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Title: Let them eat cake
Author: jazzypom
Rated: PG for language.
Universe: Ultimates fic (an amalgamation of the cartoon and the comic)
Summary: Tony gets sozzled on West Indian fruit cake while Steve’s ambivalent towards the season of goodwill.
Disclaimer: Characters and situations are the property of Stan Lee and Marvel Comics. No profit is being made off this fan-written work.
Notes: Takes place after Ultimates 2, before Ultimates 3. Christmas falls somewhere in between. British spellings, because I'm... British

Word Count: 5300



Not many things threw Pepper Potts off her stride.
Working with Tony Stark she had seen it all, and for her reward, had a nonchalance towards the risqué, even the impossible that Marquis de Sade would envy.
Not this time.

“You’re throwing a … Christmas party, so that people can taste cake that you’ll have baked?”

Correctamundo, Potts.”

“Hmmm,” Pepper said, tapping the information in her palm pilot.

Working for Stark for so long made her immune to the sweep of the office space, the fact that Tony was seated behind a desk the diameter of a California redwood, and from his vantage point, had a bird eye’s view that an eagle would envy.
At this height, it was all sky and sea, and a view of Manhattan that made it look orderly and clean, not the tumult of humanity that Pepper had to battle with to get to her home in the evenings.

“And where will this shindig be held?” Pepper went on, struggling with surprise.

“That pile of rocks on the outskirts of town. You know it, I trust.”

“I’ll make arrangements, and forward them to you tomorrow,” Pepper said, and with an abrupt nod, she turned on her heel and made to leave.


Tony Stark watched his secretary go, a firecracker of a red head clad in a saucy power suit of navy titling on heels of rose gold. It was fun to watch her struggle for an air of nonchalance over Tony’s choice.
It was a sure bet that if she was surprised, everyone would be too, but they would come, their curiosity overcoming apathy.

The joke was this: Tony was going to throw a party for a cake that he had never tasted before. Just because he could.

Like many things in his life, all this happened sake of a woman.

Christmas season, a year ago.

Tony was never an early bird, his preferred time for getting out and about was the twilight edging into the night.

Not because he was a vampire or anything so banal; but because you bumped into the most interesting people at night, and Claire Mountain was one of those people.

She swore like a sailor, the coarse words erotic in that cut glass accent of hers. Claire had the air of a bruised Blythe doll, all porcelain -skinned, big blue eyes and rosebud mouth. She was an English rose with many thorns, and Tony liked the challenge.

Two intense weeks of flirting, breathlessly chronicled by the gossip pages, along the breathless bylines of the ‘will they, won’t they?’ variety, they ended up at Claridges, the Mayfair suite.

Now it was morning, and Tony turned over, expecting to brush his hands along the subtle curves of a warm body, only to find his fingertips touching the silk of Frette linens and a downy duvet.

Finding no solace there, Tony then rolled over, his eyes lighting upon the discreet table that offered an unopened bottle of scotch and a pair of tumble glasses.
Women may disappoint, Tony noted- whist rousing himself to a seated position, and helping himself to alcohol- but Claridges never did.

As soon as he took a sip, there was a rustle of clothing, and Tony was surprised – and disappointed- that Claire was already dressed.
Down to the thick wedge of eye shadow on her eyes, and the unpainted mouth (that he found out during their tussle, was actually a lip tint). Her body clad in a slinky dress that looked like a sequinned lampshade, teamed with black thigh high fuck- me boots.

Tony Stark was aware of the fact that one had to be his or her own brand. To buy a Stark product was to buy into the man – the one who spat at death every single day, just by existing. Who bedded beautiful women, had the ear of powerful men, and sought to change the world because he could.

Nevertheless, Tony knew that away from the flash of cameras, the celluloid of life, he was just a man. He was relaxed enough, and aware enough to know that all he was selling was an illusion, because death had its mark on him.
Claire Mountain, a woman who built up her brand on the sheer force of her own personality, seemed to have bought into her own illusion. Even getting up hours before him to paint and trowel on her image before he awoke.

Too bad.

“A present," she said with a puckish grin, walking over to the side of the bed, where he sat drinking. Claire had a box in her hand, the white and green paper a contrast to her purple- black nails. The box seemed heavy, about ten by seven by three inches.

“How thoughtful,” Tony murmured, shifting his body making space for the box.

“I know,” Claire preened for a moment, then clapped her hands sharply.

“Open it! Chop! Chop!”

Amused at Claire’s command, Tony ripped at the paper, with one hand the other hand still holding his drink.

It was a book, its glossy dust jacket advertising Cooking by Way of the Colonies, by Claire Mountain.

Politically correct, it was not.

Claire was from one of those old, lesser noble families, a child foisted on grandparents who had served the British Government by being stationed in various parts of the world while the British empire was crumbling.
Claire had lived all over the ever shrinking Empire, falling in love with the various cooking practices of each country she lived in.

That was how she built her wealth, inventing herself as an edgier Nigella Lawson, or a Delia Smith’s granddaughter of the post feminist, hypersexual world. The one who swore like a sailor, dressed like a battered Blythe doll, but (supposedly) made the most delicious jerk post roast and Yorkshire pudding.

Claire Mountain was less a mommy, more a totty, with the edgy pictures of French Playboy to underscore her point.

“Darling,” Tony said, winking at her, “You shouldn’t have.”

“I expect quid pro quo on this one,” Claire said, reaching over and grabbing Tony’s glass out of his hand, giving him a whiff of her Annick Goutal perfume. She smelt like a balmy French summer's evening and aperitifs.

“Oh?” Tony said, throwing the box to one side, and idly flipping though the recipe book.

“Chopard, Apsrey, Mikimoto?” he asked, thinking that peridot might be a match for Claire’s eyes. She might also appreciate the quirkiness of the stone.

“Baubles are so de mode, darling,” Claire said, handing Tony’s glass to him, and purposely waited until he took a sip at the liquid in it before she made her request.
“All I want for Christmas is, to be bookended by the two symbols of America,” Claire said, her eyes lit with unholy glee, "and you can do that for me."

"Sorry?"

"Captain America, and Iron Man," Claire winked.

The spray of alcohol over the sheets did not make Claire flinch, not even when Tony made a half choked sound, feeling as if he would drown on his own liquor.

It was still comforting to know (in a way) that certain things could still surprise him.

“Even if I knew Captain America,” Tony swallowed, trying not to wheeze (who knew that alcohol could go down the wrong way? Not him). “That would not be possible.”

Claire’s mouth became a moue of annoyance, as she shrugged her shoulders, and rose from the bed, her body arching into a stretch, that caused the hem of her dress to rise and skim alarmingly on her bum.

“You’ve never thought of it? With him? He’s…so fascinating. All that righteous indignation and American jingoism. Phwoar.”

There were many words for Steve, but fascinating was not one of them.

“I think he’d rather be water boarded.”

“And you?”

“Not for a cookbook, no. Not even if it’s the size of Rhode Island.”

“West Indian Christmas fruitcake recipe, page 675,” Claire said, giving Tony a bland look over her shoulder, as she strolled towards the front room of the suite, throwing her jacket over her shoulder, and tucking her bejewelled clutch under her arm. Tony had to admire the fact that she was willing to shill her product to the end. “It will make you see God.”

“I’m agnostic.”

Claire shrugged, her parting words were biting, and cold. “If nothing else, it has enough alcohol content to drug a bull elephant. That might just suit you.”

“You wound me, darling.”

The slam of the door at his comment was enough of an answer.

With a shrug, Tony refilled his glass, and flipped to the directed page.

Christmas week, present day.

There were many things that still caught Steve off guard in this new world, and Christmas was one of them.

The last time he remembered Christmas, he was in Europe. The holiday had been muted then, war a constant presence. He remembered not being able to buy Gail the stockings that she wanted, because all the materials for nylon having to go towards the war effort.

The store windows had offered more modest means then, and he remembered how Christmas in London had been dim, the buildings smoked rubble. In the French village he stayed in for a short time, Christmas Day was marked with one precious candle lit in a ruined church by the faithful.

Now, while shopping with Jan (or more accurately, being ambushed with various packages while Jan scouted ahead), Steve was overwhelmed by the literal Horn of Plenty as they wandered through the mall, a part of the phalanx of people as Jan chattered, and pointed and paid for all the purchases on behalf of them both.

They were supposedly a couple now. Sort of. With Jan, one could never tell.

“So,” Jan began as they sat in a Starbucks, Jan sipping at one of those huge cups with liquids whose names were multisyllabic and a faux Italian that he couldn't pronounce.

Steve was nursing a mug of hot chocolate, because a) that was the only thing he recognized and b) this coffee shop did not do ‘just coffee’

“Tony’s party.”

“Stark’s party,” Steve sighed, knowing where this argument was going to go, and not looking forward to its destination.

“He’s invited us,” Jan said, sipping at her coffee, her hands clad in knitted fingerless gloves. “We should go. It’s a team effort, and good for morale. Especially since he’s now sponsoring the team, it would be a slight not to go.”

“Gail and Bucky invited us for dinner on the same day, Jan. I can’t say no. They’re my –"

“Oldest friends,” Jan chimed along with Steve, the argument had already gotten that old.
Another thing regarding this time, Steve noted, everything came into obsolescence so quickly.

Steve did not want to go there, so he tried to find something else to talk about, and he lit on her snowflake patterned Fair Isle gloves.

“Those are really nice,” he said, stroking the back of her hand through the material. “Did you do this? My mother used to knit, and so did Gail –"

“I don’t knit,” Jan said, “although it’s an interesting craft in terms of using a binary system to create various combinations of stitches…”

To buy some time, Steve took a sip of his hot chocolate, automatically scanning his surroundings. The shop was teaming with fashionable people, armed with shopping bags, and oh- a man slipped his hand into a woman’s handbag.

At first, Steve did nothing, because it might have been her husband, moving towards the counter, but the man then turned on his heel, and sprinted through the door, the lady still unaware that she had been pick pocketed.

“Steve-“ Janet said, her words lost in the wind as Steve moved so fast, he upended his chair, and ran.

Steve!” Jan squealed again, her words lost in the blur of motion, as he felt snow crunching under his boots, the slap of cold against his face as he dodged various limbs and bodies of people.

Another aspect of New York that had changed so much, no one looked or even squealed in annoyance, as he zeroed in on the young man, quicksilver in his movement.

Luck was on Steve’s side, as the young man’s feet skittered on the pavement, arms pin wheeling as he tried to get some balance, and Steve reached for and held his shoulder, causing the young man to crash on the pavement.

“What the fu-?”

“Don’t finish that thought, son.” Steve said, planting his foot in the man’s chest.

By the time he dragged the perp to the police station, got back to Starbucks and returned the wallet to the grateful sobbing woman, Jan was gone, taking the presents with her.

****************

“Verily, comrade Tony,” Thor said, “I’m afraid that I cannot tarry for your Celebration of the Solstice.”

“Oh?” Tony said, stroking his chin as he read the ingredients from the cook book.

The two men were in the kitchen at the mansion that Tony provided for the team. The kitchen was huge, outfitted more along the lines of one would expect from a top-flight hotel. The ingredients were already set out on the counter, the air fragrant with the syrupy notes of fruit and wine as the ingredients simmered to a slow heat on the Aga.

Outside the kitchen was the drone of other workers, overseen by the force that was Pepper Potts.

“The mistletoe goes over there,” she ordered, “and the tree over there.”

“Hmmm, a touchy bit of business at Asgard again?” Tony poured a container of mixed fruits into a saucepan, and poured half a bottle of port over the fruits.

“Aye,” Thor nodded solemnly. Out of all his land-based allies, only Tony Stark understood the complexity of rules and protocols that beset a god, probably because Tony seemed to have some sort of sphere of influence in his part of the world. “Loki seems to have some mischief afoot.”

“I understand,” Tony frowned at the amount of liquid in the bottle, and with a shake of the head, he poured the rest of the bottle in the saucepan.

“Friend Tony,” Thor asked, amused at his companion’s antics. “What manner of grub art thou making for the Solstice? It seems to be a sort of ... Glögg.”

“Actually, it’s supposed to be cake.”

“Aye?”

“Aye,” Tony said. “I’m at the part of preparing the fruit; it’s supposed to be steamed in alcohol until soft.”

“Shouldn’t you be bestriding this world, rousting other companies in order lash them to your ever lengthening chain of co-operate hegemony?”

“I’ve been told that if I bake this cake, I’ll see God.”

“Art thou not agnostic? Thou dost not even believe in me, and we are shield brothers.”

“Well, if this cake is good, you might have a new convert.” Tony smiled, before sipping at the Martini he had to hand.

“Aye!” Thor threw back his head, his laughter booming like thunder around the kitchen.
“May this blessed cake be everything it portends!” he said, before disappearing in a crack of thunder. “A blessed Celebration of the Solstice to ye. I grant thee fair skies, with breezes of zephyr.”

“Right back atchya,” Tony snapped his fingers into finger gun salutes.

Pepper stuck her head in the kitchen, her eyes narrowing at the smell of ozone in the air.

“Did you just hear thunder?” she asked.

“Nope, not a thing, Potts.” Tony quipped, taking another sip of his Martini.

“I can’t believe you’re going through with this,” Pepper shook her head, her mouth trembling with amusement. Only Tony would wear a robe and underwear while cooking – with a houseful of workers decorating everywhere.

“It’s Christmas, Pepper, it’s the season for miracles.”

“God, if I didn’t know better, I’d think that you’re drunk,” she said.

“Good thing that you do, and I’m not.”

“Tomorrow everything should be wrapped up, décor wise for the party,” Pepper began, “we’ve got the RSVPs coming in.”

“Excellent,” Tony held up his glass in salute to his personal assistant’s great gift of organization. “Will I see you there?”
“Oh yeah,” Pepper said, nodding. “I’ll be there.”

****************

On the night of Tony’s Christmas party, Steve had supper at Gail and Bucky’s. It was a boisterous dinner, for all three of them. They were just finishing up the last bits of pumpkin pie on their plates.
“Oh Lordy,” Gail’s laughter bounced off the walls at the ribald story that Bucky had just finished. “You boys and your high jinx. You actually said that, Steven?”

“Yes ma’am.” Steve smiled at Gail, taking a sip of water from his glass.

“I’m just glad that you came back alive,” Gail’s smile was warm.

“So am I,” Steve said with feeling, as he took in both of his friends.

“So, where’s your lady friend?" Bucky asked, voice sympathetic. “We haven’t seen her in a while.”

“Ah, Jan? she’s at Stark’s party,” Steve answered, still keeping his game face on. “He's throwing a party for the team effort, and she had to go.”

“And you - ?”

“I wanted to be here.”

“Oh Steve, there’s always a place for you here.” Gail’s eyes were filled with concern for him. “You could have given us a rain check, and gone to that nice young man’s party.”

Steve had to laugh at Gail’s innocence. “Stark is anything but a nice young man.”

“Well, he seems nice. Steve, you should go.” Gail said, placing her hand over his. Steve eyes lit on her hand, her fingers crooked by arthritis, her skin parchment delicate. Slowly, Steve lifted his eyes from their joined hands to her face. Despite the blue of her eyes being faded a bit, her jaw softened by age, Gail was still beautiful.

“The last time I left you,” Steve said, turning his hand over so that their palms met, “I was gone for sixty years. You two –" he said, raising his eyes so that they took in both Gail and Bucky.

“You’re the only link to the past that I have, and –"

At this, Bucky rose from his chair, made his way to where Steve and Gail’s hands were, and rested his over them both.

“And you look to the future,” Bucky said, “and make your way there, and embrace it.”

Steve nodded at the truth of this, and for a long while, the three of them stayed there, thinking about Christmases past and beyond.


*************

Clint hated anything to do with Christmas.

Since his family had been ruthlessly cut down, any season to do with Santa, toys and be of good cheer could take a flying leap where he was concerned.


So why was he doing here, at Tony’s party? It beat him, but it was better than staying in his room. Or cruising for trouble.

“Merry Christmas, Clint,” Wanda nodded at him from lowered lashes, her hands wrapped around a mug of mulled wine. Clint knew the beverage from his travels in Europe. It had the usual scent of berries, citrus and –

“-pepper corn?”

“It’s a custom of Wundagore,” Wanda said, voice sultry. “When the evenings start to bite, we have vin fiert and add these things.”

“Hhn.” Clint nodded.

They were near the doors that opened outside to the garden, away from the surprisingly intimate party. It was mostly of them as team-mates, and their odd rag tag associates. For instance, there was Sam Wilson, a guy who Steve Rogers teamed up with some time ago, having an intense conversation with Tony Stark.

Dancing with Pepper Potts was Nick Fury, who was in surprisingly high spirits, despite the fact that Tony Stark had finessed the entire Ultimates team (as well as franchise rights) from SHIELD.

“You’re a man of few words, Clint.”

“Well, there’s nothing much to say, is there?” Clint responded, “apart from what uncommonly nice weather we’re having. Is this your work?”

Wanda smiled at him then, tossing her hair back so that the light fell on her bare shoulder. Clint had to admit that Wanda was an attractive woman, her skin that dusky tint of the Roma, which worked well with her auburn hair and blue eyes. Despite her attributes, Clint found himself wondering at her get up, a brief belt of a top, six inches of exposed midriff before her lower half was clad again in some dark red liquid looking leggings and boots.

“Perhaps,” Wanda said, before taking a sip of her wine again, “there’s the mistletoe, have you made use of it yet?”

“I-"

“Wanda, there you are,” Peitro’s voice was cold. Less the tones of an annoyed older brother and more the tones of a –

“Yes, here I am,” Wanda smiled languidly wrapping her arm around her brother's waist. “I was just waiting for you, brother.”

The duo then drifted off, Wanda giving Clint a shy wave and a flutter of lashes before leaning her head on her brother’s shoulder.


Clint shook his head as he left the confines of the room and made his way to the back garden. The weather was uncommonly good this evening, with clear skies, no snow, and relatively balmy (for this time of year) temperature.

One still needed to wear a light coat, but no need for scarves or mufflers or gloves. Tony Stark had planned for this contingency, what with groups of smooth stones around faux bonfires. Everyone was still inside, however.

“Merry Christmas, Clint.”

“Jan.” Clint greeted, giving his team leader a ghost of a smile. She was a pixie of a woman, clad in a pea coat and furry boots. What was with women and wanting their calves and feet to look like the hind legs of a yeti, anyway?

“I saw you speaking to Wanda; did her hex powers do this?” Jan pointed to the sky.

“Dunno,” Clint said, “Pietro appeared out of nowhere and – well.”

“They have a … different relationship,” Jan breathed delicately, her cheeks ruddy with the chill, her hands tucked in the pockets of her coat.

“I’ll say,” Clint rolled his eyes. “Speaking about relationships, where’s your Mister Rogers? He isn’t in the neighbourhood.”

“Cute, Clint, real cute.” Jan huffed. “Steve decided to eat at Gail and Bucky’s.”

“Jealous?”

“Of her?” Jan shook her head, and then sighed, running her hands through her hair. “Of course not,” her voice was softer now. “I’m not, not really." Jan folded her arms.

“It’s just that- it’s hard you know? Steve wants so much, and I’m being torn into a few dozen directions right now. I’m head of this team, and there’s the matter of Hank and –"

“Well, if you’re feeling this way,” Clint said, wondering how he got to be Dear Abby in this situation, “probably you need to cut Rogers some slack, you know?”

Jan shrugged her shoulders, and nodded. “You’re right,” she said. “You’re right, and it’s Christmas. Good will towards all men, starting with Steve. Tomorrow.” She then looked at her watch. “It’s also getting late. I need to be getting on home.”

“I can follow you as far as Soho,” Clint offered, “if you want the company.”

Jan frowned. “I can take care of myself Clint.”

“Never said you couldn’t.”

“Well, thanks for the offer," Jan nodded. "I accept.”


******************


By the time Steve bade his goodbyes to Gail and Bucky, he got caught up in the crush of Christmas traffic.

The streets were heaving with crush of people who came out taking advantage of the unseasonably good weather to shop. The night was clear, no wind, and no additional snow. Ironically, if the weather had been worse, Steve would have fared better.

After paying the cabdriver (plus a tip), Steve used his key card to get past the gate, and double timed it up the steps. Keyed password, finger print scan and he was in. The rooms in the mansion were lit but empty – save for voices coming from the dining room.

Steve walked through the living room, past a Christmas tree that rivalled the size of the one in Central Park, moving stealthy, not wanting to miss a word.

Fury’s voice was grumpy, while Tony’s voice was all filled with Christmas cheer and bonhomie.

“Relax, Fury,” Tony said. “You guys had your chance with the Ultimates, and you fumbled. You snooze, you loose.”

“And you think you’ll do better, Monopoly Man? What with no government support to smooth your way over diplomatic incidents? Or the fact that you’re still operating on American soil, and thus beholden to the law of the land?”

Steve turned at the door, only to see Tony and Fury separated by the broad dining table, with slices of cake on delicate whimsical plates, and a glass of something at Tony’s side, with accompanying bottle.

Tony was actually dressed in his own home, clad in a dark grey ribbed pullover, with sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and dark trousers. Nick Fury was dressed in his trademark black suit without a tie.

“We’ll manage,” Tony was slumped in his chair, his fingers linked loosely in his lap. He did that smile of his, where his mouth curved with amusement, but his eyes were still cold. “We have a a team leader, the spirit of America, a god, a marksman and technology on our side. We can’t do worse than what we’ve done so far.”

“Hmm,” Fury shook his head, and did that half laugh that was not really a laugh at all.

“You’re going to mess up Stark. And when you do…” he paused to take a forkful of cake.

“You’ll be on my ass like white on rice,” Tony said, eyes bored. “I get it.”

“I’m glad we’re singing from the same hymn sheet,” Fury finished, stabbing his fork in the air, as he made to get up. “This is damned good fruit cake.”

“Help yourself,” Tony gestured to a mound of little red shiny boxes with gold bows in the middle of the table.

“Merry Christmas.”

Fury took a couple boxes, and nodded. “I’ll be seeing you, Stark. Rogers.”

“Sir.” Rogers snapped a salute, Fury snapped one back, and walked out, leaving Stark and Rogers alone.

“Come on in Steve,” Tony gestured to the seat that Fury deserted. “The water is fine.”

“Sorry I missed your party,” Steve said, lowering himself into the chair. “My dinner date ran over.”

“Yeah? Nice scarf.”

Steve awkwardly fingered the scarf around his neck. It was blue and red stripes, with a white star at each end.

“Gail knitted it for me.”

Tony raised an eyebrow at this, pressing his forefinger against his lips for a moment before turning his attention to his cake.

“What?” Steve said, dragging a box from the mound of boxes, and undid the bow, the flaps of the box collapsing flat on the counter, leaving a cake presented on one of those paper lace doilies, a fork wrapped in a napkin.

“It’s a nice gift,” Tony said diplomatically.

“What is this?” Steve poked at the dark, moist slice of cake before him with the tines of his plastic fork.

“West Indian fruit cake," Tony's smile was almost self mocking, as he rested his chin against his fist, elbow on the table for support.

“From a hook up.”

“Sorry?”

“I dated a cook for a short while.” Tony said. Steve knew that there was more to the story than that, but he didn't push. When it came to Stark and women, it was a brave new world. There were certain things he didn't need to know.

“Hmm,” Steve said, taking a cautious nibble. “This is good,” he helped himself to another bite. It really was. It was sweet, and moist, with a bit of a bitter bite at the edge. Then, there was the taste of mixed fruit and wine and brandy.

“I’m sorry you missed Jan,” Tony said.

“It’s alright,” Steve shrugged, lowering his eyes to the cake in front of him. “I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. I probably should continue.”

"Ah."

"I mean," Steve continued, "I was eating at Gail and Bucky's today, and it hit me. They won't be around much longer, so what's the point of going around, you know? Probably Jan's right. Probably I-" Steve stopped, unable to go on. He let his fork drop from his fingers with a clatter of plastic.

"When I was a kid," Tony began, and Steve looked up. Tony's eyes were watching the swirl of liquid in his glass, as he titled it to and fro. "I grew up with my dad -"

"Your Mom?"

"Died in childbirth."

"Sorry."

"No matter. You can't miss what you never had," Tony raised his eyes to Steve, smiled a bit. "But yeah, I grew up with my dad, and he was a a hardass. In retrospect, probably he was allowed. He lost his company, lost the woman he loved... had me. At times I wonder if he regretted the trade." Tony broke off, and took a sip of his drink.

Steve did not know what to say to that. He grew up with two parents, and when he left for the war, he left them behind. Sons were supposed to outlive their parents. That was a nice sentiment, but not true. Steve knew that from first hand experience.

"Anyway, long story short," Tony continued, " although my dad isn't here any more, I remember stuff. Like, sitting on the table arguing with him about various theorem. Him getting me fitted for my first suit, and lecturing about the evils of alcohol before I took my first drink. Life is short, Steve ... you shouldn't apologise for stockpiling memories."

Steve nodded, finding a strange sort of solace in Tony's words.

"Is that why you did this?" Steve asked, his gesture indicating the decorations in the living room, the boxes of fruit cake on the dining room table. "You're... stockpiling memories?"

"Perhaps," Tony broke into a real grin this time, laugh lines fanning the edges of his eyes. "Or perhaps I wanted to see God."

"The cake is good," Steve found himself laughing for the first time tonight. "But not that good. Besides you're an atheist."

"Agnostic."

"Okay."

Both men looked at the pieces of the cake on the plates in front of them. Silently, they picked up their forks and started eating. They were at the point where the conservation was closed, and it was okay. Because they had damned good cake.
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