Tony Stark doesn’t really give a shit about Christmas. I mean, sure, he’ll enjoy a glass of nog, and he’s always thought mistletoe was a great scam, but Christmas is about home and hearth and family and nostalgia and, let’s face it, the Starks had a lot of things, but not a lot for Tony to be nostalgic about.
This year, however, nostalgia is the name of the game. This year, Tony’s throwing a motherfucking party.
The invites go out to every person Tony knows, save one. Steve wouldn’t want it. Steve would blush and grumble and get snappy at Tony for sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, and not leaving well enough alone, and a hundred other cliches. So Steve isn’t to know about the party before it happens, and for once, the Avengers back him on a play.
“A USO theme?” Clint asks skeptically. “For Christmas?”
“What is a ‘USO’?” Thor booms from the corner and Tony frowns and shoots a look at the door. Pepper is distracting Steve out in the hall, but Thor’s voice carries like, well. Like thunder.
“The USO puts on shows and dances and stuff for soldiers,” Darcy pipes up from the corner where she’s making a mess of the coffee bar. “They used to be a pretty big deal, but now it’s a lot of comedians and boobs.”
“I assume, based on the invite’s ‘if you wear something designed after 1945 you will not be allowed in' policy, we’re going old school on this one?” Bruce asks wryly.
“Think Bob and Bing,” Tony tells them. “Think the Andrews sisters and Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Stewart in the swimming pool in It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“That wasn’t a USO show, that was a high school dance,” Jane laughs from her perch on Thor’s lap.
“Shut it, it’s going to be epic. Steve is going to walk through those doors into 1941, and if any of you tell him about this I will personally and publicly destroy you.” Tony glares at each of them in turn.
Coulson stares back. “A dance, huh? Are you sure that’s the best idea?”
“It was 1941, Coulson, what the hell do you think people did for fun,” Tony snaps. “Come or not, whatever, this one is out of your jurisdiction.” Just because the guy is allergic to fun, Tony’s not going to let him dampen his spirits.
He doesn’t notice anything is strange for a while, because he’s got planning to do, okay? This isn’t some out-of-the-box number he can trust to Pepper. He trusts Pepper, he does, but this one needs the Tony Stark touch, this one needs to be big and spectacular, and not in some Jay and Yeezy over-the-top way, even though he loved that party, he really did. He still has the crystal ashtray some woman threw through his back windshield at the end of it. This one needs Tony to be front and center, and it requires him to keep a secret, which, come on, is not Tony’s strong suit. (God, Rhodey would make a pun there, but Tony doesn’t do puns. Tony doesn’t do puns like he doesn’t do coke anymore, which is to say he actively expounds on how awful they are, but sometimes secretly wishes he could indulge without feeling like a terrible person.)
But the party is a secret, one that Tony has to keep, but luckily only from one person. Which means that when that one person is around, he is hyper-alert but only in one direction, and when he’s not, he can’t fucking stop talking about the party. Steve is gone, off with Coulson for some debrief that has got to be a miserable fucking meeting if the look of sheer dismay on Steve’s face when they left is any indication. Tony grins to himself. He’s not sure whether it’s because his party planning is already going like gangbusters, or because he didn’t even have to come up with an excuse to wriggle out of whatever terrible meeting that was. Probably both.
“Hey, so, like I said, I bought out all of the rental shops in the greater New York area, but god those things have been through the ringer more times than your mom, so I’m just having all the banners custom made, I think. And the streamers might be real crepe, but I want them to last the night, so I’m not sure how to stabilize them. Spray latex, maybe?”
“Shut up, oh my fucking god,” Clint growls at him from across the training room. Really, though, this is a great time to talk about his plans for decorations because he doesn’t actually need feedback, just a sounding board. Tony ignores Clint and keeps talking, and it’s fine, because Clint gets to take out his frustrations by testing both his new fire arrows and the Iron Man’s new heat resistance polymer coating in one go.
That’s called efficiency. Coulson will love it, Tony’s sure.
It turns out keeping a secret from Steve is way easier than Tony imagined, because Steve is suddenly really busy. Tony corners him the locker room one day as Steve is shouldering his gym bag. “You want to watch the game tonight?” he asks hopefully. Watching football will give Tony a chance to hang out with Steve with less potential for quiet moments where Tony could blurt out “OH MY GOD YOUR PARTY IS GOING TO BE EPIC.”
“I don’t like football,” Steve says testily, not quite meeting Tony’s eyes.
“Since when,” Tony asks, affronted. “You seemed perfectly happy two weeks ago when the Raiders - “ Coulson suddenly appears in the doorway and clears his throat loudly.
“I have to go,” Steve says tersely. “Some of us actually have assignments we’re working, Tony.”
“What assignments?” Tony asks, because it’s been eerily quiet of late, and Tony hasn’t heard -
“It’s classified,” Steve mutters, but Tony can swear there’s a blush blooming high on his cheeks. It makes Steve look prettier somehow, which is annoying.
Steve stalks off with Coulson. Tony broods for the rest of the day - he hacks the database but can’t find any mention of Steve’s secret assignment, which probably just means that Coulson has caught on to that particular trick. But he also notices that there’s a small wreath on Agent Hill’s office door and a menorah on Jane’s desk and the corner deli looks like a Christmas Tree Shop exploded all over it, so maybe it’s just Christmas that’s making Steve distant. It’s Steve’s first Christmas after... after, and it’s got to be awful. Tony heads home with a renewed sense of purpose in making this party fantastic.
“Hey.” Tony pops his head into Coulson’s office two weeks before the big day. “I need to borrow Natasha.”
“No,” Coulson says, not even looking up from his paperwork.
“You didn’t even hear - “
“I don’t care,” Coulson says flatly, with that ‘fuck you, Stark’ inflection that Steve says Tony imagines, but Tony knows is there.
“Look, it’s not for me, okay?” Tony says angrily. “My caterer’s best chef only speaks Russian, bastardized Italian and what is possibly Bengali, and I need to make sure the menu is perfect for my party.”
Coulson raises an eyebrow.
“The party. Which I am throwing, but not for me,” Tony shoots back. The menu is important. It’s key. No foam, nothing Tony has to import from anywhere farther than Brooklyn, but nothing too low-key either. He’s consulted the White House recipe database from 1937 - 1945, three food historians from the James Beard school and a handful of old ladies hanging out on stoops in Flatbush, but he’s still not sure of the balance between period food that is fancy and period food Steve ‘I’ll just have the burger’ Rogers actually wants to eat. “I just want it to be right,” Tony adds, deflating.
Coulson gives him a long look, then sighs. “She’ll be back tomorrow night.”
That makes Tony pause. “I didn’t know she was on assignment. Something going on?”
“Probably not, go away,” Coulson says blandly, looking back at his desk. “Wait.” Tony waits for the inevitable order to do something mundane and annoying. “There’s a real band, right? At your party?”
That’s... huh. “Yeah, of course, huge band, crooners, dancing girls, the works. Maybe even a famous trumpet man from out Chicago way. Actually, I lured Connick with a big check to his Katrina Foundation, so we’ll see who he brings.”
“Okay, good,” Coulson says, turning back to his paper in triplicate, and honestly, Coulson is just a strange, strange little man sometimes.
Tony gives a jaunty salute and jogs off to call his tailor about period suits.
Coulson’s “probably not” turns out to be “yes, yes, oh my god, what the hell is that,” so Tony gets a few days off party planning to save the world again. Steve is his usual stupidly heroic self, and Tony spends more time than is wise ignoring Jarvis’s warnings to duck and cover, flying low to keep Steve in his sight line as some sort of slimy plant monster pulls buildings down with its tentacles.
“It’s not a monster, it’s been animated by something,” Bruce says in his ear, because for some reason Bruce is in the lab on this one, trying to find a cure for the plant’s animation, and not in the fucking field where he could Hulk out at this thing and be useful.
“Sorry, doc, if its huge, green and trying to crush me, I’m gonna go with monster. ...No offense,” he adds, and he can hear Coulson sigh through the comms.
“None taken,” Bruce replies dryly. Then, “Captain America, behind you!”
Tony turns in time to see one of the tentacles slither towards Steve’s feet. Steve manages to evade it with a few deft steps and what looks like a flip-spin before Tony swoops in and scoops him up.
“And you say you have terrible footwork,” Coulson says in their ears with a hint of... is that humor? Steve laughs, his foot pressing down on Tony’s for balance as the Iron Man lifts them ten stories up.
“I still tend to step on toes, just ask Iron Man.”
Coulson actually chuckles and Tony is suddenly tempted to just drop Captain America on his perfect, genetically-engineered ass. He fucking hates in-jokes, except when he’s in on them.
“Sorry to break this up, guys,” he says tersely, “but I think Bruce’s cousin down there just flipped an armored tank.”
“Are they friends now?” he asks, and Pepper looks at him balefully.
“I really just need you to sign these, Tony.”
“I mean, they do spend an awful lot of time together,” Natasha says with a glint in her eye. She pats Tony’s arm.
“The Son of Coul has powers beyond what one can see,” Thor tells him seriously. “He holds much knowledge that he does not lightly share. Though I would not fear for Steve’s safety. Or is it his honor you are more concerned with? ”
God, Tony needs new friends.
By the time Tony Stark’s First Annual Christmas Spectacular kicks off, Tony Stark himself is in a foul mood. Steve’s been increasingly absent over the last week; Tony started checking, and sure enough, Coulson was missing too most of the time. They were always gone too long for coffee breaks, and the one time he snuck into Fury’s office, almost hoping to find them all in there plotting some don’t-tell-Tony-about-this scheme, all he found was Fury and Natasha in what appeared to be a screaming match over the length of her hair.
It wasn’t what Tony was thinking. Even though Coulson sometimes came back to his office slightly flushed with his tie not-quite-perfect, even though Steve had taken to humming happily under his breath when they were reading briefings, it wasn’t what Tony was thinking. Not that Steve’s love life was any of Tony’s business, except who the fuck was Tony kidding. Tony had bought Steve the most ridiculous Christmas present he could come up with, next to building a time machine out of a Delorean, in an attempt to keep Steve from being sad on Christmas. It’s the most sentimental thing Tony has ever done.
And now Steve is walking up to the Roseland Ballroom in his old WWII dress uniform and, of course, Phil Coulson is at his elbow in a loose-fitting grey suit with wide lapels, pulling a felt fedora from under his coat. “Tony,” Steve frowns. “What are you doing here?” He looks over at Coulson, which makes Tony bristle, but Coulson just shrugs.
“What are you doing here?” he asks, which is totally childish, but hey. He’s Tony Stark.
“Agent Coulson grabbed me on my way to a photo shoot. Said there was some sort of emergency.”
“Looks like I was wrong,” Coulson says with a smirk. He dons his hat and gives them both a nod before opening the door. The sound of a big band in full swing floats out into the night, and a couple of girls in WAVES uniforms come stumbling out, their hair in classic up-dos, lips tinted bright red. “Hello, soldier,” one of them says to Steve as they saunter past.
“What...,” Steve says, his gaze trailing after them. When he looks back at Tony, he finally notices the vintage tuxedo, the sweep of Tony’s cashmere scarf. Coulson is still holding the door open; the band is playing a swinging Cab Calloway number and Steve’s whole face lights up. “I know this one,” he says.
“Merry Christmas,” Tony says simply. There was more, Tony had a whole speech, but Steve is looking at the building like he can’t believe it’s real, and Tony suddenly can’t wait to get them all inside. Coulson too, if that’s what makes Steve happy. Turns out a happy Steve is kind of Tony’s kryptonite.
Tony ushers them in, bypassing the steps up to the VIP area where Pepper and Happy and the Avengers are all sipping champagne. The room is spotless - Tony paid a pretty penny to clean up half a century’s worth of grime from the place - and the walls are decked out in Christmas wreaths. There are real candles on the tables. There’s a buffet of beef tenderloin, shrimp cocktail, and cheese puffs, and the bar is serving dirty Manhattans, gimlets, and fresh egg nog spiked with Jamaican rum. In the back of the room is a Christmas tree so tall the star on top can only be seen from the balconies. On stage, a USO banner hangs in front of a giant American flag, and Harry Connick, Jr. is laughing at his enthusiastic trombone section. The dancefloor is full of couples in period dress, bodies jumping and jiving into each other.
“You son of a bitch,” Steve says, laughing, but when Tony turns around, Steve’s not looking at Tony. He’s looking at Coulson. Tony’s heart skids to a halt in his chest. “This was the special undercover assignment?” Coulson just shrugs again and Steve laughs harder. “This is amazing.”
“Fine, whatever, you know what?” Tony needs a drink. Or three. Or seventeen. “You’re welcome. Have a lovely evening.” He pushes through the crowd toward a side door.
“Tony!” He hears Steve behind him, and Tony stops just at the wall. He’s tired suddenly. This whole night isn’t going to go the way Tony’s subconscious so clearly wanted it to, his fucking traitorous subconscious that could have let him in on the fact that he had feelings for Steve before now, seriously. He’s a genius but he’s a moron about his own feelings, everyone knows that... but he’s glad Steve likes it. He’s really glad about that.
Tony turns around.
Now, Tony wouldn’t say that Steve towers over him, not really, but right now Steve is crowding him against the wall, leaning in close to be heard over the music. “You did this?” he asks, his eyes clear and blue and serious.
“Yeah,” Tony says.
“For me? You did all of this for me?”
Tony swallows hard. “It’s not like it’s that much. Everyone loves a party, right? I mean, it’s not like I could give you anything you really wanted this year, since it’s all gone, for good, and I can’t get it back for you,” and, oh god, Tony is babbling and he’s only had one glass of champagne, “but I thought I could make you forget about it for a while, give you a few hours of 1941. It’s not the same, I know that, it’s just. It’s the best I could do,” he says, finally running out of words. Steve is still looking at him intently, and he’s not smiling, but somehow Tony doesn’t get the feeling that he’s fucked something up.
“Tony,” Steve says firmly, like he’s shoring himself up, “would you like to dance?”
“You sure there’s not someone else you’d rather dance with?” Tony presses, because he’s a moron, clearly. Steve frowns in confusion. “You and Coulson seem pretty close these days.”
Steve’s laugh is bright and unexpected. “Tony,” he grins, “who do you think taught me how to dance?” Tony is confused for a second until Steve shifts out of the way and there is Phil Coulson, the most buttoned up person Tony knows, the guy who Tony has personally seen stand stock-still in the corner of a room for three hours, doing a lindy hop with a pretty blond. Wait, no. Doing a lindy hop that is so athletic, they’ve cleared a good ten feet of the dance floor.
“He was semi-pro in college,” Steve says, low in Tony’s ear. “He told me I had to learn for some undercover thing that was coming up.”
“And you believed him?” Tony laughs.
Steve runs a hand through his hair, still grinning. “It’s Coulson, Tony. I didn’t exactly think he would lie to me about a mission, or teach me to dance if he didn’t absolutely have to.”
“You didn’t dance before? I mean, back then?”
Steve shifts a little on his feet, embarrassed. “Before the war, I was a scrawny nobody who spent more time drawing pictures than picking up pretty girls at dances. I guess the USO girls could have taught me, but by that point... I was kind of hoping Peggy would, someday.”
Tony looks at Steve, then back to Coulson on the dance floor as he flips a girl - a new one, in a pretty flowered dress - effortlessly over his shoulder. “I threw you a dance for Christmas, and you didn’t know how.”
“I do now,” Steve smiles, and pulls Tony to the dance floor.