When Tony walks into the living room of the penthouse, there are three things present which weren't when he left it earlier for some last minute SI publicity events.
1. There is a Christmas tree.
Technically it is Christmas Eve, so this should have been somewhat expected, but Tony doesn't really do Christmas. He hasn't got anything against it, but he does enough Christmas stunts for SI (and, back in the bad old days, just because he could) that the whole presents-under-the-tree thing seems farcical. Once you attain a certain level of wealth, a lot of normal things become farces.
But there it is. There's a dead tree covered in stuff in his living room. On closer examination, there is a certain red-and-gold theme to the lights and tinsel, but most of the ornaments --
"Those are collectibles, you know," he says to the other two things in the penthouse that weren't there this morning:
2. Steve Rogers, who left on a mission two days ago and is now lying on his couch with an e-reader in one hand and his other arm wrapped protectively around
3. Dummy, curled up on Steve's chest, nursing a sippy-cup of what is probably chocolate milk.
"I know," Steve says. "But their original purpose is now being fulfilled."
Dummy waves at Tony and makes grabby hands for him to come over, so Tony crosses and drops a kiss into his hair, then another into Steve's. Steve leans up so Tony can slide in behind him, between him and the arm of the sofa, and then leans back down so he's draped across Tony's lap and Dummy can scoot around to tighten a small, chubby fist in Tony's shirt.
"Hello, Mess," Tony says, and Dummy beams at him. Theoretically, Dummy is genetically him, which means Tony was once this adorable, and that is probably the reason nobody killed him for all the shit he pulled pre-puberty. "I thought you weren't going to be back for Christmas," he says to Steve.
"Mission got done early."
"I may have hustled."
"I told you Christmas is a non-event for me, you didn't have to."
"Eh." Steve rolls his eyes. "Nobody's heart is really in their work this time of year, it wasn't that hard to get the bad guys to give up. But I can go knock some heads in somewhere if you really want -- "
Tony grabs his hair as Steve mockingly starts to get up. Steve stills and grins up at him sideways.
Tony's reunions have tended to be large and messy things -- neither he nor the other Avengers handle emotion terribly well -- so to come home, find Steve, and just curl up with him is…
Well, it's weird, it's very weird, and he's not sure what to do with it.
"I see someone killed a tree and brought it to me as tribute," he says, instead of examining all of these emotions. Dummy nods and stretches his arms over his head, sippy cup perilously close to dumping all over Tony, spillproof or not. He grabs the cup and sets it aside.
"You decorated as high up as you could reach?"
Another nod, Dummy's big liquid eyes wide and excited.
"I told him a robot could reach higher," Steve says absently, returning to his e-reader. Tony checks the tree and sees that the decoration below waist-height is distinctly haphazard. "He seemed uninterested."
"Where did you even find that box of ornaments to start with?" Tony asks. "I'm not admitting it's mine or that I have any knowledge of its contents, I'm just curious as to where you found a random and not at all carefully packed or hidden box of Captain America Christmas decorations my father collected for decades."
"Pepper gave it to me," Steve replies, advancing a page in his book. "But I went out and bought the rest."
"The rest?" Tony asks, voice high. He looks back at the tree. On closer examination, there are several War Machine ornaments and a couple of Iron Man and Black Widow ones. There is a garland of alternating Thors and Hulks. Also, and he's not sure how he missed this before, the tree-topper is a winged Hawkeye firing an arrow made of mistletoe.
Oh, the shit that Clint shall be given. It will end approximately never.
"I don't remember licensing those," he observes. He'd definitely remember licensing that tree-topper. He'd have given whoever designed it a raise.
"You didn't," Steve says. "I bought them at a Christmas market, they're handmade bootlegs. Wait till you see the nutcracker."
At the word, Dummy launches himself off Steve, apparently using his groin as a kickplate from the way Steve flinches, and Tony yells "Dummy! No kicking!" but Dummy is heedless, leaping onto a chair to grab something off a suspiciously Christmassy-looking mantelpiece. He runs back, waving it madly, and offers it to Tony.
"Yes, thank you, please stop flailing, I wired you better than -- oh my God," Tony says, when he realizes what he's holding. "Oh my God -- "
"Try it out," Steve says, not looking up from his book.
Tony lifts the lever on the back of the Captain America nutcracker. Instead of having the cracking mechanism built into his jaw, the little wooden doll has an arm attached to the lever's pin. When he lifts it, Captain America pulls his shield tight against his stomach.
"It cracks nuts on its abs," Tony says, voice filled with wonder. It is a Christmas miracle.
"Knew you'd like that," Steve says.
"Can you do that? Can we try?"
"No," Steve replies. Dummy takes the nutcracker out of Tony's hands, clambering up on the actual Captain America's abs, and begins clacking it ceaselessly. Steve lifts a bowl of nuts from the table behind the couch and puts them in his lap in the probably vain hope that it will slow the kid down.
Tony rests his head on the thick sofa cushion, one hand returning to Steve's short hair as he watches Dummy play with the nutcracker.
"Very gemutlichkeit, all this," he says. "One might suspect you of engineering Christmas."
Steve turns his face a little, nosing into Tony's shirt briefly.
"I figured neither of us are good at normal holidays," he says. "Forcing it wouldn't help. But weird and comfortable aren't mutually exclusive, you know."
"Yes, I do appear to live that motto."
"I really don't think you do," Steve says, but Tony can hear him putting that talk aside for some other time. "So I thought as long as I couldn't be normal I'd do what I pleased. I can do that now. What I pleased was to go buy some decorations at the Christmas market last week and get home this week in time to put up a Christmas tree. Dummy was a bonus," he adds, one large hand rising to rub Dummy's back affectionately.
"You are unreal. You're a television special," Tony tells him.
"I like television specials," Steve answers, unconcerned. Dummy reaches up and presses a piece of walnut shell to Tony's mouth.
"Other half," Tony tells him. Dummy picks up the other half of the shell and tries again. "You're just trying to murder me so you can inherit my company. Well, I have news for you, robots can't inherit and also Pepper runs it now, so you should suck up to her instead."
Steve takes the shell out of Dummy's hand and replaces it with a nutmeat. Dummy promptly eats it.
"Selfish, horrible brat," Tony says.
Dummy casts a look at Steve, like a question, and Tony watches with interest as Steve gives a slight nod. Dummy clambers up across Steve's chest to wrap his arms around Tony's neck in a throttle-hug.
"Jingle bells," he whispers in Tony's ear.
It's Tony's turn to look at Steve.
"We tried Merry Christmas, but it was a little much," Steve says. "Jingle Bells was it, apparently."
Tony turns to butt his head against Dummy's. "Jingle Bells to you too, you little mobile chaos machine."
Dummy's smile lights up, and he gives Tony a choking throttle before going back to cracking all the available nuts. Tony closes his eyes and lets the last few ounces of tension from the day drain away.
"Just think," Steve says, "tomorrow we get to watch him encounter the concept of wrapping paper."