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The Christmas Market

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It was cold and the early afternoon sky was patchy with gray clouds, only an occasional peek of blue visible. Tony looked south through the park as he fussed with his red scarf and dark coat. The skating rink already had a good number of people on the ice, endlessly going around in a circle. Beyond that, Tony could see Bryant Park's Christmas Tree and the low bulk of the New York Public Library. The tall buildings of New York City soared above the park and its crowds. The noise of the city and its traffic was not quite drowned out by the noise of people laughing and talking in the park.

The dark haired man started a little as someone stepped close to him. “Here's your coffee, Tony,” Steve said easily, offering the insulated paper cup to the smaller man. The 'wichcraft coffee and pastry kiosk behind them already a line of people searching for hot drinks on this cold winter day.

“Thank you,” Tony replied gratefully, quickly bringing the cup to his mouth and ignoring how the hot liquid burned at his tongue. Warmth spread through his limbs and he sighed happily.

Steve sipped at his own cup with a smile. “Where did the others go?”

“Clint and Natasha already left for the ice rink. Jane and Thor went off ahead. I think they're looking for some time alone.” Tony chuckled faintly. “And I think Bruce might have actually slunk off to the library, the cheater.” A couple of snowflakes drifted down from the sky, adding to the piles of snow swept off into the corners of the patio.

“Then we've been abandoned,” Steve observed unconcernedly. “Do you want to sit?” The patio had several little tables open.

Tony shook his head. “No. If I don't keep moving, I'm going to turn into an icicle. Lets walk around.” Steve nodded agreeably and offered his arm with a teasing but hopeful smile. Tony managed to not roll his eyes as he tucked his hand into Steve's elbow and allowed the blond to lead the way through the crowd.

The garden plots along the 42nd Street allée were heaped with snow, although the walkway was cleared. The tall bare winter trees were covered in a blanket of white over their heads. Green garlands and big red bows were wrapped around the unlit light posts. Steve leaned down to mutter into Tony's ear, “Let me know if you get too cold.” He himself was bundled up in his preferred leather coat and a haphazardly knitted scarf against the December chill.

“I'll be fine.” They came upon the first kiosk of the Christmas market, a small building made mostly of glass. Red and green bunting fluttered from the edge of the roof. It looked like a tiny greenhouse dropped out of place on the stone promenade of the park. A display of snowman ornaments hung from some hooks and Tony took a step inside for a quick look. The shop attendant, a young woman with a festive hat pulled over her brown hair, smiled at them hopefully.

Steve returned the smile politely but disinterestedly until he heard Tony chuckling. “What?”

Tony lifted a snowman up. “It's you!” Steve blinked at the little ornament and laughed. The snowman had a tiny round shield stuck on front and a blue cowl over its bulbous head.

The blond reached down and picked up another snowman. “Here's you.” This ornament had an Iron Man helmet for a head, the arc reactor a blue bead on its chest.

Tony grinned. “Oh, I want them. We'll add them the tree,” he announced. The brunette gently took the ornaments up to the counter where the attendant was having a hard time controlling her face now that she realized exactly who was in her little shop. “These two, please,” Tony said firmly.

The young woman jerked. “Yes, sir, Mr. Stark,” she blurted. She wrapped the two ornaments into tissue paper and packed them into boxes. Tony paid while Steve picked up the colorful bag the ornaments were in. “Merry Christmas!” the attendant called as they made to leave.

They echoed the sentiment back to her and stepped out onto the walkway. Tony took Steve's elbow again because he knew it pleased the blond and they wandered along the shops. Each little jewel box kiosk sold something different. One might have scarfs and mittens while the next would have soaps and lotions. Tony inspected a case of handmade jewelry, thinking perhaps Pepper might like something casual, but eventually didn't buy any of them. A kiosk near where the ping pong tables were usually set up during warmer weather had handmade paper and rustic journals and leather books with blank pages and Tony waited patiently while Steve picked over the selection, asking the shop attendant about paper weight and moisture resistance.

Tony was rewarded for his good behavior with a bag of cinnamon mini donuts and hot chocolate, their coffee long gone. They found a fire pit to thaw their fingers and toes at and sat on some empty chairs. It had gotten a little more sunny, golden afternoon light reflecting off the windows of the skyscrapers towering around the park, but the air was still cold. They could hear screaming and laughter from the ice rink as they ate. “Are you having a good time?” asked Tony, licking cinnamon sugar dust from his fingers.

“Yeah.” Steve nodded. “I mean, we didn't have anything like this before.” He gestured vaguely to the crowds and glass gift shops. “The library was built just before I was born but when I was a kid this park was all torn up while they worked on the subway and then in the early 30's they remodeled everything. I don't remember ever coming here before. Bucky and I couldn't afford trips on the subway a lot and it was too far for me to walk while I was sick.” He trailed off as Tony grabbed his knee and squeezed.

Tony smiled sympathetically. “But you're having a good time now, right?”

Steve put his hand on top of Tony's and smiled back. “Yes, Tony. I'm having a great time.” Tony's smile turned relieved and he shifted forward in his seat, leaning his weight against Steve's leg. The blond dipped his head, smile going crooked. They kissed gently with a simple press of warm lips. Steve curled his free hand around Tony's shoulder, the caress of their mouths slow and soft.

The muffled roar of the Hulk sounded three times down by Tony's hip, followed by a buzzing. They reluctantly parted and Tony fished out his cellphone from his coat. “What does Bruce want?” asked Steve, balling up the donut bag and pitching it neatly into a nearby trashcan.

Tony's smile widened as he scrolled through Bruce's text. “Apparently, he's camped out at Celsius waiting for a table and wants to know if we'd like to join him.”

Steve chuckled. “That was nice of him to wait for a table.”

“Especially since they don't take reservations,” grumbled Tony. He tilted his head at the blond. “Should I say yes?”

“I could eat a proper meal,” Steve replied, quickly downing the last of his hot chocolate and tossing it into the trashcan too.

Tony snorted. “Right. Forgot who I was talking to,” he muttered, typing out a reply. Steve darted in to kiss his cheek, stealing the brunette's empty cup and throwing it into the trash as well. Tony rolled his eyes but Steve could see him fighting a pleased smile. Tony slipped his cellphone back into his pocket and stood, snagging the bags with the snowman ornaments and a couple of sketch books Steve had bought. “We should head over. It will take a while to get through the crowd.”

The pair crossed in front of the park cafe, sitting butted up against the back of the New York Public Library, and around toward the skating rink. The rink was more crowded now and the tall Christmas Tree at the end of the rink was lit up with purple and blue lights. Steve used his bulk to shoulder a path toward the entrance of the restaurant, Tony tucked against his side so they weren't separated.

It was a relief when they entered the warmth of Celsius. They pulled off their gloves and scarves and unbuttoned their coats gratefully. Tony spoke with the hostess and they were lead to the second floor. Floor to ceiling windows overlooked the ice rink and Christmas Tree. It was getting late in the afternoon and the shadows were growing in the winter dusk. The park lights were turning on and the gleaming of the glass shop kiosks created a intimate and lovely glow in the gathering dark.

Two square white tables had been pushed together in front of the windows. Already four people were seated there and chatting with each other. Thor was easy to recognize with his long hair and bulk as Tony and Steve wove their way toward them. Jane sat next to him, Tony recognized her white sweater, and the dark haired man across from them was obviously Bruce but who was the dark haired woman sitting next to the scientist?

“Is that...?” muttered Steve as they came close.

“Betty!” Tony cried, bouncing forward. They all turned to look at the new arrivals. “You made it! I'm so glad.”

Betty shook his hand with a smile. “I got here just about an hour ago, Mr. Stark. I was afraid I'd get here too late and miss everything.”

“Tony, please,” the engineer insisted, releasing her hand. “Any friend of Brucie-bear's is a friend of mine.” Bruce tolerated Tony ruffling his hair with ill disguised exasperation.

“It's good to see you again, Doctor Ross. I'm glad you were able to join us,” Steve said, draping their coats on the back of two chairs and nudging Tony into the seat next to Bruce.

“Thank you, Captain.”

“Hey, guys,” Tony greeted Thor and Jane. “How do you like the Christmas market, Thor?”

“Is is a glorious market with many excellent wares, my friend. Jane purchased me this fine scarf from one of the merchants,” Thor replied, lifting the tail of a red and gold scarf with a lightening bolt patch on it. “It even has my symbol!”

Jane's face was doing a complicated dance next to him and Tony manged to swallow down his laugh and cover it with a wide grin. “It's a very nice scarf, Thor. It suits you.” He didn't have the heart to explain he was wearing Harry Potter merchandise.

“What?” Steve muttered into his ear, catching the underlying vibe but not getting the pop culture behind it.

“Tell you later,” whispered Tony. A waiter approached their table but he faltered several steps away and stopped, face rapidly paling. Tony cocked an eyebrow and the waiter visible gathered himself and walked over.

“Goo...,” the waiter croaked. He cleared his throat. “Good evening. I'll be your server tonight. My name is Kevin.” He handed out menus with a faintly shaking hand. “Can I get you started with some drinks and maybe some appetizers?”

“We're waiting on a couple more people to arrive,” commented Bruce.

“The wonder twins can order when they get here,” replied Tony, flipping his menu over. “Right now, we'll take one of everything from the appetizer selection and a bottle of Pinot Grigio. And I'll take a, um, an Irish Winter.”

“Everything on the appetizer menu, Mr. Stark?” asked the waiter in surprise.

“Everything,” Tony repeated firmly. “I promise, it won't go to waste. Steve, you want anything else?”

“I'll take a chicken pot pie, please,” Steve said. “With a pop.” He handed his menu to the confused waiter. Thor ordered a pot roast dinner while the rest of them just stuck with drinks. The waiter scurried off.

“Everything from the appetizers, Mr. S... Tony? Isn't that too much food?” asked Betty.

“Nope. Between Steve and Thor here, there will barely be enough for us to snack on. Bruce isn't a slouch in the food eating department either. He'll give our two blond hunks a run for their money,” Tony said with a laugh.

“I don't eat that much!” Bruce protested.

“Yes, you do. It takes a lot of energy to be a giant green rage monster. I fully expect you to hog all the chicken wings.” Natasha and Clint appeared then, collapsing into chairs on the other side of Thor. “What happened to you?” Tony cried as they caught sight of Clint's face.

The archer had a red mark on his right cheek, the corner of his mouth slightly bloody. “Nothing,” Clint snapped sourly.

Natasha rolled her eyes, shrugging off her white coat. “He fell on the ice and slid into the barrier.” Everybody winced in sympathy.

“Only because I was avoiding two teenagers sucking face!” A smile curled the corners of Natasha's lips and Clint groaned dramatically. “That right, mock my pain. I see how it is.”

The redhead chuckled and dipped a napkin into a water glass. “Come here, you big baby,” Natasha ordered. She wrapped her hand around the back of Clint's neck and dabbed at his mouth with the napkin.

“Christmas markets must be dangerous places indeed for you to be injured so, Clint,” Thor said solemnly. For a second, the whole table was quiet. Bruce was the first to snicker and then they were all laughing. Thor's serious face broke and he laughed as well.

Their drinks came and they opened the bottle of wine. The girls each took a glass while Tony took an appreciative sip of his whiskey coffee drink. Clint ordered some sort of blue thing from the cocktail list while Natasha requested a second bottle of wine. The first round of food came and they shared it between everyone. Steve let Tony take a few bites of his pot pie and then they ordered a second round of appetizers because, just as Tony predicted, Bruce had eaten most of the chicken wings and Clint had complained about not getting his fair share.

“And then!” Tony paused to try and control his giggling so the others could understand what he was saying. “The next morning I woke up with a post-it note stuck to my forehead from Pepper, saying 'I'm not cleaning up that mess!'.” The laughter from their table drowned out all other noises in the dining room. Tony collapsed against Steve's shoulder, giggling uncontrollably. Clint slapped the table with his palm while he laughed and even Natasha and Bruce were giggling hard. Thor's hearty laughter rolled across the whole room. “I still get birthday cards from him every year,” gasped Tony, setting off a fresh round of hilarity.

Their table was covered in empty plates and glasses by this point. Between the lot of them, they had eaten everything, as Tony had promised. Their laughter was starting to wind down into little chuckles and Tony caught his breath. The brunette stole the water glass sitting in front of Steve and took a few sips to soothe his throat. Bruce glanced at his watch and hummed. “We won't have time to see the rest of the market if we don't leave now,” he said to Betty.

“What time is it?” Clint asked.

“A little after six,” replied Steve, glancing at his own watch.

“We should go,” Natasha agreed. “I actually do want to see the shops and we've spent all our time at the rink before this.” They started gathering their things, making ready to leave.

“Do you still want to ice skate, Thor?” asked Jane.

“I do. It seems like a pleasant pastime.”

“Do you have those Fast Passes I gave to you?” Tony asked, signing the receipt slip and leaving a huge tip with a messy 'Merry Christmas' scrawled underneath. “The regular line will be huge since it's after work hours.”

“We do. Thank you for your concern, my friend,” Thor replied.

Tony stood and checked his pockets, making sure he had his wallet and cellphone. “What about you two?” he asked, glancing down at Bruce and Betty. “Going to go hide in the library again?”

Bruce looked at Betty and she gave him an encouraging smile, setting her hand on top of his. “I think we'll walk around and see the shops too,” Bruce said, trying to match Betty's widening grin.

Tony patted Bruce's shoulder approvingly. “Awesome.” They headed downstairs and outside, where everyone scrambled to don coats and gloves. It had grown even colder as the sun had set. Their breath steamed in the air and the chill nipped at bare skin. Betty and Jane pulled out earmuffs from their coat pockets and Natasha pulled a wide white band over her hair to cover her ears. She gave Clint a smug grin when the archer huffed at her. Clint pulled his coat collar up against the cold and the pair made their goodbyes before disappearing off into the crowd.

Thor wrapped his Gryffindor scarf proudly around his neck. Jane's smile was amused next to him. She wrapped a hand around his muscular arm and leaned against him. “We're going to go back to where we left off, ok? I don't want to miss anything by starting in a different place,” she said.

“Ok,” Tony agreed, knotting his red scarf and tucking it around his throat. “You going to be alright getting back to the Tower?” They said they would be and wandered off. Tony cocked his head at Bruce and Betty. “How about you two?”

“Whichever direction you're going is good enough for us,” Bruce said easily. The little group rounded the rear of the Celsius to the Upper Terrace behind the New York Public Library. It was more crowded now, the noise from the ice rink loud and chaotic. Tony glanced at Bruce but he and Betty were talking quietly together, walking arm in arm, and Bruce seemed content enough to ignore the small annoyances. They stopped at the Christmas Tree. Tony tilted his head back and looked up the heavily decorated branches. Large red globes dotted the tree with smaller blue and white balls and snowflake shapes. It was brightly lit with blue and purple lights and had a silver star on top.

“Come on,” ordered Tony, nudging Steve around so their backs were to the tree. “Picture time!” Tony cuddled into Steve's side, the blond throwing an arm around the smaller man's shoulders, and they grinned as Bruce took their picture. Tony then helped the other couple set their cellphone camera controls and took their picture. Tony didn't comment on Bruce's awkward smile and tense stance. Betty seemed happy enough with the outcome of the photo.

They walked through the brightly lit glass shops set up on the terrace. The William Cullen Bryant Memorial was a dark shape on the far side of the patio. Tony flipped the cap open on a bottle of vanilla lotion and took a whiff. “What do you think of this for Pepper?” he asked, thrusting the bottle at Steve. Bruce and Betty were in the shop across from them, looking through handmade wooden puzzles and board games. Tony could see how Bruce was eyeing up the truffle candy shop next door covetously. Super soldiers, Norse gods, and big green anger monsters were all bottomless pits.

Steve obediently sniffed the bottle. “Good,” he judged. “I like it better than the stuff at the other place. Less chemical smelling.” Tony nodded, pleased, and bought the vanilla lotion along with a bottle of cherry bubble bath for Natasha. They moved on to another shop and Tony waited while Steve browsed through some art, trying to figure out what a large canvas splashed with colorful paints was supposed to be. It looked like a toddler had gone to town with some finger paints to him. For all Tony knew, that could be exactly what it was. Bruce and Betty entered the Kashmir goods shop at the end of the section and emerged a couple minutes later with a beautiful shawl for Betty. She shuffled Bruce off into a shadowed corner to kiss him in thanks.

The two couples drifted further apart as they meandered from shop to shop and Tony sent Bruce a wave as he and Betty wandered toward the 42nd Street promenade. Bruce waved back as they disappeared into the crowd. Steve and Tony continued along the walkway, around the Gertrude Stein statue and past the busy Bryant Park Grill before heading down along the 40th Street garden plots toward Le Carrousel. “What do you think?” Tony asked, gesturing toward the wheel of light and dancing animals. “Want to go for a ride?”

Steve eyed the carousel dubiously. “Isn't that a kid thing? Will they even let us?”

Tony chuckled. “Yes. They'll let adults on.” He pulled on Steve's arm to turn them around and lifted his arm up high in front of their faces. “Smile,” the brunette ordered, tilting his head close. Steve smiled obediently. Tony's cellphone made a camera shutter noise. He turned the cellphone around and swiped the screen. “I like this one,” Tony said. The two of them were smiling happily at the camera, the lights of the carousel making for an interesting background. “I'm going to post this to...” Tony trailed off with a frown, lifting the screen close to his face.

“What?” Steve asked.

“Is that...?” Tony whirled around quickly to stare at the carousel in surprise. “Natasha?” Sure enough, the redhead was sitting astride the cat body, one hand wrapped casually around the pole as the animal moved up and down. Behind her, Clint was urging his pastel blue horse to run faster, hunched over its curved neck like he was on a real racehorse. Steve and Tony looked at each other and burst out laughing. “Ok,” giggled Tony. “Maybe I won't post that to Twitter. She'd probably kill me if that ended up on the internet.”

Steve snorted. “Good choice.” They tried to smother their snickers as they walked past the carousel. They squeezed past the huge line for the skating rink and crossed onto the Southwest Porch. “You want some more hot chocolate?” asked Steve as they came up to the food kiosk with its yellow umbrellas and, hallelujah, fire pits.

“Coffee?” pleaded Tony, brown eyes going wide.

“Sure,” Steve chuckled. They got in line, although Tony gave a theatrical sigh. The park was so crowded that all the food kiosks had good sized lines in front of them and it was getting difficult to move around.

Tony leaned against Steve's arm while he pouted, his hand slipping down to slide their fingers together. “The things I do for caffeine,” Tony muttered. He shivered as a chilly wind blew around them and Steve glanced down at him. Gently, he tugged the smaller around in front of him until they were chest to chest and Tony could snuggle into his warmth. Tony huddled against him, burying his cold nose in Steve's throat. The blond wrapped his arms around Tony's waist and dipped his head to nuzzle his dark hair. Tony wiggled his hands up between them and sighed. “You are the best, honeybunch,” Tony praised quietly.

Steve hummed and swayed them side to side. He shuffled them forward in line until they reached the window. “What do you want, Tony?” Steve asked.

“Macchiato,” Tony muttered, not bothering to lift his head. He was happily warm by now.

“We'll take a venti macchiato and a large hot chocolate with whipped cream, please,” Steve asked, using only one hand to fish his wallet out of his pocket and hand his bank card over to the wildly smiling cashier girl. He nudged Tony over to the pick up window and waited for their order to be called. Steve knew people were staring and, while annoying, he tolerated it. Their faces were mostly smiles anyway. But some young woman lifted her cellphone in their direction and Steve scowled at her. She faltered and paused uncertainly. Steve narrowed his eyes, a spark of anger flashing across his face, and the young woman turned red and quickly put her cellphone away. Steve's face cleared and he went back to breathing the scent of Tony's melon and mint shampoo. Seeing pictures of their private moments show up on the internet might not faze Tony but it irritated Steve that people could be so rude.

“Order 73! Order 73, please!” called the barista, shoving two cups out onto the counter.

Steve reached out one long arm and snagged Tony's coffee. “Here,” he said, nudging the brunette's cheek with it.

Tony lifted his head and blinked sleepily. He grabbed his cup and took a deep drink. “Yummy.”

Steve picked up his own drink and wrapped his other arm around Tony's waist, guiding him toward the fire pits and chairs. He scanned the patio but couldn't see any empty seats. Instead, Steve walked them over to one of the pillars of the overhead portico, strung with bright lights, that was near a fire pit and leaned his back against the beam. He then pulled Tony back until the smaller man was once again snuggled against him. They sipped their drinks in peace for a couple of minutes. “Are you tired? Do you want to go home?” asked Steve, noticing Tony's eyes remained closed more than they were open.

Tony shook his head, looking up with a gentle smile. “No. It's just nice to be warm again. But I want to see the rest of the shops before we go.” Steve nodded and tilted his head down for a light press of lips between them. The Hulk roared from Tony's pocket and the brunette pulled away to take his cellphone out. “Hmm,” he muttered as he read the text. “Looks like Bruce and Betty are heading home.” He tapped out a short reply and then stood. “Come on. There are only the shops on the Fountain Terrace left and then I think it will be time for us to go home too.”

Steve pushed off the pillar he was leaning against with a nod. They fought their way out of the crowded patio and walked toward the Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain. The wide pink granite bowl of the fountain was frozen over, long icicles hanging from the upper tier. Steve was excited when they found another art kiosk, this time specializing in artists from Brooklyn. Tony couldn't help but smile when Steve began an animated conversation with the scruffy young man attending the shop. Tony glanced through the window at the kiosk behind them and put his hand on Steve's arm to get his attention. “I'm going to go look at the spice shop. Take your time.”

Steve give him a big smile. “Thanks, Tony.” Tony left the BrooklynMadeStore and went around to the Spice Professors kiosk. He selected a couple of spice blends and salt varieties. Bruce liked to cook and used all types of herbs and spices in his dishes. Tony considered it a win/win; Bruce got some herbs and spices for Christmas and Tony got to eat the results during team mealtimes. He glanced at the art kiosk but Steve seemed to be still talking with the artist, having gained a couple more people in the discussion.

Tony sipped his coffee and wandered past another shop. An army of Santa Claus decorations were displayed menacingly in the next kiosk and Tony hurried on by. “Creepy little fuckers,” he muttered to himself. The next store seemed to have nothing but socks, to Tony complete confusion. He peeked into a jewelry shop but nothing thrilled him. Ticking drew his attention and he entered a kiosk full of clocks. He could feel a muscle in his cheek begin to twitch at the loud repetitive sound and made to leave when he caught a flash of red, white, and blue out of the corner of his eye.

The miniature clock was round and painted like Captain America's shield. In the center of the white star was a clock face ticking merrily away. Tony picked it up and turned it over in his hands. It was surprisingly heavy and Tony longed to pry the back off and get a look at its inner workings. Well, it would be an amusing gift for Steve at least. Tony took it up to the counter to purchase it.

Someone screamed loudly in the distance but Tony ignored it. The kids visiting the Christmas market had been shouting and screeching in excitement all day long. Tony watched the shop attendant fit the clock into a Styrofoam mold and pack it into a box. There was another scream and some shouting that was slightly closer and both Tony and the attendant frowned toward the door. The people on the walkway were muttering uneasily and trying to see over each others heads. Tony accepted the bag with the clock, although the attendant's attention was mostly on the people they could see outside. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Stark,” she said absently.

“You too,” replied Tony, stepping back onto the walkway. There was more shouting and yelling and the crowd was starting to anxiously move in mass toward Tony's left. So, of course, he moved to the right against the flow of people. Suddenly, the screaming started up nearby and the crowd switched from merely heading away to actively running from something. “Damnit!” cursed Tony, shouldering his way through the panicking people. “What's going on?”

Something dashed toward him and Tony threw himself to the side to avoid it. He hit the glass of a kiosk with his shoulder, feet sliding in the snow. He gave a pained grunt as his arm tingled from the impact and dropped the shop bags to the ground. Pastel colors raced past him and Tony blinked in astonishment. Two carousel horses, unmounted from their poles, were running down the walkway. A family was too slow to get out of the way of one of the horses and the animal reared back, pawing at the air with frantic neighing.

There was a rack of small wooden ornaments just inside of the kiosk Tony stood in front of and he snatched it up to hurl it at the horse. The rack struck its flank, over balancing it, and it crashed to the ground. “Go!” yelled the brunette and the family wasted no time in running away. A brightly painted camel, one of the animals from the carousel, blundered into a shop, smashing windows and breaking merchandise. The shop attendant and a trapped costumer screamed, taking cover behind the counter.

“Tony?” shouted Steve's voice.

“Here! Steve, I'm over here!” Tony yelled. He didn't take time to look for the blond man. Instead he grabbed a hat stand from a nearby shop, scattering the knitted hats on it, and charged into the shop the camel was destroying. He swung the stand like it was Louisville Slugger into the side of the camel and it flailed over onto a table, its legs kicking the air. Tony smashed some more glass on the far side of the shop and gestured to the two people huddled behind the counter. “Come on, out!” he ordered. The frightened people didn't have to be told twice and hurried out of the shop. Tony followed them out and pointed toward the street. “Get out of here!”

“Tony!” Steve jogged up to him and grabbed hold of the brunette's arms. The right leg of Steve's jeans was wet and his leather jacket had some mud on the sleeve. “Are you alright?”

Tony's shoulder smarted but he nodded. “I'm fine,” he reassured the other man. They both jumped as Tony's cellphone began to ring with the Swan Lake finale. Tony fished it out of his pocket and brought it up to his ear while Steve turned and directed a few fleeing people to calmly exit the park. “Carousel animals come to life?” asked Tony as the call connected. He fought down a yelp as the big frog carousel animal hopped past him and splashed down into the icy fountain, where it was seemingly happy to stay.

“All of the statues in the park,” Natasha replied, not missing a beat. “The Bryant statue is attacking the tree, for some reason, and the Gertrude Stein statue is trashing some of the kiosks.”

Tony turned and could see the big Christmas Tree on the other side of the ice rink was shaking madly. People were trying to get off the ice rink and get away but were hampered by their skates. On the Upper Terrace behind the library Tony could see a blue light crackle; Natasha's widow bites, because of course she would bring those. “Jarvis, suit! Now!” Tony snapped into the cellphone.

“Yes, Sir. ETA 4 minutes and 28 seconds,” the AI replied.

“Natasha, take down some of the barriers around the ice rink and help those people out. Tell them to just take off their skates. Better some frozen toes then dead bodies.”

“Gotcha.” Tony flinched as lightening suddenly flashed down from the sky. It lit up the bare trees around the 42nd Street gardens and Tony hoped Thor didn't destroy half the park trying to protect Jane. “Shit!” Natasha unexpectedly cried through the cellphone.

“Natasha?” The call disconnected and Tony cursed.

“Tony!” The brunette spun but could not move fast enough. Steve lunged forward, the charging carousel horse plowing into his chest. Steve's feet skidded in some snow as they grappled. The horse snorted and bucked but the blond had a good grip on its head. With a heave, Steve flipped the animal and slammed it to the ground with a loud crack of breaking wood. “Suit?” he demanded shortly as he stood, breathing heavily.

“Coming,” Tony replied. “Steve, it looks like all the statues in the park are coming to life. We need to help the people who were on the ice rink to escape.” Steve nodded and the pair took off at a run. As they past by the Southwest Porch, they could hear sobs coming from the patio and chairs. They slowed but Tony waved Steve on. “Go. I'll handle this.”

“Ok.” Steve raced off, running much faster than he had with Tony with him.

Cautiously, Tony approached the seemingly deserted patio. Most of the people had already fled from that area of the park by this point. “Anybody there?” the brunette called softly. The crying sounded young but you could never be sure. He glanced at the countdown on his cellphone screen, 2 minutes 17 seconds. He searched around some of the overturned furniture, right where he and Steve had been happily sipping their drinks not even 15 minutes ago. Finally, he caught sight of bright pink coat. “Hello,” he said gently.

The girl was probably 4 or 5 years of age and was huddled against the side of a woman lying awkwardly on the ground. One of the woman's arms was draped over the low stone wall of a garden plot. The little girl looked up with watery blue eyes, sniffling loudly. “Stranger Danger!” she screamed.

Tony winced and quickly crouched down so he was not towering over her. “Very good,” he praised, keeping his voice calm. “You should be careful with strangers but I'm not really a stranger. Don't you know me?”

The girl was breathing in quick frightened puffs but she nodded. “You're Mr. Iron Man.”

“That's right. I'm a good guy. I'm here to help.” Tony came closer and she grabbed onto his offered hand. He pulled her closer so he could get a good look at the woman. He laid a hand carefully on her shoulder. “Ma'am? Are you ok?”

“Mommy fell,” the kid whimpered. “She fell and won't wake up.”

“It's ok. We'll get your Mommy some help and she'll be right as rain.” Tony very gently swept a lock of the woman's hair aside and could see some blood on her forehead. Unconscious from a head injury then. He debated moving the woman's arm into a more comfortable position but didn't want to make anything worse if it was broken or something. He rubbed at the little girl's back as she slowly calmed down.

There was a scrap and rustle sound behind them and Tony spun, expected another carousel animal. The little girl started screaming again. “Quiet!” Tony ordered, thrusting her behind him. The large stone lion in front of them, from the New York Public Library, seemed confused. It was growling and pawing the ground, it's tail lashing back and forth. “Jarvis, where is my suit?” Tony muttered, slowly standing. “Good kitty. Go away. Shoo.” The lion tossed its head and roared. It stalked toward them a few steps. Tony waved his arms and shouted at the big cat and it paused at the noise. Tony knew there was little he could do against the stone creature without his suit. He thought maybe he could grab a piece of furniture off the patio but it wouldn't do much good against the statue. The lion seemed undeterred by Tony's attempt to scare it away and crouched in readiness to pounce.

There was a loud bang and a chunk of stone flecked off the lion's shoulder. The lion turned and roared as bullets rained down on it. Tony huddled over the kid and her mother. The lion twisted and jerked as a bullet broke off an ear. Tony peeked and saw a pair of blue clad cops firing on the statue with their service weapons. The lion seemed only to grow angrier, storming toward the cops. It wasn't long until the guns clicked empty. “Run!” yelled Tony as the lion advanced on them. The lion tensed, ready to lunge, when Tony heard a familiar rumble and the Iron Man armor landed heavily on top of the statue. The head of the lion was crushed, the body going still.

The armor straightened, Captain America's shield carried on one arm. Tony stood with the little girl in his arms. “Officers!” he called. They both started, obviously in shock, but, thankfully, one of them was able to gather his wits and hurried over to Tony. The brunette handed the little girl over to the cop. “This woman needs medical attention,” Tony ordered. “All of the statues in the park seem to have come to life. Direct people away but try and contain the statues.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Stark,” the cop said shakily.

Tony clapped him on the shoulder. “Good man.” Tony headed for the armor, shedding his coat and scarf since they made him too bulky. The suit bloomed open and Tony stepped back into it. It folded around him, helmet snapping shut and the HUD blinking on. “Talk to me, Jarvis,” Tony ordered, firing up the repulsors and jetting into the sky.

“The majority of Bryant Park seems to be evacuated. The NYPD has created a perimeter around the park. Black Widow is helping the last of the people escape from the ice rink. Thor is engaged with the William Dodge and the William Bryant statues. Hawkeye has cornered the Gertrude Stein statue in the ice rink pavilion and Captain America is fighting with the second New York Public Library lion statue.”

“Show me Steve.” A blue dot appeared on his bird's eye view of the park and Tony dove toward it quickly, carrying the shield. Steve was along the 40th Street gardens, near the Bryant Park Grill. He must have encountered both lions there but one of them slipped by. Weaponless and in street clothes, the man was chipping away at the stone statue with his bare fists. Already the big lion was missing chunks of its body and most of its front right paw. “Steve!” shouted Tony on external speakers, breaking midair and dropping the shield down to him.

Steve rolled away from a swipe from the lion and caught the shield. He then darted in and started bashing at the head, the vibranium shield easily crushing the statue. After only a few attacks, the lion's head was destroyed and the body lay still. Tony landed next to him. “You ok?” the blond asked.

“Yeah,” Tony replied. He caught sight of the bloody state of Steve's knuckles and frowned inside the suit. A panicked carousel horse ran by and the shield flew. With a crunch of wood, the animal fell to the ground and was still. Lightening flash in the sky and struck down along 42nd Street again with a roll of thunder.

“Sir,” Jarvis said, projecting through the external speakers for Steve's benefit. “The Benito Juarez statue is destroying the food kiosks on the north side of the park and the José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva statue is attempting to leave the park at the 6th Street Fountain Terrace stairs. The NYPD's weapons seem to be ineffective against it. Also, I have detected a strong energy source inside the New York Public Library. It matches energy scans taken from confiscated AIM files.”

Steve's jaw clinched. “Iron Man, stop the Andrada statue from leaving the park and then see if you can stop the Juarez statue from doing anymore damage. Our main adjective here is to stop these things from getting out of the park. Jarvis, call Bruce and tell him to get to the library and find that energy source. We don't need the Hulk for this but it might be what's making the statues come alive.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“I'm going around the Upper Terrace to help Black Widow and Hawkeye. Understood?”

“Got it, Cap,” Tony replied, jumping into the air. He paused a couple of meters up. “Be safe,” he told the blond and then rocketed off before Steve could say anything in return. It was easy to find the Andrada statue. All he had to do was follow the sound of gunfire to the group of policemen and cop cars clustered on 6th Street. “Hmm, rather George Washington looking, isn't he?” Tony wondered to himself as he came to a stop in the air above the stand off. The bullets didn't see to have an affect on the statue. It just continued walking forward, blundering through flower pots and the like.

“Cease fire!” one of the cops shouted.

“That was nice of them,” Tony commented, lowing himself so he was closer to the statue without having bullets ping off his armor. He triggered the external speakers again. “I don't suppose if I ask nicely, you'll return to the park and your pedestal?” The statue kept walking forward. “Hey, 18th century dude, I'm talking to you!” No reaction what-so-ever. “Right. Jarvis, can we lift it?”

“The statue is within weight tolerances, Sir.”

“Awesome.” Tony flipped around behind the statue and hoisted it up by its armpits. It didn't flail as Tony jetted up, thankfully, and he dropped the statue back in the park. It seemed confused for a moment before struggling stiffly to its feet and starting to walk off again. Tony ripped the black decorative iron fencing around a snowy garden plot out and used it to hog tie the Andrada statue. “There. Now, stay!” snapped Tony.

“Sir, Doctor Banner has arrived at the New York Public Library and is tracking the energy source,” Jarvis announced.

“Call him and show me where the Juarez statue is,” ordered Tony, taking off with a flare of blue repulsors. Tony accelerated into the sky and followed the orange dot blinking on the HUD.

“Tony? Is everything ok on your end?” Bruce's voice was piped through the suit.

“Well, my evening is ruined, but otherwise everything is just honky dory,” Tony said sourly. The Juarez statue was bumbling around what was left of the 'wichcraft coffee and pastry kiosk were they had begun their day. “Now that's just not right,” he muttered softly.

“What?

“Nothing.” Instead of wasting time trying to order the statue to cease and desist, Tony plowed feet first into its metal chest. The statue skidded across the ground and wobbled on its back like an overturned turtle. Tony gave a satisfied grunt and stomped over.

“Tony?”

“Where are you?” Tony asked, wrapping the Juarez statue in pieces of a wrought iron chair.

“The third floor of the library. Your AI is directing us to the energy source,” replied a female voice.

Tony paused in wrapping the statue's ankles together. “Betty?! What are you doing there?”

“She insisted,” Bruce grouched. “It was either take her with me or have her follow me anyway.”

Tony snorted. “Lady, you got balls, I'll give you that.”

“Thank you, Mr. Stark. I mean, Tony,” Betty said, pleased. Tony placed one foot on the statue's arm to hold it still while he chuckled.

“Do you need Black Widow and Hawkeye to come help?” Tony asked, standing and giving the statue an aggravated kick in the leg.

“Maybe? Just a sec,” Bruce muttered softly. Tony rose up into the air to overlook the park as he heard some quiet shuffling over the phone. “Yeah, better send over Black Widow,” Bruce whispered. “There are two guys up in Manuscripts and Archives, third floor, room 328. There's some sort of blinking machine up... Wait, Betty! Shit!”

“Bruce?” snapped Tony, just as the call disconnected. “Damnit! Will people please stop hanging up on me! Jarvis, call Black Widow and tell her to get her ass to the library before the Hulk destroys it. Where is everybody?”

“Black Widow is leaving the ice rink pavilion and heading for the library to assist Doctor Banner and Doctor Ross. Captain America and Hawkeye have trapped the Gertrude Stein statue in the kitchen area of the ice rink pavilion. Thor has immobilized the William Dodge and the William Bryant statues. Sir, there are also several reports of the carousel animals fleeing into the city but the NYPD seem to be handling it as of yet. Also, Fox News is reporting the wanton destruction of Bryant Park monuments by the Avengers. Miss Potts has tried to call you twice and Director Fury has tried to call you five times,” announced Jarvis, his tone dry.

“Christ,” Tony groaned. “Tell Pepper I'm fine and Fury to fuck off. We're dealing with it. Show me Thor.” A little yellow dot appeared on the armor's HUD and Tony headed for it. He dropped to the ground amid the snowy garden plots and broken glass of kiosks. “Thor, what are you doing?”

The god shifted on top of his seat. “These foes are quite annoying, my friend, and yet Jane says I am not allowed to simply smite them,” Thor said, tone irritated. The Bryant statue was squirming on the ground, the big blond man sitting on top of its back. The Dodge statue had been driven feet first into the ground up to its waist and Jane was standing guard over it as it wriggle about, brandishing a decorative walking stick from one of the shops. Both statues were sporting scorch marks where Thor had tried to zap them with lightening to little affect.

“The city of New York thanks you for your restraint,” Tony said, the suit's voice modulators stripping most of his deadpan inflection out. Suddenly, both statues went still.

Everyone waited a beat but both statues remained motionless. “Um, does that mean it's over?” asked Jane, her walking stick still held warily at ready position.

“Incoming call from Doctor Banner, Sir,” Jarvis announced.

“Put him through.”

“My girlfriend is more badass than anybody else's girlfriend!” Bruce crowed over the line, thankfully sounded supremely unlike the Hulk.

“What happened!” demanded Tony.

“Betty took down the bad guys.”

“What? How?”

“She decked the first,” replied Natasha's voice, “and then kicked the second in the balls. She's my favorite now.” There was some giggling after that that Tony hoped was coming from Betty.

Tony made a disgusted noise and kicked the frozen Bryant statue in the head. “Give them an extra punch in the head from me for ruining date night!”

“Tony,” Steve said disapprovingly over the line. Someone said something nearby, barely audible. “What? No, Hawkeye. That button there, on the side. That button ends calls.”

“Stark, your stupid phone is too hard to use!” Clint's voice suddenly cried, loud and clear.

“I figured it out,” Steve said smugly.

“Oh my god,” muttered Natasha. Tony wished he could pinch the bridge of his nose but settled for a pointed sigh.

Soon after that, SHIELD finally decided to arrive and help with clean up. A good number of the greenhouse like shop kiosks had damage, glass scattered on the ground from frightened people fleeing the park and also carousel animals and statues bumbling into them. Merchandise was destroyed and park infrastructure demolished. There were a couple reports of people taken to the hospital for injuries from broken glass and fellow panicked people.

Their two bad guys were a pair of early twenty-somethings with a breadbox on a wheelie cart that blinked and buzzed like a toddler's toy. Tony took one look at it and cursed. Whatever had made the statues and carousel animals come to life in Bryant Park, it wasn't that thing. “I am telling you, that thing is nothing! These guys are a distraction! A red herring! We need to keep looking for the real cause of the statues coming to life!” yelled Tony.

Fury was doing his best impression of a brick wall. “Then why did the statues stop moving when Doctor Banner turned the device off?”

“I don't know,” growled Tony. They were still in the park and it was fucking freezing by now. Tony had flipped his face visor up so he could yell unimpeded but the cold was starting to burn his cheeks and nose. “I do know that the real cause is still out there and we're just standing around like a bunch of... of... of statues!” Fury's eyebrow rose and Tony let out an inarticulate noise of rage and frustration.

“Ok!” Steve said loudly, gaining everyone's attention effortlessly. “We'll interrogate the men and figure out what they know and then we'll move on from there. There is little we can do now. Tony, you said Jarvis isn't picking up anymore energy sources that could be the cause?” Tony grudgingly shook his head. Steve sighed. “So, we'll work with what we have and when we have more information, we'll look for the real culprits. Fine with everybody?” Steve stared meaningfully at Tony and the brunette glared back.

“Dibs on interrogating Dumb and Dumber,” Natasha announced. Clint snickered, breath steaming in the air.

Steve mouth curled and Tony couldn't keep up his glare. However, he refused to smile. “Fine!” Tony snapped, turning away.

“Bunch of motherfucking toddlers,” Fury complained under his breath. “Debriefing in the morning,” he barked before storming away.

“Alright, my balls are about to fall off, I'm so cold,” Clint said. “I'm going home. See you bitches in the morning.”

“Don't be crude, Clint,” scolded Steve. Clint just waved dismissively over his shoulder as he walked away.

“Night,” Natasha said, following behind the archer as they hijacked a black SUV from the SHIELD vehicles parked all in a row along 40th Street.

“I should get my Jane out of the chill air as well,” Thor said, Jane tucked tight against his side to stay warm. “See you on the morrow.”

“See ya,” Steve said as the pair followed Natasha and Clint to catch a ride back to the Tower. Bruce and Betty had left a while ago. Arguments with SHIELD weren't good for Bruce's blood pressure. Steve looked sadly at the ridged back of the Iron Man suit and put his hand on Tony's shoulder. “Why don't you return home too? I'll be a couple more minutes. See you in a little while?” Tony turned his head to look sourly at Steve but nodded anyway. Steve ducked under the helmet face plate and pressed a quick kiss to Tony's lips. “Thank you,” the blond said sincerely.

Tony sighed, his stony expression softening a little. “Bye.” He stepped back, the helmet closing, and jetted into the air. He was only a couple blocks away when he braked and turned around with a curse. The Southwest Porch had a few SHIELD agents scattered around and the platoon of cop cars was still blocking off 6th Street. Tony landed by the chairs and the remains of the library lion. “Fuck!” he growled as he stormed around the patio. His coat was gone and, normally, the loss of a coat wouldn't even faze him but... “Jarvis, where is my damn cellphone?”

“Ten yards to your north, Sir.”

Tony followed Jarvis' instructions until he was standing in front of a young female SHIELD agent. The Iron Man suit towered over her and Tony could see her gulp. “Cellphone. Now,” he ordered, holding one hand out expectantly. The agent fumbled in her pockets and practically threw the device at him. Tony saw the password screen was up on the cellphone and rolled his eyes. Not bloody likely. Like his security relied on freaking passwords. “Jarvis, record her information and send a message to Fury. If this happens again I'm going to be very, very annoyed with SHIELD.”

“Yes, Sir.” Tony slipped his cellphone into a compartment in the suit and flew off toward the fountain. The frog carousel animal was still sitting in the water, much to Tony's fleeting amusement. “Sir, Captain Rogers has noticed your return and is asking if something is wrong,” Jarvis said.

“Tell him I'm just retrieving our things,” Tony mumbled as he scanned the area around the fountain. “Ah ha!” He triggered the release on the suit and it bloomed open. Tony shivered as he stepped out, his black sweater no defense against the cold, and hurried over to where he had dropped the shop bags when the first carousel animal had almost ran him over. “Fuck,” he groaned as he knelt down.

It didn’t look good. The bags were dirty and had obviously been stepped on more than once. The bag with Steve’s sketch books had been kicked a couple of feet along the walkway and was a sodden mess, the pages ruined. The bottle of vanilla lotion had burst open along a seam and the cap on the bubble bath had cracked. It was a gooey mess. Tony bit his lip as he carefully opened one of the snowman ornament boxes. Pieces of the Captain America snowman fell into his lap.

A warm, heavy weight settled over Tony’s shoulders as he frowned fiercely down at the broken ornament. “Tony?” Steve asked softly, crouching down next to the brunette. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” mumbled Tony, pouring the fragmented snowman back into its box. “I just… don’t understand. It’s fucking Christmas, damnit! Why target the Christmas market? It makes no fucking sense!”

Steve swung an arm around Tony’s shoulders, covered in the blond’s leather coat. “I was thinking the same thing too,” he said soothingly, “only with less cursing.”

A corner of Tony’s mouth twitched up involuntarily. “Sorry,” he muttered insincerely. He opened the other box but the Iron Man snowman ornament was in a similar state. His whole body tensed and Steve rubbed at his arm.

“They’re just things, Tony.”

“Our things! Our ornaments that were going to go up on our tree!” Tony snapped. He felt like he was going to snap in two like a thin twig. “I’m just so angry with those jackasses! There was nothing to gain from this shit!” His eyes burned and he squeezed them shut because like hell he was going to cry over this.

“Hey, what’s in the other bag?” asked Steve, voice curious and calm.

Tony glanced over and stilled. It was the bag with the clock, the one he’d bought just before the attack. He pulled the bag over to himself and reached inside. Everything else was ruined but the clock had been in a Styrofoam protective shell. Maybe…? He opened it and carefully slipped the mold out of its box. One corner was slightly crushed but otherwise it didn’t look too bad. Tony opened it and something hot and twisted eased in his chest. The little clock was still ticking merrily away, unscathed. “I got it for you,” he said shyly, holding it up. Its full sized counterpart was strapped to Steve’s back.

“Oh wow!” Steve exclaimed, picking the clock up and turning it over in his hands. “Tony, this is amazing. It will look great on the nightstand.”

Tony snorted. “Like hell that’s going in the bedroom. The ticking will drive me nuts.”

“My office, then.” Steve pressed a light kiss to Tony’s temple. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Tony sighed. He ran a palm over his face wearily. At this point, he was tired, cold, and his pants were wet from the snow on the ground. “Let’s steal a SHIELD car and go home together. I’m ready for this day to be over with.”

“Agreed.” Steve put the clock back into its box and collected the bags, even if everything else in them was ruined. Tony got his cellphone from the armor and had Jarvis fly it back to the Tower. They found a black sedan among the SHIELD cars and Steve deftly talked the agent inside into driving them home. The pair slipped into the backseat and Tony curled against Steve’s side, seeking warmth and comfort. Tony caught one of Steve’s hands in his own and played idly with his fingers, resting his head on the taller man’s shoulder.

They took the elevator up to the penthouse. Jarvis turned on the lights in the living room dimly as the pair tiredly stumbled into the kitchen for some bottles of water. “Everybody make it home, Jarvis?” asked Steve, dumping the shop bags on the island.

“Yes, Captain. Everyone is present and accounted for. Mr. Barton wishes me to pass on the announcement that there will be pancakes in the communal kitchen in the morning, his treat.”

“Tell him we'll be there,” replied Steve while he unpacked the clock and set it on the counter. Its quiet ticking made Tony smile a little. Steve slid a hand around the brunette’s neck and gently kissed the corner of his lips. “Shower?” he suggested, leaning them close together.

Tony nodded. “Sounds great.” They cleaned up, the warm water thawing the last of the ice in Tony’s toes. He left the blond brushing his teeth and raided the closet, pulling on one of Steve’s huge gray sweatshirts and a pair of ragged cotton pants.

Steve chuckled when he emerged from the bathroom to find Tony already in bed, practically swimming in the over sized sweatshirt. He pulled on a t-shirt and pants and climbed into bed too. Tony was instantly in his arms, cuddling against his warm body. “You just love me for my body heat,” Steve complained, wrapping his arms around the brunette despite his words.

Tony shoved his head under Steve’s chin and sighed. “Better than a mattress pad,” he mumbled.

“Goodnight, Tony,” Steve said with a kiss to Tony’s dark hair.

“Night.”