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off with my overcoat, off with my glove

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“Why couldn’t I have stayed home, Ma?” Steve asks, stomping through the dirty slush. No matter how quickly he fits his shoe in and out of the cold, deep snow, he can’t quite get his damp socks to stop sliding in his shoes. The pass downs from Mrs. Connolly’s boy a size too big and some of the traction lost.

His mother's mouth is pinched when she begins, “The new snow has given people a lot of gall, son. Last night, Mr. Brown from upstairs came home to find himself cleaned out of his honest living’s keeping. His food, his clothes, and his late grandfather’s watch.” Her strong hand squeezes on his fingers. “I can’t afford to leave you at home by yourself,” she says frankly.

“I could fight ‘em,” Steve mumbles. His mother tells him he shouldn't be so angry, that a man quick to temper acts foolishly but Steve can't help it. Mr. Brown is a very nice man. He always drops off saltwater taffy when Steve is sick. Steve didn't even have to tell Mr. Brown it was his favorite.

“I’d rather you not have to,” his mother says. It’s what she always says.

They slow their pace when they approach the fire hydrant that had leaked all November and now has a sheet of ice at its base, partially covered but gleaming under the sun's rays like glass.

Once they're clear of it, they hurry again. His mother wasn't supposed to work today.

"Do you think Mr. Brown will be alright?"

"I believe so. It will take a little time but he's not short on people who can care for him. There are many tenants who can help."

"Like us!"

"Like us. And you are so helpful, my love," she tells him heartily. "That's why I'm sure that the hospital will be glad to have you today. The patients always enjoy the drawings you do for them, Steve. Makes them feel so much better. My sweet boy."

Steve’s face warms just as a new wind starts, carries a shriek of laughter. A young couple is racing through the street, pitching snowballs at one another. The long folds of the girl's skirt and the hem of the boy's pants don’t move quite as fast as them, stuck in the snow, and they end up tumbling carelessly, laughing and laughing.

Steve stops and looks after them.

“You can play tomorrow, I promise.” his mother says knowingly. She smiles and touches his chin until he’s smiling too, matching her.

one - November 29

Through his bedroom window, Steve eyes the storm. At this height it lacks detail. It has the density of fog and is the color of vapor, turning the skyline translucent. For the past two weeks meteorologists have been warning for the biggest snowfall of the year—urging the people of New York to stay indoors, stock up on food, and stay safe. Down on the street level, Steve spies an open kiosk, the line a good dozen long. Yellow cabs are packed tight and slow-moving but it’s no different from yesterday. Bundled people are milling, not a step lost in the early morning.

“JARVIS, darken the windows, please.”

The AI answers silently as though he knows that Steve’s heart rate is going well above average and that knots are twisting themselves in his stomach. The windows bleed a soft cream until they’re opaque and comforting. The overhead light turns on without Steve having to ask, dressing the room in warm yellow hues.

“Thank you, JARVIS,” Steve says belatedly, blinking a few times to adjust to the light and gather himself.

“It’s no trouble, Captain Rogers. Do you require any further assistance?” JARVIS asks. It’s patient and calm. Careful in a way that’s all too understanding.

It still baffles Steve sometimes, how a computer—an entity conceived from mechanical parts and technology, code Stark calls it—can be so aware of human nature. Steve hears the question beneath the question but this is not something that Steve wants to burden anyone with. This is his own and he’ll take care of it. “That’s alright. I’m fine. There’s no need to bother anyone.”

Steve keeps telling himself so under the hot stream from his shower head and until he reaches just outside of the communal kitchen, catching the tail end of the conversation there.

“He’s going to end up covered in bruises. I just want it documented that I warned him against this stupidity and that if he dislocates his shoulder, I’m not fixing it again,” Natasha is saying, perched on one of the bar stools. She bites into one of the muffins that have taken up residence in a basket on the breakfast island. They smell like they’ve just come out of the oven, warm and spiced.

“You can’t really blame him,” Bruce replies, a mug in his hand and surveying Natasha over the rim of his glasses. Shrugging one shoulder, Bruce adds, “Call it a cultural epidemic that starts up every year around this time. Self-preservation flies out of the window and in comes the inclination for recklessness and danger. Clint was in the circus. Statistically speaking, he’ll probably end up with better luck than the rest of the northern seaboard.”

“Willing to wager a bet?” Natasha asks, a brow hiked high.

“With you? I might as well forfeit now,” Bruce comments but he puts out a hand anyway. They shake on it. “I win, you handle team morale sessions for the next month.”

“I win, you handle Fury,” Natasha says.

Chuckling, Steve finally enters. “What have you gotten yourself into now, Bruce?”

“Trouble of the highest degree apparently.”

Steve heads for the refrigerator and sets out to pour himself a glass of orange juice. “And what’s Clint getting himself into?”

“Clint, Stark, and Thor,” Natasha corrects. “I also think that Stark’s managed to convince Colonel Rhodes to stop in as well. They’re sledding off a ramp Stark installed on the side of the tower.”

Steve returns the juice to the fridge. He wonders when exactly Stark would’ve found the time to beat the weather and he wonders where the genius would put it. He voices that to Bruce and Natasha while grabbing a muffin. Cinnamon and pumpkin. He grabs two more.

“We thought it better not to ask,” Bruce says before taking a sip of tea.

Natasha nods at Bruce. “Plausible deniability.”

Steve hums thoughtfully and soon the conversation turns. Mercifully, not to the weather. Instead they discuss how they want to do Christmas. It’s in less than a month and Natasha is thinking of decorating the shared floor. It’s a nice idea and Steve doesn’t object to it, offers his help. The current style of the tower isn't awful, far from it when compared to some of the scenes Steve’s come across in the modern world but the grace of holidays wouldn’t hurt. When Bruce suggests a secret Santa for gift-giving, Steve and Natasha hurriedly agree and share a laugh.

The conversation is easy and manageable, and then a ruckus rushes through the kitchen’s entryway. Back from sledding, the three aforementioned men are shivering with chattering grins. They’re just short of shaking off their fur like dogs in from a downpour.

“Behind Iron Man, I think I have to say that that was the best idea I’ve ever had,” Stark says. He’s covered in snow that’s melting and dripping onto the tiles of the floor and Steve must have a look of disapproval on his face because along with the universal surrender sign, “Whoa there, Captain No Fun. We’re heading right back out. Your floors...actually my floors will be fine.”

“So you’re cleaning them then?”

Stark just looks over to Bruce. “Why aren’t sentient kitchen floors a thing? Get rid of the middle man and mops so they can clean themselves. We should work on that.”

Clint shudders, this time not from the cold. “That sounds absolutely terrifying. Don’t put that out into the world. What’s wrong with you?”

“How much time do you have?” Stark asks.

“None,” Clint quickly responds before addressing Steve, Bruce, and Natasha. “Because we came to invite all present to the party that’s happening outside. C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” he says, jittering and bouncing on his feet with childlike enthusiasm.

“Indeed, friends. The thrill of roaring down the wintry slope is nearly unparalleled,” Thor continues with a wide smile. His free hair has an uncanny resemblance to hanging icicles. Steve worries over how long they’ve been out in the cold.

“Nope,” Natasha says, hopping off of her bar stool. She pats Clint’s shoulder on her way out and slyly tacks on, “However, you’ve got a bet to win me so don’t let me stop your adventure.”

Clint watches her leave and turns back with a slight frown. Jerking a thumb in the direction she left, Clint asks, “What is Nat talking about?”

Stark waves off the question. “Brucie?”

Bruce actually looks apologetic when he answers. Steve is curious as to what part of the culture epidemic Bruce fits. “I’m working on a project dealing with the relationship between the evolutionary process and advanced genome sequencing in the lab. My break just ended unfortunately,” he explains before setting his mug in the sink.

Hopefully, Clint tries Steve, “Whaddaya say, Cap?”

Steve willfully internalizes his uncomfortableness, tries not to let the anxiety he feels into his face or tone. “I can’t.”

“If it makes you feel any better, we haven’t improved much on the original model,” Stark says easily and it doesn’t sound like he’s laughing at Steve at all. He looks at Steve in a way that’s genuine and well-meaning, there’s even a curve at the corner of his mouth. It’s a smile that Steve doesn’t always get to be on the other side of and it’s nice to see. It becomes more full when Stark adds jokingly, “It’s not a metal trashcan lid anymore and you probably shouldn’t use it for second base in a pick-up game, but it’s hot rod red and awesome.”

Ruefully, Steve shakes his head. A part of him really hates having to say no. “I can’t. Really. I haven’t gotten in a run this morning and it’s making me antsy already. I doubt the sidewalks have been cleared yet so I was just going to use the track here.”

“Are you sure, Steven?” Thor asks just as Steve gets up.

Steve smiles at him. “Positive. You guys have fun. Just save some snow for the rest of us, okay?”

He hurries out of the kitchen and thanks God for small mercies, for no one mentioning that he usually doesn’t eat before a run and Bruce, if he noticed, not calling him out on the fact that Steve had already taken a shower and that isn't a normal prerequisite for his morning runs either.

Steve hurries out of the kitchen, thanks God, and hides.

two - December 7

New York is all but literally entrapped in a snowglobe. The current accumulation of snow is about seven inches and that’s only about a day after the blizzard had first rolled in. It’s the most snow the city has seen in decades and it’s already looking like numerous records will be broken once the season is over. The fall is heavy, covers the city in a stretching blanket, and shows no signs of slowing down. If Steve listens closely enough, his ears can pick up on the moaning wind.

It's the kind of weather that keeps people in their beds all day.

It's the kind of weather that finds the Avengers in their entertainment room with piles of comfort food and hot beverages, binging on movies.

"Kevin McCallister is basically Wile E. Coyote," Clint says from his laid back position in the armchair while the Home Alone post-credits roll. "Except that he's not an idiot and actually wins at the end of the day."

"His process is dubious but I'm inclined to agree," Stark states. He dumps a small mountain of marshmallows into his hot cocoa and then for some reason passes it to Steve’s lap. "I'm calling it. Next day off we do a Looney Tunes marathon."

"We'll see," Bruce says blankly. He picks up the remote from his side. Bruce is the appointed remote holder. Steve has seen a lot of unrest in his life but there's nothing quite like the lack of civility that comes with sharing a television.

"Oh we have to!" Clint exclaims when a movie from the list on the screen is highlighted.

"And this is where we part ways, Barton. We do not have to," Stark says with a grimace. "Frozen has nothing to do with Christmas."

"It's a global phenomenon. That makes it relevant to everything. Are you telling me that you have no appreciation for Elsa and Anna?"

"Sold it on eBay. Unsurprisingly, it went for cheap."

Steve hopes that he doesn't regret asking. "What's Frozen?"

Eyes the size of saucers turn to him. Steve barely resists the urge to feel for a second head on his shoulder.

Stark clears his throat, fidgeting a little. He fixes Steve with a look that could be called contemplative but isn’t quite that. It’s one that Steve actually hasn’t seen from him. It disappears too soon for Steve to recognize it, disappears before Steve can recognize why it feels imperative for him to. "It’s an overrated fairytale, Cap," Tony says with a bored inflection that Steve knows all too well and takes seriously about once out of every nine times.

"What Stark means to say is that it’s the undisputed return to Disney brilliance," Clint responds. He digs into his bag of tortilla chips and and then scoops into his salsa. Munching he says, “Do yourself a favor and let your mind be blown, Steve. Nat’s with me.”

Natasha hums thoughtfully and stirs her Nutella. For a moment, Steve thinks that’s her answer but she admits, “It’s good. It has valuable life lessons that are important for the new generation, like staying true to one’s self, the rewards that comes with hard work, the reward that comes from letting people in. It’s refreshing. That and the musical numbers are catchy as hell.”

Steve loves movies. Mostly all of the genres. He’s not a fan of too much violence and won’t consider any film that deals with war but he loves the modern talkies, how far they’ve come. He doesn’t get as much free time as he’d like to enjoy them but since moving into Avengers Tower, they’ve been easier to access. Animation is a definite favorite, the burst of color and how seamlessly the characters move. It’s just a movie. There can’t be any harm in it. Despite the title and the implications there, Steve says yes.

An hour and a half later, emotion-filled and smiling, he's glad that he did.

Twenty-hours later, not so much.

Steve's first viewing was also Thor's and the Norse god is obsessed. Well, obsessed isn't fair. He's enchanted and normally that wouldn't affect Steve one way or another but when Thor suggests building a snowman after they've just finished working through combat techniques, Steve disguises his waning as exhaustion. He climbs out of the gym ring slowly.

"You do not look well. Are you alright, Captain?" Thor asks, the concern as bold as the person behind it. "Traditionally, you do not get bested by our practices."

Tugging off his gloves and setting them aside, Steve says, "I'm not sick, just beat. I don't think that I'd be of much help to build a snowman. I don't know if you have them in Asgard but it takes a lot of time to complete them."

Thor regards him with a tilt of his head, concern still prominent but shadowed with confusion. "We could enlist the assistance of our co-inhabitants. You would be free to leave whenever you wish, my friend. Is it a personal problem?"

Steve thinks of plunging his hands into the snow, of it cold and wet in fistfuls. He thinks of going through the motions of enjoying himself in what ultimately took his mother away from him. He thinks on the clawing groan of metal tearing under ice, bits of snow caught in the hinges of his compass before he had a chance to close it, protect it. He thinks of Bucky plummeting into frozen over river banks—rigid, merciless, and dehumanizing. It’s a scream that continues to plague his nights, mostly rare but never gone.

He thinks of it and his blood runs cold. He feels chilled to the bone in his sweat-soaked shirt.

“If you have an issue with me—” Thor trails off, hurt and misunderstanding entirely.

Steve curses himself silently. Sighing deeply in an attempt to right himself, he says truthfully, “Thor, you are just about the last person that I would ever have an issue with.”

Thor stares at him and after a pause, he says quietly, “You are truly withered.”

Before Thor can ask more questions, because while the god isn’t all knowing, he is very close, Steve remembers going over the year-end presentation he and Stark are set to give the president over a video call. He embraces not having to lie. “Stark and I had to work on a status update for the presidential administration last night. It took a very long time. You know how hard it is for Tony and I to compromise, agreeing on how to approach the Commander-In-Chief is proving to be the toughest balancing act yet.”

And that’s not Steve exaggerating. He’s visited Tony’s workshop more times recently than the whole time he’s resided at the tower. Every time that Steve thinks they’ve gotten somewhere, Stark takes two steps back and calls on Steve once more, deciding that an objective or field report needs review and revision.

“Anthony and you are quite the pairing,” Thor says, nodding. “Disagreeable but complementary. Your ideals are one and the same. You two should not let details ruin the result you both wish to find.”

Before Steve gets to wrap his head around that, Thor grabs their water bottles and tosses one to Steve. “You should rest. Do not enter his workshop with a weary or distracted mind. It does not bode well for anyone." He frowns comically. "Been there, done that.”

Steve laughs and for a moment, he forgets.

three - December 18

They’re in midtown and a sax is playing a demure Christmas overture in a nearby store when Natasha says, “You got him a card.”

“I did,” Steve says simply. He’s not ashamed and he doesn’t have to ask who the ‘him’ she’s referring to is. When it comes to Bucky, she doesn’t use a name. Too kind to use the Winter Soldier around Steve and too far removed, or maybe too close—still sore from Bucky’s numerous attempts on her life—to call him by his proper name.

“Do you even know where to send it?”

“It'll reach him if he stays put for the next six days.”

“Well I hope it works out.”

Steve gazes at her for a moment. For some reason, a thank you doesn’t feel right so he stays quiet and keeps walking, hopes that she understands how much those words mean to him even though he can’t express their value himself.

“So,” Natasha starts. She manages to give the small word four syllables and Steve imagines that this is what having a sister is like. “Did you end up finding anything for the man who practically has everything?”

“Of course you know. How do you know?” Steve asks.

“Former secret spy. Have to admit that I’m a little offended by that question.” Natasha shrugs and points out, “You’ve been referring to him as ‘Tony’ for the past week and you’ve pretty much been talking about him non-stop. At first I assumed you had a crush—”

Steve wheels on her, stops in the human traffic and receives a little shove for it from a passerby but lets it glance off of him. “You assumed what?”

Her mouth quirks and she closes her fingers on his elbow, pulling him along until he’s back to walking on his own, crunching on rock salt left over from the other day. “Don’t have a heart attack over it, Steve. I ended up figuring out that wasn’t the case when you left every store you visited with nothing but your favorite brand of aftershave. You’re not quite narcissistic enough to gift that to someone. At least I hope not. And if it was anyone but Tony you would’ve found something.”

There’s no need for Steve to act as if that isn’t the truth. “You said it yourself, he has everything.”

“Not everything,” Natasha says. Her eyes light with mischief. She leans in and teases, “You could just put a sparkling bow on the top of your head and put yourself under the tree.”

“No. I can’t believe you really thought...non-stop? That’s—”

“You’ve never?”


“I mean, you haven’t noticed—”

Groaning, Steve says, “I’m too busy trying to avoid disaster in a hello to To—Stark. A crush is out of the question. He’s the most impossible person I’ve ever met.”

Steve thinks of his most recent interactions with Tony. They’ve been friendly, slighting toward something genuine—sitting in the workshop and going over alterations to his uniform with Tony and their spars are becoming less verbal and more of a strategical practice for battle, giving advice to one another with an easy banter. They can pass hours without going for the jugular now. However Tony still has the power to wrong-foot Steve, put him on edge. Tony does things that Steve just doesn’t get and he doesn’t see that ever changing.

Sighing, Steve asks, “Do you actually have any ideas that don’t involve me turning myself into a ribboned mummy?”

Natasha startles into a laugh. “No but we should definitely keep that in mind for next year’s Halloween. Come on, drama, I want to check out something on West 49th.”

Steve tugs his coat closer to ward off the cold, huffs in a deep breath when Natasha’s back is turned and lets it out shakily. He takes in the sky. The clouds aren’t going to budge anytime soon and according to the app on his phone, a fresh snowfall is set to start in a couple hours. It’d been his distaste for online shopping and his affection for Natasha that had him agree to this outing but as the temperature drops, he’s starting to second-guess himself.

They walk about a mile or so and of course what Natasha wants to ‘check out’ is the Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree. It’s trussed up, gorgeously ornate and decorated to the finest detail. Steve itches for his charcoal, pastels that can match the exact color of the strung lights and the crystal star. It’d only be a poor copy though; it wouldn’t take Steve’s breath away like the real thing.

“Did you see it the first time it went up?” Natasha asks after a while, tucking flyaways of hair behind her ear. The noise of the busy plaza should have drowned it out but Steve hears it clearly.

“Not the first time, no,” Steve says. “The second time, I did. Everyone did. So many people back then couldn’t even afford a tree and yet there was this grand one standing tall in the city; it brightened New York’s soul in an age that was dark and hopeless too often. Everyone had to come see it, share in it.”

Natasha glances down to the golden statue, the flags, and the ice rink. Her tone is conversational. “How about skating?”

“I can’t even dance. I would have looked like an elephant in skates so I never learned,” Steve says, shaking his head. He spots a toddler twirling with a toothy grin under a bright red hat. Steve smiles and points his chin to the child. “Left that for the people who have a talent for it.”

“Now that is truly impressive,” Natasha comments, folding her hands on the rail. A smile quirks on her mouth. “That kid could show me up. I’m not too bad though and I think that the serum probably helped with the coordination of your elephant feet.” She nudges him gently. “I could teach you if you want. Give you a lesson right now, on me.”

It’s a kind invitation, not threatening at all and Steve still has to do his best to keep his hackles from going up. He immediately feels like an ass but his mind speeds for an excuse all the same. “Trust me, I would just embarrass you,” he says bashfully, more than a little forced. He winces and scratches at the back of his head. “I don’t want to waste your time.”

Steve can tell that she doesn’t buy it, even though she doesn’t allow many gives. There’s no judgement in Natasha’s tone when she says, “You wouldn’t be but it can be intimidating, taking that first step so we’ll just agree on a raincheck. The offer is always open. You’ll be ready someday, Steve.”

Steve is beginning to realize that he'll never have a secret safe from this woman.

They make it back home before the first snowflake floats down and that night Steve finds himself with his sketchbook in hand. He draws out the tree and the rink but he also pictures what Natasha would look like in a pair of skates—elegant, graceful, and formidable.

Once he has Natasha's figure completed, he pencils in his own. He leaves his face blank.

four - December 25

In coordination with the Christmas assignments given out by Bruce, Clint and Steve—you’re the only two members of this team with anything resembling cooking skills—are the first to wake and wish each other a happy holiday. They start a pot of coffee and each drink a cupful before they fix a breakfast of french toast and bacon. After a second cup the others trickle in, dressed in an assortment of pajamas and comfortable sleep clothes. Yawning out their greetings, they head for the carousel of mugs on the countertop before collectively vetoing the breakfast bar and choosing the kitchen table.

“Best Christmas ever,” Tony decides, inhaling the aroma rising from his coffee. He’s still not fully awake but his smile is pleased.

Steve snorts and tries not to find the picture adorable. Ever since his shopping trip with Natasha, her teasing has put a bug in his ear. The more that Steve tries not to think about Tony in a non-platonic way, the more he does. Steve is planning to have a talk with Natasha about her penchant for matchmaking and the confusing impact it's having on Steve's life.

He shares the food onto plates and Clint doles them out.

There’s no pretense to nosh on breakfast, from the indulgence of maple syrup and powdered sugar to the last scrape of a fork against bone china, eating is a flurried event. It's the only thing separating everyone from the presents circled underneath the wide bottom of the tree.

Because it’s Christmas, Steve stifles his usual response when the others haphazardly pack the dishwasher and just follows them out in the living room with a fond headshake.

Despite their incredible and often ridiculous day jobs, they’re not immune to the holiday spirit, the anticipation in the room is palpable and childlike and they all practically clamor to pull out the gifts from underneath the tree. Tony and Clint arrange the chairs and sofa into a circle of sorts before jumping into their seats. It feels good to be excited in December again, Steve thinks as he joins them.

“Okie doke, folks. Who’s up first?” Clint asks, sliding his hands together. “I’m setting myself up for another horrible Katniss joke but I do volunteer.”

“To give or receive?” Natasha wonders aloud with a grin.

“You are just mean,” Clint says with no heat. “Good thing I didn’t pull your name out of the hat. Coal is a nonrenewable resource after all.”

"You're both very pretty," Tony says breezily. "But as we all know, JARVIS is the prettiest. J, my fabulous, would you mind setting the mood?"

"Are there any particular requests?" JARVIS asks.

"No Bruce Springsteen renditions?" Natasha suggests.

"A woman after my own heart and it's a little more than frightening because you going after my neck is still one of the most terrifying things to happen to me," Tony quips. "Personally, I've always been fond of the Peanuts."

A soft and tranquil piece fills every space of the living room. It crackles like a quiet fireside and prompts a stir of warmth in Steve.

"This Midgardian custom is a beautiful ritual," Thor comments serenely. His expression is serious and Steve can see that he is deeply moved. "I am already looking forward to the next."

They are quiet for a pause and then Bruce is handing over a parcel wrapped in shiny blue to Thor.

From then on, they go alphabetically and when it's Steve's turn to deliver his gift, he's a bundle of nerves, fingering the tartan pattern of the ribbon.

Tony doesn't seem disappointed to have Steve as his Santa, although he does take the gift with some hesitation—a habit that Steve has never felt comfortable enough to ask after. Tony shockingly handles the small box with meticulous care. He peels back the tape with precise hands and when he puts the ribbon and paper to his side, it's without a single tear. He acts as if he doesn't have an audience, as if he and Steve are in their own world or as if they world has hushed around them. The want that climbs up his spine is a burn that Steve suddenly becomes aware of, exhausted from dormancy and finally able to flicker on.

"It's a radian clock," Steve says lamely when Tony reveals the wristwatch. He wants to kick himself because Tony is an engineer and a genius one at that, he of course knows what it is. "I mean, you know that but—"

"Where did you find one this small?" Tony interrupts, holding it up and peering at its face. "I've never seen one this small."

"The internet," Steve admits sheepishly. He'd eventually buckled but not completely. The band of the watch is a woven bracelet that Steve handcrafted himself; it's made from gold and red threads, a metallic silver interlaced as well. "I had to order it special. I remembered you telling me about a class you took at MIT with one on the wall." Steve decides not to say the rest, how Tony confessed to reading that clock better than a digital. He keeps that for himself. "As the leader of this team, I thought it'd help with your tardiness. I didn't know that the script for the equations would be so small."

"It's fine," Tony says, connecting his dark gaze to Steve's. "I can read it perfectly. Thank you."

When they don't say anything else for a long stretch, a cough that comes from neither of them jerks Steve and Tony out of their world.

Soon, they're shuffling around to clean the area, picking up strewn pieces of wrapping paper, glitter and pine needles that had somehow managed to become a part of the mess around them. They still have to make it downtown for their volunteer work at the shelter before noon. They're expecting Pepper, Sam, Happy, and James Rhodes to pop in after that. Thor needs to ready for his flight to New Mexico. There's a party, most of who will be trusted former SHIELD agents and Fury, to host. It's going to be a frenetic day. There's no time to sit around really.

So Steve finds Tony again once the day has grown darker and he's mingled with everyone. He offers Tony a flute of champagne near the mantle where it's not so crowded.

"I probably shouldn't accept another one of these," Tony says, although Steve knows he's only had one glass the whole evening. "But there's an extensive list that I say 'fuck you' to on a daily basis so why not. Thanks, Cap."

"You're welcome, Tony," Steve says. His sips from his own glass, mournful for liquid courage now that's he's recognized what this friendliness and growing ease between them honestly is. "This is a nice party. It was kind of you to open the tower for the holidays, give people a place to celebrate."

"Oh wow. You think that this is a party for other people." Tony says.

"Are you really going to pretend otherwise?" Steve asks, squinting at him.

"I guess that there would be no point since I've already been caught," Tony says with a grin. He checks his watch. "Sidebar: it is now 9:38 pm."

Steve laughs, tossing his head back. "Jeez, how long is that joke going to run for?"

"Until I get bored," Tony says shrugging and downing the alcohol.

"Guess it can't be that bad if you're enjoying yourself," Steve concedes with a small smile. "I didn't know how you'd take it. Me using that story."

"In-joke gifts are the in-thing, Rogers. That's just you moving up in the world. Like Natasha giving you The Mummy. Do I get to know what that's all about?"

"I can't get drunk enough to spill and then there's Natasha. I'll let you sort that out."

"Touché," Tony says on a laugh. It's difficult to put a word to what crosses over his face once he sobers. "In all seriousness, I love the watch. It's currently my favorite thing. My bots are jealous. Can't believe you actually paid attention to that story," he finishes softly.

His tone causes Steve's chest to clench tight. He takes a slow breath, figuring that he should say something here. This moment feels important and Steve wants to get it right. He has nothing rehearsed, has been practically blindsided but he'll try. "Listen, Tony," he starts.

And that's when the siren blares to life. They go to suit up without saying another word.

Long-suffering, minutes later Natasha says, "Seriously. Seriously? Planet of the Apes." She smoothly glides the jet down to about 200 feet.

"I think that Jumanji would be the more accurate pop culture reference here." Rhodes says, eyes tracking the movement on the streets below them. "I just spotted two zebras on Broadway. This is one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen."

Steve would love to say the same. He fixes his comm to his ear and straps on his shield. "Let's just be glad that avian life decided to stay out of it."

They've been called in to contain genetically engineered zoo animals, seemingly conjured out of nowhere and not necessarily dangerous but they're scaring civilians and the repairs to the blocks they're flying above won't be cheap.

Dividing into groups when they land, they're able to wrangle the animals in relatively short order. Rhodes, Sam, and Tony corral a huddle philosophizing lions in the southeast end with concrete slabs and melded rebar. Steve and the Hulk take care of the gorillas that turned over a truck of twinkies while Clint and Natasha handle the zebras and goats.

"Is the petting zoo the equivalent of the kids table?" Clint asks into the comm.

"I think that I'm more insulted out of the two of us," one of the goats answer in a tin over the radio, voice full of vibrato.

"Jesus Christ. I'm going to need the heavy stuff when we get back," Clint sighs dejectedly.

Within about forty-five minutes, they reconvene amid police cruisers and yellow tape, watch as the animals are shepherded onto trucks. There's still no word on how or why the animals were let loose but they're being sent to a facility that Stark Industries corresponds with, that Pepper swears to the integrity of so Steve tries not to worry too much. He'll make sure that Bruce is on it as well. He tells Lt. Morgan that he'll stay in touch and turns to gather the team.

Time goes slow and he just barely gets up a hand to stop the snowball that's hurled to his face.

It's a kid that doesn't know Steve, apparently just an officer but he's sputtering an apology almost immediately, the snowball fight abruptly ending. "I—I'm sorry, Captain, sir. I didn't mean to...wasn't aiming for your face there. I've got a lousy arm."

The cold ice burns in Steve's hand something awful. He drops it but it still pains him, like it crept under his glove and to his skin, absorbed and sticking all over him like the sharp tips of knives. He hasn't touched it since—he's been so careful not to. Betrayal, heavy like dread, sinks his stomach and he can't quite breathe, he's so filled with ache and thin-bodied all at once. It feels a lot like having an asthma attack. His lungs are burning and so are his eyes, bitter tears pricking at the back of them. He sucks in a ragged and angry breath. "I can't do this," he says on a watery hitch.

Natasha is approaching him like a caged thing, like Steve is one of those animals they'd collected. He backs away from her in a vicious panic.

"Cap," Tony says, showing his hands and flipping up his faceplate. Steve looks at him and the world starts to quiet again. "It's okay."

"I need to get out of here," Steve says small, because if he doesn't, he doesn't know what he's going to do.

Tony reaches him and slowly wraps the armor around Steve, arms secure around Steve's waist. "Hold on," he whispers, placing Steve's arms up and over his shoulders. He starts up the repulsors, stabilizes and they gravitate a bit, enough for Steve to get an idea and breathe normally again. Tony courteously waits for Steve to close his eyes before they're off into the clear night.

The touchdown on Tony's landing pad, it takes Steve a while to realize it happens it's so gentle. A heating unit has started and the cold under Steve's skin seeps away. Tony's grasp hasn't left, although the armor has been taken away. Relief hits him so hard, he shudders.

"Hey. It's alright," Tony says. "Give yourself a minute. You're safe, Steve."

"I'm not afraid," Steve tells him. He swallows so as not to sob when he finally admits but he chokes out, "I haven't forgiven it. The snow. The winter has stolen everything from me. I'm not full of sadness. It's anger and it's not going anywhere. Everything I miss, everyone who mattered to me is buried under snow. Going out there, playing, that's dancing on graves."

He's folded into Tony's arms and he lets himself be held.

+ one - December 31

"Hey, I want coffee," Tony announces suddenly, shutting off his blowtorch and shoving his goggles into his already mussed hair, sticks it up with motor oil.

"Okay?" Steve raises his eyebrow. He slides his finger across his tablet, moving on to the local section of the Times. "You have three different coffee machines down here alone."

Spinning in his chair and now facing Steve, Tony scratches at his cheek. "Did I only mention coffee? I meant coffee and crepes. From Central Park. Now."

Steve doesn't have much experience with whatever he and Tony are turning into; they haven't even kissed yet—these days it's just been spending time together for reasons that aren't Avengers business—so he's not sure how he's supposed to react. "Is this a date?"

"Yes!" Tony says, standing with a broad smile and snapping his fingers. Rapidly, "So give me a little bit and I'll go shower and we can meet in the garage in like thirty. Sound good?"

"Um, sure," Steve says after a beat. "Are you—are you okay?"

"Jonesin' for a caffeine intake," Tony explains in a rush before stepping over dropped tools and heading up the stairs. "I won't be late, I swear!" He shouts.

A whirr comes from across the room where Dummy is tapping against Tony's coffeemaker, the carafe rattling and old coffee sloshing. "Sorry, buddy," Steve sympathizes.

"An extra ten minutes doesn't count," Tony says when he steps up beside Steve much later, sporting purple sunglasses and purple sneakers.

"Maybe. But fifteen is a different story."

"I'm not a miracle worker, Rogers."

"Sure. Sure."

"Yeah, plenty of time to practice."

"Don't have to make such an effort to look nice for me is all I'm sayin'," Steve jokes.

"Hey now," Tony warns, bumping into Steve's side.

They take the Audi for the short drive.

The wind is whisking as they walk a path's incline and Steve turns up his collar, ducks his head into his scarf. The snowfall is thinning out but Steve still wishes that he'd thought to put on a hat, something to cover his ears. There's snow on the grounds but the sidewalks were shoveled hours ago, the plows having woke Steve this morning. It's been easier, coming outside with white still covering most of everything since he'd cried into Tony's shoulder but Steve is really wanting to get back home as soon as possible.

When they reach the vendor, the line isn't too bad. They catch the eye of more than a few customers but they aren't bothered. It's nothing like the mayhem immediately after Christmas. Steve hasn't spotted any cameras hidden in the bushes.

They each have a coffee and Steve chooses a chocolate crepe while Tony goes for blueberry. When they've gotten their food, however, instead of heading downhill, Tony heads in the opposite direction of the car-park. Steve hesitates.

"Do you trust me?" Tony asks.

With his life everyday Steve does, so he follows.

They walk deeper into the park, where it widens and the number of people dramatically shrinks. It's private enough that Tony takes his hand after they've finished eating. It's another first for them and Steve feels like this day is one for the books. Their walk slows around a bend and Tony stops just at the edge of a clearing. He has a gleam in his eye as he drags Steve into the clearing, where the snow goes just above his shins. He has to march through it.

A shiver slides through Steve. Uncertainly, he asks, "What are you doing?"

"Hopefully proving a point," Tony explains, insecurity in his features. It doesn't fit him. Shrugging, he adds, "This could potentially make you go back to loathing me. You may never speak to me again. The line between self-destruction and taking a leap is very vague, Steve."

"I never loathed you," Steve says strongly, squeezing Tony's hand.

Tony stops at that, his eyes moving like he's searching Steve, trying to check under all of Steve's layers and reveal the truth. He nods, apparently satisfied. Then he spreads his arms out to his sides and tips backward onto the ground, crashing into the snow and making no sound aside from the 'oof' that leaves his mouth and 'oh shit, this is colder than I remember.'

Tony's arms and legs start to sweep and he's honest to God making a snow angel.

Steve stares after him dumbstruck. He'd forgotten how perfect people look against the backdrop of snow, sharp and vivid. if it’s even possible Tony is more full of life. Eyes as bright and beautiful as stained-glass. Steve’s heart stammers at the sight, it almost hurts.

"Tony..." He lingers off, not sure of where he wants to go, how much he's allowed to say here.

"My mom didn't grow up well-off," Tony starts, strangely loud from off of the ground. "She wasn't ever really hard up for money, I don't think but when she married my father, it was a different world for her. She would always remind me of how everything I had was a gift. The toys, the mansion, the cars, my genius. One day she brought me to the park—" He falters here, chest falling and rising in a shallow rhythm before starting again. "She um, she brought me to the park and out of nowhere, she was playing in the snow, forming angels. Both of us. Howard wouldn't have but my mom, she was different. Thought they were gifts too. I like to think that I get my eccentricity from her."

Steve knows that he's the first to hear this although they've never spoken about Maria Stark. In their first meeting, Howard's name had been such a landmine, Steve didn't make the mistake of bringing him up twice. So Tony's mother, someone that Steve had never even met, was a topic he hadn't wanted to broach ever.

"My parents passed away twenty-four years and fourteen days ago, Steve. And for twenty-three of those years, I was under the impression that their car accident was caused by black ice. I still make snow angels because they're a good thing that my mom gave to me. If you want my advice—"

"I can't imagine I can stop you."

Tony sits up and gazes up at Steve with sorrow, empathy. Completely understanding, he talks like he knows Steve better than anyone. "Bad things happen fast and we have to go through them slow but we're not doing anyone any favors by holding a grudge. No one benefits from that."

This is the part where Tony wrong-foots him, manages to utter a sentences that strikes Steve, leaves him in a critical state. Steve wants to lash out at him, claim that this wasn't his place, and that he doesn't have the right. It'd be so easy. But this is Tony exposing the underbelly of his armor, vulnerable and thin-skinned and hiding a battered heart. Steve's pain means something to Tony and he's trying to halve it.

Steve takes the harder route.

He walks up to Tony and pulls the other man to his feet, reels him in. He uses his hand to brush off snow from Tony's neck, loosen it from his hair. He can hardly restrain himself from what he wants to do next. He asks, "Are you a good thing?"

"You've got eyes, Cap," Tony remarks, low and rough with a pink flush painted across his cheeks.

"I've got eyes," Steve murmurs and agrees. He leans in and kisses Tony on his mouth, catching his bottom lip and gently biting it. It's light and sweet before it turns into something more intense, more instinctual. Steve licks at Tony's lips before pushing in and seeking the warmth there. Tony opens for him and it makes the kiss shoot straight to Steve's toes, makes them both shake and press into one another. It's the kind of kiss that Steve wants to have for the rest of his life.

"You're ridiculous," Steve says when they break apart, puffing tiny clouds into the space between them.

Amused, fine lines form in the corner of Tony's eyes as he laughs. "Eccentric."

"Full of surprises. Probably shouldn't encourage you but I can't help it." Steve replies, easing into another few kisses and bunching his fingers in Tony's thick overcoat. He bumps his forehead against Tony's, keeps it there and waits for his heart to slow down a little, for feeling to return to his knees. "If someone had told me a month ago, that I'd be standing here, like this, with you."

"Laugh them right out of the building?" Tony supplies. He presses his mouth to the skin above Steve's lip. Steve thinks that he's also having a difficult time letting go. His hands haven't stopped moving, he's readjusting Steve's scarf, fussing with Steve's lapels.

"I did actually," Steve remembers. "Natasha thought that I had a crush on you—turns out that I did, I guess. I felt something for you then, just didn't know what it was."

“I mean, you haven’t noticed—”, Natasha's words rattle again. The meaning shifting into a perfect pocket in this context.

"You did though," Steve says, heating with the epiphany. He draws back and fixes his gaze on Tony's, amazed. He can't take his eyes off of Tony. "You knew what you felt."

"I'm kind of the smartest guy in the room. Not just a billing," Tony says mildly, like it's no big deal when it's truly everything. He rambles on, "Just didn't ever seem like there was a right time to mention it, you know? You were skipping out on everything, putting yourself through a movie called Frozen of all the irresponsible and harebrained things, and not wanting to go to the tree lot with Bruce. Which was just so un-American, I cannot even tell you. You weren't your normal pathologically well-mannered self. You were scowling at the weather reports so I thought field reports would be a good distraction. Shit, you make me talk a lot. Timing. The timing always sucked," he says in a fit, exhaling noisily. "I wanted to take care of you and giving you me, didn't that think was much of a prize."

"Thought you were the smartest man in the room? You are a good thing, Tony Stark." Heart in his throat, he clasps Tony's hand. "Come on then. Your angel is something pitiful. You need a kid from Brooklyn to show you how it's done."

"Charming. That angel is worth more than the entirety of Brooklyn, I'll have you know," Tony says, smile unrivaled as he kisses Steve. "What, did they have snow angel making school back in the forties? At the corner of the wrong side of the tracks?"

Steve rolls his eyes and tugs him to a fresh powdered spot, aligns he and Tony in the shape of a paper chain. He closes his eyes and falls back.

It's not a romantic feat. It doesn't feel like falling back into a bed of pillows or on cloud nine. It's freezing and Steve feels like his spine is about to jolt right out of him, there's still an inkling of wrong that hasn't yet died but Tony's gloved hand in his is warm, real, and alive. It grounds him. Makes Steve believe in himself, that he might be mending.

They swiftly move together, kicking up the snow and making it come back down on them in a silver and white blur.

"Pete's sake, Tony! How did you monologue in this?" Steve calls over to Tony after minutes have passed and the cold has only gotten colder.

Tony laughs, a sound that has a thermal effect on Steve. "Obviously, you drive me crazy."

"I really like you too," Steve says, turning to look at him. Using his free hand, he reaches up and engraves a halo above Tony's head, laughing and laughing.

The first snow is expected to freeze overnight. The roads will be like sheets of ice and the temperature isn't going to climb any higher than a single digit. His mother has already been warned him to stay inside numerous times because ice leads to broken bones and bitter chills lead to significant bed rest. Steve doesn't see how he could even escape under her eye but he makes the promise anyway.

Near side of the fact that Steve has no inclination to fall ill for the third time since the cold weather started, he's perfectly fine with staying indoors. He is content with just this part—standing by their frosted window pane and watching it fall soundless. Steve's always found it beautiful, the way it comes down in many to form into one whole, how it shines in variations under the street lamp. It falls confident and sure, as though it's been falling all year instead of just this night.

That figures to make good sense since Steve can't think of New York, home, without snow making it into the picture.

Pulling his afghan tight around him and listening to the old radio play a comforting tune, Steve eyes the storm with a fondness and wonder, watches it make the neighborhood new again.