In a flurry of activity, the Avengers assembled the takeout, spoons, chopsticks, forks for the impatient, more beverages, and plates, as Steve insisted that they not eat directly out of the boxes.
Having dispatched his first serving, Thor led off the discussion. "This is a traditional Midgardian method of wooing?"
"Speaking of people who are trolling," Tony said in an undertone to Pepper. At her inquisitive look, he continued, "Iknow he knows more of modern-day Earth than that."
"Shhh," she reproved. "Watch the show," she whispered, flicking a glance at Banner.
Sure enough, Bruce began an explanation of the history of the musical, both on stage and in film. Steve chimed in with the occasional comment about hyper-glamorous movies of the '30s.
"I don't think Danny Kaye really hit his stride until the '50s, though," Bruce concluded. "He's famous for playing the awkward, infatuated klutz."
"I'd like to say that he made me feel better about myself," Steve said ruefully, "but I only wish I was that suave when I tried to chat up dames in the war. Uh, girls," he corrected. "I mean women." He paused, eyes widening in dread. "Do I? Is that what I mean? Do I need to say 'persons of opposite gender'?"
Natasha, who had been holding a straight face until then, gave him a small smile. "The Diversity and Anti-Sexual Harassment Sensitivity seminars getting to you, Cap?"
"Aw, they ran Cap through DASHeS? That's just cruel," Barton commiserated.
"Mandatory training for SHIELD agents, Barton," Coulson reminded him.
"Couple of days of that, and you're too nervous to say anything. To anyone. About anything," Banner said, laughing briefly at his own discomfort. He turned his attention to Steve. "So, what do you think of the movie, Steve?" he asked.
"Parts of it remind me of my time in the USO," Steve answered. "The combination of putting on a show and a crabby commanding officer, well..." His remark was greeted with general laughter.
"Colonel Phillips?" Coulson asked.
"He could give General Waverly a run for his money," Steve agreed. "Tear a strip off your hide up one side and down the other. But because he valued his soldiers. And his men would have followed him anywhere."
"A good commander is worth his weight in ordnance," Barton said. "When you find one who'll lead you in and pull you out-"
"One who is deserving of loyalty," Thor added.
"One who can earn your trust," Natasha said, with a speaking look toward Coulson.
"The Howling Commandos certainly felt that way about you, Captain," Coulson said softly. Even in the low lights of the home theater, Steve's embarrassed red flush was visible.
"Those men just needed someone who could put their skills to use and point them at the enemy," Steve disagreed modestly. "I don't think I did that much, really."
Barton shook his head in disbelief. "And that's why he's your hero," he said quietly to Coulson.
"I just wanted to be..." Steve searched for the word he wanted. "Useful. I wanted to be useful. Selling war bonds was necessary," Steve looked down at his plate shyly, "but I was pretty glad to call that job quits. Mr. Crosby said he felt ridiculous not being in the military; I knew exactly what he meant. I told him I felt the same way, but entertaining troops with the USO was an incredible service to the military."
Tony choked on his thot man. The remaining humans turned to stare at Steve in stunned silence. Thor, after a quick glance around to ensure the conversational pause did not mean actual danger, loaded up his fourth plate.
Barton, unsurprisingly, found his voice first. "Uh, did you just say that you met Bing? Like not only saw him perform, but met him and talked with him?" He looked a bit... starstruck, for lack of a better word.
"Yes?" Steve confirmed uncertainly. "We bonded over USO performance stories a bit-"
Pepper, her eyes starry and huge in her pale face, interrupted, "Wow. Just wow. That is so amazing. That would be so... amazing."
"No kidding!" Barton agreed fervently.
Seeing Steve's confusion, Bruce offered, "See, Cap, anyone can be a celebrity today-"
"For example!" Tony said, indicating himself with a waving fork.
"-with enough money or notoriety," Bruce continued. "But Bing is just..." He trailed of with an expressive shrug.
"Bing!" Tony exclaimed. "That's like meeting a god. No offense, Thor."
Thor looked like he couldn't quite puzzle out the possible source of offense, but nonetheless gamely replied, "None taken, my friend."
Steve shook his head in disbelief. "It's astonishing to me that you think Thor is the one you need to apologize to for that bit of blasphemy, Tony."
Tony shrugged. "Everyone good to go again?" he asked, setting down his plate. "We need to re-up on drinks, or everybody still OK?"
Pepper turned to him in disbelief. "You're wanting to start the movie again? For the record, you're asking us to re-startWhite Christmas so you can watch more?"
Stark's glance shifted away and down. "Uh, sooner we start, sooner it'll be done?" he tried. Pepper shook her head. "No? Well," he waved a hand at Steve, "we can't leave Cap with the movie half-watched, can we?"
"Nice recovery." Pepper smiled indulgently at him. "We'll go with that one."
Steve watched Vera-Ellen's dance number with wide eyes. When, near the end of the routine, she finished off with a series of rapid front-to-back high kicks that extended beyond 180 degrees, his mouth actually dropped open. "Gosh, she's really limber, isn't she," he said, awe in his voice.
Natasha leaned around Barton and Coulson to look directly at him. "That's what you take away from that?" she whispered laughingly. "She's limber?"
"Sure," Steve asserted. "There were girls in the USO who would've given anything to kick like that. They were always stretching and trying for, um, better extensions? Is that still the word? It doesn't just mean hair?" At Natasha's nod he continued. "A lot of them wanted to audition for the Rockettes after the war."
"Steve, seriously?" Barton asked, also leaning forward. "Not that she's all..." he waggled his eyebrows suggestively and drew the last word out until it was dripping with innuendo, "li-imber?"
Coulson thumped his forearm into Clint's chest. "Back, you," he whispered, pushing at Barton until his back was once more pressed against the couch.
"Uh, no." Steve shook his head. "And... oh! No," he continued in embarrassment. He looked desperately to Natasha. "She's very talented?" he asked hopefully.
She gave him a tiny smile and Steve sighed in relief. "You're right. She is a good dancer." Then Natasha grinned.
"Romanov, Barton, stop baiting the Captain," Coulson ordered sternly. "Watch the film."
As the movie segued into a soft romantic number, Natasha rotated until her hips were against the arm of the couch, then stretched her legs over Clint's lap, tucking her toes under Coulson's thighs. The process opened up several inches between them, and Clint scooted closer to her, turning his torso and leaning back until he was resting against her, his head against her collarbone. He tucked his shin under Coulson's, and Coulson in turn almost absently edged toward Clint, closing the gap between them.
Suddenly the SHIELD agents were taking up only two-thirds of the couch amongst them, and Steve had plenty of room to sprawl on the remaining third. While he appreciated the space, he missed the extensive history, the shared experiences, that would have made his close contact with another person feel so comfortable.
On screen, General Waverly asked Bing to read the letter from the War Department replying to his request to rejoin the army. "Your amusing letter was more appreciated than you can imagine," Bing read aloud. "'Course you've got plenty of time to be amusing, sitting on that porch and rocking away..."
Steve winced in empathy as the general's application for a overseas training post was received as a joke. It was far too reminiscent of his own attempts to enlist, and then his tenure as a performing monkey (in his opinion) rather than as a true soldier.
He twitched when something hit his shoulder. The offending popcorn bounced from his arm to the floor. He turned to look at Stark just as he was preparing to fire another missile. "What?" he asked in a low voice.
Stark gave him an exaggerated smirk. "Here comes the comedic miscommunication. Wanted to make sure you were mentally set. You seemed to be getting a little misty for the general."
"Tony, stop!" Pepper hissed. "Don't spoil it for him." She directed her gaze to Steve. "I can probably work out a gag of some sort if you'd like, Steve. It's not like he even knows what he's talking about anyway." She directed a fierce mock-glare at Tony. "Mr. I've-never-actually-seen-it."
Steve just smiled and shook his head. Soon he was cringing for a different reason as the dancers began their atonal, ultra-mod "Choreography" routine.
He reached over Coulson to tap Natasha's ankle. When he had her attention, he asked, "Did this really happen? I mean, is this a joke?"
"What, modern dance?" she whispered back.
Between them, Barton mouthed ugly dance.
"You didn't see any of this before you went under? It started in New York. There would've been concerts? Performances?" She trailed off inquisitively.
"Not much of a dancer at the time," Steve replied.
"Well, this is an extreme example, but," she gave an exaggerated shudder. "Cap, don't get me started."
He laughed softly and turned back to watch the odd juxtaposition of styles. "Heckuva thing," he said under his breath.
The Avengers watched quietly as Crosby and Kaye's idea to bring the troops of the general's last command to the Vermont inn was partially overheard, misquoted, and misunderstood and the romantic leads went most of the way toward destroying any happiness they had been about to achieve.
"Why don't people ever just talk to each other?" Tony groused.
Pepper shot him a sidelong look. "Palladium Pot, I'd like you to meet Iron Man kettle."
"I'm not sure that would make it so much better," Barton disagreed. "What's she going to say? I think you're doing something skeevy, and I know 'cuz I was listening to gossip from someone who was eavesdropping? That'd go over well."
Coulson cleared his throat and eyeballed Barton meaningfully. "And yet, most misunderstandings can be resolved more easily than they are, if the parties involved are willing to sacrifice a only bit of pride."
Natasha directed a wry smile at her handler over Clint's head as she said, "Cough, Budapest, cough."
Clint huffed a brief laugh before tickling her ankles in retaliation. "Okay, okay, enough, geez!"
Steve's attention was drawn back to the film as Rosemary Clooney began to sing. "Love, you didn't do right by me. You planned a romance that just hadn't a chance, and I'm through." The torch song seemed suddenly louder as each person stopped moving, stopped eating, and seemed even to stop breathing. Everyone very carefully did not meet each other's eyes for the duration of the song.
Everyone took a deep breath as the song ended.
The tension was broken by an on-screen shriek and the Avengers' resulting laughter as Danny Kaye declared that his fall down the stairs had resulted in only a small compound fracture. Or a small internal muscular hemorrhage.
They breathed relieved sighs as Bing sang his plea to the soldiers of the 151st Division: "What can you do with a general when he stops being a general? Oh, what can you do with a general who retires?"
Steve leaned over and asked Coulson, "Was that a problem?"
Coulson nodded in thoughtful agreement. "Re-entry was difficult for a lot of soldiers. The country had changed while they were away. Even if it hadn't, they were different, too."
"I know from different," Steve said wryly. He had a moment to feel grateful that he had found use again in this new century instead of being mothballed as an old experiment.
"Asgardian warriors do not 'retire'," Thor said. "They continue to fight until their glorious death in battle. Though of late," he continued slowly, "I have come to see the value of an existence not circumscribed by war, and did even implore the Lady Sif to retreat from battle and risk herself no further."
As they spoke, the scene changed and Barton again began singing along to "We'll follow the Old Man wherever he wants to go."
Coulson gave him a half-exasperated elbow to the ribs.
"What?" Barton asked, his eyes round with mock-innocence. "It's a catchy tune, sir."
Until Bing reprised "White Christmas", Steve had all but forgotten he was watching a Christmas movie. His Christmases hadn't been full of the nostalgia in the song. It would be a stretch to refer to Brooklyn tree-tops as "glistening" under the weight of snow. He had never listened for sleigh bells.
He might not miss the Norman Rockwell Christmases, and New York was a world away from the idealized Currier & Ives Christmas, but he could miss days that were merry and bright with laughter of a brown-eyed friend and shared history. What he did remember was that last Christmas he had been watching Mr. Crosby perform his famous song with Bucky at his side.