Tag Archives: Merry Christmas

Have Yourself a Mannheim Steamroller Christmas

Wow, is it the Christmas season already? Yeow, does time fly! It seems like I was just putting up Christmas posts a few months ago. Whew….

Anyway, readers, here is some more Mannheim Steamroller cheer for you this Christmas. Hope you like them!

The Mithril Guardian

 

Los Peces en El Rio

Gagliarda

Fum, Fum, Fum

The Holly and the Ivy

Silent Night

Good King Wenceslas

Veni, Veni, Emmanuel

Kling, Glockchen

Jingle Bells

Fan Fiction Story for Transformers: Robots in Disguise

Merry Christmas, everyone! Waaaay back in January 2016, a friend requested that I write a fan fiction story for Transformers: Robots in Disguise.  At the time I was not prepared to write such a story, though I did promise to do it at some point.  I had meant to do it that month, but the project never got past the promise stage.

I remembered that promise to my friend a little while ago, and I knew it was well past time to deliver.  And so, without further ado, here is the story I promised my friend all those months back.  I hope you all enjoy it as much as my compadre does!

Let’s rev up and snowball out!

The Mithril Guardian

Image result for transformers robots in disguise

Snowball Fight!

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.

It started harmlessly enough, from what Drift said later.  Russell, Slipstream, and Jetstorm had been showing the newly returned Weaponizer Mini-Cons how to build a snowman.  Thankfully, they had received Optimus’ warning in time and returned to Earth safely to rejoin Bumblebee and his team – just in time for the first snow of the season.

With Sideswipe and Drift sparring nearby, and Denny out with Bumblebee to pick up more energon, Drift had been content to let his students have some fun.  He had not put it in those words, but Optimus was fairly sure that was what he meant.

Things had become more raucous when Grimlock, his arms behind his back, had told Russell that he had forgotten something to show the Mini-Cons.  Russell looked up at him in utter bewilderment.  “What’s that, Grim?” he had asked.

Grinning widely, Grimlock had brought both arms forward and thrown two giant snowballs at Sideswipe and Drift.

Neither of the combatants had noticed the projectiles coming until they were hit.  There had been enough force in Grimlock’s throw to send the two flying sideways.  And from there, things had spiraled completely out of control.

At least, that was the way Bumblebee seemed to see it.

“Guys, I thought we agreed – ”  He had to stop talking as a snowball flew at his head.   Optimus reached up and plucked it from the air before it could hit him.  Bee ducked reflexively anyway.

Flicking a glance at Optimus, he muttered, “Thanks,” before turning again to try and interrupt the snowball battle.

Optimus hid a smile as he let his arm fall to his side, keeping a careful hold on the snowball.  Ever since he had briefed his former scout on the preliminaries of the situation on Cybertron, Bee had been on edge.  It was only natural that Bumblebee wanted his team to be prepared for the coming threats.

But according to Sideswipe, since their discussion Bumblebee had kept his team on a strict regimen of training exercises and patrols.  While Sideswipe was doubtless exaggerating the severity of Bee’s change in attitude, even Optimus could tell that the young commander had his servos in a knot lately.  He barely allowed himself or the team time to really relax.

Optimus felt something small and light settle on his left shoulder.  He knew it was Aerobolt before he turned to look at him.

The leader of the Weaponizer Mini-Cons turned to him, cocking his head like a true Earth bird.  “I do not understand this form of training,” he said.  “It seems to serve no real purpose.  Sideswipe and Drift could train by throwing objects of various weights at an inanimate target just as well as they throw these balls of snow at each other.  Grimlock could do the same.”

Optimus turned at a human shout from the battlefield.  He was just in time to see Russell pelting Grimlock’s leg with snowballs.

The big Dinobot raised his arms over his head in the manner of surrender and shouted, “Ah!!  No, noooo!!  Stop!  Arrgh!”  With a theatrical groan, he toppled onto his side.  “Ahhh!!!  I’m dead!”  Grimlock shut his eyes and went limp, letting his jaw hang open for extra effect.  Russell laughed so hard at the sight that he sat down in the snow.

Grimlock opened one eye and smiled.  Opening the other, he sat up.  “Was it that good?”

“Yes!” Russell gasped.  “You’re a great actor, Grim!”

“Hmm,” the Dinobot replied.  “I guess I am.”  Taking a handful of snow, he sprinkled it over Russell’s head.  The boy stood up and, quieting his laughter, stuck out his tongue in an attempt to catch the flakes.

Meanwhile, Sideswipe had decided to dump a large container of snow over Drift’s head.  “Something in your eyes, Drift?” he asked, laughing as the former bounty hunter scraped the snow from his face.  “Guess you’ll be having a – ”

His gloating cost him, leaving him totally unprepared for Drift’s lunge.  Grabbing his arm, Drift pulled it behind the younger ‘Bot’s back and thrust his head into a nearby snowdrift.  “I believe that your Christmas will be whiter, Sideswipe.”  The former bounty hunter smiled wickedly as Sideswipe’s free arm flailed, his voice muffled by the snow.

Standing up, Grimlock whipped snow up into the air with his tail, dowsing Russell with it.  Using his arms to keep the snow from his eyes, Russell did not notice his father sneaking up behind him.  Denny darted forward and grabbed hold of his son’s midsection.  Lifting him high over his head, Denny spun the boy around fast enough to startle a shout from him.  The two toppled into the snow, where they started wrestling and laughing.  Above them, Grimlock smiled.

“This is not a form of training,” Optimus explained to Aerobolt slowly.  “It is a form of human entertainment called a snowball fight.”

Aerobolt cocked his head.  His whole posture radiated confusion.  “Humans find it entertaining to be attacked with hard balls of snow?” he asked.

“The humans I have had contact with prefer to keep the snowballs soft enough that they do no permanent harm.”  Sideswipe had gotten free of Drift at last.  The two were rolling around in the snow now, just like Denny and Russell.

Slipstream and Jetstorm began throwing snowballs at Grimlock.  Optimus noticed for the first time that the rest of the Weaponizers were watching the fight from some distance away.  Tricerashot watched the fun, a scowl on his face.  But he was usually scowling.  The other Mini-Cons looked as confused as Aerobolt.  Only Sawtooth was watching the scene with bright eyes.  He was quivering with suppressed emotion – excitement, if Optimus had to guess.

“Humans find the winters dull without some form of entertainment, much as Sideswipe finds a daily routine stifling.”  Optimus hoped the comparison would suffice.  It was difficult enough to explain human behavior, especially when he still did not understand some of it himself.  “If the routine or the weather does not provide a change, they will find a way to make the change themselves.”

Aerobolt nodded, understanding dawning in his eyes.  “Ah.  With a lack of useful occupations, such as farming, humans are left only with caring for their basic needs during Earth’s winter.  I can see how that could be considered…drudgery.”

“Indeed.”  Optimus nodded to indicate the happy chaos before them.  “It seems Bumblebee’s team has come to the same conclusion regarding their newest routine.”  Bumblebee himself had given up trying to be heard over the shouting and laughter.  He turned to leave, only to be confronted by Strongarm, who had just returned from her patrol.  The two began talking quietly, but Optimus noticed how the young cadet’s eyes strayed to the fight every few seconds.  She wanted to join in the fun.

It surprised him when the Mini-Con gave an almost imperceptible sigh.  “I had not thought to see him so tense.”

He was referring to Bumblebee.  “I believe it is the situation on Cybertron which worries him most.  He, Strongarm, and Sideswipe left without official permission, and he already knows that the High Council is unhappy with that.”  Optimus paused.  “My subsequent return and involvement with him and the others here has angered them further.”

“You have not stated just why they are displeased with him.”  Aerobolt eyed him closely.  “If it were simply because he traveled to Earth without official authorization, then that should be easily rectified.”

“That is indeed a part of it.”  Optimus did not want to tell anyone just what the situation on Cybertron was until the others had arrived.  The situation may have changed since he returned to Earth.

But Aerobolt deserved to know at least the preliminaries, if not the details, before that happened.  They were partners, after all, and to hide anything from the Mini-Con could destroy the trust necessary to form the Power Surge Link they had forged in their last battle with Starscream.  They might need that bond in the future, if things did not change – and that was extremely unlikely.  “I cannot say more here,” he told him at last.  “And some of the details are still unclear.  I will tell you what I know so far later on, but there are many things which may change when our reinforcements arrive.”

“You speak as one expecting a battle,” Aerobolt said, his wings fluttering in a wary manner.  “We did not wish to become involved in a war.”

“Nor did I wish to involve you, since you have suffered so much during the previous war,” Optimus agreed, stifling a sigh.  “If you were discovered on your own, however…”  He let the sentence hang in the air.  The Mini-Cons believed they could take care of themselves, and against opponents such as the Decepticon Scavengers, he did not doubt that they could.

But if what he suspected was true, they would not be able to stand against what was coming alone.  Neither would he, Bumblebee, or his team.

Aerobolt was watching him.  “Is it Megatron?” he asked evenly, his tone very quiet.  That was not easy to manage, considering what the Decepticon leader had put him and the others through.

Optimus sighed.  “Perhaps.  We have no way of knowing for certain at the moment.  As I said, what I know now may change when the others arrive.”

Slowly, Aerobolt nodded.  “Yet what you know has obviously made Bumblebee anxious,” he observed.  “I do not think mere political machinations would upset him so.”

“Unless the intrigues were more than simple games,” Optimus told him calmly, adding a little edge to his tone.  If it really was as bad as Jazz had said, they were facing a great crisis, possibly another war.  It was not a thought Optimus relished.

The Mini-Con caught the edge in his tone and looked at him sharply.  Optimus stared back.  Finally, Aerobolt nodded.  “Indeed.  I see now the reason for Bumblebee’s distress.”

Optimus could not stop his instinctive glance in Bumblebee’s direction.  The younger ‘Bot was deep in conversation with Strongarm.  He felt his spark ache with empathy as he watched his former Scout.  He had been in Bumblebee’s place many times in the past.

Not long ago, he reflected, Bee would have joined in the snowball fight wholeheartedly.  But watching him now, Optimus was reminded of the more embittered or uptight ‘Bots whom he had commanded during the Great War.  With so many lost lives and lost battles, it was inevitable that some would come to see any form of amusement as a frivolous waste of time.

He was fairly sure that Bumblebee had not fallen that far in such a short amount of time.  The younger Autobot’s personality was too buoyant for that.  Even the loss of his voice box had not marred his spirit permanently.

It was a commander’s duty, Optimus reflected, to stay apart from the games his subordinates enjoyed on most occasions.  Arcee had once told Jack, Miko, and Rafael that “Primes don’t party.”  In part, it was because it was not expected of them.  A Prime was to comport himself at all times with as much dignity as possible, according to the records Optimus had read in his youth.  Besides, he had found that he enjoyed watching those under his command while they “partied” more than if he had joined in their games.

He looked at Bumblebee again and caught him glancing toward the fight as Drift kicked Sideswipe off of him and into a snow bank, sending a plume of powder into the sky.  Primes may indeed have to excuse themselves from such high-spirited play, but Bumblebee was not a Prime.

Optimus found himself fingering the snowball he had caught before it could hit Bumblebee.  An idea began to form in his mind.

Just then, Grimlock gave a mighty roar and dove at Slipstream and Jetstorm.  The maneuver lacked his usual speed and force, giving the two Mini-Cons time to move aside.  They did, and Grimlock’s head disappeared into the snowdrift behind them.  Denny and Russell, having their own snowball fight some little distance away, stopped at the sight.

Grimlock brought his head up and out of the snow bank.   He moved so quickly that he showered Denny and Russell with a light film of snow, making them shout and laugh.  Slipstream and Jetstorm avoided the cloud of powder, flipping out of range to land one atop the other next to Grimlock’s leg.  It protected them from the backwash of snow.

What they did not realize was that Grimlock’s charge had been a feint to allow him a chance to fill his mouth with snow.  Bringing his head up, Grimlock twisted his neck so that his closed jaws hung over the two.  Then he opened his mouth and allowed the snow to cascade onto them.  The two shouted in surprise.

Their dual shout, though, was drowned out by Strongarm’s sudden shriek.  Optimus looked over and smiled as he watched Sawtooth pick up a snowball with his tail.  He had a pile of them near that appendage.  With everyone concentrating on the others, he had been free to slip away and make his own snowballs.  He flipped this new snowball at Strongarm, who managed to block this projectile.

Sawtooth paused as a thought seemed to strike him.  “Did I hit too hard?” he asked, concerned.

“No,” Strongarm replied.  “You just hit me when I wasn’t expecting it.”

“Oh.  My apologies.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, waving one hand.  Reaching out with her other hand at the same time, she clutched some snow from one of the racks holding Denny’s car collection and threw it at him.

Sawtooth never saw it coming.  It hit him in the chest and sent him skidding backward along the ground.  He shook his head, then turned to stare at her.  A slow smile spread across his face.

Strongarm smiled back.  In an instant, the two were going at it nuts and bolts, throwing, diving, and catching snowballs.  They looked less like warriors and more like human children.

Optimus glanced at Aerobolt to see his reaction.  The Mini-Con shrugged his wings, looking caught between anger and confusion.  He thought, however, that he detected a gleam of delight in the other’s eye.  “I had not thought Sawtooth would be interested in such a game.”

“It is in times such as this that commanders learn the most about their subordinates,” Optimus replied softly.  “I have found it informative and pleasant, watching my Autobots at their pastimes.”

“Have you?” asked Aerobolt.  “It does not strike you as…undignified?”

Optimus smiled.  “Dignity at times may be put aside by most.  In times such as this, it relieves the stress that would otherwise threaten to divide a strong unit.  Also, it has sometimes provided an Autobot with the perspective necessary to win a battle.”

“Hmmm,” Aerobolt murmured thoughtfully.

Strongarm and Sawtooth’s snowball fight seemed to give Grimlock an idea.  Leaning down, he picked up some snow and began packing it into a ball.  Slipstream and Jetstorm, excavating themselves from the snow he had dumped on them, looked up at him.

“Do-de-do,” Grimlock hummed.  “Da-da-da.”  He looked down at the two, then over at the Weaponizers, who were watching Sawtooth and Strongarm in confusion.

The Mini-Cons understood him.  Reaching down, they began packing their own snowballs.  “Hey, Tricerashot!” Grimlock called.

“What?” the Dino Mini-Con growled.  His growl morphed into a gasp as he saw the snowball arcing through the air toward him.  Before he had time to move, it hit him in the head.  “Arrgh!” he shouted.

The other Weaponizers started and stared at him in shock.  Slipstream and Jetstorm’s battle cries therefore caught them unawares.  Before any of the other Mini-Cons had time to move, Drift’s students began bombarding them heavily with snowballs. They turned the remains of the pile Grimlock had dropped on them into a fort to defend against returning snowballs.

Denny and Russell shared a look.  Then they ran over to join Slipstream and Jetstorm.  In a few seconds, both sets of Mini-Cons and the humans were trading snowballs at a furious rate.

But Tricerashot, having cleared his eyes of the snow, had a bigger target in mind.  As Grimlock watched his handy work in action, the Dino Mini rolled a large ball of snow with his horns.  Carefully picking it up on his snout, he lobbed it a Grimlock’s shin.

The Dinobot grunted with the impact, then turned to look at Tricerashot.  “Fair is fair!” he called smugly.  “You wanted a snowball fight – well, you’ve got one!”

Grinning widely, Grimlock picked up some more snow and packed it into a ball.  Tricerashot rolled another ball, picked it up on his horns, and threw it at Grimlock…

…Just as the bigger ‘Bot lobbed his own snowball at the Mini.

The results were comical.  Tricerashot’s projectile hit Grimlock in his snout, obscuring his vision, while the Dinobot’s snowball covered Tricerashot completely.  It took them a few minutes to burrow out of the snow.  They looked at each other and started laughing.

Aerobolt cocked his head.  Optimus caught the smile which flitted across his face.  “I’d no idea Tricerashot could laugh,” he muttered.

Optimus smiled a little himself.  “As I said, a commander often learns more about his subordinates at play than in battle.”  He looked back at the battlefield and saw a snowball coming toward him.  Shifting to the left, he let it pass.  “Well aimed, Sideswipe,” he complemented.

“Daw – you weren’t supposed to move!” the younger ‘Bot lamented.  He grunted as Drift hit him in the back with a larger snowball.  “Hey, Bee!  Give a ‘Bot a hand?!”

“We’re supposed to be studying battle tactics, not playing,” Bumblebee retorted.

“Come on.  Snowball fights are all about battle tactics!”  To prove his point, Sideswipe feinted left.  Drift blocked his real punch from his right, but Sideswipe used his still-moving left hand to snatch a handful of snow and shove it onto the samurai’s head.  Sputtering, Drift backed up, allowing Sideswipe to knock him over with a well-placed kick.  “See?” he said.

Drift’s response was to kick his legs out from under him from his position on the ground, and Sideswipe landed with a loud “Ooomf!” in the torn-up snow.  Strongarm and Sawtooth laughed as he scrambled to his feet and lunged at the other Autobot.

But Drift was ready for him.  Throwing loose powder in Sideswipe’s eyes, he ducked behind him and kicked him into a snow pile.  “He is indeed correct, Bumblebee.  I am now engaged in lecturing Sideswipe to avoid gloating over his opponents before they are unconscious.”

“I’ll show you unconscious!” Sideswipe growled playfully as he pulled himself free of the snow, one hand clutched tightly on a white something.  Pivoting on his right foot, he threw a malformed snowball into Drift’s chest.  There was enough force behind the throw to send the other ‘Bot skidding backward.

Bumblebee sighed as the two continued to spar.  “He has a point, Bumblebee,” Optimus remonstrated gently.  “The surrounding territory can be an advantage in a battle, and it is unlikely our opponents will have had experience with snow or snowball fights.”

The former Scout closed the distance between them.  “Optimus, if you’re right, snowballs aren’t going to help us.”  He glanced at the laughing, happy scene, and Optimus recognized the fear in his eyes.  Bumblebee was wondering if he would lose any of his teammates in the coming conflict.

He had faced that same fear and lived through it many times over the years himself.  Often the Autobots he had watched having fun moments before lay dead within the opening phase of a battle.  Some of them had been friends of his and others had been friends of Bumblebee’s.  Neither of them wanted to see his team suffer the same fate as so many units of Autobots had in the War.

Optimus hoped fervently that they could in fact survive this situation without casualties or another war.  He had seen enough death and destruction over the eons; he did not wish to see more.  And these young Autobots, who did not know what it was to truly lose a compatriot, would hopefully never have to learn the grief that came with the loss.  Sideswipe’s near-miss in the battle against Starscream was the closest they had come to true injury and death.  He desperately wanted that to be as close as they came to actually losing someone.

Shaking the phantoms of fear away, Optimus turned his head slightly to avoid another snowball.  This one had been a stray; Sideswipe had his hands full with Drift and was in no position to think of throwing snowballs at anyone but him.  “Excessive stress from too much training is not helpful either, Bumblebee,” Optimus chided gently.  “I learned that in the War.”

The other sighed.  “You’re right, of course.  It’s just…”

“It is never easy waiting for a battle.”  Optimus put his free hand on Bumblebee’s shoulder.  The younger ‘Bot looked up at him, and for a moment, Optimus saw the eager, trusting young Scout he had commanded for so long staring back at him.  Bumblebee had grown and strengthened during his absence.  But a part of him was still that hopeful, never-give-up young ‘Bot who had dared to face down Megatron at the price of his voice box.

But the rest was the grown Autobot who had saved Optimus’ life by running Megatron through with the Star Saber, whose sense of righteousness and commitment to what was good and true in the universe mirrored his own.  Optimus knew he could have asked for no better successor than Bumblebee.  Nor could he ask for a better subordinate.  “You, Bulkhead, and the others needed rest and relaxation during the War from time to time as well.  Do not begrudge your own team the freedom to enjoy themselves while they can.”

Bumblebee’s eyes turned to regard the fight still raging in the midst of the scrap yard.  He sighed, and as his shoulders slumped Optimus felt the tension leave him.  “You’re right.”  He shook his head.  “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Smiling slightly, Optimus hefted the snowball he had caught earlier and held it out to Bumblebee.  “Perhaps it is best to think only of the present moment.  I believe this belongs to Sideswipe, does it not?”

The younger ‘Bot looked at the snowball for a long minute.  Slowly, a smile spread across his face and he took it from Optimus’ grasp.  “I do believe it does.”  Switching the projectile to his other hand, Bumblebee cocked his arm and threw the snowball.

It splattered on Sideswipe’s head, startling a yell from him.  Shooting Optimus a playful grin, Bumblebee transformed, raced forward a short distance, and then swung to a stop.  The maneuver threw snow over Grimlock, the Weaponizers, Denny, Russell, Slipstream, and Jetstorm.  Strongarm and Sawtooth both ended up with a face full of snow courtesy of the slide as well.  Sideswipe was too busy brushing snow from the top of his head to notice some had landed on his feet.  Drift was far enough away that the snow Bumblebee kicked up did not touch him.

“You guys gonna sit there all day?” Bumblebee asked.  “Or are we going to go show Fixit how to have a snowball fight?”

The others shared a look.  Grimlock grinned, to be answered by similar smiles from Strongarm and Sideswipe.  Drift did not grin, but Optimus could see the corners of his mouth turning up in a smile.

“Then let’s rev up and roll out!” Bumblebee shouted, peeling out of the yard.  Grimlock chased after him as Strongarm and Sideswipe transformed to follow, Strongarm pausing only long enough for Sawtooth to climb onto her roof.  Drift transformed and drove over to Denny and Russell, who hopped in as soon as his door was open.  Slipstream and Jetstorm jumped onto his roof and he raced toward the Command Center.

The Weaponizers shared a look.  As one, they turned to Aerobolt.

Flicking a glance at Optimus, he nodded once to them.  The band took off after the other Autobots.  All of them were smiling, even Tricerashot.

As the roars and shouts began in the Command Center, Optimus’ partner turned to look at him.  “Shall we watch the festivities?” he asked.

“I believe we shall,” Optimus answered.  Transforming to vehicle mode, he let Aerobolt fly ahead of him.  Smiling privately to himself, Optimus drove toward the Command Center.  The threats they faced were as dangerous as any they had known in the Great War.  But this was a new era, with new soldiers who had already proved that they were worthy warriors and true friends.  Though the road ahead would be dangerous and dark, with Autobots such as these at his side, Optimus knew in his spark that they would succeed.

But for now, they were going to have a little fun.

THE END

Marvel Fan Fiction: An Avengers’ Snow Day

I have been contemplating writing fan fiction for a long time, readers.  Until recently, I was reluctant to put any sort of creative writing up on my blog.  But masterleiaofasgard’s first foray into fan fiction inspired me to try my hand at it.  The result is this story about the Avengers, which takes place a little while before Christmas.

Set in the MCU – or Marvel Cinematic Universe – it takes place before Avengers: Age of Ultron.  For this reason, the Maximoff twins and Vision are not in the story.  There are also a few winks and nods in my story to masterleia’s first fan fiction piece, which you can find and read here: https://superherofactsandtrivia.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/yes-my-first-fan-fic/.

If you enjoy my story and would like to copy it to your computer for yourself, then I would ask that you request permission of me first.  Masterleiaofasgard gets first dibs on it, if she wants it, since it was her story that got this ball rolling in the first place. 😉

Enjoy, readers – and Merry Christmas!

The Mithril Guardian

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An Avengers’ Snow Day

by The Mithril Guardian

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.

Natasha Romanoff poured herself a cup of coffee. “So, what are your plans for Christmas, Steve?” she asked.

Steve Rogers leaned back in his chair, tossing the latest issue of the Daily Bugle onto the table as he moved. “I’m not sure,” he admitted. “Maybe some research.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. When Steve said “research,” he was referring to his hunt for his old friend, Bucky Barnes, otherwise known as the Winter Soldier, once one of the deadliest assassins of all time.

Natasha suppressed a shudder. The man was aptly named; the only person she had ever seen that cold and unfeeling had been herself. And even she had had some fears when she worked for the KGB, some insecurities.

The Winter Soldier had none of that.

Still, he had saved Steve’s life. Maybe there was something of his old self buried under those years of HYDRA programming after all. She knew that Steve certainly believed there was. Even while working for the Avengers, he made as much time as he could to search for Barnes. Sam had been helping him, running down leads or talking to sources when Steve was engaged elsewhere.

Lately, they had been very busy elsewhere. HYDRA was more active than ever. The Avengers had tackled five different bases in the last two weeks, all within days of each other. Today was one of their first real chances to relax and get some down time.

Steve shrugged. “We’ll see.”

“Did I hear someone say Christmas?” Tony Stark asked as he entered the room.

Natasha hid a wry smile. Tony had been holed up in the lab with Bruce for the past few hours, working on some project the two had dubbed “Veronica.” It figured that he would show up right in the middle of what she had been hoping would be a private, productive conversation with Steve. “Because I am throwing a Christmas party in a couple of days, Pepper will be here, and you’re all – naturally – invited.”

“I won’t mind coming.” Steve looked at her. “What about you, Nat?”

“It’s free food. Who could turn that down?” she asked, sipping her coffee. She would have to pay a visit to her nephew and niece before the party, or after it. Clint would help her work something out. “Where’s Bruce?”

“Still in the lab,” Tony replied. He grabbed a mug and headed for the coffee maker. Natasha moved a little so that he could get to the machine. She took another sip as he went on, pouring his coffee. “He wants to double check some of Veronica’s systems.” Tony looked around. “Where are Barton and Thor?”

“Landing pad.” Natasha took another sip. “They were having some kind of a discussion – ”

She stopped when she saw Steve and Tony share a look. “I’ll go check on them,” Steve said, standing up. As he left the room, Natasha gave Tony one of her most irritated frowns.

He ignored it, as usual. “He’s not stupid, you know,” she said, “Clint’s not going to get Thor angry just for the heck of it.”

“He’s Barton. He can get someone angry just by looking at them,” Tony retorted.

Natasha shook her head, rolling her eyes. “Have you invited Jane Foster to the party?”

“No, because she invited Thor to her latest research lab for Christmas.” Tony glowered as he drank his coffee. “He’s skipping the event. Think Clint will stay?”

Natasha shrugged. The answer was no, Clint was going home to his wife and children for Christmas. But she was the only Avenger who knew about his family. He had agreed to work for SHIELD only as long as Fury kept his family out of the agency’s files and never told anyone that they existed. Laura and the kids had subsequently been erased from reality – digitally and on paper – and no one, not even Hill or Coulson, had ever known that Clint was not a bachelor.

Clint and Natasha had both been grateful for that after HYDRA was revealed to be within SHIELD’s ranks. Clint had had three assassin teams chasing him down while Natasha and Cap were working to stop Project Insight. “It’s extremely flattering that they decided you were so threatening they needed to send three teams to kill you,” she had teased him.

“You’re the only one who would think three teams, composed of fifteen assassins each, hunting you for a week, was a compliment,” he had shot back, holding an ice pack to his twisted knee. One of the HYDRA assassins had managed to throw him before Clint had taken him down. Natasha and Steve had arrived just as he put an arrow through the last standing assassin. “What kept you?” he had asked as they had approached, rolling onto his back with a tired huff.

Natasha hated to think of what would have happened if Clint’s family had been on SHIELD’s files. Some agents who hadn’t taken Clint’s precautions had lost their families in HYDRA’s uprising.

She knew Clint disliked keeping his family a secret from everyone on the team; but at the same time, telling them was a risk. Steve could keep that kind of a secret – Natasha knew that risking lives, especially the lives of children, was one of the last things he would do. Bruce could probably keep from mentioning them, too.

Thor… Well, if he were to know, he would do his best not to let the secret out. But Thor could not be guaranteed to keep a secret. He tried, but Earth wasn’t his home. He had given away a couple of other secrets when asking questions meant to clarify something he didn’t understand, to Tony’s and Natasha’s embarrassment. Tony made himself feel better about the no-longer secret drawer full of his kiddie toys – thanks to Thor – by picking on Natasha’s craving for yogurt with pistachios, which Thor had also accidentally revealed.

A bout in the training room two weeks later had made Tony shut up about her culinary preference.

Of them all, Tony was the worst at keeping secrets. Unless they were his secrets – like his secret drawer full of childhood mementos, or the fact that his first arc reactor design had been killing him. The only reason any of the Avengers knew about Veronica (whatever it was) was because Bruce had told them about it. It was supposed to be some kind of a countermeasure if he should lose control of the Hulk. So far, though, they still didn’t know whether Veronica was a program or a cage.

“So,” Natasha asked. “What’s Veronica?”

“Ah, ah, ah!” Tony said from behind his mug. He finished his coffee and set the mug on the counter. “All will be revealed at the Christmas Party, grasshopper! Don’t get your stingers in a knot, Natasha!”

“If you don’t at least give me a hint, I might tangle them in you,” she retorted in a tone of mock injury. Tony was being his usual annoying self, she could see. Veronica was something he desperately wanted to keep under wraps, and he had either convinced Bruce to keep his mouth shut about the project or coerced him into silence. Natasha would not put either tactic past him.

“All right, one hint,” he said. “It’s red.”

That’s helpful,” she sniffed.

“Exactly.”

Suddenly, a loud crash sounded from the direction of the landing pad. Natasha shot Tony a look, meeting his own worried glance as she did. Then they were both running in the direction the sound had come from.

Natasha heard the laughter first. Or at least, upon hearing it, she was the first to slow down. Tony kept running. So when a snowball flew through the broken window and hit him in the chest, he went flying back toward her.

Dropping to the floor, Natasha rolled forward and came up on one knee as Tony crash landed behind her. She heard him gasp as he hit the floor, grunted, and then rolled over.

Out on the landing pad, which was covered with snow, Steve and Clint were both in battle positions, each with a snowball in one hand. Clint was dressed warmly – he was even wearing gloves – while Steve was still in his short sleeved shirt and jeans. Clint’s clothes were dusted with snow but Steve’s were soaking wet.

Some distance ahead and facing them was Thor, his hammer raised. Steve and Clint were looking over their shoulders and into the Tower. All three men were staring past Natasha into the room behind her, where Tony was getting to his feet, wearing the expressions of naughty children who had just been caught pilfering cookies from the cookie jar. Actually, she thought, Steve just looked surprised. Clint and Thor both had faces that said uh-oh.

Clint spoke first, pointing at Thor with his free hand. “It was his fault!”

“You threw the ball of snow!” the Asgardian retorted.

“You’re the one who broke the window! And sent the next snowball through it!”

“This game was your idea!”

“Yeah – “

Natasha heard the distinctive sound of repulsors powering up somewhere behind her and threw herself to the floor, ignoring the bits of broken glass that lay under her. At the same time, Steve dropped his snowball and leapt over to push Clint out of the line of fire. He fell into the snow with a yelp, Steve jumping past him, as Tony’s repulsor blasts took Thor in the chest and sent him flying to land in the snow halfway down the landing pad.

Iron Man flew out onto the landing pad. He descended, leaned over, and picked up some snow, packing it into a ball. “Why don’t you guys invite me to these parties?” he asked testily.

Thor stood up and wiped some snow out of his beard. He grinned the smile Natasha had privately dubbed his battle smirk, which he only put on when he was getting ready to enjoy a coming fight. Then he let Mjolnir’s handle drop from his hand, so he could swing it by its unbreakable thong. Tony threw his snowball at him, but Thor hit it with the hammer and sent it flying back to the armored Avenger, post haste.

The self-described genius, playboy, billionaire, philanthropist obliterated the snowball with a single repulsor blast. But Thor’s next snowball, drummed up by his hammer, caught Tony in the helmet.

“Consider yourself cordially invited to our battle of snow!” Thor shouted.

Tony shook his head, clearing most of the snowball residue from his mask. Then he took off and flew at Thor, who sent a number of other snowballs at his teammate from the hammer wind-milling in his hand.

Now that she wasn’t dodging snowballs and irked Avengers, Natasha could see that the snow on the landing pad, which had been as clean and unmarred as new paper this morning, was a slushy mess. Thor, Steve, and Clint’s antics had clearly ranged over the half of the landing pad closest to the Tower. Understandably, the snow on the overhang of the landing pad was relatively untouched. Since Steve and Clint couldn’t fly, it made sense that they would keep the Tower to their back and not court fate by going too close to the edge.

“You okay?” Steve asked. Natasha looked up to see him watching her, concern in his expression. Clint hauled himself out of the snow and began dusting his coat off with his free right hand. He still had a snowball in his left.

“Fine,” she said, sitting up cautiously. “What started all this?”

Steve looked at Clint, who shot them a glance that was just too innocent. “I asked Thor what they do in Asgard this time of year, and that led to him asking what we do for fun here on Earth in the winter.”

“And you suggested a snowball fight?”

“Well, I knew he wouldn’t be interested in snowmen or snow angels,” Clint replied somewhat defensively. “And I don’t think we could get him on a ski slope without risking an avalanche. All I said was ‘fight,’ and he asked what I meant. It was all perfectly calm until Cap showed up.”

“Ha,” Steve replied. “Thor was getting fed up with Clint hitting him all the time and dodging every third snowball thrown at him.”

“Hey, he can kill someone with one of those things, at the velocity he throws ‘em!” the archer retorted.

“So I got in on the action,” Steve went on, unperturbed. “And one of our snowballs ended up through the window.” He gestured to the now-empty window frame. “I told Tony it was a bad idea to have so many windows in this place.”

“It was already built by then,” Clint said. His eyes went to Tony and Thor. Tony was taking a lot of hits, but he occasionally managed to catch one of Thor’s snowballs and throw it back at him. “Shell Head’s getting the worst of it, Cap.”

“He shouldn’t have shot Thor. Reminds him too much of that fight they had in the woods when we were bringing Loki back to the Helicarrier.”

“One of the few things I wish I had been able to see during those three mind-controlled days,” the archer growled. “Anyway, do you think we should even things up a little?”

Natasha fully expected Steve to say no. To her surprise, though, Steve cocked his head and asked, “Who do you want?”

“Stark,” Clint said at once. “Thor’s mad at me, remember?”

“And having Tony angry at you is better?”

“Well, at the worst, he’ll have me sing Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Her teammates had only recently discovered that Clint could sing. Tony liked to push him into games where he was forced to do whatever anyone asked him, and Tony’s particular joy was tormenting Clint by having him sing any number of songs. Some Clint liked (though he never told Tony which ones those were), others he hated. “Thor might sit on me – or throw me out a window as a way of getting some exercise. He won’t do that to you.”

“All right.” Steve bent down, scooped up a handful of snow, and packed it into a ball. “One, two – “

“Three!” Clint let his snowball fly as he spoke. It hit Tony in the side of his helmet as Steve’s snowball, a few seconds behind the archer’s, splattered on Thor’s shoulder.

Both turned toward Clint and Steve, who were already packing new snowballs together as they ran in separate directions.

Natasha watched the two snowball teams start an all-out snowball war, her mouth hanging open. Earth’s mightiest heroes, they were called, and here they were acting like schoolboys!

She closed her mouth and shook her head. She couldn’t pretend to understand that. Her childhood, such as it was, didn’t include snowball fights, snowmen, or snow angels. She had done all of those things since she had become Cooper and Lila’s “aunt,” but doing them with other adults… Something about it made her feel self-conscious. She despised that feeling.

“It looks like they’re having fun.”

Natasha turned when she heard Bruce, surprised. He met her gaze and smiled a little. “I’d join them, but I think they’d just get scared.” He held his hand out to her. “Need some help?”

She didn’t. She could get up on her own. But for some reason she took his proffered hand and let him help her up. “You wouldn’t turn green?” she asked, dusting glass powder from her clothes.

He shrugged. “Maybe if I fell over the side, or if someone did something mean, like sit on me –” He flashed another smile at the reference to Clint’s last statement. “But I think I could handle a little snowball fight.”

He looked back out at the landing pad. Natasha followed his gaze and was just in time to see Clint pull Tony out of the sky by his boots. Whatever dignity Iron Man had left went out the window as he somersaulted in midair and landed on his head in a pile of snow. Clint grinned at his handiwork, then had to duck as a snowball Steve had thrown at Thor was deflected over his head. He kicked the Prince of Thunder’s legs out from under him and Steve seized the opportunity to shove snow onto the Thunderer’s chest. “They work together better than Thor and Tony do.”

“Yeah.”

“No, not just in this snowball fight,” Bruce said. He paused as they watched Tony pull himself out of the snow pile, grab Clint by the shoulders, and throw him into a different drift of the white stuff. “And not just Steve and Clint. I mean, Thor and Steve work together better in a battle than Tony and Thor do. Clint can work with any of us – I think.”

Natasha guessed he was referring to the battles where he turned into the Hulk. She could remember a few instances when Clint had worked with the Hulk, but sometimes Bruce’s memories of his time as Big Green were sketchy, so he wouldn’t remember everything he and the others did in a battle very well. “But Steve’s the only one who doesn’t seem to have trouble working with Tony.”

“Well, Stark’s a bit of a showboat,” Natasha explained. “He’s hard to work with because you’re never quite sure just what he’s going to do or say. Steve’s adaptable – more so than I once gave him credit for,” she admitted, “so whatever Tony does, he can roll with it. But there are times Stark does or says something that distracts the rest of us. It makes him hard to work with.”

Clint got his revenge on Tony by flinging snowballs at his helmet. One covered the facemask’s eyes and forced Tony to land. Clint used the moment it took Tony to clean the snow off his mask to run toward him, then fell into a sliding-skid, stopping behind him. He threw a snowball to Steve, who grabbed it and threw it at Tony.

Before the billionaire could react, the snowball hit him in the chest – and with Clint on his hands and knees behind him, Tony didn’t have a prayer of staying upright. He tumbled over Clint and landed on the floor with a loud clunk Natasha and Bruce could hear clearly from inside. “How did you know about the snowball fight?” Natasha asked.

“J.A.R.V.I.S. told me about it,” Bruce answered.

“He didn’t tell us.”

“The window broke before he could. Or so he said. Personally,” Bruce smiled at her again. “I think he was hoping you and Tony would get in on the fight.”

“Moi?” Natasha asked, faux haughtily. “Join in that?” Thor was whirling Mjolnir again, peppering Tony, Clint, and Steve with snowballs. Most of the snowballs, though, were aimed at Tony.

Bruce shrugged, still smiling. “So what’s Veronica?”

“Tony wants it to be a surprise. I can’t tell you.”

“Is it a cage?” For some reason, Natasha was really hoping it wasn’t. The idea of Bruce being locked up in a cage, even when he was the Hulk – once the image would have given her comfort. Now, it just frightened her.

“A cage would be kind of useless in the middle of a city, wouldn’t it?” he asked. His smile softened. “No, Natasha, it’s not a cage. But I really can’t tell you what it is just yet. I don’t want you to have to fake surprise when Tony unveils it.”

“I can fake surprise really well,” she told him.

“I know. But I’d rather you didn’t have to.”

Tony fired his repulsors again, but this time Thor leapt over the twin blasts and pointed Mjolnir at the billionaire genius. A huge glop of snow, conjured out of thin air by the weather warping hammer, landed on Iron Man’s head. He fell to the landing pad, completely covered in snow except for his boots. “Ding-dong, the Witch is dead!” Clint began to sing, raising his voice to imitate a Munchkin’s. Even Steve doubled over with laughter at the jibe.

“He just avenged himself on Tony,” Bruce chuckled. Natasha giggled. Tony had begun calling Clint ‘Katniss’ every now and again. Some bright spark on the Internet had started the trend and Tony, naturally, had picked up on it and begun using it on Clint. In response, Clint had given Tony the nickname ‘Shell Head,’ also gleaned from the Internet somewhere. Natasha wasn’t sure who got more of a kick out of which taunt.

Tony struggled out of the pile, growling and gasping. Thor dropped the hammer and hauled him the rest of the way out, then threw him back into the snow. “Yield!”

“Nope!” Tony replied, throwing snow at his face. Thor blocked most of the snow, but that left him open to Tony’s lunge. The armored Avenger caught the Prince of Asgard around the waist and knocked him to the landing pad. Steve and Clint discretely retreated to make more snowballs as Thor, taking two handfuls of snow, clapped both hands and their contents to the sides of Tony’s helmet. “Tony says it’s red.”

“Hmm?” Bruce asked.

“Veronica.”

“Ha. Yes, it is.” Steve and Clint began pelting their teammates, still struggling on the landing pad, with snowballs. “Think we should call the kids in?”

“Nah,” she said. “They’ll come in when they’re ready. Or when they’re cold enough.”

They watched as Thor summoned his hammer. Once it was in his hand a snowstorm, localized to the landing pad, erupted. Steve and Clint both cried out in surprise. “Okay, okay!” they heard Clint shout. “Uncle! Uncle! We give up!”

The miniature blizzard stopped. Steve and Clint were both covered with a fine layer of frost and snow while Tony, who had been at the epicenter of the small storm, was almost completely encrusted in ice. Thor had shoved him off him at some point and was now standing beside the prone Stark frosticle. “Do you yield now?

There was a muffled answer; the ice had shorted out Tony’s armor.

Natasha burst into giggles as Bruce smiled widely. Thor leaned down and broke the ice covering the lever that would open Tony’s flaps. He pulled the lever and the flaps opened. A minute later, the armor rebooted and Tony tottered to his feet. He pulled his helmet off, coughing and gasping. “Best two out of three?”

“If you’re ready for another bout,” Thor said, tossing and catching his hammer.

Tony nodded, then shook his head. “Hey, Nat, is there any coffee in there?” Clint called.

“There is!” she answered.

“Great!” he called as he jogged up to the broken window. He stepped in and began shrugging off his jacket. “’Cause I could use something warm to drink.”

“Come on, then, you big baby!” She took his wrist and began leading him toward the kitchen. You’d think that, since you were raised in Iowa, you would have a higher tolerance for the cold, she teased him mentally. In truth he did. That he should claim to be cold implied Thor’s localized snowstorm was colder than it had appeared.

Her suspicion was confirmed when Steve joined them in the kitchen, accepting the cup of Joe she handed him without a word. But then, maybe being in the snow had reminded him of his seventy year suspension in the ice in Greenland. “J.A.R.V.I.S., when can we get that window fixed?” she asked.

I am already working on it, Miss Romanoff,” the AI responded calmly. Tony clunked into the room, still in his armor, Bruce beside him. Thor was following them, brushing snow off his cloak.

A wicked notion entered Natasha’s mind. “J.A.R.V.I.S.,” she looked at the ceiling. “Did you get any of that on film?” Tony looked up at her, utterly aghast.

The AI generally managed to maintain his butler-style professionalism with the Avengers, though he had demonstrated a sarcastic side a number of times. This time, Natasha detected a definite note of smugness in his response. “There are a large number of cameras that look out onto the landing pad, Miss Romanoff.

“Hmm.” Clint was watching her, his eyes lighting mischievously. Steve was looking into his coffee, but there was a definite upturn to the corners of his mouth as he drank. Bruce was grinning, too. Thor was the only one who seemed a little puzzled. He still wasn’t that at home with the Internet.

“J.A.R.V.I.S., don’t you dare!” Tony barked. He was pulling off his armor piece by piece. Natasha heard her phone ding and began fishing it out of her pocket. “If you put that on Youtube –“

I wouldn’t dream of it, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. responded very, very innocently as Natasha looked at her email.

She smiled as she worked on her phone. “But I would,” she said, turning the phone around. The boys were treated to a brief clip of their snowball fight, now free for viewing on the Youtube channel Tony maintained for the Avengers.

Tony spluttered with rage as the others burst out laughing. “Relax, Tony,” Steve managed through his chuckles. “It’s not exactly a bad image.”

“Yeah, it proves we’re human,” Clint agreed. He took another pull of his coffee, then set the mug on the counter. “Which reminds me, I have some stuff to take care of over Christmas. Need to check up on some old SHIELD contacts, make sure they’re still – “ He searched for a word that would express things gently, then shrugged and gave up. “You know, on our side.”

“Need any help with that?” Natasha asked immediately. Clint probably did want to see if any of their friends from SHIELD were still alive, but most of what he would be doing was spending Christmas with Laura and the kids. This was his way of letting her know what his plans were for getting home. And as it was, she could think of a few people she wanted to check on from SHIELD, too: her old friends Melinda May and Bobbi Morse, not to mention that kid, Tripp…

Clint shot her a furtive glance. “I may have to call you in,” he admitted slowly. “But I wouldn’t want to drag you away from the party.”

Natasha waved a hand airily. “So call me after. It’s no big deal.” Only Cooper and Lila would think it was a very big deal when she arrived on Christmas morning, specially delivered by Santa Claus. At least, last Christmas Lila had still believed in old St. Nick. Natasha wondered if that had changed yet.

Tony moaned. “Are you staying for Christmas?” he asked Bruce.

“Where would I go?” the other asked, spreading his hands. “It sounds like it’ll be a great party. And Natasha can always tell Clint about Veronica after she gets the details at the party.”

“Yeah, yeah, okay,” Tony muttered.

“Oh, Bruce, I just remembered,” Clint sat up suddenly and began rummaging around in his jacket, which he had dropped in the chair beside him. “Since I won’t be staying, I thought I’d give you your Christmas gift early.” He pulled a package about the size of his hand from his jacket and tossed it to Bruce.

Bruce caught it and looked at it. “It has your name on it.”

“Yeah, I ordered it. It’s for you. Open it up.”

Bruce tore off the paper wrapping on the box and looked at it. “A survival kit?” he asked.

“In case you somehow get separated from us when we’re out on a job,” Clint explained. He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a small container, which he held up for Bruce to see. “Never go anywhere without one myself. I didn’t know what else you could use,” he admitted sheepishly.

“No, this is good,” Bruce took the rest of the wrapping off. “Comes with most of the stuff I’d need, too. Wait, it’s got bug spray? And a bandana?”

“If you ever find yourself in the middle of Afghanistan, that bandana will be a life saver,” Clint said immediately. He went on as he returned his own survival kit to his pocket. “And the bugs in Thailand are enough to kill you just by irritation. Seriously, I thought I was going to lose my mind when I went sloshing through the jungle out there. That spray should kill most anything – it even works on palmetto bugs.”

Natasha shuddered. “I didn’t think they could make anything strong enough to kill those overgrown roaches.”

“I thought I’d test it out, see how effective it was,” Clint explained. “I don’t know if it will work on tarantulas or scorpions, but it kills palmetto bugs. If it can do that, then it’s pretty damn potent stuff.”

“Oh, that reminds me!” Natasha ducked below the counter and came back up with a bottle of wine. “This is for you, Steve,” she handed it to him. “Made in Brooklyn, 1918.”

“Three years before the Prohibition Era,” he said, hefting the bottle. “Thanks, Nat. Anyone want a drink?”

“Perhaps later on,” Thor broke in. “Since I am not going to be able to attend your party and you are all giving gifts, I realize that it might now be a good time to give you mine.”

“Gold statues celebrating our greatness?” Tony asked hopefully as he stepped out of his armored boots, which promptly fell over due to ice build-up. Natasha sighed and Steve rubbed his eyes tiredly.

“A trip to Asgard?” Bruce asked excitedly. Clint groaned.

Thor chuckled. “No, not that, my friends. Come!” He gestured back the way they had come. “To the landing pad! We will need some room for this!”

Please tell me we’re not going to Asgard,” Clint said, getting out of his chair. Steve left Natasha’s gift on the counter and got out of his own chair. They all followed Thor down the hall back to the landing pad, Clint pulling on his jacket as they went. “No offense, but I’m still not sure Loki’s dead, and I’d rather not run into him on his home turf.”

“We will be going to Asgard only briefly,” Thor explained.

Natasha thought he sounded very patient and understanding. Clint had been suspicious of the circumstances surrounding Loki’s death, and Natasha had to admit that, since Thor had not brought his body back to Asgard for a funeral, she was inclined to agree with the archer. Never believe someone was dead unless you could confirm the dead body in front of you was theirs – that was what they believed. Clint had spent most of his adult life in SHIELD, and Natasha had been raised to be a spy. They both knew how easy it was for humans to fake their deaths. For a master of magic like Loki, feigning death would probably have been a walk in the park.

Despite the fact that Thor did not share Clint’s or her concerns, he had kept his anger in check. Maybe he figured it was better to leave them with their own suspicions than to start a feud with them. Or maybe he just thought it was better to humor them. Natasha could not decide which it was.

Thor continued, “But our true destination is Alfheim. I think you will enjoy it.” He smiled at Clint over his shoulder. Natasha guessed he had chosen Alfheim with Clint in mind. Wonder why? She thought. “The portion of Alfheim we will be visiting has mild winters. You may not need that coat where we are going, but should it prove otherwise, they can furnish warmer attire.”

“So what’s in Alfheim that we can’t live without seeing?” Tony asked.

“The Festival of Lights,” Thor said. “It is – well,” he stopped as he pushed open the door and stepped out on the landing pad. “If I were to describe it to you, we would not need to go. And it is something better seen than told!”

They walked out onto the landing pad and Thor got them bunched together as closely as possible. “Heimdall!” he shouted, looking up at the sky. “Open the Bifrost!”

The Rainbow Bridge, as it was known in Norse mythology, struck the landing pad briefly. Then it vanished, leaving an Asgardian symbol imprinted on the metal beneath it. It would be a few hours before the team returned, flushed with excitement (and a little Alfheim ale), ready to continue handing out gifts.

But for now, J.A.R.V.I.S. would keep Avengers’ Tower warm and safe until they returned. Just to amuse himself while they were gone, J.A.R.V.I.S. began flashing the words “Merry Christmas!” on the roll across under the giant A on the Tower’s face. Then he started playing music throughout the Tower. It was music performed by his favorite Christmas artist, Manheim Steamroller. With Tony on another world, he could not complain about the music and J.A.R.V.I.S. could have a little time to himself.

THE END

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