((Author’s note: I apologize to all my non-American followers, who are likely sick to death of hearing about American holidays. But the themes of family, togetherness, gratitude and selfless giving are buried under the food and the football and the foolishness. These are themes that are central to my version of the Avengers, so I hope you can forgive me this indulgence.
I am deeply thankful for my family, my friends, and the kindness I’ve encountered from this fandom, and untold hundreds of people who have taken the time and the effort to contact me with kind words, support, warmth, and humor. For everyone who has read my words, encouraged me, or spoken to me, I am thankful for all you’ve given me, and the chance you give me to share the stories in my head. Thank you.))
“Explain this again,” Thor said, staring at the boxes with a pursed mouth.
“Thanksgiving,” Coulson told him. “It’s a holiday where we try to reflect on the things we have to be thankful for, including our family and friends.”
“And you do this by consuming much food?” Thor asked.
“Also, football. It’s the American way!” Clint said, thrusting a hand in the air.
“That’s part of it, yes,” Bruce said, his lips twitching. “But another big part of it is offering hospitality to others, to give thanks for what you have by attempting to share with those who might not be so fortunate.”
“Thus, the collection for the food banks,” Steve said, smiling. The muscles of his back and arms were in stark relief beneath his shirt, but he wasn’t breathing hard. He set the box down with a faint sigh. “Not enough, though, is it?”
“Every bit helps,” Coulson told him.
“Not if you’re the one who’s hungry.” There was a faint pinch between his eyebrows as he studied what they’d gathered so far.
Tony stopped in the act of drinking his coffee. “We’ll cover it, Cap, don’t worry about it. The Foundation’s on it, but the food banks are hard hit this year.” Not that he’d been aware of it, he left the Maria Stark Foundation’s board of directors alone. They did a good job at parceling out available funds, but demand had outstripped what was available.
Then again, it almost always did.
“What do you do for this day?” Thor asked Bruce.
“It’s an American holiday,” Bruce explained. “Other countries have their own, or similar holidays, but this one is only in the United States. And, well, I haven’t been.”
Thor nodded, and looked at Clint, who shrugged.
“Family holidays are tough when you don’t have a family,” he said with a grin.
“SHIELD has its celebration on a day before, or after,” Natasha said. She had Coulson’s file folders open in front of her, her eyes narrowed as she scanned the documents. “Too much risk to assume that we won’t see an attack the day of, but there is a celebration. For foreign agents, or those without immediate family, most gather off duty to have a meal, or at least watch tv.”
“SHIELD’s party is on a random day?” Tony asked, curious despite himself. “How does that work, exactly?”
“Usual duty roster,” Coulson said, leaning over the invoices. “With twenty-four hour notice of the event. Agents, active duty personnel, and direct family are all welcome, so if you’re not on shift, you can stop by whenever. The party runs all day, and well into the night.”
“So it’s a bit of a secret, but not really,” Clint said, grinning. “Organization full of spies; people are going to find out.”
“It’s a yearly battle,”Coulson agreed. “Fury takes entirely too much pleasure out of organizing it.”
“He missed his calling,” Natasha agreed. “He would’ve made a terrifying wedding planner.”
“Pity the poor ice sculptor who screwed up that order,” Clint agreed. “And now I’m thinking of Fury stomping around with fabric swatches and flower arrangements, and that will haunt my nightmares for the rest of my life. Thank you for that.”
“I live to serve,” Natasha said. She glanced up at Steve. “We can make this up, Cap. We just have to work at it.”
Steve nodded, his jaw tight. But he took a seat next to Tony and accepted a cup of coffee with a sigh. “I know,” he told her. “But we don’t have much time.”
“We have enough,” Tony told him.
“How do you celebrate this giving of thanks?” Thor asked him.
“By eating a pie in the workshop,” Tony said. The team looked at him, and he shrugged. “I like pie. Let’s go. We have boxes to load.”
Monday, they hit the press junket.
“If one more morning talk show host asks me about my plans for the holidays, I will not be held responsible for my actions,” Tony grumbled. He eyed the minibar in the limo, wondering if it was late enough to start drinking yet. Because a Bloody Mary was the only thing he could imagine getting him through the next few ‘appearances.’
“Please don’t do that,” Coulson said. “I have plane tickets for tomorrow, and if you light a talk show set on fire, I’m going to have to cancel them.”
Steve looked up from their schedule. “Going home for the holiday?”
“I promised my parents I would prior to well, all of this,” Coulson said, his lips twitching. “So I’d appreciate if it you all could keep out of trouble.”
“We’re never trouble,” Clint said, and no one paid any attention when Coulson smacked him on the back of the head.
“Pepper’s gone to see her mother, too,” Tony pointed out. “And I’m more afraid of interrupting her vacation than yours.”
“You didn’t go?” Bruce asked.
“I met her parents once. We don’t need to repeat that mistake,” Tony said, rubbing his forehead. “The holidays are just-” He gritted his teeth. “Are they over yet?”
“Just starting,” Bruce told him, and there was sympathy in his eyes, in the faint smile on his lips. He took his glasses off and polished them on the hem of his untucked shirt. Steve offered him a pristine white handkerchief, and he took it with a murmur of thanks. “We have a month of this.”
“I am not doing public appearances for the next month,” Tony warned them. “No. Not happening. I have work to do.”
“It’s for a good cause,” Steve said, frowning as he stared down at the schedule on his tablet. “And it’s working. We’re filling food pantries.”
“A good cause indeed,” Thor said, yawning behind a giant palm.
“But after this, we have Toys for Tots and the Secret Santa programs for the local shelters and a couple of outreach programs,” Coulson said. “We’re going to have to push if we want to meet goals.”
“Why are we doing this?” Tony asked.
“Because we can,” Bruce said. “And we have a responsibility to do it.”
“I have spent my entire life,” Tony said, kicking off his shoes and stretching his legs out in front of him, “avoiding responsibility. How did this happen? How did I become an actual paragon of virtue?”
“That is never, ever going to happen, do not be concerned,” Natasha told him.
Tony was going to object, but before he could, Clint interrupted his train of thought with a very enthusiastic snore. Tony glanced in his direction. “How does he sleep like that?” he asked, fascinated despite himself. Clint was half on and half off the bench seat, one leg bent under him, the other braced against the far wall, his head back, his arm over his eyes, and his mouth wide open.
“Quite soundly,” Coulson said, without even looking up.
“Seriously, does he not have bones?” Tony asked, making Steve choke on a laugh. Tony grinned at him, and Steve tried to look serious. He wasn’t entirely successful.
“Let him sleep,” Coulson said, his lips twitching. “We have twenty minutes before we’re due at NBC.”
“I hate my life,” Tony said, and fuck it, he reached for the mini-bar. He’d regret it, he was sure, but he’d regret it more if he didn’t.
Tuesday, SHIELD threw a party.
For a party where nearly everyone over the age of twenty-one was armed and potentially lethal, it was surprisingly fun. Of course, it helped that there were quite a number of guests under the age of ten.
Nick Fury was watching over the room, a smirk on his face. “Having a good time, Stark?”
“Considering you’re serving sparkling cider instead of actual booze?” Tony asked. “Yeah. I kind of am.” He nodded his chin towards where Thor and Steve, both in full uniform, were playing court to a pack of kids. “Of course, the entertainment is worth the price of admission.”
“Considering that the price of admission is a donation to one of Cap’s pet charities? And those donations are voluntary? Yeah, I can see that.” Fury sipped his fizzy apple juice, his one dark eye glinting. “I mean, for everyone other than you.”
“Yeah, I did see that I was matching all donations made,” Tony said. “Which is weird, in that I don’t remember agreeing to that.”
“That is strange, isn’t it?” Fury mused. “That seems like the sorta thing you’d remember. I mean, I would think.” Fury’s mouth pursed tight. “But then again, you are infamous for being real bad with money.”
“I’m not bad with money. I’m occasionally irresponsible with money, but that’s an entirely different thing,” Tony told him. “I know where it goes. It’s wasted.”
“Well, good for you, it’s not here.” Fury slapped him on the back. “Here, your irresponsibility with your millions will do nothing but good things for some needy kids.”
“I’m a swell guy,” Tony agreed. Across the room, Thor was hugging a little girl who was wearing a really impressive helmet and breastplate combo. “Seriously, what is going on here?” he asked.
“Kids love you guys,” Fury said. “If a couple of siblings, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, cousins, that sort of thing, have slipped in, I don’t see a problem with that. Do you see a problem with that?”
“You’re gonna make me get the suit, aren’t you?” Tony asked, but he was smiling.
“Nah, you don’t- I mean, unless you want to. You want to?” Fury asked him, innocence personified. “Bet you want to.”
“I don’t,” Tony told him.
“That’s a shame,” Fury said. “Really. A shame.”
“I mean, I could,” Tony said. “You think I should?”
“For fuck’s sake, I can feel my brain dying here,” Clint said from his other side. “If this conversation goes on much longer, I’M gonna put on the damn suit.”
“There are safeguards to prevent exactly that,” Tony told him.
“Excuse me, Agent Barton,” Fury said. “Who invited you to this conversation?”
“I was here before you, sir, who invited you?”
“Please tell me you have a flask,” Natasha said, walking up.
“No,” Clint told her.
“It’s a family party,” Fury said.
“Coulson told Pepper about this, and then there was a conference call, I really don’t want to get into it, but I’m drinking-” Tony frowned at his glass. “Bubbly fairy juice or something.”
“Flask,” Natasha said, her eyes glinting in a dangerous manner. “Now.” All three men pulled one out, and she smiled. “Thank you.” She took Clint’s and tucked it in a pocket, and took Tony’s for a quick swig.
“I’m not getting that back, am I?” Clint said.
“Coulson called in a favor. No. You are not,” she said, and he shrugged, not looking overly upset. “Why’re the three of you hiding in a corner?”
“I’m keeping watch over my kingdom,” Fury said. “Occupational hazard, I like dark corners.”
“I’m considering finding a spot for a nap,” Clint said. “Meal was good.”
“It was, wasn’t it?” Fury mused, sounding proud. “Buffet line is the only way to put together one of these things, too much trouble otherwise. But yeah, we outdid ourselves this year.”
“I’m enjoying my sippy cup,” Tony said, “and mourning the loss of my flask.”
“Go get the suit, Stark,” Natasha told him.
“I really don’t think-” Tony glanced up, and caught a glimpse of Steve’s exhausted face. Heaving a mental sigh, he pushed himself away from the wall. “I’ll get the suit.”
Wednesday, Tony tried to refuse to leave the Tower. It didn’t go his way.
“There’s an Iron Man balloon,” he pointed out. “I know. I designed it. It’s fantastic. I don’t need to go out today and practice a parade I’m not going to be in. And I certainly do not want to get up at three am on Thanksgiving morning and ride on a float.”
“You promised you would,” Steve told him. “You can’t back out now.”
“When? When, exactly, did I agree to this, I didn’t agree to this, that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, I would never-” Tony blinked as Steve held up a tablet, right in front of his face. His signature was stark and obvious on the SHIELD itinerary.
“You signed off on the schedule,” Steve said, and it was obvious that at this point, Tony was trying his patience. But he kept his voice level and calm. “Everyone did. It’s too late to change it now, Tony.”
Tony snatched the tablet out of his hand. “I didn’t- I wouldn’t have-” His teeth clicked together. “Pepper.”
“You signed it, Tony,” Steve said, his voice strained. “Parade. Press. Then we put in a last appearance with the food pantries, the faith based outreach programs and the-”
“I’m done,” Tony said, tossing the tablet aside on the workbench. “Done. We’re out. It’s done, we got what we needed to do done. Done, doing it done, that kind of done.” He was aware, on some level, that he sounded strained, sounded very nearly hysterical, but he didn’t care any more.
Parties. Fund raisers. Appearances. Press. Company requirements. SHIELD requirements.
Tony Stark was tired, and he hated the holidays, and he had no desire to do anything other than hiding in his workshop with his work, and his bots. He could have a pie delivered on Thursday afternoon, hell, he could have an entire meal delivered.
He didn’t need to do any of this.
Stalking across the workshop, he snapped out, “Jarvis, bring up the schematic of the Langstrom project, I need to look at the power grid.”
“Have you ever gone to bed hungry? Cold?” Steve’s voice was soft and careful. There was no accusation in it, only an aching sadness.
Tony bent his head over his work. “Yes,” he said, his voice short, shutting down the discussion before it could start. “I have. And it fucking sucks.”
“Yes. It does.” Steve didn’t move. “I know you’re tired. I know this is not what you intended to do when you decided to let us-”
“This is not about the team,” Tony said, cutting him off ruthlessly. Because he was not going to go down that route, he was not going to have that discussion. There was no way it would end up anywhere that he wanted to be. “Don’t make it about the team.”
“It is about the team,” Steve said. “I committed us.”
“Yeah, and why? I get it, I do, but you know what? Just- I can just make up the missing funds, Steve.”
Steve was silent, and Tony glanced at him. “You’re worth more than that,” Steve said. “You. Tony Stark. Iron Man. You’re worth more than your money. I get what you’re saying, I do. But that’s a quick fix that won’t last. You can’t always handle it. But if you stand up, with the rest of us, if you allow yourself to be a symbol of the right thing to do, Tony? That can last longer.”
Tony didn’t like to think about the shiver of unease that rolled through him. “Steve, it’s not that easy.”
Steve smiled. A little. “Yes. It is. We stand up, all of us, united, to say, this is a way you can be a hero, too. This is something you can do. We can say that to every single person who sees us. Tomorrow. On Thanksgiving morning, we can remind people that there’s still work to do. That there are still people who will meet this day, this particular day, with an empty belly and a cold house.”
Tony went back to his schematic. “You can’t fight every battle, Rogers.”
“No. But I like to win the ones I choose to fight,” Steve said. He reached out. Picked up the tablet. “We really need you, Tony.”
Tony closed his eyes, just for an instant. “Yeah, I sighed off on it, didn’t I? I’ll, I don’t know, just- Jarvis, I expect a row of espresso cups laid out between my bed and the front door. I don’t care how it happens, just make it happen.”
“I shall do my utmost, sir,” Jarvis agreed, and he sounded amused.
Tony glared at the ceiling. “Insubordinate subroutines just keep sneaking in,” he grumbled. He glared at Steve. “What’s the plan for the actual Thanksgiving meal? Photo op? Soup kitchen? Politician’s table?”
Steve smiled at him. “It’s Thursday. And I think that it’s Clint’s turn to cook.”
Thursday nights were for the team. For friends and movies. If pressed, Tony would admit, he was always kind of thankful for Thursdays. Also, really, for Clint’s ability to cook.
“Open that oven one more time, and I will see to it that you suffer,” Clint said, swinging a wooden spoon in Thor’s general direction.
“The great bird might be done,” Thor pointed out.
“Thermometer,” Clint said, pointing at the probe thermometer’s readout. “We’ll know when it’s done. The little box will beep at us.” He threw his hands in the air. “It’s a fucking MIRACLE!”
“Don’t taunt the man who could punch you into the next time zone,” Natasha said, a faint smile on her face. She was carefully snapping the ends off of fresh green beans. “It’ll be at least another hour, Thor.”
He made sad eyes at the oven. “It smells excellent,” he told Clint.
“It’ll taste even better, once it’s done.” Clint grinned at him as he wiped his hands on the front of his apron. “Aren’t you supposed to be mulling cider?”
Thor sighed. “Tis a weak drink,” he said. “Tasty, but weak. There is still time to fetch a barrel of mead-”
“No,” Steve said. “Absolutely not, Thor, I do not want to see Clint or Tony on mead.”
“I do,” Clint said. “I want to see Clint on mead.”
“I can hold my mead,” Tony said, and Steve gave him a look. “What? I’m sure I could hold my mead.”
“Potatoes, Tony,” Steve said.
“I bet I could alter Dummy to do this,” Tony mused, as he went back to work with the peeler. “Why am I doing this? Why do I get the grunt jobs? This is insulting.”
“You screwed up salad preparation,” Clint said to him, checking the rising bread dough. “I’m not sure how. But I’ve never seen a salad so fucked up. I thought it was going to catch fire. So you get to peel.”
“I paid for this, doesn’t that count?” Tony asked. “That should count.”
“Shut up and peel, Tony,” Bruce said from the other side of the counter. He had a huge pile of sweet potatoes in front of him, already stripped of their skins and chopped into neat cubes.
“Peeling is boring.” Tony considered his peeler. “You know, I bet I can-”
“If you don’t work, you don’t eat,” Steve told him with a faint smile, and Tony shut his mouth.
“Fine,” he groused. “But I demand pie.”
“The very first slice is yours,” Steve agreed. He opened the oven door with one hand and with his other, started sliding pumpkin pies onto the racks. “Timer.”
“Got it,” Natasha said, tapping the information into the tablet. “Doc?”
“Working on it,” Bruce said, dumping his sweet potatoes into a casserole dish. “Fifteen minutes.”
“We’re right on schedule,” Clint told her. “This isn’t a military operation.” Natasha and Steve stared at him, and he sighed. “No. The two of you are not allowed to team up, the nation won’t survive.”
“America was built on teamwork and free enterprise,” Steve told him.
“I like being on the winning side,” Natasha added. “It’s far more enjoyable.”
“Let’s just get drunk and ignore how this will end poorly for us,” Tony told Clint, who laughed.
“We have a dinner to make,” Clint pointed out. “Peel.”
“I think I left something on in the workshop,” Tony started. “So I just need to-”
“Peel, Tony,” everyone said at once, and Tony gave up.
There was a very nice dining room in Avengers Tower. It didn’t get used much. But for a holiday, for this meal, it seemed like the thing to do. And with Clint slinging pots and Natasha watching the clock, and Thor and Steve doing the heavy lifting and Bruce running plates, everything got on the table, hot and ready to eat. Tony contributed to the team goal mostly by staying out of the way and not attempting to help.
But everything got to the table, with Tony’s best china and silverware, the stuff Pepper picked out. There were candles and Jarvis had a nice classical concerto to play. They sat there, with filled plates, and looked at each other.
Steve broke the silence first. “Feels weird,” he said, a faint smile on his face. “It’s Thursday, after all.”
Natasha rolled the stem of her wine glass between her fingers. “There’s really no reason we can’t,” she pointed out.
“There are trays,” Tony said. “I like to have options. Not like we haven’t eaten in there before.”
“Let’s put it to a vote,” Clint said,m grinning. “Show of hands, kids, who wants to move our asses to the living room, pull up a tray, and watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail?”
Tony raised his hand. “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Natasha grinned. “Casablanca.” Idly, she held a hand in mid-air.
Thor was already gathering his plate. “Blues Brothers!” he chortled.
“I’d choose The Shop Around the Corner,” Steve said, his hand in the air.
Everyone looked at Bruce, and he smiled, just a little. “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring,” he said, and just like that, there was a consensus.
“And the motion carries,” Tony said. “Grab your plates, grab your drinks, let’s go.”
It took no time, and too much time, and it felt familiar and right, and that was odd. That it felt right. That anything involving these people and this place felt right, but it did. As they jockeyed for spots and laid out trays, passed baskets of fresh rolls and poured wine, Tony tried to remember what he’d done before this, on Thanksgiving.
There was Pepper, sometimes, and Rhodey, when he could get a rare moment free from his duties. But Rhodey had a family, and so did Pepper. And they’d both offered, often enough, to take Tony back with them, but he’d never done it. Even as a desperate, lonely teenager, newly orphaned and alone except for a brief phone call from Obie, he’d turned Rhodey down.
Because it wasn’t his family. And the kindness of strangers didn’t last long. He never knew what to do when it passed, when he proved too annoying, or too loud, or too much of an ass to keep around. It wasn’t his family. Best not to get attached to something that wasn’t going to last.
So he’d passed a lot of holidays, unremarked and unobserved, in the workshop. Because the bots at least could be depended upon. They were always there. They always would be. People didn’t stick around.
And as he settled back on the couch, a tumbler of scotch in his hand and the finest meal he’d ever had a hand in preparing in front of him, he wondered if this was a mistake. If he was going to regret this some day, when it ended, when they left, when he was left to look back on this day, and feel a grief with which he was far too familiar.
He jerked out of his thoughts, and Steve was smiling at him. “Here,” he said, holding out a plate. “The first slice.”
Tony stared down at the pie, golden brown and fragrant with spice, and the ache was a real thing, beneath the shattered remnants of his breastbone. He reached out. “Thanks, Cap.”
Steve took a seat next to him, settling down with a grin. But when he looked at Tony, his eyes were dark. “Thank you,” he said, and there was gravity to those words.
Tony arched his eyebrows. “For?”
Steve shrugged. “For this.” He waved a hand at the room.
Tony considered the room. “This is probably more you than me,” he said, with a faint smile. “I’m not so good with people.”
“Coulda fooled me.” Steve glanced at the pie in Tony’s hands. “You’re going to eat that first, aren’t you?”
He only had to think about that for a second. “Yes. Yes, I am.” He reached for his fork. “Thanks, Cap.”
“Are we watching this movie, or what?” Clint asked. He was doing his best to steal a green bean from Natasha’s plate, despite the fact that he had plenty of his own. She knocked his fork away without even looking in his direction.
“Shut up,” Tony told him, around a mouthful of pie. It was good, spicy and sweet and perfect. Licking whipped cream from his thumb, he picked up his glass. “Happy Thanksgiving,” he said.
“To friends and family,” Thor said, shoving his mug in the air. Tony decided to be benevolent and ignore the stains on his carpet. “Those here, and those absent from our company!”
“To SHIELD,” Clint said, holding up his glass. “The agents still with us, and those we’ve lost.”
“To New York,” Steve said, studying the light through his glass. There was a faint smile on his face, but no sadness in his eyes. ”And its people.”
“To fighting the good fight,” Bruce said, his eyes closed. ”Whenever we can. However we can.”
“To the Avengers,” Natasha said. She paused, and then said, “And to teammates.”
“Hear, hear.” Tony leaned forward and clicked his glass against hers. To general laughter, and the clinking of glassware, he sat back. “Jarvis, drop the lights, cue the movie, and let’s do this.”
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Steve said.
Tony smiled. “Happy Thanksgiving,” he said. He took a bite of pie, and maybe, just maybe, this was worth the risk.