Pt 67 Flashback: Misfit Toys Assembled, The Avengers First Christmas
A sequel to the flashbacks in pts 10& 11, found here:
[Stark Tower Security Footage 12212013 1800hrs]
Loc: Stark Tower 200 Park Avenue, Manhattan, NY
Nat: <shouting as she dashes toward the rapidly closing elevator, arms full of bags> Hold the door please! <a hand grabs the door, keeping it open as she slips inside, dropping one of the bags, packages sharply wrapped in bright red paper spill out on the floor>
Rhodey: <lets go of the door, bending down to help her pick them up, grins at a large bottle shaped one marked ‘Tony’> Booze? Really?
Nat: <grins mysteriously, shrugging> What did YOU get for a billionaire, playboy, philanthropist who can buy anything he wants?
Rhodey: <grinning back> An Iron Patriot action figure for his desk. <the two start laughing as the elevator rises>
<the doors open on the Penthouse floor, the two exit to find the party area tastefully decorated in holiday cheer, soft music playing, a lone figure sitting on a sofa, looking up as the pair enter, still laughing>
Bruce: <rising from the sofa, excited and relieved> Nat! Rhodey! Oh, thank god! I thought I got the wrong date! Nobody else is around but JARVIS!
JARVIS: <disembodied voice filling the room> Miss Potts is currently wrapping up a video conference, and Mr Stark is in the kitchen area, arguing with Mr Hogan. They should be joining you soon. In the meantime, please feel free to help yourself to a drink. Mr Stark has stocked some non-alcoholic options for Doctor Banner and anyone else who may wish it. <Rhodey and Nat unpack their bags of gifts, placing them with other packages under a large, lavishly decorated tree>
Rhodey: <leans back, looking up at the top of the tree> Do you think he suited up to get the star on top?
Bruce: <leaning back as well, grinning> Knowing Tony, I’m surprised he didn’t top it with a mini Iron Man! <a voice comes from behind the group>
Tony: <entering, carrying a large tray> I was going to, but Pepper said it would be too tacky. <sets the dish down on a nearby coffee table>
Nat: <eyes lighting up> Cookies! <grabs one, is about to take a bite, then holds it up, pointing at Tony with it> Wait. These are still warm. <eyeing him, slightly suspicious> Where did you ship them in from? <Tony tried to answer, but Happy interrupts him>
Happy: I TOLD him I could have a whole crew of caterers take care of everything, but NOOOOO. <hooks a thumb at Tony, rolling his eyes> Martha Stewart here decided he had to do everything himself.
Tony: <defensive> What? For once I’m trying to do a quiet, laid-back traditional holiday gathering. Besides, <smirking> didn’t Pepper give you the day off so you could go to some holiday party to relax with friends?
Rhodey: <eagerly reaching toward the plate> If Tony made these, you’re gonna wanna get in on them before I eat them all. <stuffing one in his mouth, still talking through the crumbs> He doesn’t cook often, but when he does, it’s worth it!
Nat: <takes a bite, groaning in delight, reaching for another> Where in the HELL did you learn to bake like this, Tony?
Tony: <smiling fondly> I had a good teacher. Pop’s butler, Mr Jarvis, had a wife named Ana. When mom and the old man were out travelling, Ana spent a lot of time at the mansion. She taught me a bunch of old world traditional recipes. She used to make me latkas every Hanukkah.
Pepper: <shakes her head in amusement, descending a set of stairs from the upper balcony> Never let him tell you he’s not nostalgic.
Tony: <walking over to her, wrapping an arm around her waist, kissing her cheek, winking> Don’t give away all my secrets. How did the meeting go, oh most intelligent and beautiful CEO?
Pepper: <swats his shoulder playfully, then gets a serious look on her face> SHIELD’s DoDC wants to expand our contract for storage facilities after the London incident with Thor. BUT they think they should get a reduced rate due to the event being caused by an Avenger. <Tony raises an eyebrow, Pepper continues> I reminded Anne Maria that Stark Industries and their Security Storage division is a separate entity, not controlled by any member of the Avengers or SHIELD and as such, no discount was warranted. Then reminded her that if she was unhappy with SI’s performance, she was welcome to work out a contract with whoever is running Hammer Industries while Justin is still in prison. <smirking> She caved.
Tony: <kissing her again> Smart, tough, beautiful AND snarky. Is it any wonder why I love you?
<the elevator opens again, Steve enters quietly, looking round, impressed with the decorations, setting a small bag of gifts under the tree, making his way toward the group, smiling shyly>
Steve: <still looking around the large area at the festive decor> Hey guys! I’m surprised, Tony! When you said a small quiet party, I still expected a crowd of a couple hundred people, loud music, and crazy decorations. This is, nice.
Tony: <smiles, points to Pepper, one arm still around her waist> TOTALLY her idea. I wanted to go with a giant ice sculpture of myself as Iron Santa, a parade, maybe book Pharrell. After the fireworks display last Christmas, she wanted something quieter. <Pepper shakes her head, rolling her eyes, her hand coming up behind his back, pointing down at Tony’s head as she silently mouths the words ‘He’s lying, all his idea.’ the rest of the group snickers>
Bruce: <looking around> So who else is supposed be at this shindig?
Tony: <shrugs> I guess this is it. Thor’s wherever, Nick and Hill are too busy being a pair of workaholic stick in the muds to show up, and Barton’s just not cool enough to hang.
Nat: <smiling to herself, thinking of the picture Laura had sent her earlier showing Clint in a Santa costume with Cooper and Lila each sitting on a knee> Actually, he said he had a better offer than sitting around with a bunch of losers at the office Christmas party.
Tony: <eyebrows raised> Losers? Better offer? Right. Uhhuh. How come we never get to meet any of these ‘better offers’ <Nat just shrugs, smiling, Tony gives her a look, knowing she knows more than she’s telling, sighs, dropping the subject, claps his hands together> So who’s ready for dinner?
<the group heads to a large dining table on the far side of the room, seating themselves as Tony disappears into the kitchen, returning with a large serving dish>
Rhodey: Is that? <Tony nods, setting the dish on the table, and Rhodey grins> Ana’s goulash!<the rest of the team looks at the two of them, confused, Rhodey laughs> You guys are in for a REAL treat!
Tony: <smiling proudly> It’s not as good as the original. Aunt Peg always said I use too much paprika and not enough garlic, but it’s close enough to home.
Steve: <the first to dish himself a serving, laughs> For someone who couldn’t cook, Peg always was picky about spices! <patiently waits for everyone else to fill the dishes> Smells great!
<Rhodey eagerly follows suit, the rest of the team hesitant until the scent of the meal wafts toward them, they dig in, light chatter beginning between bites, praise of the meal, requests for rolls or salt to be passed, talk of shopping nightmares>
Tony: <takes a seat, dishing up his own plate, looking around the table, Pepper squeezing his hand under the table, he turns to her and smiles contently, whispering>, So this is what it’s like, huh? To have a family? <she nods, leaning in to kiss his cheek>
<hours pass as plates and glasses empty and are refilled, and the relaxed, happy laughter and chatter continues, until an alert sounds>
JARVIS: Sir? My apologies for disturbing the revelry, however, SHIELD has detected an energy spike nearby with an origin, not of Earth.
Tony: <sighing in disappointment, looking around the now silent table, all eyes looking at him> Looks like it’s time to go to work kids. JARVIS, patch me into SHIELD coms& tell me how close is nearby?
JARVIS: Connecting you now sir. The signature is coming from down the street in Central Park.
Tony: Nick, what’s going on? I thought we put the Reserved sign up on the planet for the night, no uninvited guests.
Nick: Hill and I are right around the corner, we’re checking it out now. No need to suit up just yet. Enjoy your party. I’ll call you if it’s something we can’t handle. Fury out.
Tony: <shrugs> So much for cracking into a bottle of holiday cheer. <thinking aloud> It’s just down the street, would only take a few minutes to suit up and check it out.
Steve: <shaking his head> Tony, Nick said he’s got this. I know Starks don’t follow orders, but just this once, please?
Tony: <glaring at him, knowing Steve’s right, holding an open palm out to his side> On one hand, you’re right, I don’t do orders. <tilting his head sideways, holding the other hand out, grinning> On the other hand, I do love a good party, especially one of mine. <claps his hands together> Fine. Who’s ready for presents?
Happy: <looking over the array of dishes on the table> Uh, shouldn’t we clean all this up first? <Tony rolls his eyes, Nat and Bruce already stacking plates and gathering silverware> Don’t give me that look. You cooked, the rest of us can clean up.
<Steve hangs back, allowing the rest of the group to gather everything and head into the kitchen, once they’re out of earshot, he approaches Tony>
Steve: <hesitant> So about this morning. <pausing, a look of sadness on his face> With Peggy. How often does that happen? Her losing track of where and when she is?
Tony: <clapping a reassuring hand on his shoulder> Less, now that she’s on the new treatment. About six months ago I moved her from a SHIELD run facility to one of my own and got her into an experimental trial.
Steve: <looking hopefully> Is it a cure?
Tony: <shaking his head sadly> No. There’s still no cure for Alzheimer’s, but this new treatment she’s on has lessened its effects and prevented it from progressing as far as it usually would have by now. I try to visit four or five times a month, and I get progress reports emailed to me daily. They tell me her disorientation and memory loss seem to be limited to most often to evenings, and she’s able to handle most of her own self-care. Though it took them some time to discern the difference between when she’s irritable and agitated because of the disease and when it’s just Aunt Peg being cranky. <the two men exchange a knowing look, laughing>
Steve: <thinking, his laughter dying off> You said most of her episodes happen in the evening. <inhaling, biting his lip> Today was because of me, wasn’t it?
Tony: <nodding slowly> Most likely. The doctors and I, even Aunt Peg all knew it was a possibility. It was the introduction of a new situation. She wanted to see you though. She needed to see you. To know you were really here, and that you hadn’t forgotten her. After she woke from the sedative, she called me. She wants you to come back again if you’re willing. I haven’t seen her that happy in a long time.
Steve: <concerned> But what if it happens again? I can’t keep doing that to her.
Tony: Like I said, she knows the risks, and she’s the one asking. It’s your call though Steve. If you can handle seeing her like that, it’s worth it. Because most days, she’s still that same stubborn gal you fell in love with, full of piss and vinegar.
Steve: <smiles, chuckling> I’ll think about it. Thanks, Tony.
Tony: <grins> Hey, we both care about her. <looks back over his shoulder, seeing the others returning from the kitchen, Nat and Rhodey in the midst of some argument over a broken dish> Hey guys! Whatever it is, don’t worry about it! <motioning them all toward the tree> Hurry up! I’ve been trying to keep Cap out of the presents, but I don’t know if I can hold him back much longer! <laughs, winking at Steve, everyone else joining in the laughter>
<the elevator dings, everyone suddenly turning to look, as the doors open, Maria Hill standing, holding them open>
Maria: <snarkily> That energy spike in the park? Apparently, the Asgardian version of Fed-Ex isn’t nearly as accurate or reliable as ours. <steps aside, Nick pushes a cart with a large wooden cask, covered in Nordic runes, a log wrapped in bright gold ribbon sits atop it> Looks like we made the party after all!
Nick: <wheels the cart over to the bar, knocking on the top of the cask> We even brought the booze. NOW, who’s a stick in the mud, Stark?
Tony: <gulps, eyes go wide, dodges the question with one of his own> Ahhh, was there any note? <Nick hands him an ornate scroll, Tony unrolls it, squinting, Maria takes it from him, reading aloud>
Maria: <looks over the writing carved into the barrel> These runes say that it came from Odin’s private stash. ‘Mild spirits, aged 100 years.’ <snickers> Huh, we finally found something older than Cap.
Nick: <pulling a tap and a mallet from under his trench coat> So are we going to crack this thing open or what?
Tony: <looks at Maria in surprise> You can read runic? Any other hidden talents we should know about, Hill? Hockey star? Karaoke queen? You know, if you ever decide you’re tired of working for Old Saint Nick, I’m sure Pepper would love to have you in her Security division. <Maria just glares at him as Nick taps the cask>
Rhodey: You just happen to have tools to tap an ale cask in your jacket?
Nick: <serious look on his face> You never know what you’re going to need for a situation. Hell, I still have an old pager from the ’90s around somewhere. But these <holding the tools up, grinning> I brought along when we found Thor’s little gift in the park.
Tony: <laughing> That was really nice of him, even if it didn’t quite make it under the tree. I hope Point Break is having a good time at home. You know, a fire WOULD add to the mood tonight. <hefts the log, straining just a bit> Jeez! Did he just rip this off a tree with his bare hands? <looks at one end of the log, joking> So how do we plug one of these in?
Steve: Give it here. <chuckling as he takes the log from Tony, setting it in the fireplace> Before you hurt yourself or set the whole place on fire. <Steve grabs a newspaper, looking over the headlines briefly, rolls his eyes at one mentioning a local real estate mogul considering running for State Govoner before crumpling it up as a starter for the fire, soon the oak log is crackling and popping, casting a warm glow upon the room>
Tony: <passes drinks around the room, once everyone has a glass, he raises his> So, we all know I’m not a great one for speeches. <everyone rolls their eyes, laughing, Tony laughs too> Ok, ok, I meant speeches that aren’t about ME. <the laughter continues for a moment, Tony smiles, growing serious, the laughter quiets>, But I wanted to thank all of you for being here tonight. Life has been, <he pauses, thinking for a moment> life has been crazy and strange for all of us the past few years. I don’t think any of us would be here without the others. It’s good to have people around you that you can trust, people who have your back, people you can call friends. <Trying to lighten the mood> So if you know anybody who sounds like that, let me know because I’ve got tickets to the next Knicks game and need some friends to come with me. <everyone laughs again, shaking their heads, Pepper swats his arm playfully, almost spilling his drink> Seriously though, <looks over at Pepper, Rhodey and Happy> five years ago, I could have counted the number of people I trusted and gave a damn about on one hand with fingers to spare. It’s kinda weird to look around here and realise that…
Rhodey: <interrupts impatiently> Ok, man, we get it. We’re awesome, and you couldn’t do any of this without us. Enough with the mushy stuff! It’s time for booze and presents!
Tony: <laughing and sighing> I try to be serious and sincere just once and…
Nat: <interrputs him this time, beginning a chant> Presents! Presents! Presents! <Pepper and Rhodey join in, clapping with each word>
Tony: <hangs his head, still laughing> I love you guys, but you know you’re all getting socks, right? <more laughter, Tony raises his glass once more> Merry Christmas Avengers! <the rest of the group raise their glasses, returning the toast> So who’s going to pass out the presents? How about jolly old Saint Nick?
Nick: <grinning amicably> Since you’re not on my naughty list this year Stark, I’ll oblige. But I’ve still got my eye on you. <begins to pass around packages wrapped in a subdued green paper covered in snowflakes>
<the group eagerly tear open their packages, Rhodey, Steve and Tony holding up hand-knit sweaters, each in the colours of their suits or uniforms, with small logos on the sleeves. Maria and Nat unfurl scarf and hat sets similarly adorned, everyone turns, looking at Bruce>
Nat: <rubbing the fuzz of her scarf, smiling> These are awesome! Where did you find them, Bruce?
Bruce: <stuttering shyly> Ah, I, um. I <rubs the back of his neck, voice gets quieter> I made them.
Rhodey: <eagerly throwing his sweater over his head, tugging it down snugly> You MADE these? <stretches his arms out to look at the War Machine logo on each sleeve> Dude! You can knit?
Bruce: <shrugs> Yeah. When I was on my own, it was something I picked up to help me relax and focus.
Maria: <wrapping her scarf around her neck, the SHIELD logo is woven into the design just above the grey and black fringe> They’re beautiful but, <pointing between herself and Nat> why didn’t we didn’t get sweaters too?
Bruce: <blushing> I, I, didn’t want to guess the wrong size.
Nat: <leaning in, giving him a hug> Thank you, Bruce. This is awesome, I love it. <speechless, he blushes harder>
Nick: <reaching for the next pile of gifts, picks up a bright red package> I’m thinking these are from Romanoff. <Nat nods, smiling mysteriously, a twinkle of amusement in her eyes, Nick starts passing packages around>
Maria: <pulling paper off a sizeable thin package, revealing a gaudy gold frame holding a velvet painting of an owl with enormous eyes, Maria burst into tears, shaking with laughter, looks at Nat> How did you know? <Nat just grins, Maria flips the picture over, notices a note on the back, “Always watching, full of wisdom, seeing more than most, and saying less.” flips the painting back over before anyone else can see, smiles, secretly pleased>
<the others open their packages, each appearing on the surface to be a gag gift, each with a hidden message or meaning bringing a smile>
Tony: <looking at the apparent bottle shape of his present before opening, looking to Nat> Now if I shake this, is it going to explode? <Nat says nothing, just smiles, Tony unwraps it to find a fake plastic bottle with a hollow bottom, he gives Nat a quizzical look, unscrewing the base to reveal a coffee mug, on one side the cup has the outline of an arc reactor, the other side says “I helped save the Earth, and all I got was this lousy coffee mug.” everyone bursts out laughing>
Nat:<grins wider> Put something hot inside it Tony.
Tony: <looks inside the mug, sticks his finger in, quipping> I don’t think I’ll fit inside it. <Nat rolls her eyes, Tony goes over to the bar, filling the cup with hot spiced cider, as the mug warms, the arc reactor on the side begins to glow, Tony’s eyes go wide, impressed> Ok, Romanoff, fine, you get TWO pairs of socks.
<Nat rises from her seat, still laughing, grabbing refills from the cask for everyone, Nick moves on to the next pile, simple blue rectangles, clumsily wrapped with almost as much tape as paper>
Rhodey: <fighting with the wrapping> Geez, Steve, they didn’t have tape dispensers in 1945?
Steve: <shrugging apologetically> Not much time to practice gift wrapping during the war.
Nat: Well, nobody’s perfect. <Steve gives her an odd look for a split second, then smiles sadly>
<they manage to get through the wrapping paper to unveil sketches for each of them, Rhodey’s showing him in full flight in a clear open sky, Bruce sitting in quiet contemplation by a stream in a forest, the others unveil similarly personalised drawings>
Bruce: Steve, you made this? <Steve just nods> It’s fantastic! It reminds me of this spot on the outskirts of Calcutta I used to go meditate at.
Steve: I remembered you telling me about it. It sounded like a happy memory, so I tried my best to recreate it for you so you could have a piece of it here in the city.
Bruce: <nearly speechless> This is just, I mean, just WOW. Thank you!
<Nick reaches for another pile, one large box and some small cylindrical packages in bright gold with huge red ribbons>
Tony: <pointing at the gifts> Um, yours isn’t in there Nick. I forgot to gift wrap them, but those new repulsor engines should be on their way to.. <Nick cuts him off with a glare, Tony winces> Ah, right, never mind.
Happy: <shocked when the large box is placed in front of him, he looks to Tony> Boss?
Tony: <grins, looking to Pepper and back to Happy> Well, I’m not sure which one of us you’re referring to anymore, but yes, this is from both of us.
Happy: <opening the box, beginning to pull items out, a thoroughly confused look on his face> Uh? What’s all this? <holds up a large tablet, a pair of pyjamas, and a box of Coco Puffs>
Pepper: THAT is your vacation package. You’ve been working so hard helping both Tony and myself for so long, we thought you deserved a break. So we’re giving you the next two weeks off, paid, and we’re not taking no for an answer. The last break you had was when you were in the hospital this time last year.
Happy: <smiling, but still confused> But I still don’t get what all this is for?
Tony: Be lazy. Sit around in your comfy pjs, eating cereal while binging on tv on the tablet. It’s already loaded with every season of Downtown Abbey, including the new one that hasn’t aired yet. <pointing at him grinning> But don’t spoil it for the rest of us! <Happy just beams, nodding>
<Nick starts tossing the cylindrical packages around to their various recipients, everyone seems startled, as they small soft packages>
Steve: <the first to open his, shakes his head> You really weren’t kidding.
<the others begin to open theirs as well, each package containing a pair of rolled up socks, everyone looks at Tony except Nat, who unrolls her socks, smiling as something small and metal falls out, pinging as it lands on the floor, she picks it up, holding it out in her palm, revealing a key, each of the others unroll their socks to find a key of their own>
Tony: <smirks, holding up his glass> I did say you were all getting socks. I just didn’t mention that they came with a place to store them. When any of you are in town, or just need a break away from stuff, <pauses> be it ever so humble, mi casa es su casa.
Steve: <shocked> Tony, you didn’t have to do this, but thank you!
Tony: <tries to brush it off> Of course I didn’t HAVE to, but hey, I’ve got all this space, and you guys are always around here anyway when there’s Avengers work to be done. I figured it would make things easier if you each had an apartment to crash in when you need it.
Rhodey: <grabbing another drink and the tv remote, laughing> Cable included?
Tony: <laughs, nodding> But no Skinimax! <the others start laughing>
Nat: <grins, reaches over, stealing the remote> Are there any Christmas specials on? <flipping through the channels, stopping as she finds holiday cartoons> Oooo! Yes!
Tony: <grinning wider> You know, Cap’s never seen any of these, I say we get him caught up on the classics. <passes more drinks around>
<the laughter, drinking and celebratory revelry continues amidst a magical snowman, a Grinch, a dancing dog, and a reindeer, Tony, and Nat drunkenly singing along with every song with childlike glee>
Tony and Nat: We may be different from the rest. Who decides the test of what is really best? We’re a couple of misfits. We’re a couple of misfits. What’s the matter with misfits? That’s where we fit in!
<Steve quietly rises, walking over to the bar for another drink, smiles watching his friends, exhaling a sigh of contentment, enjoying the feeling of camaraderie and family he hadn’t felt since his time with Peggy, Bucky, Howard and the Commandos>
Nick: <comes up beside Steve, clapping a hand on his shoulder> I told you when we first met that there was a place for you in this time. <clinks his glass with Steve’s in toast> Happy Holidays Cap.
Steve: <sighs again happily> Thanks Nick, you too.
<the others have changed the channel from cartoons to music, and begin singing together>
Rhodey and Maria: Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light. From now on your troubles will be out of sight.
Pepper and Happy: Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the Yuletide gay. From now on your troubles will be miles away.
Steve and Tony: Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore. Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us once more.
Nat and Bruce: Through the years we all will be together if the fates allow. Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas.
All: Have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
<the laughter and singing continue into the wee hours of the night, only beginning to fade as the longest night ends and the new day dawns>
From the Desk of Peggy Carter:
I’d been wanting to get to this little flashback for some time, and with a return to writing again, and the holiday season, this seemed like a perfect gift for my friends and readers. Happy Holidays to you all, and remember, even the longest night is followed by a brighter day.