"Now," Steve said to Alice a few days later, "there's someone who I definitely have to introduce you to." He cocked his head. "But we should probably go to D.C."
When Amaya Reyes walked up the sidewalk toward the outdoor seating area of Burton's Cafe, Washington D.C., and saw Steve and Alice sitting side-by-side at a table sipping from cups of coffee, she dropped her bag and burst into tears.
Alice was alarmed at the sight of the young woman on the sidewalk with purple dyed hair suddenly falling apart, but then Steve murmured an explanation in her ear and she nodded. She set down her coffee, slid out of her chair and walked out to the footpath. She leaned down to pick up the woman's fallen satchel bag, then waited.
After a few more seconds, the woman peeled her hands away from her face and noticed Alice standing there with her bag. Her eyes went round.
"Hello," Alice said, a little nervously. "Steve has told me… well. He's told me everything." Amaya's eyes shone. "I want to say thank you. For telling my story."
Amaya burst into tears again.
Alice escorted Amaya over to their table, where they ordered her a cup of coffee and waited for her to calm down.
"I'm so sorry," Amaya said, wiping her eyes. "I can't seem to stop."
"Don't apologize, I felt the same way," Steve reassured her with a smile.
Alice decided some calming small talk was in order, so as they sipped their coffees and Steve crunched biscotti, she told Amaya about her assimilation into the future; it seemed that was what most people were curious about. She also thanked Amaya for her efforts in getting Alice to safety.
Amaya listened with an expression on her face as if she'd been hit over the head.
Steve took over the small talk, describing again to Alice how he and Amaya had formed a professional - and personal - relationship over the years.
Finally, Amaya seemed ready to speak. She opened her mouth, and Steve fell silent. "Sorry for the crying."
"It's really okay," Alice reassured her.
Amaya drew in a deep breath. "I always thought that if I had the chance to speak to you - hypothetically, of course - that I'd have so many questions," she told Alice in a soft voice. She shook her head slowly. "But I… I just want to say thank you."
Alice cocked her head. "What for?"
"For everything!" Amaya exclaimed. "Being the historian of the Siren has kind of become my thing, thanks to Steve, but even before then… I was fascinated by your story. Because you're not a superhero." Her eyes gleamed. "You don't have super serum, or a metal suit, or magic. You… you saw a world of injustice and persecution, and you knew you had to do something about it. Back when I was a teenager unsure of myself and everything… that had power. It still does."
It was Alice's turn to look as if she'd just been hit over the head. She stared at Amaya for a few seconds following her outburst. Then she took in a hiccuping breath, and blinked rapidly to fight off the tears stinging her eyes. "Thank you."
After their few hours with Amaya in D.C. (it turned out Amaya had a lot of questions, once she steadied herself), Steve and Alice didn't go straight home. They drove along the coast, taking in the rocky shores and sprawling cities until they found a hidden-away beach painted with the colors of sunset.
They walked barefoot in the sand, shivering a little in the breeze rolling off the ocean.
Then Steve got down on one knee and offered Alice a ring she had last seen on his mother's finger, and then in a charcoal drawing on a scrap of Steve's old uniform.
"I bullied the Smithsonian into giving this back to me," Steve explained at the wondering look on her face. "I've carried it around ever since. So this is… eighty years too late, and a bit backwards, but" - he cleared his throat dramatically - "Alice Hedwig Moser. Will you… continue to be my wife?"
She beamed down at him. "I will."
Alice often felt like she had a whole world of new people to meet. She took her time with it, conscious that Steve was worried she would overwhelm herself. But slowly, as the days turned into weeks, she set up meetings with people she had never met before. And some that she had.
It turned out there were whole generations of families alive today because Alice had saved, or helped to save, their ancestors in the war. After being sworn into secrecy by Jilí and Peggy after the war they had all come out of the woodwork in the 70s after her files were declassified, and they all wanted to meet her now that she was back. It was all rather painful and overwhelming, as Alice didn't know what to say to these people. Back in the war she'd just gotten people out, as many as she could, and hoped they were living well somewhere. But now she was faced with just how much life there was because of her. And she didn't know how to accept thanks for that.
So she started with a familiar face.
Rupert Hoffman was in his nineties, his hair a thin and wispy cloud crowning his head, wearing wire-frame glasses. His face had a lot of character, with laugh lines around his glinting eyes.
"Did you remember me, when I reached out?" he asked her, leaning on his cane.
"Of course I did," Alice replied as she helped him into a seat at the Austrian restaurant they'd met at in New York. "You were just ten, and such a little ball of energy and curiosity. You asked me when we'd see each other again."
He smiled, a shaky thing. "You said once we're all safe and sound."
Alice let out a shaky laugh. She had driven Rupert and his family out of Vienna and up into the mountains on the border of Austria the day after Christmas of 1940. Just months before the Holocaust began in earnest. She remembered the feeling of the snow biting into her knees as she hugged Rupert and his sister goodbye. She remembered hiding their father's Star of David pendant in the staircase of her uncle's mountain chalet.
Alice ran her eyes over Rupert's face. She still saw hints of that little boy in him. "I'm so glad you made it out," she said. "I had no way of knowing, but…" she leaned forward. "Tell me everything."
Rupert was the last living member of his family that had escaped from Europe. He told Alice that they had travelled on foot all the way to neutral Turkey, where they lived until the end of the war. His mother died of a fever in 1944, but he, his father, and his sister survived the war and lived in Turkey (once receiving a visit from Jilí to tell them to keep quiet about Alice) until they moved to the United States in the 1960s. But not before they returned to that cabin in the Austrian mountains.
"Fourth step up, creaky board," Rupert said with a glint in his eye. He reached into his shirt and pulled out an old, well-polished metal Star of David. Alice's heart skipped a beat. "My father wore this every day until he died in 1992. He brought it to your posthumous Righteous Among the Nations award ceremony and spoke about what you did for us. When I die, I will pass this on to my sister's children. This necklace is a reminder for our family that no matter how dark the world may seem, there are always saviours."
Alice lurched forward and pulled Rupert in for a hug.
One quiet weekday, Steve and Alice took a walk to Brooklyn Bridge Park. They knew they wouldn't have long before they were spotted, so Steve made a beeline for a shady grove of trees. Alice followed him, frowning, until she saw the bronze statue waiting for her there.
She stopped in her tracks.
Alice Moser, who sang so beautifully that they never heard her chipping away at the foundation beneath their feet.
The statue was absolutely laden with flowers, drawings, and cards with well-wishes. A plastic replica of Steve's shield had been propped against the base of the statue.
Alice and Steve stood before the statue for a long time, looking up at it.
"I drew this once," Steve said, his voice heavy with emotion.
Alice glanced over at him. "The statue?"
"Yeah. The statue… with you and me standing in front of it. I'll show you when we get home."
Alice took in a shaky breath, glancing back at the statue. Her own face, etched in bronze and quirked in a half smile, looked back at her. Alice reached out to take Steve's hand.
The weeks turned into months.
One of the wonderful things about arriving in the twenty first century with endless free time was learning. Before, Alice had always been limited by circumstance: her family hadn't had enough money to send her to good schools or even a college in New York, and in Vienna her uncle had only been willing to pay for her music degree if she paid him back by performing for him. And Alice did love music, but she hadn't always been sure that was the only path she'd choose for herself.
So with the endless help of the internet she threw herself into anything that took her fancy: mathematics, science, history, and the wonderful new world of computing. She found that the logic of computer coding made sense to her, like an extension of the codes and ciphers she had learned by hand as a child. She learned the language of computers, discovering new ways to talk to them. Algorithms and analytics delighted her mind.
Steve fostered her interest, smiling as he told her that it reminded him of when they were kids, and she always had some hare-brained research scheme or project. And he connected her with people willing to help her learn.
Tony Stark became one of her biggest sources of education; he sent her programming problems and new algorithms, and readily talked her through concepts when they occasionally met in person for meals or coffee (he and Steve liked to catch up regularly). She supposed she ought to feel a little embarrassed that she was learning at the same level as Tony's five year old daughter Morgan, but the girl was most likely a genius herself, and would no doubt outstrip Alice one day.
Alice began picking up college prospectuses.
Alice was used to being a public figure, but fame in Nazi Germany in the 1940s looked a lot different to fame in the twenty-first century, especially when one's life was bound up with war and infamy and aliens and being married to an ex-Avenger. She got to know her own legacy, and learned to handle it with responsibility and tact. She chose, for the most part, to do as Steve had done: to let her actions speak for themselves.
That didn't stop the worldwide interest, or the hundreds of job offers that poured in. She was, technically, unemployed, but none of them quite appealed to her. Production companies offered her million-dollar deals for records, newspapers offered her political comment columns, TV shows proposed that she become a morning television host, others wanted her as a product advertiser, an influencer, even a politician.
She did respond to historians where she could, offering more interviews and answers than Steve had in his time, and occasionally she received job offers that… she certainly considered.
"Hey Steve," she said one day as she sat with her new laptop, "I just got an email from Disney."
"Disney. The company."
"Uh. What do they want?"
"They're offering me a job, from the looks of things. As a princess."
Other job opportunities, Alice sought out herself.
While enjoying her time with Steve and learning everything she could, Alice put some serious thought into her future. She knew she would never be a spy again: her face was too recognizable. She wasn't quite ready to step back into singing, either. Her past as a singer was still too painful for her, however much the public wanted her to grace the stages in a long white dress again.
So she thought about what she could offer the world. Steve was fashioning himself as a kind of advocate and activist of sorts, which was a role she felt she could readily fall into beside him. But… Alice felt she had more to offer. She knew her skills and shortcomings well: she was a quick thinker and problem-solver, good with information and systems. And there was one budding organisation that was in sore need of those skills.
Alice didn't tell anyone when she applied for the Avengers Junior Agent Intake Program. Not even Steve. She assumed an alias with F.R.I.D.A.Y.'s help (she and F.R.I.D.A.Y. got along quite well), submitted a slightly sanitised CV and completed the rigorous online testing program. The initial stages were designed to see if one were even eligible to apply, and later stages put junior agents into streams of specialisation: Field Agent, Scientific Staff, Administrative Support, and Analysts.
When Alice got confirmation that her assumed alias had been accepted to the Initial Training Program, she showed up to the Avengers HQ in Midtown for her first day.
Natasha herself walked into the room full of half a dozen nervous recruits and swept an eye over them all. Her gaze lingered on Alice for half a second before she moved on. If she was surprised, she didn't let it show on her face.
"Hello everyone," Natasha said evenly. "Welcome to the Avengers."
Four weeks of intense testing, interviews, and training followed. It reminded Alice of her training under Peggy, though at least this time she had fellow trainees she could commiserate with.
Alice tested highly in mathematics, logic, problem solving, intelligence, analysis, and covert operations. Her physical fitness was a little behind the others, since she'd spent a few years indulging in wine and fineries in Nazi Germany and then the past months enjoying food, rest, and culture with Steve. She tried not to get her hopes up, but it was gratifying to know that even eighty years after her 'prime', her skills and smarts were still worth something.
At the end of the program Natasha handed Alice a letter. It had her real name at the top. And under that:
Career Stream: Analyst
"The streams are flexible," Natasha told her with a glint in her eye. "If you want to work towards another stream, we can be open to that. And senior Analysts occasionally go into the field anyway. We can offer you any and all training you're willing to accept. And if you never want to see action again, that's completely fine too."
"Thank you," Alice said, a little breathless, before she looked back up with a sharp expression in her eye. "This isn't because of…"
"You've earned your place here," Natasha cut her off. "I don't care what your name is. And I'm not doing this as a favor. I'm trying to build something here that will last." Natasha's expression shifted into something hard, yet hopeful. "And organisations that last are founded with people like you, Alice. I need you."
Alice held out her hand. After a moment, Natasha took it.
"Thank you, Agent Romanoff," Alice breathed.
"That's Director Romanoff to you," Natasha smirked. "Welcome aboard, Agent Moser."
Steve didn't seem surprised when Alice told him about the job.
"I've gotten pretty good at noticing the signs of you going off to receive secret spy training," he said with a wry smile. "I tried to get Natasha to tell me, but she acted like nothing was up."
"I am sorry for the secrecy," Alice told him again. "I don't want to lie to you anymore, I just-"
"You wanted to know if you could do it," he finished for her with a smile. "I get it."
She launched forward and wrapped her arms around him. "That was my last secret. Next time I'll tell you about my secret spy training."
He pressed his lips against her hair. "Congratulations, Alice. I couldn't think of anyone more suited for the job."
When she told the Avengers they were genuinely pleased for her, if a little shocked. It seemed a lot of them had forgotten that she'd had more roles in the war other than just singing.
"I've got a brain, too," she protested to Sam, when they caught up for milkshakes in Midtown.
"Oh I know," he reassured her. "And it's terrifying."
When Alice picked up her new Avengers employee badge, she felt new futures opening up before her. She didn't know where she'd end up, but this new world acknowledged her for all her skills. And there was no one telling her that she couldn't reach out and become whatever she wanted.
After months of purposefully keeping her distance, Alice finally reached out to the other skalds of Bragi. Some lived galaxies away, others on other continents. Alice set up an email chain. It was strange, at first - most now knew enough of their equivalent modern language to communicate via email and google translate, but the experience of exchanging emails with musicians born hundreds of years before her and decades after her was bizarre. They started off with pleasantries, then polite enquiries after their different situations.
Some remained in Wakanda, enjoying the slightly more sheltered life there, with modern amenities and food. The others were stretched around the globe. Two of them, the Norse skald and the 70s country musician, had plans to get married next year. The Russian composer who'd been lost at sea complained about the excess of great-great grandchildren fussing over him, but seemed to love the ease of readily-available online music and was learning how to mix sound on a computer. Romans and Wakandans and Mongolians and Persian and Incans, they each had their own small hopes for the future, and things about the new world that both frightened and excited them. And even though they had to rely on online translations for most of their emails, Alice began to feel, like she had with her computer programming, as if they spoke the same language.
Each of them shared memories of strange instances throughout their life (which they now realized were symptoms of Bragi's attention), and discussed the trauma of being snatched out of their time. Some of them had vague recollections of Bragi's tree (usually those who had been there longest), but very little memory remained. Some of them were too afraid to sing, or make music again.
Finally, plans aligned enough for Alice to visit one of the skalds (a Sioux singer and drummer who had been plucked from the 1500s) in his home, along with half a dozen others. A few drinks in, someone got out a violin and began to play. They played with the notes, exploring, and after a minute Alice began to sing. She joined in with a melody she'd invented, followed, one by one, by the others in the room. Alice met the eyes of the 1800s French opera soprano sitting beside her and they both grinned.
They sang a song that had never been heard before, spun from their own imagination. Deep, vibrating voices entwined with higher ones and the cry of the violin and the beating of the Sioux drums. And there were no golden flashes, no sense of being watched.
But it felt entirely like magic.
One year and one day after Alice dropped to the ground in the middle of Times Square, she found herself sitting in a Manhattan bar with Steve, Bucky, Sam, Natasha, Tony, Pepper, and Morgan.
The bar was what they called a speakeasy these days, which was more of a style than anything to do with Prohibition: low lights, intimate booths with candles glowing on the tabletops, and a bar glittering with dozens of bottles. This bar also happened to be kid friendly. There was a stage at the far end of the room, with an open area around it for people to mingle and dance. The low buzz of conversation and the musky, heady scent of perfume and spilled alcohol reminded Alice of the speakeasy Bucky had snuck her and Steve into once upon a time. Though this place was unmistakably modern: the stage was set up with modern sound and light equipment, and groups of people took photos on their phones.
Alice and the others took up two booths, elbows pressing against each other and the air loud with their laughter. Sam, Tony, and Bucky were in the middle of a loud, obnoxious conversation about whose uniform looked coolest (even though Tony was retired), Pepper and Nat were up at the bar ordering cocktails, and Morgan was looking at pictures of Alice and Steve's dog on Steve's phone.
They had adopted the mutt from a shelter in Brooklyn a couple of months ago, purely because they'd been walking past and made the split-second decision to go in. The shelter had named the long, wriggly young dog Noodle for his propensity to somehow slip through impossibly small spaces, and when they had adopted him Alice and Steve had given him the honorific of 'Colonel', so he outranked Steve.
Most of their friends could not believe that they'd adopted a dog named Colonel Noodle, loudest among them Tony, though Alice thought he really had no right to criticize naming traditions when he'd named his first robot Dum-E. Everyone loved Noodle though, and he was an affectionate dog who was perfectly happy to go on break-neck sprints with Steve in the early hours of dawn or curl up with Alice and Steve on the couch to watch movies.
"Who's looking after Noodle?" Morgan asked Steve worriedly.
"Don't worry, he's in good hands," Steve replied to the six year old. "He's with Peter, at Peter's aunt's house."
Alice and Steve, after noticing that Spider-Man had been extending his reach to Brooklyn, had offered each of their houses as a place for him to crash or seek help whenever he needed it. Peter had stopped by a few times, once for some quick first-aid and other times just simply because he needed someone to talk to, and that had led to him and Colonel Noodle forming a fast bond.
Nat and Pepper walked back from the bar, weaving through the increasingly-crowded speakeasy, and Alice smiled as they approached.
She and Steve had been looking at real estate listings all day, since they had plans to officially move in together in a larger house later in the year. There'd be more room for Noodle to get himself into trouble, and enough space to maybe, some day, start a family. They had only talked a little about it, and they were both still quite busy with their various jobs, projects, and learning about the future, but Alice knew it was something they both wanted. The prospect was, frankly, one of the most terrifying and exciting things Alice had ever contemplated.
Morgan scrunched up her nose and laughed at something Steve said to her, and Alice smiled as she watched them.
Natasha and Pepper slid into their booth, and Steve leaned over.
"So, how're the Avengers going?" he asked Natasha, effectively breaking up the competition about uniforms happening in the corner.
Natasha sipped her violently pink cocktail. "You should know, since you have a woman on the inside," she said with an arched brow.
Steve smiled. "Alice takes operational security very seriously."
Nat glanced at Alice, who just smiled placidly. "If you say so. But yes, things are going well. We're really getting operations off the ground. A few new recruits, some of them enhanced, and we've got a few high-profile organisational ties set up which should make operations a bit smoother. Alice actually helped to secure the Austrian and German votes for us to form an alliance with NATO."
Sam raised his eyebrows at Alice. "That was you?"
"Apparently as a former double agent working against Germany, my political opinion now carries a lot of weight," Alice said evenly.
"It must be hard to tell you no," Pepper laughed.
Natasha tipped her chin at Steve. "And how are things going in retirement? Have you joined any bingo clubs yet?"
"No," Steve defended himself. Alice sipped her drink and decided not to mention the fact that they'd been going to an old folks social meetup at the community centre on the weekends, where bingo was a very popular activity. "Actually, I've been pretty busy."
Steve began telling them about the various nonprofits and organizations he was involved with, which did indeed take up a lot of his time since he'd committed himself to so many causes. Last weekend he had spoken at an event for a veterans nonprofit, and next month he'd been invited to the UK to speak as an advocate at a human trafficking conference.
Alice had gone with him to a few of these events either as a fellow advocate or as his date, and she had seen him speak. She had to admit he was scarily good at it. He showed up, charmed them all with the smiles and the old-fashioned talk, before switching tacks to speak calmly, clearly and empathetically about the issue until his audience couldn't not sign up or donate or advocate or whatever else he asked them to do. He'd been wasted all these years giving battle speeches. Alice kept telling him he should run a toastmasters club.
"And have you two actually decided where you want to have your party next year?" Bucky asked when Steve took a breath. Bucky had done something to his hair, so it was artfully spiky and messy. Alice smiled as she imagined him googling how to do his hair in the future.
"It's not a party," Steve protested. "It's a…" he searched for the words. "A ceremony where we exchange vows and then celebrate with our friends and family."
"So, a wedding," Sam summarised.
"Well we're already married."
"So it's not a wedding," Bucky added.
Steve scowled, and Alice laughed and leaned over to help him out. "It's an unlabeled event where you're required to dress up nicely, and in return we'll be providing an open bar. How about that?"
"I'm in," Tony said, bouncing a laughing Morgan on his knee.
"And no," Alice said, "we haven't decided where to do it yet. We thought about Europe somewhere, or maybe Wakanda, but since we'd like all of you lot there plus my extended family and Jilí, travel might be a little difficult."
"You could do it on another planet," Nat suggested. "Thor likes you."
Steve waved a hand. "Our last wedding was questionably legal, so we want to make sure we dot all the i's this time. So we won't be out to set any inter-planetary records."
"Get married at my house!" Morgan piped up, frizzy haired and bright eyed.
Steve and Alice smiled at her enthusiasm. But then Alice glanced over at Pepper to see her with a considering look on her face. Pepper met Tony's eyes for a moment, then looked up.
"Actually, that's not a bad idea," she said, looking from Steve to Alice. "If you wanted, we would be very happy to host an… unlabelled event." She smiled. "There's plenty of space, a nice lake view, and I know plenty of caterers and event planners from the old days. Some of them still like us even after all the stunts Tony pulled at SI events."
"What did daddy do?" Morgan asked, but Tony distracted her with a bag of snacks he'd produced from his jacket.
Alice's eyebrows lifted and she looked across at Steve. His eyebrows were raised too, but he seemed thoughtful.
"You're sure?" Steve asked.
"No, we routinely make offers we don't intend to honor," Tony said with a roll of his eyes as he helped Morgan open her snacks.
Alice and Steve met each other's eyes. A moment later, they smiled.
"Well, thank you," Alice said. "We'll… let you know."
"Need me to put you in contact with a wedding dress boutique?" Pepper added.
"Oh, I'm… actually making my own dress," Alice replied. The others all looked over in surprise, and she went pink. "It's a steep learning curve, but I used to help out a lot back at the old tailor shop, and… I don't know, using the skills my stepfather taught me feels like a nice way to… have my parents with me."
Steve's warm hand landed on hers on the table, and she entwined her fingers with his.
"That's lovely," Pepper said softly.
"Well the dress might be terrible, but oh well. It'll be better than my last wedding outfit."
Sam frowned. "What-"
"I was dressed like a boy, and Steve was in uniform. We were both absolutely filthy, too."
"So kind of a low bar," Tony commented.
Alice smiled, and a few moments later they went back to discussing all their various projects and events. The speakeasy grew slowly more and more crowded - apparently word had gotten out about tonight's program. The room was warm, filled with sounds of clinking glasses and the lilts and rumbles of dozens of conversations.
Finally, as Alice doubled over laughing at Bucky's imitation of Sam arguing with a bank robber on their last mission, Steve's hand landed on Alice's shoulder.
"Hey, I think you're up."
She glanced over her shoulder to see the sound guy waving at her from the stage.
Alice took in a sharp breath and glanced back around to see Steve eyeing her. "Promise me you'll mercy kill me if it's terrible."
"Absolutely not," he said fondly. He kissed her cheek. "You'll be great. Picture them all in their underwear."
Alice wrinkled her nose at the thought, but his words had taken the edge off her panic. "Love you," she murmured.
"Love you," Steve whispered back.
Alice slipped out of her seat, flashed them all a nervous smile ("Good luck!" they called), and then pushed through the crowd to the stage. People began to part before her, melting away and turning to watch her pass. She sensed eyes on her. She measured her pace, not wanting to rush herself, and it all felt… slow. Dreamlike. The closer she got to the stage, the quieter the room became, like a rushing river slowly trickling to a stop.
Alice rose up the stairs to the stage, nodding to the sound guy who'd beckoned her, and the hem of her green dress brushed the wooden steps.
She had dressed up for the evening, but had purposefully not worn white. She wasn't opposed to wearing something like her old performance dress again, but… these things took time. Sure, the dress had been Otto's idea in the first place, but he'd chosen it as a lure and an icon for the Nazis - the pure white, otherworldly Siren.
You get to the top by giving them exactly what they've always wanted, but have been too afraid to ask for.
That dress had been drenched in Otto's blood, had seen her through her heart-rending escape from the Gestapo and had flown with her as she plummeted off the roof and into another world. It was too much.
So tonight she had chosen a more modern dress: high cut, sleeveless, the skirt short at the front and long at the back in an asymmetrical style that made her feel like she was wearing a train. The dark green cloth with its fine lace overlay made her pinned-up hair look almost white.
And this was her choice. Not a dress designed for a tactical purpose, just one that had caught her eye and made her feel nice. An important choice, especially for what she was about to do.
Finally Alice set foot on the stage. There had only been four steps, but it seemed to take a hundred years for her to climb them. In many ways, it had.
Alice's shoes seemed deafening as she walked over to the microphone stand. She touched it as if to reassure herself with the feel of cool metal that it was really there, and then looked up.
The speakeasy seemed a lot more packed from up here. Dozens of expectant faces looked back at her, and she noticed more than one phone pointed her way. Her gaze darted over to the Avengers' booths, where Steve gazed steadily back at her and the others smiled encouragingly. Morgan had climbed up onto the back of the booth to get a better view.
Alice glanced over to the band, who'd set up on the other side of the stage, and nodded her hello. She'd met them earlier.
When she looked back out at her audience, she drew in a breath. "Hello everyone," she said, almost flinching at the sound of her voice magnified out across the bar's speakers. There was a general murmur of hello back. "This is my first time back performing in public, so please forgive me if I'm a little rusty."
That was met by a few low chuckles.
Alice smiled, twisted her fingers into her skirt behind her back to work off some of her nervous energy, then took another breath. "I thought for a long time about what my first song tonight should be. There are so many close to my heart: songs I've written for the people I love, others I learned from my family, even ones I used to lead with when I was on tour in Europe." She frowned. "When I was touring as a Nazi."
The room went very quiet. Stillness radiated across her audience and up to Alice.
She swallowed. "The song I've chosen is… much bigger than me. It's a song that was so loved that it was popular on both sides of the war, loved by Germans, Americans, British, French, Russians, and so many more. And also, occasionally, sung by me. It's a song about love. Not a grand, sweeping, dramatic love, but a tender, quiet one. It's based on a poem about a soldier hoping to be with his love again. It is, at its heart, a song about hope. It's no surprise it came to be sung and loved by so many."
She saw softness in the faces looking back at her.
"I used this song against the Nazis," she told them, lifting her chin. "Thanks to my blabber-mouthed husband" - laughter broke out again - "many of you will know how I used to put codes in the lyrics when I performed."
Alice drew in another shaky breath, then shifted her feet. That was all she'd really planned to say. But… she felt she had more honesty to give. And maybe it was too much for a single performance at a speakeasy, maybe these people just wanted to hear her sing, and enjoy themselves. But she suddenly knew that she would not be able to sing a note if she did not say this.
"There was a time when the very thought of performing made me feel ill." She saw Steve's brows draw together. "When the only German words I heard were filled with hate, and violence." She rolled her shoulders back. "But I met Germans and Austrians who stood against fascism, who protected those who couldn't protect themselves and who valued life, and kindness. Many of those people were killed for their kindness. This song is for all those people, because they deserved to know that their homeland was not lost to hatred. They deserved to know that I loved them." She held her gaze for a moment or two, then glanced over the band again, and with the briefest of nods the pianist struck up a melody.
Alice closed her eyes, drew in a breath and began to sing.
She had sung plenty of times since she'd arrived back in the future. But never in front of more than five people. Never like this, with the bright lights on her and dozens of eyes watching. She'd forgotten the way a room held its breath in those moments before she opened her mouth, and the way it seemed to sigh when she sang her first few notes.
She sang the first verse of Lili Marlene in German. She switched to English and repeated the first verse, then changed back into German again. She'd never sung like this before and it felt right, like the song had been made whole.
She had been afraid that everything would be different without Bragi's watchful presence. Ever since her first public performance at that Brooklyn church as a child he had been watching, listening, there for every performance and note.
But as she built the song with her words and her voice she saw her audience melt for her. None of them moved, or spoke. She saw how she had lured them in with her voice and lulled them, using the song to soften their hurts, nurture their hope, and promise them a future. By the second verse, at least one person was weeping.
She had practiced for tonight but it had been so long since she'd formally trained. She picked up on a few imperfections and flaws in her performance, but she did not let them shake her confidence. Because this was the easiest thing in the world: not quite like having a conversation, not quite like weeping or loving or grieving. Music was something entirely else, and it came from a deep-down part of herself that she should have known she didn't have to fear.
Alice didn't dare look back up at the Avengers until she reached the final few lines: first in German, then in English.
"Wenn sich die spaeten Nebel drehn, Werd' ich bei der Latern steh'n."
"When the late mists swirl, I'll be standing there by the lamplight."
Her eyes fell on her friends. Pepper and Sam were both crying. Tony listened with his chin propped on his fist and an uncharacteristically solemn look on his face, as Morgan rested her head on his shoulder. Natasha's expression had not changed save for maybe a glimmer of depth in her eyes. Bucky sat motionless, his eyes closed, and she knew that he was thinking of another time, listening to her voice on the radio.
"Wie einst, Lili Marlene, wie einst, Lili Marlene."
"As before, Lili Marlene, as before, Lili Marlene."
Steve did not look as if he had breathed for the whole song. He stared back at Alice, his eyes shining, and when the last utterance of Lili Marlene's name rolled off her lips he broke into a brilliant smile. The sight of it knocked the breath out of her chest, and she felt glad that she had waited until she'd finished singing to look at him.
And then the room erupted into applause.
Alice sagged slightly, letting their cheers wash over her and buoy her up for a moment. She took in a shaky breath, smiling, and closed her eyes for a moment to stop herself from bursting into tears. She felt, for a moment, the weight of all the people she'd left behind. Then she opened her eyes and saw the people she had found.
So she looked over to the band, grinning, and with another nod they launched back into song.
Alice performed for close to two hours.
She sang victory songs, songs she'd written both before and during the war, songs for Steve, songs Matthias had taught her, songs her mother had listened to on the radio, songs Tom had loved and that Bucky had danced to. She even performed a short operetta piece. She sang her favorite songs from this new world she'd been dropped into, which seemed to delight her audience to no end. After the gravity of her first song the tone lightened, and soon enough more than half of the people in the speakeasy had stood up out of their booths and flooded into the dance area.
Bucky was there, showing off his dance moves and charming the room, and Sam attempted to one-up him, each of them laughing riotously. Morgan stood on Tony's shoes as he danced her around in a circle near their booth, and Pepper and Natasha watched with a smile.
As Alice reached the final song of her set, feeling delightfully worn out, she wrapped one hand around the microphone stand and smiled down at her audience.
"Say it's only a paper moon, sailing over a cardboard sea." The band had requested to speed up the tempo, making the song a little more upbeat, and Alice felt the warm burn of satisfaction in her gut at the feeling. She didn't have to stand still and graceful like she was used to, so she allowed herself to move to the bouncy piano rhythm. "But it wouldn't be make believe, if you believed in me."
She glanced down. Steve stood at the bottom of the stage, smiling up at her, and she just knew that as soon as she had taken her final bow she would dance her way down the stage steps and into his arms.
Alice basked in the joy she felt exuding throughout the room, and realized that this was something she was finally, finally allowed to enjoy. She had a room full of people dancing and smiling at each other to the sound of her voice, and the music she'd made. And she'd done it for them. She saw her friends dotted throughout the room, enjoying themselves: friends who had become a part of her life. A part of her future.
She saw thousands of potential futures before her, all subject to her own choice. No war, no secrecy, no fear.
And her husband waiting just a few feet away, with a smile on his face.
As the song built to those final few timeless moments before silence rolled back in Alice thought, strangely, of a moment from her childhood: she had been practicing her 'siren song' after school, curious about their lesson on the Odyssey. As she'd experimented with wordless, rolling melodies she had contemplated the promise of knowledge the sirens offered, and wondered if the sailors fell in love with the singer, or the song. Steve had found her, startling her, and she had asked him if she had entranced him with her song.
As Alice's last note faded away she thought that Steve might be the only man in the world immune to her song. Because even though every eye was on Alice as the spell broke and the thundering swell of applause washed over her, Steve just looked back at her, meeting her eyes, and she knew that he'd be hers in a world without sound or song.
This story was sparked out of my love for history, female spies, and old-timey music, and became so much more. It's been a long, beautiful journey and I've loved sharing Alice's story with you all. It's been such a pleasure taking you on this twisty, angsty tale of spies and songs and superheroes, and as you can see I'm an absolute sucker for a happy ending. Thank you for reading, I can't express enough how wonderful it is having readers like you. Thank you for your reviews and excitement, for your questions and theories, and a special shoutout to Sadie Kane, my Reader in Chief and dear friend.
Don't forget there's a moodboard (check out emmagnetised on Pinterest) and playlist (same username on YouTube) for this story.
As some of you know, my next project is going to be my Wyvern AU - I'm really looking forward to it and I think you'll all enjoy it. (As a brief synopsis, it's going to be a 'what if Maggie was never kidnapped by the Winter Soldier' story). So follow my author profile and hang tight!
Finally, if you take anything away from The Siren, let it be these two things:
1 - History is important. History is the stories we tell about ourselves and about people long-distant in the past (who might be more similar to ourselves than we realise), and how we tell those stories says a lot about us, as well as them. History is also not as static as we might imagine. New voices and new stories can be found even hundreds of years after the fact. Don't bother with dates and names and all that - focus on the stories.
2 - It is important to do what you can to stand against those who try to oppress, dehumanise, and divide. It's scary. But even though you might not be able to strap on a Vibranium shield, or use your singing skills to infiltrate a corrupt government, you can do something.
Love you guys x
Guest: No fear, I didn't forget about the ring, as you can see! I hope you enjoyed the 'proposal' :) Thank you for reading this story x
BuckyBarnesAss: Excited? Sad? I was both when it came to posting this chapter, writing Alice has been such a joy and I'm going to miss her a lot. Hopefully you enjoyed this 'ending' for Alice, she's not grown old yet but she's in the best place for her future. Thanks for reading this story, and good luck with your online classes :)
Wolf: Hope you had a wonderful few days my dear! Thank you for all your lovely reviews, it's been a pleasure sharing this story with you. Thank you :)
GuestPrime (from chapter 60/51): Definitely a transition chapter, with mostly dramatic conversations. It's fun showing Alice reacting to the future though! Glad you liked it :)
(from chapter 61/52): I'm glad you liked the reunions/meetings! The Avengers are definitely a lot to deal with, but like Steve said they already love Alice. And I felt that Sharon was kind of a lingering moment in Steve's past and I wanted to address it. Also - actress I would choose to play Alice: I've pictured both Emilie de Ravin, and Sarah Gadon. Thank you for reading this fic and always leaving such lovely reviews, I have loved discussing the story with you! Thank you x