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The Heroes of Christmas

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In his first Christmas with the Avengers, Steve somehow gets roped into playing Santa Claus, for the children of the staff who work with SHIELD. He is slightly surprised by the materialism of kids nowadays, and occasionally looks to the parents for confirmation of what to tell the children. Sometimes, he issues stern-but-gentle words in response to requests.

There's one little boy, however, whom Steve genuinely has no idea how to react to. "I just want my dad home," he tells Santa Steve quietly. Steve tries not to let his jaw drop, but all the same, it's like a blow to his stomach, as the boy explains that his dad's a soldier, deployed in Afghanistan.

Steve looks to the boy's mother first -- she can't seem to meet his gaze, doesn't want to be the one to dash her son's hopes. He tries glancing to Tony for help, but his expression is impassive, unreadable, as he folds his arms.

Steve thinks for a couple seconds. "Your father's a brave man," he says at last. "Old Santa here salutes the people who protect all of us." He smiles slightly, and rubs the lad's back. "It might be a little tough to get hold of him, but if you can be brave for your dad and for Santa, I'll see what I can do. OK?"

Somewhere, out of the corner of Steve's eye, Tony is wandering off. He doesn't take his attention off the young boy who is nodding silent agreement to this promise, steeling himself to be good and to be brave, while plans begin to form in Steve's head for how to go about fulfilling his end of the bargain.

Little do they know that Nick Fury has heard and seen every second of what just happened.

***

For the next few weeks, Steve desperately tracks down every lead he can pursue, pulling rank where needed, just to try and get the boy's father home. It soon begins to look hopeless -- after all, what can a simple Captain do?

Then, on Christmas Eve, Tony finds him and taps him on the shoulder. "Follow me," he tells Steve. Steve blinks and frowns as Tony leads him down corridors without explanation.

"What's going on?" Steve asks.

Tony leads him into the area where their suits are kept. There's an alcove with Steve's Santa outfit. He waves to it and smiles slightly, "you might need to suit up."

Steve obliges, but he's still confused. What exactly is going on?

At last, the Santa-suited-Steve is lead to meet Nick Fury, and a man in army duty-dress -- Nick introduces Steve as the catalyst behind this, and the man shakes his hand firmly -- and it is then that Steve begins to understand. Before he can formulate this into a rational thought, there's the joyous cry of a young boy, and running footsteps. The army man breaks into a smile and kneels down, embracing his son. The mother isn't far behind, tears in her eyes, but she's smiling too.

As far as the young boy is concerned, Santa kept his promise, although Steve knows that's not entirely true. It turned out he hadn't been alone in his quest -- Fury and Stark had been pulling strings and rank behind the scenes as well, doing everything in their power to fulfil this one wish, this one present, bringing the boy's father home, and reuniting their family.

For the Avengers, that day, being a hero isn't about saving the world... only making things right in the world... for one little boy.