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Tradition

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“Hey,” Tony says as he enters the living room. He’s halfway into the kitchen before he registers what he’s seeing, stops, and turns around. “Why are you sitting in the living room in your dress uniform?”

Steve frowns and checks his watch. “Why aren’t you ready to go?”

Tony narrows his eyes, quickly thinking through his plans for the next few hours. The Avengers are having a Christmas party in the morning, but the only thing on his plate tonight is a few hours in the workshop before passing out. “Grease doesn’t really mix well with formalwear,” he finally replies. “Where is it that you think we’re going?”

“It’s Christmas Eve,” Steve replies instead of giving an actual answer. “It’s not far from here, but we should probably leave soon anyway, unless we want to go to the midnight one.”

Tony holds up a hand. “Back up. What?”

Steve’s frown deepens. “Christmas Eve? The night before Christmas, you know, the day at the end of December with the presents, celebrating, all that jazz?”

“Church,” Tony blurts out as the pieces fall together. “You want to go to – okay, it’s not that far from here. You know how to get-”

Steve’s face falls and he glances down at the perfectly pressed line of his slacks. “Oh. Yeah, I guess I’ll just-”

“No, hey, wait,” Tony says awkwardly, trying to figure out why, exactly, he’s doing what he’s about to do. “Give me five minutes, okay?”

The smile that lights up Steve’s face is worth the hour of chanting that Tony’s about to endure, he’s sure of it.

-0-

The church is not at all what Tony was expecting. He’d been raised nominally Catholic – Christmas and Easter, and a year he’d really rather forget leading to his first communion, but that had been all, and he’d even stopped that after his mother had died. Tony is expecting Steve to lead them to the church five blocks north of the mansion, but Steve takes a left out of the gates, and in less than two blocks they’re walking into a much simpler building than Tony is used to.

“Come on,” Steve says, tugging on Tony’s arm and leading him to one of the pews in the back. Tony crosses himself when he enters the pew – old habits and all – and Steve’s lips quirk into a tiny smile.

The service isn’t bad; it’s not Tony’s thing, probably never will be, but it’s less a retelling of the story he’s used to and more a message about the spirit of the season. Tony wonders if they pipe this stuff into Rikers – more than a few of the Avengers’ enemies could stand to hear something like this, peace and love and joy and, presumably, not trying to blow up large sections of Central Park.

Steve is suddenly tugging at Tony’s elbow, and he glances around and realizes that there’s music, and everyone is rising to their feet. Steve hands him a hymnal, already opened to the right page, and Tony sings along to The First Noel and Silent Night and Joy to the World. Steve sings, too, and that’s more than a little distracting; his voice is more husky than anything else, but it’s not unpleasant to listen too, not at all.

Tony glances over at one point to see that Steve isn’t using a hymnal. He’s still singing along, though, and Tony isn’t sure why he’s surprised to figure out that Steve knows all the words to all of the Christmas carols, but he is.

“That was nice,” Tony offers after they shake hands with the ushers at the back of the church and head out into the night. Steve bows his head and smiles a little. Tony knocks their shoulders together. “I didn’t know you were a church kind of guy.”

Steve shrugs. “I’m not, not really,” he says. “It’s just – that’s what we always did on Christmas Eve. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t really something that people did any more.”

“People do,” Tony says after a minute. This is one of those loaded conversations, something that could end in Steve avoiding eye contact and responding in one-syllable answers if Tony says the wrong thing. “I just – if you had said something, I would have been ready to go on time.”

“I did,” Steve says evenly, squinting at something down the road. It’s probably a distraction technique, Tony notes briefly. Steve doesn’t need to squint to see anything.

“You did?” Tony wishes he didn’t sound so surprised. He doesn’t doubt Steve, not at all, but he can’t remember when-

“Two weeks ago,” Steve replies, “while we were cleaning up after fighting the Wrecking Crew.”

Tony blinks, rewinds in his head, and, oh, right. “Um,” he says. “In that case, I’m sorry?”

Steve smiles and shakes his head. “You came, Tony. That’s what matters.”

Tony bumps their shoulders together again. “So tell me about all of those songs,” he says. “How’d you learn all of the words if you’re not a church person?”

Steve’s eyes light up. “We used to go caroling,” he explains, taking his hands out of his pockets and gesturing in front of him. “Me and Bucky and some buddies of his, a few of the ladies from the hospital where my mom worked, we’d all go out.” He keeps talking, words and gestures growing more animated as he talks about his past, about tradition and things that are clearly important to him. Tony keeps on walking, enthralled, and when Steve finishes his story, he blinks and looks around.

“We walked past the house,” he says, surprised. “Why did we walk past the house?”

Steve shrugs and puts a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “Let’s get coffee,’ he suggests, steering Tony towards a coffeeshop with an Open sign still swinging in the window.

“Coffee?” Tony asks, still a little bewildered by their surroundings. He shakes his head as they reach the door. “Okay, sure, coffee.”

Steve smiles and leads him to a booth in the corner, and a few minutes later, he reappears with two steaming mugs. He slides into the booth across from Tony, and they sit and talk and sip at their drinks, and Tony thinks tradition, okay.

It’s not bad, he thinks. It’s not bad at all.