist at heart."
Angie poked his chest. "You sure you got one of those in there?"
James looked down, as though searching. "Now that you mention it, it does seem questionable." He handed Angie a bouquet. "The roses at the florist were wilted. I hope poinsettias will do."
"Well, geez, I dunno," Angie said. "I'm a big star now, I expect the best." She smiled down at the flowers. "Thanks."
"You were very good," James said.
She knew he meant it because it was terse. If he were lying, he'd be using bigger words to talk around it. He was a hard guy to figure out, but Angie was chipping away at it.
"Of course I was," Angie said. "I'm a triple threat. I'm glad you stayed in town long enough to see me. Or ain't you going home for Christmas?"
James shook his head. "Home is relative," he said.
Sometimes Angie thought he thought being mysterious was a lot more appealing than it was. She just found it frustrating when he was vague about himself. It was probably to be safe and all, but he made it seem like he was just a cloud of mist in the form of a handsome man, who disappeared into nothing when she wasn't looking at him. No past or future, just the now. That could be a lot of fun, but not when you were trying to have a decent conversation.
"Well, you can always come to my place," Angie said. "I'm cooking. Peggy can’t get home for Christmas neither, so I’m bringing British Christmas to her. All the trimmings. Well, some of them. The ones I can figure out. Turkey, and potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding, whatever that is."
She didn't expect him to accept and wasn't disappointed.
"I wouldn't want to intrude," he said.
"You ain't intruding if I invite you," she said.
"I'll be intruding if Carter is there," James said. "In her opinion. And mine."
Angie shrugged. He was a wriggly guy when it came to commitments and that was okay because she didn't ask for them. She just thought it was funny how squirmy he got if you tried to make any plans with him, even just to see a movie one night a week in the future.
"If you change your mind, just drop in," she said. "I'll protect you from Peggy."
"I appreciate the offer," he said, with something like sincerity. "And I'll keep it in mind."
"No, you won't," she said.
"No, I won't," he admitted, with a quirk of his lips. "So, perhaps we should spend some time together now? You should be celebrating."
"I am," Angie said. "My parents are--oh, geez!"
She looked down the alley in panic, certain that her mother was going to come on the scene while she was talking to him. Then it would be no end of questions that Angie did not want to answer about him. Nothing about James Bond would make her mother happy, other than he was a guy and not married.
"You gotta go," she told him.
"I'm sorry?" he said.
"You better move," Angie said. She pushed him behind the open stage door to block him from view, just in case. "Unless you want to come to dinner with my mom and dad?"
"I don't think there's any conceivable way that could be a good idea," he said.
"Agreed," Angie said, craning her head around the door. "So, get lost."
"This isn't quite how I planned this evening to go," he said, looking adorably bewildered.
"Yeah, well, that's what you get when you just assume, isn't it?" Angie said. "I don't sit around waiting for you, Sailor, I got a life. You ain't that important."
His eyes crinkled at the corners. "I never feel less important than after I've spoken to you," he said. "Sometimes I wonder why I keep coming back.”
“It’s cause I’m delightful,” Angie explained.
“Quite,” James agreed, his eyes sparkling.
Angie could see Peggy at the mouth of the alley and made some frantic gestures towards her. Peggy shot a confused expression back. Angie pulled James forward enough for her to see and then pushed him back. Peggy turned with a big smile on her face and pointed across the street, distracting her parents with something.
“Don’t laugh, this is serious,” Angie scolded James, who was getting far too much of a kick out of her panic.
“I’m sorry,” James said. “I’m just used to larger scale emergencies than the invasion of your parents.”
“I bet my ma is just as scary,” Angie said, with a little laugh herself. “Don’t risk it. I’ll see you.”
“Wait,” James said. “Don’t I get a kiss goodnight?”
“Nope,” Angie said. “Shoulda called, Mister. Learn your lesson for next time.”
She turned and headed up the alley, a growl of frustration following her.
“What do you want for Christmas?” he called.
Angie looked over her shoulder. “I dunno,” she said. “The moon!” She hurried to meet her parents before they decided to come to her.
“You’re right, Mrs. Martinelli, that wasn’t him at all,” Peggy was saying. “Trick of the light, I suppose. Hello, Angie.”
“Hey! Hi,” Angie said. “Where are we going? Let’s go right now!”
Now that the concert was done, Angie could focus on getting Christmas together. She felt bad that Peggy was stuck in New York, away from her family. She got that it was a long way to go for a short visit, but it didn’t seem fair. Angie was determined to make a nice Christmas for her here. She got a British cookbook from the library and started sorting out the measurements and recipes. Peggy offered to help, but Angie wanted to do it herself.
It turned out Yorkshire pudding wasn’t pudding at all. Angie knew that Brits called pudding 'custard' and dessert 'pudding', but it wasn’t custard and it wasn’t dessert. It was...something else. Her first attempts at it weren’t great. She didn’t actually know what it was supposed to be like, but it probably wasn’t burnt to a crisp, raw in the middle, or so rubbery that you couldn’t chew it.
“It’s supposed to be crisp and light and have absolutely no flavor whatsoever,” Peggy offered when Angie asked for some clarification.
“Why do you eat it then?” Angie said.
“Like most things in England, we do it because we’ve always done it,” Peggy said. “And it tastes very nice with gravy.”
Angie was skeptical, but she was running out of time and flour, so she’d just have to hope it would all go smoothly on the day. Bad dress rehearsal meant good performance, right?
Peggy was working on Christmas Eve (‘so others don’t have to’, was her reason) and Angie spent it wrapping presents for her family and preparing herself for the ordeal of the Martinelli Family Christmas. Not that she minded it. Much. She loved her family. There was just a lot of them. She left the apartment at 4PM and headed to her Aunt Magdalena’s for dinner, which would be followed by a lot of talking, Midnight Mass, and then opening presents.
She wasn’t back until 3AM, but she had a good time. It was nice to see all her cousins and their kids, and her aunts and uncles, and there was plenty of good food eaten, and she got through mass by writing a screenplay in her head where she was the star. She must have been emoting her dramatic death scene pretty well because Nona commented about how devoted she looked. She also managed to dodge questions about any nice boys she was seeing and not get too annoyed at the suggestions that her womb would dry up and fall out if she didn’t put a baby in there soon.
She didn’t know if Peggy was in and didn’t want to wake her if she was by peeking on her, so she just went to bed. She could sleep in late and then get up to make dinner and open presents, nice and quiet.
Except, when she woke up, it was freezing. It had been a little chilly when she’d got into bed, but she figured it was just the night and the wine she’d had to get through it. But she woke up shivering, and as she did, had vague ideas that she might have woken up a few times before because she was cold but had gone back to sleep. There was no going back to sleep now.
She wasn’t sick. She didn’t feel sick. It had to be the temperature in the apartment, but what the heck was going on to make it that cold? She knew she had to get up and see, but the thought of throwing off her blankets and facing it full on was enough to keep her curled in a ball.
After a minute or two of trying to talk herself up to it, her door opened and Peggy put her head in. She was wrapped up in a robe, with another robe on top of that.
“Not just me, then,” Angie said.
“No,” Peggy said. “I’m not sure what’s wrong. We haven’t lost electricity, but none of the radiators are giving off heat and the hot water’s gone. I think there must be something wrong with the furnace. I’m going down to talk to Mr. Carstairs about it.”
Trust Peggy to be up and gathering intelligence while Angie was still working up the courage to get out of bed. She did it now, throwing off her covers and giving a peep of shock as the air hit her. She ran to her closet and pulled on a sweater over her nightie. Peggy giggled in the doorway.
“I’ll come with,” Angie said. “In case you need to sweet talk him. He likes me.”
“Are you suggesting he doesn’t like me?” Peggy said.
“He kind of doesn’t,” Angie said.
“Yes, I know,” Peggy said. “I believe he’s misinterpreted the hours of my coming and going as something even more unladylike than it is. Come along then, you can charm and I’ll be firm.”
Angie put some socks and her slippers on and they left to go down to the landlord’s apartment.
“How was your family gathering, by the way?” Peggy asked.
“A bit warmer than this,” Angie joked. “But not much.”
The whole building was freezing, but not a lot of other folks were complaining because the building was full of rich people who went away for Christmas. Angie and Peggy were the only ones still there, except for the lady who had six cats that had their own bedroom and chauffeur. Her live-in servant fella, Ben, was in the elevator when Peggy and Angie got in.
“I take it you guys don’t have heat neither?” he asked. “Mrs. Keller is very worried about the cats freezing. I’m a little more worried about me freezing, to be frank.”
“It seems to be a universal problem,” Peggy said.
“Merry Christmas!” Ben said.
“Merry Christmas,” Peggy and Angie replied.
Mr. Carstairs had left a note on his door when they got down there. It told them the furnace was shot and that there were no repairmen willing to come on Christmas Day. He and Mrs. Carstairs had gone elsewhere for the day and he suggested the other tenants do the same.
“Lousy chicken,” Angie said. “He couldn’t even stick around to tell us in person?”
“I think he’s afraid of Miss Carter,” Ben said, with a lopsided grin. He sighed. “I guess I better start looking for a hotel that takes cats.”
“Hold off on that,” Peggy said. “Mr. Carstairs might not have been able to find a repairman, but I know of a very good one and I think he might agree to work on Christmas Day.”
“Merry Christmas, ladies!” Howard Stark said, opening his arms wide to greet them. Jarvis, who was behind him, came to an abrupt halt so he didn’t get clotheslined. “Whew, you weren’t kidding, Pegs, this place is freezing.”
Peggy gave a little frown. “Are you drunk?” she asked.
Stark held up a finger. “Not anymore,” he said. He lifted the dark glasses he had on and then winced and brought them down again. “A couple of hours ago, you might have got a different answer.” Jarvis nodded. “I was at one hell of a Christmas Eve party last night. I was out with--”
“That’s very interesting, I’m sure,” Peggy interrupted. “Good morning, Mr. Jarvis.”
“Good morning, Miss Carter,” Jarvis said, with a smile. He aimed it toward Angie, too. “And Miss Martinelli. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” Angie said.
“I’m sorry yours isn’t starting off very merry,” Jarvis added.
“I’m sure we’ll be merry soon enough,” Peggy said. She looked to Stark, who had decided to lean on a wall. “Are you sure you’re fit to work?”
“‘Course,” Stark said. He pushed himself back up straight. “Nothing better for a hangover than a good messing around with nuts and bolts. Point me to the patient; I’ll get her on her feet again.”
Peggy and Angie exchanged looks, but Peggy shrugged and gestured ahead of herself, leading them to the furnace room. It’d been locked but Peggy had gotten into it. Angie had been changing into something that wouldn’t shock Jarvis at the time and she didn’t know exactly how she’d done it.
“That’s why Mr. Carstairs don’t like you,” Angie had pointed out to her.
“He’ll like me very much when he finds out I’ve fixed all his problems for a reasonable rate,” Peggy had said.
Stark took the toolbox Jarvis was carrying and went over to the furnace, petting and cooing like it was a girl he was trying to seduce.
“Hey there, sweetheart. You look a little cold. You okay? Here, let me take a look. You’re an old doll, huh? Don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you. You’re just a bit tired. Let me give you a hand.
“That’s creepy,” Angie said.
“One gets used to it,” Jarvis said.
“Someone come hand me stuff,” Stark said.
Peggy went over, leaving Jarvis and Angie at the door.
Jarvis smiled down at her. “I saw your photo in the newspaper a few days ago, Miss Martinelli. Congratulations on your performance.”
Angie had cut that out and put it in her scrapbook. It was a pretty big deal. “It wasn’t that big a deal,” she said.
“On the contrary, the review was very favorable,” Jarvis said.
‘Angie Martinelli sang with heartfelt longing’ was the whole review in regards to her, but she admitted that, as far as reviews went, it was pretty great.
“We raised a lot of money,” Angie said. “That was the point, so we did good.”
“Mr. Stark couldn’t attend, but he sent a large cheque in his stead,” Jarvis said. “I’m sure he was sorry to miss your performance.”
“I ain’t that sorry he did,” Angie said.
Jarvis let out a funny tiny squawk, like a laugh he’d trained himself to almost suppress. “In confidence, Miss Martinelli, that is a very sensible view to take,” he said. “Mr. Stark and the world of showbusiness have an interesting relationship that I would advise most young women to stay far away from.”
Angie had met quite a few girls who didn’t follow that advice and regretted it. “I can handle myself,” she assured him.
“I’ve no doubt,” he said.
“Sorry to get you out here on Christmas morning,” Angie said. “I hope we didn’t ruin anything.”
“Not at all,” Jarvis said. “Mr. Stark rarely celebrates at all, and if he does, it’s much later in the day. Christmas Eve tends to be busy for him. And it’s the seventh night of Hanukkah, so I’m not needed at home until sunset.”
“Oh!” Angie said. “Sorry, I didn’t know you were Jewish. Happy Hanukkah!”
“Thank you,” Jarvis said. “It’s my wife that’s Jewish, actually. My status is more honorary. I was raised C of E. We celebrate both holidays, but when they fall together like this, we combine.”
After everything that had happened in the world recently, it was nice to think that two people could get along like that without it being a problem. “That’s swell,” Angie said.
“Okay,” Stark said. “I know what the problem is and how to fix it, but I don’t have the parts. Nothing’s open today, so we’ll get’m from work. I’ll give you a list, Jarvis, and you can go to the office.”
“Yes, sir,” Jarvis said. He took out a notebook and wrote down the weird words Stark was calling out to him. Angie looked at the list to see if they made more sense spelled, but Jarvis knew shorthand and she didn’t.
“Sounds like you’re gonna be here a while,” Angie said. “Do you want some coffee?”
“And how,” Stark said. “Make it a double, sweetheart.”
“I still ain’t your sweetheart,” Angie said, and Peggy and Jarvis both made the squawk noises. It must be a British way of laughing. She wondered if James ever did it.
Stark moved his hands in a ‘huh’ gesture that told her he didn’t remember her from the last time they’d met.
“I got a name,” Angie said.
“I know,” Stark said. “It’s...Alice?”
“Angie,” Peggy corrected.
“Hey, I got the first and last letters right,” Stark said. “The way I feel right now, that’s an accomplishment.”
In the end, Angie wasn’t sure if Stark actually fixed the furnace or just rebuilt it from scratch. By the time he was done, most of its insides were out, and she was sure only the shell of it had remained the same, and he’d basically just took everything out and put better stuff in. Not that she was complaining. She was in her full winter gear to stay warm now, and the sudden blast of heat from it was heavenly.
“Thank you, Howard,” Peggy said. “You are, on occasion, a godsend.”
“Still owe you one,” Stark said. “Or a thousand and one. Besides, I like getting my hands dirty.” He gave the furnace a pat. “You’re a good girl, Bernice, that’ll last you a while.”
“Yes, he also names them,” Jarvis told Angie, before she asked.
“Will you stay for breakfast or lunch?” Peggy asked. “We should pay you somehow. Once things warm up, we can probably squeeze in two more to our meal.”
“That’s gonna take a while,” Stark said. “I fixed it good, but I can’t change physics. A place this size’ll need time to heat up after being this cold. Why don’t you come to my place? I got room and heat. Big kitchen. Bring your stuff with you, we’ll celebrate in style.”
Peggy looked to Angie. Angie resented the implication they wouldn’t be celebrating in style because they’d have done just fine if they had heat. But they didn’t, and Angie did not object to going somewhere she could feel her toes. Besides, she’d already turned down the offer to visit Howard Stark’s house once this year. Turning it down twice was really being ungrateful, right?
“Do you know how to make Yorkshire pudding?” she asked Jarvis.
“Yes,” he said.
Angie nodded. “I’m in.”
Stark seemed really happy about it. Angie guessed he didn’t get a lot of guests for Christmas. The soft spot in her heart felt sympathy for him, but then the cynical part of her brain remembered he was a cad. But that didn’t mean he deserved to be alone at Christmas. And Peggy was kind of alone, too, away from her family. It would be nice for them all to be together. Which reminded her…
“I invited someone to join us,” she said. “I don’t think he’ll come, but if he does, it’d be rude to not be here.”
“Leave a note, tell him where you are,” Stark said. “Who is he?”
“His name is James Bond,” Angie said. “He works with Peggy.”
“Oh God, that jerk?” Stark said. He made a face, but only a second later shrugged and said, “eh, why not?”
So, Peggy gathered up the presents from under the tree, and Angie left a note for James. She was 99% sure he wasn’t going to come, but on the off-chance he did, she didn’t want him to think they’d run off or been killed or something. Jarvis assured her there was plenty of food at Stark’s place so to just bring the essentials.
“You sure you don’t mind riding shotgun with a turkey?” Angie asked, as he carefully placed the bird onto the front seat next to him.
“Miss Martinelli, I assure you I have ridden with far more interesting items,” he said. “At least it won’t be inclined to kill, maim, burn, or attack me. I’m looking forward to the ride.”
Howard Stark’s house was really big. Angie knew that was like saying the Pope was ‘really Catholic’--pretty damn obvious--but still, it was a big place. It was all decorated up for Christmas too. Lots of garlands and bows on the fence, a big wreath on the door, and a huge Christmas tree in the foyer.
“Come on to the parlor, that’s where the tree is,” Stark said.
“What do you call this, then?” Angie said.
Stark glanced up at it like he hadn’t noticed it. “Decoration,” he said. “The real tree’s in the parlor. The...uh...it’s...a...”
“Traditional one,” Jarvis helped out. “It has a more traditional theme.”
“Yeah,” Stark said. “It’s traditional.”
Angie and Peggy went off to see this very traditional tree, and Angie realized what Stark had meant was something like a ‘normal’ tree. Or a tree that meant something, maybe. There were presents under it and the ornaments weren’t as fancy or sparkly or impressive. The topper was a big star made out of gears and bolts.
“I made that when I was ten,” Stark said, following Angie’s gaze. “Dunno why I still have it. My ma liked it.”
“It’s swell,” Angie said.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Anyway, you girls can put your presents under there if you want. Fire’s going, go on and get warmed up. Jarvis’ll set up what you need in the kitchen. And,” he crooked his finger for Jarvis to come over and spoke low to him.
“Yes, I believe I can find something,” Angie heard Jarvis respond.
“I’ll just be a moment, Miss Martinelli,” he said to her.
“Sure, take your time,” Angie said. “I could sit here for a while. It’s a niiiice room.”
Jarvis bustled out of the room, and Stark went off in search of drinks.
“It’s only 10AM,” Peggy said.
“I didn’t mean hard stuff,” Stark said. “Eggnog, or something. Juice? Tea?... I don’t actually know where we keep that. JARVIS!” He hurried after him.
Angie and Peggy both laughed. They put their presents for each other under the tree, next to the ones that were already there; the ones neatly wrapped with tags saying ‘Jarvis’, ‘Ana’, and ‘Mr Stark’ on them.
“Who’s Ana?” Angie asked.
“Jarvis’ wife,” Peggy said. “Don’t snoop.”
“Look who’s talking, lady,” Angie said. “I ain’t the one who does it for a living.”
She rose and went to the big, roaring fireplace to get nice and toasty. Jarvis had taken her coat at the door, so swiftly that she hadn’t really been aware he was doing it until it was gone. She kind of wished she’d kept it for a bit longer, but the fire soon had her warming up. She looked over the pictures on the mantle. All of them were Stark with a lot of famous people. Also one of him and Peggy, Peggy in a uniform, and them looking like they were having a good laugh with each other. It was in the center, next to one of Stark and Captain America, also looking happy, but not as mischievous.
“That’s a good picture of Steve,” Peggy said. “He used to smile a lot, but no one took pictures of that. They wanted him looking noble and thoughtful, I think.”
“He was a good-looking boy,” Angie said.
“He was a good man,” Peggy said. She smiled and nudged Angie. “But yes, also very good-looking.”
“Talking about me?” Stark said, coming back into the room again.
“Not quite,” Peggy said.
Stark looked where she was looking, and Angie saw his smile go lopsided, like one part of it forgot how to do it. He put it right back in place. “Yeah, well, you’re always the red-headed step-child in a picture with him, aren’t you?” he said. “Jarvis says we have drinks, but I’m not allowed to get them after something he’s referred to as the ‘Easter Incident’. Apparently it happened in 1942, and I might have signed a contract to prevent it happening again.”
“I think we’ll survive for a while,” Peggy said. “Come and sit down. You’ve done quite enough for today.”
“It’s a party,” Stark said. “I’m hosting. Hosts don’t sit.”
“It’s a gathering of friends,” Peggy said. “There is no host. Come and sit.”
“I’ll put on some music,” Stark said, heading for the big phonograph radio console and opening the drawer for the 78s. He leafed through some records, and then pulled one out and popped it in.
By the time Jarvis came back, everyone was sitting, listening to Bing Crosby croon out ‘Adeste Fideles’.
“Eggnog,” he said, bringing in a tray. “Juice, and tea.” He put it down on the table by the fire.
“I’ll be mother,” Peggy said, reaching for it before he could serve. “I’m sure this was meant to be your day off, Mr. Jarvis.”
“I’m not working, Miss Carter, I’m celebrating Christmas with you,” Jarvis said.
Angie could tell he thought that was what he was doing, and she could see why Peggy liked him so much. He was like a helpful little elf. Only really tall.
“But Mrs. Jarvis will be wanting you home,” Peggy insisted.
“Mrs. Jarvis is making sufganiyot and doesn’t want me in her kitchen,” Jarvis said. “I’m quite at my leisure. Unless you’d prefer to be on your own?”
“No, not at all,” Peggy said. “You’re very welcome here. I just didn’t want you to feel obliged to--”
“Stop it! Stop being British!” Stark said. “God, you’re not living in the Isles anymore. Be American--do what you want to and don’t care a fig if anyone else likes it.”
“Mr. Jarvis, would you like a cup of tea?” Peggy asked.
“Yes, Miss Carter, I’d love one,” Jarvis said.
Stark’s kitchen was overwhelming at first glance, but it turned out that rich people’s kitchens worked the same as regular people’s kitchens, except you had to do more walking to do anything. Jarvis had already got the oven going for her, and he got her an apron and one for himself, as well.
“I’m at your disposal,” he said.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Angie said, throwing her hands up in warning. “You might not want to associate yourself with me.”
“Well, if anything goes wrong, we’ll share the blame,” he said, offering a hand.
Angie shook on the deal.
She had a lot of fun working with him. He was quiet but happy to talk if you gave him something to talk about, and had a good sense of humor. Angie supposed, working with a guy like Stark, you had to see the funny side of things. Plus, if she sang, he hummed along, which was always a good quality in a person.
By noon, the turkey was roasting away, and the vegetables were all peeled and chopped. Mrs. Jarvis popped in, ‘just for a little moment’, to drop off some jelly donuts she’d made. Which were amazing.
She was a beautiful lady--real elegant and colorful. She had a funny accent that Angie thought was maybe Polish or something like that. She didn’t stay for very long, even though Stark sweet-talked at her and would obviously be pleased if she stayed.
“No, no, I have much to do,” she said. “I am going to see friends tomorrow, I must prepare. Thank you for offering, Mr. Stark.”
Stark made her take her 7th Night present from him and teased her out the door, and it was a side of him Angie hadn’t really seen before. Like maybe he had feelings and cared about people enough to be really silly and affectionate with them, not just suave and cool. It didn’t make Angie change her mind about him, but she did like him a little more.
Once everything was going in the kitchen, they decided to open presents while they were waiting on it being ready. Stark roasted some chestnuts in the fireplace, and everyone gathered around the tree. Peggy and Angie had decided on a budget of about $2-3 for each other for gifts, so neither of them got carried away on it. Angie had got her a little thing of nice smelling soaps, a tin of good tea from a shop that sold British food, and a red glass ornament with white stars on it that she thought was pretty. Peggy had got her some real pretty hair combs, a box of chocolates, and a little ornament shaped like a dressing room star, with ‘Angie’ written across it.
“I love it!” they said, at the same time, over each thing.
There was another present for both of them under the tree that neither of them had put there. It wasn’t their wrapping paper or their handwriting. They both turned to look at Stark and Jarvis.
“Merry Christmas!” Stark said. “I couldn’t have you here without giving you anything, so I had Jarvis scrounge something up.”
Angie braved it first, taking off the paper and opening the box. Then she shrieked and dropped it, and Peggy looked like she was going to throw herself in the way of danger to protect her--which was a nice thing to know a person would do for you--but it wasn’t an afraid shriek. It was a shocked one.
“I ain’t taking that,” Angie said, pointing to the diamond-encrusted watch that was now on the floor. “That’s worth more than my life.”
Stark couldn’t have looked happier with her reaction if he tried. “C’mon, you’re worth a million bucks, don’t sell yourself short,” he said. “That’s only a couple of hundred--if that.”
“My ma told me never to take presents from strange men,” Angie said. “Especially ones that cost that much.”
“I’m not a strange man,” Stark said. “Only in the odd sense, not the unfamiliar one, anyway. Don’t be shy.”
“It really isn’t that expensive a piece,” Jarvis said, gently. “I wouldn’t have chosen anything untoward, Miss Martinelli.”
Angie picked up the watch and looked at it. It was awful nice. It had a bracelet strap with diamonds in it and was very dainty and elegant. Angie really liked it. She just wasn’t sure she could wear it anywhere without feeling sick about it.
“What did you get?” she asked Peggy.
Peggy opened her box, and Angie leaned over to peek. She had a pair of earrings, two-tones of gold in the shape of a circle with a leafy thing in the middle and a pearl at the bottom of each leaf.
“These are beautiful, Mr. Jarvis, thank you,” Peggy said.
“Hey!” Stark said. “Those are from me.”
“Jarvis chose them,” Peggy said.
“I tried to match your usual taste in fashion,” Jarvis said. “Which was a bit difficult, given Mr. Stark’s...elaborate? Taste in jewelry.”
“Wait, let’s all back up and remember that I’m a nice guy who gave up his house and got nice presents for you ladies,” Stark said, totally disgruntled now. “I don’t get any credit, and now I’m being insulted. I could have left you in the cold.”
Peggy laughed and crawled over to him, wrapping her arms around him and pecking his cheek. “Thank you, Howard, you are a thoughtful man,” she said. “I appreciate your taking us poor girls in.”
“Yeah, you’re not a bad guy,” Angie said. “Thanks, Mr. Stark and Mr. Jarvis.” She put her watch back in the box and placed it with her other presents. She’d take it. Time would tell if she’d wear it. No pun intended.
Stark blew hot as quickly as he’d blown cold. “Get offa me, the chestnuts’ll scorch,” he said, trying to sound grumpy and failing. “Merry Christmas, girls.”
“Merry Christmas,” Angie and Peggy said, together.
Under Jarvis’ expert guidance, dinner came together without hassle. Angie was very underwhelmed by her apparently successful Yorkshire pudding, though.
“That’s it?” she said, when the pan came out of the oven.
“That’s it,” he replied.
“Just that,” she said.
“Just that,” he said.
“Hookay,” Angie said. “Guess dinner’s ready, then.”
It was sundown now, so Jarvis went home to eat with his wife and do Hanukkah things with her (Angie had to admit, she wasn’t sure exactly what people did for Hanukkah). Angie, Peggy, and Stark went into his big dining room and had themselves a nice feast. Stark had nice wine on hand, and once they started eating and nobody spat it out or threw it up, Angie was able to settle down and have a good time.
“This is really good, Ange,” Stark said, every time he tried something new.
“You don’t gotta overplay it,” Angie said. “I know you’re used to better than this.”
“Believe me, sometimes it’s nice to eat something that doesn’t come wrapped in gold foil with a side of four kinds of sauces,” Stark said. “Getting a meal where I just have one fork to worry about is a treat.”
“Yes, I’m sure your existence of multi-course meals is a real trial, Howard,” Peggy said.
“You know what I mean,” Stark said, with a glare to her. “I know I got it lucky, I’m just saying something home cooked ain’t bad once in a while, not that I slog through every day cursing the riches that will never bring me happiness or anything. I’m plenty happy. I just like turkey.”
“It is very good turkey,” Peggy agreed.
“I feel bad for eating without Jarvis after he helped make it all,” Angie said.
“Don’t feel bad, Ana’s latkes are nothing to turn your nose up at,” Stark said. “He’ll be eating fine.”
Maybe it was the lack of sleep, or the turkey, or how hard she’d been working all day, but, by the time dinner was done, Angie was pretty tired. She and the others went back to the parlor, and Stark put more tunes on. He and Peggy started reminiscing about the war, and ‘do you remember’ing at each other and laughing, and Angie liked hearing the tales, but she kept sinking further into the couch, and then she must have at least dozed for a little while, because she was suddenly being gently shaken awake by Jarvis.
“Pardon me, Miss Martinelli,” he said. “But there’s someone at the door for you.”
Angie woke up fast, because there was only one someone that could be, and she was amazed he might have not only shown up but then tracked her down. She’d have expected him to give up when he found her gone from the apartment. She got up and smoothed out her dress, following Jarvis to the foyer.
“Sorry about dragging you back here,” she said. “Can’t Stark answer his own door?”
“The speaker at the gate goes to my home first,” Jarvis said. “Please don’t apologize, you haven’t interrupted anything. Mrs. Jarvis and I were just listening to the radio.” He gestured Angie ahead of him and slipped off like a shadow.
James stood by the front door, admiring a picture on the wall.
“Hey, Sugar,” Angie greeted him. “Merry Christmas.”
He turned with a slight smile making half of his mouth quirk upwards. “Happy Christmas,” he said. “I just stopped in for a moment.”
“Oh, really?” Angie said. She closed the gap between them. “Geez, look at you. Just got back from work, huh?” He had a cut under his eye, and the hand he lifted to reach for her had a bunch of knicks around the knuckles. The other hand matched.
“I had a bit of business to take care of,” he said.
“Sounds like you could use a drink, then,” Angie said. “Peggy and Stark are in the parlor, and he’s got all the booze in the world, so come on in.”
“I’m not staying,” James said. “I just wanted to give you your present.” He held up a little box wrapped in pretty paper and a bow.
“You can give it to me after you’ve had a drink,” Angie said. “And something to eat--there’s lots of food leftover, and Peggy said my Yorkshire pudding was perfect.”
James’ eyebrow flicked upwards. “I’m not sure you’re listening to me."
“Oh, you mean the part where you came to my place, saw a note on my door, drove to a different part of the city, asked to be let in the gate, and came inside, just so you could hand me a box and leave?” Angie said. “No, I heard that. I just think it’s silly, and you’re just scared to stay because you think it’ll mean something and I’ll suddenly decide we’re getting married and start naming our kids or something. But it won’t mean nothing. It’s just Christmas. People who like each other should be together on Christmas. You like me, right?”
“I find aspects of you very alluring, yes,” James said.
Angie grinned. “If you’re good and stay for a bit, I’ll make sure you see all your favorite ones,” she said.
“Ah, you made it,” Peggy said to James. “I wondered if MI-6 would let you out for the holidays.”
“Q wanted to get home before Father Christmas arrived,” James said. “We’re hoping next year he’ll be old enough to learn the truth about him.”
Peggy gave a laugh. “He’s not that young, 007,” she said. “I haven’t seen him in person since Bletchley, though. He still looks like Dorian Gray, I gather?”
“There’s a very disturbing portrait of him somewhere, I’m sure,” James said. “He sends his regards.”
“Please return them,” Peggy said.
“Yeah, and tell him my job offer’s still open,” Stark said. “I want him at Stark Industries--whatever the Brits are paying him, I’ll give him five times as much. Come in, have a drink. What can I get you?”
James gave off a complicated order that Angie lost after ‘vodka martini, shaken, not stirred’. Stark raised his eyebrows.
“That taste any good?” he asked.
“Yes,” James said.
“Huh. I’ll have one, too, then,” Stark said, and went over to the bar to make it.
There were two presents left under the tree now, one for Ana that Angie guessed was for the 8th night of Hanukkah, and one for James, which Angie had got for him, figuring if he didn’t come for Christmas, she’d see him at some point and give it then. He was a tough guy to shop for. She didn’t want anything too lovey-dovey or sentimental, but nothing really boring either. She was happy with what she’d found.
He gave it a shake, and it ting-a-linged inside, making his eyebrows furrow. “It sounds like a bell,” he said. Angie put on her best blank face and waited for him to open the box. He took the lid off, and his brow furrowed deeper as he pulled out the little gold ornament. He gave it a few rings. “Yes, it’s a bell.”
“It’s for your neck,” Angie explained. “So I can tell when you’re coming and you can’t sneak up on me no more.”
His face crinkled right up as he gave a deep chuckle, one of those laughs she liked from him because he didn’t do them often. “That’s not a wise thing in my profession,” he said.
“Well, you ain’t at work when you’re with me,” Angie pointed out. “You can wear it then.”
“And what else will I be wearing?” James asked.
Angie didn’t like that he could make her blush that easily. “Up to you,” she said.
He gave the bell another ring and kissed her cheek. “I have a few ideas,” he said, in her ear, and she blushed deeper.
“Sorry, coming through,” Stark said, handing James’s drink over Angie’s shoulder and then scurrying off. “As you were.”
James put the bell in his pocket, and gave Angie her gift, taking a sip of his drink. Angie undid the bow and took the lid off. There were two tickets inside, for the Starlight Ball. That was a huge party on New Year’s Eve, in the Starlight Roof at the Waldorf. Lots of celebrities went to that. The tickets were a hot item. Angie had friends who’d worked it in the past and made a killing in tips with all the rich blood there. It wasn’t a thing Angie ever thought she’d be going to, ever.
“I’m afraid that’s the closest I could get to the moon,” James said, over the rim of his glass.
“I’ll...I’ll take it,” Angie said. Geez. “How did you get these, Sugar?”
“I asked,” James said.
“WIth your voice or your gun?” Angie said.
“I was owed a favor,” James said. “I hope you’re free to attend? I’ve been told asking in advance is a better bet than assuming.”
“I’ll make myself free,” Angie said. “Thank you. This is...really...wow.” Well, at least she had somewhere to wear her watch now. “Are you coming with me?”
“I admit that was the idea,” James said.
“Well, I’ll have to check around to see if I get a better offer,” Angie joked. “But if I don’t, you’re in?” Was he really making a date with her a whole week in the future?
“I’m in,” James said. He took the bell out of his pocket and gave it a ring. “With bells on.”