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Christmas Parlay

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Usually bad guys do not start things on Christmas Day unless they’re in a John McClane movie. So Christmas day for the Avengers and the Fantastic Four in their respective buildings in New York City was usually quiet, with lots of lazing around and eating and watching television and exchanging both meaningful, thoughtful presents and wacky gag-gifts.

Which was why all of the superheroes involved were extremely put-out when Thor’s brother Loki showed up in their city with a small army looking for a fight on Christmas morning. Since Loki was technically an Avengers problem, the Four were sitting the fight out at home for the time being, although they were watching the action, ready to jump in if necessary.

The person who jumped in, though, was not a member of the Fantastic Four, nor was he an Avenger. He was a little boy, probably five or six at the most, who suddenly came running out of a nearby church, shouting something that sounded like Wait! Wait! Wait! at the god of mischief and lies, who thankfully waved his warriors back and let the child run right up to him. It was apparent he asked the little boy a question, and he was answered by a happy shout and then the boy was holding something up to Loki with a big smile on his face.

Every Avenger – and everyone else, for that matter – froze; the boy was in front of Loki, in the way of anything they could do to target the god, and too far away to move him out of danger quickly. But Loki didn’t do anything. In fact, he looked…confused? He took the thing the little hand was holding up to him, looked at it, and then held it up himself. “All right, could someone please explain to me what this child means by ‘Parlay’? I didn’t think you humans still had that concept!”

Steve Rogers squinted at the object in the god’s hand, and then got a startled look on his face…and put down his shield. On the ground, leaning it against a concrete barricade. He raised one hand and waved at Loki. “I think I can explain!” he called back, and stepped away from the shield, brushing off the metal-clad hand that tried to hold him back. “Stop it, Tony, I know what I’m doing,” he told the man behind the Iron Man mask. “Have Clint explain it to you. And stay back here, okay? Don’t try to shoot him or anything. This is sort of like a cease fire, if you break it we all buy it.” Iron Man nodded reluctantly and stepped back, demanding answers from their archer over the com link, and Steve started walking again. He stopped one more time, looking up and back, and then waved to someone unseen and apparently up pretty high on one of the nearby buildings, and then he finished closing the distance between he and the Asgardian god and the boy. He looked at the thing Loki was holding out to him, taking it and turning it over in his own hand and then handing it back. “Yeah, that’s what I thought it was.”

Loki closed his hand around the gold plastic coin, shaking his head. “It’s not real.”

Steve shrugged. “It is to him, so that’s close enough for me.” He smiled down at the boy, who had a sticker on his shirt that said BILLY in red block letters. “You saw that on Pirates of the Caribbean, didn’t you, Billy?” The boy nodded excitedly, and Steve patted him on the head. “Yeah, thought so.” He returned his attention to Loki. “It’s a movie, about pirates. They were the bad guys in the movie, but they respected someone’s request for parlay so he must have figured you would too.”

“But why?” Loki saw Iron Man shifting around nervously back where he’d been left – trying to get a better view of what was going on – and rolled his eyes. “I take it Stark doesn’t understand the concept?”

“Probably not. I’ll explain it to them all later.” Steve looked down at the boy again. “Why did you ask him for parlay, Billy?”

“’Cause it’s Christmas!” the boy piped up happily. “I thought he didn’t know. He wouldn’t be here if he knew – only the Grinch messes up Christmas, an’ he’s not the Grinch.”

“Hmm.” Steve thought about that. He didn’t know what a Grinch was – he’d ask someone later – but the point about it being Christmas might be valid. “Loki, do your people celebrate anything like Christmas? Um, Winter Solstice, maybe?”

“We celebrate Midwinter,” Loki said. Now he looked down at the boy. “You asked for parlay because I was interrupting your celebration?”

More vigorous nodding. “I thought you must’ve forgot. Mama says everyone tries not to fight on Christmas, even soldiers in wars and things.”

Loki raised an eyebrow at Steve, who nodded. “Yeah, it happened during the war I was in – people stopped fighting if they could, and sometimes they even made a temporary truce. Do your people fight during your midwinter celebration?”

“No, not if we can help it.” The god nodded at Billy. “I do appreciate you letting me know about this. Unfortunately, now that I’m already here, I’m not sure there’s much we can do about it.”

“There is!” Billy nodded vigorously. “You can spend Christmas with someone.”

“You were thinking someone should have him come home with them for Christmas, weren’t you, like in a movie?” More nodding. Steve rested a hand on his shoulder. “You know, that’s a good idea, but he can’t come to our house because he and his brother don’t get along. And he can’t come to your house, because someone stupid might hurt you and your family to get to him.”

Earnest, expectant blue eyes blinked up at his. “You can find a house for him to go to for Christmas, I know you can.”

“Hmm.” Steve looked at Loki – who was also looking at him expectantly – thought for a minute, and then got an idea. “I’m going to pull out my cell phone,” he said, not wanting anyone to think he was going for a weapon. “I think I know of someone you – and your men – might be able to spend Christmas with, but I’m gonna have to call someone else and get his number first before I can ask him, okay?” Loki nodded, so Steve pulled out his cell phone and dialed. “Ben? Yeah, it’s me, Steve…yeah, well, I am kind of in the middle of something, but what I need right now is a phone number. Can you get in Reed’s phone and get Dr. Doom’s number for me?” He smiled. “Yeah, Ben, I’m sure it is. Please? Okay, thanks.” He grinned at Loki. “He’s looking for it – I know it’s in there, Reed never cleans out his address book.”

A few seconds more, and some loud noises and yelling could be heard from the tiny receiver. Billy tugged on Steve’s pantsleg. “Someone’s loud.”

“That’s the Thing –my friend Ben,” Steve explained. “He’s loud because he’s really big, and right now he’s kind of mad at someone so he’s yelling. But he’s a real nice guy most of the time.” He listened, then smiled. “Okay…yeah, got it, thanks Ben. I think you just helped save Christmas…yes, I did just say that. Dr. Doom never attacks anyone on Christmas, right? That’s the point – I’ll explain later. Thanks again, gotta go now.” He disconnected and then dialed a number...then dialed the number again with more numbers added, blushing a little. “Forgot, it’s international,” he explained. “Okay, now it’s ringing…Hello? Hi, I need to speak to Viktor Von Doom…it is? Dr. Doom, this is Captain America…no, it’s not a prank, really I am. I got your number from Reed Richards…yes, he never cleans out his address book, his wife was complaining about it one day, that’s how I knew he’d still have your number. Anyway, I’m sorry to disturb you on Christmas, but I have a situation here…well, Loki came down to fight, but he didn’t understand about Christmas. His people have a similar holiday, they don’t fight on that day either if they can help it…yes, exactly. A young boy got into the middle of things and requested parlay…” He grinned. “Yeah, I love it too…no, Jack’s my favorite.” He rolled his eyes. “Because after a hundred or so years of not being able to…well, I can see me going nuts just like that. Yeah…yeah.” He snorted. “You might think so, but I have two words why I can’t: PR. Team. Yes, it does suck…no. You’re kidding, really?” He made a face. “That’s awful, remind me never to get between the two of you again, you just don’t do something like that to a guy…yeah. Tony? Considering the first three versions of everything he builds tend to blow up? No, I don’t think you’d want his help in that particular...area.” He got a thoughtful look on his face. “You know, though, we may just be able to help each other. You have room for some Christmas company today? Yeah, I was going to ask anyway, that’s why I called, but now I’m wondering if Loki might be able to help you out with that…um, problem. Well, he’s a god and he’s got magic powers, it’s probably worth a shot. Just a second, let me ask him.”

He held the phone down, cupping his hand over it to muffle the speaker. “Loki, Dr. Doom might be willing to share Christmas with you – and I think you and he might have a lot to talk about, he staged a coup and took over his country, he’s the ruler there now. But he’s got a problem he needs some help with, he’s at least partially made of metal and the Fantastic Four were fighting with him and he sort of got…melted.”

Loki looked puzzled for a moment, but then Steve made a face and gave a meaningful glance at the avidly listing Billy and he got it. “Oh. Oh dear. So he’s completely…fused?” Steve nodded, looking grim, and Loki shuddered. “Remind me never to fight with those people, that’s the most terrible thing I’ve ever heard.” He held out his hand. “May I?” Steve handed the phone over. “Dr. Doom? Yes, this is Loki…why thank you, Viktor. Yes he communicated an idea of it to me – we have a small boy here listening, even I wouldn’t plant a horror like that in an innocent mind. So…completely fused? Well, I could try. And if that doesn’t work, part of being who I am is the power of illusion…no, you actually wouldn’t be able to tell the difference – and neither would anyone else, if you catch my meaning. Yes, quite easily, but I don’t want to put you out…why thank you, that’s very kind. Yes, parlay. I was quite surprised anyone here still knew how to use that trick, but I’m glad the child did, it just put myself and the captain here in a bit of a spot. Not like we could both just walk away.” He laughed. “Yes, that should do the trick. I’ll see you in a few minutes, Viktor, and then we’ll see about making this a happier Christmas for you and…whoever else you choose to share it with. Yes, quite. All right, I’ll tell him.”

He handed back the phone, and Steve checked to make sure the call had disconnected and then closed it and tucked it away again. “We’ll just be heading to Latveria now, my warriors and I have been invited to spend the holiday there with Dr. Doom and his army,” Loki told him. He smiled at Billy. “Thank you, Billy. You were very helpful, and I’m not going to forget it. In fact, I’m going to make my thanks part of the conditions of our parlay.” He straightened and looked Steve in the eye. “You walk away, I walk away, nobody attacks anybody else, and we all enjoy Christmas in separate locations.” Steve nodded. “And the boy is not to be punished. I know you’ll need to speak to him about why he shouldn’t run out into the middle of a battle – and you shouldn’t, young Billy, you really shouldn’t – but no punishment. He’s to enjoy his Christmas, too, just as we will.”

“Deal,” Steve told him without hesitation, and they shook hands.

Loki bent down and shook Billy’s hand as well. “Young Billy, it was a pleasure. And just think, it was you who saved Christmas for all of these people today.”

Billy’s eyes got very wide. “Me?!”

“Yep, you,” Steve confirmed. When Loki let go, he took the boy’s other hand. And he smiled at the god who had been trying to kill them all half an hour before. “Merry Christmas, Loki.”

Loki smiled back. “Merry Christmas, Captain. I’ll be seeing you another day.”

And then he turned and walked back to his warriors, opening up a portal for them. Steve turned and led Billy back to the church, where a white-faced woman in choir robes was being held back by some other people. “I’m guessing you’re Billy’s mom,” he said with a smile when they got close. “Just give me a second and then he’s all yours.” He went down on one knee so he could look the little boy in the eye. “Billy, you saved Christmas,” he said solemnly. “And that was really good, and your idea was really smart. But,” he held up an admonishing finger, “you can’t go running out into the middle of battles like that, okay? Even Loki said you shouldn’t do that. So you need to promise me that you won’t ever do it again.” The boy hesitated, then nodded, and Steve smiled and gave him a hug. “You did really good,” he repeated. “And now, under the conditions of our parlay, we have to go enjoy Christmas.” He released the boy, who immediately ran to his mother. “The other condition was that Billy doesn’t get punished,” he told her. “Loki insisted on that, and I agreed to it.”

“I won’t punish him, and we will enjoy Christmas,” Billy’s mother agreed tearfully around her armful of hugging, happy little boy. “Thank you, so much, for…for going out there after him.”

“Not a problem, ma’am. Merry Christmas.” Steve ruffled Billy’s hair again, and then turned and walked back to the staring Avengers, muttering to Hawkeye over his earpiece to stop laughing and come down to join the rest of them. He was going to have a lot of explaining to do to a lot of people…or maybe he’d just tell them all to watch the movie while he went home and relaxed and did holiday things. Because after all, enjoying this Christmas day had been one of the terms of their parlay.