Christmas in Avengers Tower is surprisingly low-key, in contrast to what Steve had been expecting. The blank walls, the halls looking exactly the same as they’ve always been, the lack of any kind of lights- the only thing even vaguely Christmas-y in the entire Tower is the tree, which had been erected a week ago, and they hadn’t asked Tony about it.
In fact, Tony only finds out about it by walking into the lounge, mid-rant about a politician, before stopping on the spot and narrowing his eyes at the tree. “Why.”
Steve looks up, innocent eyes already in place. He’s been told he could pull off murder with this look. “Tony?”
“Why,” Tony repeats, eyes slitted in a way that Steve has only seen directed at reality TV and congressmen making small talk.
Steve snorts. “It’s a Christmas tree, Tony. People put them up in December.”
He watches, half-amused, half-concerned for everyone’s safety, as Tony crosses his arms.
“What’s the date,” Tony asks finally, his jaw working.
“December 17th,” Steve answers, going back to his book, or pretending to, at least. He’s found out over his months living here that the best way to annoy Tony is to ignore him, so he keeps his eyes on the paper in front of him, even moving his eyes along the lines, but really waiting for Tony’s response.
December 17th, 2014, Steve’s mind supplies silently. He’s been checking the date more often lately, and his therapist thinks it’s a step backwards. Steve thinks it’s plain old coping; making sure he isn’t back in 1943, or he hasn’t suddenly missed another seventy years, god forbid.
“Mph,” Tony says after a while, and Steve looks up, not bothering to hide his smile. Tony looks so put-out he can’t do anything but smile. The guy looks personally offended by the sight of a Christmas tree in his lounge.
“We can take it down,” Steve offers, chewing the inside of his cheek to fend off a full-out grin, but Tony’s already waving his hand in dismissal.
“No, it’s fine.” Tony cocks his head at it. Crosses his arms again, the opposite way. “Who put it up?”
“Clint. Well, before Thor came along and tried to help. He was ‘most eager to learn of our curious Midgardian traditions,” Steve says, moving his fingers in quotation marks. “He seemed pretty upset that it didn’t involve a goat sacrifice. Wait- lamb. No, goat. Some kind of farm animal being sacrificed. Apparently it’s a big thing where he’s from,” he finishes, shrugging.
Tony continues to glare at the tree, eyes moving up and down the length of it like he’s considering the best place to push so it will fold in on itself. Knowing Tony, that’s probably exactly what he’s doing.
“Tony,” Steve says again. “We really can take it down. Put it up somewhere less conspicuous, where you’re less likely to walk past and spend the next two hours trying to make it burst into flames with your eyes.”
“Ha, ha,” Tony replies, finally tearing his gaze away from the tree to glare at Steve instead. “You’re hilarious. No, really, Cap. The public would be shocked by how bitchy you are.”
“I’m offended and hurt,” Steve says mildly, going back to fake-skimming the book. He makes sure not to turn any pages; he wants to keep reading from where he left off after Tony leaves.
“We’re going to decorate it,” he says, glancing up at Tony. “Tonight. You’re welcome to join us.”
Tony, predictably, makes a face. “Even Romanoff? She strikes me as the kind of person who hangs Christmas ornaments that explode conveniently if she presses a secret button.”
“Even Romanoff. And I’m sure she’ll keep the lethal Christmas decorations to a minimum, Tony. Some tinsel that strangles whoever tries to take it down, maybe.”
Tony huffs a laugh at that, eyes flickering down and then up again, but at the tree instead of Steve, and Steve can’t place the look in his eyes. It’s not a good look, he decides.
“I’ll drag you out of your damn workshop if you don’t show up,” Steve threatens, trying for jokingly, and that gets another laugh, but weaker this time, though his smile is bigger.
“I’ll make an appearance,” Tony says quietly. Then, looking up at Steve in a way that, annoyingly, makes the breath leave him like a punch to the gut, his eyes weirdly playful, his smile twitching upwards: “I’ll come up at eight?”
“Six,” Steve corrects him, stupidly proud that he doesn’t choke on it. “We’re eating dinner together. Like a team,” he says, too loud, as Tony rolls his eyes.
Tony scoffs, also too loud, and groans for effect. “Right,” he says, and scrubs a hand over his face, harder than he should. That one, Steve doesn’t think is for effect. “Family meeting.”
“Darn right,” Steve nods, lingering on how Tony’s hands, hanging now, press into his pockets. He only does that when he’s uncomfortable, Steve has come to realize over the months.
Tony tilts his head towards him. “Bruce is cooking?”
“We’ll all be chipping in. Including you.”
“Ugh. What can I do except for improve the kitchen appliances?”
“I’m sure we’ll find something,” Steve says, and tries not to be too obvious in the fact that he’s been re-reading the word ‘clerk’ for the past two minutes. “Hey, do you want to take a break from whatever you’re up to? Clint told me there was some terrible Christmas TV on, and after seventy years, I think I need a catch up.”
Again, Tony’s gaze turns to him, less scrutinizing than the look he had been giving the tree, but not by much. “You haven’t seen How The Grinch Stole Christmas yet.”
Steve has no idea what that is, but it sounds like a tone of paint. “Nope.”
And he knows this is the right answer to give, because almost instantly Tony is strutting over to him, shoulders back, smile cocky, flopping down next to him on the couch and saying, “Well, we have to fix that, that’s a tragedy, I’m outraged that they didn’t include that in the briefing folders they gave you when you woke up. JARVIS?”
“Sir,” comes the curt reply.
Somehow, Steve has nearly gotten used to the ceiling answering back. He gives it another couple of months. After all, he got used to the internet, didn’t he?
Tony doesn’t look at the ceiling like Steve does whenever he talks to JARVIS; instead he nods at the TV. “Put on the animated version.”
“As you wish, Sir.”
The TV flickers to life, and Steve uses a coaster as a bookmark and puts his book to the side. It can wait. For now, he has Tony’s near-constant commentary on how awesome some fella named ‘Dr. Seuss’ is, and how everything he wrote totally had double-meanings.
Again, Steve has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about, but he’s sure he’ll pick it up as Tony keeps talking.
As it turns out, they do find something for Tony to do, and it’s chopping onions. Tony complains the whole way through, of course, and stops halfway to go down to his workshop (Steve instructs Thor to follow him to make sure he doesn’t stay down there and ditch them) and fetch his goggles so he doesn’t start crying in the middle of chopping onions.
Everyone is left biting their tongues hard enough to hurt to stop themselves from laughing at the sight of Tony, hair everywhere, thick goggles strapped on as he chops oniouns too clumsily for a man who earns a living working with his hands.
“You look lovely,” Natasha tells him, her mouth twitching, and Tony pokes his tongue out at her.
“Shut up. You’re just jealous you don’t have a funky pair of goggles like me.”
“Funky,” Natasha nods, turning back to where she’s rinsing lettuce in the sink.
Tony wiggles his hips in her direction, mouthing, Funky, and Steve has to excuse himself for a minute to crack up laughing. When he returns, Tony is looking too smug for a man chopping vegetables wearing welding goggles, and Steve comforts himself in the fact that every wall in this Tower is soundproof. There’s no way the team could have heard him cackling like an idiot from the lounge.
Steve goes back to putting ingredients into the stew Bruce is stirring, chopping what Bruce tells him to, and glances back at Tony whenever he has the chance.
He can’t help it: Tony’s ridiculous. He’s glaring down at the onion, he looks like he has an awful case of bedhead, the goggles are big and bulky over his face, and due to emerging from the workshop he still has engine oil smudged over his face and his arms, but not his hands, because they made him scrub his hands until even the dirt under his nails was cleaned out. Which took longer than Steve thinks it should have- it was almost like the oil was pressed into Tony’s skin as a permanent fixture, and Tony had to scrub them raw and puffy to get the last of the grease out.
“The things I do for the Christmas spirit,” Tony had grumbled as he towelled his tender hands dry, frowning like the entire world was against him.
Now, on the other side of the surprisingly small kitchen, he’s muttering under his breath about consumerism and the bullshit of the holidays and onions and why hasn’t someone invented something that stops you crying from chopping onions, I should get on that, JARVIS, make a note.
Steve can’t stop smiling.
Dinner goes off without a hitch.
And by that, Steve means nothing attacked Manhattan. Dinner by normal standards is mostly a disaster, what with Clint getting bored fifteen minutes in and using his fork to catapult dollops of mashed potato at Natasha. This would have been fine, with Natasha blocking them with her napkin and actually catching one in her mouth and eating it, except Clint ‘veers off course’ and manages to hit Bruce in the cheek.
There’s a second where everyone holds their breath. Bruce freezes, before calmly putting down his utensils. Mashed potato drips sluggishly down his collar.
“Uh,” Clint says, waving his fork in apology. “Sorry?”
Bruce closes his eyes. Pinches the bridge of his nose. “Give. Me. A second.”
There’s a tense three seconds where Bruce massages his nose.
Tony ruins everything by making a noise half between a giggle and a snort.
The subsequent Hulking Out breaks the dinner table and most of the things on said dinner table, and it’s only from careful manoeuvring by the Avengers that the Christmas tree in the next room doesn’t get demolished. Even Tony helps with that, Steve is surprised to notice, when he had been expecting Tony to ‘accidentally’ nudge the Hulk towards it and blame the crushed tree entirely on the Hulk later.
After Bruce has calmed down and is Bruce again, they give him clothes and call the contractors, who sigh wearily and promise to be there the next morning. Then, stepping in between the rubble, the Avengers decorate the Christmas tree.
“This is by far the strangest Christmas I’ve ever had,” Steve tells Tony, who is hanging a glass angel on a branch.
“Not Christmas yet,” Tony replies. “But yeah, me too. Something tells me the actual Christmas is going to be even weirder, what with the people we live with. There’s no chance of a normal holiday in Avengers Tower. Even if the team manages to be normal for the entire day, there’s always someone taking over the world or attacking the president or trying out their sex pollen on unsuspecting citizens.”
Tony waves a hand. “I’ll tell you later. Hey, what happened last Christmas?”
Steve shrugs awkwardly. “Not much,” he says. Truthfully, he had sat in his apartment all day and tried to distract himself, because this was before Sam came along, before the whole mess with Bucky happened, and before he had made solid foundations with the rest of the Avengers.
“Yours was eventful, I hear.” Steve had heard about it on the news. And the papers. And several agents who gossiped in the hallways about how awesome Iron Man was, and how they hoped he wasn’t dead in a ditch somewhere. Steve had kept close to a TV until he heard that Tony had survived.
“I brought Pep a giant rabbit,” Tony nods, and Steve sneaks a glance- Tony doesn’t mention Pepper much since the breakup. “Then it exploded. Along with my house, my robots and very nearly me. Not a very pleasant Christmas, but hey, not my worst. Probably.”
“What was your worst?”
Tony makes a face, his mouth pulling sideways, his nose wrinkling.
“Or we could not talk about that,” Steve says quickly, something clenching in his stomach. Over the nine months he’s lived in Avengers Tower, he’s become closer with all of his teammates. And in doing so, he’s come to suspect that Howard Stark wasn’t a very nice guy after the war, especially to his kid. Not that Steve’s ever asked about it, except for that one time where Tony’s face shuttered and he started talking in short, cutting sentences before excusing himself to the workshop. After that, Steve had kept his questions to a minimum, and even then he had asked Bruce, instead, since they spent a lot of time in the lab together.
Not that Steve and Tony don’t, nowadays. It’s been about four months since Steve has started spending time down in Tony’s workshop, sketching or drawing with charcoal, while Tony muttered and cursed and worked a dozen feet away.
It’s been… illuminating, watching Tony in his element. His real element, instead of Iron Man in battle or Tony with an expensive suit making his way through a fundraiser. There’s something intimate about watching Tony in mid-invention.
Tony nods towards a box behind them. “Pass me the- things. Hangy-uppy things.”
“Ornaments,” Steve supplies, setting the box between the two of them and reaching in, taking the first thing he finds, which happens to be a red and gold bauble. He grins, holding it up to Tony. “Hey, look. Iron Man colours.”
Tony’s mouth flickers. “The best kind of colours,” he says, and the tense look in his eyes is mostly gone, so Steve takes it as a win.
Then Clint nudges between them to grab a handful of baubles for himself, and the tense look vanishes completely as Tony swats at Clint, telling him to get his own baubles, the thieving heathen.
Natasha and Thor are making rounds around the tree, Natasha on Thor’s shoulders, tinsel dangling from her fingers as she reaches high to hang it.
“You’ve been smiling a lot lately,” Tony observes, and Steve catches himself in the act.
“I-” Steve’s throat catches, humiliatingly, and he looks around the lounge, ears full of the casual background chatter of his team, the comfortable way they move around each other. “This is nice,” he finishes lamely.
Tony hesitates, but nods, and they continue hanging baubles in silence for the next few minutes. Well, relative silence. They can hear Clint bickering with Bruce about where to hang the stockings, and Thor and Natasha have to communicate where Natasha wants to hang the tinsel next.
Eventually their hands scrape empty box, and Steve looks around for another to see they’ve used the last one. He squints up at the tree- they’re almost done, they only need another box or two’s worth of ornaments.
“There’s another box on the next floor,” Tony supplies, and they both step aside in unison to let Natasha, who is still balanced on Thor’s shoulders, through.
They tell the rest of the team they’ll be back, and they get a grunt from Bruce and a wave from Thor. Clint is yelling something at Natasha, who is yelling back in Russian, but it sounds amicable, so Steve doesn’t butt in and instead heads towards the elevator with Tony.
“So,” Tony says when Steve picks up the last remaining box and they start for the elevator again. “I take it you like Christmas?”
Tony looks up, incredulous. He opens his mouth, but Steve beats him to the punch.
“I said it was okay, I didn’t say I hated it, jeez.”
“But you’re all with the Christmas cheer,” Tony blurts. He waves vaguely at Steve’s chest. “You’re wearing a reindeer sweater! The nose lights up!”
Steve shifts the box in his arms so he can look down at his sweater, which is indeed festooned with a reindeer with a flashing red nose. “I thought it looked snazzy,” he admits.
Tony mouths snazzy in the same way he had mouthed funky, and Steve bites down on a smile. He tilts his head towards Tony, his fingers working on tying a light around a branch. “I take it you hate it with the heat of a thousand suns?”
“Christmas or the sweater?”
“Christmas, yes. Sweater, yes, oh my god, take it off, it’s hurting my eyes.”
“For that, I’m leaving it on.”
“I’m hurt, Rogers.”
“Live with it,” Steve says. He’s using one hand to push a green bauble away from falling out of the box when Tony continues, “I think this year it might be okay, though.”
Steve glances over at him. “Yeah?”
Tony’s shoulders lift and drop. “Maybe.”
“Possibly,” Tony allows. They’ve reached the elevator; Tony pushes the button for one floor down.
“Oh, possibly,” Steve says teasingly. He’s doing it again, the dopey smile thing that won’t go away unless he forces himself to think about starving orphans or plague or his Mom dying; the dumb smile that seems to make an appearance whenever Tony walks in.
It’s only when Tony glances away, his mouth twitching, that Steve realizes he’s been staring. “So, uh,” Tony says. He clears his throat. “We should probably vacate the room before Clint starts hanging mistletoe everywhere. That could get awkward.”
Before Steve can stop himself, he’s saying, “Depends who you’re under the mistletoe with,” and he’s still smiling that stupid smile so there’s no way Tony didn’t get what he meant.
He regrets it immediately when Tony looks at him, eyes wide, close to gaping. The only time he’s seen Tony legitimately gape and it wasn’t mocking was a month ago when Natasha patted his hand distractedly after he passed her the peas.
“Um,” Steve says, smile faltering and then turning forced. “I mean. Sorry.”
“What for,” Tony says after a second.
Steve… doesn’t know how to navigate this. Storming beaches, he can do. Talking to Tony, he’s shooting blind.
“Being inappropriate,” he decides on, his fingers curling around empty air and wishing for more ornaments to fiddle with.
Tony shrugs. It’s jerky. “Only inappropriate if it’s unwanted,” he says, rushed, and the elevator doors slide open just in time for him to make an escape, walking fast but not fast enough for a confused Steve to catch up.
Steve watches, baffled, as Tony raises a hand to scratch at the back of his head, moves his arms awkwardly before crossing them, which looks strange while walking, and starts to babble. About five seconds into it, Steve starts catching what he’s saying.
“-not, like, sexual harassment, speaking of which, Pepper banned me from using mistletoe over a decade ago, the lawsuits were costing me a fortune and since I’ve done the whole self-improvement thing I’ve realized just how uncool it is to use mistletoe as an excuse to make out with people, not that I’m saying you’re doing that, I’m just not getting what’s been happening with the flirting and then the not flirting-”
Steve stops, and Tony stops with him.
“We’ve been flirting?”
“But obviously- not,” Tony continues, “since you don’t seem aware it, which, uh, sorry about that? I’ll just, I’ll go.”
Steve shifts the box so it’s pressing into his side, and removes one hand from carrying the box to take Tony’s elbow. A year ago Tony would have shaken him off, but now Tony stops, and allows Steve to turn him back to face him again.
Steve opens his mouth, hoping for some words to come out and make him look less like an idiot, but instead he stands there with his hand on Tony’s elbow with his mouth open like an idiot. “I, um,” he manages finally, after Tony raises his eyebrows at him expectantly and Steve has decided that any words are better than this awful silence.
“There could be mistletoe,” Steve blurts. “We could, I mean, we could say there’s mistletoe. Who’s to say there isn’t mistletoe?”
Tony stares. He stares and blinks and stares some more and Steve is left awkwardly shifting the box one-handed so it sits more comfortably against his side, and then he’s being kissed.
It’s not much, just a brush of lips against his mouth, but it’s enough to send a thrill from Steve’s mouth down his body. He has this weird urge to grin, but he’s too nervous and he supposes it’d make kissing hard, what with all the teeth showing.
Steve’s eyes had fluttered closed automatically at the first pressure on his lips so he can’t see Tony, but he can hear the appreciative hum Tony gives when Steve tilts his head slightly and the kiss deepens. Tony’s arms come to circle his neck, and it’s then that Steve realizes he’s still holding Tony’s elbow. His grip tightens slightly before tugging him closer, and Tony comes willingly, pressing snugly into Steve’s space.
It’s awkward due to the box nudging at Steve’s side, the cardboard poking uncomfortably at his ribs, but Steve hardly notices due to there being a tongue in his mouth that isn’t his.
It’s a good kiss. It’s a great kiss, the best out of the three he’s had, not that he’s thinking about those ones, is thinking instead about the hot slide of Tony’s tongue and how his mouth fits against Steve’s, and Steve is tilting his head further and pressing harder-
And then there’s a voice saying, “Uhhhh,” and Steve and Tony jolt apart, Steve nearly dropping the box, to see Clint standing awkwardly in the doorway, a sprig of mistletoe clutched in one hand.
Clint raises his eyebrows at the both of them, but his smile is smug. “Okay. Never mind. Guess you guys didn’t need it after all. Carry on!”
“Go away, Clint.”
Clint grins, before pointing at the box in Steve’s arms that he’s completely forgotten about. “Can we have those? Something tells me you guys are going to be too distracted to finish with the tree.”
“We can finish the tree,” Steve says, and then catches Tony’s face. “Because of team bonding. And things,” he hurries to add, and the hand on Tony’s elbow squeezes. “But, uh, after? I can take you to a late movie?”
“Sounds good.” Tony coughs, clears his throat, coughs again. Nods. “Yeah. Movie. I can do that.”
“But first, tree,” Steve says.
“Tree,” Tony agrees.
Clint holds the mistletoe over their heads the whole way back to the tree.
Steve and Tony only swat at him a little bit before giving in.