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The Naughty List

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Christmas was a beautiful time in New York, and traditionally a quiet holiday, in that even supervillains tended to take a few days off; it was likely that many of them actually had families to spend time with. The same could even be said of a few superheroes: Jan went home for the holidays (well ... "home" was subjective; her family was from Manhattan, but the Van Dynes were spending Christmas in the Catskills) and took Hank with her; Storm accepted T'Challa's invitation to the winter celebrations in Wakanda; and Spider-Man went off to spend Christmas with an aunt and the girlfriend he insisted he had. Even Wolverine had roamed off to see the other X-Men.

That left Iron Man and Captain America alone to man the fort; the fort being, of course, the lavish Avengers Mansion, where under the care of Edwin Jarvis they would want for nothing. The place was decked out in all its festive glory, with a massive Christmas tree and garland strung all about and mistletoe hung in tasteful places. Platters of sugar and shortbread cookies sat all about, along with enough gingerbread houses and people to constitute a cookie village.

Steve and Tony were around to enjoy exactly none of it, at the moment.

"What ... what is it?" Iron Man asked.

Together, they hovered outside a window looking into the Baxter Building; the window was broken, security for the building reporting that the thing had entered through it. The 'thing' in question was taller than a man but shaped roughly like one, except for the shaggy brown fur and the huge horns that grew out of its head. That last part reminded Iron Man uncomfortably of Thor's brother, Loki.

"Think we're looking at Asgardian trickery, Cap?"

Captain America shook his head. "Looks like the Krampus," he said.

"The what?"

"Krampus," Cap said. "It's -- like the --"

His explanation was cut short by the bellow of the Krampus: "YOU HAVE ALL BEEN NAUGHTY!"

By virtue of working in a building where the Fantastic Four lived and worked, the civilians inside knew better than to test fate; they were dispersing like the ants in a scattered hill, moving away from the danger in a surprisingly orderly fashion.

"Get me in close?" Cap asked.

Iron Man flew in closer, and Cap swung himself gracefully from Iron Man's boot, in through the open window. He rolled and landed in a crouch, shield up and at the ready by the time he was upright again.

The Krampus wheeled around. "CAPTAIN AMERICA," it said loudly. "YOU HAVE BEEN NAUGHTY."

Iron Man shot into the building, past Cap and toward the Krampus. "Hey, ugly!"

"TONY STARK," the Krampus said without hesitation. "YOU HAVE BEEN --"

"Naughty, yeah, yeah," Iron Man answered, barreling toward the Krampus.

"Iron Man, wait!" Cap shouted.

"-- VERY, VERY NAUGHTY," the Krampus concluded, as they collided. The thing barely moved, catching Iron Man in its grasp. It definitely wasn't a living, flesh and blood creature, the armor's scanners registered at this range. As if the grip that was causing the sound of buckling metal beneath it wasn't enough indication of that.

"What?" Iron Man demanded, voice a little strained as he struggled to free himself of the Krampus' grasp. "I donated money to charities! I volunteered at the local orphanage! I even participated in Reddit Secret Santa!"

"YOU EXCEEDED THE SPENDING LIMIT," the Krampus answered, in its booming, determined -- and up close, obviously computerized -- voice.

"It was --" Iron Man grunted. "-- for a good cause!" He'd only donated a cow in someone's name, eesh. How was that naughty?

Above Iron Man's head, there was a sharp clanging noise as Cap's shield flew and bashed into the Krampus' head. The thing didn't even budge.

"KRAMPUS SHALL VISIT YULETIDE DOOM UPON YOU!"

The next thing Iron Man knew, he was being tossed aside like a ragdoll; of course, for all the fact that the Krampus wasn't bothered at all by the weight of an entire suit of armor, the cubicles on the office level gave easily under the impact. Iron Man crashed through office after office after office, particleboard shattering beneath the weight. By the time he finally came to a halt, he was half into a supply closet, with sticky note pads raining down onto his head and a group of H.E.R.B.I.E. bots beeping at him as they hovered overhead and tutted for the mess he'd made.

Iron Man groaned and sat up, swatting the bots aside with the wave of a hand. "Ugh. This is the last time I babysit New York while Reed Richards gets to do something fun like go to space," he complained, creaking to his feet.

By the time Iron Man found his way back to the conference room where this all started -- walking back through the offices was a lot more difficult than crashing through them on the direct route -- Captain America was delivering a final blow to the back of the downed Krampus' neck. Sparks flew as circuitry malfunctioned, and the entire thing went limp.

"Just as I suspected," Cap said, ripping off the shaggy brown fabric. "Doombot."

"What," Iron Man said. "Doom was feeling festive?"

"Expected to send this as a Christmas present to Dr. Richards, I expect."

Iron Man knelt down to inspect the robot up close. "I think you're right."

Cap nodded, and glanced around. Half a dozen H.E.R.B.I.E.s had hovered into the room; one, wielding a clipboard, floated up.

"Thank you for your assistance, Captain," it said. "We can handle the cleanup."

Cap glanced around and, satisfied that no further threats were about to arise, nodded. "Alright. Call us if you need anything else. Iron Man?"

Iron Man looked up at Cap, the particular tilt of his helmet suggesting sheepishness. "Uh, I might need a hand."

Cap offered a gloved hand and hauled Iron Man to his feet. "Can you fly?"

"Yeah," Iron Man said, waving off the concern. "The armor's fine. It's just the operator who's a little banged up."

"If you're sure," Cap said, still looking unconvinced.

"Yeah," Iron Man insisted. "Hop on."

 




Back at the mansion, after they were showered and changed and adequately fussed over by Jarvis, Tony was installed on the couch in front of the fireplace with a huge mug of hot cocoa (bobbing with marshmallows) and a warm blanket. As it turned out, he had probably sprained something -- Tony's vote was: his entire body -- in the altercation with the Krampus, and had been ordered to rest and relaxation by Jarvis.

Steve was enforcing that rule by sitting on the couch with him, gingerly cuddling Tony and feeding him an occasional bit of gingerbread cookie while they watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the animated one, of course).

"Hey," Tony said after a while.

"Hmm?"

"How did you know what that thing was?"

"The Krampus?" Steve asked.

"Yeah."

Steve shrugged. "I learned about it during the war. I spent a lot of time in that region."

"Oh."

"It's the counterpart to St. Nicholas," Steve said. "Instead of Santa deciding who's naughty and who's nice, St. Nicholas delivers gifts to the nice children and the Krampus punishes naughty ones."

Tony pulled a face. "Sure beats threatening your kids with a lump of coal in their stocking, I guess."

Steve laughed quietly, his chest vibrating beneath Tony's touch. "I suppose so."

They lapsed into silence for a few moments longer, then Tony wondered, "Hey. What did you do to get on Krampus' naughty list?"

Steve coughed lightly, a blush staining his cheeks. "Um. I'm pretty sure it was just calling everyone naughty, no matter what ..."

"Uh huh." Tony raised an eyebrow. "It knew I went over the spending limit on Secret Santa, so out with it, Cap."

"It might have something to do with the present I planned to have you unwrap on Christmas morning," Steve mumbled.

Tony blinked. "What is it?"

Steve shook his head, red-faced but resolute. "You'll have to find out tomorrow."

"Well," Tony said after a moment. "I can think of a few ways to kill the time until then."

 


 

(Jarvis was kind enough to hang the 'do not disturb' sign on the door of the den.)