The team of Avengers are sprawled out across the living room. Bruce is snoozing in his chair, Tasha is admiring the tree, Clint is humming happily and Tony is snuggled on the sofa with Pepper, in a hushed conversation that just thrums with intimacy and love. Steve sighs contentedly, but is snapped back to the task at hand when Thor grunts agitatedly.
"How long do these chestnuts take to roast?" the god demands, impatient. The two are kneeling on the hearth, with Thor shaking the contents of the pan over the flames in a quest to make them heat faster.
"I think they're ready," Steve says, taking the pan handle from Thor and removing the lid with a cloth. Thor licks his lips and goes to take one. Steve smacks his hand. "No! Too hot for eating now. Let them cool down!"
"I am far more durable than you believe, my friend." Thor crosses his arms. "But if you must make me wait longer." Suddenly, Thor's head snaps up. Steve watches his concentrated expression, which hardens with every passing second.
"…Thor? Everything okay?" Clint asks.
The Avengers are alert.
Thor cocks his head to the side. "…Spare me five minutes," he says, and climbs to his feet, exiting onto the balcony.
By the time Thor returns inside, the team is assembled in their gear, ready for action. Thor opens his arms widely, grinning from ear to ear.
"My friends, put down your weapons. Today is a day for celebration, not battle! Marvellous tidings, I bring!" Thor stops in the centre of the space between the door and his teammates.
"Care to elaborate?" Tony presses.
"Ah, jubious, marvellous tidings!" Thor sing-songs. "My brother has reformed, and wishes to sincerely apologise for his despicable past actions in return for your forgiveness."
"Your brother wants to say sorry," Bruce roars, tears filling his eyes. The rest are responding similarly, but Steve is the only one who remains steadfast.
"Are you sure, Thor? Are you sure he's not just…what's the word you use…jesting?"
Thor shakes his mighty head. "Nay! I have never seen my brother so genuine."
"Jesus Christ, he's the God of Mischief and Lies. If he doesn't look genuine then that's a pretty poor show on his part." Tasha's hands are quivering over her guns.
"Don't take the Lord's name in vain," mumbles Steve.
Thor looks annoyed. "No, Lady Natasha, this is truth. I know my brother better than any in the entirety of the nine realms. He truly wishes to repent for what he has done. Will you not give him a chance?"
The team exchange glances.
"…Call Fury. Tell him we have a…situation."
"And I really am very, very sorry for blowing up that building in Manhattan."
Loki is seated at the board table, hands bound, completely vulnerable. Of his own accord, Tony reminds himself. What the hell.
"Did you fall on your head or somethin'?" Fury questions, hands clasped behind his back and pacing furiously. Loki shakes his head. "Did a spell of yours backfire?" Again, Loki shakes his head. "I'm sorry," Fury hisses, stopping his pacing, "am I missing something here?"
"Only that this Midgardian Christmas has revealed things to me that I have been, for so long, blanketing with frightful bitterness and rage. I am a changed man. I come in peace, my only wishes being your undeserved forgiveness and…and…"
"Say it, brother," Thor urges eagerly.
"I do so very much hope that you will allow me to take part in your Christmas festival tomorrow."
The room buzzes with low voices and laughter, but Fury's face stays stony.
"How can we be sure that you ain't lyin'?"
"Because of these," Loki says, and Thor produces two thick gold bracelets. "They are of Asgard. I requested that Thor retrieve them. They repress my magic and Asgardian strength. They, you could say, make me mortal when I wear them."
Fury locks eyes with Thor. "This true?"
"No falsity has been uttered," Thor confirms.
"Well then…I…I don't really know what to say?" Fury rubs his temples.
"Allow him to feast with us!" Thor cries. "See the good man my brother once was, and is once again. My, it is most magnificent to have you back, dear friend." Loki smiles up at Thor, and it's at that moment that Fury realises that Loki really has changed. That smile couldn't be anything other than real.
"Fine. Loki can spend Christmas Day with us. But one fuck up. One tiny little fuck up and I will discard all the rounds in my gun into his skull – into your skull – do you understand?" Loki nods quickly, biting his lip, looking as though he really doesn't know what he's let himself in for.
Clint blinks. Someone is shaking him. Instinctively, he whips the knife from under his pillow and grabs the collar of the assailant, pressing the knife to his gullet.
"Barton! At ease!"
Clint blinks more. Steve gulps over the knife edge.
"Oh crap, sorry." Clint removes the knife, and Steve strokes at the red line on his neck. "Whassup?"
Steve nods. "Mmmhmm." He smiles.
"…Has…has he been?" Clint's voice is nothing short of a squeak.
"You'll have to come see for yourself," Steve winks, dragging the archer out of bed and letting him slip into a bath robe before running beside him towards the living room.
When they walk through the doors, everyone is already in there, and Clint is met by a loud "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" and Tony drapes tinsel over his shoulders, singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Clint beams and spots the mountain of presents under the tree, gawping at the amount.
"It's like having a child," Tasha says, rolling her eyes but unable to keep from looking highly amused. "Look at him, oh, sweet thing."
Clint is surrounding himself with gifts marked with his name, and he twists his head so he can ask, "Can I open them?" to which everyone simultaneously says, "YES!" and watches as the man-come-boy tears into the wrapping.
Tony immediately regrets buying Clint the remote control helicopter. The archer has been chasing people around with it all day and it's gotten to the point where Tony casually mentions to Bruce that after taking Clint and his fucking toy to a remote place, it may be a good time to get angry. Bruce just chuckles and ducks his head as the helicopter swoops low across the living room.
"Let him have his fun."
Loki has assumed a position against the wall, and has been watching the morning's events play out. After seeing Clint's reaction to Santa's visit, he's glad that he changed his mind. It feels good, so good, to be well, good again.
But everyone still seems very wary of him.
Everyone but Thor.
"Brother! Come! There is much need for your culinary skills in the kitchen!"
"What, Thor, I-"
"NO, STEVE! DON'T – NO THAT'LL RUIN THE – WHAT NO!" Tasha's voice rips through the tower. Thor's point is made, and he tugs Loki out of the room. The screaming of Natasha Romanoff has everyone following, and when they reach the kitchen, all hell has broken loose.
Pans are overflowing, there's a burning smell and Natasha, Pepper and Steve are all drenched in sweat.
"Well, seems like you've got this covered," Tony cackles, but squeals when a knife pangs into the wooden doorframe not millimetres from his temple.
"IF YOU CAN DO A FUCKING BETTER JOB, THEN DO IT YOUR FUCKING SELF!" Tasha shrieks, storming up to Tony and yanking the knife out of the wall. "I WILL DRIVE THIS INTO YOUR JUGULAR YOU-"
"Lady Natasha, this is most foul." They all look over at Thor who standing by Natasha's cooking area, licking his fingers.
"Oh snap," Clint gasps.
Tasha roars, throws herself over the counter and circles Thor.
"Foul, you say?" she snarls.
"Quite," Loki agrees, sliding his finger across his tongue with a grin.
"THERE ARE TOO MANY NORSE GODS IN THIS KITCHEN!"
"What exactly is this?" Loki asks, and manages to grip the knife just as it touches his neck. He hisses as the knife cuts into his skin, as being on par with a mortal now, his godly strength is non-existent.
"Put the knife down." Coulson is striding into the kitchen, wearing an apron and wielding a gun. Tasha lowers her weapon, as does Coulson. "Now, let's see the damage you've done." He peers about him. "Okay, I'm going to need someone to do a trip to the larder. I need all the vegetables you can find – enough for us all. I need another turkey because what the hell is this?" He stands up from opening the oven and reveals a piece of coal that resembles…a piece of coal. "There's another that's been cooking for a few hours in the oven in the staff kitchen. Bring that, we'll resume its cooking in here." Coulson turns to Loki. "I heard you're a dab hand in the kitchen?"
Loki recoils slightly. "Well, I've been known to make good-"
"You're with me. And you, Potts, you seemed to actually know what you were doing. The rest of you, you can either stay and obey my every damn word, or you can go play with your toys." Clint pouts when Coulson aims that last part at him. Coulson throws an apron at Loki, who holds it at arm's length, evaluating it. Then Coulson evaluates Loki's Asgardian attire. "Hell, you can't cook in that."
Not much later, Loki is dressed in skinny black jeans and a dark green polo shirt. Loki looks uncomfortable but does not complain, and wraps his apron around himself before beginning to chop carrots. Coulson appears to be quite the chef, and Thor watches the scene with interest and too many questions.
"What is that strange, moulding, rounded thing?"
"That's a potato."
"What an odd thing it is," Thor ponders, rolling one about in his palm.
"I'm sorry, what am I supposed to do with these?" Loki asks, holding up parsnip.
"Just…ugh, come here." Coulson grabs it, agitated, and shows Loki what to do. "See?"
Coulson eyes Loki again.
"This is weird shit. I mean, you're supposed to be evil and now you're chopping parsnips for the Avengers Christmas Dinner."
Loki shrugs. "I had a change of heart."
"You mean it grew three sizes?" Tony is leaning against the doorframe.
The billionaire waves his hand in disregard. "Never mind. How's the cookin', good lookin'?" he purrs into Pepper's ear after he's crossed the room.
"I think…I think we're nearly done with the vegetables. Right, Phil?"
Phil nods. "I think we are! Once they're done we'll leave them for a while in the fridge, then we'll come back later close to when the turkey's done and we'll cook 'em up!" Coulson seems very proud of himself.
"And you, Mr. Multiple Personality, you're doing a fine job grating that cabbage."
Coulson yelps as he realises what Loki is doing. "WHAT THE HELL THAT IS A CABBAGE WHY ARE YOU GRATING IT?"
Loki looks horrified. "Is this not the same vegetable as we have on Asgard, Thor?" He holds it out for his brother to inspect. Thor shakes his head.
"No, the vegetable you are thinking of is far more yellow. This has a greenish tinge. Brother, you have angered our friend." Thor points.
"GRATING CABBAGE! What next? Taking a pestle and mortar to turkey? Please Lord help me."
Coulson is very flustered.
"I did not mean to offend. I am sorry, I will…cut it?"
"YES, CUT THE CABBAGE. CUT IT."
Loki shuffles away and glares as he drives the knife into the cabbage, muttering curses.
"Stark, for the last time, I ain't got time to be chowin' down on Christmas dinner!"
"Sir, our main concern is going to be seated directly opposite you. You'll have your eyes –eye – on him the entire time. What's the harm in relaxing a little?"
Fury glares. "You cannot relax when you are in my position."
Tony whistles. "No wonder you're always so tense. God, man. Just…one afternoon? With your little team of supedy dupers and your – did Coulson ever tell you he was like, a cookery god? – agent buddy and an ex-villain?"
"I was aware of Agent Coulson's skill. He once made me a trifle that was simply-" Fury stops smiling. "…Shut up."
"I said nothing," Tony says honestly, lifting his hands earnestly.
"I can't. I can't just kick back and take an afternoon off."
"Yes. You can. And you will. Otherwise Bruce will drag you to your chair and force turkey down your throat."
"Are you threatening me, Mr. Stark?" The SHIELD director has descended upon Tony and it's fucking terrifying.
"Are you resisting Christmas cheer, Mr. Fury? Because that's really sad. Even Loki's put aside the evil so that he can join in. You gotta see something in that. Plus, there's gonna be cauliflower cheese."
Fury goes to retort, then stops himself. "…Cauliflower cheese?"
Tony nods. "Yeah huh. Cauliflower cheese."
The crowded table is buzzing with chatter and laughter just before Coulson finally unveils the turkey by lifting off its silver lid. The group gasps and applauds – it looks delicious.
"I heard you grated cabbage?" Steve says to Loki, who's at the foot of the table opposite Fury, who's at the head. Loki blushes, and Tony still isn't over the fact that this guy is the same guy who nearly got him killed on more than one occasion.
"I wasn't aware that it wasn't the proper way." Seriously, now there are puppy-eyes? What the fuck has happened to the world?
"Director, will you do the honours?" Coulson asks, handing the carving utensils to Fury. He runs his thumb over the handle, and then chuckles.
"It would be my pleasure."
The meat is dished out, and everyone has laden their plates with the steaming vegetables. Thor's pile is gargantuan, but no one mentions it.
"Jeez, this is the best day ever!" Clint whoops, smacking his lips. "First Santa, then a helicopter, then this spread...damn."
"This Santa fellow, he truly makes people happy, doesn't he?" Loki aims his question at Steve and Tony, who are sitting opposite one another in front of him.
"He sure does," Steve replies.
"Hey, don't tell Barton I told you this, but uh, Santa isn't real," Tony whispers behind his hand to Loki. A leg of turkey whacks him in the side of the head.
Loki starts at this, dropping his at-the-ready knife and fork to the table. The loud noise silences the group, and all eyes are on him.
"What do you mean, he isn't real?"
"He's a fantasy figure who parents say is the one who brings presents when it's actually them. He's a story-book man. Nothing more."
Loki wipes his mouth on a napkin, trying to hide his laughter. How could he have been so stupid? Finally, he can't control it and he guffaws, rocking the table. He laughs at himself, for the first time in…in ever, and it is this realisation that he can be so wrong and not feel bitter about it after that at last puts his battling heart to peace.
"…Care to share the joke?"
"The joke, my friends, is on me," Loki giggles. "Now, we must feast!"
"Uh, can we say grace first?" Steve blinks innocently when he's suddenly the centre of attention. "What? I've never made us do it before. But today is Christmas. And…and I'm older than all of you! Therefore we are saying grace."
"GRACE!" Thor shouts gaily, thrusting his cup into the air.
"You declared that we say grace?"
"No no it's giving thanks for our food," Steve sighs. Everyone is snorting. "Shush, and bow your heads." With a unanimous snigger, the group follows orders. "Dear Lord, we humbly thank you for this food we are about to receive. Amen. Dig in, guys."
"At last!" Bruce delves into his meal, quickly followed by everyone else. Loki watches the scene unfold; the scurried eating, the jests, the joy. He smiles to himself. He's made the right choice. He's done being evil. He's done hating the universe and everything in it. Here, he knows just who he is. There's no one lying to him. The jokes are all genuine. It'll take some time to gain the complete trust of the Avengers, but he's willing to work at it.
"Here, pull a cracker, boss!" Clint waves a cracker under Fury's nose.
"C'mon! It's just a cracker."
Fury grips the end and they yank backwards. Clint slumps when Fury wins, and the director holds a small thimble in his hand.
"Well ain't that useful."
"Put the hat on!" Tony calls.
"The hat! Inside the cracker! Yeah, that's the one. Pop it on then."
"You've gotta be kiddin' me."
"Nope. Put it on."
"Put it on!" the table begins jeering, and eventually Fury gives in and slips the papery hat onto his head.
"Ta da," he grumbles.
"Wait, wait," Tony says, holding a camera and snapping a photo. Fury rips the hat off.
Tony leans closer to Pepper. "This is totally going online."
"Delete that image right now."
"Ummmm I don't think so. This is gold. Gold."
Fury is on his feet. Tony is too.
"Give me the camera," Fury snarls, dangerous.
"Make me." Tony pokes his tongue out, but then regrets it when Fury strides towards him.
"SIT DOWN." Everything stops. Coulson is standing too, but he's glowering more than Fury. "Three of us have just spent hours preparing a lovely meal for us to eat and you are not going to ruin it.Sit your butts back on your chairs and appreciate the effort."
Tony looks at Fury. Fury looks at Tony. They both look at Coulson.
"Sorry Phil," they mutter together. They shuffle back to their seats and sit. Steve is biting his lip to keep from laughing. He's not alone. The entire table busts out into laughter only seconds later, and even Fury's grinning.
Yes, Loki thinks, smiling. He's definitely made the right choice.