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The Giving of Gifts

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After the revelation that rumours of Phil's demise had been greatly exaggerated, there's a party at Stark Tower. It doesn't take much for Tony to throw a party, but this one's actually organised by Pepper, so will at least start out tasteful, civilised, and impeccably hosted. Whether it ends that way is another question. Phil's only just hobbled out of full time bed rest and has no intention of indulging in any antics, frolics, and/or shenanigans that Tony might be planning. He's going to sit here and drink one beer -- maybe two if he's being adventurous -- and not doing anything to over-exert himself. Doctor's orders.

He's also apparently going to spend a lot of time saying sorry to people. He'd expected Clint and Natasha to be pissed, and they are, and it's not so surprising that Stark's taken it personally because he always thinks that everything is about him, but he's taken aback by the reaction from everyone else. Thor grabs him in a slightly painful hug, and Dr Banner makes a point of coming over to tell Phil just how glad he is to see him up and about again. Pepper sits next to him on the sofa, lacing her arm through his and making sure he's got all the food he could possibly want.

"You're a good person," Phil tells her seriously as she brings him a plate of bacon sandwich. "Thank you."

She smiles at him and kisses his cheek. "You're welcome. Just promise not to do it again."

"Yes ma'am."

Then Pepper looks over his shoulder. Her eyes widen slightly and she makes an unexpected exit. Phil turns his head and spots Captain America walking towards him. He takes a breath. It's fine, he can do this. Captain Rogers is just being polite, they'll make small talk for a minute or two and then he'll go away and talk to someone else and Phil will be able to breathe again.

Phil vows to make no further comments along the lines of 'I watched you while you were sleeping', a mortifying moment he can't stop playing in his head.

He nods at Captain Rogers and sets down his plate of sandwiches and his beer. "Evening, sir," he says, as Captain Rogers sits down next to him. Their knees nearly touch. Phil tries not to panic.

Captain Rogers laughs. "At ease, soldier," he says. "And call me Steve - we're both off duty."

"Yes, s-- I mean. Steve." His voice catches on the word, and this is already heading for disaster territory again. He tries a smile. Steve smiles back, and it's warmer this time, not strained and uncomfortable like he was on the day that Phil collected him. Okay, maybe this is okay. Phil suddenly wishes he still had his beer to occupy his hands, but maybe it's a good thing that he doesn't.

Steve reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a package, wrapped up in brown paper. "Here, I got you something. It's kinda stupid, but I thought you might have more use for it than I do."

"No, no, you didn't have to," Phil says, taking the package. "That's very --" he trails off as he unties the string and the paper falls away, revealing a pack of cards. He picks it up, frowning. It looks brand new, shining gold font spelling out CAPTAIN AMERICA over a picture of Steve in his new uniform.

"It's a prototype," Steve explains. "I got sent a few samples for approval - apparently my reappearance in the world is an excellent marketing opportunity." He shrugs. "Seems like some things haven't changed. Anyway, they're going to release the final version in a few weeks, but that set's practically one of kind. I know it's not the same as the ones you had before, but I thought -- Well. Maybe you'd like them."

Phil's lost for words. He opens the pack, careful not to dent the packaging, and gingerly pulls out the cards inside. There are ten of them, some of them very similar to the vintage designs, and some brand new and showing Captain America posing heroically in the middle of Manhattan. Each one has Steve's signature in the corner.

The last card is a picture of all six Avengers, and when Phil turns it over he sees six signatures on the back. He clenches his teeth and swallows hard in an effort to keep it together.

"Thank you," he says quietly, staring at the picture, the team that he helped make. "Thank you very much."

With an effort, he meets Steve's eye. It's a little overwhelming, seeing Captain America in person. For all the many photos and videos that Phil's studied over the years, Steve is much more, well, more in person. And Steve looks comfortable, his smile effortlessly happy, and Phil can't quite process just how much hero worship he's feeling right now. He slowly puts the cards back into their box and puts the box into a pocket.

"We'll try not to let Fury gets his hands on that set," Steve says.

Phil laughs. "Yes, I'd appreciate that."

Steve leans forward and rests his hand on Phil's knee, smiling at him. Phil's eyes go huge, and he thinks calm, composed thoughts furiously but his heart is pounding because what the hell, what the hell, his lifelong hero is smiling at him and touching him and leaning in close and kissing his cheek and his brain's about to short out.

"Welcome back," Steve says softly. "I'm really happy you're okay."

"I -- um. So am I. Thank you."

There's a yell from across the room. "Rogers! C'mere, you need you to make up numbers for Mario Kart!"

Steve pulls a face. "Duty calls, apparently."

Phil nods at him seriously. "I understand. Go get 'em."

Steve salutes, grinning, then squeezes Phil's uninjured shoulder. "Mount a rescue mission if it gets ugly, will you?"

"Yes sir."

Steve goes over to Tony, who's beckoning at him with a worrying glint in his eye.

Phil sits very still. He wants to make sure that every moment of what just happened is imprinted on his memory forever. He feels dizzy and light-headed, like if he stood up just now he might float clean off the ground. He presses his fingers to his cheek reverentially.

Pepper reappears. "Phil, oh my god. Are you okay?" She smiles at him fondly. "You look you might pass out."

"If I do, it's due to my serious injuries," he tells her. "Just so that we're clear."

"Oh, of course." She nudges his arm. "Well?"

"He's just -- he's amazing," Phil says breathlessly before he thinks about it. "I don't know what to say."

"How about 'Pepper, you throw the best parties'?"

Phil turns to face her. "Pepper, you throw the absolute best parties," he says, with total conviction.

"I know," she says, pleased, and pats his arm.

Phil wonders if he's ever going to float back down to earth again. Probably not. He's okay with that.