I'd like to take a just a moment of you time. First, thank you for being faithful readers. You have really made my day. To those of you who reviewed, you really kept me going. And each and every one of you are AMAZING! When I took this on, my first thought was to do a funny challenge. But when I actually started writing the beginning I knew it had to be something else. With everything going on in the world, things aren't easy, and I wanted to portray the dark reality of things, but the silver-lining of hope. You can't go through something traumatic, no matter who you are, and come out unscathed. The random fact here is the beginning of this was the fourth chapter I wrote (right after Drummer Boy) and I knew from the beginning it would be the ending. For me, it seems only right.

In conclusion, I hope you see the silver lining in all things and that the new year is amazing for each and every one of you.

Hope you enjoy! It's been a fun ride!

For music, check out Better Days by Goo Goo Dolls.


The stiff, white cards were gripped in his rigged fingers as the cameras all red-lighted him. He was used to this sort of thing. He shouldn't have a problem. He cleared his tight throat.

"In light of the tragic events of this year, I am here to give you a recap of what's been happening. This year has been tough for all of us. It will not replace who we've lost nor what has happened but our enemy is..."

He paused. Did they even know the enemy?

"Our enemy…"

He looked over the audience.

Banner was staring at his hands, Natasha was curled into Clint, blinking away tears as he held her tight; Thor sat straight, gazing at something in the distance. Fury stood in the back of the room. Agent Hill stood next to him shifting nervously from foot to foot.

"Our enemy is…"

Steve was watching him with a curious look. He gave a curt nod.

Tony placed the cards on the podium. He hadn't wanted to be lied to. Should these people be bamboozled as well by the white lies in his hands? He knew how he felt, and these people deserved better. He cleared his throat again.

"For some reason people believe I will actually read what's scripted. I thought they learned long ago I'm not the scripted sort of guy. I'm here to give you the facts. The truth is… No one expected Loki to attack. It was brutal. And senseless. And there are still investigations going on as to why he lost his mind. It may seem terrifying to think he's not being punished by how we do things here on Earth, but Asgard will punish him as they deem fit and that's worse than any of us can imagine.

"But that's not really what you want to hear. No. It's not what I wanted to hear. While I want someone to pay for disrupting my life, it's not going to help me in any way. The people that I've lost are never coming back. The ones I once considered close… we now have a wedge driven between us and I don't know if it will ever come out."

He stopped and closed his eyes. The world was still going to be before him when they opened again. After a deep breath, he slowly scanned across the sea of faceless watchers.

"I don't want to be told that things are going to get better. I don't want to be told, things will be brighter one day. That day is not today. Today, I have to navigate through loss and confusion. Today, I have to wear this suit and pretend everything is alright and make speeches about things I'm supposed to understand. Today, I still have to deal with the fact that life is not as I thought it was.

"And guess what? I don't have the answers you're looking for, and I don't want to tell you it's going to be okay. Because. Right now. I know it's not. And I know you do too. Honestly though, the only thing I want… is to make it through this day.

"You see, I know if I can make it through today, I'm one step closer to making it through tomorrow. And if I make it through tomorrow, I'm one step closer to feeling as normal as I can be again."

His gaze reached the back where a flicker of jade caught his eye, but disappeared before he was certain he saw it. He took another deep breath and looked down at the wooden podium.

"I've made mistakes lately; more than I'd care to admit. I've said and done some things I shouldn't have. I'm also on the hit list of several people due to these decisions. In the end, however, it's all come at a cost higher than I wanted to pay—higher than I could pay, and now I'm stuck with a penance I can't afford."

He looked up at the audience. "You see, I can level with you and say I've lost people too. We all have. And whether physically or mentally, we will never be the same. This isn't a Lego world in which we can take things apart and put them back together the same way. We can rebuild, but it will never be as it once was. People fall apart and are ripped from our lives; you can't recreate them and bring them back." He swallowed. "That is something I must accept, and with a heavy heart… I'm trying too. The world cannot go on as it has. We must adapt and change with it, because... because that's what we were born to do."

Tony remained motionless as his eyes settled on the podium again. He took a deep breath and nodded. Before he fully realized what was happening, the steps to the stage were under his feet and he found himself behind the curtains, hiding from the world. Pepper approached him.

"The speech was really nice, Tony. What inspired it?"

He shook his head, chasing thoughts from his mind. "Just… Just me, Pep. Let's go. We'll be late."

~CSC~

Tony watched as the team walked in. Their faces lit up with raised brows and mouths opened in shock.

The room was adorned with Christmas decorations. The windows were covered again in a winter wonderland. Santa rode across on a green and red sleigh pulled by eight tiny brown reindeer with Rudolph and his glowing red nose leading the way. Snowflakes hung sporadically from the ceiling; their glitter sparkling in the fading light. A newly bought manger scene sat at the base of a large Grand Fir tree, which was decorated in white lights, and ornaments, and a golden angel sat atop of it.

"You did this, Tony?" Natasha asked, stepping forward and gazing at the tables lined with runners and garland or wreaths.

Tony nodded as he saw Steve look the tree up and down. He wasn't surprised that Wing Tips saw the wolf in the center of the tree. "We all need a little Christmas spirit, right?"

Banner's eyes dropped to the bottom of the tree where presents sat waiting to be opened. "Where did the gifts come from?"

"Did you miss the fact I'm a billionaire, Banner?"

"This is nice," Clint said, eying the mistletoe. "It looks nice."

Thor floated over to a table filled with food and sweets. "You have replaced the éclairs of chocolate!"

"Just for you, Break Point. And just to let you know, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents will be arriving soon. So let's open those Secret Santa gifts."

"You decided to invite them after all?" asked Natasha.

"As stated, we all need a little Christmas Spirit."

Before long, wrapping paper was scattered across the floor as gasps radiated from mouths in reveal of their final gifts and who had who. Steve received the keys to a larger apartment with a gym inside from Clint. Clint received a vacation for two to a Caribbean island from Banner. Banner received a few science toys and a gift card to Macy's from Thor. Thor received a huge Partridge Farms food basket from Natasha.

When Natasha opened her final gift and saw the two pistols she had been admiring for months, her jaw dropped.

"I know I'm an ass, Natalie, but I still know what you like," Tony said with a smirk. "I hope you and the bird get good use out of the guns and dress."

For a moment it looked like she was going to cry and hug him. Instead, she cleared her throat, blinked, and ran her fingers over the smooth steel. "Thanks, Stark."

As S.H.I.E.L.D. agents began to arrive, Steve pulled Tony onto the balcony with a medium sized box that read From Your Secret Santa. Music drifted onto the balcony.

"As you asked me what I want this year, and I try to make this kind and clear, just a chance that maybe we'll find better days…"

"Are you going to propose to me, Wing Tips? I'm going to have to think about it."

Steve handed Tony the box. "Just open it."

"'Cause I don't need boxes wrapped in strings, and designer love and empty things, just a chance that maybe we'll find better days…"

Tony took the gift in his hands. It didn't feel very heavy for its size. He shook it and a dull swoosh was heard from inside. What had Steve gotten him?

"You really didn't need to get me anything as a last gift."

The red and gold wrapping paper relinquished its hold, revealing a jade green box. Tony glanced up at Steve who watched him as if he knew every last one of Iron Man's secrets. Tony swallowed as he pulled open the flap and white tissue paper with gold trim filled the inside. He reached in a hand, moving aside the paper, and came across a hard, round object.

Pulling it from the box, his brows rose. In his hand was a beaten up, half-charred replica of the training sphere from Star Wars. His shoulders slumped.

"That's the reason you're upset, right? Because of ghosts that haunt you? All the people you've lost? Memories you don't want to have? Between the tree issue, the ornament, and the things you've said…"

The box dropped from Tony's hand as it moved to touch the sphere. He nodded, not removing his eyes from the sphere. He cleared his throat. "Th-thanks, Steve."

"I know I can't fully understand what happened. I'm not trying to. But I am here for you."

He nodded as his fingers slid over the bronze surface, making sure it was real.

"I know at times it seems like it was a bad dream, but everything is real," Steve continued. "The invasion was no exception. We've all faced horrible things, but you have to look toward the future. There is rebuilding; not just of structures, but of friendships and relationships. There is hope. Like you said, we are built to adapt and move on. And you're not alone this Christmas. We're all here for you."

Tony looked up at Steve as both hands wrapped protectively around the sphere. It was a few minutes before he spoke. "It's just been… tough. I've never questioned who I was—never had to. But you're right. We have to look toward the future. Are things going to be perfect? No. Will something else come of the attack? Most likely. We shouldn't be hanging up our uniforms yet.

"But, there is hope. We can rebuild. We will adapt. And there are better days ahead."