It's a PR event.
When they first find out about it, Steve puts his foot down. "No," he says to Fury, "absolutely not. It's too dangerous."
Bruce, standing in the far corner of the meeting room with his hands wrapped around his waist, nods in grim agreement. "It's really not a good idea."
"Well, I for one, think it's a brilliant idea and am fully on board," Tony declares.
"Tony," Steve admonishes, sounding pained.
"What?" Tony says. "How bad can it be?"
"Oh, yeah, because that phrase has never invited mayhem," Clint mutters as Bruce says, "Bad."
Steve looks to Natasha for help and she merely shrugs, a what can you do sort of gesture.
Fury gives Steve and Bruce each a one-eyed glower. "I am not asking gentlemen, I am telling you to be in Central Park on December third at one-thirty in the afternoon. I suggest you take a retreat the day before, Doctor Banner."
He glares at them one more time and then sweeps out of the room, black leather duster flapping ominously in his wake.
Steve sighs. "I'm sorry, Bruce."
"Sorry," Tony echoes, "what are you sorry about? This is going to be fantastic."
"I do not understand," Thor says, brow furrowed. "What is it we will be doing in this Central Park?"
Clint twists his chair around to better look at Thor. "It's a PR thing. Wait, you don't know what PR is do you?"
Thor wrinkles his nose. "Jane has explained it, as has the Son of Coul, but the concept remains elusive to me, I admit. I believe it is intended to create good will amongst the people of Midgard?"
Natasha nods her head a little. "That's not incorrect. It's a little more complicated than that, but this particular event, yeah. It's meant to create good will."
"We're gonna make snow men!" Tony says gleefully.
Thor points at him. "Ah, yes, that is the part which confuses me. What are these 'snow men'? Will we do battle with them?"
"Uh, no," Steve says, "no battling. We're going to try to avoid anything resembling battling." He glances at Bruce, who looks like he's got a migraine coming on. "It's a thing Midgar—I mean, people, it's a thing people do when snow falls, usually children. They go out and try to, you know, make snow-people."
Thor's face lights up. "Snø kriger! We, too, have this tradition on Asgard!"
Steve smiles. "There you go. We'll basically just be doing that, with the media watching."
"Fear not, friend Bruce! Sculpting snø kriger is a joyous activity."
Bruce gives him a tight smile. "That's nice, Thor, but I really don't think any of you understand—"
"Doc, come on," Natasha says, voice gentle and wheedling. "It's been ten months and you haven't smashed us flat yet."
"Not because he hasn't tried," Bruce points out and Natasha shrugs.
"He gets spooked sometimes. Do you really think any of us are gonna let you mow down Central Park?"
"I question whether or not you have the ability to stop me," Bruce says and sighs.
"Hey, it looks like we're stuck doing this," Steve says. "We might as well try to have a little fun while we're at it."
Tony leans forward. "snowman with motion-activated arms: yea or nay?"
~ * ~
Bruce leaves immediately for a two-week remote-Canadian-mountain sabbatical. "I swear to god, if you don't show up, I will make you regret it, Banner," Tony threatens, holding him in the doorway with one hand wrapped around his elbow. "Think pink and slimy."
Bruce smiles, a little weary, but genuine and says, "I can't promise anything."
Tony sets his jaw and gives Bruce's arm a shake. "You can promise me this."
"I'll do my best, Tony," is all Bruce says.
"You made him go," Tony accuses, jabbing one finger at Steve when Bruce is gone.
Steve raises his eyebrows. "I didn't make him do anything."
"You trust him to have your back in a goddamn firefight, but you don't trust him to make a snowman?"
“I trust him to know what he can and can't do," Steve replies, his voice hardening.
Tony's anger fizzles and he flops into a chair. "Ugh, that's a terrible idea."
"Maybe," Steve admits, "but there are enough people trying to take away his agency without making ourselves a part of that."
"UGH," Tony repeats, and crams a throw pillow down on top of his head. "STOP BEING REASONABLE."
Steve pats his shoulder. "Sorry."
"You are not," Tony grumbles and pulls the pillow down far enough to shoot him a one-eyed glare.
~ * ~
The morning of the third the five of them bundle up under the supervision of Pepper and the PR team. Tony whines through the entire process while Pepper makes sympathetic noises and clearly isn't listening to a word he says.
"I can't believe he didn't come back!" Tony despairs as they're shepherded out to the car.
"I know," Pepper says and pats him absently.
"He's just doing what he thinks is right," Steve says.
"Doing what's right sucks."
"You are such a whiny bitch, Stark," Clint says, marveling.
"It's a skillset," Tony mutters.
Happy greets them all by name as he runs around the SUV sitting at the curb, dropping into a little half bow as he pulls open the door.
Bruce's smile quirks up on one side and he waggles his fingers. "Hey guys."
Tony's face blooms into a face-splitting grin, Pepper smiling fondly at his side. He throws himself into the car, shouting, "JOLLY G!"
"Hi, Tony," Bruce says, voice muffled as his face is mashed into Tony's shoulder and swamped by the red and gold striped charcoal scarf he's wearing.
"Glad to have you back, Doc," Clint says, clapping Bruce on the shoulder as he slides into the back seat.
Bruce waves a hand over Tony's head and replies, but Tony's squeezing him and his glasses are askew and it's totally unintelligible.
"Tony, let him breathe," Steve says from the front, voice colored with amusement.
Tony releases him and immediately digs into his pockets. "Look, look, look, how cool is this, I'm gonna integrate it into my snowman and it will blow minds."
Natasha shakes her head silently at Bruce and he nods at Tony, very gently pressing whatever the object is back into Tony's pocket. "Maybe we should leave their minds in tact for this once, Tony. Traditional snow men might be most effective for our purposes."
Thor yanks the door closed behind him and booms, "Driver Happy, let us make haste!"
~ * ~
By the time they reach the park, Tony has finally gotten his fill of Bruce-cling and gotten more than three inches away from him. "Honestly," Steve says, leaning toward Bruce conspiratorially as they walk toward the gaggle of media setting up in one of the open fields in the Park, "if you can handle Tony after you've been out of town, I think you can handle a snowman."
Bruce huffs wryly. "I think you underestimate how frustrated I get with artistic endeavors. There's a reason I'm a scientist."
Steve laughs. "Okay, I see what you mean." He puts his hand on Bruce's shoulder and adds, "Just say so if you need anything."
Bruce smiles and glances down at his gloved hands. "Thanks."
"Of course," Steve says and peels off easily to go join Natasha beneath a tree.
It takes around twenty minutes for the media to finally get it together. Clint adds another ten minutes when he throws a snowball at Tony's head and the snow shrapnel sprays one of the cameras.
"You son of a bitch!" Tony yells, shaking melting snow out of his ear.
"Language!" someone snaps and Bruce mutters to Natasha, "Oh, yeah, this is going to go swimmingly."
But finally everything is set and ready to go and the cameras start rolling.
It's awkward at first, being filmed scooping up snow into piles with the faint sound of shrieking fans floating over from the tape line two hundred yards off the side of the field, but Tony tunes out the gawkers as easily as ever, standing back with Bruce behind their collected piles of snow and speculating about structure and approach, while yelling the occasional critiques at the others.
Clint finishes his snowman first, not bothering to pack actual spheres, just shoveling snow up into a pile and cramming it together before piling more on top. He finds a hunk of frozen snow under the tree and plonks that on top of the whole thing before jamming arrows—where he gets the arrows, no one's really sure, but no one wants to ask either—into it's sides.
He's off collecting leaves and digging up stones from around the base of the tree when Tony bends over and starts rolling a grapefruit-sized snowball around. Clint wolf-whistles and Tony shakes his ass and winks at him from around his arm. Then he sees what Clint's doing and his face brightens. "Hey! Bring me some of those!"
Clint raises an eyebrow at him. "What's the magic word?"
"I'll have a case of Helles Schlenkerla Lagerbier in your room by the time we get home."
"Done," Clint says, pointing.
Thor comes back from the far edge of the field lugging a snow ball that just barely fits in the circle of his arms. He plops it down next to where Steve is methodically building up something that doesn't look remotely like a traditional snowman, which Bruce finds amusing considering everything he's said about tradition.
He's in the zone though, barely aware of Thor or Tony traveling around him in circles making the middles of their snowmen.
Bruce has deliberately started his snowman about five feet to the side of Thor and he grimaces as he rolls the bottom into place. It's oblong and lumpy and he tries to remind himself it doesn't matter. It's a snowman; they're meant to be imperfect.
The last touches on Clint's snowman are his sunglasses and a carrot which he accepts from one of the city people hanging around.
"Help me get this up on here, Clint," Natasha says when he's done and he throws the loose-hanging end of his scarf over his shoulder , moving over to hold the middle while she stabilizes and sets it in place.
"It's a shame we didn't get Coulson out here to do this," Clint says.
Natasha barks out a laugh. "Suits are not meant to be worn in the snow."
Clint grins and says, "But picture it, Nat. The suit and a pair of those specially knitted Cap mittens?"
"Oh god," Natasha says and Clint cackles.
"I don't like that laugh," Steve calls absently from down the line.
"Whoa, Thor," Bruce says. "I think that's too big. You're not going to be able to—"
"Nonsense," Thor says and plonks down his second snow ball on top of his first—it's very nearly the same size. Bruce watches with raised eyebrows, but somehow Thor manages to make it work. It's even more bewilderingly in defiance of physics when he sticks Mjölnir in on the right side.
"Hey, Conan, give me a boost so I can get some of these twigs, hey?" Tony calls. Nobody answers him and he sighs melodramatically and says, "Thor. A little help here, please?"
Thor looks up from adjusting his headless snowman. "Certainly, if you will break one off for me as well."
"Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, boost me," Tony says, waving him over.
"Uhhh, guys," Bruce says, because it's a welcome distraction from his malformed creation.
"Hmm?" Steve says. By the time he's pulled himself out of wherever he goes when he gets creating, Tony's standing on Thor's shoulders, waving his hands around trying to grab twigs. "Tony!"
"Chill out, Cap," he calls back, "Goldilocks won't let me fall, will you?"
"If you never call me by that name again, I will consider it," Thor replies easily enough.
"Square deal," Tony says and snaps off a smaller branch. He drops it and it lands in the snow near Thor's feet. "There's one for you big guy—" He snaps another two off and drops those. "Two for me— Anybody else need 'em?"
"Two for me," Natasha says.
"And me," Bruce adds.
"Two for the lady, and two for Mean Green," Tony agrees and snaps them off.
"Do you think that's considered vandalism?" Bruce wonders aloud.
Tony swivels a little, looking at the tree, and then down at the ground. "Okay. Now...hm. All right, I didn't think this part through. Uhhh. Thor? Do you think you can—"
"Hold your legs firm," Thor says and Tony starts to look alarmed.
"Why? What are you going to—" He makes an undignified, high-pitched noise as Thor wraps his hands just below Tony's knees and lifts. "Heyheyhey!" He wobbles and yelps as he tips sideways. Thor laughs, catching him with no trouble.
"I told you to hold," he says, amused, and Tony wriggles, smacking at his arm.
"Let me down, I'm not your damsel."
"No," Thor agrees, "you are much too homely."
Tony rears back, insult written across his features. "Did you just call me ugly? Steve!"
"You're not really his type, Tony, what did you expect?" Steve says, but he's already getting reabsorbed in the creation of his ridiculously well-formed snowman so he's not really paying attention.
“I take offense to that,” Tony declares. “I am everyone's type.” He pauses, eyes on Bruce as he picks up the sticks and then says, “Bruce, buddy, you doing okay over there?”
Bruce stares at his crooked snowman for a moment and then sighs, a very long, drawn out sigh. “Fine, I guess.”
Steve glances up long enough to say earnestly, “It looks great so far, Bruce.”
That doesn't seem to make Bruce feel better. Tony watches him for a moment and then says, casually, “Hey, what am I gonna do about the arc reactor? I got wrapped up in the other thing and didn't even think—do you think I can repurpose it?”
Bruce steps back from his snowman with another sigh and says dryly, “It's a motor, Tony, you can't convert it into a light-source without some kind of bulb.”
“Well then what do you suggest, Doctor B?
They spend fifteen minutes discussing potential faux-arc reactors before Steve interrupts, dropping a stone with a circle of blue spray paint on it into Tony's palm. He and Bruce stare at it. “Well, that's...analog,” Tony says.
“It's a snowman,” Bruce points out.
“Touché. All right, this'll work. Thanks, Cap.”
Steve nods and shrugs and turns back around to return to his snowman and that's when they get a look at where it's progressed to.
“Wow,” Bruce says.
“That's not a snowman!” Tony cries, waving his hands. “That's—that's the equivalent of the sculpture of David in snow!”
Steve gives him an exasperated look. “I wouldn't say that.”
“For a hunk of snow, it's a disturbing resemblance, Cap,” Clint says, sidling up beside them.
“Unbelievable,” Tony mutters. “Overachiever.”
While they're still scrutinizing Steve's work, Thor completes his with a scarf and a red blanket, tied carefully around the snowman's neck. “Ha!” he says triumphantly. “It is complete.”
Clint claps him on the back. “Nice work, buddy.”
Tony is the next to finish, spearing a couple of fifty dollar bills on the ends of his “hands.”
“Subtle, as always,” Natasha drawls.
“You're right,” Tony says, nodding sagely. “It needs something.” He pulls a pair of bright orange sunglasses out of his inside coat pocket and sticks them on the snowman's face. He beams. “There we go, perfect.”
Natasha smothers a smile, rolling her eyes.
“Can I come play in the sandbox with you?” Tony asks Bruce, a slight mocking lilt to his voice that doesn't disguise the genuine request.
Bruce doesn't answer right away.
He's staring at the snowman in front of him, one hand pressed over his mouth. The snowman is crooked, one arm drooping sadly toward the ground, and one of the stones forming it's mouth has fallen into the snow at Bruce's feet. It's charmingly imperfect. But as Tony approaches, Bruce takes a shuddering breath, left hand curling into a fist.
“Hey, that's fantastic!” Tony blurts, a little too urgently, and Bruce's head bows, his shoulders starting to ripple. “Shit."
Thor grabs Tony by the arm, yanking him back just as Bruce explodes outward, roaring.
“Son of a bitch,” Steve says and Tony is both miffed and relieved when he takes Tony's other arm as Thor releases him and propels him backwards until the two blonds are standing between him and the Hulk. The media gang erupts into pandemonium, screaming and running; Steve spares a split-second of annoyance for them, because that kind of ruckus is just going to agitate Hulk further.
Fortunately, he seems pretty fixated on the same thing that was bothering Bruce and he roars again as he crushes the snowman under one giant green fist. “Hulk,” Steve calls, mustering all the authority he can. “No more smashing today.”
The Hulk turns, braced on his fists and snorting out each breath. He's on the edge and Steve steps forward very cautiously.
“It won't bother Bruce anymore. You did good. But no more smashing today, okay?”
Big green lips pull back in a snarl.
Out of the corner of his eye, Steve sees Thor look to him for the go-ahead, but before he can decide whether or not to let them go duke it out, Clint comes trotting forward, grinning like a schoolboy. “Hulk!” he crows. “Hey, buddy, you're just in time to make a snowman!”
Hulk eyes him suspiciously, but when Clint jumps, his arm comes out automatically to provide a ramp up to his shoulder. “Snowman?” he rumbles as Clint plops down on his shoulder. He points at the row of snowmen next to the wary cluster of their friends.
“Like that. Well, not like Cap's, Cap's is ridiculous. But the other ones.”
Steve turns pink, glancing over and then flushing even more deeply when he sees the contrast.
“Show off,” Tony mutters, elbowing him in the side.
“Hulk make snowman!” he bellows and then drops onto his backside, reaching out around him to scoop snow toward his body. He gathers so much, patches of grass start to show through in places. As Clint starts instructing him how to build the first snowball, Tony beams.
“See, I told you it was a great idea.”
“Yes, we get it, you're very attuned,” Natasha says and then pats Steve's arm. “Finish up the masterpiece, Cap. I bet Hulk won't be occupied long.”
She goes over to join him and Clint, back stiff, but her expression warm. It momentarily captures the Hulk's attention, then he points at the boulder-sized ball of snow he's just pressed together. “Snow Hulk.”
Natasha grins. “Very nice.”
He grins back at her, all teeth.
By the time he finishes, the snowman is ten feet tall, and probably presents a hazard to anyone walking around it, but the Hulk looks thoroughly pleased with himself, and when Clint congratulates him and asks if they can have Bruce back, he goes back with no fuss. Clint groans as he's unceremoniously dropped in the snow next to Bruce.
“Smooth,” Tony comments, and he groans, “Shut up, Stark.”
“Bruce?” Steve says, kneeling down to prop him up, out of the icy snow.
Bruce's eyelashes flutter, and he lets out a bitten-off groan before prying his eyes open. “What happened?” he says, a thread of anxiety worked into his voice, “Where are we? Did I—”
Steve smiles. “We're still in Central Park, Bruce. The only casualty was your snowman, but Hulk made one of his own to make it up to you.”
“He what?” Bruce says, brushing snow out of his hair and squinting around. Thor hands him his glasses.
“It is truly the most magnificent of our creations.”
Bruce slips his glasses back on, looks around, and stares. He looks up, and up, and up. “I—wha— How did you get him to—”
Clint snorts, “Man, he was all over it.”
“Is that a tree branch?” Bruce says and Tony laughs gleefully.
“It's fantastic, isn't it?”
Bruce stares up at the enormous snowman, nonplussed. “Well, it's better than leveling the park, I guess.”
“Congratulations,” Tony says, flopping down in the snow next to him and bumping his shoulder. “You made it through your first major PR event and didn't destroy a thing.”