"So December 28th, huh?" Tony asks, forearms resting against sleek metal as he leans across the top of the lab table.
"That's what they're telling me," Steve replies with barely contained disappointment. The orders had come in a little over an hour before and Steve was now all but locked into the mission at hand. It was diplomatic and S.H.I.E.L.D approved and Steve himself had been personally appointed as the representative for the Avengers team. It was described as a series of United Nations talks and deliberations concerning other world powers ability to maintain their own team of super powered individuals and a representative from the first known super team was needed in order to discuss the benefits and ramifications. And, considering Steve was viewed as the ad hoc leader of the Avengers and was essentially the embodiment of liberty, freedom, and the American way in bright, spangly tights, he was landed with the responsibility of being said representative.
The problem was that the series of conferences and meetings was due to span almost the entire month of December, pulling him away from the Tower on the first day of the month and bringing him back just before the new year. Unfortunately, that meant missing Christmas at home with his teammates and there was very little he could say or do about it.
"And it had to be one of us representing the team," Tony muses, rolling a screwdriver back and forth between his hands. "Fury couldn't step in instead?"
"Nope," Steve says with a quiet sigh. "Fury could go but S.H.I.E.L.D seems to think it will help solidify negotiations and disputes if one of us acts as a spokesperson. They asked me to do it…" Steve spreads his hands helplessly and shrugs. "I don't really see how I can turn them down."
Tony sighs and shakes his head. "You can't, really. I mean you could but in all honesty, you're probably the best one to represent us. I mean our other choices are a former weapons developer, a Norse god who leveled a small town about two years ago, a scientist with an astounding rage problem, and two assassins who have probably killed at least one person from each country represented in the UN. Our options are pretty limited."
"You're right," Steve says but the way his shoulders slump makes it clear that he doesn't like the assignment either. "I know you're right. It's just…"
"This is the first time we would all be spending Christmas together," Tony supplies, pushing off the lab table and coming around the side to slip his arms around Steve.
The younger man sighs, closing his eyes and letting his head tip forward to rest against the outline of the arc reactor. "Yeah," he agrees quietly, his hands coming up to wrap gently around each of Tony's forearms. "I haven't really had a Christmas since 1943 and I was hoping-"
"To spend it with us," the inventor finishes for him, dropping his chin on top of the blond head and letting his thumbs swirl small circles into the corded muscles of his back.
"Exactly," Steve affirms, his fingers tightening ever so slightly against the other man's forearms like it would somehow keep him from leaving. He knows it's childish to want to blow off the assignment for such a silly reason but he can't help but feel disappointed at the prospect of leaving both the Tower and his loved ones at this time of year. Christmas had always been one of his favorite holidays as a kid, not so much for the presents but because it always reminded him of love and good cheer. Christmas seemed to be the one time of year to forget your troubles and cares and extend love to your fellow man. Then the war happened and he spent his final Christmas in a foxhole in Germany and his childhood ideals of Christmas were shattered. He hated that that was his final memory of such a special time of year and was eager to replace it with something good and positive. He had been excited at the chance to spend it with his team, his new surrogate family and those he loved most in the world, but then the orders had come in and that plan seemed to be in vain as well.
Steve sighs quietly, unconsciously burying his nose in the soft cotton of Tony's shirt. It smelled like his cologne and engine oil, hot metal and old coffee. It was distinctly Tony and Steve loved everything about it. This thing was still new between them, between all of them, but it was real and Steve didn't want to miss a single second of it. Now he was going to be gone for nearly an entire month and the smell of cologne and coffee would become nothing more than a memory.
"Well," Tony starts, moving just slightly to press a kiss to Steve's forehead. "I was going to wait until Christmas to give this to you but since you're going to be away, I figure now is as good a time as any." He steps away, gently detangling himself from Steve's arms, and walks over to his laptop. He lifts a small silver object from the side of the computer and walks back across the room, placing it in Steve's hand.
The soldier looks at it blankly for a second before recognition kicks in. "Tony, I already have a phone-"
"Yeah, a Nokia," the inventor snorts, rolling his eyes slightly. "That's one step above a rotary dial, Steve. It's depressing." He drags a stool from one of the tables over and scoots close so that their knees are touching. "This is an Iphone and before you go worrying your pretty little head about not knowing how to use it, I'll show you."
Tony pulls up the homescreen with one touch and leans against Steve's shoulder so he can see every movement. "I'm not expecting you to check the stock market or anything on this," Tony continues, tapping on a small icon in the middle of the homescreen. "But I figured this might come in handy if you're going to be away for a while."
The icon opens to a full screen, a list of contacts appearing on the side. Beside each contact is a picture and a check mark. "Welcome to the world of video chatting, Steve," Tony explains, tapping his own contact to send a call. "All you have to do is select the person you want to talk to and it will call them just like a cell phone. The only difference is," Tony snags his phone from across the room and holds it up to his face. On Steve's screen, Tony's image is crystal clear and easy to see. "When you make a call, you can actually see what the other person is doing instead of just listening to them talk."
Steve watches the image on his phone for a few seconds before the screen goes dark once Tony ends the call. He chuckles softly and shakes his head. "They really have thought of everything in the future, haven't they?"
"And yet we still don't have flying cars," Tony grumbles, slipping the phone into his pocket. "Lazy bastards." He walks back across the room and comes to a stop in front of Steve, reaching down to cup his face. Blue eyes meet brown and they share a silent, wordless moment in the emptiness of the lab.
Tony makes the first move, leaning down and capturing Steve's lips in a soft kiss. It's gentle and warm, not demanding in the least, and Steve reaches his hand up to card his fingers through the dark, unruly hair. He savors the moment, breathing in Tony's scent and reveling in the taste of his lips. Their first kiss was like a strong scotch, burning and sharp and leaving them both breathless when it was done. This one was more like French press coffee, smooth and warm with the barest hint of cinnamon on the end. Steve wants to remember this feeling forever.
"When do you leave?" Tony asks when he finally pulls away, his hands remaining warm and grounding on the sides of Steve's face.
Steve catches one of his hands and presses a soft kiss against his wrist. "5 am. S.H.I.E.L.D has a jet waiting to take off by 6:30."
"5 am, huh?" Tony muses, stealing another quick kiss before pulling out his phone. "That leaves us a few more hours. What do you say we call the others and we'll give you a farewell that will stay with you until you get back?"
Steve smirks a bit, unable to tamp down the blush that colors his cheeks, and shakes his head. "You always know how to show a fella a good night."
"Oh, it's not a good night yet, Super Soldier," Tony corrects with a sly glint in his eye. "But it will be one of the best nights you've ever had if I have anything to say about it." Tony steps away then, explaining the situation to whoever is on other line (Bruce, maybe?). Steve watches quietly, the phone clasped lightly in his hands. He may not be able to spend Christmas here at the Tower but maybe this will help.
I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree
It's just past 8:30 when Steve stumbles into his hotel room, taking a few short steps across the room before collapsing on the bed. The room is warm and pleasant, the walls a rich cream with crushed velvet drapes. A large, wooden clock hangs above the bed, the hands ticking along softly in the silence of the room. It's quiet and peaceful and altogether entirely uncomfortable.
He's been in Geneva for about four days now, away from the Tower about six. In the first two days, the meetings and conferences had kept him plenty busy, easily distracted and with his mind preoccupied with discussions regarding both the benefits and efficacy of the Avengers Initiative. It was his job to allay any doubts, answer questions and provide insight, and be the best spokesperson he could for his team. But the more he discussed them, their strengths and faults and everything in between, the more he missed the Tower. True, none of them had started off on the best of terms, a trial by fire initiation more than anything, but now the thought of being away from them sat heavy in his chest like a lead ball.
Steve stares up at the ceiling, his hands pillowed behind his head and his eyes tracking the shadows across the walls. No for the first time that day, he wonders what the others are doing back at the Tower. He wonders if everything is alright and if they're safe while he's away. He wonders if Clint has finally managed to best Natasha when it comes to throwing knives (he was getting close the last time Steve watched; only a few targets short of the perfect score Natasha maintained). He wonders wonders if Bruce has been making sure Tony sleeps at night by dragging him away from the lab because if anyone on their team is an Ironman whisperer, it most assuredly is Bruce. He wonders if the others have explained the holiday to Thor because as far as Steve knows, Christmas is not celebrated in Asgard and the whole concept of the Three Wise Men and the Virgin Mary may seem a bit baffling to their resident thunder god. He wonders if-
His thoughts are cut off as a persistent jangling ringtone fills the silence of the room. In spite of himself, Steve jumps at the sudden intrusion of sound. He looks over to the bedside table, seeing the screen of the phone Tony had given him lighting up with Pepper's face smiling back at him. He picks it up, struggles to open the screen for a second, before finally succeeding and accepting the call.
Pepper grins at him from the small screen on his phone but the video quality is perfectly clear and Steve can see every freckle on Pepper's face. "Hey there, Super Soldier," she greets once she sees his face on her own screen. "How's the other side of the world treating you?"
Steve smiles, the heavy loneliness in his chest dissipating when he sees her. "Oh, you know, heavy snow, diplomatic meetings, all the things that put you in the holiday spirit," Steve teases, sitting up and resting the phone against his knee so he can see the screen easier. "How are you guys doing?"
"Good," Pepper replies, moving the camera away from her face and turning it to sweep over the kitchen counters littered with frosted cookies and decorations. "We've started our holiday baking today," she tells him from somewhere behind the camera. "It's not Christmas unless the entire house smells like vanilla, right?" The camera pans back to her face and Pepper gives him a wink and a sweet smile. "I saved a batch just for you, Steve. Snowflake sprinkles and peppermint frosting; the works. I just have to keep Thor away from them until you get back," she says with a laugh just as the god in question passes behind her.
"Thor, would you like to see hi to Steve?" Pepper asks over her shoulder as the Asgardian passes her. The camera angle shifts slightly as the phone is passed over and Thor beams warmly on the screen.
"Greetings, Captain!" The god's voice booms as he heralds Steve through the screen. "I trust you are well in your travels?"
"Doing good over here, big guy," Steve says with a smile, taking in the felt reindeer antlers sitting majestically on top of the god's head. His golden hair is braided back loosely but the headband attached to the antlers keeps it from falling into his eyes as he bustles around in the kitchen. "I see Pepper found you some holiday appropriate headwear," Steve comments with a chuckle, pointing up on his own screen to the image of Thor's antlers on the other.
"Verily," the god agrees with another warm smile. "She explained it was in celebration for the season." The camera focuses up at the ceiling for a moment while the sounds of the oven being opened and closed fills the microphone. There's a quiet clatter as a metal tray is set down on top of the stove and the phone is picked up again, the camera focusing back on Thor's face.
"Lady Pepper has been showing how to create tiny men and women made of gingerbread. A remarkable confectionary race, indeed. Behold!" The camera angle switches again and Steve gets a clear view of the tiny gingerbread people Thor was referring to. Each one is individually decorated with gumdrop eyes and candy buttons and Steve can't quite smother his smile at the icing battle armor that adorns a few of the cookies. There's even one that appears to be wearing a winged helmet and holding a spear like a Valkyrie. They're tiny and colorful and absolutely perfect.
"Hey, those look great," Steve tells him with a smile, watching as the Asgardian's eyes light up at the compliment. "Be sure to send a picture to Jane, she'll love them!"
"As you wish, Captain," Thor responds with a grin, walking back across the kitchen in a few large steps to hand the phone back to Pepper. "Sleep well, my shield brother. We will keep you close in thought while you are away."
The phone is handed off again and Pepper reappears on the screen. "Get a good night's sleep, Steve," Pepper tells him, smiling warmly from a thousand miles away. Steve's fingers almost brush across the screen but he stops himself before they can. "We'll all be here waiting for you when you get home." She presses a soft kiss to the screen before waving gently and ending the call.
Steve closes the conversation window and places the phone back on the bedside table. He sighs quietly and stretches back out across the bed, looking back up at the ceiling. The room seems warmer now, more comfortable, and Steve doesn't feel quite as homesick.
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
The zipper on the suitcase slides closed with a soft "zrrrt" sound and Steve slides it off the bed and onto the floor. Except for the pressed uniform he's planning to wear in the morning, the rest of his clothes are tucked away for the trip. The train is set to disembark by 6 am the next morning and to be honest, Steve is more than ready to leave Switzerland. He's been here for a little under two weeks and a change of scenery is most definitely welcome. Just two more stops and this assignment will be over and he can get back to the Tower.
His phone chirps in his pocket and he pulls it out carefully, the screen displaying an image of Bruce as the caller. Steve accepts the call with ease, having gotten more comfortable with the basic functions of the Iphone over the past few days, and grins at the scientist on the screen. "Boy, are you a sight for sore eyes," he greets, smiling when Bruce flushes slightly on the other screen.
"Well, I do what I can," Bruce says with a gentle smile, his voice soft and quiet. "How's Geneva?"
"Good," Steve answers, settling onto the edge of the bed and nudging his suitcase across the floor with one foot. "Leaving for Austria in the morning so I'm only here for one more night."
"Hmm, you'll have to tell me about the Swiss Alps. I've always wanted to see them," Bruce comments, his voice still soft.
"I'll bring you back here, then," Steve offers with a smile, shifting into a more comfortable position against the headboard. "We'll go to one of those fancy ski resorts and act like we know what we're doing."
Bruce chuckles in response, his expression more relaxed than Steve remembers seeing in a long time. "Sounds good, I'll take you up on that offer."
Steve frowns just slightly in concern, one eyebrow lifting upwards a bit. "You okay? You sound quiet."
Bruce smiles and shifts the camera angle down to show a sleeping billionaire sprawled out across his chest. Tony is snoring softly, his face hidden in the crook of his arm and the other dangling off the side of the couch. It's adorable and Steve would kill for photo evidence of it to save for later. "I dragged him out of the lab on the promise that we would watch Christmas movies. He didn't even make it through the credits."
Steve smiles knowingly and nods. "One of the great Tony Stark's many qualities: when he crashes, he crashes hard." His smile fades just a bit, his expression becoming slightly more serious. "How are you both doing by the way? Everything alright back at the Tower?"
"We're good here," Bruce answers quietly, one hand keeping the phone level so he could see Steve while the other rests softly in between Tony's shoulder blades. "Pepper has been stringing lights up all over the Tower and I'm pretty sure she's employed Clint and Natasha to spy on everyone and find out what they want for Christmas so she can put a list together."
Steve smiles at the thought because it seems like exactly the type of thing Pepper would do. Tony's been cooped up in the lab a bit more lately but I think it's just to keep him busy since you've been gone." Bruce's smile softens a bit, the flickering light from the TV in the background casting him in soft shadows. "He misses you, Steve. We all do. It doesn't feel that same without you here."
Steve returns the smile, the pang of homesickness twisting a bit in his stomach. "I miss you guys too...you have no idea how much." He forces himself to sound more cheerful and adjusts the phone slightly. "But it's only for a few more days and then I'll be back home."
The scientist nods in agreement on the other screen. "Just for a few more days," he echoes back, his voice dropping just slightly when Tony shifts against him.
Both men freeze and remain silent for a few seconds until they're sure the sleep-deprived billionaire is asleep again before resuming their conversation. "So what movie were you planning to watch?" Steve asks after Tony drifts off again.
"The Santa Clause," Bruce tells him, turning the camera to focus on the movie menu displayed on the TV across the room. "Cute show, really. An instant classic. Feel like watching it with me?"
Steve grins and nods. "Sure, it'll be like a movie date."
Bruce chuckles and adjusts the phone so it's facing the television enough for Steve to see it clearly. "You'll have to forgive me for not being able to bring popcorn to our date."
Steve smirks as the beginning credits begin to play across the screen. "It's okay, I'll let it slide this time. Next time though…"
He hears Bruce laugh even though he can't see him from the angle of the screen. "Next time we have a movie date you better have your star-spangled butt parked on this couch next to me instead of halfway across Europe and watching it via Skype."
Steve smiles again and props the phone on one knee. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."
The movie plays across the screen of Bruce's phone, thousands of miles away and yet right in the same room. Occasionally, Bruce will adjust the phone or the screen to make sure it's still open but for the most part it remains focused toward the movie playing on the TV. Bruce and Steve speak quietly to one another, their voices soft to keep from waking Tony, and the distance between them feels like it's shrunk considerably. It feels nice to still be able to connect with his teammates even if he's not there physically.
The movie just about to the ending when Steve hears a soft snore on the other side of the screen. He can't see him but Steve has spent enough time sleeping with Bruce to recognize his snores. He's not afraid to admit that he keeps odd hours enough to know what each of his teammates sound like when they sleep and Bruce is no different. If what Steve suspects is true and Bruce has been keeping an eye on Tony since he's been gone, neither of them have gotten much sleep lately.
Steve glances at the clock and realizes it's far later than he suspected. Time for him to get some sleep as well. Steve lifts the phone and takes on last look at ending movie and hears the soft, combined snoring of Tony and Bruce. "Goodnight, guys," he whispers softly before he ends the call and turns out the light.
I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree
Steve jumps a little bit when his phone jingles in his pocket, effectively pulling him out of his memories. He'd been so absorbed in watching the mountains pass by outside the train that he had completely forgotten the phone was tucked away in his pocket until it started ringing. He pulls it out and swipes it open without checking to see who's calling. The answer is almost immediate.
"Steve, you're the deciding factor in this," Clint begins by way of greeting when Steve's face appears on his screen.
"I'm the deciding factor in what?" The soldier asks, genuinely confused by the sudden responsibility that has been laid before him.
"Santa hats. Sexy or silly?" Clint asks without preamble, bustling around in the living room of the Tower. There's a large tree set up in one corner and Natasha is busy hanging ornaments and tinsel along the branches, seemingly ignoring Clint with everything she has.
"Uh...I don't know-"
"See, Nat thinks they're sexy and has been trying to get me to wear one all afternoon but I told her they look goofy and make your head look too small and no one else is here to weigh in on this matter so I'm looking to you as the tie-breaker," Clint rambles on, passing by Natasha and absently handing her a string of lights to add to the tree. "So what's your opinion: sexy or silly?"
Steve smirks and shrugs. "Not sure, you'd have to put one for me to make a solid decision."
Clint balks and flounders for a second. "Dude, no. The whole reason behind this debate is so that I don't have to wear one. I am adamantly against Santa hats and all of their weirdness." Clint's eyebrows knit together slightly and he glares suspiciously at the screen. "You're siding with Natasha, aren't you? She's bribing you somehow."
"When I can incapacitate you with a paperclip and a business card, bribery seems a bit unnecessary don't you think?" Natasha comments over her shoulder, turning around just enough to lock eyes with Steve on the screen and give him a wink.
"Regardless," Clint says, waving his hand flippantly. "I need your honest opinion." He sighs and rummages around in a box on the floor. A few seconds later, he reappears with a red and white Santa hat placed on top of his head. There's another heavy sigh and Clint looks directly at the screen. "I look like a gnome."
Steve stifles a laugh and nods. "Yeah, unfortunately I'm going to have to side against Nat on this one; it does look pretty silly on you."
"Hah!" Clint exclaims in triumph, snatching the hat off his head and dropping it back into the box. "Called it!"
Natasha appears on the screen and there's a slight scuffle as she steals it away from Clint. "Fine, fine. You don't have to wear the hat, you big baby," she mumbles, shoving him lightly in the direction of the hallway. "Go hang those garlands around the door and let me have a minute to talk to Steve."
"Aye Aye, boss lady," Clint says with a small salute in the background before he disappears off the screen. The camera angle shifts and Steve gets a clear view of the tree for the first time. It's decorated very simply with white lights and silver and blue glass ornaments. Long, shimmering strands of tinsel hang over the branches like icicles, causing the entire tree to sparkle with the reflection of the lights over head.
"So what do you think?" Natasha asks when she reappears on the screen. "Does it need anything else?"
Steve smiles and shakes his head. "No, I think it looks perfect," he tells her honestly because it's probably one of the most beautiful trees he's ever seen. He had always loved looking at Christmas trees as a kid but because of the Depression and his asthma, he and his mother had never been able to keep one in the house. Still, it was one of his favorite parts of the holiday and his time in the ice hadn't changed that.
Natasha grins at him from her screen and walks back over to the tree to adjust a clump of tinsel on one of the branches. "It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas over here," she comments, holding the phone at an angle where Steve can still see her but the tree is in the background as well. "How are the conferences going?"
"Good, on my way to the next one now," Steve tells her, holding his own phone up so the mountains passing by outside the train can be seen on his screen. "Getting to enjoy some of the scenery on the way, too. I haven't seen mountains like this since the war."
Natasha laughs and drops the remaining unused tinsel into the box Clint had abandoned the Santa hat in. "Well, I don't think you have to worry about dodging Nazis this time around." There's a muffled crash somewhere in the distance behind her and Natasha mutters a soft curse. "I should go make sure Clint hasn't destroyed anything in the hallway. Pepper would beat him, and not in the good way," she adds with a wink to the screen.
The camera shifts slightly as Natasha raises it up to eye level. "Let us know when you get done this evening. We still need your opinion on the lights outside the Tower." She presses a kiss to the screen and smiles. "Прощайте мой солдат," she whispers quietly before ending the call to go assist Clint.
Steve smiles and tucks the phone back in his pocket, looking back out the windows. The mountains begin to open up to small villages and towns and Steve knows his stop will be coming up before long. He crosses his arms and leans back, taking in the scenery for a little bit longer.
It isn't until about an hour later when the train is pulling into the station and Steve is standing up to grab his bags that his phone chirps in his pocket again. It's a different notification than a phone call and upon examination, Steve discovers it's a text message from Natasha. He swipes it open and can't quite contain the startled choking sound he makes.
Natasha had sent him a photo attachment of her wearing a Santa hat...and nothing else. The caption below the picture was a simple question: still silly?
Steve feels the flush heat up his cheeks almost instantly and the cough doesn't help matters when the passenger across from him asks if he's alright. Steve nods quickly and slides the phone back into his pocket, holding his recently retrieved bag at waist level to prevent another potentially embarrassing situation from becoming public knowledge. The blast of cold air as he steps off the train helps but not enough for him to remove his bag any time soon. Maybe he should re-evaluate his stance on Santa hats after all…
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
Steve jolts awake with a gasp, his arms still covering his face in the vain attempt to shield himself from the crash. He blinks up at the darkened ceiling, heart pounding and covered in a cold sweat. His dreams had been filled with ice and broken glass, twisting metal and freezing water. In his dream he was crashing into ocean again, Peggy's name on his lips and the realization that he was going to die fresh in his mind. The dream makes him feel cold and sick like it always does but this time he's alone in the bed without the tangle of warm limbs and soft reassurances to chase away the nightmares.
Steve groans softly and sits up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and standing. It's late, probably close to 3 am, but the idea of going back to sleep now is wholly unappealing. He can't be sure if it's the memories brought back from being in the mountains of Europe or if the homesickness was starting to manifest itself in another way but the nightmares had been getting worse over the past few days. This was the third night that week that he'd been jolted from sleep with dreams about the ice. Back at the Tower, when he was wedged between Tony and Bruce or slung across Thor like a scarf, the dreams seemed to fade almost completely. Now that he was away from them, they were coming back with a vengeance.
The water is shockingly cold when he turns on the faucet in the bathroom but Steve doesn't care. Ironically, the cold water helps chase away his dreams of ice and drowning. He splashes a handful over his face and sighs heavily, gripping the edges of the sink with both hands. Just a few more days, he reminds himself with determined resolve. Just a few more days...
The room is still dark when he walks back in and he has a split second memory of being trapped in the darkened cabin of the plane as it sank to the bottom of the ocean. Steve swallows hard and has to physically resist the urge to turn on every light in the room. He settles for just the lamp and slumps back onto the bed.
He's supposed to be downstairs and ready for the next meeting in a few hours but he just feels exhausted. The talks and deliberations had been going well for the most part but it was a constant, daily process that was beginning to grow tiresome. Each meeting and delegation would last anywhere between 12-16 hours and Steve had to be present and actively involved in every single one. He was ready to be done but he had another full week of conferences before he could head back to the Tower. Just a few more days…
His phone is still sitting on the bedside table where he'd left it the night before after talking with Natasha and Thor about the merits of ice skating in Central Park. Apparently, Natasha had be trying to teach Thor the fine art of figure skating and was having varied results with the process. They were discussing going back the next day but she had been happy to send the video of that day's lessons to Steve.
Steve fumbles with the phone for a moment, trying to relocate the video file Natasha had sent. His finger taps a wrong icon by accident and a Skype call appears on his screen. Before he can end the call, Tony picks up on the other line, his face smudged with grease the way it was before Steve left. Steve feels his stomach clench just slightly.
"Hey Super Soldier," the billionaire greets, propping the phone up against the side of his coffee cup so he can keep working on the circuit board in front of him."Look at you making Skype calls all by yourself. My little soldier is growing up, I'm impressed."
Steve smiles softly and shrugs. "Figured I should get onboard with the whole futuristic technology thing. I didn't wake you, did I?"
Tony frowns a bit and glances at his watch. "You kidding? I've been up since 5; you're not interrupting my beauty sleep, Cap." He glances back at the screen, the frown still tugging at the corners of his mouth. "But I'm guessing something interrupted yours. Wanna talk about it?"
Steve shakes his head a bit at the question. "Just dreams. Same ones as always."
"Ahh, the old ice bath dreams," Tony says with a slight nod, eyeing Steve carefully for a moment as he speaks. The acknowledgement may have come off as nonchalant but Tony took the nightmares very seriously ever since he and Steve had started sleeping together and he would have to hold the younger man, shivering and trembling, throughout the night after the nightmares faded. "Was it the crash or sinking this time?"
Steve winces a bit, hating how vulnerable he feels in this moment. He loves that Tony just knows, without having to be told, what's bothering him but he still hates that his troubles are so readable. "A bit of both actually."
"Jeez, kid, you really can't do anything halfway, can you?" Tony mumbles, snagging his coffee cup and picking up the phone at the same time. He takes a drink and sets it back down, propping the phone back against the edge of the cup. "Get your sexy ass back to the Tower and we'll make sure you're too tired to dream again, how about that?"
Steve smirks, a faint blush coloring his cheeks. "Wow Stark, you start saying things like that and people will start to think you might actually like me."
"Careful Rogers," Tony counters with his own smirk. "I make it a point to only have mind-blowing sex with people I can't stand. And you're nearly at the top of that list but I'm afraid Pepper still has you beat." The circuit board on the desk crackles slightly and Tony reaches for another screwdriver. "How about a Christmas story? That oughta keep the ice dreams away."
"You know Christmas stories?" Steve feigns surprise and shock at the admission only to receive an eyeroll and one-fingered salute from Tony.
"You're damn right I know Christmas stories," Tony counters smoothly as he tinkers with the circuit board. "I'm a modern day Charles Dickens. Now shut up and get comfortable or I'll be forced to explain quantum physics to you until you fall asleep again."
Steve smiles and leans back against the pile of pillows at the head of the bed. "Your captive audience awaits, Mr. Stark."
"Good," Tony says with a nod as he continues to work on the board. "Twas the week before Christmas an all through the Tower, not an Avenger was stirring, not even Thor with his freaky lightning-summoning powers."
Steve smirks and rolls his eyes, gathering a pillow under his head and keeping the phone tucked in one hand so he can still see Tony. "Pretty sure that's not the real poem."
"Real enough for me. You didn't see him short circuit the microwave when he sneezed the other day," Tony shrugs before continuing. "All the stockings were hung by the Xbox with care in hopes that some fat guy in a red suit with a fetish for breaking into people's houses and wandering around while everyone is asleep and seriously, how has no one ever called the cops on this guy before?! would soon be there."
Steve resists the urge to roll his eyes, the heavy tug of sleep beginning to settle into him again. "Tony…"
"Nope," the other man mutters as he pulls out a soldering iron. "My story my rules."
Steve sighs softly. "Fine, fine. Go ahead." The usual banter between them felt warm and familiar and the cold tendrils of his nightmares seemed to drift away with the soft rumbling of Tony's voice.
"Thank you," Tony says as the soldering iron crackles to life. "The assassins were nestled all snug in their beds, with dreams of whatever the hell happened in Budapest dancing through their heads." Tony pauses just long enough to pull his goggles down before he continues. "With Bruce in his lab coat and I at my desk, we were both running calibrations for another Science Bros test."
Steve feels himself relax against the mattress again, the tension left over from the nightmare bleeding out as Tony continued to regale him with his loopy version of Twas the Night Before Christmas. His eyelids begin to feel heavy again and he blinks slowly, watching Tony work on the circuit board with silent interest. Even though he still doesn't understand it half the time, Steve had always been mesmerized by watching Tony work.
"When up from the roof there came such a crash, I knew right away that Santa had busted his ass."
Tony's words are starting to become fuzzy and distant and Steve feels his eyes slip shut, the phone still resting in his hand. "We heard the sleigh drag across gravel and dirt just as JARVIS came over the intercom with an intruder alert."
Distantly, Steve can still hear Tony speaking but sleep is pulling him down to place where words don't make sense anymore. His fingers loosen on the phone but it remains in his hand, a sort of anchor to Tony even though he's halfway across the world right now. Tony's voice is a comforting, familiar rumble and Steve allows it to fill his subconscious even as he drifts off into nothingness. Sleep comes but the dreams stay far away; there is only Tony's voice.
If only in my dreams
The plane shudders slightly as it bounces against the landing strip. The pilot's voice filters into the cabin and Steve sits up a bit straighter, stretching out the kink in his neck from how he had been sleeping. The cabin of the plane is warm but small flurries of snow can be seen outside the darkened windows, dusting the tarmac in white powder. It looks bitterly cold outside but Steve doesn't care; he's home and that's all that matters.
The conferences had finished earlier than expected and Steve had found himself on a plane early that morning heading back to New York. He kept the change of plans to himself though, opting to surprise his teammates instead. He remembered smiling to himself that morning as he boarded the plane. That's part of what Christmas was all about right? Having your wishes come true so you can spend the holiday with your loved ones.
It was a little past 2 am on Christmas Day by the time the plane landed but that didn't seem to matter to anyone else on board. The few other S.H.I.E.L.D agents who had accompanied him to the conferences were on the plane as well and everyone seemed just as eager to be back home. When the plane comes to a stop, Steve and the other passengers stand and start gathering their bags from the overhead compartments, waiting patiently until they can exit.
Fury is waiting on the deck of the helicarrier when Steve steps out, his long jacket buttoned around him against the flurries of snow. "Since there was no international conflict to speak of following the meetings, I'm assuming everything went well?"
Steve smiles slightly and nods. "Everything went well, sir," he assures him, speaking a bit louder to be heard over the icy wind.
"Good. I'll expect details by the end of the week," Fury says, nodding over his shoulder toward the skyline of New York. "Until then, go home and get some rest. You've earned it."
Steve smiles and salutes out of habit. "Yes, sir."
Another set of agents offer to take him back into the city and a little over an hour later, Steve finds himself stepping out of a cab in front of the Tower. The front doors of the building are decorated modestly with rich green wreaths and the lobby smells like pine needles and cinnamon when he steps inside. It's warm and quiet this time of night, nearly all of the employees at home with their families for the holiday. The last bit of tension that had been clamped between Steve's shoulder blades loosens and he sighs contentedly; he's back home with his own family now and he couldn't ask for anything more.
He walks across the empty lobby, pulling out his access card and swiping it to get into the elevator that will take him up to the top floors. Soft Christmas music is playing the elevator and tiny puddles of water are forming around the edges of Steve's shoes from the snow slipping off his jacket and landing on the floor. A few minute, lingering shivers work themselves out as the elevator comes to a stop at the top floor. The doors slide open quietly and Steve steps out into the main hallway.
Garlands and lights are hung throughout the hallway, outlining the doors and casting the hallway into a soft glow. The air still has a slight scent of vanilla and sugar with an underlying fragrance of pine. It smells like Christmas. Steve smiles softly and swipes his access card through the card reader at the end of the hall. The door to the main living room slides open quietly and Steve steps into the room.
The lights are turned off and there's a slight flicker from the television against the wall. The room is filled with the sound of deep, even breathing and Steve knows without even looking that everyone is asleep. "Welcome back, Captain Rogers," JARVIS greets quietly from the ceiling and Steve vaguely wonders if Tony had somehow installed some kind of whisper feature into JARVIS's software.
"Thanks JARVIS," Steve replies with a smile.
"My programs indicate that I should also wish you a Merry Christmas," the AI continues quietly and Steve chuckles softly. Even the Tower itself is celebrating Christmas.
"Merry Christmas to you to, JARVIS," the soldier returns, walking toward the living room silently. The entire room is filled with sleeping Avengers sprawled over every available sleepable surface. Tony is slumped in the middle of the couch, Pepper tucked against his side under one arm and Bruce's head in his lap. Thor is propped against the edge of the couch as well, his head tipped back to rest against Bruce's thigh and snoring thunderously up to the ceiling. Natasha is draped across Thor's legs like a cat and Clint has his head resting in the small of her back, fingers curled loosely in the hem of her shirt. Everyone is sleeping soundly, a rare occasion considering their combined occupations, and Steve smiles to himself.
He passes by the back of the couch, retrieving the fleece throw tossed over one corner and placing it over Tony. He tucks it around Pepper's shoulders and across Bruce's chest and is just about to step away when a hand shoots up to grab his wrist. Tony is awake, looking at him with sleep-heavy eyes, but his grip is firm.
"Where do you think you're going, soldier?" He asks quietly, mindful of the others still asleep.
"I was going to surprise you in the morning and let you guys sleep," Steve whispers, glancing around the room to his sleeping teammates. He leans over the edge of the couch to press a kiss to the top of Tony's head. "Go back to sleep, Tony."
"Hmm, nope," Tony says just as his grip on Steve's wrist tightens slightly and he jerks him over the back of the couch with a surprising burst of strength. Steve has just enough time to let out a surprised gasp before he flips over the back of the couch and lands right in the middle of Tony, Pepper, and Bruce.
Both Pepper and Bruce sit up almost instantly, startled away by the sudden commotion. Their movements are enough to jostle Thor awake which puts both Clint and Natasha on instant alert. Both come awake in a crouch, ready for any sign of danger or attack. Instead they see Steve, half-sprawled across the couch and still in Tony's clutches. "Uh...hey guys."
There are suddenly hands everywhere, pulling him off the couch and onto the floor. Steve finds himself in the middle of an Avengers puppy pile, legs, arms, and everything in between covering him. He's not sure who is where of what limb belongs to whom but it doesn't matter; this is his favorite place in the world.
"When did you get in?" Pepper asks near his head, her fingers carding through his snow-damp hair.
"About an hour ago," Steve answers, brushing a strand of hair from Pepper's eyes with one hand while the fingers of the other are intertwined with someone else's (Bruce maybe?). "I paid a man in a red sleigh to drop me off."
"I don't care if you were dropped off on a bicycle," Clint mutters from where his head is resting against Steve's thigh. "We're just glad you're here." Natasha nods her assent, her fingers brushing lightly over the fabric covering Steve's knee.
"We are happy to have you back, Steven," Thor rumbles delightedly behind him from where Steve is propped against his chest, one large arm wrapped around his waist and pulling him close.
"You should have told us you were coming home," Tony grouses quietly against his side, Pepper nudging him lightly in the ribs as he speaks. "We would have waited up for you."
"I wanted to surprise you," Steve says again, his hand dropping down to brush across Tony's head.
"You did a pretty good job of that," Bruce says with a smile, squeezing Steve's hand softly, the soldier returning the gesture a second later.
"Figures," Tony mumbles again, snuggling a bit more against Steve's side. "The one night I decide not to wear my mistletoe boxers."
Steve chuckles in spite of himself and leans back into Thor's arms. "There's always tomorrow."
"Hmm, I'll hold you to that," Tony mumbles sleepily, pulling Pepper closer and closing his eyes.
The conversation dies down after that and a warm, comfortable silence fills the room. The movie replays on the TV, some black and white film called It's a Wonderful Life, but no one seems all that invested in watching it. They all remain sprawled out on the floor, tangled in each other's arms and cuddled close as the snow continues to fall outside.
Steve feels his eyes begin to grow heavy as the movie plays on, Tony snoring softly at his side and Thor's arm heavy and warm across his waist. Pepper's head is resting against his stomach and Bruce still has his hand clasped loosely in his own. Clint and Natasha are stretched out along his legs, Clint's arm tossed over his knees and Natasha's fingers splayed over his shin.
Steve settles himself a bit more in Thor's arms and closes his eyes with a smile. He's home with the people he loves and he couldn't ask for anything more. This is all he wanted for Christmas.