I've Heard That Song Before
An Avengers fanfiction by Lywinis
It seems to me I've heard that song before,
It's from an old familiar score,
I know it well, that melody...
It's funny how a theme,
Recalls a favorite dream,
A dream that brought you so close to me.
I know each word, because I've heard that song before,
The lyrics said: "for evermore".
For evermore's a memory.
Please have them play it again,
And I'll remember just when,
I heard that lovely song before...
("I've Heard That Song Before" is copyright to its owners, with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Sammy Cahn.)
It rained the day of the funeral.
Steve stood by the graveside service, one of the pallbearers that lowered the cold coffin into the ground. He was in full dress uniform; Phil deserved nothing less than all their respect. He had stood, his hands folded behind him and at parade rest. The rain dripped off his cap, sheening the service in misty cold rain. Even the skies gave into their grief when SHIELD laid one of their own to rest.
His eyes wandered as the padre gave the eulogy, not out of disrespect for the ceremony of it all, but because he'd already said his piece in his heart. He glanced across the hole in the muddy ground to the opposite side, where Phil's family would be, should be, standing.
Did Agent Coulson have a family? He saw what looked to be a small phalanx of SHIELD agents, each caught in their own web of personal grief. Perhaps they were his family, in a way, but it didn't seem that the agent had any blood relatives left. It was a shame.
And then, someone stepped to the forefront, to drop the first of many flowers into the grave, and Steve drew up short.
He'd know that face anywhere. He'd slept so long, but it seared itself in his memory, as locked in his past as everything else. It was a shadow of its former self, hard lines and wrinkles that came with age, but the sight of her eyes, so bright and sharp even in old age, brought him up short and made his breath clog his throat. Her shoulders had rounded with the weight the world had placed on them, her hair gone iron but not yet white, and she seemed so small now. But it was her, he'd know her face in the dark.
Nick Fury himself was there, and he stepped forward to present her with the folded flag, and Steve's heart crashed against his ribs. It couldn't be. It was impossible, but she took the flag and looked down at it as though it would assuage the ache in her heart. He was rooted to the ground as Fury leaned in to speak to her, giving him a pointed look from his remaining good eye. She looked over, and Steve could feel the ground pitch and yaw beneath him, threatening to swallow him up.
Her step was unsteady, and his shock warred with his manners until manners won out; he stepped forward and couldn't decide what to do with his hands. He settled for letting them hang limp at his sides.
"Peggy," he said, his tongue thick and clumsy in his mouth. He'd always been tongue tied around her, and now was no different.
"It is you," she said, her face lighting in a smile that cut through the sadness for a brief moment, then faded like a flashbulb. She clutched the flag to her bosom, and adjusted her umbrella.
"Peggy, how..." he trailed off, searching for a delicate way to put it.
"There were experiments," she said, picking up on his unspoken question. "The Super Soldier Serum was lost with Doctor Erskine, with you, and we tried to recreate it. I volunteered, if it would help. We managed to get the slowed aging process right, but you were our only home run out of the bunch."
The rain was showing no sign of slowing, and he could feel it soak into the wool of his dress uniform. He wasn't cold, but standing here seemed like a waste of time. He looked around, not seeing any kind of cover, save the trees that meandered deeper into the graveyard.
"Walk with me?" he asked, offering his arm and reaching to take the umbrella from her. She nodded, and they set off down the cemetery path, arm in arm.
There were so many questions, so many things that clawed at his throat and stuck like peanut butter, that he was silent for a long while as they strolled through the dripping trees. He shortened his stride to accommodate her, the pressure at his elbow slight, like a fading dream.
She cut the silence, her voice apologetic, asking his forgiveness and understanding.
"He was my only son," she said. He nodded, adjusting the umbrella so that she would stay dry. "Such a good, hardworking boy. He loved hearing stories about you, about me, about the war."
Steve swallowed the lump in his throat. His Peggy had given birth to the man who would later find him and save him from the ice. He didn't believe in luck or coincidence, he believed in hard work and honest skill, but this stretched the limit of that belief.
"He talked about you constantly growing up. I'm not surprised he found you. He always said he would." Steve looked down to find her wearing a fond, amused smile. "He loved you almost as much as I did."
They walked in silence for a little while longer. The cemetery ground opened into a long paved walk, with quiet, peaceful stillness surrounding the graves. The walkway was dotted with benches that were covered over with awnings, to provide mourners with cover from the elements, and he guided her to a bench. She settled onto it with a grateful sigh as he took the umbrella and shook it clear of water before giving it to her.
"These old bones don't get so much exercise anymore. Not so many Nazis to chase, or wayward Captains." Her smile was wry, looking up at him in his tall, strong youth. Caught in the prime of his life, a bug in amber, the world had moved on without Captain Steve Rogers.
He sat beside her, cupping her face in a gentle palm. "You're still gorgeous."
"And you're a terrible liar, Steve, you always were. I'm close to ninety-eight years old, although I don't feel a day over eighty." He felt wetness against his palm, and he stroked the tear away before pulling her into a hug.
She was delicate, birdlike against his chest, and he was sure she would break if he pressed too hard. He settled her next to him, and she still, somehow, after seventy years, fit against him like they'd belonged together.
Perhaps they had, once.
"It's all so strange," he said. She nodded, taking his hand and giving it a squeeze with her much smaller one. "It feels like a blink has gone by, and I wake up, and everything is just..."
He gave a helpless gesture with his other hand, encompassing the world around him. They both looked out at the cemetery through the veil of pouring rain. Peggy took a deep breath then, and began to talk.
She'd waited, just as she said she would. Howard had searched for him, spent years designing submersibles in order to comb the depths of the cold ocean looking for him. It had been years until she'd looked forward to Howard's returns less and less. The hope had withered, and died. She'd mourned him, in her own time, and moved on, another widow before her relationship could ever take root. Such were the casualties of war.
Steve could have been upset, or angry, but for some reason, he was grateful. He remembered sinking into the cold water, wishing he could do something to reassure her, to tell her to live her life without him. She had, and he was happy.
Phil had been the byproduct of that final wish before the Artic had put him to sleep. He gave a faint smile, one full of reminiscence. He had signed the cards, bloodstained and foxed at the edges, before tucking them in Phil's jacket pocket at the wake. He supposed he hadn't seen Peggy there because he'd left early, unable to bear the sight of Agent Coulson, face ashen under the embalmer's makeup, lying still and silent.
Phil was a good man, better than Steve could ever be. Peggy laced her fingers through his, and leaned her head against his shoulder.
"I married an airman who I met in the hospital I volunteered at. I waited for you to come home, to arrive in a flurry of mussed hair and apologies. I waited in the hospital...because I feared the worst. But you never came home at all."
He nodded. "Peggy, I –"
"You don't have to apologize, Steve." She smiled at him. "All is forgiven. Time does that to old wounds, at least it should."
He reached into his uniform pocket, pulling out his old compass. Watertight, it had survived the trip into the Artic with him. Peggy gasped when he opened the lid, revealing the picture he'd tucked in there over seventy years ago.
"Remarkable construction," he said. Howard had built him the casing for the compass, making small tweaks and fiddles until he'd declared it perfect. "It was the only thing that survived the crash besides me and my shield."
"Oh, Steve," she said, and he could hear the break in her voice.
"Your husband must have been a good man," he said.
"He wasn't the right man, and I think he knew it, deep down. We divorced in 1965, after Phil was born. It became too much for him, seeing those cards of yours I kept in my hope chest, and he left one evening." She gave a sad smile. "He mailed me the papers. I had my pension from the army, as small as it was in those days. The money ran out too soon, and so as soon as I could find a babysitter, I went back to work. I worked menial secretary jobs, put my boy through school, and made sure he had everything he needed to be the best he could."
"Your son was a good man, I know."
She dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief. "He wanted to be you, you know."
Steve snorted. "No idea why. I'm just a kid from Brooklyn who wanted to do the right thing."
"Steve," she said. "My son thought you were the superhero to end all superheroes. I have nine complete Captain America costumes, each one I made myself, because he wanted to dress up as you for Halloween every year. I never had to remind him to take the costume off, either. They hung in his closet, his most prized possession, save for those cards I gave him when he graduated at West Point."
Steve felt his eyes prickle, and he looked down. No wonder he'd had a complete set. He was even sorrier for the red stained cards that rested in Phil's breast pocket, signed in his shaking hand.
"He came home bloody almost every week from school. He wasn't picking fights, he was defending the smaller kids." Her eyes grew distant. "I remember him telling me that you hated bullies, and so he was going to stand up for those who couldn't defend themselves either. He wasn't a large kid, but he was a vicious fighter when that moral code of his was threatened."
Steve chuckled. "We had a lot more in common than I realized."
"He thought...maybe you would have been a better dad than his own. Michael didn't want much to do with his son once he left." Peggy's voice was laced with old hurt, and he pulled her closer, as though he could shield her with his body, as he had in the past. There were some things he couldn't save her from, and it rankled.
"You have no idea how excited he was when he found you." She dabbed at her eyes again, that steely resolve he'd loved in her from the first showing again. "He called me and told me, at three in the morning, that they'd found you."
"You knew?" he asked, a small surge of hurt racing through him.
"Of course," she said. She had the decency to look guilty, at least. "Would you have wanted to see me, after all these years?"
"Peggy, how could you ask that?" He shifted on the bench to face her, bringing her knuckles to his lips. "You were my last conscious thought before the water took me, and my first thought when I woke up. I dreamed about you for seventy years."
"Steve, I can't be that same Peggy you knew. I've lived my life." The sorrow in her voice was more heartbreaking than the grief for her son.
"Sweetheart, everyone I knew besides you is dead and gone. Howard, Bucky, the commandos, everyone. I didn't – I don't – think we could be...the way we were. I needed someone I knew. I was alone."
"Oh, Steve, you were never alone," she said. "My boy made sure of that."
And Steve knew she was right. As odd as his current group of friends were, they had been just what he needed. Another group of misfits to replace those he'd lost. They would never be the Howling Commandos, but the Avengers were his family now. They were dysfunctional, fought constantly, and never agreed unless it really mattered, but they were his. Phil had brought them together, and Steve had finally found his place in this strange new century.
"Even after all these years, you're still taking care of me," he said, smiling.
"Someone has to," she agreed, and if her voice was a little teary, he didn't mention it.
The torrential rain that had plagued the funeral was slowing, the sun peeking out from behind the clouds at last. The cemetery smelt of fresh rain, damp earth, and green growing things, and somehow, Steve felt that Phil would approve.
He stood, peering out of the awning as the rain cleared. He smiled, holding out his hand to help her up again. A glance at his watch told him that they'd been here for several hours. She had to be tired, with much to do before she could make sure her son rested at last.
"It's time we got back, don't you think?" he said.
"Yes," she said. "Your Nick Fury will be wondering where you've gotten to."
"He can wait a little longer," he said, pulling her close and beginning a slow sway, his steps careful to avoid her toes. She looked up at him, not understanding, and when he put a hand on her hip, she gave a small laugh.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"What, you don't think I'd forgotten about our date, did you?" He leaned in close, smiling down at her. She didn't reply, only leaned her head on his shoulder, and he held her close as he swayed in time with the song he hummed under his breath.
"Please have them play it again," she warbled, the tune coming in halting patters of music half-remembered through a sieve of nostalgia. "And I'll remember just when...I heard that lovely song before..."
They stayed like that for a time, swaying together in an awkward slow dance under the clearing sky, before she took his arm and they walked back into the new world, leaving the past where it belonged.
A/N: Please deposit all tears in the tub by the door. I wish to bathe in them later to retain my youth.
Seriously, though, no one is as sad about this story as I am. Got bitten by a plot bunny after work, though, so have a thing. I hope you enjoyed, Constant Readers. Have a bowl of ice cream and a good cry, you'll feel better.