For my 52 short stories in 52 weeks, number 5 is “A story set in London.”
This is a crossover (kind of?) with The Imitation Game. Steve and Peggy go on a date! And meet Alan Turing, because why not?
About 3800 words, so watch for the cut.
Most of Steve’s missions were out in the wilds – trooping through trees, sprinting through open land to the safety of an abandoned farmhouse, hiding under piles of rotting vegetation while Nazis ambled past in the daylight, and then creeping up behind them in the night. Still, in all the darkness and the dirt, there were days that were strangely beautiful, quiet, warm and full of sunlight. Steve could sit on a rock in the sunlight and close his eyes as he if was alone in the wilderness, or could stare across the horizon and imagine that just over the hill life was normal.
It was hard to remember what ‘normal’ meant, especially on foreign soil he’d never seen in anything but turmoil. It was beautiful country, and Steve wished he had seen it under peaceful times.
He hadn’t seen a lot of big cities in Europe. He’d passed through Paris in the dark of night on the way to the USO show that changed his life again, but London was something else. Steve stood on the sidewalk and craned his neck to look around. The sun was out, the sky was a brilliant shade of blue, and across the street was a pile of rubble between two untouched houses. A group of men were shoveling out the rubble, talking as they loaded a wheelbarrow with chunks of someone’s life. A pair of women walked through the crosswalk in calf-length dresses and long coats, with little hats perched on their hair. One of them was carrying a briefcase, and the other had a tiny purse slung over her shoulder that matched her hat.
The ladies smiled at him, and Steve tipped his head in their direction. Life went on.
He crossed the street, following the directions Peggy had scribbled out for him on a scrap of paper. He turned the next corner and found a cart of bright wildflowers cattycorner to a cleared lot with fences lined in advertisements. He stopped and smiled down at the flowers – white and yellow daises, some orange flowers that he couldn’t name, pink tulips, and forget-me-nots. The old man sitting next to the boxes had a tulip pinned to his jacket lapel, and wore a faded gray flat cap.
“I’m meeting a girl,” Steve explained, gesturing to the boxes of flowers.
The old man smiled and stood up. He remained a little hunched over, but he reached confidently for the boxes and came up with a bundle of white daisies. He rolled them into a piece of newspaper and tied the bunch with piece of twine. “Daisies are the thing for young love,” he explained with a wink.
Steve laughed and dug a handful of coins out of his pocket. It was a mishmash of American, French, and English currency.
“Three pence,” the man said, and then leaned over Steve’s hand to poke through the jumble of coins. He selected a coin, showed it to Steve briefly, and then slid it into his pocket and gave Steve a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Good luck, son.”
Steve nodded, smiled, and dropped the rest of the coins in his pocket. “Thank you, sir.”
The man gave him another nod and a wave, and Steve turned to follow the rest of Peggy’s terse instructions to the restaurant. He found her already seated at a tiny round table in what looked more like someone’s living room than that Steve usually thought of as a restaurant. There were five tables crammed into the space, each one dressed with lace tablecloths, everything perfectly neat and clean, pale blue cups turned upside down on matching saucers. There was a pair of women at the table by the window, and two soldiers in British uniforms in one corner.
Peggy looked radiant in a white button-up shirt with a little blue hat perched on her curled hair. She always looked radiant, but Steve had never seen her like this, away from the drab uniforms. She had already ordered tea, and idly looked over menu as she stirred her tea with one hand. Steve just stood in the doorway and watched her with his heart in his throat.
“Would you like to take a seat, young man?” the waitress asked him, making him jump.
Peggy looked up and gave him a bright smile. Her teeth were pearly white against her lipstick, and the smile lit up her face. She tapped the spoon against the lip of the cup and set it on the saucer, little tinktinktink noises in the neat room. Her eyes glittered in the sunlight, and she was perfect. Steve opened his mouth, made a noise that sounded embarrassingly like a squeak, and blushed bright red.
“Get over here, Captain, you’re blocking the door,” Peggy ordered.
Steve’s knees unstuck, he gave the waitress an apologetic nod, and slunk into the room. He felt big and clumsy in the small room with the tiny tables and their delicate cloths. He pulled the chair out and sat with his legs opened wide so he could scoot closer to the table and not be in the way.
“You look amazing, Peggy,” he said in a rush and then remembered the flowers, and held them out over the table. “I just saw them on the way over here, and I thought that maybe you would like them, or I don’t know. Silly.”
Peggy laughed under her breath, but she reached out to take the flowers, holding them gently in both hands. “They’re lovely, Steve, thank you.”
Steve let his breath out with a whoosh and smoothed down the back of his hair. “You’re welcome.”
“What can I get for you two?” the waitress asked, easing around Steve’s chair.
“I’ll take the air raid breakfast,” Peggy said, tapping the card set up in the middle of the table.
“Uh. Same?” Steve fumbled.
“Our train leaves in two hours,” Peggy said briskly, setting the daisies down and pulling her tea over. “Just enough time for breakfast, and the walk to the station.”
Steve cleared his throat and tried to shuffle closer to the table as woman with a small child took the table next to them. “Why are we going to this place again?”
“There are some important people that I want you to meet,” Peggy answered over the rim of her cup. She hadn’t been very forthcoming with details, just that their brief diversion to London presented a good opportunity for Steve see the other side of the coin. He’d given the Commandos two days of liberty, and they were probably still sleeping off the collective hangover from the previous night’s drinking.
Steve knew that it wasn’t really a date. It was just convenience – food on the way to an important meeting for the war effort. Steve wanted it to be a date, and it was nice to pretend that maybe things were normal, and he was in Europe for art school, and Peggy was a girl he’d met in the city, and he was taking his girl out for breakfast.
Peggy smiled at him from across the table, and let the illusion stand through breakfast, and the walk to the train station. He didn’t put his arm around her, although he wanted to, and she didn’t put her arm through his, although she walked close to his side. They walked past bombed-out buildings and once had to divert a whole block to get around a crater that stretched from one sidewalk to the opposite store front. It was surreal, and yet the people they passed walked with their heads held up, laughed, talked, and stepped over the rubble in the streets.
The train ride was short, just barely over an hour, and a sleek black car met them at the station. They sat side-by-side in the back, and Steve smiled despite himself. The last time he’d sat in a street car shoulder-to-shoulder with Peggy, his shoulders sat half way up her biceps. Peggy ducked her head and smiled, maybe remembering the same car ride now that her shoulder brushed against his bicep. She still had her flowers in her lap. They shook whenever the car bounced like they were waving up Peggy, and she would occasionally reach out and brush her fingers across the petals.
Steve hid his smile behind his hand and turned away from her so she wouldn’t realize what she was doing. He watched the scenery go by the window, frowning when they drove past a sign reading Blechley Radio Manufacturing in red block letters. He twisted to look at Peggy with one eyebrow hiked, but she ignored him, staring straight ahead as pulled up to a gate with armed guards.
“Lots of security,” Steve commented once the gates were opened and they were waved through. Peggy made a vague humming noise, looking more pleased with herself by the second. Steve shook his head, but lifted his hands from his thighs in a gesture of surrender and sat back. “Okay, alright. I’ll stop prodding.”
“We’re almost there,” Peggy said. She patted his knee consolingly.
They pulled around a gravel drive lined with leafy trees to a pretty brick building that looked like a school. Steve slid out of the car as soon as it came to a stop and took a deep breath. This was what normal looked like. There was no sign of the war in this isolated place, no bombed out buildings contrasted to their untouched neighbors.
He filled his lungs with the sweet, fresh air and closed his eyes against the sunlight. It was still amazing to him, sucking in a deep breath without it catching on anything. When he opened his eyes, Peggy was watching him with a soft look on her face, holding her jacket draped over one arm. She cleared her throat and schooled her expression as soon as she realized she’d been caught.
“Coming?” she asked, but she turned on her heel and walked toward the building before he could answer.
Steve jogged a few steps to catch up to her, and she led him unerringly through the main entrance and into the building. They stopped at a desk and the secretary smiled up at them. She was dressed in a burgundy jacket with a matching pillbox hat perched at an angle on her head.
“Peggy! It’s been a long time.”
“A few years,” Peggy agreed with a smile. “How are you, June?”
“Just the same,” June said with a dismissive wave of her hand. She tilted her head and put a finger under her chin. “You going to introduce us?”
“Of course. Steve, this is June Majors. June, this is Steve Rogers.”
June’s eyes widen fractionally and she gave Steve a wide smile. “Charmed,” she said, offering her hand.
Steve took it, being careful not to squeeze too tightly. “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”
“We’re looking for Alan,” Peggy broke in once the pleasantries were done. Steve stepped back from the desk and shifted slightly behind Peggy. She straightened her shoulders and stood up a little straighter.
“I think he’s running,” June said, gesturing toward the door. “He runs everywhere. No wonder he’s so skinny. He usually runs the pasture path. You remember it?”
Peggy nodded and turned again, holding a hand out to herding Steve away from the desk and back toward the door. She looked back over her shoulder to say, “Thank you, June.”
“Nice to meet you Mr. Rogers!” June called back.
“You too, Miss June,” Steve said just to be polite, but he was happy to be away from her. He used to think that he would give anything for the girls to look at him the way they looked Bucky, but he mostly found it uncomfortable.
Peggy passed him as soon as they got out the door. Steve followed her around the building, across a stretch of lawn, and to a gap in the fence with a well-worn track leading into the forest. Peggy gestured to it. “Go on, then.”
“How do I even know who I’m looking for?” Steve asked.
“He will be running faster than anyone you’ve ever seen outside of a mirror, and will be alone. Meet me back here – I’ll go get some sandwiches.”
Steve shrugged and shook his head. At least he was still wearing his boots. He set off down the path at a jog. It passed through only about ten meters of old trees, and then let out into a field. Steve could just barely see a dark speck in the distance of another figure and opened his stride. After a few pace, he realized that he was smiling – he wasn’t running from anyone, he wasn’t chasing down Nazis or Hydra agents, he was just running, and it felt good.
The speck resolved into the figure of a person, and then clarified to dark hair, long legs, and a build that was almost painfully skinny. Steve slowed from ground chewing sprint he’d fallen into, to a comfortable run. He didn’t want to give the guy a heart attack, after all.
It turned out that it wasn’t necessary. Turing was so off in his own world, that he didn’t even turn his head when Steve called his name from ten paces back. Steve pulled up beside him, and they ran together without a word. He was fast. His legs churned at a pace that was impressive even to Steve. He would have liked to have a man with Turing’s legs in his unit.
Turing led him along the pasture and back through the trees, and then onto a paved street. After a moment, Steve realized that it was the street he and Peggy had driven in on. Turing gradually slowed to a jog, and then down to a walk as they approached the gate. The guards seemed to be expecting them, and opened the gates to let them through. Turing passed the front building without slowing down, but finally glanced at Steve.
“I run alone,” he said.
“Sorry,” Steve said, “Peggy Carter sent me to get you.”
Turing frowned. “No. No, I don’t think I know her.”
“Margaret Carter?” Steve tried, but he looked around just to make sure Peggy wasn’t in earshot. She didn’t like to be called Margaret, and Steve wasn’t brave enough to cross that particular line.
“Ah,” Turing said distractedly, “Oh, Margaret. Why?”
“I’m not sure. She said for us to meet her back at the lawn,” Steve explained pointing around the building. Turing followed the line of his fingers, but didn’t divert from his path. “She said she would have sandwiches.”
“I don’t like sandwiches,” Turing said dismissively. “I have to get back to work. I need to change.” He took out his ID to show a pair of guards standing behind a set of roadblocks, and passed through it.
Steve tried to follow, but the guards stepped in his way, and Steve watched, bemused, as Turing walked away without so much as glancing behind him. He put his fists on his hips and exchanged a look with the guards, who were watching him carefully.
“Okay,” Steve said finally, and then turned around and went to find Peggy.
He found her seated on a brown and green plaid blanket with another woman. They leaned subtly toward each other in a posture of secrecy, the other woman was laughing with one hand hiding her mouth. They had a plate piled with sandwiches between them, and they were barefoot. For some reason that Steve couldn’t quite pinpoint, the sight of Peggy’s feet made him blush. She was wearing stockings, and the seam of one was twisted so it sat asymmetrically on her foot. He found it strangely endearing.
Steve stomped on a twig as he approached so it made noise. The other woman looked up sharply, but Peggy was not startled. She just hiked an eyebrow at him.
“Bumbling around, Captain?”
“You know me,” Steve said. He crouched down beside the blanket. “I found Mr. Turing. He said he doesn’t like –”
“Sandwiches,” the stranger said.
“Sandwiches,” Steve confirmed.
She held her hand out. “Joan Clarke. He doesn’t like sandwiches, but he’ll come eventually anyway. If he just got back from his run, I estimate that he will be out here…” she turned her wrist over to look at her watch. “Four minutes and twenty-five seconds.”
Steve hiked both eyebrows. “That’s precise.”
“Alan Turing is a very precise man,” she said, taking one of the sandwiches. It looked like it was just sliced cucumbers and mayonnaise, and the crust had been cut off. She took a bite and looked expectantly at Peggy.
“This is Steve Rogers,” Peggy provided, though by the complete lack of reaction, Joan obviously knew who he was. “Joan and I worked together a few years ago.”
“Are you and Mr. Turing friends?” Steve asked.
Joan’s smile dimmed. “We were,” she said finally, and then forced her smile back into place. “We used to be engaged.” She looked at her watch again, finished her sandwich and then leaned over to give Peggy a one-armed hug. “I’ve got to get back to work. It was so good to see you again, Pegs. Pleasure to meet you, Captain Rogers. Don’t let our Peggy get you into trouble.”
“Joan,” Peggy hissed, but both women were smiling and Steve couldn’t help a smile of his own. It occurred to him that it was the first time he’d really seen Peggy interacting with any female friends. There weren’t many women on the front lines, and Peggy worked hard to make sure she was not relegated to the sidelines. He’d never thought about how lonely it must be for her – she had to stay separated from the men to avoid getting any more of a reputation than she already had, and she had to stay away from the women to keep from being sidelined with them.
“Have a nice day, Miss Clarke.”
“You, too,” Joan said, standing and brushing her skirt off. She slid back into her shoes. “Enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.” She looked over her shoulder and then smiled down at them. “Right on time,” she said, tapping her watch.
She waved at Peggy, and left just as Alan Turing stepped around the corner. Turing’s eyes followed her as she walked away, his expression intensely sad and lonely. He didn’t even seem to notice Steve and Peggy, just turned toward a bench with a brown paper bag in hand.
“Mr. Turing!” Peggy called. She lifted a hand to get his attention and then looked at Steve. “Sit down, Steve, honestly, crouching there like an overgrown toad.”
Steve snorted, but shifted to sit on one hip. He carefully kept his feet on the grass, and his eyes away from Peggy’s painted toenails. Turing crossed the lawn and approached them awkwardly.
“Miss Carter,” he acknowledged. He looked at Steve and then quickly looked away. “I haven’t seen you in…”
“Years,” Peggy provided. She patted the blanket. “Join us, I want to introduce you to my friend.”
Turing looked back at his bench, and then at the blanket. He hesitated, but finally nodded and sat down. He ended up with one shoe on the blanket and the paper bag in his lap.
“Alan, this is Captain Steve Rogers. Steve, this is Alan Turing. The man who is responsible for a lot of the intel we receive on Hydra movements.”
Steve sat up a little straighter. He held out a hand. “It’s an honor. I can’t tell you how important that intel is in the field.”
Turing looked faintly scandalized. He gaped at Peggy. “That is not common knowledge.”
“Captain Rogers has clearance,” Peggy explained.
Turing reluctantly shook Steve’s hand, but didn’t meet his eyes. He pulled his hand away and opened the carefully folded paper bag. He pulled out a sandwich wrapped in paper, and didn’t seem the least bit aware of the confused look on Steve’s face. He took a bite, chewed, and swallowed with a single change in expression. Steve knew that look well, and the confusion vanished – it was the same look of a man sitting down with a K-ration, just fuel.
“Alan, I just wanted you to meet one of the men who benefits from your work here.”
“Ah,” Turing said without further reaction. He took another bite of his sandwich, chewed, and swallowed. His eyes flickered over to Steve, and then away.
“How is your machine?” Peggy asked, and Turing lit up. He transformed before Steve’s eyes into a man of passion and obvious genius, and even though Steve only understood about three words out of every ten, it was nice to sit and listen to him.
Years – decades – later, Steve sat in another genius’ workshop and listened to him excitedly discussing JARVIS. He smiled at Tony and remembered another afternoon on a blanket in the sun, with Peggy’s almost-bare foot an inch away from his hand, and Alan Turing excitedly explaining Christopher. He tried to imagine a world where Alan Turing and Tony Stark could have been in the same room, and his smile just got wider.
“You have no idea what I’m talking about,” Tony said.
“Nope,” Steve agreed, although he did know. After the mind blowing experience of sitting across a plate of sandwiches from Alan Turing, Steve had done his best to learn what he could about machines. The Internet was very helpful, and there was a professor of computer engineering at MIT who was happy to answer his questions when he had them.
“Why are you smiling so hard?”
“No reason. I just like hearing you talk.” He made a gesture toward the door. “Want to go get a sandwich.”
Tony shrugged. “Sure.”