I’m taking a wild shot in the dark here, and guessing that Peggy “retired” from SHIELD in 1969. When you read those quotation marks, imagine them as heavily sarcastic air quotes—because I don’t think she retired willingly.
According to computerZola, HYDRA started breeding a parasitic symbiote within SHIELD the moment he was brought in as a part of Operation Paperclip. Things must’ve taken time for them to rebuild their group within SHIELD’s walls, but eventually, the upper brass had to have noticed something wrong. Out of place, amongst their own.
I doubt that Peggy would have ever been comfortable with Zola, considering the nature of Steve’s death—aboard a ship designed by Zola, armed with warheads he built. And Howard Stark—although a genius and still affected by Steve’s death—would never have the level of espionage and warfare training that Peggy did.
I don’t believe either of them quite discovered that it was HYDRA reformed, but I think both of them realized something was wrong.
About a year into having Zola in their headquarters, fouling the place up and throwing quiet, snide remarks, Peggy begins noticing Agents going on missions in unassigned areas. Filing incorrect paperwork, or leaving paper trails that lead to nowhere.
She tails a couple of them on what should’ve been a routine mission. They complete it, but deliberately botch a few of the renegade items they were supposed to turn in. After an altercation with both men in which she was blamed and they were protected by some unseen hand, she begins keeping tabs on the other Agents.
Some work diligently, others, haphazardly. Peggy disciplines them, feigning a perfect indifference to it being anything other than disrespecting authority, but notices a pattern emerging.
There is someone else directing SHIELD besides herself and Howard, with long, spindly fingers in everything.
Peggy is no amateur. She is not naive. She’s been maligned for being a woman from the beginning, and even here, she has to fight for the inclusion of female agents, and her own place. There would be some who’d believe her, but not all.
Not enough to win a war against an unseen influence.
Ten years into running SHIELD, the Cold War is in full swing, and the pattern of chaos has increased. She’s managed to slowly set up independent monitoring networks, to manage the home front. Newstand owners. Diner waitresses. Flower-cutter. Hair-dressers. Shoeshiners. Some of these small businesses end up being front companies to hide these extra “Agents” running off the books from SHIELD.
She’s stepped up her recruiting game too. Every bit of influence she had, she’s worked into convincing bright, intelligent kids to join SHIELD, and follow the principles it had been created with.
Howard meets her occasionally, complaining about why she demands so much secrecy instead of simply meeting in the office, but tramps down a wet alleyway in the downtown anyways.
He remains dubious, even after she presents the evidence. Reminds her that Russia is bigger than the ghosts she’s chasing her. Suspects (sympathetically) that it has more to do with Steve than Zola.
She redoubles her efforts.
It’s not until the late sixties that the HYDRA moles inside of SHIELD realize that Director Carter is aware of some extra influence within the agency. She’s brought in twice the amount of new recruits they have, and has taken it upon herself to mentor several promising Agents. Intelligence reveals that she knows nothing of HYDRA’s continued existence.
They fail to divine that her covert network of spies and allies is now spread across the globe.
For right now, they don’t involve the Winter Soldier—their newest toy. They have an easier weapon at hand. Sexism.
It takes a year or so of whispers, favors, and threats, but gradually they demolish her position in SHIELD and force her resignation at the age of 50. Words like the organization is growing, how can we expect a woman to manage all of this? It’s for the best, honey and shouldn’t you be taking it easy by now? greet her.
Words she’s heard for so long.
But this is Peggy Carter. She’s never been fooled, and smells their fear. Their war is begun. They know she’s the opponent.
Her newest and brightest recruit—twenty-one years old, joined straight out of high school after she read one of the essays he submitted in a local paper—is the only one she dares pass on a coded piece of advice.
She’s packing up her office, stuffing things in boxes, and he’s furious. Pacing the room, thinking of every possible plan to keep her there. They can’t do this to his mentor. His boss. She had more to show him. If they’re making her leave, maybe he should leave too.
Peggy looks at him.
"Nick," she says, putting down the boxes and walking over to him.
"You are perhaps the best I have ever trained. I couldn’t bear the thought of you not keeping these arseholes on their toes, simply because they want me gone.”
He pauses, looking hard at her. “Want you gone? Who?”
Peggy blinks. No, not yet. The less he knows, the more likely it is he’ll survive the crossfire.
She surprises him with a small hug. Before pulling away, she whispers quietly, “A few last pieces of advice, while I’m still your S.O. Trust only a few, don’t let anyone here know all the cards you’re holding, and finally, keep your eyes open.”
Nick regards her seriously. “What exactly should I be looking for?”
"Soon," she replies. "I’ll tell you soon."
She never does.
Peggy plans on telling him, but only after she begins her investigation in earnest. Her espionage and communications network spans every part of the globe. Retirement at least meant she’d have less eyes peering over her shoulder.
Instead of getting that chance however, one of the HYDRA faithfuls breaks through her preliminary line of locals. Peggy has no authority left in SHIELD other than influence, but the suspicion that she knows something is too great to be left alone.
A dozen Agents slip into her home one night, a few years after leaving SHIELD and having already stockpiled information in several depots around Europe and Asia. She disappears for two days. When Peggy wakes up in her bed again, with no memory of where she’s been, her thoughts stray back to the experiments she heard Zola did in the War.
She sends a message to Nick, through a doughnut delivery guy, to cut all ties with her. To watch out for himself.
HYDRA, in the meantime, begins erasing Peggy’s contributions from SHIELD, bit by bit. Agent Fury bands together the best Agents from the days of Director Carter, and watches, unceasingly.
Howard, busy with SHIELD and his family, only finally believes Peggy was on to something all those years ago when he begins visiting her.
It’s been long. Too long. He tries to make up for it with frequent stop-bys, but begins noticing a disturbing pattern. Something that mimics early-onset dementia, but only when he talks about certain topics pertaining to SHIELD. There are chunks of memories missing.
If he avoids talking about it, she seems fine. The network she hinted at, back in that alley…while it doesn’t seem to set off the neural disruption that SHIELD does, complete with spasmodic breathing, and reactionary coughing fits, she doesn’t like talking about it.
He begins digging, but without caution.
Howard Stark—rich, politically connected, and a man, could not be plucked from his position with the absence of grace with which they removed Director Carter. No, memory tampering would not do for him.
Two years after starting his investigation, on the cusp of something, Howard Stark and his wife die in a car crash.
She had been helping him compile the case.
As Howard’s death was no accident, neither was Peggy’s dementia. It was no coincidence that it came on most strongly after discussing SHIELD business.
Natasha not knowing Peggy was no surprise—HYDRA scrubbed her away from the training as best they could. The few left who were trained by her kept her name as a passcode, to filter away all the rank-and-file SHIELD employees.
But the network still remains.
Businesses have grown up. Two generations have risen, all of them trained with Peggy Carter’s name as a token of safe passage and connection. The depots where she stored lists on the business activities and locations of this “unknown” group are still guarded by their children and grandchildren.
After all, the last time each of them saw her, she made it clear that she’d come back. Someone would come back.
They’ve avoided SHIELD, knowing where she came from and suspecting why she left, and the grandkids have done digging of their own. With the explosion of the Avengers onto the scene, some of them have even taken to the streets to fight the corruption.
(Enter, Young Avengers.)
Peggy’s empire, a legion of people ready to help (many of whom happened to be on HYDRA’s death list), is out there, and waiting. Ready to be called on.
This is my answer to the “why didn’t HYDRA kill Peggy like they did Howard” and “what happened” questions.
I refuse to believe that a) Peggy didn’t see the problem growing (if Howard saw it she saw it) and b) she didn’t try to do anything about it. I STILL HATE HATE HATE THAT THEY GAVE HER ALZHEIMER’S BUT I WOULDN’T PUT IT PAST HYDRA TO HAVE FUCKED UP HER MEMORIES
(and if it can be done, it can be undone)
***End of crazy headcanon rambling
Question: does anybody know when Peggy Carter retired from (MCU) SHIELD? (I’m wondering if somewhere, in all the brief flashes of photos and documents, there are any dates.)
In the deleted scene when Steve holds up the file you can kind of make out the numbers on the dates, but then the lovely amuseoffyre got a screenshot of it and you can kind of see that it looks either like a 3 or a 5 and sure that says SSR but the SSR is what becomes SHIELD sssoo. That’s my best guess?
Ahhh! Thanks so much! I’m especially reblogging because some of the commentary in those links (Peggy is a badass AND NO ONE SHOULD EVER DOUBT IT) is great.
To my bespectacled eyes, the last entry in service log seems to be a duplicate SSR, listed from what I think is 1950-1969. Technically, SHIELD was (at the beginning of the MCU) supposed to be a secret agency, so maybe that was an earlier, discrete way of mentioning her service there? Maybe? It’ll all just have to be guesswork, I guess.
I’m pondering headcanons about Peggy and Howard Stark vs. HYDRA…