"Their Old Familiar Carols Play"
Phil sat in the common room,
practicing with bits of code.
Steve was working on a big pile of
fleece scarves in various combinations
of red, white, and blue. Meticulously
he clipped out little stars and fringed
the ends, tying some in knots and
leaving others plain. As he finished
each one, it went into a charity box.
Bucky and Natasha collaborated on
a dance piece they intended for
the Stark Industries holiday bash.
Holiday music played softly in
the background over the speakers,
and Steve hummed along with it.
"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on Earth, good-will to men!"
Phil worried about Steve and Bucky,
because even though they seemed
to enjoy the music, it made them sad
for some reason that Phil did not
understand but could still see
quite clearly on their faces.
Natasha jumped in with
more enthusiasm than
social skill. "Are you doing
anything fun Saturday night?"
"Well, all the guys from
my barbershop quartet are
dead, so … " Steve said,
"... no, not really."
"Gently, please," Phil said.
Natasha winced. "Sorry,"
she said quietly.
"It's been seventy years,"
Steve said. "Not your fault."
Tony came in then,
towing Bruce behind him.
"Hey, did I hear something about
a barbershop quartet?" Tony said.
"Because Pepper asked me to find
her some more volunteers for
the Stark Industries caroling."
"Steve sings real pretty,"
Bucky said, whereupon Steve
groaned and tried to hide himself
under his pile of scarves.
"Great," said Tony.
"What about you, Bucky?"
"Don't look at me, I already
have a part," Bucky said.
"Natasha and I are doing
the duet of Clara and
the Nutcracker Prince."
"I'm not always in much of
a holiday mood these days,"
Steve admitted. "It's hard for me
to stay focused sometimes and
not get lost in the memories."
"Believe me, I know,"
Bruce said. "You can't
live in the past, though.
You need to find ways
to be here now."
"Bruce has a point," Phil said.
"If you don't like singing now, you
can always quit; but if you don't give
it a chance, you'll never know."
"Yeah, I guess,"
Steve said. "I'll try it."
So the next day, Steve went
to the practice session for
the Stark Industries carolers.
Phil followed for moral support, along
with Bucky and Natasha who brought
a Starkpad to work on staging their scene.
Tiffany from Publicity was there,
so at least Steve would know
one other person besides his team.
Without a doubt, Steve knew
all of the carols by heart --
but when he tried to sing,
his voice broke and squealed,
making him blush scarlet.
Steve was all for quitting
then and there, but Bucky said,
"I bet I know what happened.
Your voice changed, and
you didn't account for that."
"What did you sing?"
the choral leader asked,
although he had wanted
to hear people's voices
before sorting them out.
"Countertenor," Steve said at
the same time Bucky said, "Treble."
Steve glared at Bucky and said,
"I do not sing treble, men with
high voices sing countertenor."
"Yeah, whatever," Bucky said.
"My point is, you're a lot bigger now
and your speaking voice is different.
"When's the last time you sang?"
Steve looked away. "A long time ago."
"Well, you're way deeper than you
used to be, like baritone or even bass,"
Bucky said. "Why don't you try
singing in a lower range?"
"You know I can't do that, it
makes my chest --" Steve broke off.
"That's different too," Phil said.
"You can sing now without risking
your health in the process."
Tiffany put her hand on Steve's shoulder
and whispered something that Phil
couldn't hear, but it made Steve
straighten up and smile a bit.
The choral leader talked to him too,
led him through a few exercises, and
then urged him to try singing again.
Steve's voice wandered and wavered
for the first few verses, struggling through
unfamiliar territory, but then it settled
into a delicious deep baritone
that bordered on bass.
The choral director moved him
to a new spot, then went on
sorting the other volunteers.
Soon they started exploring
Christmas carols in harmony,
voices rising and falling
in imperfect accord.
It wasn't good yet,
but Phil could tell that
it was heading that way.
He took out his Starkphone and
made a note to recommend caroling
as a teamwork exercise at SHIELD.
By the time the practice session ended,
Steve was grinning and flushed with success.
He even agreed to let Tiffany announce that
he was joining the Stark Industry carolers.
In the elevator on the way back
to the common floor, Steve said,
"Thanks for making me try this."
"I knew you'd do fine," Bucky said.
"You always do, one way or another."
"Yeah," Steve said. "It's different --
I don't have the same rapport with
these people that I used to have
with my barbershop quartet,
but it's better than I expected."
"Give it time," Bucky said.
"You knew those guys from
growing up together, and
this group is new."
"New can be good,"
Natasha said, leaning in.
Steve hugged her, then threw
his other arm around Phil.
Bucky squeezed in too.
"Sometimes what people need
is to hear their old familiar carols play,
even if it's in a new way," Phil said.
"Yeah," Steve said, smiling.
"Merry Christmas to all."
* * *
“I heard the bells on Christmas Day; their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the word repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is a holiday carol but also a war song, written during the Civil War, so it resonates with Steve and Bucky. Listen to it online.
Fleece makes excellent scarves. Steve is actually making a combination of these reverse-applique scarves (which require sewing) and these knotted ones (which don't). The star scarves look something like this.
Black Widow: "You doing anything fun Saturday night?"
Captain America: "Well, all the guys from my barbershop quartet are dead, so…no, not really."
-- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Nutcracker is a famous Christmas ballet. Watch the duet of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince.
Going around singing Christmas carols is an old tradition. The Stark Industries carolers break into teams of varying sizes to perform at hospitals, parks, and other public venues as well as calling on the homes of fellow employees and providing entertaining at SI events.
Male voices change over time. The treble is a boy's voice before puberty. The countertenor is the highest adult male voice, above the tenor which is the highest male voice in common use. Tiny men may hit the same notes as a boy, but they don't call it by the same name. Before Project Rebirth, Steve was very small and thin for a man, which pitched his voice high; so when he had enough breath to sing, he took the highest part in a song. Project Rebirth added at least a foot of height and a lot of mass. Afterwards, Steve's voice settled into a much lower range. Currently his tessitura, or most comfortable range, falls right at the bottom of the baritone. That means his functional range spans the lower part of the baritone and upper part of the bass. Steve knew that his voice had changed during Project Rebirth, but he did not account for its effect when singing, because he didn't have much opportunity for that. So when he started caroling, he naturally tried to take the same part as before, which did not work at all.