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Barnes' Top 100 Music Charts

Chapter Text

Barnes spends time in the garage, acclimating to vehicles. The first day he only manages 51 seconds with the door open. By the time Rogers leaves on his tour, Barnes is up to 2.5 minutes in an unmoving car with the door shut before his pulse goes haywire.

The next day, at 1 minute 27 seconds an unexpected face at the window sends both Barnes and his pulse through the roof.

MISSION PROTECT

Metal screeches against metal as fingers dig into the hood of the car, stopping his momentum. The hood dimples under his weight as he crouches, knife in hand, facing the threat. They stare at each other.

“No, you know what, you’re right, I definitely should have bought the one with the sunroof.” Stark. Because of course. Who else? “Oh and holes in the hood. Nice touch. Literally, nice touch. Because hood vents make it go faster, right?”

The babbling genius/total fucking moron was at least smart enough to be backing away, hands raised pacifyingly. Barnes directs him a glare that promises the downfall of empires and a land laid to waste by a thousand years of nuclear winter, and in no way reveals the frantic pounding of his heart that is definitely not happening.

“Right. Well. Now I think about it, it’s not such a good day for a drive after all. Bad traffic. Weather and people and. Stuff.” His pride won’t allow him to run from the garage, but it comes close.

After a moment Barnes pulls free of the four finger-wide gouges and jumps down from the wrecked car. He allows an extra five minutes before leaving – the last thing he wants is to be stuck in an elevator with Stark right now.

CONFIRM.

Con-fucking-firm.

The elevator is crowded enough with just him in it. It takes 2 hours 17 minutes of lying on the floor for his pulse to reach baseline again. He stares at the ceiling and wonders if tomorrow he will be back to being unable to face a car at all. Flying Sam had said there would be setbacks.

Sigh.

He had been making good progress too.

CONFIRM

“Sergeant, I wonder if I might make a suggestion that could perhaps be of some assistance in your attempts to control your emotional responses within enclosed spaces and modes of transport.”

“Confirm, building.” Building is an excellent mission-assist and usually provides good suggestions.

“Dr. Banner often listens to classical music as a way of soothing his mind and calming his emotions. It has been scientifically proven that music can have both an emotional and physiological impact on the listener, the effects varying depending on the tempo, rhythm, melody and the nature of the lyrics and instrumentation, as well as the personal preferences of the listener of course. Many people listen to music to help them concentrate or do better in a demanding cognitive task. Mr. Stark for example prefers to listen to heavy rock as he works. I believe this keeps his unconscious attention system occupied to prevent it from focusing on minor distractions and interrupting his conscious attention from its work.”

Barnes had been in Stark’s lab while he was working. The music had been loud and insistent and obnoxious, much like Stark himself.

“Sergeant, perhaps a similar strategy could make confined spaces more bearable.”

Briefing confirmed: “There was no music in the cryo tank.”

“Precisely Sergeant. The presence of music may shift your focus and emphasise that the car is not the cryo tank.”

It would be like musical sheep pants for the car.

He stares at the ceiling thinking back to the song he heard Rogers singing when they first moved to Brooklyn. It was pretty and soothing and painted pictures of colours.

“Building, do you know the song of the bejewelled lady cosmonaut?”

There was a pause. “I believe you may be referring to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Sergeant. Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and released by the Beatles in 1967 on their album titled Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

“I would like to hear it please.”

It was still pretty and soothing and painted pictures of colours. Rogers had not done the song justice. It was 106% possible that Rogers had not been chosen to go on the USO circuit because of his singing ability.

CONFIRM

Still, he had first been introduced to the song by Rogers, so now he thought of Rogers when he heard it. Identified: safe place. Even though a song was not a place.

Also the Beetle people had made more music.

“Sergeant, I have an extremely extensive database of music files which you are able to access using your phone. I have taken the liberty of creating a playlist including the entire Beatles discography.”

“Thanks building. You’re the best mission-assist."

He finds out the Beatle people had spelled their name to be a pun about musical rhythm.

Cute.

He spends much of the afternoon exploring the music that Building had suggested, browsing and selecting the songs on his phone so that the music plays from the speakers discreetly hidden in the walls.

It is an interesting mix of music. There are songs about big things like love and peace and forgiveness and travelling across the universe, as well as other songs about little things like the blackbird and holding hands that have nice melodies that are pleasing to the ear. Some, like the walrus song, make no sense.

He also finds out that the man who wrote the Lucy song and many of the songs about peace and love was murdered and identifies sadness.

It appears that for some people love is not all that is needed. Sometimes an ex-assassin secret protection detail is also required.

And then there are songs that sound nice but are unrealistic. He doubts that the singers had ever lived in a submarine. If they had, they would have sounded much less cheerful about living out one’s life in the confines of a metal tank with a bunch of other people with no fresh air or room to move, and the portholes looking out only onto darkness and bizarre creatures and the bone crushing pressure of millions of litres of water. No matter what colour the submarine was.

He hesitates suspiciously over one of the songs.

“Building. Analyse song for command codes.”

MISSION PROTECT

Confirm buddy.

“I assure you Sergeant Barnes, there is nothing untoward about this song. There appears to be no sign of subliminal messages.”

Hmm. So far all the songs have been about good things, nothing about death and mayhem and super-assassins. Nothing aggressive at all.

Mission?

CONFIRM

He plays the song. It is. Unexpected. The briefing is confused. The song does not match to any briefing downloads, although admittedly the Asset’s experience of the place was different to the experiences of a standard civilian.

“Query. Did these people even live in the USSR?”

“They did not Sergeant. Their first visit to the Soviet Union was well after this song was released.”

Figures. They sound as cheerful about it as living in the fucking submarine.

Chapter Text

He texts flying Sam to tell him of the building’s idea. Flying Sam approves and asks him to keep him posted.

Barnes chooses not to tell Rogers yet. Rogers has told him before of the Bucky-person’s love of music. He does not want to disappoint Rogers if the music does not have the desired effect. The experiment must be tested first.

CONFIRM

New sub-mission: sit in a car for the entire length of the Lucy song.

The Lucy song is 3 minutes and 28 seconds long. This is nearly a minute longer than his previous record of 2.5 minutes.

Assisting factors: concentration on the music serves as distraction, and the slower rhythm helps slow the pulse.

He does not last the full 3 minutes and 28 seconds but is pleased to discover he has beaten his previous record.

It is possible that this is partly because the roof remains torn open making the car less confining than usual.

***

He had never realised before how much music plays in the background of places, unnoticed by people who talk and are busy.

“Barnes, are you ok?” Potts asks.

He has been staring intently at the speaker in the wall of the common area with his head cocked to one side, trying to pick out the words of the song past the surrounding chatter. He tells Potts this.

Stark snorts. “His master’s voice.” Potts smacks him on the arm, which is the correct response. He has no master now.

CONFIRM. MISSION HEAD SELF

Confirm pal.

He explains building’s idea.

“It could work. What sort of music do you like Barnes?”

“Building has given me Beatles music.”

Stark’s eyebrows shoot up. “Seriously. The Beatles? Would have picked you for a Rammstein or Metallica kind of guy.”

Pepper smacks Stark again.

Romanoff speaks up from where she is curled on the sofa. “Maybe stay away from Rammstein and Metallica, Barnes.”

Stark scoffs. “What, just because you don’t like it. Whatever happened to letting Barnes make his own choices, Nat?”

Yeah, Romanoff. Whatever happened to that?

Romanoff narrows her eyes at Stark, but it is Hill that speaks up. “it’s not just about preferences, Tony. Metallica has been used as psychological torture on prisoners held in Guatanamo Bay.”

Oh.

Romanoff has not looked away from Stark. “Do you really think that the CIA were the only ones to come up with that idea?” she is using her neutral voice.

“Alright, alright. No dark angry music for the psychologically traumatised ex-assassin. I get it.”

Confirm. Dark, angry music would be detrimental to the sub-mission. It had not occurred to him that if there was music that had positive calming effects that there could also be music that did the opposite.

This sparks discussion about the different music they believe Barnes should and shouldn’t listen to. They begin compiling a list of music they insist he needs to hear. They also compile a NOT list, moderated by Romanoff and Hill.

Both Pepper and Banner add suggestions of classical music to the list. Stark rattles off a list of assorted types of rock music, some with enthusiastic support by Barton. Some Romanoff insists on adding to the NOT list.

Barton and Stark suggest a lot of different artists and genres. Barnes suspects that many of these suggestions are intended to yank his chain. He quickly learns to judge whether their suggestions are serious or not from the position of Natasha’s eyebrows. Bob Dylan and someone called The Boss: eyebrows at regular position. Acceptable suggestion. Something called K-Pop: eyebrows raised. Chain yanking.

The Spice Girls suggestion earns a full and impressive eye-roll.

Whatever Spice Girls is, Barnes resolves to play it with every evidence of enjoyment near Stark in retribution for the chain yanking.

Romanoff insists he listen to the current top 40 chart. She tells him that this will be the bar by which all other music will be considered a vast improvement. He is unsure if she is joking as she is able to control her own eyebrows when she is joking at him.

Hill suggests Motown and disco. The second sets Stark off laughing until he tears up.

“Ha! Eighties power ballads!”

Barton is grinning from where he is sprawled across the armchair. “Tony, one cannot simply listen to eighties power ballads. Eighties power ballads must be an experience.”

Tony clicks his fingers and points at Barton. “Ooh, I like where you are going with this, Barton. This man is a genius. I should know ‘cause it takes one to know one. Karaoke? Karaoke? Karaoke?” he points at each member of the team in turn.

What.

“Ah, jeez. I’m out.” Banner retreats. Barnes makes to follow him.

“You can’t leave now Barnes, you’re the guest of honour. This is all for you.”

Ugh.

If this is what eighties power ballads are, they are certainly an experience.

There is much off key singing and melodramatic acting. They play imaginary instruments making noises with their mouths that in no way actually represent the sound of any known instrument. They punch the air for no apparent reason. They try to hold high notes but crack and end up laughing. Barton sings about needing a hero, which is dumb because he is in a room full of them. He does it while gesturing dramatically at Romanoff, which breaks through her cool facade and makes her laugh.

It is terrible.

He doesn’t know why he's smiling.

Chapter Text

The Avengers tell Barnes that different music will affect him differently, so he will practice listening to music outside of the car first to confirm what he likes. He decides to start by listening to the pop chart music Romanoff has suggested. It is light and bubbly and much of it sounds the same. The subjects tend towards touching and kissing and scantily clad women. The singers seem to forget the words at times, filling the missing parts with “oh oh ohs”. The male singers have high voices and are hard to differentiate from the female singers. He wonders if this is because of the tight jeans everyone wears now.

Cake by the ocean sounds like an excellent idea and he adds it to the approved list. At least this is a sensible subject for a song.

CONFIRM

Mission is fascinated by the melody of the song by a girl who routinely engages in destructive relationships, even if the story in the song is dumb. He listens to it twice wondering why a girl who can make such pretty melody would choose to act crazy over a boy. The single lady who wants a wedding ring has a nice voice, but the music is still irritating. He chooses not to add it, but finds some of her other music that he approves.

The believer song is intriguing – they sing it with an interesting jerky rhythm. He finds more of the Imagine Dragons music to add to his approved list.

He selects a song about a titanium girl out of curiosity. She has an unusual voice but he likes it. He turns the volume up. It is a powerful song meant to be played loud. It is a song about strength. She is bulletproof and can’t be killed. She keeps getting up again each time she falls. It is like she has sung this song just for him. He approves. The mission approves. Her voice is powerful. She is powerful. So is he. He doesn’t want to sit still. He feels a desire to climb to the top of building JARVIS. He can single-handedly destroy HYDRA. He. They –

The hair on his body stands on end as he becomes aware of a rising electronic whine in the music. The briefing shrieks.

They are powering up the generator.

NO

The song devolves into an intrusive electronic pulsing and he is back in the chair. They are pulsing electricity into his temples. He can feel it throb and buzz through his bones. Echo in his skull.

DENY

They are trying to wipe him again, they are punishing him to teach him he is not invincible. He is not unstoppable. How dare he believe this. He will forget Rogers again for this.

DENY DENY

The sound shuts off suddenly and the absence is disorienting.

“Barnes?”

He is sitting on the floor of the living room with his hands pressed against the side of his head. Building JARVIS has shut off the sound and Romanoff is studying him from 1.2 metres away. The glass coffee table is shattered.

ROGERS

He still remembers Rogers. The wiping was interrupted before completion.

CONFIRM

Romanoff mutters, “Okay. That’s a no for David Guetta and similar artists.” She keeps her distance allowing him time to recover. It takes 33 minutes. She spends the time ignoring him and scrolling through her phone, presumably updating his NOT list. When he has recovered enough to move to his safe space on the sofa she sighs.

“I’m sorry Barnes. I deliberately chose pop music because so much of it is light and upbeat, I thought it would be least likely to trigger bad responses. That one slipped through.”

Romanoff helps clean up the broken coffee table. She tells him she has put the throbbing electronic music genres onto his NOT list along with the dark angry music and something she calls cosmic music. She doesn't explain the last one.

She suggests a movie to take his mind off the incident. He agrees, knowing it is her way to keep an eye on him without seeming to. Also he won’t have to move from his safe spot.

It is a musical movie, where music is fitted to scenes in a story of a girl who is unsure which of three men is her father so she invites them all to her wedding, which results in humorous misunderstandings.

“Barnes. Be aware that if word of this gets out, I will be forced to eliminate everyone who learns of it, starting with the source of the information leak,” Natasha warns.

Barnes adds ABBA to the approved list.

Chapter Text

Ok mission. We can do this.

CONFIRM

Barring any surprise Stark appearances or pulsing electronic music. But the Lucy song is a safe song, huh mission?

CONFIRM

Confirm. Just think about the Lucy song. Rocking horse people and marshmallow pie.

BETTER THAN THE SUBMARINE SONG.

What the fuck. Why would you bring up the submarine song.

...

I’m already inside the car. In an enclosed space with the door shut. And you make me think of submarines.

...

That’s not helpful.

The briefing chooses this moment to download a memory of the Asset being inside a Soviet nuclear submarine. It was not yellow. Given the emotional download that comes with it, he is surprised the Asset didn’t break loose and slaughter everyone on board. Barnes probably would, despite the good-guy non-lethal objective.

CONFIRM

Ugh. I hate you both.


*******


Maybe he needs to see an expert about this keeping calm thing.

But first he needs to make an offering of walnut chocolate chip cookies, still fresh and warm from the oven, with the chocolate chips still a little melted.

Yeah. That’ll do it.

When he knocks on Banner’s door, the doctor blinks up at him in surprise. “Uh Barnes. Hi. I wasn’t expecting you on my doorstep.”

Actually, come to think of it, Barnes had never come visiting inside the doctor’s living space.

Jeez, mission. Good thing I was neighbourly and brought the cookies then.

CONFIRM

“I made you cookies. Walnut and chocolate chip. And. I wanted to ask your advice?”

Banner blinked again and ran his fingers through his curly hair, his mouth twisting into that confused little smile he did. “Sure. Ok, come inside.”

Barnes glanced around curiously as he stepped inside. There were a lot of plants, which he approved of. A lot of neutral colours, interspersed with shades of green and blue.

“What’s that?” he pointed at a pink glowing rock. One of those alien artefacts he keeps hearing of?

“That’s a Himalayan salt lamp. Basically it produces an ionic effect that helps clear the air, reduce static and improves your mood.” He bit into a cookie and closed his eyes for a moment. “Although I’ve got to say Barnes, when it comes to improving moods, your cookies have it beat.”

“Building JARVIS said you listen to classical music to stay calm.”

“Oh. Yeah, we talked about that a bit the other night before Tony and Clint started butchering 80s music. I can put together a playlist of some of my favourites for you if you like.” Barnes handed over his phone in assent. “When I need to keep the big green guy at bay, I turn the lights down low, sit and listen to it. Kind of like meditation.”

“What’s that?”

“it’s a way of relaxing the body and mind. You listen to ambient, new age or classical music – something slow, with no heavy beat – you just sit comfortably and empty your mind and let your muscles relax.”

Barnes eyes him dubiously. He’s had his mind emptied before. Had been made catatonic. Why would some one choose this. Is this like command codes?

“Pepper meditates too. She has a stressful job. And, well. A stressful Tony.”

Well if Pepper does it, it can’t be so bad.

“But the best way of appreciating classical music, is to not be distracted by other things. With other music, you can sing along while cooking or driving or whatever, classical music, you need to actually listen to it properly to get the full effect.”

Back at his own floor, Barnes scrolls through the new list of music. The songs have strange titles and most of them are in Italian. Barnes understands Italian – although he doesn’t remember learning it – but the titles still don’t make sense.

Piano Sonata in B flat major D.960 I. Molto moderata.

Very moderately. What the fuck does that even mean.

Remembering Banner’s advice about getting comfortable, he puts on some of Steve’s pyjama pants. He chooses the ones with the dancing collies, because it seems most appropriate when listening to music. Once comfortable, he turns down the lights and starts the music.

It takes a little while for the music to start up properly. Eventually the piano music bubbles up louder, picking up tempo, before fading away again, almost to silence. Then it gets louder again, more dramatic sounding. Then fades away again to something else. It isn’t bad. It’s kind of

BORING

I was going to say “soothing”, mission. No lyrics though.

He moves on to the next song, another piano one. Adagio assai. Very slow.

UGH

Give it a chance mission, it’s only just started. Still have 9 minutes 22 seconds to go.

UGGGHH

Partway through his phone makes the hunting horn sound which clashes with the piano music. He had forgotten to silence it. He tries to not check it. Banner said not to be distracted.

The blinking blue light is very distracting.

It could be important.

ROGERS

It could be Rogers.

It is not Rogers. There is 40% off cat toys at the store where he bought cat Eleanor’s tower at Christmas.

You can buy knitted sardine cat toys that come in a little knitted sardine can!

CUTE

Pay attention Barnes. You have an assassin’s focus and cannot be distracted.

A muscle in his leg twitches suddenly. He shifts position.

BORED

Ok fine. We’ll find something more “allegro”.

The next one sounded familiar. It made him think of English estates and girls in old fashioned dresses. Maybe it was in a movie? Yeah, maybe Pride and Prejudice. Which wasn’t as great as the book but still good. He has to order more books, he has nearly finished the ones he has. Maybe Alexandre Dumas. Yeah. And Oliver Twist. He hasn’t read that yet but it sounded good. He pictures Oliver Twist as the pictures of skinny child-Steve that briefing has given him.

HUNGRY

Right, always hungry. And skinny. Although he could do with a grilled cheese himself about now. His stomach growls. Did he turn the oven off properly after baking the cookies? He should check. Then he needs to take a piss.

It occurs to him that the classical music has long since stopped without him noticing. He has been sitting in a silent apartment for some time. He had failed to empty his mind and block out distractions and listen properly to the music. Maybe if there was a visual element to go with it, like the ballet and opera Natasha and Pepper have described to him, the music worked into story, he might be able to appreciate it better.

UGH. BORING

Better than the excitement we had yesterday with the titanium song though, huh pal?

...

CONFIRM

That’s what I thought.

Chapter Text

There is something caught between the plates in his wrist.

It's not too bad, only causing a slight resistance every time he rotates his wrist – more of an annoyance than anything else – but he can’t see what is causing it. Whatever it is, needs to be removed before a life or death situation arises where that slight resistance could make a difference. It’s far enough inside his arm that he’s going to need the tools to open it up. He has to go down to the lab.

Fortunately the lab is empty, only Hamburger Helper and Bite-size coming out to greet him.

Excellent.

“Building, could you please give me a warning if Tony decides to show up?”

“Certainly Sergeant.”

Even more excellent. He’s never seen the lab this silent, only the beeping of Bite-size as the little robot passes the tools he needs. Barnes talks to it a little, making sure to thank the little robot. You should show appreciation for a good mission-assist.

Eewww. So that’s what was gumming up the works.

YUCK

A bit of cookie dough with, yep, that’s a piece of walnut. How did that get in there?

It takes a bit of work picking all the bits out – made more difficult one handed, but he didn’t want it going all gross and possibly attracting ants. Ants were a bitch to get out of the mechanics.

CONFIRM

“Sergeant, Mr. Stark and Agent Barton are approaching the lab. They have stepped out of the elevator and are coming down the hall.”

This day was getting even better. Barnes reaches for his phone and starts the music.

The look on Stark’s face as he enters the lab to the blast of sound is priceless.

So, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want..

“What. What.” He squawked. Tried again. “What the hell is going on in here?” Barton’s face is doing a complicated thing.

“I had cookie dough in my arm. Needed to get it out.”

There is much blinkage from Stark at this answer. “Uh, ok. And why is my lab being sullied with this sorry excuse for music?”

“I like it.”

“You like it.” Stark repeats in a flat voice. Barnes pays close attention to cleaning out the last of the gunk.

“It's upbeat. boppy.”

Stark mouths the word boppy like he can’t even. It's one of the few times Barnes has seen him unable to speak. Stark stares at him. Barnes stares back. Barton is looking back and forth between them, his face still doing complicated things. Conjecture: he is trying not to laugh. For a moment the only sound is the instruction to slam your body down and wind it all around.

Stark finally remembers words. “JARVIS, back me up here and change the music for me.”

“My apologies sir, but Sergeant Barnes arrived in the lab 14 minutes before you, and, as the first inhabitant has the privilege of choosing the music. This is in keeping with the ‘you snooze, you lose’ protocol you have previously implemented within the walls of this lab which has not yet been revoked. ”

OH WOW

Confirm mission. That is pretty fucking funny.

Barton’s complicated face changes to an expression that suggests Christmas has come. “I think you’re stuck with it Tony.”

Stark goes silent. He walks over to a bench, picks things up and puts them back down again.

Uh. Did we break him?

DOUBTFUL

Barton shrugs. “Cheer up Tony, the song doesn’t last forever.”

Hehe. Doesn’t mean the next song will be any better for you though, pal.

Stark and Barton start talking about designs for new arrows, Stark twitching erratically and losing track of what he is saying more than usual. Barton is as easy going as ever and looks like he is enjoying the show.

Barnes is spraying lubricant between the plates when the music changes.

I threw a wish in the well, Don't ask me I'll never tell, I looked at you as it fell

“And now you’re in my way.” Barnes sings the last line, without looking up from his arm. To his surprise and delight, Barton sings it too. With gusto. There’s a clang of metal against metal as Stark throws a spanner back into a tool box.

“No, no, and hell no. Anything but that song. I swear to god, if you two break into dance...”

Barton flashes a grin in Barnes’ direction. “Tony’s right, Barnes, that one’s been played and parodied to death. Probably should skip it. You know out of respect for Tony’s lab and all.” His expression says otherwise. He clearly has some idea of what might be coming next and is looking forward to it.

Barnes skips to the next song. It is a naive song in which the woman begs in a breathless little girl voice for the man to pretend to love her even if he doesn’t. It is sugary enough to give you fucking diabetes.

Barton starts laughing his ass off, clutching at the benchtop for support.

Stark sweeps a glare across both of them and stalks from the room muttering about working conditions.

Excellent.

CONFIRM

_____________________________________________________________

Songs to Torment Tony playlist. Selected by James Buchanan Barnes

  • Spice Girls – Wannabe
  • Carly Rae Jepsen - Call Me Maybe
  • The Cardigans - Lovefool
  • Aqua – Barbie Girl
  • Aqua – Dr. Jones
  • Wham! - Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
  • Katy Perry – Teenage Dreams
  • Beyonce – Single Ladies
  • Justin Bieber – Baby
  • Rebecca Black – Friday
  • James Blunt – You’re Beautiful
  • Kylie Minogue - Can't Get You Out Of My Head
  • Los del Río - The Macarena
  • Jonas Blue – Horrible tropic house cover of Tracey Chapman’s Fast Car, because seriously. WTF? Did you not listen to the lyrics before turning a sad song like that into party music? She starts out supporting a jobless drunk father, wants escape to a better life, ends up supporting a jobless drunk boyfriend. It is about disillusionment and dashed dreams and temporary escape from a shitty reality. It's like you only heard the chorus and thought fast cars sounded like fun so tried to make the song fast and fun for drunk people to bounce up and down to. 
  • Taylor Swift – Shake it off

 

Chapter Text

With some experimenting Barnes discovers he likes music that combines nice melody with stories the best. He discovers he likes acoustic guitar which is much nicer than banjo. He likes piano. He likes the song about the classy girl in the bar and the parade song. He hears a song about a man wanting to travel the world and asks his loved one if they would follow. It is beautiful and sad because in the end the loved one chooses not to go and the man travels the earth alone. He sees the wonderful things but will not have the loved one with him to share it. It reminds him of Rogers who is travelling for the sick children and leaving Barnes behind.

Sigh.

ROGERS

Confirm.

FOLLOW

Can’t pal. Not this time.

SIGH

I know.

He is ready to spend the rest of the day lying on the sofa moping except that building JARVIS interrupts.

“Pardon me Sergeant Barnes, but Mr Stark and Agent Barton are requesting your presence in the common area.”

Um. Okay.

“Why?”

“Sir has said that he wishes to set you straight on a couple of issues.”

UH OH

Confirm mission. This sounds bad. Is this about the Lab Incident? Is Stark kicking him out of the tower? Would he do that because of music?

Would the others let this happen?

After a moment’s consideration he rolls off the sofa and changes from the moose pants into something more appropriate for public wear. Black jeans, black and grey shirt, boots.

Assassin chic.

He is twitchy in the lift heading down to the common area, not knowing what to expect. When he enters he sees Stark and Barton sitting on the other side of the dining table. Stark looks like he was braced for a Talk. Barton is rocking his chair back on its legs.

“Okay Barnes. We need to discuss something serious.”

Barton flashes a quick smile at him, which is reassuring. He sits.

“It has come to my attention that certain people may have been feeding you misleading information about what constitutes decent music.”

“Gee, Tony, wonder who would do that.” Barton mutters.

“Which is why Clint and I are here to give you a crash course in Rock 101. To put you back on the path.”

“He doesn’t want a repeat of the Lab Incident,” Barton supplies cheerfully.

“Damn straight I don’t. So we’re going to go over some of the rock genres and artists, which is an incredibly broad and extensive list, and a lot of it crosses over or influences each other. I mean, you’ve got traditional rock and roll, rockabilly, punk rock, hard rock, soft rock, alternative rock...”

“Americana, blues-rock, electronic rock...” Barton interjects.

“Metal, Celtic rock, Viking metal, black metal, glam rock, emo if that’s your thing, psychedelic rock, garage rock, heavy metal, gothic rock, grunge...”

OH WOW

“Punk, pop punk, post-punk, a whole lot of death metal genres that Natasha will probably veto anyway, so won’t bother going into that...”

“Boogie rock, Britpop, college rock, cowpunk, heartland rock, pub rock, Indie rock...”

“Southern rock, country rock...”

“Okay, maybe pushing it with that last one Clint.”

“Hey, it’s a legit crossover, you don’t have to like it.”

“And that’s just the short list Barnes.”

Jeez.

Clint smirks. “You better take notes, there’s going to be a pop quiz at the end.”

Tony flinches. “A rock quiz. No pop involved.”

Barnes thinks back over the list they had just rattled off. “Britpop isn’t pop?”

“Nope. That’s alternative rock, but British.”

Okay then. That seems confusing. He sighs and opens up the note function on his phone to keep track.

“So, to begin. The various rock royalty.”

“I thought Americans traditionally disliked monarchic regimes,” Barnes questions.

Stark blinks. “That’s. They do. Mostly.”

“Except for where it counts. Music and fast food joints,” Barton adds.

“Yeah. Anyway. So everyone pretty much agrees that Elvis was the King of Rock and Roll, although personally I think he gets points knocked off because he had a lot of sappy crap made for movies. But Chuck Berry is the Father of Rock and Roll. Pretty much invented it.”

“Bob Dylan is the King of Folk-Rock. B.B. King is the King of the Blues.”

“David Bowie is the King of Glam Rock and the Master of Reinvention.”

It seems America has more kings than they thought. He types the names into his phone. “Hill mentioned music by someone named Queen. Is Queen the Queen of Rock?”

Both Barton and Stark shut up long enough to look at him pityingly.

What.

“Stevie Nicks is the Queen of Rock.”

“Also some say Janis Joplin,” Barton adds.

Stark snorts. “Sure, if you want to be a hippie about it. Joan Jett earned that title too.”

“God. I can’t believe they cast Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett in that movie.”

“I know, right?” Stark agrees in disgust.

What movie. Is all of this going to be in the quiz.

UNCLEAR

Right.

He types in ‘Kristen Stewart’ anyway. Just in case.

“The Boss.” Barton says enthusiastically. “Can’t forget the Boss.”

Which is when they finally get to the good bit of actually listening to the music instead of Tony and Clint bickering.

Stark insists they all have beer which apparently is the optimal drink for listening to rock music. “Beer for rock, whiskey for blues,” he says.

“Yeah? What do you suggest for country music?” Barton asks.

“Whatever you can brew up in your outhouse, you hick.”

Barton throws the bottle cap at Stark's head.

Barton plays him a song called ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ which is apparently by this unknown Boss person. It is a big and forceful song. Which strangely is not nearly as patriotic as the title and chorus implies, and it makes him think of the veterans Flying Sam helps.

When that song is over Stark yells “My turn!” because he is a child, and selects a song that he claims was created in his honour, even though it was made nearly fifty years ago and the iron man in the song goes on a destructive rampage, so what the fuck, Stark, you’re supposed to be good guy non-lethal even if you’re a pain in the ass, so why.

For the most part the music they choose comes in no particular order, simply played as they think of it. This means the playlist jumps from Led Zeppelin to Elvis to the Black Keys to Susie Quatro to Creedence Clearwater Revival to a band that has Stark threatening to kick Barton out of his building.

“Barnes, important social rule. If you are ever in a situation where you absolutely must play Nickelback, never play more than one song in a row.”

It is hard to tell whether Stark is joking.

There is a band that sing a song where they claim to be the sultans of swing. The briefing gives him a memory of swing music that is in no way similar to the type of music these people actually produce, but he likes it anyway.

Stark is correct in his conviction that some of the Elvis songs are inferior.

Not that we’re going to tell him that.

CONFIRM

Some of the music they choose to play has interesting guitar instrumental that. Well. It raises his pulse and sets up vibrations in his body that he doesn’t want to think too closely about, not here with Barton on one side and Stark on the other, both looking at him, because embarrassing. And gross. And briefing can just shut up about it and stop squirming, because that’s not helping.

PLEASANT

Well. It is, mission. But let’s not get carried away. We’re in public.

CONFIRM

He adds many of the Chuck Berry songs to his good list, for their pleasing melodies and upbeat rhythm. There is one song though that appears to be about fondling what he assumes from context to be genitals. Stark insists on singing along.

Hilarious.

He does not add that song.

It does, however, lead to Stark picking yet another song boasting about the size and attractiveness of one’s genitals, sung under the very poor pretence that they are in fact referring to the dancing kind of balls.

Ugh. It’s a theme.

Fortunately Stark is easily distracted even from juvenile humour and Barnes grudgingly admits to himself that not all of Stark’s picks are terrible. The same band that boasted about big balls has many better songs, with catchy tunes and heavy base that vibrates in the body, and once even featuring bells.

Real bells. Not euphemism for anything.

Stark puts another beer in front of him. He seems to be in one of his magnanimous moods. “Hey Clint. Did you ever hear about that guy a few years back that failed to spell AC/DC correctly live on radio?”

What. How even.

Barton snickers. “Yeah, I remember hearing that. He was Aussie though. Explains it all.”

“No it doesn’t. AC/DC have got to be one of their biggest musical exports, they can at least learn to spell it.”

Barton grins. “true. They’ve had some good rock come out of there. Cold Chisel. Powderfinger. Silverchair. Hunters and Collectors. Crowded House.”

“Wolfmother. The Living End. Eskimo Joe. Jet. INXS.”

“Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Hoodoo Gurus. Little River Band. The Rubens. The Angels.”

Stark snorts. “The Angels are proof of why you should never ask a rhetorical question in a pub full of drunk Australians.”

It is Barton’s turn to snort. “Right. Because nobody could have guessed that’s a stupid idea.”

“Why is it a bad idea,” Barnes wants to know.

“People start coming up with creative answers.”

Oh.

Stark chooses a run of songs he calls “music to get stoned to.” It is. Interesting. It is sometimes very weird, and sometimes good. Although Barton warns him away from a few, and the song called ‘Comfortably Numb’ is uncomfortably disturbing and he has to push away the static that threatens his mind.

There is a song that is about the Alice in Wonderland book that he has read. Another song is about a magic carpet like in the animated movie.

He adds both of these to his good list. When so much of the music is about war and revolution and sex and drugs, it is nice that there are some songs like these that are about innocent children's books and movies.

Stark and Barton fall about laughing when he tells them this.

Why.

They both agree that he needs to hear the Rolling Stones next.

One of those songs starts well enough though the lyrics are not happy ones. In it the male singer is begging for shelter. But then the female vocals rise into a scream that cracks on words of violence, raising the hair on his arms and causing the briefing to jerk in response.

Barton is watching him carefully, with an expression eerily like Natasha’s neutral 'I'm definitely not concerned' face. “Okay, Barnes?”

Barnes checks with the briefing, which trembles a little. There appears to be no actual download, thank Marx, only the emotional response.

“I’m okay. Didn’t like the scream.”

Stark blinks at him as if he’s only just realised that there might have been any problem. He grumbles something about unappreciative audiences, but chooses a run of songs that have lighter subjects.

After a run of songs about a sharp dressed man, a rambling man, a star man, a simple man, a magic man, and, just to break the pattern, a song about a hearing, speech and visually impaired wizard who excels at what Stark explains are arcade games, the briefing has calmed.

There is a song, which is long and intriguing. He finds both mission and briefing trying to work out the complicated lyrics. He can only identify: Nostalgia. Loss.

“What is this song about.”

The bottle cap Barton is spinning skids off the edge of the table to bounce across the floor. “American Pie? No one’s entirely sure, but the best theory I heard was that it is about America’s loss of innocence.”

“But what do the words mean?”

He shrugged. “A whole lot of things. Different things that happened through the 50s and 60s. Good things and bad.”

Interesting.

Barnes files it away for future analysis.

“Hey, This one should be right up your alley, Barnes,” Stark says, as he selects the next song. Barton frowns and looks over Stark’s shoulder; then he laughs.

“Ooh. The stalker song.”

It takes a moment for the meaning of the lyrics to sink in.

Mission!

WHAT

They’re playing our song!

It is a song about a man on a surveillance mission. Like Barnes was before contact with Rogers, he is watching over the target protectively. Mission approves. Although he sings about it publicly so it is clearly not the secret sort of surveillance Barnes has practiced with Rogers.

Barton starts adding new words to the song.

“From the time you wake, every shit you take, I’ll be watching you. Oh can’t you seeeeee...” his voice is extremely off key.

“We should set this as your ringtone, Barnes,” Stark says.

Oh.

Ohhhhh.

CONFIRM

“Teach me how.”

“Really? You really want this for your ringtone?” Stark sounds disbelieving that Barnes would be agreeing with him.

“Deny. I’ll set it in Rogers’s phone.”

Barton spits beer all over the table.

Gross.

Stark is staring at him like he is still thinking it through. “So that Steve knows when it is you calling him.”

“Confirm.”

Oh mission. If only we had known how to program this song into Rogers’ phone back in DC instead of that damn banjo.

DENY. DETRIMENTAL TO MISSION AT THE TIME

Well, yeah, probably. But holy mother of Marx it would've been funny.

CONFIRM

He can see the moment Stark’s mind conjures up the possibility of Steve’s expression in response to such a prank when his face splits into a wide grin.

“You know, you’re starting to grow on me, Barnes.”

Chapter Text

With the new additions to his playlist, Barnes’ next attempt at the car is far more successful. Not only is he able to sit through the entire Lucy song, but the intriguing lyrics to American Pie keep his mind occupied for a full 8 minutes 40 seconds extra.

This deserves celebrating with baked goods.

 

***

 

He texts Steve first to tell him about his successful morning. The response is enthusiastic.

Hey Buck, thats grat! Yuo used to love music im glad your getting bck into it. You shoud lool into the old swing and jazz stuff yuo used to love.

UH

I know mission. That’s why we didn’t tell him earlier.

He isn’t sure why he is avoiding it, except that maybe he doesn’t want to see the disappointed look Rogers’ gets when he fails to live up to the memory of the Bucky-person. The thought of it makes him twitchy and irritable, but sooner or later he is probably going to have to, well, face the music.

HA

I know mission, I’m hilarious.

Instead he plays some music Pepper has introduced him to while he makes an experimental batch of lemon-lime basil cookies and a batch of more traditional peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. The music is by a trio of women who harmonise their voices and echo the words back to each other.

It keeps me crying baby for you. Keeps me sighin' baby for you. So come on hurry. Come on and see about me

(COME SEE ABOUT ME)

Hehe. Nice one, mission.

Seriously though. How do normal people get through life without a mission imperative to provide backup? It must be lonely singing all the parts inside your head on your own.

He is pulling the cookies out of the oven when Stark appears on the TV screen.

“Hey there Snow Patrol, just got word that Thor’s coming around and... uh, what are you listening to?”

Barnes checks the screen of his phone. “It’s the Supremes.”

Stark sighs. “Pepper got to you didn’t she? Never mind, don't bother answering that, of course she did. Thor, Jane and Darcy are going to be here so we’re having dinner in the common room again, you up?”

“Sure.” He likes Thor and Jane, although Darcy can be a little intimidating.

The fact that he, a super-soldier ex-assassin, finds Darcy more intimidating than an alien prince who commands lightning and was worshipped as a god says a lot.

Mostly about Darcy.

“Great. We’re going Thai. Got to introduce you and Thor to Pad Khee Maow. Be there, or miss out.”

The screen goes blank before Barnes can ask what that is.

 

***

Pad Khee Maow turns out to be deliciousness.

Jane is in a deep discussion on complex science with Banner as usual, waving her fork about apparently forgetting the piece of chicken on the end in her enthusiasm. Darcy is beside Hill and Romanoff, just as enthusiastically discussing what may have been either a nature documentary or a reality tv show in which multiple females vie for the attention of a single male. Stark and Barton are trading quips as usual, Thor smiling broadly and contentedly adding his own observations, his formal speech sounding at odds with their quick chatter.

“Now here’s a thing Thor,” Stark is saying. “Clint and I were helping Barnes along with a little music related project of his, and I remembered that there was this metal band from the seventies that was named after you.”

Thor’s smile widens in delight. “Truly? If this is so, I must hear a sample of their music.”

“I can go you one better. I can show you videos of the performance.” Stark says. Pepper is watching him with eyes narrowed like she suspects he is up to something.

“By all means! The feasting is done, let us have the entertainment!” He thuds his drink on the table before remembering himself and shooting Pepper an apologetic glance.

Stark is definitely smirking as he brings up a video on a screen. They all stare.

What the fuck.

“This thing is giving me epilepsy,” Hill mutters.

Darcy leans over. “Oh. My. God. So much chest hair!”

It is true that there is an impressive amount of hairy torso framed between the studded black leather. It is highly impractical armour. The spiked pauldron on the blonde Thor-character’s left shoulder looks ridiculous when so much else is exposed.

The Thor-character and his band, who are dressed just as ridiculously but with much less exposed chest, run through a forest waving swords, before it switches to the band playing instruments, inexplicably half visible against a coloured background, while pausing to pout at the camera.

Thor thinks it’s hilarious. By the time the band are back on their mission and rescue the bored looking lady in the black catsuit, there are tears running down his face from laughing.

"These are surely men of theatre, their skills with swords leave much to be desired."

“What even was that song?” Barnes asks.

“I have no idea. I was too distracted by the video to hear it.” Hill replies.

“Wait, if he was supposed to be Thor, how come he was fighting with a sword instead of a meow-nyar?” Darcy stumbles over the word as usual.

Stark smirks. “There’s another video of this guy doing a very awkward striptease with a Mjolnir during a live performance. Wanna see it?”

DENY

But he is outvoted by the other members of the team, because they are terrible people.

Thor doesn’t at all seem creeped out by his wannabe doppelganger. In fact he seems to be enjoying it immensely.

“This poor man’s hammer is tiny compared to mine!”

“We are still talking about Mjolnir here?” says Hill as Jane blushes and covers her face. “because with those hotpants he’s wearing...”

Thor is studying the man thoughtfully. “Lady Jane, would it impress you if I were to grow a moustache such as his?”

“Oh god no! Don’t you dare!” Jane responds looking horrified, just as Hill, Romanoff and Darcy yell “No!” in unision.

“Guess that’s an overwhelming 'hell no' on the pornstache,” Stark says gleefully. Barnes winces as the briefing throws up a quick image of the moustache paired with bellbottom pants, followed by the horrifying possibility of Thor in both.

With the video ending in the Thor-person blowing up a hotwater bottle (why), Barnes quickly seizes an opportunity to change the subject before Stark finds another.

“Thor. What is Asgardian music like?”

Thor wipes his eyes. “Ah. It is nothing like the music we just saw.

Among my people, Bragi is by far the greatest of musicians. He was selected as my Father’s official skald of Asgard, and is one of the few permitted to travel freely throughout the nine realms; such is his skill with music and storytelling, he finds himself welcomed among all of them. Even the Frost Giants do not turn him away, for a man of such skill is rare, and he is a man of peace, and so, of no threat. He has learned to play many instruments from across the realms, though he favours a lute, carved from the wood of Idunn’s apple trees and strung with hair from Sleipnir’s mane.” Thor smiles fondly. “They say that Bragi can create music with that lute that is so beautiful it causes the aged to feel young, the feeble to dance, and enemies to lay down their arms and weep on each other’s shoulders as brothers.”

“That sounds amazing,” Jane breathes.

He laughs. “Of course, it was often Bragi himself that said such things, he was not one for false humility. But he composed a song he called ‘Tears of the Frost Giants’, in honour of a battle lost long ago – he managed to capture perfectly the sound of frozen tears falling to the snow under starlight with his stringed instrument.”

OH WOW

Confirm mission. That would be something to hear.

Thor’s expression holds regret and sadness. “My father asked Bragi to teach my brother and I the art of music. My brother Loki took to it well, he shared Bragi’s silver tongue and sly fingers, though not his desire for peace. Alas, I was a poor student; with a warrior’s hands and mind, I could not bear the patience and delicacy required to master the art.” He drains his drink and laughs again. “Nothing more artful than thumping a tankard upon the table along to a bawdy and off-key drinking song. But sometimes I wish I had done better to learn from Bragi.” He looks so sad about the missed opportunity.

Darcy pats at his arm sympathetically. “Aww. Hey. If you like, I could teach you to play ‘Mary had a little lamb’ on a recorder.”

The reaction is fascinating. Ex-assassins, SHIELD agents, science geniuses and a guy who turns into green-thing hulk all simultaneously flinch in horror. Only the alien prince seems unaffected.

Presumably he is unaware of the threat.

Thor smiles at her. “Many thanks, Lady Darcy, but I fear as a student I would try your patience.”

“Hey, it’s nothing. Children learn it here. I could teach you easy.”

“Darcy! What are you doing?” Jane hisses. Barton is staring into his drink like he is reliving past trauma. Even Hill is looking vaguely ill.

“Do all Midgardian children learn this music?” Thor asks curiously. There is a chorus of “yes” and “unfortunately”, except from Romanoff.

“The Red Room taught us other methods of torture,” she adds.

“I think perhaps it is best that I leave the art of making music to the musicians, just as they shall leave the art of fighting to the fighters,” says Thor. “I would rather listen to good music than inflict bad music on others.”

Con-fucking-firm.

With that, half the team jumped in at the same time in an attempt to change the subject, and the conversation moved to safer topics.

Chapter Text

Barnes wakes at 0246 hours, struggling out of a dream where he was frantically searching all over the tower for something he’d lost, but couldn’t remember what it was or where he had left it. Every time he almost grasped the memory of what he was looking for, it would slip away like trying to catch a fish barehanded. He blinks up at the ceiling and rolls over, to see the monitor view of Steve’s empty bed.

Oh yeah. That’s what it was.

LOCATE TARGET

Sigh.

He lies still staring at the monitor for a while, hoping that he might be able to go back to sleep, but the restlessness won’t allow it.

He rolls out of bed and wanders into the bathroom while trying to work out what to do next. He relieves himself and washes his hands and face, trying to shake off the after effects of the dream. He is jittery and unsettled. The sense of forgetfulness he had in the dream has him on edge, and he briefly considers going on his usual prowl around the tower, but dismisses it. It would be too much like the dream, and he knows Steve will not be there to be found.

But he needs activity of some sort. Perhaps he can go down to the gym and work off some of his jitters. There will be no one down there, and he can use the equipment until he wears himself out, with no interruptions and without disturbing the others.

He changes into his workout gear and goes down to the gym. Sure enough it is deserted at this time of the morning.

Maybe running will help chase away the urge to chase an imaginary Steve all over the tower. He selects a complicated track challenge on the treadmill, one that sharply changes incline and vaguely resembles running up a goat track on the side of a cliff. It seems Stark has been reprogramming the treadmills again, and the sharp changes in incline successfully keeps his attention on the run.

It’s good. It keeps his mind off the fact that the last time he went for a run in the morning it was to follow Steve.

LOCATE TARGET

Ugh, mission. You know we can’t.

When the smell of burned rubber starts to mingle with the smell of his own sweat he turns off the treadmill and turns to the punching bag. This is less effective. The twenty-seventh punch sends the bag flying with sand spilling all over the floor.

Oops.

Luckily there are plenty of spares, and he cleans up the mess and replaces the bag for the next person. Then he starts to climb his old friend, the rock wall.

He is a third of the way up when someone else enters the gym. Barnes feels his shoulder muscles tighten at the feeling of his back to the room although he knows it is most likely one of the Avengers, and he twists his neck around to see that it is Hill.

Hill acknowledges his presence only with a tiny nod, her jaw tight, but it is enough for his shoulders to relax as much as his current contortions allow. She doesn’t seem interested in talking to him, and starts her own workout as he hauls himself the rest of the way up the wall.

Come to think of it, has he ever seen Hill actually use the gym herself?

Thinking back, the only time he had even seen her enter the gym it had been to either bring information to the Avengers using it, or sometimes to act as impartial referee in whatever training manoeuvre was happening at the time.

So it was some surprise to see her come in in her activewear at 0340 in the morning, with tape wrapped around her hands and a towel slung over one shoulder.

The glare though. He’d seen that before, but never directed at an innocent punching bag. He pulled himself onto the top of the wall at settled there to watch, his curiosity piqued. He trusts that Hill will tell him if he is not welcome to watch.

Does Hill always come to the gym at this time? He has never seen her around during his night-time forays around the building. How does she get there? Does she have a secret way? The thought makes his skin crawl and he resolves to ask building JARVIS about secret passageways. Not that building JARVIS is likely to spill Hill’s secrets. Even AI has a sense of self-preservation.

Hill selects some music to play that has a heavy aggressive beat and fronts up to the punching bag.

Why does she use the gym at night? Why has he never seen her use it during the day? Does she sleep? Or has she also had bad dreams tonight?

She starts slamming into the punching bag to the rhythm of the music and he cocks his head trying to identify the lyrics. While a lot of the lyrics are slurred enough to be difficult to make out, the violent questioning of the lady demanding the money some bitch owes her rings out clear. Identified: anger.

Judging by Hill’s body language, the song echoes her current mood.

AVOID

Confirm, mission. We’ll just stay up here out of reach until it’s safe to come down.

The song ends and is quickly followed by another one just as angry, though this one is in a style he has only recently learned is called hiphop. In it the woman singer expresses anger at men who call women bitches or hoes, and urges the women to stand up for themselves.

Barnes approves. He imagines Hill, Romanoff and Pepper’s reactions to that kind of treatment, and smiles at the thought of some asshole getting what he deserves.

He recognises the same woman’s voice in the next song, but it is joined by two other women, one of which has an unusual rasping voice. It too is about women who are abused by their men, but have responded by killing them. In the song they are justifying their actions to the court.

Barnes isn’t sure how he feels about that one. He more than anyone understands what it is like to be abused and unable to stop it without extreme measures, but in his admittedly patchy memory very few of his abusers died by his own hand.

The briefing tells him – with very little detail, thank Marx – that one of the abusers was considered too crazy even by HYDRA standards, and had become too much of a threat to their secret operations. The man was delivered to the Asset’s cell to be executed. The guards laid bets on how long he would take to die.

The briefing does not tell him how long that was.

He shakes his head hard to push away the memory. Since the mission reset the only HYDRA agents he has dealt with were previously unknown to him. It made it easier to maintain good-guy non-lethal status when disabling them. What would have happened in those early days if the mission imperative had not focussed so single-mindedly on Rogers? Would he have gone on a vengeful rampage, hunting down and indiscriminately killing all of HYDRA? Would he have stopped at killing those involved in the abuse, or would he have blamed anyone connected to HYDRA, regardless of their part in it? He remembers how good it felt destroying the chair. It is a sobering thought.

The sudden sound of gunshots ringing out make him jerk and crouch low on top of the wall; it takes him a moment to realise that Hill is still kicking the crap out of the punching bag, unfazed, and the gunshots are part of the song.

He can see even from this distance that her body language is more relaxed now, most of the anger dissipated. He notices that her blows fall into the same pattern as the gunshot sounds in the song, followed by a roundhouse kick to the sound of a cash register.

All I wanna do is - Thud thud thud thud! (roundhouse) thwack! - and take your money

It’s a weirdly freeing song about criminal activity, murder and running from the law. He decides he likes it despite the initial reaction to the gunshots. Rogers will probably disapprove.

Watching the woman below him, Barnes realises that the way Hill dealt with Dieter Graummann may have helped prevent him from breaking good-guy non-lethal protocol. Could he have gone on like normal knowing that the man who had abused him and so many others was still loose in the world? He doesn’t think so. It is likely that the knowledge would eat at him until he is forced to do something about it, and once he has found the man, laid eyes on him, what would he have done?

Probably pulled him apart like the damn chair and cryo chamber.

Instead Hill has helped give him security and safety while removing the potential burden of being responsible for yet another brutal death. And should any more surface, she will do it again.

It is a good thing to remember.

There are two more songs about fighting and survival, about overcoming adversity to become a stronger person. The women singing these songs have amazingly powerful voices and he makes a note to ask Hill for the titles and the names of the singers. He can see why she likes them. He suspects that Hill also has had dark periods in her past that she has survived to become the strong woman she is, although she is not inclined to talk about it and Barnes knows not to push. Everyone in the tower has a different way of dealing with their issues, and he does not have flying Sam’s skill with such situations.

He makes his way back down the wall as Hill unwraps her hands and wipes her face on the towel. They both move around the gym tidying up equipment, unspeaking, both tired out by the physical activity. He can see that Hill is far more relaxed now than she was when she had first entered the gym. She even smiles at him when he passes her a water bottle.

“Thank you,” Barnes says as she takes it. Hill raises an eyebrow in surprise.

“Isn’t that my line?” she asks, waving the bottle.

He shrugs awkwardly, the movement made lopsided by his metal shoulder. “I meant. For helping me to be one of the non-lethal good guys and not go on a murder spree.” Actually he’s not sure if that will make sense. But between the dream and the revelations he is still feeling a little raw and uncertain, and too tired to work at communicating properly.

She studies him intently for a moment, and then the eyebrow drops as if she realised what he means. “Hey. We look out for each other here you know? And if you’re referring to Graumann, it’s a pleasure to put that bastard behind bars.”

“You kept me from killing him.”

“Would that have helped?” she asks him.

She asks so seriously, so he takes the moment to stop and consider the question properly. To consider what his life might be like to continue killing.

“No. I don’t think so,” he says at last.

She pats him on the shoulder as she walks past to the lift. Her lip twists into a smile, both sympathetic and bitter.

“It usually doesn’t,” she says. And then she is gone.

Chapter Text

The sub-mission has long since been successfully achieved, but Barnes finds he is still fascinated by the sheer variety of music available to him. There is a type of music to suit everyone and every mood and Pepper teaches him how to make separate playlists for the different types of music in his good list. He now has music for when he is reading or relaxed, music for when he is working out, music for when he is in a happy mood. All of it good, but even better for different occasions.

He hesitates still over Steve’s collection of 1940s music. He knows the old Bucky-person loved this music, and hates when he fails to live up to Rogers’ expectations where the Bucky-person is concerned. Perhaps it would be best to try this now, while Rogers isn’t around to be disappointed? That way, if he fails, he can pretend like it never happened.

He scrolls through the list, until he comes to a name that makes the briefing squirm with delight. The Andrews Sisters.

Alright mission. Let’s give it a go.

He presses play. And blinks.

The briefing goes bugfuck.

There are times when the briefing presents a good download to him the way a toddler proudly offers up a sparkly piece of gravel they found on the driveway. Like the memory was some interesting object found deep in the recesses at the back of his mind, brought forward for inspection.

In comparison, the briefing was now acting like a toddler who has found what it considers the most amazing thing in the world, and is bouncing on the furniture and demanding attention in an increasingly shrill voice that cut through all else and promises a tantrum of epic proportions if he didn’t Look Right Now.

Behind the jumble of download echoing through his skull Barnes is barely able to make out the song about the bugle player joining the army.

Whoa briefing, you’ve got to calm down buddy.

CONFIRM

He shakes his head hard, and whether it is due to that or the combined influence of both Barnes and mission together, the briefing calms down and stays thrumming in the background.

He sighs. Ok then.

The next song is a fast instrumental song. The briefing gets excited again and pushes forward a download of the Bucky-person dancing with unknown women. Touching and bodies close and skirts flying. Surrounded by lots of other people also touching and dancing. Kissing. The download makes his shoulders tense and twitch. His arm recalibrates defensively.

DENY. MISSION PROTECT

Confirm, mission. Too much risk.

Briefing protests with further downloads of the Bucky-person dancing and smiling. Of feet tapping in time to the music. Of fingers drumming a similar rhythm.

DENY

Confirm. Sorry pal, it’s two against one. You’ll get us kicked out of the No Touch Club.

The briefing retreats into silence.

***

The briefing remains silent for the whole day and into the next. It's not unusual for the briefing to be quiet for some time until it has something to contribute, but there is a weight to the silence this time. Barnes gets the impression of sulking.

It is not until the next Hair Club meeting that the briefing’s absence truly hits home. They are in Pepper’s living room, Pepper and Hill lounging on opposite ends of the sofa, Romanoff curled in the armchair with one leg draped over the arm, her foot kicking idly the way cat Eleanor flicks her tail. Barnes sits on a floor cushion in front of the sofa, his metal shoulder brushing Pepper’s leg while his own legs stretch out under the coffee table in front.

They are watching Singin’ in the Rain, which is hilarious, and he will have to make Rogers watch it sometime. It is about making talkies, and he knows that this happened during their lifetime. Hell, they probably went to see The Jazz Singer when it first showed in cinema. Why is briefing not more interested in this?

Briefing? Do we have that information?

...

Briefing?

His enquiry is met with silence, and Barnes’ chest feels tight.

Mission?

PRESENT

The tight feeling eases a little. He is not alone.

Mission. Status report on the briefing.

...

STATUS UNKNOWN

He sighs.

Come on briefing. Come back to us.

“Barnes?” Romanoff is inspecting him carefully. “You are looking far more serious than Donald O’Connor’s slapstick routine calls for. What’s wrong?”

He sighs again. “I think I’ve lost the briefing,” he tells them mournfully.

“Oh no.” He cranes his neck back to find Pepper leaning over to look at him with concern. “What happened?”

He explains his experiment with the Andrews Sisters and the briefing’s reaction. Pepper’s eyebrows draw together in a confused frown.

“But why don’t you want to dance?” she asks.

He glances over at Hill, then back to Pepper. “I don’t like touching. Dancing means touching people. It’s too close.”

The three women look at each other. “There’s other sorts of dancing to what you’re used to Barnes. You could dance without a partner if you want.” Romanoff finally says.

Pepper brightens. “We can teach you some moves. It’ll be fun!”

“That would be fun,” Romanoff agrees blandly. Barnes shoots her a suspicious look.

Pepper gets up from the sofa and grabs his hand, trying to tug him to his feet. “Come on Barnes, I’ll teach you to line dance.”

Hill looks dubious. “What, are we doing a Hoedown now? Because I don’t do country music.”

“No!” protests Pepper. “We are definitely not doing country music.”

The kicking foot stops and Romanoff sighs. “Clint does country music,” she says wearily.

Pepper pats her knee sympathetically.

“No country music, I promise. I was thinking more of the hustle.” She looks down at Barnes again. “Barnes? Would you like to learn the hustle? I promise we won’t need to touch.”

He sighs inwardly. Dammit, he always has trouble saying no to Pepper. It’s worse than Rogers’ kicked puppy look.

He gets to his feet and the smile that lights up Pepper’s face makes it seem worthwhile. The feeling lasts right up to the moment Pepper gets him in the position she wants, and he realises both Hill and Romanoff have stayed seated and are watching him.

Fuck. He has an audience.

“Okay Barnes.” Pepper is using her soothing voice. “just look at me, and follow my moves.”

He forces his eyes away from the two women watching with interest, and finds Pepper standing beside him, with a bit of space between them. She smiles encouragingly.

“Okay, so you start with three steps back, right foot first. Back, back, back, together.” She ends with her feet together. He copies the moves.

So far, so good.

“Now we go forward again. One, two, three, together.”

Sounds easy enough.

“Then we step to the right three steps, but we turn as we do it, and end with a clap. So right foot first, then turn to step with the left foot, then right again so we are back to facing front, and clap.” She demonstrates, and her clap rings out loud.

Flesh on metal is not nearly as impressive. He blushes, suddenly self-conscious of his metal hand. For the first time he feels almost embarrassed by it.

“That’s alright Barnes, keep going,” Romanoff calls from her seat.

They repeat the move to the left, Barnes trying to get a better sound out of the clap. Then Pepper throws in a new move.

“Keep your feet parted a little, put your left hand on your hip like this, with your right hand point up to the right, then down to the floor on your left. Up, down, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.”

He’s starting to feel like an idiot.

CONFIRM

Gee, thanks.

At least he is an idiot among friends though, he reflects as he copies Pepper’s rolling fists move and follows it up with flapping his elbows like chicken wings.

The next steps turn them to the left, which puts Pepper behind him where he can’t see her, but this seems to be the end of the dance steps anyway.

“Once you get to this point, you just repeat the steps while facing the new direction. Keep doing it and you’ll work your way around the square.” She beamed at him. “Want to try it with music?”

Why is he doing this.

His eyes track over the two neutral expressions in the room to Pepper’s hopeful one. How much does he trust the people in this room? He trusts them with his life. Does he trust them with his dignity.

Surely Pepper won’t let anything too bad happen to him. He takes a deep breath and lets it out.

“Okay.”

Pepper squeaks with excitement and goes to select the music, while Hill takes the opportunity to snag a pack of crackers. Apparently she feels the need for snacks to go with the floor show.

Romanoff prods him in the hip with her dangling foot. “Pepper’s so cute when she’s like this. It’s hard to turn her down.”

He sighs. “I know.”

“She means well.”

“I know.”

“You can say ‘no’ if you really don’t want to do this. She’ll understand.”

“I know.” He repeats with drawn out emphasis. Because he does know.

She raises her hands a little in a non-threatening gesture, looking smug.

Pepper comes back and lines him up in the right spot again, while Hill settles back on the sofa. The music starts.

It is a light repetitive instrumental music, with the only lyrics being instructions to do the hustle. Pepper starts off alone at first, and Barnes spends a moment admiring the way her moves fit to the rhythm.

“Okay Barnes, your turn.”

Okay mission. Here we go.

It’s not so bad. There is music and there are a methodical set of steps to follow. He can almost ignore that he has an audience.

“You’re doing great Barnes,” Pepper encourages. “Just try to loosen up a little more.”

What.

“You’re too mechanical,” Hill puts in.

He frowns. “Part of me is mechanical,” he points out with frustration.

She laughs a little. “We’ll teach you the robot next time. Just try to shake your hips more.”

Fuck.

They have now worked their way around the square so that he and Pepper have their backs to Hill and Romanoff. He makes an experimental move with his hips.

The slight choking sound from behind him would have gone unheard by anyone who didn’t have the benefit of super-soldier hearing. He immediately stopped the hip movement and fumbled the next step causing Pepper to nearly crash into him. He turned to glare defensively at the two women still seated, blushing furiously.

“What? I just breathed in cracker crumbs and coughed, I wasn’t laughing at you,” Hill protests. “Jesus Barnes, I know how far out of your comfort zone you are right now, I’m not a monster.”

Oh. Now he feels bad for the accusation, and he's tensed up again.

Pepper wasn’t having any of it though. “Are you going to come up here and show him how it’s done, or are you just going to sit there and criticize?” she challenges.

“Sit here and criticize.”

“Get up here Maria,” she orders,  as if this isn't the scariest person in the room.

Hill grumbles a little, but throws the crackers aside and gets up. “I suppose I deserve that.”

“And you Natasha.”

Romanoff beams and unfolds herself gracefully from the armchair as if she was just waiting for an invitation.

The song has stopped and they need to select another.

“Not ‘Hot Stuff’,” Hill mutters. “That song makes me think of The Full Monty, and if Barnes dances to it my mind is going to go places.”

What is the full monty. Is it another dance Pepper will teach him?

“You already saw Barnes in the full monty when he went swimming.” Romanoff reminds her with a smirk.

“Yeah, so my imagination has a frame of reference to build on.”

“Got it." Pepper has selected the music she wants. "JARVIS? Could you please give us some warning if Tony decides to show up? I wouldn’t think you would want him for an audience, Barnes,” she tells him anxiously.

He feels a rush of gratitude towards her for thinking of it. “Thank you,” he says fervently, and she smiles again.

The tempo is a little faster in the new song, but not enough to make the steps difficult. He isn’t quite sure what a groove thing is, but given that he has been told to shake it multiple times, he guesses it might be hips.

Romanoff appears to be shaking everything. She manages to be both incredibly wriggly and graceful at the same time. Hill is less so, but mostly because she keeps laughing. He rarely hears her laugh like that. She seems to be laughing at them all collectively, including herself, so he is not self-conscious about it like before. he identifies happiness to hear it. The happiness seems to change the way he moves.

“That’s it Barnes, shake it, shake it!” Pepper sings.

He gets a sudden rush of downloaded memory from the Bucky-person’s childhood. From his childhood. He was dancing in a kitchen, some silly dance he had made up, and he remembers that he did it just to make his sisters laugh.

Briefing! You’re back!

The memory and briefing’s return make his throat close up a little with emotion.

They put on a promotional song for the YMCA next, and teach him the dance to go with it. It involves spelling out the letters with your arms, and Romanoff has to duck suddenly to avoid being smacked in the face by Pepper, who then clings to her in apology. By the end of it the women are breathless with the combination of exertion and laughter and Barnes is grinning like a total dork.

He sits out the next one, which seems to have no set steps and watches while the women bounce around with jerky movements and shaking hips, bobbing and weaving and singing about the funky white boy. It looks like fun, but he isn’t confident enough yet to do it without the structured steps of the previous dances. The song that comes after has lyrics that cause his throat to feel tight again.

It’s true, mission. We are family. And if so, these are my new sisters.

CONFIRM. MISSION-ASSISTS.

That they are, mission.

When they finally wind down and flop back on the sofa with drinks, Pepper sits next to Barnes. “Did you have fun? Did that help?”

He smiles widely at her. “Yes. And briefing is back.” He tells them about the memory he had, and she looks like she has tightness in her throat too, which is not his intention. She pats him on the arm, which he puts around her shoulders for a quick hug on impulse.

“You’re going to make her cry Barnes,” drawls Romanoff, though she looks like she could be hiding emotions herself.

“Shut up,” says Pepper. She is smiling and wiping her eyes at the same time.

“Miss Potts, I’m sorry to interrupt.” Building JARVIS speaks up. “Mr Stark is on his way up in the lift.”

Thank Marx he didn’t come earlier, huh mission?

CONFIRM

“Okay well, next time we’re watching Saturday Night Fever, and introducing you to the Bee Gees and the bus stop.” Romanoff says.

Why is there a dance about waiting for public transport? That sounds weird.

“Thriller. The Macarena. Oh my god, there’s so many stupid dances we could teach you.” Pepper says, and Hill laughs.

“Honey, I’m home.” Stark’s voice calls out as he comes in the door. He comes around the corner and sees them all. “What, you guys are still here? Are you all staying for a slumber party? What did you get up to?”

“Just watched a movie,” Pepper tells him. “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Stark rolls his eyes. “Oh darn it, I can’t believe I missed that, that sounds like such a fun way to spend my evening,” he mutters heavy with sarcasm, and walks through to the kitchen.

Pepper winks at Barnes and he smiles back.

Chapter Text

Barnes finds himself humming along to a tune that sounds familiar though recognition remains out of reach. When he realises what he is doing he stops the humming, but still the melody echoes inside of his head. He shakes his head hard. There are words to it.

Mission?

SO IT’S GONNA BE FOREVER

What.

OR IT’S GONNA GO DOWN IN FLAMES

Mission, what are you doing.

YOU CAN TELL ME WHEN IT’S OVER

Please, stop.

IF THE HIGH WAS WORTH THE PAIN

Argghhh.

By the fourth repetition going down in flames was beginning to sound like the preferable option.

His usual methods of achieving mental quiet – baking, hot baths – appear to be insufficient, the song still echoing through his otherwise quiet mind.

Perhaps he needs distraction instead.

He wanders down to the common area, where Barton is sprawled out on the sofa watching a tv show. He looks up as Barnes joins him, though he quickly becomes engrossed in the show again.

The show is about a group of people who wake up from cryo on a spaceship with no memories of who they are or how they got there. There is the possibility of a traitor among them, and in seeking the truth of their past they risk finding out horrible things about themselves.

It’s an intriguing thought; there are so many similarities to his own situation and yet always he woke with HYDRA programming in his head. He would wake not able to remember his past, but always HYDRA were there to tell him what they wanted him to be. Always waking with the instincts and skills of the Asset. What would he have become if he had been truly wiped clean of all his past? No memory of the Bucky-person, but also no memory of being the Asset? Of HYDRA and their missions? Would Rogers still have made him remember? What would have happened if he wasn’t the only one to wake up wiped clean, if he hadn’t been alone?

DENY

Aside from you and briefing, of course.

CONFIRM

For the duration of the show his mind is occupied and he does not hear the song inside his head, but soon after it finishes Barton puts on some sports game which fails to hold his interest. The song comes back.

CAUSE WE’RE YOUNG AND WE’RE RESTLESS

Goddammit.

He smacks the side of his head.

“Uh, Barnes, are you okay there?” Barton asks.

“No. There is singing in my head. It won’t stop.”

“Singing in your...oh, okay. An earworm.”

“An earworm?”

“Yeah, when you get an earworm and keep hearing music in your head.”

He has an earworm. He has a worm in his ear. How is this possible without him noticing? Was it planted there by HYDRA before the reset?

Is it burrowing into his brain causing these delusions of hearing music.

Identified: heightened pulse and respiration. Desire to run though the threat is inside of him. The plates in his arm shift and whir with tension.

“Barnes?”

He flees the room.

In the elevator he paces back and forth unable to stand still while he considers his next move. He can't afford to lose his memory now; who will fulfil the protect mission for Rogers?

Steve. He can’t forget Steve again. But he also can’t endanger him if this worm causes him to lose control.

He can’t tell Steve about this, not yet. It will cause him distress.

Weird that he has no headaches yet. His previous experiences with HYDRA brain manipulation is far more painful.

Any suggestions, mission?

THEY'LL TELL YOU I'M INSANE

Yeah. That's what he's afraid of.

He shudders. It's not painful, but not pleasant either.

Surgery is undesirable, but further brain damage and memory loss is even more undesirable; if the worm has to be surgically removed to prevent further mental degeneration, he will have to force himself to go through with the surgery.

“Man up and get in there Private Buttercup!” the briefing downloads and the Bucky-person jerks with the instinct to salute at the voice of a long dead authority figure. It is not helpful.

He presses his forehead against the cool metal inside the elevator and breathes five deep breaths as Flying Sam has taught him. His metal hand still clenches and unclenches into a fist.

Dr. Banner is not that kind of doctor, but he is the only doctor that Barnes knows and trusts. Does he trust him enough to allow him to perform surgery if needed? Would Dr. Banner know how? Of course, the worm is an unknown and probably dangerous HYDRA device, which will not be conducive to minimising Dr. Banner’s stress levels during delicate brain surgery.

Likelihood of green-thing hulk successfully performing brain surgery: -1,000,000. His hands are too big to wield a scalpel efficiently.

Five deep breaths.

Perhaps he should leave before he becomes a threat to Rogers and the Avengers. To Katie in the coffee shop. To the Olds and cat Eleanor.

Upon returning to his floor he pulls out a duffel bag and then spends the next few minutes considering what to take with him. He has so many possessions now.

If he leaves, it will also hurt Rogers emotionally. Rogers will try to find him again.

He shoots off a text message to flying Sam. Flying Sam will understand.

Flying Sam. Thank you for being a mission-assist. I must leave to keep people safe due to HYDRA implant. Please tell Rogers not to follow. Tell him Sorry. He will need you. Please protect him. Thank you. Barnes.

He sends the message and proceeds to stuff clothing into the bag. He will go as far into the wilderness as possible so there is no one to hurt. There will be no mochas in the wilderness, but that won’t matter if his brain turns to mush.

His phone sounds; not the hunting horn sound of a text message, but the UFO sound, a phone call. He sees it is flying Sam, and hesitates, but phone calls are so rare he answers.

“Barnes! What’s this about a HYDRA implant and you leaving?” he can hear the concern in flying Sam’s voice.

“They have inserted a worm in my ear that is now active and causing delusions.” His own voice trembles. “I have to go flying Sam. I can’t. I can’t go mad around Rogers.”

“Delusions? Talk to me Barnes. Are you in your safe space right now?”

“No.”

“Okay, go and sit in your safe space and take some deep breaths.”

Comply.

“Alright then. Describe these delusions to me.”

Barnes explains the music he hears inside his head that won’t go away. He explains the mission imperative being compromised.

Flying Sam considers. “A worm in your ear, huh? And who told you that?”

“Barton.”

“But you haven’t had your head scanned to see if there is anything there? What exactly did Barton say?”

So then he describes the conversation.

Flying Sam sighs. “Barnes, Barton didn’t mean you had an actual worm in your ear. Or any device, though if you want that confirmed I suggest you ask Bruce or Tony to scan your head. But an earworm just means you’ve heard a catchy tune and now your brain won’t let up about it. It’s a memory of a song.”

“Will it cause damage to my brain.”

“No, it’s just annoying as hell. I completely understand how you might have jumped to that conclusion given your experiences with HYDRA, but they have nothing to do with this one Barnes. Torture by Taylor Swift would be a new low even for them.”

“Am I any danger to others because of this?”

Flying Sam snorts. “Only if you start singing it at them.”

That would be cruel. And highly unlikely.

He slumps into the sofa with relief, the tension running out of him.

“How do I make it stop.”

“Eventually it’ll go away on its own. But if you want it to go away faster – sometimes if you get it stuck in someone else’s head as well it seems to help. It’s almost like you’ve passed it on or shared it so it isn’t as bad for you.”

Maybe he could give it to Stark. Now that he knows it is merely annoying and not dangerous.

“Or, you could listen to other music. Better ones that will drive that one out of your head.”

Which reminds him. He does not yet know what music flying Sam likes.

He says so and flying Sam laughs.

“Well man, I’ll tell you what I told Steve; get into some soul music, definitely gotta listen to Marvin Gaye. If you like him, I you’ll also like Sam Cooke, Otis Reading...I’ll text you through a list to check out.”

Flying Sam is such an excellent mission-assist. Soon after the end of their conversation he hears the hunting horn as a list of names appear on his phone.

He starts with Marvin Gaye as flying Sam has suggested and immediately identifies approval of flying Sam’s suggestions.

 There is a song where the singer learns of a lover’s infidelity through rumour, though he doesn’t know what grapevines have to do with anything.

He jumps when he hears a song that has familiar lyrics; he recognises the words as belonging to the Beatles’ Yesterday song, though it is sung in a very different style. He spends some time considering whether it is more or less likable than the Beatles one, but decides it is neither. It is as good as the Beatles one, but is simply different. He saves it to his good list.

There is also a song about healing people through intensive touching of a sexual nature. He’s not sure that can work, but then, the future is weird and Pepper has told him about healing therapies using anything from foot rubs to needles in the skin.

Perhaps it is like massage then.

Either way, flying Sam has excellent taste in music. The singer has a smooth voice that is pleasant to the ears. Even the faster songs have an easy swinging rhythm to them that he can tap along to and does not increase pulse rate too much.  It is good after the scare over the earworm device.

The next song is a duet between the Marvin Gaye singer and a female singer. It is another following song of overcoming geographical obstacles to protect a target, which he adds to a separate list that he is beginning to compile for Rogers.

ROGERS

Oh, hey mission, you’re back!

CONFIRM

He should have known that reminders of Rogers would be strong enough to help mission fight off the effects of the earworm.

AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH TO OBSTRUCT MISSION PROTECT

No mission, there’s not. We’ll always protect Rogers.

AIN’T NO VALLEY LOW ENOUGH

Yeah mission, I get it.

AIN’T NO RIVER WIDE ENOUGH

Okay.

TO KEEP US FROM GETTING TO ROGERS

Confirm.

PROTECT ROGERS

He’s coming home soon mission. We’ll share this song with him then.

CONFIRM

Flying Sam was correct. All he needed was a new song to distract mission and drive the other song from his mind.

It stays with him the rest of the day. but at least he and mission can sing duet with this one.

Chapter Text

Barnes is having difficulty sleeping again, so instead he prowls the stairwells and passage ways of the tower, works out in the gym and bakes. His pulse rate is elevated and he feels twitchy in his own skin.

It is a mixture of excitement and nerves. At least this time he knows what is causing it.

ROGERS

That’s right mission! Rogers is finally coming home today!

ROGERSROGERSROGERS

Confirm mission, I’m looking forward to it too.

He has a strategy all worked out for meeting Rogers at the airport:

  1. He has been practising at sitting inside an enclosed car and has successfully extended the length of time he can tolerate the enclosed space
  2. Romanoff will be driving, ensuring he has a mission-assist available if needed
  3. This time he will sit in the front seat where Romanoff has assured him that she will generously allow him to have full control over all choice of music.

LOCATE TARGET

Oh yeah.  4. He will be reunited with Rogers. If he was able to overcome 70 years of torture, memory loss and mental conditioning for Rogers, he isn't going to let some estimated 46 minutes of car travel stand between them now.

Waiting is difficult. The time until he is due to leave is subjectively long, but eventually it is time to make his way down to the basement carpark where he is to meet Romanoff.

She is already there, leaning against an SUV. She watches him approach until he stops in front of her, then quirks an eyebrow at him. “Ready Barnes?”

“Confirm.”

“I figured we would take the SUV, it’s roomier inside than the sedans,” She tells him as she slides into the driver seat.

“Thanks.” She is a good mission-assist.

“So. Do you have a playlist set up for overcoming claustrophobic conditions, or are you going to chance it with radio?” She asks him as she pulls the car out of the garage.

He shrugs, and the briefing downloads a memory of the Bucky-person listening to stories acted out verbally on the wireless. And also...sports commentary?

Right, because if watching baseball wasn’t boring enough, listening to someone describe a game sounds sooooo much more entertaining.

DENY

That was sarcasm, mission.

“Is there still stories told on the radio now?” he asks Romanoff.

“You mean like the dramas they used to do back in the olden days? Not so much. TV pretty much cornered that market. Most of the stations now are a combination of music, ads, hosts doing some chit-chat, maybe asking the listeners to add their two cents to whatever conversation they’re having, with a news, weather and traffic update each hour. There’s some variation on that from station to station, some get more political talk, some are religious, some are just annoyingly inane.”

“Do they describe baseball on the radio still.”

“Ugh, Barnes, please don’t tell me you want to listen to sports for the next 50 minutes. I can’t think of anything more boring.”

“Agreed.”

“Good. Because although I said you have control of our listening selection this trip, I have my limits.”

He spends some time flicking through the available stations out of curiosity. Romanoff allows it. Many of the stations he finds are playing advertisements at the time he selects them. Others appear to involve loud people discussing developments in the private lives of celebrities. He doesn’t care about either and skips past these. He can always return to them later to see if there is anything more interesting.

There is a country music station that makes Romanoff grimace and he quickly flicks past it. He receives a solid DENY from mission when he reaches a classical music station. He finds a religious station which features a pleasant enough song with superior female vocals; he listens through to the end of the music, but the illogical reasoning of the man preaching afterwards irritates him too much, and he changes station again.

He stops on another station that is playing a song that for the most part has seemingly nonsensical lyrics, though the tune is incredibly catchy.

If you'll be my bodyguard, I can be your long lost pal...

Huh.

“I always like this song,” Romanoff says. “Even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It's another earworm song.” She shoots him a sly look.

“Barton told you about that.” Obviously.

“It’s a completely understandable reaction.”

Brat.

Five of the stations are playing the same song, if not at exactly the same time, then at least close enough together that he is able to hear all of them by progressing through the stations. Two of the stations are playing a version that is entirely in Spanish, while the other three are a mix of Spanish and English.

“Oh God.” Romanoff groans. “This song is so overplayed. Stay off those stations unless you want to hear that another four times before the end of the day.”

Confirm. There is too much touching related activity in that one to want to listen to it in an enclosed space with Romanoff.

He is in an enclosed space.

He shifts suddenly and Romanoff’s eyes flick across to him. “Barnes? You doing ok?”

He is with Romanoff.

“Would it help if I wound down the windows?”

He thinks about it. Windows down means greater exposure to risk should there be snipers about, but also greater relief from sense of confinement.

Make a decision, Barnes.

“Confirm.”

The windows whirr down and he sucks in a breath of air redolent with exhaust fumes and city smells, the sounds of traffic and car horns and general cityness suddenly much more present, but it breaks through the sealed climate-controlled interior of the SUV and he feels himself ease back to baseline a little.

They aren’t the only ones with windows down, and a hatchback in the next lane has music of the hip-hop variety blaring from its speakers. He switches across stations in an attempt to find it, but is unsuccessful.

Switching between stations successfully keeps him distracted and makes the journey subjectively shorter. By the time they pull onto the tarmac of the airport he has mentally added a couple more genres to his list of music to explore further.

Finally he is able to get out of the car and stretch his legs, Romanoff stretching languidly against the car beside him. As the jet lands and taxis towards them he feels jittery and restless again.

That disappears the moment Rogers steps out of the jet, pausing to shade his eyes and breaking out his sunrise smile the moment he spots them.

Totally coincidental that Barnes hears a crescendo of music at that same moment.

And IIIIIII will always, love yooouuu...

Wait.

He turns to glare at Romanoff.

“What? It seemed appropriate Barnes,” she tells him, with her laughing face on. She is controlling the car stereo with her phone.

Way to ruin the moment, Romanoff.

But now Steve is in front of him, he is right there and for now Barnes thinks he can allow a hug and maybe the moment isn’t ruined after all.

 

***

Later, after the hug and the trip home and the group dinner and a Welcome Home Mississippi mud cake, he gives Rogers his gift.

“Rogers. I made this for you.”

“You. What?” Rogers frowns down at the tablet Barnes shows him with confusion.

“I made a list of music for you. About us.”

“Oh wow. That’s. Thanks Buck, that’s real nice.”

“You can listen to it if you ever have to go away again.”

“The Mission Protect Playlist, huh? Am I allowed to listen to it now?”

“Confirm.”

Rogers starts the playlist while Barnes retreats into the reading forest, giving Rogers space to listen and appreciate the music properly. He can clearly hear the music from the reading forest anyway, but Barnes has heard the music before when he selected the list, and this is a gift for Rogers.

The memories the briefing has downloaded about the Bucky-person and skinny Steve makes the first song seem wildly appropriate. He knows there was poverty and hardship, but there was happiness too. Like now, skinny Steve made things seem better just by being nearby.

“Oh man,” Rogers says. “Bing Crosby, that takes me back.”

Good. The style of music sets up echoes that make the briefing happy too.

The next song is very different.

“Uh, Buck. Why this song? It sounds like someone is trying to hunt someone else down.”

That’s exactly what it is, pal.

“It’s for the first time we met again, in DC.”

“When you were trying to kill me?”

“Confirm. Before mission reset.”

“And you decided to commemorate that in song.” Why does he sound pissed.

“Confirm. It is a dark time, but important. If HYDRA hadn’t sent me to kill you, I would still belong to them.”

The pissy expression melts. “Aww, Buck.”

It melts further into a hugging and handkerchief expression when he hears the next song and sees the title.

“End of the Line. Those were the words that reset your mission weren’t they?”

“Confirm. The renewal of mission protect.”

“Renewal? Don’t you mean start?”

“I’ve been looking out for your skinny ass a long time, pal.”

Rogers laughs.

The release of emotion means that Rogers is able to view the next series of selections with amusement.

“Wow, some of these are a little creepy. Who knew there were so many songs about stalking – I mean, protection detail,” Rogers says, grinning.

It is true. Aside from the watching song that Barton and Stark introduced to him and the very determined chasing song that has already been played, there are two more watching songs and five more following songs with varying degrees of obsession that he has included in the playlist.

Some of them are pretty catchy.

Rogers hums along to the Private Eyes song, but Barnes’ favourite is the one where the person following is hoping that their target turns around and sees them, which makes for poor surveillance protocol but demonstrates a familiar desire for –

CONTACT

Exactly, mission.

Which is when the topic of the music changes again. It is no longer songs about following, but songs about standing beside Rogers, about protection still, but now by his side. Protecting his left, which Rogers always forgets to watch.

Except for when Rogers runs into a fight like an idiot and Barnes is back to running after him again, also like an idiot.

But still. There comes the realisation that being beside Rogers also means that Rogers is also beside him, Barnes. So he has selected songs that both offer support and ask for it. Songs offering help. Songs about loyalty. Songs for the dark times when there are nightmares and bad memories or when there are too many strangers, and Rogers is safety and home. Songs about being confused and lost and slightly broken, but having someone devoted to your well-being.

Songs about best friends.

Ah. There’s the hug.

Barnes lets himself get dragged into it. It’s been a very hugging sort of day, and now Rogers looks like he is in need of a handkerchief again.

“Oh God, Buck. You’re such a sap.”

“Says the guy crying all over me.”

“Shut up, jerk. I guess we’re both saps then.”

“Confirm. A couple of super-sappy super soldiers.”

Rogers laughs a little at that. “Jeez, say that ten times fast.” And though he dries up and lets go of the hug, he seems happy with his gift.

Barnes overhears Rogers quietly singing or humming parts of the songs off and on throughout the rest of the night and feels his face curl into a smile.

A job well done, mission.

CONFIRM