"1st of December"
JARVIS emailed each person the name of their Christmas gift-giving partner. This consisted of the Avengers and their friends, including Phil Coulson. When Tony found out that he was alive, he abducted the agent for the holidays, and forced him to agree to take part.
"You're gonna be here for Christmas, so you're joining in," Tony said. "Now add your name to the list."
"Are you actually trying to give me an order, Stark?"
"Don't be a Scrooge, Agent-Agent."
Phil had rolled his eyes, and keyed in his name. JARVIS thanked him, and said that he would ensure a complete stranger chose pairings at random, without influence. The reassurance didn't make Phil feel any better about it. But what choice did he have?
Now he was dreading that little closed envelope at the corner of his screen. He clicked on it, and the email appeared.
Great. Phil was paired with Captain America. He hadn't spent enough time with the man to get over being star-struck, and this hardly seemed to be the best way to achieve that. However, he was committed to this. Tony had been child-like when he described the idea he and Pepper had come up with. According to Tony, Secret Santa was too boring; his idea, he said, was completely original. To be fair, Phil had never heard of this kind of gift-giving before.
There were two parts. The first was that they would all be paired by random selection, and the pairs would have to work out some kind of present to give to everyone else. Each would, fundamentally, be the same, and all hand-crafted. JARVIS would obtain any supplies they needed, and would make sure that each team was undertaking a different project. The second part was that each person in the couple would give the other a present of their own. Whatever they wanted, were able to afford, could get in time, etc. All presents would be exchanged on Christmas Day, without exception. The party would be open to anyone connected with them, including Phil's team from the Bus.
Not that he had to be separated from them for all of December. If the others could go to work for emergency reasons, he should be allowed to as well.
When he'd suggested that, Phil had been on the receiving end of quite a few pairs of puppy-dog eyes. Something about them not wanting him to 'abandon' them again. He tried to point out that they technically weren't his team; they didn't 'assemble' until after his death. May, Grant, FitzSimmons, Skye… they were his team.
(The Avengers didn't like that, not that they could argue with his logic. And the guilt on their faces curtailed any further protests on his part, effectively ending the conversation.)
Phil's mobile rang. He answered it without even looking at the screen. "Coulson."
"Agent Coulson! Hi."
"…Captain Rogers. Hello."
"Did you get the message from JARVIS?"
"I've just read it."
"I'm guessing we'll need to meet up sometime."
"I can drop by the tower after work, barring emergencies," Phil said, mentally running through his schedule for the day. "Should be fine."
"Why didn't you accept Tony's invitation to stay with us?" Steve asked. "It'd make things easier."
"There's only so long I can be exposed to Tony Stark without feeling the need to strangle him."
"Well, we all feel like that sometimes," Steve said. "We just deal with it by hanging out somewhere else. He's mostly in his workshop anyway. Come on, Agent Coulson."
"Call me Phil," he said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "We're going to be working together for the next three and a half weeks."
"So call me Steve. None of this 'captain' stuff. I sort of stole that title anyway." He cleared his throat. "So, uh, what time after work? JARVIS can bring you straight to my floor, and we can plan this whole thing out. I've got pen and paper. I mean, you're probably used to your little screens, but I think better when I'm doing something physically."
That was a mental image to take to bed. Phil was going to have to snap out of that if they were going to get anything done. Any work done.
"I'll call you before I leave," he said.
"Okay, Phil. Bye!"
He thought Steve made a pleased hum, but attributed it to a bad line.
Phil always eyed Stark Tower askance. Ever since the Avengers discovered that he was alive, there'd been attempts to drag him over there to live with them. Tony had promised Phil a floor all to himself. It was hardly a fair offer; it wouldn't be any quieter than at SHIELD or on the Bus, but the Avengers were still a volatile team, from what he'd observed. If he wanted a headache, he'd listen to loud music.
But it was the fact that the last time Phil had been to Stark Tower, he'd been there to rope Tony into the Avengers Initiative. Within twenty-four hours, Phil had been stabbed through the chest, the tower had suffered significant damage to the upstairs apartment, and Tony had flown a nuke into another dimension. He wasn't superstitious; he just didn't like reawakening painful memories by association.
However, this time he was going straight to Steve's floor, which he hadn't seen yet. Phil wasn't sure whether he should be more nervous about being alone with the captain, or whether he should be relieved that no one would disturb them.
Phil cleared his throat when the elevator door opened. Steve looked up from the sofa, where he'd been sketching.
"Come in!" he said, standing up. Phil stepped out of the elevator, and the doors closed behind him without a sound. He walked over to the sofa and held out his hand. Steve paused, and then shook it before Phil could rethink his strategy of remaining business-like.
"It's good of you to have me over, Steve," he said. (He'd practised calling him Steve on the way from SHIELD headquarters.)
"C'mon," Steve said, finally letting go of Phil's hand. "I've got paper and pens out, just like I said."
"You're very organised," Phil said, and he smiled. He sat in the armchair on the other side of the coffee table. Steve perched on the edge of the sofa, and pushed some of the stationery across to Phil.
"I was a soldier," Steve said. "Still am." He balanced a clipboard on his knee and tucked a pen behind his ear. "I heard you were a Ranger?"
"That's right," Phil said. "A long time ago."
Steve smiled, and shuffled back on the cushions. "Okay. Ideas. Shoot."
"What're you good at?"
"You mean you don't already know from one of my wildly inaccurate biographies?" he asked. Phil's cheeks heated up. "I'm just teasing, Phil."
"I know you're an excellent artist."
"Oh, well." Now Steve was blushing. "Not that good…"
Phil indicated the sketchbook, open at a picture of a Christmas tree. "Yes, you are."
Steve looked unsure. "If you say so."
"I, on the other hand, can't draw to save my life, and this has to be something we do together."
"You could do the colouring in," Steve said. His eyes crinkled at the edges.
"I'd hate to ruin your work. What else do you love to do?"
"Well… I can cook. During the Depression I had to, but then I got out of practise after I finally got enlisted. I've been practising since I moved in. Bruce and I do the most cooking around here. When they're not on missions, Natasha and Clint do some of the work. But Tony's pretty much useless in the kitchen unless it's making coffee. Thor's getting better with Jane's help, but they're not here all the time. They'll be here for Christmas, though."
"Good," Phil said, nodding. "I hear you're good friends with him."
"You would've known that if you'd been around earlier," Steve muttered. Then he glanced up and winced. "I'm sorry, Phil. Please ignore that."
Phil knew he deserved that. He also knew that he owed the Avengers nothing, now that they'd been told the truth (or as much of the truth as he knew).
"We could bake something," he said. "Christmas food."
"Won't we already be eating Christmas food on… on Christmas Day?"
"Something for them to have after that. Snacks, like shortbread, or fudge. Even candy, if we can manage it. I know how to follow a recipe, and I have my mom's book. She wrote up a whole bunch of them for different times of the year, and for ordinary use, when I moved out of home. I had to leave them in storage before going into the army. There'll be something we can use there. Anything else we need, we can find—"
"In library books? I know there are a lot of cookbooks in libraries nowadays."
"I was going to say the internet, but if you have the time to visit a library, go right ahead."
"…No. No, it's okay."
He sighed. "We can't just give them food in paper bags. What if we got some boxes or tins? They have Christmassy ones in dime stores all over the place."
"Yeah," Phil said. "Tins can be washed and reused."
"I could make cards and gift tags."
"I'm sure I can handle making gift tags. Just as long as drawing doesn't come into it."
"I'll design something," Steve said, perking up. "And I can get all the supplies."
"I'll buy the ingredients, and anything else we need."
"Or we could just split all the costs."
"That sounds fair," Phil said. "JARVIS?"
"Yes, Mr. Coulson?"
"No one else has come up with the same idea, have they?"
"Not yet, sir. You and Mr. Rogers are the first to decide on making sweets as your project."
"Great!" Steve said, and he clapped his hands. "Does that sound good, Phil?"
"It sounds reasonable. When should we meet again? We'll need to go through the recipe books together."
"I've got something on tomorrow. The day after that?"
Phil nodded. "In the meantime, what kind of recipes do we want? Since you went to the trouble of getting out pens and paper."
"Cookies. We have to have chocolate-chip cookies."
"That's a start." Phil noted it. "Fudge or brownies?"
"Steve, not everyone will appreciate developing diabetes over the holiday season." At the look on Steve's face, he silently felt cursed his thoughtlessness. "We'll put the fudge in plastic first. The brownies and cookies will be fine on their own."
Watching Steve Rogers smile like that could cure diabetes, goddamnit. "Thanks, Phil. I mean, if you think it's too much—"
"No, it's fine. We should balance the extremely sweet things with plain shortbread. I'll bring my Christmas cookie cutters."
"I… don't know how to make candies, but we'll see what kind of recipes there are out there. At least with two of us, it will take only half the time."
"I guess we should make them in some kind of order," Steve said. "Some things won't last as long as others."
Phil gave him a small grin. "If we make them superbly, they'll all be eaten before the new year."
"That's the spirit," Steve said. "Anything else?"
"We only have until Christmas Eve to do all this, Steve, and we both have other commitments until then. We should discuss Christmas card designs."
"All right." Steve grabbed his sketchbook. "Let's do that next."
I'm planning to bake biscuits and suchlike for Christmas, for the people coming to our place, and Mum and I will be getting boxes to package them. I'm also planning to make Christmas cards for family. But I'm not as organised as this. Oops. On the plus side, I have a hell of a lot of biscuits cutters, all different shapes and sizes, including Christmas ones.
Anyway, I'll try to remember to include links to the recipes I use, or references if the recipes aren't online.
Please review! I'm going to include each of the requests made on Tumblr for this fic. With any luck, I'll have most, if not all, of this story written by the time I start posting.