Christmas was a touchy subject in the Avenger household. Or towerhold. Whatever. Either way, it wasn't the best time of year to have so many issues under one roof. It was the one day a year that was about family and being with family.
Kind of hard to do if you have none.
"Master Anthony! Wake up, it's Christmas!"
The magic words. The seven year old throws back his Captain America duvet and springs out of bed as if it was a seesaw with the weight of a house dropped on the other end. Briefly, he considers whether he could build a robot friend with adjustable weight and mass for that very purpose before remembering what today will bring. Filing the idea away for future study, he tears out of the room.
Normally, Christmas is the usual routine of being told his father had to leave in the night to follow a new lead on "Steve" and opening presents which did their best to fill the hole.
Not this year. This year, Dad promised to be there for Christmas. He promised he wouldn't go off chasing this Steve Rogers he talks about when he thinks Tony isn't listening.
Tony doesn't know who Steve is except that he's lost, and needs Dad to find him. It isn't fair. He's his dad, not Steve's (at least, he really, really hoped not) and should think Tony was more important than Steve. Not that that ever happened.
Except this year. This year was going to be the year Dad was his. Not Mum's, who was skiing in Switzerland, not Stark Enterprises', and especially not Steve Rogers'.
He bounds down the stairs with a broad grin, even gives Mrs Tennyson a cheery wave as he passes. The housemaid can be very shouty, but she's nice overall.
Shouty? He really has to think of a better word. He is seven now, after all. Maybe severe works.
Oh, well, who cares? IT'S CHRISTMAS!
He bursts into the living room in his Captain America pyjamas just in time to see Dad pull on his coat.
He's excited in that way he only gets when he talks about one person, talking rapidly into his mobile.
"I know, dear, but a new lead just came up! This could be the day I find Steve-"
His mother's voice comes out of the phone, anger evident over the state-of-the-art speakers.
"It could also be the day you break a promise to your son!"
"This is more important!"
With those four words, "Dad" becomes "Howard". Standing beside the tree, wearing only his Captain America pyjamas, Tony decides he hates Steve Rogers.
In the circus, holidays are another day at work. Busier than usual, with parents and grandparents treating the children, but for the carnies themselves... nothing special.
Oh what fun it is to work all the time on Christmas Day.
Clint sits up on the roof of the Big Cat tent, swinging his legs as he looks down at the world below. It's his world, filled with candyfloss and performances, not candy canes and presents. He doesn't mind. It's every kid's dream, isn't it? Run away, join the circus, fall in love with an obscure and archaic form of weaponry...
No, wait, that's just him.
"Hey, get your lazy butt down here! That tent's coming down in five whether you're sitting on it or not!"
He waves Barney away with some line about being down in a second and continues to watch the camp. From here, he can see everything. Nothing between him and the sky for a while. No working, no training, no fighting with Barney. No cherry pie acrobatics or stupid clown act when he'd rather do his archery. Just him and the open air above. Solitude. Peace.
Peace on Earth, goodwill to all carnies.
He's happy, seeing the small figures go about their post-show business. Tents being collapsed, animals fed and watered-
He squints at a cluster of figures on the outskirts of their partially deconstructed camp. With his insanely accurate vision (Trick had seriously considered marketing him as a mutant before he realised he was just that good. In some ways, that was better. More freakish for the freakshow.) he focuses on the developing scene.
Arrietty, the tiny gymnast and strongman's wife, is surrounded by townies. Young men, probably drunk and out to make a name for themselves by ragging on the carnies. A second later, one of them grabs her by the wrist and tries to kiss her. She sucker punches him with her other hand and breaks away. They stumble after her as she dodges and yells out. Clint barely has time to think bad idea, boys, before he's standing on the roof of the tent with his voice mingling with hers.
Instant alert. The cry is taken up across the lot and soon everyone is running after the suddenly less cocky townies. They all but piss themselves when they see Boris the strongman jump out in front of them, but stupidly think they still have a chance.
Ho ho ho, merry circusmas.
Another day, another fight, another show, another night.
Just another day in the circus.
That's how he likes it.
... Clint always has been a good liar.
She's dancing, trapped inside a snowglobe. Snow falls all around her as she presses her face against the cold glass. She's on the inside looking out, out at the normal people who don't live inside a world of glass, and she's dancing.
Music is playing and she has no memory of it, but she somehow knows it and she's dancing along. The music swells as she spins, faster and faster until she's dizzy. Her hair is trailing behind her like a river of flame flying out around her shoulders.
She has not celebrated Christmas since she was a tiny girl still dancing for her parents, yet she knows that today is the day. She is dancing, pirouetting, desperately trying to reconnect to what she used to know was real.
Hours or seconds later, she comes to a rest. She places her hand on the gently curved dome and spreads her fingers out, still rounded from childhood. She leans in to breath on the cold glass, then scrawls what she knows is true beside the imprint of her tiny hand.
I am Natalya Romanova. It is Christmas Day and I am dancing.
That's all she knows.
Christmas is cold. Steve hates cold.
He always loved Christmas. The smell of baking, the time spent with family, maybe a new art book. Seeing the snow outside and dreaming he would be well enough to go and play in it by next Christmas.
By the time that happens, he's not just Steve Rogers any more. He's Captain America, the Star Spangled Man With The Plan, and by heck does Stark use that dratted song against him. He won't even ask where he learned it, as he suspects Howard wouldn't have brought it up.
He looks at Christmas now and he doesn't understand it. They seem to worship Father Christmas more than God, and even out of his element as he is, he doesn't think it's right.
Out of his element? He's out of his time and he's cold, so cold, crashing into the waves with a compass in his hand and an apology in his mind.
"I'd hate to step on your-"
Forgive me, Peggy.
He can't stand the cold, not then, not now, and he knows that Christmas is not what it was back in the day.
Maybe it never will be.
Bruce never did believe in Santa Claus. Not pre-Hulk. Not pre-education. Not even when he was little.
How could Santa exist if he let Daddy hurt Mum? And him, but he deserved it. Mummy didn't. She was nice. Dad wasn't.
In the vain, flickering hope that there might actually be someone listening, he asks for Dad to leave for Christmas. Instead, he gets Mum bundling him up in his jacket in the middle of the night and hustled out to the garage. He barely has time to register that they're running away, leaving Daddy, before he turns up.
He hits Mummy and blood comes out of her and it really isn't good, but he's scared to move, to run to her side, what if he comes back?, so he stays rooted where he is and doesn't move until dawn filters through the still half open garage door and the sirens ring in his ears.
As the policewoman carries him away ("YOU AREN'T MUMMY! Put me down! MUMMY!") he whispers to the one he doesn't believe in with heartbreak on his tiny face.
"I didn't mean like this..."
Thor doesn't know what this Christ-Mas is, except that it celebrates the birth of the son of a god. It confuses him a bit (after all, Loki has- had- children and there was no holiday. Then again, this Christ was not a monster.) but he nods and smiles and asks questions as they explain what happens on Christ-Mas Day.
"You bring a tree inside the house?"
"You play in the snow?"
"You exchange gifts?"
"FOR GOD'S SAKE, THOR, IT'S A BLOODY YULE FESTIVAL!"
"That makes a great deal more sense. Why did you not say so earlier, Banner?
"All right, forget the Hulk. I'll flatten him myself!"
"Stark, did you have to hide his tea this morning?"
"It's grass flavoured, Stalin. It's icky."
He sits and smiles and doesn't think about how much Loki would love this.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am so, so, SO sorry this took so long. I have little excuse, but I do have a few explanations-
1) My shift key keeps sticking. Sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours, often in the middle of a sentence. This means typing is a serious problem, especially as regards punctuation. You would not believe the frustration. I've had it cleaned, I've dusted it, I've prised the key off and left it open so it physically should not stick, yet still it bloody does.
2) I live in a cultural black hole. I can go weeks with no internet and it means I can't post. It also means I miss out on Tumblr. None of us are happy with the arrangement.
3) I'm heading towards exam season. I have two prelims on my birthday in a month, one of which is maths. This means lots of panic, study and procrastination, often simultaneously.
In short, it isn't all my fault, but I am very sorry for not being more motivated. Happy New Year when it comes.