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Tradition

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There's swing music playing softly on the radio behind Steve, but he doesn't feel much like celebrating the year that's passed. Sure, he went through with Dr. Erskine's plan and became a super-soldier, got to see the world and found Bucky when even Colonel Phillips wrote off the entire squadron. Bucky. Who had been with Steve through everything, all the back-alley fights and played guardian sniper to Steve with countless, endless HYDRA skirmishes – It's two weeks and three days since Steve wasn't fast enough to catch his best friend off the side of a train.

A now familiar hush has fallen over the other Howling Commandos drinking behind him and Steve knows that Agent Carter has walked in. Her presence is enough to stopper the joke that Dum-Dum is in the middle of telling and Steve hears the click of her heels pause next to him.

“It's nearly midnight, Captain.” Steve looks down at his drink.

“So?” He replies tonelessly, throwing back the rest of the liquid.

“Surely you're familiar with tradition.” Peggy mockingly teases, her hand light on his arm.

He shakes her off, restless. “Don't feel much like celebratin', Ms. Carter.” Cheers erupt around them, signaling the beginning of 1944. Peggy leans in as Steve stills in the midst of the revelry, warm lips brushing over his cheek.

“I believe in you.” Her voice is firm and confident, unwavering. Steve's cheeks flush and he wishes he could blame it on the alcohol.

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Bruce doesn't really want to be here – it's obvious to everyone that General Ross doesn't like him for not fitting his image of “a man” but everyone also knows the military man won't do anything to upset his daughter. This explains why Bruce is in a suit, holding a drink he doesn't particularly want and making small talk with other military men even though he's just a guy working on his doctorate.

Betty Ross descends the stairs in a dark green dress and Bruce's mouth goes dry. It's New Year's Eve and his girlfriend is gorgeous, easily prettier than any of the military wives present. Bruce's suit feels too tight as she walks across the room towards him, smiling prettily.

“You're gorgeous,” he tells her and Betty laughs, low and throaty like they're alone in their apartment, not in her father's home.

Betty presses a lingering kiss to his cheek and Bruce knows there's a lipstick imprint on his flesh. She rubs it away, eyes staring over his shoulder at her father's disapproving glare that Bruce feels itching on the back of his neck.

The rest of the party passes as parties do, the military men loosening up with the judicious application of expensive alcohol and Bruce scribbling his latest idea for his thesis on a pad of paper in the kitchen. That's where Betty finds him, ink smearing on the corner of his thumb from the pen. The countdown from the living room is nothing but white noise because she's looking at him with dark eyes and Bruce is helpless to resist.

Betty leans in and Bruce meets her halfway. It's the best way to bring in the New Year.

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This is the third New Year's Eve party Pepper has attended in one day, because it is important to see and be seen when you're the CEO of a multi-billionaire company. She sips at her champagne flute, mouth turning down slightly at the dryness. It's far from her favorite drink but it is customary for the time.

All she really wants is a glass of water and to kick the heels off, as much as Pepper adores Christian Louboutin. She heads toward the bar against the other wall to at least rectify the first wish, weaving in between the politicians getting steadily drunker and smirking at their aides attempting to contain them. Pepper's been in their position too many times to count as Tony Stark's assistant and is tempted to hold a seminar on how to handle drunk bosses; except then she remembers that the aides look down on anyone who isn't affiliated with their boss so it would be a waste of her time.

She makes it to the bar after successfully avoiding a persistent Senator who imagines himself a futurist (Pepper can barely keep from snapping at him when she's sober and she knows the champagne has loosened her tongue.) and orders a water.

“I thought I was the tee-totaler in this relationship.” Tony's breath is warm against her ear. He leans against the bar on the right of her and Pepper wonders how she didn't realize she was walking up next to him.

“I didn't think you would leave your workshop before tomorrow.” Pepper replies archly, looking him over quickly. No apparent grease marks except for under his left thumbnail and the tuxedo is pressed. He does manage to clean up nicely, when he puts thought into it.

“It was lonely without your dulcet tones, Pep.” She rolls her eyes because that doesn't even garner a response.

Tony removes the glass from her hand and sets it on the bar, taking her hand in his. His lips press against her knuckles, a brief brush with chapped skin before Tony squeezes lightly.

“Happy New Year,” and Pepper stares at him.

She knows they both have rules about kissing in public, about being one of those couples but “Surely you can do better than that.” is halfway an order, partly a challenge.

Tony doesn't disappoint.

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Thor might not be familiar with all of his Jane's science-magic work, but the feast he's walked in assures him he's not interrupting. There are delicate glasses of a bubbly liquid and food that is small enough to be balanced on a finger all around the lab. Darcy and Erik are entranced by the sight of a large golden ball dropping on the screen but Jane's head is turned toward her work. Thor chuckles.

He crosses the room as the crowd tinnily cheers from Times Square, putting a hand on Jane's shoulder to draw her head back to Midgard and out of her science-magic problems.

“Oh, you're here!” Jane throws her arms around Thor as best she can with the height difference. “Happy New Year!”

“Happy New Year,” Thor returns the exuberant greeting happily. He's been coached in what to do next by Darcy: Thor presses Jane close to him and dips her backward as their mouths meet. She's flushed and giggling when he releases her and Thor thinks he kept the tradition right.

He kisses her again and again just in case, until the people stop cheering from Times Square.

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Darcy likes the roof of the Avengers mansion. It's not quite the same as the one she shared with Jane in New Mexico – this one is at least three times as large and Darcy didn't have to drag lawn chairs up here by hand, a handy bonus of living with people who can fly.

She can faintly hear the sound of the idiots in Times Square, and Darcy lifts her beer bottle in their general direction. At least most of them have people to kiss at midnight, or they'll be kissing strangers that they won't ever see again. All Darcy wants is her boyfriend with his infuriating self-assured smirk and cocky strut. She drains her bottle and tries not to think that it's been almost a week since she heard from Clint. He'd left directly after opening presents on Christmas morning, him and Natasha packing duffle bags for yet another classified mission.

She opens another bottle and stares at the city lights below. It's almost the new year, she's not going to greet it being a maudlin drunk. Darcy tries to think happy thoughts as she sips at her beer.

The loud and increasingly familiar sound of a helicopter interrupts her memory of a particularly toe-curling kiss Clint had given her before he'd walked out the door to go save the world again. Darcy looks up and rolls her eyes, setting her half-empty bottle at her feet. Clint rappels down, white teeth flashing in the light from the buildings.

“Hey Darcy,” he yells over the sound of the blades. She scowls at him, glancing at her watch as Clint walks closer. It's one minute until midnight.

“Cutting it kinda close, aren't you?” Darcy says, tilting her head up to look him in the eye. Her boyfriend smirks, curling one large hand around her waist.

“I'm right on time, as always.” Darcy ignores the cool metal of his finger splint when he cups her face and kisses him back until they're both breathless as fireworks explode over their heads.

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Natasha is pissed when the alarm sounds. She's in the midst of bringing the kitchen up to a more than respectable level of cleanliness because that's what you do to throw out the Old Year and the men she lives with can't be trusted to meet her own standards. But she figures it's more than accurate that she'll be in the midst of battle when the clocks chime. As you meet the New Year, so will you spend it goes the saying in her native tongue and so Natasha sets down the sponge and bucket to go pull on her catsuit.

She slides into the driver's seat of the black SUV and starts the engine as Clint swings himself in the passenger side. He takes one look at her expression and doesn't say a word as they peel out of the parking garage. Natasha swears angrily as they are forced to stop for pedestrians making their way to the fringes of the crowd gathered in Times Square and presses the accelerator to the floor for the last three blocks.

Clint jumps out as Natasha kills the engine and he climbs up a fire escape while she takes off down the street. The other Avengers are already engaged with their own Loki clones in the otherwise empty street. Thor knocks back three with a swing of Mjölnir and one falls under the Captain's shield.

Natasha is soon surrounded by several and the spy realizes quickly that she's being herded into the shadows. She throws two of her latest Widow Bite prototypes at the false gods and watches them fall backward into nothing. More carbon copies take their place, smiling eerily in the light from the streetlamp and Natasha sneers.

“Two buildings west of your initial location, the copies keep herding me back.” Natasha says into the ear comm. She hears the calm voice of Steve tell her that he's sending Iron Man for support and Natasha confirms the order as she deploys two more electrical charges from her wrist.

The copies fall again and then only one steps out of the shadows. Loki stares at her with dark eyes, gold staff held aloft in one hand. He's dressed differently than the doppelgangers, exchanging the green and gold armor for a suit and dark grey fur coat that blends into the darkness behind him.

Ded Moroz.” Natasha murmurs, and the god smiles. He's missing the white beard but the trickster's eyes are ancient like the fairy tale character she grew up hearing about.

“What?” Tony says in her ear and Natasha doesn't answer as Loki steps closer.

“I am not he,” the god says in a low voice, softly correcting. “but I am here to deliver a present as he would.” Natasha remains silent, arching an eyebrow as the bells begin to chime. She catches his wrist mid-motion when Loki attempts to touch her face and he nods curtly.

She releases him after a heartbeat, curiosity winning out to see what he will do next. Loki tucks his hand behind his back, bowing his head to brush his lips over hers gently.

“A blending of traditions,” he whispers against her mouth and Natasha's lips twist up. “Happy New Year, Natalia.” The bells echo in the silence as Loki steps away, fading into the shadows.