Christmas Eve is a bright winter day. Everyone wakes early and Pepper, Jane, Darcy and Coulson all join them for breakfast. Beautifully wrapped presents started appearing under the tree about a week after the tree was put up and now eight gifts sit underneath the glittering lights. By midday, there is food prepared, drinks poured and the partying has started early.
They toast to each other. Jane and Thor toast to love, Steve and Bruce toast to friendship. Loki and Darcy toast to magic, Coulson, Natasha and Pepper toast to Christmas. Tony and Clint toast to being foolish.
The food is spectacular, a combination of everyone's efforts including Tony's, who possesses the unique ability to burn water. Copious amounts of alcohol are consumed and they receive a total of 7 noise complaints before evening even settles. No one except Steve really gives a damn and by Tony's reasoning, "Of all the things to complain about, if they're going to complain about the noise then they shouldn't have chosen to live right next to the Avengers tower."
In Tony's opinion though, the fun only really starts a few minutes before midnight when everyone is full and excited, and the alcohol has flowed like water. Thor and Natasha of all people, had prepared a very strong home-made mead which had a sharp flavour, rich and with a spicy scent. By the time they start the countdown, there's tinsel everywhere and almost everyone is stuffed from the Christmas feast.
Tony synchronises every watch and clock in the tower and the group of superheroes and their friends stand near the tree, champagne glasses in hand and Santa hats cocked on their heads as they countdown to Christmas day.
There is a rousing cheer and glasses clang as 11 bright red and white hats are thrown into the air. Pepper waves a hat of shaken names as she almost topples over on her killer heels. Steve plunges his hand into the hat and shuffles around the slips of paper before drawing one out. Everyone clusters around to see who gets to open their secret Santa gift first.
Tony squints for a second before making out the name Phil printed neatly in Pepper's handwriting. He takes a step back, pursing his lips in an expression he hopes gives nothing away. Steve searches through the pile beneath the tree until he picks up a small box wrapped in delicate silver paper. The original slip of paper is taped to the front, betraying nothing. Coulson raises his eyebrows when Steve presents him with it.
"Me first?" he says and accepts the box. He baffles Tony by unwrapping the gift without tearing the paper at all, a feat never achieved by Tony even on his most sober of days. He opens the box and a small piece of nanotechnology drops into his hand. Coulson doesn't blink twice before turning and pointing to Tony.
"You got me," he says and it's not a question. He's right, of course he's right so Tony just laughs and nods and Natasha just rolls her eyes because the tech is always from Tony.
"Try it on," Tony says, leaning eagerly towards the agent, eyes dancing with excitement at the anticipation seeing a piece of his tech being appreciated the way it should be. Coulson takes a few moments to figure out how to put it on and a minute later, three pulsating strands of glowing blue energy run from his fingertips to his wrist and everyone is clamouring around to see what it does. A smile creeps across Coulson's face and Tony almost jumps into the air.
"That's right, it's a nano-taser. No more traditional bulky tasers, and you can adjust the power of the shock by the flick of your wrist." Tony does a gleeful jig around the tree, misjudging the size of the tree and it takes him half a minute to get back around it. He ducks, but not fast enough and a minor shock makes his hairs stand on end. Coulson laughs.
"HEY!" he says loudly but he is smiling. Steve hands him a large gift wrapped in a plain sheet of recycled paper. Tony is onto it immediately, tearing away strips of paper until a large frame reveals itself underneath the layers of wrapping. He stops when he has destroyed the paper and for a moment, just stares at the painting.
A memory comes to his mind, unbidden, of the Avengers right after a mission when Bruce had taken a picture of them at the tower. Everyone had been there, laughing and smiling at the camera. He had a copy of the photo, by far one of his all time favourites.
The painting is something else completely. Everyone is captured in a brilliant glow, faces alight with joy and laughter. Steve and Tony stand in the middle, arms hooked around each other's shoulders. Tony is looking away from the camera, laughing naturally at something he had found funny. Steve is smiling widely at the camera, a real, warm smile which he saves for only his friends. Thor is also laughing, head thrown back as Mjolnir's strap hangs of his pinky like it weighs no more than an ounce. Natasha stands to the side, lips turned upward in a smile, a truly rare display of mirth. Bruce has been added in next to Natasha, one side of his mouth kicked up in an amused grin, glasses lopsided on his nose. Clint hangs upside down from the rafters on the other side of Steve and Tony, his eyes crinkled as he laughs. It is the family that Tony never had, the family that he now does. It is everything that is important to Tony and everything that matters.
Tony is assaulted by many emotions all at once, the most dominating being overwhelming gratitude and he almost has to blink back tears. There isn't a doubt in his mind who had him as he turns to Steve and hugs him. There is a chorus of chuckles from the rest of the group and Steve hesitates for moment before hugging him back.
"I guess you like it then," he smiles sheepishly.
"You can't imagine," Tony says. "Thank you."
Steve smiles happily. "I guess I'm next then," he says, and turns to the gifts underneath the tree. It takes a while for him to find his gift, a small fist sized present wrapped in a deep green paper. He peels it back cautiously to reveal a crystal snow-globe, something majestic swirling inside it. Everyone feels the tingling sensation when Steve touches the crystal and he draws his hand back instinctively.
"Loki?" he asks tentatively and the Asgardian nods once. "It is enchanted," he says. "The dust inside is Nebulae dust or as the Midgardians would put it, stardust."
Steve's eyes widen as he beholds the magical contents of the globe. "Ask it questions of the heart when you have lost the way. It may hold an answer for you, but remember, the heart is fragile and there are some paths with cannot be shown to you. Those you will have to find on your own."
Steve stares at the swirling dust, entranced by the movement before turning back to Loki. "Thank you, Loki."
Loki nods graciously once. Steve sets the globe down carefully, before he returns to rummaging through the gifts. He turns back empty-handed, a frown on his face. There is a whistle, loud and clear through the air and everyone turns towards the doorway, attentions caught by a snuffling sound. Tony's eyebrows shoot up, Steve blinks in surprise and apart from Natasha, everyone freezes in surprise. A baby greyhound stands at the doorway, liquid brown eyes staring up at each of them in turn. Loki is smitten immediately. His features soften and the crouches down. The greyhound considers him for a minute and then treads her way around ripped and discarded paper. Apparently the greyhound likes Loki just as much as Loki likes her because she is sitting in his lap while he strokes her head within two minutes.
Loki stares at everyone, eyes lingering on Thor before moving on. "Was it... Jane? No, Darcy?"
There is a beat of silence then Darcy grins a wide grin. "You bet-cha behind it was me," she states.
Darcy hops off the table which she is sitting on to go over to collect her gift from Steve. "Thank you," Loki says quietly when he passes him. She grins at him in reply. Her gift is wrapped in bright red paper, a small box about the size of her outstretched hand. She tears off the paper and a box emblazoned with the Apple logo falls into her hands. Darcy frowns after pulling off the lid.
"I don't understand," she says. "This is... this isn't supposed to be released yet." There is a moment of confusion before understanding sparks in her eye. Her jaw drops.
"Is this-? How did-?" Darcy looks around the remaining people, studying them. "Pepper?"
Pepper shakes her head. There is a long pause as Darcy looks befuddled. "Um, Jane?"
Jane smiles at Darcy who hugs her tightly enough that the look of surprise on Jane's face makes everyone laugh. "You are amazing," Darcy says to Jane. "This is why we are friends." Jane laughs.
Jane gets her gift next, a light, flat present wrapped in shiny gold paper. She peels the paper back carefully and takes out a sheet of gold foiled paper, elegant swirls adorning the edges and corners. In the middle, an elegant handwritten script reads:
One trip through the Einstein-Rosen bridge
Jane simply stares for a moment before she throws her arms around Thor. The mighty Asgardian smiles, pats her back as she kisses him on the cheek.
Looking back, Tony would say that this is the point things start to get just a bit more crazy. And to recap, it's all Clint's fault. It always is.
Thor gets a massive present, wrapped in so much red, green and silver paper taped together that it looks like a badly designed patchwork quilt. No one needs to second guess that Clint is at fault when Thor unwraps a brand new and horrifically pink tricycle. Whereas everyone else groans, recognising the impending doom, Thor is extremely enthusiastic. To top it off, there is a equally horrifically pink Rapunzel costume. Thor is so extremely enthusiastic that he changes right in the middle of the room. Everyone is blinded by the sheer pinkness that is Thor.
Steve hastily hands Clint his gift who rips open the red paper to a pink bow and many, many bright pink rubber arrows. To everyone's surprise, Pepper is responsible. Tony groans and buries his face into the couch.
"Damnit Pepper, I wanted to see everyone's gifts," he whines into the couch. Sure enough, Clint goes absolutely crazy with his gift and Tony spends the rest of the secret Santa session frantically trying to dodge bright pink arrows which whiz around the room, catching everyone off guard save for Natasha and Coulson who effortlessly dodge every shot. Tony never does find out what everyone got for Christmas, but he does spent an unhealthy amount of time crouched behind the sofa drinking alcohol.
Only after everyone is sporting embarrassing bruises from Clint's pink arrows does he show mercy, hooking his new-found bow on one of the tree branches. His energy has to go somewhere though, as everyone else soon finds out.
They have just finished drinking another toast when Clint leaps up onto the table, sending glasses and champagne flying, something which he seems to not notice. Hitting his glass with a fork for attention, something rather unnecessary considering the fact that he's the only person in the room on a table, Clint brandishes his glass around, his drink sloshing out onto Thor's head. The pink-garbed Asgardian doesn't seem to notice in his festive state, and if he does, he doesn't say anything.
There is a pause in the room as everyone holds their breath and hopes it's not the apocalypse. And then Clint opens his mouth and starts belting at the top of his lungs.
"I don't want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I need!"
Coulson groans, Tony guffaws, Steve puts his head in his hands, Natasha judges the hell out of Clint and everyone else tries to bite back their collective laughs. Clint gesticulates wildly at Coulson with his arms and drops his champagne on a nearby table.
"I don't care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree!"
Clint swaggers over to Coulson music theatre style. Coulson hits him upside the head. Clint doesn't care.
"I just want you for my own, more than you could ever know!"
Steve almost cries or laughs, he doesn't know which one is better when Tony joins in.
"Make my wish come true!"
Steve hides his eyes as Tony slides across the floor to him.
"All I want for Christmas... is yooooooooooooou!"
Clint receives another whack upside the head from Coulson. Steve hides behind Natasha while Thor's laugh echoes around the room.
Clint drapes his arm around Coulson's shoulders, taking a swig from a bottle of whisky he's snatched off the bench. Steve can't help but smile. Tony laughs.
It's as much of a family as Tony's ever had and more than anything Tony had ever hoped for. It's where he's most comfortable, where he's most happy, where he feels like he truly belongs. And he would fight to the ends of the Earth for them. And Steve. Steve has that twinkle in his eyes, a blush reddening his cheeks from Tony's antics as he laughs. And when he laughs everything is alright, everything is suddenly right with the world.
A bottle comes flying through the air without warning and Tony reacts slowly, arm coming up too late as it hits him in the head.
The first thing Tony notices when he comes to is the throbbing in the side of his head. The moment he opens his eyes, he sees Steve's all-too-worried face blinking in relief. He cocks a crooked smile on his face, "What's up?"
Pepper sighs and only then does Tony notice that everyone is gathered or crouched around him. "Uh, what happened?"
Clint grins somewhat sheepishly. "My fault," he says, raising his hand. "Well, nah," Tony replies, his sarcasm already back online.
"I threw out my arm but I let go of the bottle by accident," Clint looks apologetic. "Man, my shirt is ruined," Tony says regretfully as the whisky all over him registers in his brain.
Thor laughs. It only takes a few minutes before everyone is back to partying. Jane has fallen asleep in Thor's lap, not seeming to mind the ridiculous pink costume the Asgardian sports as he strokes her hair tenderly. Pepper, Darcy, Clint and Bruce sing out-of-tune Christmas carols. Coulson cleans up the table and Loki sits on the balcony, making the snow which has fallen there swirl in dancing loops through the air. The greyhound sits by him, its head nuzzled in his lap, watching the dancing snow settle around them.
There seems to be the addition of a bird, a lovely rainbow finch hopping around the room. Tony's not sure who it belongs to, but the tiny, fluffy creature tries to bite everyone except for Bruce, so Tony assumes it was Bruce's secret Santa gift. In fact, Tony even thinks it's angry. Not to Bruce though, it flaps up and sits on Bruce's shoulder as he sings Frost the Snowman and Bruce gives it a doting look.
Steve sits next to Tony, their backs to the couch and Steve holds an icepack to Tony's head where Clint's bottle hit him. Tony's eyes the fluffy animal. "Where'd that bird come from?" he asks Steve.
Steve chuckles and there's that smile again. The one that makes Tony's heart flutter like a pathetic butterfly, or something. "Natasha got it for Bruce. It was the only one left because it's, well for lack of a better word, angry, and no one wanted to buy a bird that kept biting them. She was pretty certain it'd like Bruce though and well, I guess it took to Bruce the minute he saw it."
"Haha," Tony laughs, and it's actually really funny, because hello? An actual angry bird? Steve looks concerned when he laughs so hard it becomes silent shaking, tears of mirth rolling down his cheeks.
Afterwards, they all join in in a few carols, the words slurred by alcohol. Thor and Jane fall asleep on the couch not long after. Bruce heads off to bed after he slips in a puddle of spilled milk (who drinks milk of all things anyway?) and Clint drags Coulson to his room. Tony doesn't know when he falls asleep, leaning into Steve's shoulder but he's woken by a jolt and disorientated, it takes him longer than it should have to identify his surroundings. The jolt had been Steve pushing open a door with his elbow and it takes another long moment for Tony to realise Steve is carrying him, bridal style.
"Aw honey, you're so sweet, " he mumbles, brain working slowly through the haze. Steve gives him a look before depositing him onto his bed. "Go to sleep, Tony, you're drunk," he says, but not unkindly.
Tony frowns and his vision goes unfocused for a second. He struggles to sit up until Steve grabs his shoulder, supporting him. Steve looks... concerned. "Hey, Steve," Tony grins, touching his friend's cheek with his finger. Steve swallows, a strange expression crossing his face. "I like you, Steve," Tony says, blinking when his vision blurs again.
Steve frowns like he's concentrating deeply on something. "I like you, too, Tony," he says eventually and his voice is quiet, subdued. "More than you can imagine, but you're drunk so please, just... sleep." Tony frowns, his mind processing Steve's words at an infuriatingly slow pace. "I'm not drunk," he says after a long time. The corner of Steve's mouth kicks up. "Sure you are."
"Steve," he says, disagreeing, then, "you have nice hair," and whoa, where did that come from? Because that wasn't what he meant to say at all but come to think of it, he wasn't exactly sure what he was going to say.
Steve sighs, puts his hands on Tony's shoulders. "Tony, look, y-"
He's cut short because Tony has grabbed his collar and crushed his lips. Steve can taste the whisky and- shit. Shit, shit, shit. Tony has kissed him and it takes an agonising moment for Steve to realise he hasn't stopped. "What-" he tries to say but Tony is stronger than he looks and Steve is caught off guard. So he kisses Tony back, but in the end, the taste of alcohol in Tony's mouth stops him. It takes all of Steve's willpower to push Tony away, albeit gently, his hands still on his shoulders. Tony looks hurt, his breathing uneven and Steve feels terrible, an ache crawling through his chest.
"Tony, please," he says, voice pleading. "I'm... in love with you and I'm only telling you this because you won't remember it in the morning, but I can't, I can't do this when you're drunk. You don't- you don't have full control of- please, Tony, just, just go to sleep, I'll stay here until you do." Tony looks confused and hurt at the same time, rejection creeping into his eyes. "I promise," Steve whispers and his voice cracks on the words.
"Steve," Tony says again, quiet and touches his fingers to Steve's cheek tenderly. Steve wills himself not to cry in front of Tony and when he eventually does fall asleep, only then do the silent tears stream down his cheeks unchecked. Steve strokes Tony's hair affectionately and even though Tony is the only thing he's ever wanted, kissing him felt horrible, felt wrong because he knew that if Tony was himself he would have never have wanted Steve. "I'm sorry," he whispers into the darkness, "I'm sorry I fell in love with you."
Love has never brought him anything but heartbreak he thinks bitterly as the light from Tony's arc reactor throws shadows across the room. "In another life, I would be yours, and maybe- maybe, you could be mine too."
He doesn't leave, just pillows his head on his arms as exhaustion claims him, the tears still falling.