5731/Third Shift

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Third Shift
Date of Scene: 26 March 2021
Location: Carter-Sousa Home
Synopsis: May arrives at the house in Long Island for her shift guarding Vogel, only to find Peggy obsessed with the work of cracking HYDRA's infiltration network... because work is much preferable to processing messy emotions like grief.
Cast of Characters: Peggy Carter, Melinda May

Peggy Carter has posed:
Babysitting the head of HYDRA locked into a bomb shelter basement is not actually hard work. Sitting alone in her museum of a house is harder. Therefore, Peggy has been drowning herself in studying the Pacifica files and trying to make the traces between everything else she has from various operations. It means she's turned her old working desk into a new working desk. The ancient, yellowed files that were there have been replaced by two tablets and the newer printed files. She's got a cork board up, some strings, long notes, lots of photos. It's the conspiracy theory board. It's just all in pieces. There's big question marks by CABAL?? and VOGEL BOSS?? and SHIELD PLANTS?? where there is very little information to fill the holes.

Peggy's been staring at it most of the afternoon until Bobbi arrived and then the rest of the night. There is no scent of food in the house though there are some take out containers in the trash -- enough food for one. Peggy's probably been slipping Vogel take out food instead of cooking herself.

Melinda May has posed:
It's probably safer for Peggy to give Vogel takeout food than to cook for him herself. As it is, coming for third shift and knowing her friend's habits, May carries yet more takeout with her. This, however, is not for Vogel. He can starve overnight, as far as she's concerned. It's not that great a hardship.

She stops her bike in the driveway, rather than the SUV -- mainly because the SUV is in the garage and the garage door is closed. The bike is a more solitary means of travel, in any case, and, right now, May likes solitary.

Helmet under one arm, takeout box in the other, she makes her way into the garage, juggles the helmet expertly enough to work the lock to the side door and make her way into the house. She locks the door behind her, puts the helmet down nearby it, and makes her way into the kitchen. There, she sets the food down before she goes to see just where Peggy has buried herself in the suburban mausoleum. It's not hard to find her. Even if she didn't have the benefit of a prior visit to tell her the layout of the house, she can feel the pull of Peggy's exahustion and determination... among oh-so-many other emotions. She closes her eyes briefly and inhales a fortifying breath before she enters the room where Peggy is, features carefully schooled to be as neutral as they ever are. Not the impassivity from before, no. The tight, shadowed expression that has been her default since Bahrain... because Daisy's right. She *knows* how to channel emotions, no matter if they're her own or someone else's. It's what she does.

"Hey," she greets, leaning on the doorframe rather than entering all the way in -- mainly so she doesn't entirely startle her friend. "You eaten yet, today?"

Peggy Carter has posed:
At her old desk, it's one of a few things have have changed in the house. But very few. She's put a blanket across the sun bleached part of the couch and a rug over that spot in the carpet. She's turned her old desk back into a new working desk because it's sheer habit, honestly. There's a few tea mugs around the living room and papers on the coffee table. Slowly, the museum is turning into a home again. Peggy's exhausted frame is sitting at her desk, quietly combing through the entirely too many Pacifica files she got the other day. Slightly blood shot eyes flicker up as she hears May coming in.

"Mm, evening. It's that time already? I hope you didn't rush. And I managed some... lunch, I think." That's not entirely a lie. Peggy hasn't thought much about it and dinner was of no interest, but she has eaten. "Bobbi stopped by earlier. She knows everything now... She's suggesting you as a good cop with Vogel and we bring Barton in to be his 'handler'. And that we get Fitz on this. Neither of which are bad ideas..." It seems Peggy is diving right into work. It's easier than thinking of where she's doing it.

Melinda May has posed:
"I brought food," Melinda says, not to be so easily distracted. "Come eat." That doesn't mean she hasn't heard what Peggy's said. "And Bobbi's right about Fitz. We need him. Barton's not a bad choice, either." She trusts Clint. The fact he'd have no compunction about putting an arrow through Vogel if he needed to helps, too.

She continues to stand in thedoor, watching her friend, waiting for her to stand. "We can bring the food back out here and you can show me..." Her eyes flit from boards to string to files. She flips a hand in a gesture to encompass all of it. "This."

Peggy Carter has posed:
A little huff of breath comes from Peggy as May practically orders her to eat, but she doesn't argue it. She just pulls her legs down off the desk and pushes herself into standing. "Alright, fine... Food." She grumbles. She comes into the kitchen, studying May as the woman seems to agree with the Clint recommendation. "That's good to hear. I don't know Barton well, so a second recommendation is helpful before we bring him into... Everything. And I just need to steal time with Fitz. Maybe invite him over for dinner." Peggy smirks at that thought.

She then walks up to the kitchen counter, helping to put out some food on plates. She's not really hungry, but she's going through the motions with food. It's something. "And I don't know that... *This* is much more than we had before. Just trying to see where all the holes are. There's a lot."

Melinda May has posed:
May is fully aware Peggy isn't hungry. Not because she can feel Peggy's hunger; that's a physical reaction not an emotional one. But she can feel the sulleness at the *encouragement* to do so and plainly see the rote nature of her actions.

Her own expression of emotions is as tightly held as it has ever been, however -- that tight, sharp look that is her usual mission face, rather than the impassivity that has been with her for the last two or three weeks. She's trying very hard not to give in to the emotional soup that boils under Peggy's blunt reserve. And not to let it feed whatever may be there of her own.

Filling a plate for herself, she picks up a fork and waits to see if Peggy will sit at the table or return to the 'evidence room', following where she does. "That's no surprise," she says after a moment. "There always are. Doesn't mean we're wrong, or on the wrong track." The real challenge is timing. She feels like they're running out of time -- both within herself and subtly from Peggy as well. It's not that she can read minds, she just knows how to interpret that underlying sense of urgency she senses.

Peggy Carter has posed:
Of course, Peggy takes her plate back into the other room. Working is the best way to get through grief -- a whole bunch of grief she never entirely processed, simply just locked away in a house where she was supposed to build a life but, instead, left it frozen in death. But now they are here again and it's hard to keep her stony exterior when she looks at anything but work. Therefore, work it is.

"No. I think we're right. Bobbi has the same questions I do -- who is the Cabal chief among them. She's made it my total priority now to figure out who the plants in SHIELD are. Assigning me to some undercover mission so I don't need to go into the Triskelion. It means we need to trace that Russian Vogel mentioned, and see what more you and Clint can get out of him..." She walks to the couch, sinking down on it tiredly and at least starting to poke at her food. She knows a body needs food, so she starts putting food into it.

"...Daniel always cooked. I don't even know where he put half the stuff in the kitchen." She whispers after a few moments. Seemingly out of no where.

Melinda May has posed:
Melinda follows Peggy into the other room, pausing only long enough to grab them a couple of drinks when she does. She sets one down on the desk for her friend, taking the other to a side table that will suffice for her. "I think I met one of the Cabal," she says after a moment. "The kid that threw me on my ass on the ship. Burch recognized her as Cabal." She reaches up to absently rub the back of her head where it hit. Sure, she's healed, but she remembers that pain. "Those gloves she wore packed a serious punch. If they've got more stuff like that, we could be in for a fight."

She speaks not only to convey what might or might not be useful information, but also to distract herself from the growing weight of grief and guilt building between them. Thus, when Peggy finally utters Daniel's name, she can't help but let out a breath she hardly knew she was holding. Her eyes close momentarily as she pulls her focus together and lets her breathing channel the emotions deep into her body. Just as she always has.

"You..." she begins, her voice not a whole lot stronger, "never have been the best cook." The words come out slowly, but there's a hint of a smile to them. "I met you in 1940's, remember? If it wasn't for Ana..." They might have starved. Well. Ana and takeout.

She's trying to turn the memory and make it a little less painful. She knows it's futile. So, she lets out another slow breath. "I'm sorry, Peggy. I really am. He was... He was a really good guy. You made a good match."

Yes. May has met Daniel. She got to know him some. And she liked him.

Her expression tightens a little. "Tell me about him," she suggests. "If you want. Tell me what happened?" Her eyes dart briefly to that mantle with its bronzed booties and mason jar of bullets, but return quickly to Peggy's face.

Peggy Carter has posed:
"Oh. That's good to know." Before Peggy can take another bite, she's up on her feet and crossing to the board. She grabs at a pen and starts writing a quick note. 'Smuggler's ship -- Cabal? Power gloves.' And she draws another string between those files. It's not much, but it's more than her eyes had before.

But then May is daring to go back to talk about the elephant in the room. The things she finally dared to mention herself, for good or for ill. She goes dead silent a few heartbeats, dark eyes torn between May and where she's looking on the mantel. She finally, quietly clears her throat, "Yes, he... he was one of the best." She whispers simply. And then a strange edge comes over her smile, "And I knew you... looked like Lily, but I hadn't thought of in a very, very long time... Just how much you really did." She nods to the photo of them on the boat. It might be a bit of deflection, but it's something on her mind too.

The question of what happened gets a bittersweet smile and a single raise of her shoulders in an almost shrug. "He went to the west coast on a mission. I stayed home with the baby. He was shot. Found dead in a hotel pool. Could have happened to either of us at any time..."

Melinda May has posed:
May knows the high level details about Daniel's death -- everything Peggy just said. Everyone in SHIELD does. Agent Sousa was the first SHIELD agent to fall in the line of duty. The first to have the SHIELD eagle on the wall instead of the SSR eagle. She didn't know about the baby, though. Chances are almost no one in the modern era does.

"I didn't know you had a baby," she says. "Was it a boy or a girl?" She feels the weight of Peggy's pain... and likely some of her pride in her child, too. It plays up tight against the empty ache she's carried since Bahrain, the one that destroyed her marriage and prevented her from ever having the child she so very much wanted. But she is Melinda May. And Empath or not, she learned many years ago how to deal with emotions like that, how to sublimate them and convert them into something more useful than tears or temper tantrums. She's leaning very, very heavily on that experience, now.

Peggy Carter has posed:
May isn't the only one used to swallowing and channeling her emotions. Peggy's been doing it 80 some years. This is just a little harder and it's more fresh when one is sitting in the center of the room. Still, she manages not to cry. Especially not in front of the woman. She just swallows back slowly and steps back towards the couch where she sinks into the stiff, bright cushions.

"Mmm. Yes. Michael. Named after my brother, who passed in the war." A flutter of a smile stretches over her lips at some thought. "Daniel had names picked out for children before we were married... romantic that he was." Instead of food, she scoops up her one forgotten mug of tea. It's mostly cold now, but that's her comfort and focus beverage, not food. "I tried to raise him off of SHIELD's grid. Not... expose him to being a target, or get him wrapped up in that mess. Mucked it all up, really. Neither Howard nor I were much fit to be parents, I suppose. He... never returned my calls, the week they froze me in '85. He'd have been better off with Daniel."

Melinda May has posed:
May makes a soft noise in the back of her throat. More just a brief closure of her glottal as part of an otherwise noiseless sigh. A hint of... well, empathy, yes. But not necessarily Empathy, though there's doubtless that wrapped up in it, too. "I'm sorry," she says again. It's a bloody useless statement, and she knows it. But it's the only one that fits.

"I know it's hard being here," she says after a long moment. "I don't really know what memories this place holds, but I can imagine. And... I know how they make you feel. We can find someplace else for Vogel. He doesn't need to stay here."

A beat. Her eyes grow a little hard. "He *shouldn't* stay here. HYDRA doesn't need to be in this house..."

Peggy Carter has posed:
A gentle shake comes to Peggy's head, "No, no, it's a kinda sentiment. I... am too." A weak smile follows. "We thought we were immortal. We'd gotten through so... so many scrapes." And then there is a rasping sort of laugh that echoes it as she nods towards the 3/4ths full jar of bullets on the mantel. "Those were all the bullets and shells from every time someone tried to kill us. And Lily. She lived here a while. It happened so often we just started *collecting* them. Like some trophy piece. We were... so young. So stupid and young." There's a faint hiccup behind her voice there. The threat of tears that comes as she dares let herself talk about it, fall into it. She swallows them back hard.

"No. This is the perfect place for Vogel. There's not going to be anywhere else with a bomb-rated level panic room we can entirely secure. And I won't have anyone else's life... Home... Safety... None of it being risked for my old mistakes. Understood? This was always a working home. Always. We brought files home for dinner and woke up Saturday mornings to reading that week's reports. This is just bringing more... work home."

Melinda May has posed:
Peggy's suppressed tears batter at May's psyche. She pulls herself from the seat she was in and crosses to the mantle, looking at that jar, giving herself just a few more feet of distance. It doesn't actually help, she notices. And it occurs to her that's not Peggy's fault.

"Maybe there won't be other places rated like this, but there are other places that could be made just as secure." She can feel Peggy's determination, the aching need behind that insistance of working here, making it a working home again. It's probably sunk so deep underneath everything, the other woman isn't even consciously aware of it. It probably triggered when she tried to clean everything up... and couldn't. Not that May can know that. But she can *feel* it.

"But, if you feel that strongly about it, then... we'll stay here." It's not a hard decision to make. She's not sure it's the right one tactically, but she is sure it's the right one for Peggy's sanity.

"I don't like leaving you alone here, however." She turns back to face her friend, hand resting on the mantle, not so far from Lily's photo. She's not conscious of that fact. "I don't think any of us should be left alone with Vogel. I think we need to work in pairs -- even if all that really means is that one's sleeping while the other's on duty. It's a hassle, yes. But... we've all got too much wrapped up in this."

She gives her friend a wry, almost bitter smile -- though perhaps self-mocking is a better description. She's feeding off of Peggy's emotions to express her own, so there can't help but be a bit of an edge to them. "I can feel you from across the room. I can feel *everyone* from across the room." She snirks, "Hell, I can almost feel Vogel, though he's still staticky. I don't know if that's because of range or the fact you've got him in a bomb shelter. All I know is that we need to play this smart and make sure we back each other up. Because every last one of us has way too much riding on this." A beat. "Me, included."

Peggy Carter has posed:
As May gives into using the house, something in Peggy relaxes. She probably didn't realize how important it had become to her to breathe a little bit of life back into this place, to return to part of the purpose she and Daniel bought it for, until they had started, but now the thought of leaving so abruptly? It's almost too much. She relaxes back into her seat, not getting ready to try and tidy things up or dash out of there as quickly as they came any longer. May's commentary about two people around makes her frown, however.

"...If people *want* to sleep here, of course. I don't mind pulling double duty and god knows we all need some sleep. But I suspect Lance has some patching up at home to do... I don't want to distract you from other operations either. It'll be easier if we have a few others taking duty. Barton... Jemma, maybe... We can try and work in pairs, but we're all still so stretched thin..." And, truthfully, Peggy hasn't worked in a pair since Daniel died. Maybe she's a little defensive of her indepedence.

Melinda May has posed:
May feels Peggy's heart ease. Her own shoulders ease slightly in a mirrored response. Nevertheless, she pinches the bridge of her nose and closes her eyes for a moment. The breath she releases speaks some of frustration, likely again mirrored from Peggy, but it feels natural enough to her. "Lance and Bobbi have been on-again-off-again at each other's throats for *years*." At least, that's what Mack says.

"Yeah, they need to deal with that. And, yeah, we're shorthanded. But that doesn't change the fact that we have one of the key heads of HYDRA restrained in a bomb-proof panic room beneath our feet." She glances to that photo near her hand. Her hand falls away from it. "I think there *are* others we can bring in," she says, moving away from the mantle. "Piper. Davis. McLaren. Collingwood. If we continue with three shifts, as we are now, by the time you add in Barton, FitzSimmons, and Daisy to the two of us, we've got a workable rotation. Switch out to 12 hour shifts and we can stretch it to a full two days. It's not great, maybe, but it's workable. And this has to be a priority."

She considers it all. She knows she can run interference. As an L7, it's easy for her to redirect Piper and Davis, who are on her STRIKE team, as well as Collingwood and McLaren, both of whom she can second to her team, if she needs. It's not without risk, but it's possible.

It's also, she suspects, not really the heart of the matter here.

She moves toward Peggy. As she does, her shoulders betray rising tension. It's not something she can really help. It doesn't stop her from coming to sit beside her. "You know this isn't your fault, right?"

Peggy Carter has posed:
As May starts outlining the plans of how they can cover double agents on site, Peggy gives a slight sound of discomfort from her throat, but no actual argument. She finally nods, "Fine. Fine. You're...right. Morse already gave orders to make this priority anyway. Pull who you can. I'll finish talking to Barton and Fitz. We'll... work out a double schedule." But her mind is only half there, dark eyes staring back at the Pacifica files, trying to focus on finding other answers because it's easier than being left alone with her thoughts.

And then Nay hits upon it. As much as Peggy's been trying to drown in work to forget it, the truth is there. Her eyes jerk up quietly, almost angry at the woman for a moment, highly displeased that her new found empathic powers can pull such a detailed feeling from the air. But she swallows back a breath and her heart, not speaking for a few moments so she can organize her mind. "No... it's not... Entirely my fault. No. But much of it is. I'm the one who has been around... the longest. I was supposed to keep the watch. To stop this from ever happening. And now the rot might be so deep I can't ever get it out." She looks back to the photos on the wall. "I...couldn't stop him from dying. I couldn't raise my son properly. And for all of it? I still couldn't keep my own damn back yard clean."

Melinda May has posed:
The grief behind Peggy's words hits May like repeated body blows that she takes with the same stoic reserve as she's taken almost every hit in her life. "Why does everyone in this organization always blame themselves?" she asks. It's entirely rhetorical. She doesn't expect an answer. Certainly, she doesn't expect a *good* answer. "You spent forty damned years on ice, Peggy. Would you blame Rogers if the Red Skull returned while he was on ice? Explain to me how this is different. Because I'm not seeing it."

She moves, coming to crouch in front of her friend, rather than beside her. She is low enough to look up into her eyes. And... taking something of a deep breath, she takes Peggy's hands. "Listen to me. You have every right in the world to be angry and upset about Daniel. But you don't have any right to deny him his agency -- to deny him the right to take the same risks every single one of us have when we signed up for SHIELD. The same risks you signed up for in a time when it was not accepted for women to take those risks."

She squeezes Peggy's fingers a little tighter. "You have every right to be heartbroken about your baby. And if you want to carry that guilt, I get it. I don't know what it's like to be a mother. I wanted to be a mother. Then I shot a little girl in the head because it was the only way to save a lot people. I don't honestly think I deserve to be a mother after that. So, I won't won't blame you for how you feel about Michael."

Her eyes are glassy and burning as she searches her friend's face, but her cheeks are dry. "But there is no way in hell I'm going to sit here and listen to you tear yourself apart about not being able to control every little detail in an organization that employs hundreds of thousands of people around the world across nearly a century of time. Especially given the fact you weren't actually present for half of it. You don't get to do that. You don't have the luxury of that level of arrogance. You can't afford it."

She closes her eyes as Peggy's reaction inevitably washes over her. "Be pissed at me, if you want. But remember: I've met Daniel. I know what you've lost. I know where this started and, thanks to that fucking crystal mist, I feel it just as fully as you do. You're allowed to mourn him, Peggy. You are."

Peggy Carter has posed:
There is a touch of surprise that crosses her face as May takes her hands. Peggy knows that probably makes the emotional connection worse, even if it seems May is feeling thing across entire rooms and households now. Peggy doesn't pull back from it, but she does study the woman a bit deeper with a fresh worry behind her eyes. With all the grief and exhaustion that May is feeling from her, she'll get a brush of worry and deep care. Even if Peggy doesn't often show it, she cares incredibly for May. Considers her the sort of friend that is family. It's the only reason she's listening to this.

She breathes out slowly, squeezing May's hands but not quite letting go. Some of the words have calmed the worst of the guilt, but much of it is still there. "...I know. I can't help what happened over the time I was... gone. But it started while I was there and that... That I can't ever totally forgive myself for. But it's fine, I'll just... clean it up. That's the best I can do."

And then her throat tightens up a bit more as someone dares give her permission to grieve Daniel. So like Lily. So much like a conversation she had 60 some years ago. She blinks against a sudden glassiness in her eyes and looks to the side, not quite able to meet her friend's gaze. "Melinda... if I start... mourning him... If I really start, and let the flood come... I don't know how I can shut those gates. And there's too much work to do. I... can't. He made the world make... sense. I can't think about it too much, or it will all fall apart." Her throat is thick with tears she won't cry. She swallows tightly and then pulls her hands back, moving to stand.

"...but... Sleep. I should sleep." And escape to another room before she does fall apart. Even if Melinda will know.

Melinda May has posed:
"Yeah," May agrees. "You should. If you can." She feels everything that surges through Peggy. That sense of family, of concern, of care. The impossible weight of grief.

She lets go of Peggy's hands and sits back on her knees. "You're my family, too, you know," she says, her own voice equally thick with unshed tears. Then, she pulls herself back up onto the couch, not quite able to reach her feet. "I may crash in the guest room, later. But... I got this shift. You go rest."

She gives her friend's shoulder a brief touch in encouragement, but doesn't let it linger. For both their sake's really.

It's going to be a long shift. A long night. But... sunrise is coming.

God, she hopes.