Authors: seanchai and elspethdixon
Pairings: Hank/Jan. Eventually Steve/Tony.
Warnings: Fluff, wrapped around a gooey center of impending doom. Also, not beta'd.
Disclaimer: The characters and situations depicted herein belong to Stan Lee and Marvel comics. No profit is being made off of this derivative work. We're paid in love, people.
Summary: Filler between season one and two of Classic-verse. The Avengers celebrate their first Thanksgiving as a team.
It had been several years since Steve had had to peel a potato. He'd spent almost as much time in the kitchen as he had in his quarters during his first few months in the army, when he'd been undercover as 'Private Rogers,' fighting saboteurs and finishing out his training-- and Bucky's.
Peeling potatoes because Jarvis had politely asked you to help prepare Thanksgiving dinner was much less miserable than peeling potatoes because your sergeant had ordered you to as a punishment for insubordination. "Insubordination" was a very broad category, and by the time America had entered the war, and Steve had shipped out -- without Bucky at first -- for the Pacific, he had evolved a peeling technique that had allowed him to remove the skin from a potato as quickly as possible.
The Mansion's kitchen, usually spacious, was crowded now. Thor occupied most of the available counter space, where he was industriously carving up a wild boar approximately the size of Jan. He had shown up early this morning with the boar slung over one shoulder, already cleaned and dressed, and announced cheerfully that he had brought them a wild frost boar from Jotumheim for the coming holiday feast. "This one is but a piglet," he had said, swinging the hundred-pound animal down onto the kitchen table with a resounding thud, "so it should prove especially tender."
No one had asked for big a full-grown frost boar was. Thor had told them anyway, at great length.
"After a day's hunting, we had tracked the great ice-sow to its den," he was repeating now, for Tony's benefit -- he had been at some kind of meeting at SI earlier and missed the story of Thor's epic hunting adventure the first time around. "'Twas then that my friend Hogun unslung his great spear. Great was its forging, in dwarven halls, wrought from iron strong as steel..."
Tony, inexplicably, looked utterly fascinated. From this point onward, Steve knew, the story settled into a sort of monotonous cadence -- Thor was retelling it in slightly different words, not actually repeating himself, but the gist of it was the same.
Steve whistled faintly to himself, tuning the words out, and sliced another long strip off the potato he was working on.
Beyond Thor, in the narrow sliver of remaining counter space, Hank was slicing celery and onions for stuffing, which Jarvis had insisted they were going to have whether it went with boar or not, seven a.m. the day before Thanksgiving being too late to alter the dinner menu.
Jan, under Jarvis's supervision, was measuring out the ingredients for a pumpkin pie. Across the kitchen table from them, Tony was tearing slices of bread into small chunks for stuffing.
Tony, apparently, was not allowed to use any kitchen appliance other than the coffeemaker. Possibly this had something to do with the fact that he had apparently made a microwave explode at some point.
Steve sliced the final strip of skin off his potato and added it to the little pile of peeled potatoes he'd started, then reached for another one.
Jan, who had just finished measuring out canned pumpkin, looked over at him and frowned. "I thought you said you knew how to peel potatoes."
"I do." Steve held up his new potato, already half-peeled, as proof.
Jan took it from him, turning it over in her hands and inspecting it with what looked almost like amusement. She handed it to Jarvis, who stared at it with raised eyebrows.
"Cap, you're supposed to get more than one French fry out each potato." She wrinkled her nose, adding, "I've never cooked in my life, and I bet I could do better."
"My way is faster," Steve protested weakly. Now that he looked at the potatoes, they did seem kind of... small once he was finished peeling them.
"Would you like me to get you a potato peeler instead of a knife?" Jarvis asked, eyeing Steve's pile of potatoes critically. "Perhaps that would help."
"I learned how to peel them with a knife." Steve wasn't sure why he felt so defensive; it was just a silly kitchen chore, one that he didn't even like doing.
Hank's celery and onions were sliced into perfectly uniform little cubes. Steve resisted the impulse to glare at them.
"It's like preparing specimens for slides," Hank said, shielding his collection of chopped vegetables from sight with one arm. "Only you're cutting much bigger pieces."
There was a loud, crunching sound as Thor slammed a meat cleaver between two of the boar's vertebrae, removing its head. "I would offer to trade tasks with you, but I fear my skills with a blade are of a different sort." He set the animal's head carefully to one side, then resumed his butchering job.
"I've got it," Steve said. He resumed peeling his potato, feeling Jarvis's eyes on him. This time, he was careful to slide the blade just under the skin, cutting away as little of the potato as possible. Removing the rest of the skin took an age.
"Want any help?" Tony offered, looking up from his shredded pieces of bread with a hint of a smirk on his lips. "I'm pretty much done here."
"I think not," Jarvis told him. "I'd rather planned on making this the Thanksgiving without trips to the hospital's casualty ward."
"Oh, come on." Tony spread his hands, smiling up at Jarvis with charming but entirely unconvincing innocence. "That's not fair. Last year I burned myself on part of an engine block, and the year before that I was having the stitches from that race car crash taken out. It had nothing to do with cooking."
"In spite of that very reassuring record, I think Steven can peel the potatoes by himself. The practice will be good for him."
Steve wasn't sure if that had been a joke, or not. He carefully made the next sliver of potato skin he cut away so thin it was translucent.
"Hospitals' emergency rooms are greatly overburdened during this season," Thor rumbled, as he began neatly eviscerating the boar. "They would not wish us to add to their duties. Or so I have heard." He set the massive butchers knife to one side and selected a slightly smaller one from the array of knives set out on the table, then picked up the thread of his frost boar narrative again as if there had been no interruption.
Steve wondered if this was what it was like to have one of those big family Christmases or other holidays you always read about in books. When he was a kid, it had always just been him and his parents, eventually just him and his mother. And then, after she died, just him.
He'd envied his classmates and neighbors their brothers and sisters and cousins. When he been about six, and the O'Haras upstairs had had a baby girl, he had tried to imagine what it would be like if his parents had had a baby to be his little sister, or even, better, brother.
The closest he'd ever come to having a real little brother had been Bucky, and the closest he'd even come to a family holiday celebration had been that Christmas in France with the Howling Commandoes, and that had really been the Howlers' celebration, with Steve and Bucky tagging along because they hadn't had anywhere else to be.
This was something like that had been, only with better food and less mud.
A couple of months ago, before the Zemo mission, Tony had told Steve that the Avengers "always" had Christmas and Thanksgiving parties, and that he, as one of the team, would of course be invited.
Upon asking Jan, Steve had learned that "always" apparently meant "never, so far" because the Avengers hadn't been a team yet last Christmas. Tony and Jarvis were essentially inviting the rest of them to what was probably normally their family dinner.
Hank and Jan could easily have made plans of their own, but had cheerfully accepted the invitation; they had known Tony Stark before joining the Avengers, Steve knew, and they probably recognized that Tony was trying to give Steve somewhere to be during the holiday.
It had been five months since he had been unfrozen, and while the nightmares about the war and Bucky's death hadn't completely gone away, they were happening a lot less often; Steve would sometimes go an entire week without jerking awake in a cold sweat.
But he hadn't been looking forward to spending his first peacetime holiday in four years completely alone, and Tony must have picked up on that.
Steve resumed whistling, slicing off another razor-thin sliver of potato. He might be a guest at someone else's celebration, but this was the first time in years that he wasn't spending the holidays in a war zone, and while the other Avengers might not be the same thing as having a family, they were his friends.
He wasn't going to let himself dwell on the past today, or tomorrow. He'd promised himself he would stop doing that after they had taken down Zemo, and while he'd been less than successful at living up to that promise, this was the time of year to be thankful for things. So he was going to peel his potatoes the way Jarvis had asked him to even if it took all afternoon, and enjoy what he had.
Hank was fairly sure that red-blooded American males were supposed to spend Thanksgiving day sitting around and watching football, but he'd never been that interested in sports, Cap liked baseball, and if Hank was going to put money on it, he'd bet that Thor would think kicking a ball around while wearing six layers of protective padding was the antithesis of manly. If Asgradians had any organized sports, they probably involved much less organization and a lot more bloodshed. Possibly ice hockey, or bare-knuckled boxing.
So instead of watching ESPN, he, Cap, Thor, and Jan were sitting around the living room waiting for Tony to finally show up.
Stark Industries was sponsoring some kind of high-profile holiday luncheon for charity -- Hank wasn't sure for what charity -- and Tony had to be there to look pretty for the cameras. Jarvis had been involved, too; he'd been in charge of overseeing all the catering staff, decorations, and everything else, to the point that when Steve had offered to help him out with dinner for the Mansion, he had eagerly drafted them all.
Jarvis had left at noon, taking the rest of the day off to spend Thanksgiving with his mother -- whose existence had been news to Hank. Tony was supposed to have been back from his charity thing by three, in time for the whole team to sit down to dinner together, but it was currently three thirty, and there was still no sign of him.
"No," Cap was saying, "we can't just go ahead and eat. It's his house. And anyway, it would be rude."
Jan shook her head, her hair swinging slightly with the motion. "You don't know how long these things can run. We could be waiting until five."
"Then we wait until five." Cap had that stubborn set to his jaw that meant that no power on earth was going to change his mind.
"It is a feast in his home," Thor muttered, "at his table. He should be present for it."
"How long are we going to wait, though?" Hank finally gave in and joined the conversation. Jan had insisted that a holiday ought to mean a holiday from the lab as well, and he had a feeling that if he went downstairs to check on his experiments in progress while they waited, she wouldn't be pleased. She'd said that she wanted him to 'spend the day up here with the rest of us.' "The food will get cold."
She'd been asking because she specifically wanted him to be there, rather than just because staying out of the lab was the socially appropriate thing to do, which meant he'd had to agree.
"We will wait until Iron Man arrives," Thor declared, with the air of one making a definitive pronouncement.
Jan shook her head, looking amused. "We might as well be ready when he does, then." She took Hank by the arm, just above the elbow. "Come on, handsome. Let's go set the table."
Setting a table for a formal dinner was vastly more complex than Hank had anticipated. He knew that fork went on the left and knives and spoons went on the right, but what order did the forks go in? And was the knife on the outside, or the spoon?
The desert fork went on the top of the plate; he knew that much. And that piece of knowledge was probably costing him some kind of intangible masculinity points.
Hank settled for alternating fork order and knife and spoon order on every other plate; at least some of the place settings would have to be right.
Jan, in the process of bringing an armful of plates over from the sideboard, looked at him, opened her mouth, and then closed her mouth, leaving whatever she'd been about to say unspoken.
It was just the two of them now, and this was probably going to be the only moment alone together that they would get all day. Which meant, at least in theory, that it was a good time to...
"So, Jan," he stammered, feeling his face heat because he knew he was making a fool of himself. "I, um..."
He'd been trying to say it for two months now; why were the words so hard to get out?
Watching Tony and Thor nearly die in South America had made him realize how dangerous what they were doing really was. If things had gone a little differently, it could just as easily have been Hank on the ground convulsing as he suffered the effects of fatal neutoxins, or worse, Jan. Or one of the Vespugian soldiers could have shot them.
All it would take was something going wrong during a fight, and he could die without ever letting Jan know how he felt about her. Or he could lose Jan, forever.
"Jan, I..." he tried again. What if she said no? What would he do then? Maybe it was better not to say anything at all, to just let things be. Jan was out of his league in every way that mattered; gorgeous, sophisticated, confident... what if what she really wanted was someone wealthy and classy, someone more like Tony. Or someone confident and heroic, like Cap or Thor.
Jan raised her eyebrows. "Spit it out, handsome."
That was flirting, right? At least, he thought it was flirting, but did she actually mean anything by it, or was it just a game, like when she called Thor "gorgeous?" Or was that not a game?
"When you say things like that," Hank blurted out, "do you actually mean them or are you just saying them, like when you call Cap and Thor 'gorgeous?'"
Jan grinned, and Hank's heart sank - she was laughing at him. He knew this was mistake before he even started. Why had he-
"Finally," she said. "I was just about ready to take off my shirt and dance barefoot on your lab table."
That... She was... "That wouldn't be a good idea," Hank managed, after a moment of stunned silence while he tried to decide whether that was a yes or a no. Yes. It was a yes. "There's an Erlenmeyer flask full of formic acid on it."
Jan stared at him for a second or so, blinked, and then the smile was back. It was, Hank realized, her flirtatious smile, the one she wore when she teased him or the other male Avengers. "So, are you going to ask me out on a date, or is that going to take another nine months?"
"Um..." What was he supposed to say? He wasn't good at dates. The only ones he'd ever been had been back during college, and the entire thing had ended horribly. "Where would you like to go?" he asked, letting Jan take the lead.
Jan laughed. She looked... happy. Like it was Christmas morning instead of Thanksgiving. "Anywhere." She paused, then added, "As long as there are no bugs."
Hank nodded, finally allowing himself to smile back at her. "That I can do."
The first Thanksgiving dinner that Tony had ever hosted in his own home, the one that he had personally set up and invited everyone to, and he was already late for it.
The charity dinner had dragged on and on, until even the Victoria's Secret model sitting diagonally across the table from him hadn't been enough to make it interesting anymore. For one thing, she had been Morgan's date.
His cousin, predictably, had spent half the meal working up to his semi-annual "it's Thanksgiving/Christmas/Easter/some-holid
This time, it was real estate and bank stocks. Morgan didn't just have lousy judgment; he was also chronically unlucky. But if Tony would just lend him a couple of thousand, maybe ten grand or so, he was sure he could turn things around in no time.
Tony had buried himself in his wine glass and done his best to ignore him. Adrian Toomes' monologue on how the government was turning into a pit of socialism had actually been mildly entertaining in comparison.
Tony's repeated attempts to turn the conversation to aeronautical engineering, usually a foolproof way to make the aging industrialist's company bearable for at least half an hour, had met with little success, but at least Toomes didn't actually want anything from him other than an ear to listen to his ranting and the occasional non-committal "I'm listening" noise.
He should have put in the extra effort to find a date - Warren Worthington had brought two, one to sit on either side of him, thus effectively isolating himself from boring dinner partners.
On the other hand, a date would need to be dispensed with before he could get back to the mansion, and that would have made him even later. It was practically four o' clock as it was. The others were probably halfway through dinner by this point.
Tony didn't slow down as he approached the mansion's front gate; the sensors would pick up on the Avengers' ID chip in his armor and let him in.
The gate slid open moments before the Aston Martin reached it, and Tony blew straight through with his foot still on the accelerator. The driveway flew by, and he braked hard, letting the car skid to a stop just inches away from the front steps.
Damn, it was fun doing that. Especially when Happy wasn't there to give him wounded looks and remind him that it was bad for the cars' brakes.
Happy had the day off. Pepper had the day off. Even Jarvis had the afternoon off, and all of tomorrow. So it was only his teammates he was minutes away from standing up.
Tony cut the engine, the V8's low growl dying away, and climbed out of the car, snagging the briefcase that held his armor off the passenger seat as he went.
The other Avengers were gathered in the living room. Steve was deep in a discussion with Thor - from the open volume of what Tony recognized as his copy of The Lord of the Rings on his lap, and the hand gestures Thor was making, they were debating Tolkien.
Hank and Jan were sitting side by side on the sofa, smiling at each other and giving the distinct impression that they weren't aware of anything else in the room - kind of like Warren Worthington and his two dates, except without the pawing.
"Tolkien was a great scholar," Thor was saying. "The runes which he uses in his saga are styled upon the system my father devised, though the sounds they represent are not the same."
"Ah," Tony said, "you've gotten to the appendices. Those are the best part."
Steve looked up, smiling as he saw Tony standing in the doorway. "I think I prefer the part that has a plot."
Hank tore himself away from staring at Jan long enough to comment, "But the appendices have tables. And you're late," he added. "We've been waiting for you."
"You waited for me?" Tony had felt slightly guilty about being late before, he felt worse now. "You didn't have to. Sorry; the dinner ran long and I couldn't get away."
"Of course we waited." Thor sounded slightly offended. "It is your table, and your hall."
"Well, yes, but I didn't expect..." Tony began, "I mean, it's almost five. The food will be cold."
"That's what microwaves are for," Jan said. "Not that you'll be using one."
"That was years ago." Jarvis's continual ban on Tony using any kitchen equipment other than the coffeemaker was ridiculous at this point. He hadn't blown anything up in years, and even when he had, it wasn't as if it had been an accident; he'd known exactly what he was doing. He'd also been seventeen. Surely Jarvis had to eventually give him some credit for growing up.
The five of them filed into the dining room, where the table was already set. Tony frowned, looking at it, knowing something wasn't quite right, but not sure what.
"Why are the forks in the wrong order on every other plate?" Steve asked.
"To keep it from getting boring." Hank pulled out a chair for Jan, then sat down beside her.
Tony ended up at the head of the table, he suspected because Thor had arranged it that way. It was... strange. The head of the table was his father's seat, and Tony usually made a point of avoiding it.
The wild boar was significantly better than Tony had expected, especially considering that it had still been alive yesterday. It even went decently well with cranberry sauce, stuffing, and the 1995 Chateau Margaux Bordeaux Tony had picked out.
Hopefully, no one would tell Steve he was drinking something that cost five hundred dollars a bottle.
"This is really good," Steve observed. "I had wild boar last year, in France, but this is better."
"Indeed." Thor looked extremely pleased with himself. He'd been smiling proudly over the boar ever since he'd walked into Jarvis's kitchen yesterday with the dead carcass draped over his shoulders. "The meat of the frost boar is greatly prized for its succulence."
Of the two Thanksgiving dinners he'd been obligated to go to today, Tony reflected a half hour later, as Steve fetched the pumpkin pie out of the kitchen, this one was much more enjoyable. Nobody had mentioned the word socialism once, or asked him for money.
It was the first time the Avengers had actually sat down to a meal together, he realized. He usually shared breakfast with Steve, but everyone ate dinner according to their own schedule. Tony usually got home from SI late enough that everyone else had already eaten, and the others didn't necessarily spend the evenings in the Mansion, anyway. Hell, until a couple months ago, unless he had a date, he'd spent most evenings in the room behind his workshop.
"We should do this more often," Tony observed. "You guys are much more interesting than most of my dates."
"Well, naturally." Jan smirked slightly. "I've met some of your former dates. But I hope you don't tell them that."
"Why do you go out with women you don't find interesting?" Steve asked, frowning, just as Hank asked,
"Speaking of dates, do you know a good place to, um, go on one?"
"Most of them have things to offer aside from conversation," Tony told Steve. "I've been told I'm a better dinner companion when I'm quiet, anyway."
Sunset Bain's exact words had actually been, "Tony, darling, shut up and do something useful with your mouth," and she hadn't been talking about dinner. Victoria Vogue's "Do you talk about the principles behind repulsor technology to all your girls?" had been more subtle, but still a clear indication of boredom.
"I know of several good places," Jan was saying. "I can pick one, if you'd like."
"I- that would be good," Hank said, fiddling with his dessert fork.
Steve looked happy, Tony decided a few minutes later, as he watched him clear away plates. That was good. Part of the reason Tony had wanted to have this dinner in the first place was to keep Steve from brooding over the fact that he was alone for this holiday.
Maybe this was as good a time as any to pass Fury's present along to him. Tony had been waiting for the right moment, not wanting to remind Steve of the war when he still ran into him in the library at three a.m. at least once a week.
He knew what it was like not to be able to sleep, now that Sergio's face and the charred hole through his lung had joined Yinsen in his dreams, and he didn't want to make things any worse for Steve when it looked like they were finally starting to get better.
Luckily, a couple or three glasses of scotch could usually ensure that Tony eventually fell asleep even on the worst nights, or he'd be utterly useless from sleep deprivation half the time.
Tony drained the his wine glass - Chateau Margaux was supposed to have a subtle and complex bouquet, but Tony had found that you didn't really notice it after the third glass - and stood. Fetching the wooden box from his largely unused room took only a few minutes.
Getting Steve away from the others was equally easy, but important. He didn't want to do this in front of everyone.
"You said you had something to talk to me about?" Steve asked, as Tony had pulled him into the library and shut the door. "It better be important; I'm supposed to be helping Jan and Hank clean up the kitchen." He didn't sound annoyed, though; he was grinning that open, easy grin. Tony didn't think he'd ever get tired of seeing Steve like that; hopefully he'd still be smiling when they got done with this.
"Fury gave me some things to give to you," Tony said, not quite sure how to start now that he'd opened up the subject. "After we got back from South America."
"He found more of my things?" Steve's eyebrows rose. "I didn't have all that much to begin with. Unless it's a sketchpad of old drawings or something." He made a wry face. "Please don't tell me Nick has any of my art. He'll never stop mocking me."
"Um, no. Not exactly. He got the Army to issue these for you. The originals were lost, and some of them weren't given to you until after you were..." dead was not the right word. "Frozen."
Steve took the box gingerly, opening the lid with exaggerated care; he already knew what was going to be in it, Tony could tell.
Tony himself hadn't been able to resist looking; he knew it was an invasion of Steve's privacy, but he'd already known what most of the box's content would be. Steve's medals were a matter of public record. He'd even looked them up once while doing a paper on Steve's shield, back in high school.
Silver star, bronze star, the Croix de Guerre with silver palm, service medals for the European and Pacific theaters, and half a dozen others. In full dress uniform, Steve would clatter when he walked.
"These are..." Steve began, then broke off. "Not all of these are mine," he said finally, in a suspiciously thick voice.
"Bucky's are in there, too," Tony said gently. "He didn't have any family. Fury thought you should be the one to have them."
"I..." Steve blinked hard, then lifted a strip of blue ribbon dotted with embroidered stars out of the box, touching the gold star and wreath that dangled from it with something approaching reverence. "They gave him the Medal of Honor."
Both of them had won the Medal of Honor, posthumously. Of course Steve would find Bucky's medal more important, more meaningful, than his own; that was the kind of person he was.
Steve's eyes had gone glassy, and he blinked again as he returned the medal gently to its place in the box, obviously trying not to cry.
"They gave you a bunch of medals, too," Tony said, feeling desperately awkward. Maybe he shouldn't have done this today, when Steve was happy. "You've got everything but the army good conduct medal." He offered Steve a smile, pretending not to see the wet sheen in his eyes.
Steve smiled back, pretending he hadn't just been about to cry. "Remember what I said before about peeling potatoes? My sergeant hated me with a deep, personal hatred. I spent almost as much time on punishment duty as I did in costume my first few months in the Army, before they finally sent me overseas." He closed the box, wrapping both hands firmly around it. He swallowed hard, blinking again.
"Thank you," he said softly.
Tony waved a hand, shrugging. "It was Fury's idea. Come on, It's a Wonderful Life should be on now. It's painfully hokey. You'll love it."
Steve set the box carefully down on the sideboard, next to the crystal decanter of scotch -- an ugly relic of Tony's father that matched the ones in his office -- and adjusted it slightly so that it lined up with the edge of the table. Then he followed Tony out of the room.
Tony's television screen seemed small to Steve compared to a movie screen, but judging by the other televisions he'd seen, it was actually ridiculously large. On it, in familiar black and white, Jimmy Stewart was being shown how much worse the world would be if he had never existed.
It probably was hokey, as Tony had said, but Steve didn't care; he liked the idea that one person's life could make that much of a difference. It might not be realistic, but there was some truth to it, nonetheless.
Even if it was a short life.
He had almost gone to visit Bucky's grave after the Avengers had returned from capturing Zemo, but hadn't quite been able to bring himself to. Bucky wasn't really buried there, anyway. His body would have been lost somewhere in the North Atlantic, over a thousand miles away from the headstone somewhere in Arlington Cemetery, inscribed with his name and the date Steve's world had ended.
"This is a remarkably silly movie," Hank observed. Jan, curled up next to him on the loveseat, snuggled a little closer to him and said,
"Yes, but it's a tradition."
"Verily, traditions are of great importance." Thor spoke solemnly, but he was smiling ear to ear as he said it.
Tony, sitting next to Steve on the couch, was silent. He'd been quiet since he'd given Steve the box of medals, sipping slowly from a glass of cognac -- he'd snagged one of the library's numerous ugly decanters on the way out -- and ignoring the movie.
"And in that spirit, I thought we might honor another Asgardian tradition, one even more hallowed than the hunting and eating of ice boar," Thor said, with a smile Steve might have called conspiratorial, if it hadn’t been Thor speaking.
Jan raised her eyebrows, resting her chin on Hank's shoulder. "Does it involve epic poetry or runes?"
"And yet," Tony commented, addressing his glass of cognac, though his words were obviously directed at Jan, "you recognize traditional Anglo-Saxon meter when you hear it."
"I had Beowulf inflicted on me in college, too."
"It is a noble poem," Thor said cheerfully, just as Hank said, with evident approval,
"The villain gets his arm ripped off."
Jan made a sort of huffing sound of exasperation. "Men."
"What kind of tradition?" Steve asked, hoping to turn the conversation away from Beowulf before it got intense enough to distract him from the movie.
In answer, Thor stood and left the room, returning a minute later with a very small barrel and armful of mugs. "Asgradian mead," he pronounced grandly, "the nectar of the gods. It is not supposed to be served outside of Valhalla, but no feast of celebration would be complete without it." He glanced around the room, smiling a broad, pleased smile. "Who would like some?"
Jan shook her head. "None for me, thanks, big guy."
"I don't really like my drinks that sweet," Hank said, wrinkling his nose slightly.
Steve held up a hand to indicate no. "Maybe later." He had vivid memories of some of the German liquor Nick and the Howling Commandoes had liberated last Thanksgiving, as well as the sticky-sweet liqueur he'd been presented with on his last birthday. It took levels of alcohol high enough to be toxic to most men to give Steve a hangover, but Nick's foul-tasting contraband had proven equal to the task. Mead brewed by the gods probably would, too.
Thor's face fell ever so slightly, and Tony sat up a little straighter and held up a hand.
Thor's broad grin returned full-force, and he cracked open the barrel and poured mead into two of the mugs, handing one to Tony and taking one for himself.
Thor leaned back in his chair and took a sip of his mead, watching Tony to gauge his reaction to it.
Tony up-ended the mug and threw the liquid back like it was a shot of bourbon -- or possibly like he was anticipating that it was going to taste horrible and wanted to get the experience over with as soon as possible.
He drained the glass in several long swallows, then lowered it, blinked at the empty mug, and looked up at Thor. "It's... very sweet. What's in this?"
Thor, still grinning that pleased grin, launched into a long explanation exactly how it was fermented and brewed.
Tony nodded, apparently listening intently.
Steve returned his attention to the movie, where Jimmy Stewart was now pleading with the angel for a second chance.
"Help me, Clarence! Get me back! Get me back, I don't care what happens to me! Get me back to my wife and kids!"
If he'd had the opportunity to go back to before his own fall into icy water, would he have taken it? Steve wasn't sure anymore.
Right after he'd woken up in the Avengers submarine, he'd felt cut-off from everything he'd known, like the world had ended. It didn't feel like that anymore.
He wasn't sure when things had changed, or what exactly the change had been, only that he no longer felt like he was stranded in an alien place, alone. He'd decided after Zemo's defeat that he was going to stop letting the past haunt him and start making a future for himself, but that was an easy thing to decide and a much harder thing to actually accomplish.
Tony had slumped back against the couch next to him, his eyes half-lidded; he was either designing some new and incredibly complex piece of machinery in his head, or was half asleep. Or possibly both.
Steve nudged him with an elbow. "Don't tell me you're actually tired. I thought you never slept."
Tony swayed with the force of the nudge, then slide slowly sideways, until he was resting heavily against Steve's side. "Hank's right. This is a silly, schmaltzy movie. Nobody's actually that important to absolutely everyone they've ever met." He paused, frowning slightly at the television screen, and added, "Well, except you." He offered Steve a bright, decidedly lopsided smile, then leaned his head against Steve's shoulder and closed his eyes.
Scratch tired. Tony was drunk.
Steve turned to look at Thor, lips twitching with suppressed amusement. "What is in that mead?"
"It is very potent," Thor admitted. "But a single glass should not be enough to fell a warrior like Iron Man. In Valhalla, it is-" he broke off, looking momentarily embarrassed. "Only drunk by Asgardians. Perhaps it is too strong for mortals."
"Perhaps it's too strong for mortals for whom it's not the first drink." Hank was smirking at Tony, shaking his head. "I'm pretty sure Tony could handle it on its own; I wouldn't want to challenge him to a drinking contest unless I added a couple feet to my height first."
"You'd lose," Tony mumbled, his face buried in Steve neck. He sounded smug as hell.
His goatee and mustache were scratching Steve's skin, and Steve could feel his body heat through his shirt. Tony was deadweight, but he was warm, relaxed, comfortable deadweight.
Steve rescued the half-empty glass of scotch Tony was still holding just in time to prevent it from slipping from his lax hand and spilling its contents all over the doubtless-expensive carpet.
He ought to be irritated, but Thor was earnestly apologizing, and Jan was whispering something into a suddenly furiously blushing Hank's ear, and Tony was humming something very faintly, the vibrations sending shivers up Steve's spine, and this must be what a family holiday was like.
"Every time a bell rings," the little girl in the movie chirped, "an angel gets its wings."
"All right," Steve told Hank. "You win. That is sappy."
Tony made a faint, contented sighing sound. "Knew you'd like it."