Tony gives Steve the iPod, actually hands it to him and says, "I know you love going through all those milk crates full of warped, dusty, secondhand vinyl, but you can't actually carry a turntable on the subway, so here." He looks uncomfortable the whole time and walks away with an airy, "Jarvis can help you with the rest."
It only takes Steve about ten minutes to figure out how to work the thing, but it's Jarvis who walks him through setting up iTunes so he can add music he actually likes to the stuff Tony's already put on it. While he's exploring the swing and jazz listings, Jarvis says, "If I might make a suggestion, sir?"
"Sure," Steve answers, still not used to the AI and not wanting to ruffle its feathers.
The music Jarvis chooses has some similarities to the stuff Steve's already familiar with, except it's in Spanish, which he's begun learning, since so many of his neighbors in Brooklyn now speak it. When he does some research, he's amused to learn that some of the musicians are as old as he is, or were popular when he was young, and then rediscovered, much as he was. That just makes him like the music more.
After the battle with the Chitauri, Steve realizes he's being an idiot. He can't make up for lost time, but he can finally make his date with Peggy. He picks up the phone, and after a few awkward, teary moments, it's as if no time has passed at all. Her voice in his ear is as sharp and confident as ever, and she agrees to meet him on Saturday night, eight o'clock sharp.
It takes all of his courage to turn up on her doorstep at the appointed time. She leads him into the living room and, after another few moments of awkwardness where they stare at each other wordlessly, she turns on the stereo. He recognizes Ella Fitzgerald singing They Can't Take That Away From Me and his chest goes tight. He holds out a hand and she steps into his arms, and she feels tiny and fragile but she still smells of Chanel No. 5, and if he closes his eyes, for four and a half minutes, he can believe it's 1944 again and they have their whole lives ahead of them.
3. Agent Coulson
Steve's angry at being lied to, though at this point, he doesn't know why he expects any better from Fury, but he's glad to discover Agent Coulson is alive. When he visits, he finds Coulson wan and medicated and singing to himself. He's off-key but there's something familiar about the melody that tugs at Steve's memory. "I feel so broke up, I want to go home," Coulson murmurs.
"I know that song," Steve says, surprised. "It's a sea shanty, right?"
"Beach Boys," Coulson answers with a small surprised smile of his own. "Sloop John B. After your time."
Steve tracks it down, and it's true, it's different from the version he knows, but similar enough that it makes him smile. Maybe music in the future isn't that different after all.
"We need a signal," Clint says. "Something these alien shapeshifters won't know."
"Okay," Steve says, nodding.
"I fell into a burning ring of fire," Clint says.
The silence stretches awkwardly.
"Okay?" Steve says again, the question clear in his voice.
Clint huffs in exasperation. "Has no one taught you anything about the greatest singer this country every produced?"
"Hey, I know plenty about Ella Fitzgerald."
Clint huffs again, this time with laughter. "Okay, point. But I'm talking about Johnny Cash. The Man in Black." He gets a faraway look in his eye and then starts singing, "I fell into a burning ring of fire. I went down, down, down, and the flames rose higher. It burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire. The ring of fire."
"You're pretty good at that."
Clint shrugs. "Good enough for karaoke." Whatever that means. "So if I say, 'I fell into a burning ring of fire,' you say?"
Steve smiles. "I went down, down, down, and the flames rose higher."
"There you go," Clint says, and bumps his fist. "And they say you can't teach an old dog new tricks."
"You are from Brooklyn, Steven?"
Steve looks up from his sketchpad. "Yes."
"I have heard of this place, in my lady Jane's music." He takes out his own iPod and plugs it into one of the ubiquitous speaker docks scattered around the tower. "While their music is more clamorous than that of Asgard, I find these Beastie Boys often sing of familiar things. And Jane assures me their many boasts are true." He presses play and the sound of loud guitars fills the air. Steve doesn't really understand anything they're shouting about (he looks up the lyrics later and discovers that Thor is right--while they're crude and bragging, they do seem to capture what it's like to tour the country in a bus, something that doesn't seem to have changed all that much in the past seventy years) but he still sometimes finds himself chanting, No sleep till Brooklyn during his workouts.
Steve doesn't actually listen to it often, but the look of shock on Tony's face when it shuffles on makes it worth keeping in rotation.
Steve likes Jane. She's beautiful, but she's so wrapped up in her own work and in Thor that she doesn't even notice when he's being awkward, maybe because she's awkward in her own way.
Still, he nearly drops his mug of coffee when she swings around one morning to look at him, snap her fingers and say, "Strike a pose."
"Excuse me?" he asks, but she ignores him. She stops and starts shifting through strange poses, hands moving to frame her face. "I'm just going to--" He doesn't know what he's going to do, but leaving the kitchen to her seems like the best bet.
She sticks a finger in her ear and pulls out a small, flesh-colored bead. "I'm sorry, Steve. Tony came up with these wireless earbuds that conform to your ears, and I was just testing them out." She offers it to him, and he takes it warily. It seems a little personal. But she smiles encouragingly, so he puts it in his ear. There's a woman singing, You try everything you can to escape the pain of life that you know and there's Jane singing along and dancing, and she doesn't seem to care what he thinks. She grabs his hand and tries to get him to join her, so he shuffles his feet. She smiles, so he must not be doing too badly, and they spend the next three minutes moving awkwardly in a way Steve would never identify as dancing but which seems like the norm for the twenty-first century.
He pops the earbud out when the song is done and offers it back to her with a little bow. "Thanks," he says, grinning when she drops an awkward little curtsey in return.
7. Nick Fury
"If you think you're just gonna moonwalk through this meeting, you've got another think coming," Fury says.
The others are murmuring among themselves about the Council and its uselessness, but Steve says, "Moonwalk, sir?"
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Fury mutters. "None of you are going to glide untouched through this meeting, Captain. Not even you."
Steve nods and doesn't think about it again until the YouTube link of Michael Jackson performing Billie Jean drops into his inbox. He likes the song okay, but the dancing is what grabs him. He doesn't know how long he spends hopping from link to link after that, watching the Jackson 5, Prince, Morris Day and the Time, and then further back, to when men wore suit jackets and sang harmonies together in a way that seems familiar and right to his ears. He discovers Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson and Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. Does his workouts with Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin and Ronnie Specter and Diana Ross chiming in his ears, as sweet a sound as anything he's ever heard.
He passes on what he's learned to Thor, who beams and says, "Truly, Midgard has some wondrous music."
Steve can only agree.
8. Erik Selvig
It's Thor who finally convinces him to go to karaoke night with Jane and Darcy and Erik. They laugh and they drink and they cheer when Erik gets up to sing. He swivels his hips and curls his lip and starts singing Jailhouse Rock.
"What was that?" Steve asks him when he sits back down, flushed and proud.
Erik takes the shot Thor hands him and knocks it back and then says, "That, my friend, was The King."
Steve and Bruce are lying on their backs on the roof deck, staring up at the night sky, or what little of it is visible thanks to the light pollution from the city.
"And that is why Daniel Craig is the best Bond," Bruce concludes.
Steve hums noncommittally. He's not particularly invested in any of these arguments that get Bruce and Tony and occasionally, Clint and Darcy riled up, but it reminds him of the fights he used to have with Yankee fans, though with a lot fewer bloody noses.
Bruce turns to look at him. "So, Beatles or Stones?"
"I like the Beatles," Steve says doubtfully.
"You don't sound too convinced."
"Well, I also like that one song." He hums the tune. "That's the Stones, right?"
Bruce laughs. "The Kinks, actually."
"Huh." He shrugs a shoulder, as much as he can while lying on his back anyway. "Is this something people are going to actually ask me?"
"Probably not. But when I was in high school it was a big deal."
"All sorts of stupid shit is a big deal in high school."
"So the movies keep telling me. It was different in my day."
Steve laces his hands behind his head. "So where do you fall on this important question, Dr. Banner?"
"The Beatles, definitely. Jarvis, play my favorite song."
The music is soft, piping, and while Steve doesn't really get all the words, he understands why Bruce likes it. It's melancholy and comforting at the same time. He adds it to his walking playlist, and smiles whenever he hears it.
10. Maria Hill
"I'm plenty good at being stealthy," Steve grumbles.
"This isn't about being stealthy," Hill answers. "It's about going undercover."
"I can do that."
She gives him a long, uncomfortable once-over. His uniform doesn't hide much. "Oh yeah, you blend." She shoves a backpack at him. "Put these on."
He pulls on the black jeans and black t-shirt and slips his arms into the sleeves of the supple black leather jacket. He smoothes his hair back and grimaces at himself in the mirror. He doesn't know what he was worried about. This isn't his usual style, but it's not terrible. He isn't sure what a goth club is, or why Clint had given him a pitying look as Hill led him away, but he's sure he can handle whatever it is. At least until he goes back out into the room and Hill gives him that appraising look again.
"Okay, hair, and then makeup."
"I don't need makeup."
She ignores him. She sits him down and brushes the neat part out of his hair and rubs gel through it until it stands up on its own. She clicks a button and music starts playing. It reminds him of the noise usually blaring in Tony's workshop, all loud guitars and screaming, except there's something more operatic about it, like they've added a choir to the mayhem.
"What is this?" he asks.
"Sisters of Mercy," she says. "This Corrosion. It's a classic of the genre. Now hold still so I can do your eyeliner."
He can do stealthy just fine, but he discovers that he doesn't quite have the hang of undercover yet. They get the arms dealers anyway, though, and Hill lets him keep the leather jacket. He adds the song to his collection, too, but never really gets the appeal.
When Tony's alone in his workshop, even late at night, the music is usually too loud for Steve to handle for more than a couple of minutes. He's developing an appreciation for the various twists and turns pop music has taken since the 1940s, but he doesn't ever think he'll grow to like the clamorous noise Tony prefers.
Tonight, though, the music is softer, and Tony is mumbling along with it. He looks startled when he sees Steve, his eyes wide like he's been caught doing something shifty. Steve's seen him do things that are completely illegal with sheer glee, so he doesn't know what's causing that look, but it makes him uncomfortable to have seen it.
"I like this song," he says, for lack of anything better to say.
"You would," Tony shoots back, which is more combative than they've been lately, and then he deflates. "My mother used to sing this to me." He laughs, but it's tinged with sadness. Steve doesn't know anything about Maria Stark. Tony's never mentioned her before and with Howard a landmine between them, Steve figures it's wiser not to ask. "When I was little, I thought it was about you and my dad."
Steve holds himself still and listens to the high sweet voice singing, I've come to look for America.
"Yeah. It's not, though. Turns out, she just really liked Simon and Garfunkel." Tony shakes his head. "I built myself a bowtie with a camera when I was six. She liked that. Let me wear it all the time, though even I couldn't make a bowtie cool." He snorts. "It was the seventies."
"Okay," Steve says. If it were anyone else, he'd put a hand on his shoulder, give it a comforting squeeze, but Tony's prickly about people touching him. Instead, he leans a hip against the workbench and says, "You can tell me about her, if you like."
Tony doesn't, but he doesn't get that hard, brittle look that Howard's name produces, either, and he doesn't throw Steve out of the workshop or change the music, so Steve counts it as a win.
Once the rest of the team realizes that Steve knows what the internet is and isn't afraid to use it, they all start swapping YouTube links. Tony's are usually porn, and Steve stops clicking on them unless someone else tells him it's okay (Natasha and Pepper are the safest bets for this). Clint likes videos of people riding motorcycles over stuff, or people setting themselves on fire, or sometimes people setting themselves on fire while they ride motorcycles over stuff. Bruce sends him videos about baseball and science, Darcy sends him videos of baby animals, and Natasha sends him videos of famous movie fight scenes with critiques of the techniques used. Pepper sends him links about art and music and anything else she thinks he might find interesting.
They're actually sitting on the couch--well, Pepper's lying on the couch with her feet in Steve's lap, and he's still kind of tentative about this much continuous contact with a woman, let alone a woman who is engaged to someone else, but Tony doesn't seem to mind, and it's kind of homey in a way Steve never expected.
They're both on their StarkPads, companionably doing their own thing, when Pepper says, "Oh you have to see this."
Pepper's body moves in time with the music and she's singing along, looking as relaxed and happy as he's ever seen her, and then she stops and sits up abruptly.
"I'm so sorry," she says. "I didn't think."
He hits pause on the video. "Is something wrong?"
"I didn't think about the lyrics and how you might react," she says.
Steve replays the song in his head. "Oh. I didn't--It's okay. I didn't think anything of it."
"And you wouldn't have if I hadn't just brought it up." She laughs nervously. "I feel silly now."
"Please don't." He puts his hand on her arm. "I take it this isn't a Muppet original?" Darcy's shown him a bunch of Muppets stuff; he likes it, even if he doesn't get all the references. It reminds him of the shows he and Bucky used to sneak into when he was young.
"No, it's the Talking Heads. They're one of my favorite bands, and adding in the Muppets made it even more perfect."
"Well, okay then." He starts the video up again. With her sitting next to him, warm and alive, it's easy not to think about the days that went by while the water held him down.
The only thing obvious about Natasha is that you can't believe any of the things about her that appear to be obviously true. Steve would have expected her musical taste to run to classical Russian composers or avante garde modern classical (which seems like an oxymoron to him, but what does he know? He still can't tell the Kinks from the Stones.) so it's a surprise to discover she likes pop music as much as the others do, of a variety that Tony occasionally derides as angry chick rock, but only when he's sure Natasha is on another continent.
Sometimes, she insists on music when they spar.
"It's not usually quiet when we fight," she says. "We need to be able to work together in a chaotic environment."
Steve refrains from pointing out that he fought in a war, and that the chaos he's used to dealing with is from bombs and bullets, not guitars, because he knows she knows, and he knows she's right.
Still, it's a surprise the day that the heavy blare of guitars segues into something with a tinkly piano. Natasha doesn't have many tells, but her eyes widen and her gaze darts away, so Steve knows she's as surprised as he is.
She makes for the speaker dock, but he grabs her ankle and pulls her down. "Wait," he says while she elbows him in the chest, "I want to know what this is." She huffs but stops hitting him.
The woman's voice is not what he expected--there's a raw edge to it, even though it sounds like she's singing a poem instead of a song. When he says that, Natasha nods.
"Leonard Cohen is a poet as well as a songwriter, and it shows up in his songs."
He's surprised by the reference to "Lili Marlene," which Dugan had liked to listen to before they turned off the wireless at night. He didn't think anyone remembered that, despite the Marlene Dietrich version.
"It's beautiful," he says when it's done, "and heartbreaking."
"The best songs usually are," Natasha answers. She sends him a copy that afternoon and he plays it on repeat for longer than is probably healthy, until he knows the words by heart. He doesn't share this one with Thor, though. It hits a little too close to home.
Maybe it's weird that he spends so much time with Darcy, but even though she's not an Avenger or even a SHIELD agent, she's the one who is closest to Steve's actual age, and while sometimes she makes him feel every one of the seventy years he's missed, sometimes she's just a really swell girl who makes him feel like he belongs in the here and now.
She's always up for watching movies with him, even things she's seen before, and he wonders sometimes if she's just taking pity on him or if she's lonely, too. That's the kind of thing he doesn't know how to ask, even if he thought it was the kind of thing she'd talk about with him.
He pours the popcorn into a bowl, careful not to burn his fingers, but Darcy's not sitting on the couch waiting for him when he gets to the living room. She's got the stereo on and she's bopping around and singing along, loudly, "And I know you're lonely for words that I ain't spoken, tonight we'll be free, all the promises will be broken."
The song, and her singing, catch at something in his chest, and he waits for the piano to fade out before he asks, "What was that?"
She whirls around, cheeks flushed and eyes wide, and just stares at him for one startled second. He can see her gathering herself before she answers, "Only the greatest song ever written!"
"Okay," he says gently. "It sounded nice."
"Nice?" she repeats, looking horrified. "That's Thunder Road, buddy. Jarvis, again."
The song starts up again, and this time, Darcy sings it to him, and he feels himself flushing under the attention.
"Are you?" he blurts out when it's done this time.
"Am I what?"
She looks away, down at her hands, which are curling into the overly long sleeves of her sweater. "Maybe? A little?"
"Darcy--" He wants to tell her he is, too, sometimes, but she cuts him off.
"No, I mean, I know how good I have it here. But that song, it's like, all the longing and hope in the world, you know? When he says, you ain't a beauty, but hey, you're all right," she splays a hand over her heart, "I want someone to say that to me someday."
"But you are a beauty," he says, reaching out and taking her other hand.
She gives him a tentative smile, one he's never seen before, because she's usually so confident. "You're biased." Her fingers tighten around his, though, and she lets him lead her to the couch.
"Doesn't mean it's not true." They settle on the couch and she curls up next to him and pulls his arm over her shoulders before he can protest (not that he would). Before she starts the movie, though, he says, "Do you think she went with him?"
"Yes," she says. "How could she not?"
"It might not work out. Anything could happen."
"Anything could happen anyway," she says, meeting his gaze squarely this time, something challenging in the set of her chin. "How do you know if you never try?" He can feel her whole body relax when she sighs. "It's something to think about, anyway."
And he does, every time he listens to the song.