Characters: Peggy Carter, Howard Stark, Steve Rogers, the 69th (Howling Commandos)
Warnings/Triggers: In a war setting, but no violence or upsetting things involved
Pairings: Peggy/Steve UST, Falsworth/Random lady I made up
Word Count 5,016
Summary: On an escort trip home from a mission, Peggy and Howard experience the joys of field life, including bad food, tents, and friendship around the fire.
Author's notes: I was messing around with a prompt generator the other day, and it gave me 'friendship, rabbit, stew' for the prompts. And it was oddly totally relevant to a section of a super epic 'Peggy and Howard Have War Adventures with Steve and the 69th' story I'd been fighting with and eventually abandoned and hacked apart to pare down to something simpler. And it occurred to me I could take parts of that story and write a few smaller fics, and so this is one of them, with the themes of 'friendship, rabbit, stew'.
I've done my best to get all the Commandos to do something here, but there are a lot of them and some are more fleshed out than others, so a few do dominate the actions here. Also, Falsworth's sweetheart is entirely from my head. I mentioned her once in a throwaway and decided she was needed again here, and expanded on it. Some of Falsworth's backstory is from the comics.
Set during The First Avenger, but other than that, no idea when.
“Is it just me, or is it suddenly unsettlingly quiet?” Falsworth asked.
“Stark fell asleep fifteen minutes ago,” Jones replied.
“Ah, yes, that will do it,” Falsworth said.
Peggy put her hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter, mostly to ensure Howard didn’t wake up from his nap than to save his feelings. He was sitting up, his head fallen to his chest and his body swaying with the movement of the lorry as it bounced over forest paths. His non-stop commentary had been pleasant enough, to begin with, but after several hours of driving through France, it had begun to wear thin. All of them had taken a turn in the driver’s and shotgun seats, simply to have a break from the tales of seduction and daring. The only time he’d quieted down to any degree was when he’d decided Morita’s rifle needed a tune-up. The 69th had quickly found a myriad of other items requiring repair to keep him busy, which slowed, but didn’t halt, the words.
Peggy supposed it was decent of him to come out to France in the first place. Not that it was decency that motivated him. He was just too proud of his ‘baby’ to let anyone else install it. Cerberus was a radio system that would allow secure transmissions from the Ally operatives within enemy lines and even swap and jam enemy signals. Howard had conceived of it and, evidently, Hedy Lamarr had something to do with it, but Peggy had walked in on the tail end of the story and Howard wouldn’t repeat it, due to, she suspected, it involving him striking out with her. In any case, it was going to be of great use when it was up and running and she and Howard had been in France for the last few days getting the relay system installed, with a team of helpers and soldiers to assist.
However, this morning, Steve and the 69th had arrived with the message that Peggy and Howard were needed in London and fast. Something important had come up and Steve and his men were to escort them to the nearest exfiltration point. They’d been driving all day and Peggy didn’t think they were going to get there by nightfall. She hoped Howard would make it through the night without someone smothering him.
“My uncle had a parrot that used to talk himself to sleep,” Dugan said. “Telling himself he was a pretty bird. I wonder if they’re related?”
“Nah,” Morita said. “Stark’s too colourful to be a parrot.”
They managed a good ninety minutes of blissful silence, playing a mute game of cards to pass the time before the bumping stopped and the lorry’s engine died. The curtain at the rear parted and Steve appeared, revealing a sky streaking with orange as the sun began to set outside.
“We’re gonna stop for today,” he said. “We’re losing light and this road is treacherous enough by day, I don’t want us bumping around in the dark. We need to get the mud off the tires, too. We’ll make camp and go again in the morning--is Howard okay?”
“He’s asleep,” Peggy said.
“Voluntarily?” Steve asked, eying Dugan.
Dugan held his hands up in innocence. “Guess he was sleepy,” he said. “I didn’t hit him. I thought about it, but I didn’t hit him.”
Steve gave Howard’s knee a shake.
“What? What!” Howard said. His eyes opened to their widest and he looked around in a panic. “Oh God, I’m still in this truck.” He peered beyond Steve. “But we’ve stopped. Are we there? Tell me we’re there.”
“We’re as far as we’re getting today,” Steve said. “We’re making camp.”
“Camp?” Howard said. “Camp...as in...camp? Outside? Sleeping outside?”
“Yep!” Steve said.
Howard let out a low moan.
“Well, in tents,” Steve added.
Howard continued to moan.
“And bedrolls?” Steve said.
Howard made sad noises.
“All right,” Steve said, apparently giving up on putting a positive spin on things. “Let’s get ourselves sorted. Dernier, le feu. Dugan, set up the tents--Jones, you can help him with that. Peggy, can you get some kindling together for the fire?” Peggy nodded. “Morita and Falsworth, get some fuelwood. Bucky’s gonna work to get the truck off the road. I’ll get some bigger branches. Any objections?”
Howard raised his hand.
“That doesn’t have to do with spending the night out here?” Steve clarified.
Howard lowered his hand.
“Great,” Steve said. “Let’s go.”
The 69th gathered their things together and hopped out the back. Howard continued to look traumatized.
“You must have camped before,” Peggy said to him.
“I’m a New Yorker, Peg, the closest I came to camping was when it got too hot and we opened the apartment windows,” Howard said. “At least at the relay station we had cots. I was looking forward to a bed tonight. A real one. With good company in it.”
“Tomorrow,” Peggy promised. “We’ll get you one tomorrow. A bed, at least. The company is your initiative.”
She gave his shoulder a clap of encouragement and picked up her pack. Steve held up his hands to help her down out of the lorry.
“I can get out myself,” she said. “I’m not a delicate flower like Howard.”
“I ain’t delicate!” Howard’s voice fumed behind her. “I just ain’t a soldier like you.”
“I’m not a soldier,” Peggy reminded him. “Not technically.”
“You’re as much of a soldier as the rest of us,” Steve said.
And she blushed. How undignified. Now she’d have to jump down by herself. She crouched and braced with her arm, scooting her bottom off the edge and landing without fuss.
“See, no harm done,” she said.
Steve shrugged in apology, smiling at her, and her stomach fluttered, and it was all really very annoying. She tossed her ponytail and headed off in search of kindling before she did something silly.
“Hey,” she heard Howard say behind her. “Don’t I get a hand down?”
The setting up of the camp was a well-oiled machine that Peggy could only hope not to get in the way of. She gathered up her kindling and brought it to the growing supply of resources next to Dernier, who was making the fire bed, cheerfully ignoring the advice Howard offered in lazy French.
Falsworth was soon with them with some fuelwood and Morita brought in some smaller branches. Steve arrived carrying five huge tree limbs over one shoulder.
“Did you break those off with your bare hands?” Peggy asked.
“I only take a couple from each tree, so I don’t damage them,” he said, quickly.
“Yes, my astonishment was entirely at your wanton destruction of nature and not at the amazing feat of strength,” Peggy said.
Steve ducked his head, sheepishly. “It’s easier than an axe,” he said.
“And also he’s a show-off,” Barnes added.
Steve started to break the branches over his knee and Peggy had to work hard not to admire the muscles in his arms.
“Shouldn’t you be helping with something?” She asked Howard.
“Steve didn’t give me a job,” Howard replied.
“He’s too nice,” Peggy said, with a glare toward Steve that went unnoticed. “Show some of your Stark initiative and find something to do.”
Howard looked around and crawled over to the fire bed. He put one of the stones Dernier had collected into the ring he was assembling and moved back to where he’d been before.
“Bravo,” Dernier said, dryly.
“Rien du tout,” Howard replied.
Dernier soon had a roaring fire going and Dugan and Jones finished setting up the tents around it.
“I put your bedroll out for you,,” Dugan told Peggy. “You get a whole tent to yourself, lucky girl.”
“I could have shared,” Peggy objected. “I hope no one is doubling up to save my honour.”
“We’re an uneven number, so we double up all the time,” Jones assured her. “Falsworth snores, so he usually gets the solo tent.”
“As you know, Agent Carter, a gentleman never snores,” Falsworth said. “Please ignore this slander meant to slight my character.”
“I never listen to gossip, Lord Falsworth,” Peggy said, nobly.
Dugan looked to Howard with an evil sort of grin on his face. “We’ll throw Stark in with His Majesty,” he said.
“Tell you what,” Howard said. “How about we skip the tents and I’ll put us all up in a hotel for the night? My treat. We’ll dance, we’ll drink, we’ll have a great time.”
“That’s the only reasonable thing you’ve said all day,” Dugan said. “I mean, it’s a damned stupid idea, but it’s nice to think about.”
“Let me know if you change your mind,” Howard said and flopped down on his back.
Now that the fire was going, dinner started to be prepared. Morita took charge (“I know it’s cliche, but I’m good with rice”) and Jones had some vegetables in his pack, which Peggy helped him peel and chop. Everyone’s K-rations were combined and the tinned beef was thrown in, but Falsworth went off in search of something ‘rather more edible’.
“Can you cook, Howard?” Steve asked.
“Sure, if you want food poisoning, I can cook,” Howard replied.
“I don’t think I can get food poisoning,” Steve said, thoughtfully.
“With my cooking, you could,” Howard said.
“Well, you can do the dishes then,” Steve said.
Howard put his hands over his face and moaned. “Yeah, okay,” he said. “Sure, I can do dishes. I know how to do that. I’ve seen people do that.”
Steve exchanged disbelieving looks with Peggy and they both chuckled.
In the end, Howard did find himself something to do. Not anything helpful, of course, but something. He declared Barnes’ sniper rifle needed repair and was soon happily tinkering once more and no one minded because at least he wasn’t complaining.
The stew came together, but that was as much as could be said for it--it was together. It bubbled a sad, slow lament in the pot, the colour a brownish grey that spoke of things that were the opposite of appetizing.
“We call it ‘Camp Sludge’,” Dugan told Peggy, cheerfully. “My mama told me before I left that I should remember to say grace out here, but let me tell you, some nights it’s hard to be grateful to the Almighty for what I’m about to receive.”
“It’s not that bad,” Jones said. “It’s just not good.”
“It's food,” Steve said. “Which is better than no food.”
And everyone agreed with that.
Falsworth returned from his expedition carrying a pair of rabbits in hand. “I’ve caught ye a brace of coneys, me ‘andsomes,” he said, in a West Country accent.
“That I will pray to,” Dugan declared.
He took them and began to skin them with expert precision. Howard looked up from Barnes’ gun briefly to be horrified.
“How on earth did you catch those?” Peggy asked. “I didn’t hear a shot.”
“I learned a thing or two from the gamekeeper growing up,” Falsworth replied. “The Surrey estate is teeming with rabbits.”
“I’m sure that will impress Jeanette,” Steve said, innocently.
Falsworth whirled to point a stern finger at him. “Don’t start,” he commanded. “Sir.”
“Who’s Jeannette?” Peggy asked.
“Yeah, who’s Jeanette?” Howard echoed, all interest now. “Do I know her?”
“She’s the future Lady Falsworth,” Barnes said, with a grin.
“She’s the best thing since sliced bread,” Morita added.
“She’s made of sunshine and lollipops,” Dugan said, batting his eyes
Dernier clasped his hands at his chin. “A goddess,” he said.
Falsworth turned a faint shade of pink as he turned from man to man, trying to shush them and having no success.
“I didn’t know you were engaged, James,” Peggy said.
“I’m not,” he said, quickly. “Not yet, anyway, but perhaps--oh, everyone do shut up.”
There was good-natured laughing all-around, including from Falsworth. He sat in mock misery as the men filled Howard and Peggy in on the lovely Jeanette, who was a Canadian who had come over with the nursing sisters. Falsworth had met her while recovering from an injury during a mission to the Italian theatre. They now exchanged letters.
“Such as they are,” he said. “With all the censoring that goes on, it’s half black bars these days. The last one, I barely got ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’. Not exactly poetry, but at least I know she’s safe for now.”
“What’s the Dowager Lady Falsworth going to say to you marrying a commoner?” Peggy wondered.
“Should it come to that, she’ll adapt,” Falsworth said. “I want this war won first, then I’ll worry about shocking Mater. I doubt she’ll be that upset. Titles are just placeholders these days. The aristocracy has no practical purpose, not since before the Great War. I spent half my childhood in Birmingham, for God’s sake. Bringing in someone from ‘the colonies’ isn’t going to ruin the family name, especially one who’s kind and clever and respectable.”
“Yeah, I don’t know her,” Howard decided.
“I must admit, I am a little relieved to hear that,” Falsworth said, so deadpan Peggy couldn’t tell whether he meant it, but had a feeling he might.
The talk turned to other sweethearts and family members and news from home. Peggy had trouble keeping track of all the names, but the members of the 69th were familiar with them and asked after them with obvious interest and concern. In some cases, Peggy suspected the news wasn’t really news, that it had been shared before, but someone asked so the other could speak of home and get comfort from speaking of it.
Steve and Howard didn’t contribute much to the conversation, though Steve was happy and eager to ask questions and hear the responses. Steve had no family to get letters from, and, it seemed no sweetheart either (Peggy had no business being pleased about the latter, but she was). Howard had plenty of sweethearts, but no family either it seemed, and for the first time that day, stayed quiet and listened.
“My ma keeps telling me to look out for you in her letters,” Barnes told Steve. “I don’t think she’s got it in her head yet that you’re Captain America. She thinks you’re still little you. She wants me to make sure you’re wearing warm socks.” He put his hand on Steve’s shoulder and looked serious. “Are you wearing warm socks, Steve?”
Steve looked down at his feet. “I’m wearing the socks she made me,” he said. “So, yeah. Tell her my feet are warm.”
“You should write to her yourself,” Barnes said. “So I can stop being hounded. Sometimes I think you’re her favourite kid, and you’re not even her kid.”
“There’s so many of you Barneses, maybe she’s just lost track of how many she has,” Steve said.
“No doubt you can lose track of how many kids there are,” Dugan said. “There’s ten of us. My mom doesn’t know any of our names.”
“Is that why you’re Dum-Dum?” Jones asked.
“Timothy Aloysius gets a little long to yell,” Dugan said.
“James Montgomery isn’t much shorter,” Falsworth said.
“Margaret Elizabeth,” Peggy offered.
“Howard Anthony Walter,” Howard said. “Junior. I win.” He tossed Barnes’ rifle over to him. “Won’t pull to the right anymore and I fixed your sight. You should actually hit the thing you’re aiming at now.”
“Swell,” Barnes said, looking it over. “You’re good for something, after all, Stark.”
“I do my best,” Howard said. “Well, I don’t. I do what I want. Is it soup yet? I’m starving.”
Morita started to ladle out the Camp Sludge into a motley collection of bowls and cups, which were handed around the fire along with the roast rabbit. They all bowed their heads for Dugan’s brief, somewhat sarcastic grace, and then dug in.
“I know I’m delirious with hunger from bouncing in that truck all day, but this is actually tasty,” Howard said, after a few bites.
“Food tastes better when you have to do something in a day to get it,” Dugan said. “Not that you’d know about that, Stark. All your food comes on a silver platter.”
“I’ve been plenty hungry before, believe me,” Howard snapped, with far more feeling than Peggy would have expected. His spoon paused mid-attack and he looked up into the startled silence, quickly putting a smirk on his face. “I mean, I’ve been in England for months now. No wonder you’re all so miserable all the time.”
“Steady on,” Falsworth objected. “Don’t dismiss the achievement; we’ve worked for centuries to be as miserable as we are. We wouldn’t want to be mistaken for the French.”
“Excusez?” Dernier said.
“Present company excluded, of course,” Falsworth said, with a grin.
“Me, I would like ratatouille,” Dernier said, wistfully. “I miss that. When I go home, I will eat that.”
“I’d like a hot dog,” Barnes said.
“Pizza,” Steve said. “From Totonnos.”
“No, you’re right,” Barnes said. “That’s better. One of the slices wrapped in brown paper.”
He and Steve nodded in unison and Howard gave a shrug beside Peggy that suggested he wouldn’t mind sharing that meal either.
“I want cornbread,” Dugan said. “My mama’s. It’s awful, but I’d like to taste it again.”
“Onigiri,” Morita said. “Or peanut butter. Actual peanut butter, not the monkey butter they give us out here.”
“Yeah,” Jones said, a little sad. “A peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be real nice.”
Everyone was now looking at their Sludge with a renewed sense of disappointment and a contemplative silence fell over the fire. Peggy had no longings for any food, except perhaps her mother’s Victoria sponge. She wasn’t cut off from home, though, even if the food there was slimmer pickings than it had been. Less condensed milk and more cheese would be lovely, of course. But fish and chips were still around, so the Axis powers had yet to win.
Howard broke the maudlin silence. “Say I brought dessert,” he said. “Could I get out of the dishes?”
“Depends on what you brought,” Dugan said.
Howard opened his pack and pulled out a stack of chocolate bars. He started to toss them out across the fire. “Only the best, of course.”
Chocolate wasn’t unheard of in the field. Most ration kits came with a bar and the D-ration was just a chocolate bar jammed with enough calories to keep a person alive in desperate times. But that was chocolate made to be field stable. These were full-sized Hershey bars. Real chocolate, with real milk. Peggy’s mouth started watering. There was something she hadn’t realized she missed: chocolate that tasted like chocolate.
“Ça alors,” Dernier said.
“Christ, Stark, how much of your soul did you sell to get these?” Barnes asked.
“Enough,” Howard said. He unwrapped his bar and took a big bite. “I know a girl, who knows a guy. I use’m for trades and deals. People like money, but out here what they really want is a taste of home.”
“This isn’t quite my home,” Falsworth said. “But I’ll certainly eat like an American tonight.”
“Hear, hear,” Peggy said, holding up her bar in a toast across the fire.
“This is really thoughtful, Howard, thank you,” Steve said.
Howard shrugged. “It’s just business,” he said. “Now, about those dishes…”
Peggy was accustomed to sleeping in a bedroll now and had a decent bit of a sleep by the time she was roused for her shift of watch that night. She’d insisted on taking one and it turned out she needn't have been quite so forceful in demanding it, as not a single person objected.
“Your go, sweetie,” Dugan whispered, as she blinked up at him.
Normally Peggy objected to being called sweetheart and variations thereof, but with the 69th she felt it was meant as affectionate and not to demean her. She had seven big brothers there to tease and care for her. After losing Michael, it was nice to have that sort of relationship again, even if it wasn’t the same.
“Thank you,” she murmured.
“You have about fifteen minutes,” Dugan said. “Take time to wake up and get warm.”
She re-tied her ponytail, did up her bra, and grabbed her rifle, crawling out of the tent into the night. It was clear but chilly. The fire still burned gently and Steve was sitting next to it. He had his shield on his lap, using it as a desk for a map he had spread out. He was consulting his compass but snapped it shut when he saw her.
“Hey,” he said. He pocketed his compass and pointed to the fire. “There’s coffee if you want some. It’s awful, but it’s warm, and we pooled our sugar rations.”
Peggy got to her feet, brushing her knees off, and investigated the pot nestled in the embers at the edge of the fire. She poured herself a tin cup of the questionable liquid inside and dropped a caramel in it.
“Shouldn’t you be asleep?” she asked. “It’s not your watch.”
“I don’t need to sleep much,” Steve said.
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.” Peggy took a seat next to him. “Sleep is good for the soul, as well as the body.” She tapped the side of his head. “You should rest your brain, too.”
“I’ll go in a bit,” Steve said.
Peggy took a sip of the coffee, which was just as promised: warm and awful. She heard a strange growling sound and cocked her head, trying to discern where it was coming from.
“Falsworth,” Steve said, without looking up from his map.
Peggy laughed. “He does snore,” she said.
“Yep,” Steve said. “Howard does too, as it turns out. They make a good pair.”
Peggy listened again, but couldn’t pick up any other sounds. “I can’t hear him,” she said.
“I can,” Steve said, wryly.
“I don’t have supersoldier hearing,” Peggy said. She looked at him, curious. “Is it odd, to be able to hear so well? You only had partial hearing before and now you have perfect hearing. Is it overwhelming?”
Steve put down his pencil to think. “No,” he said, after some consideration. “I know I can hear more than I used to be able to, but...it doesn’t seem louder if that makes sense? I don’t feel like everything’s screaming at me. I think my brain evens it out, maybe. It’s just like before, only more. It’s great, actually. I like hearing things I’ve never heard before. It’s like…like filling a picture in with color. It can be beautiful without it, but there’s more depth with it.”
Peggy wished Erskine was still around to see how his work had turned out. He’d be so fascinated by Steve’s transformation. And so proud of the man he’d become.
“You know what’s actually hard?” Steve went on. “The thing I find really hard to adjust to? Distances. I have a really hard time judging how fast I’m moving or how far I have to go. Turning is the hardest.” He laughed. “All the things I can do now, and turning corners without smashing into something is the hardest. I go too fast.”
“Well, then the key might be to slow down,” Peggy said.
“Yeah, that’s smart,” Steve said, with a playful nod. “I’ll work on that. I never got fast enough before to have to slow down.”
“Then consider it a very enjoyable new skill to learn,” Peggy said. She tapped the map. “Is this what’s keeping you up?”
His brow furrowed as he looked down. “I’m trying to plan our route for tomorrow,” he said.
“Maybe I can help,” Peggy said. “Let me see.”
He shifted his shield over to share it between them. It was heavier on her lap than she’d expected, considering the way he tossed it around. But she didn’t have supersoldier strength, either. She could see little drawings he’d done on the edges of the map--a little puppy and a ragamuffin boy chasing after a kite, and a baseball player swinging a bat, and something else she couldn’t quite make out. The outline of a woman’s face, she thought. Maybe even her face? He leaned over to point at the map, his elbow covering it before she could decide for certain, but her stomach grew warm at the thought. Stop being silly, Peggy.
“This is the route we followed when we came in,” he said, tracing along with his finger.
She pushed the warmth away to focus. “And what’s wrong with that for going out?”
“You’re with us now, so it changes things,” Steve explained. “Uh, I mean you and Howard are here. We took some risks, cutting close to towns and camps on our way in. I don’t want to risk that now. And there’s been rain. This ravine here is going to be all mud, so it’ll slow us down a lot and may be impassable. I don’t want to get stuck. There’s other routes--three of them--that I can see. One is shorter and easier to travel, but we’d be more likely to run into the enemy. This one is rough going and longer, but there aren’t any known camps around it. And this one is about medium.” He bit his lip, tapping his pencil on the map. “I think it’s the best one.”
“Well, it sounds like you’ve made up your mind already,” Peggy said. “Why are you still questioning yourself?”
“It’s my responsibility to keep you safe,” he said. “I don’t want you to be hurt. You, uh, or Howard. And I promised I’d get you two to London as fast as I could.”
“I have absolute faith in your decisions,” Peggy said. She nudged him with her shoulder. “You should, too. You’re a good leader and if this is as fast as we can go than you’re keeping your promise. I think this seems like a good route. You should trust your instincts. I feel very safe in your hands. I always do.”
Steve looked up and caught her eye and for a moment she thought he was going to say something very profound and sincere, but what he actually said was, “okay”, and “thanks”.
Then Dugan returned from his watch and Peggy and Steve instinctively scooted away from one another.
“Uh, hey,” Dugan said, with a smile Peggy didn’t care for. “Just heading off now. Your go Peggy.”
“Thank you,” Peggy said. “Have a good sleep.”
“Thanks,” he said. “Night, Cap’n.”
“Night, Dum-Dum,” Steve said, with a wave.
Peggy grabbed her rifle and stood up. “You should go to sleep, too,” she said.
“I will,” he said.
He made no move to leave, but when Peggy returned to wake Morita up for his watch, Steve wasn’t at the fire anymore. Peggy hoped he was finally getting some rest.
Peggy was the last up in the morning. Even Howard sat at the now renewed campfire, shoving what was left of the Sludge down his throat. He offered a reasonably cheerful ‘good morning’ to her, which she returned. Peggy elected to take her chances with the K-rations than last night’s leftovers and made herself some oatmeal with her malted milk tablets.
The rest of the men were working at getting the camp taken down and Peggy ate quickly so she could help.
“Oh, you’re up,” Steve greeted her when she approached him. He gave one of the wheels of the lorry a gentle kick and all the dried, caked mud simply jumped off in fear.
“You should have woken me,” Peggy said.
“We decided to wait until we had to,” Steve said, and those in hearing distance all nodded. Evidently, there had been a meeting to discuss this. How horrifying, and oddly sweet, and infuriating,
“You should have woken me,” Peggy repeated, now cross. “You said I was a soldier, treat me as one.”
Steve ducked his head in embarrassment. “Sorry,” he said. “Get your tent down, we’re going in twenty minutes. Make this place look like we were never here. Move quick, I want us on the road before the sun is full up. We’re getting you to London today, no delays.”
Peggy grinned and gave a salute. “Yes, sir,” she said.
She did take a quick break to use the facilities, such as they were. Men had it easier in that regard. She intended to tell Howard to put himself to use this time, but he was already dousing the fire and scattering the ashes around.
“Don’t give me that look,” he said. “I can’t cook and I don’t know how to put up a tent, but believe me, I know about things being on fire and how to stop them.”
Peggy chuckled as she set to work packing up. Within Steve’s projected time frame the forest was devoid of signs of life. Only the lorry and the lingering smell of smoke in the air was left.
Jones gave Peggy a boost into the back of the lorry and she settled in for another bumpy ride.
“God, you people smell even worse today,” Howard grumbled, as he followed her in. “You should bathe more. Not you, Peg, you smell good.”
“Thank you,” Peggy said, dryly.
The rest of the 69th clambered in and found their seats. Steve peered in through the curtains to make sure they were all settled, like a school teacher overseeing an excursion of pupils. He nodded to himself.
“Should be about four hours, if the road holds out,” he said. “Then we’ll get Peggy and Howard off to London. I’m going to navigate, who wants to drive?”
The 69th glanced to Howard as one and all raised their hands. Steve bit his lip to hide his smile and nodded to Falsworth.
“You’re good on bad roads,” he said. “Come on.”
Falsworth hopped back out with a big grin on his face. The others accepted their fates with varying levels of bad humour.
“Don’t look so glum,” Howard said. “I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.” He rummaged around in his pack. “Who wants a Tootsie Roll?”