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Deck the Halls with Daddy Issues

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Steve whistles when he's in a good mood. He comes into the workshop whistling some jaunty little tune in perfect pitch – Count Basie, Billie Holliday – like Jiminy Cricket with an eight pack, and, despite himself, Tony can't help but smile. Smile, put down whatever bit or blowtorch he happens to be holding, and kiss Steve senseless.

The kissing's still new, but it's the kind of the highlight of the whole production.

So today, when Steve punches in his access code and comes through the door, already in full-on pucker-up-and-blow, Tony sets his scope aside, grins, and gets ready for the good part. And then he processes just what Steve is whistling, which sounds curiously like…

Steve finally reaches him, leans forward, and Tony swerves away in abject horror.

"Whoa, hey, Deck the Halls? Are you serious right now?"

"Sorry." Steve ducks his head and blushes a bit. Which would be every bit as adorable as it usually is, were Tony not currently traumatized beyond belief. "I'm feeling a little festive."

"So I gathered, totally got that, good for you," Tony says, putting a hand on his shoulder, "but you can't go around exposing innocent people to that. It's just not… sanitary."

Steve pulls his eyebrows together, and okay, the confusion is adorable, damn him. "It's a Christmas carol, Tony. I don't think they're contagious."

Tony snorts. "Clearly you've never gotten near Radio City this time of year."

"So the season hasn't completely escaped your attention." Steve leans against the workbench and crosses his arms, which is never not distracting, what with all the bare skin and the biceps and the bulging, and Tony doesn't really process what he's saying until… what the hell is he saying? "…and yeah, 'blow mold' does sound like some sort of epidemic, but Clint mentioned something about a holographic Santa? I'm not sure exactly what that is, or any of this, really, but – "

"Beam of scattered light that records an image from one place and reconstructs it in another, thereby making it appear three-dimensional." Tony peers at him. "You're doing the thing."

"What thing?"

"The thing, the thing you do where you sound like me. Which is fine when it's actually me but tends to freak me out when it's you, since it usually means something's about to explode." He eyes the rest of the room and takes a step towards Steve, just in case. "What are we even talking about here?"

"The house," Steve says, and it's thisclose to his "Cap talks to tiny impressionable people in public" voice. It chafes a little, the thought of Steve explaining something to him as if he's talking to a small child – as they've already established, Tony is nothing if not a large child. "Decorating the house."

"Right, no, yeah. They're coming on Saturday."

Steve blinks. "Who's coming?"

"The people I pay to decorate the house. Are we having the same conversation?"

Steve looks appalled, but that's become such standard operating procedure for half the things that come out of Tony's mouth that he's pretty much used to it by now. "You pay someone to decorate your house for Christmas?"

"I know, it's such a waste," Tony sighs, and Steve nods along, with eyes like a wounded puppy. "But if I don't, Pepper starts blabbing about public figures and positive examples and Scrooges who are also ducks and, whatever, it hurts my brain less to just play along."

Somewhere in there Steve stops nodding, and it's hard to pinpoint where, exactly, Tony had lost him. Perhaps the ducks. He'd never quite grasped that part, either.

"So if it were up to you, you… wouldn't bother to decorate for the holidays."

"Oh, Pookie," Tony says, pursing his lips and patting Steve's impeccably chiseled cheek, "have you not been listening, or do you just not know me at all?"

"Tony." Steve steps away, looking more than a little disgusted. "Really? Where's your sense of Christmas spirit?"

"Packed away somewhere with the rest of the crap I don't need?" Tony spreads his arms. "This is about as spirited as I get without a lot of lubrication. In any sense of the word."

"Okay, but I need it, Tony." Steve has lost the puppy eyes, and now he looks just plain lost. "It's just... growing up, this was my favorite time of the year. It meant baking with my mom and playing with Bucky all day and actually getting something I wanted instead of something I needed, you know? Christmas, it was… it's important to me. And I've missed like sixty-eight of them. So I thought…"

Tony stares, still utterly horrified but starting to understand.

Well, no, not entirely. Or at all. Steve's lips are moving and there are all sorts of sad panda sounds coming out, but this is still Greek to him. And he speaks Greek.

But if Steve can understand that Tony can't physically function before eight a.m. (no matter how beautiful a day it is), and that there needs to be a Cap-shaped buffer between him and Fury at all times (preferably with shield at the ready), and that all of Bruce's visits to the workshop must be accompanied by an appropriate spa soundtrack and intense aromatherapy (and that Mjölnir is categorically banned from the premises), then Tony can at least try to understand this.

"Why didn't you just say so in the first place?" Tony scoffs. "Drama queen. It's fine, I'll call the whole thing off in the morning."

Steve lights up like… oh god, this is already cruel and unusual punishment. "Are you sure?"

Tony waves him off. "Go, go nuts, do whatever the hell you want," he mumbles, and it gets mumblier at the end, because Steve attaches himself to Tony's face.

Which is still the best part, so at least there's that.

"I swear, this is going to be fun," Steve says in a rush. He's still uberclose, and one hand is still on Tony's hip, and all Tony can do is nod as Steve grins. "We'll be making memories. Good memories."

He kisses Tony again, slow and sweet, and Tony mumbles an "mmhmm" against his mouth. And then Steve is gone with a whistle, and the high is fading, and he's saying, "Wait, what, we?" to an empty room.

Oh… no. No.

"Jarvis."

"Sir?"

Turning back to his workbench, Tony groans and presses the heels of his hands into his eyes. "Shoot me in the head, would you?"

There's only the briefest of pauses.

"Is there any particular gauge you'd prefer, or shall I surprise you?"

---

Cookies. Cookies aren't so bad. He can do cookies.

They're supposed to be baking alone (Steve's grandmother's recipe for sour cream cookies, which he'd made with his mother every year) but it's somehow gotten out of hand – all the Avengers have assembled, Thor is far too excited about pounding out dough with Mjölnir, and Bruce has drafted ridiculously detailed plans for a gingerbread manor. To scale.

And, oh for fuck's sake, there are aprons involved.

Clint's is beyond predictable – a row of glittering ornaments, captioned with "Nice Balls" – Bruce's is a glaring green with both "Naughty" and "Nice" checked off, and Widow's, with a lethal-looking candy cane dagger, makes Tony wonder where in the hell she'd found it. Thor is wearing a "Hung by the Chimney" and absolutely nothing else, which is pretty damn unsanitary but pretty much business as usual. But Tony's…

He looks down at the giant "Ho Ho Ho" hanging from his neck, then over at Steve, who's happily sporting an "I (Heart) Fruit Cakes" special (and is clearly unaware of any alternate associations), and scowls.

"Who exactly was in charge of the aprons?"

Clint cracks up and Natasha actually cracks a smile, and Steve looks between all three of them and frowns. "What? I kinda like mine."

"Nothing, nevermind," Tony says. "I'm glad you like it, that's all that matters."

Steve shrugs, the very picture of adorable naivety. "Fruit cakes get a bad rap."

"I know they do, baby."

And that's right about when Bruce loses it.

As it turns out, even granite cannot withstand taking a godly beating. But apart from some flying flour and a few close encounters with Thor's bare ass, baking is fairly painless, and they've got their first batch in both ovens before long.

Steve takes a bite out of a ball of raw dough, then pops the rest into Tony's mouth. He's just starting to savor the sugary softness and the salt of Steve's skin when phones ring all around, and all at once Steve is wearing his business face and playtime is over.

"We've had widespread reports of giant nutcrackers invading Times Square," Fury barks. "They are not cracking nuts. Time to suit up, people."

They scatter out of the kitchen, trailing flour, Thor wielding Mjölnir in one hand and a dough-spattered rolling pin in the other. "I swear it on my honor," he growls, letting his apron fly, "these unholy fiends shall pay for the interruption of our newly-established traditions!"

"Aaaaand here we go."

Tony can only shake his head, but Steve steps up to pluck the pin from Thor's mighty hand like the leader he is.

"Let's... leave this," he says. "And for god's sake, will you put on some pants?"

---

Tony's in a foul mood when they file back into the manor. Clint had nearly gotten gobbled, Steve had been tossed into the tree at Rockefeller Center and blown every fuse on the way down (Tony can't wait to see how much the city's going to bill them for that little gem), and, thanks to a close encounter with a giant wooden mouth with the pressure per pound equivalent of a herd of elephants, there's a hairline fracture in the armor.

"I cannot speak to this with any degree of certainty, but it does seem likely that this was my brother's doing," Thor is saying. "He always did greatly enjoy playing with dolls."

Tony grits his teeth. "Good to know. That way he'll really grasp the symbolism when I pop his head off and shove it up his – "

Oh wonderful, his house is on fire.

Or more accurately, his kitchen. The damage seems to be concentrated in that area, the sprinklers have already been deployed, and there are no flames in sight. Then again, the whole room is belching black smoke, and he can't really see a damn thing.

"Jarvis, fans!"

The air starts to clear, and Tony rips the oven doors open and pulls out four flaming trays of sugared hockey pucks. The team is gathered in the doorway, taking in the scene with expressions that range from aghast to vaguely amused.

Naturally, that would be Clint.

"You had to replace the granite anyway," he says. "Might as well do the whole shebang."

Natasha swats at him as Tony lets the faceplate up to glare, and Steve steps forward, looking stricken. "Tony, I am so sorry."

"Don't, it's fine, you weren't the one out there eating the good people of Manhattan." And it's not fine, it's so far from fine that he can't even fathom where fine actually is, but he can't take the look on Steve's face, god. He'd burn the whole house down if it meant never seeing that look again.

Fucking Loki. Fucking nutcrackers.

He takes a deep breath, blows it out on a laugh that holds no humor. "This is why I hate Christmas," he mutters, without thinking, and for the tiniest fraction of time, just a split second, he manages to make the look worse.

Oh yeah, fine memories they're making here.

"Everybody get changed, debrief in twenty." Steve turns on his heel and strides out of the room, tossing Tony a throwaway look. "I'll take care of it."

"That's, I didn't, Steve," Tony calls, but he's already gone. "Fuck."

"Indeed," Thor says gravely. "Am I correct in assuming that the cookies are now of no use to us?"

"Buck up, buddy." Clint claps him on the back. "We can always use 'em for target practice."

Thor strides to one of the cookie sheets, picks up a puck, and takes a bite that makes Tony's dental work ache.

"If only we had served these to the cracking cannibal creatures of kindling," Thor says, still chewing. "They would have surrendered immediately."

---

It takes a bit of persuasion and the promise of carte blanche Christmas cheer to get back in Steve's good graces (and, truth be told, he may have taken a moaned "yes" purposely out of context).

Unfortunately for him, carte blanche looks a lot like Christmas Village at the Macy's flagship. And Steve has a list and a smile and seventy years of back pay – with interest – so this could very well take all day.

He looks adorable, though, in his khakis and baseball cap and the worn leather bomber that completely fails to conceal the shape of the shield strapped to his back. They haven't gone ten feet and already they're drawing attention.

"I don't understand why we're here," Tony whines. "Why can't you just hire a shopper like normal people?"

Steve shoots him a pointed look. "We've talked about your skewed definition of 'normal,' Tony. Presents are personal. They should be personally selected."

Tony's about an inch from personally pulling his hair out.

On the eighth floor, Steve slowly circles Santaland with wide-eyed wonder.

"I lived in New York all my life and never got down here," he says. "Mom could only get the holiday off, and it was gone by then. By the time we were old enough to come down ourselves, Bucky didn't want anything to do with it."

The line is endless, and Tony doesn't know how Steve is weaving in and out of the crowd without looking, much less knocking some kid senseless with the world's wealth in vibranium. Tony can't move an inch without bumping into a stationary body, and he's giving serious thought to recording "excuse me, my bad, coming through" on his phone and just letting it loop.

He finally catches up and clings to Steve for dear life. "Steven, are you saying that you'd like to sit on Santa's lap? Because I can get a suit for that."

Steve leans into him and laughs, that laugh that dips his head and shakes his shoulders and makes his whole face glow, and there's fake snow and silver bells and twinkling light dancing in his hair, and for a moment Tony doesn't actually care that it's Christmas, because everything is cheesy and golden and perfect.

Then something wedges between their legs and latches on to Steve like a parasite, something with giant eyes and chubby cheeks and a cowlick the size of New Jersey.

Which doesn't entirely rule out parasites.

"Captain America?" The kid's whisper is hallowed and holy, and when Steve swallows and says, "Oh, um… sure," its eyes get even bigger.

Steve turns startled eyes to Tony, but the kid's sent out some sort of silent distress beacon – soon he's surrounded, sitting in the fake snow and a pile of presents and crawling with small children, and all Tony can hear is a chorus of "I want a shield!" and "Do you have any more super soldier stuff?" and "Can I be an Avenger? Can I, can I?"

Tony props a shoulder on a giant candy cane and crosses his feet at the ankles. "That's good old-fashioned Christmas spirit, Steve," he calls. "Take it all in."

---

It had been amusing for all of five minutes. Then Steve had whipped out his best soldier and whipped the melee into shape. Now the line to see Steve is longer than the line to see Santa, and he's letting the whole horde take turns touching the shield as he politely listens to each of them.

"Mr. Stark?" One of the moms approaches cautiously, as if he might bite, and he's tempted to tell her he only does that on Tuesdays. "I'm sorry about this."

"It's fine, I've got all day." And wow, is he saying that a lot lately. "Which one's yours?"

She points out a girl about five moppets back, with coffee-brown skin and a head full of curls. "Camille. She's so excited." Tony can already tell – he can see her shaking all the way from over here. Along with her slightly runny nose. Thank god for Steve's impenetrable immune system.

"So precious," he says.

"It's just been a tough year. I lost my job, and…" The woman seems to shake herself and pastes her smile back in place. "This is really wonderful of you both. To do this for the kids."

Tony sweeps the long line of chipper children, then swings his eyes to the colossal cluster of parents milling around the edges, and wonders how many stories like this one are among them.

He inches closer as Camille makes her way to the front of the line, morbidly curious about what she'll ask for, and watches as she reaches out an impossibly tiny hand to touch the shield and looks up at Steve.

"You saved my daddy," she says, angel-soft, and wraps her arms around his neck.

Steve freezes for the space of a breath, then engulfs her in his massive arms and lets his eyes slip closed. Little voices pipe up down the line, adding their mother and their brother and their best friend Bobby to the mix, and the whole wave presses forward in a sea of hugging and hand-holding until he can't even see Steve anymore.

Tony groans, curses Steve and his Christmas cheer and his big bleeding heart, and grabs the nearest elven employee he sees. She's already sniffling, which can only help things along.

He flashes her a Stark special – charming smile and a couple crisp bills. "You know who I am, right?"

"Of course," she stammers.

He fishes out a card and scribbles furiously on the back – name, age, address. "I need you to round up these parents, get this info, and tell Santa to take notes. For the rest of the day, everybody. When you're done, call. Think you can do that for me?"

"I…" She blinks, looking dumbstruck, but nods. "Sure. Okay."

"Marvelous, wonderful, I knew I liked you."

Ducking behind one of the gaudy gold trees, he pulls out his phone and hits the second speed dial, hoping he'll be able to hear over all the noise. When the feed comes up, Happy Hogan is sporting a disgustingly festive cable-knit monstrosity with two reindeer doing something that can only be described as humping. Tony snorts. "Happy. I see Rudolph got to play after all."

To his credit, Happy seems genuinely confused. "I'm not following."

Tony shakes his head. "Pepper, I need Pepper."

"Coming right up, hang on." He ducks out, leaving Tony a wide shot of their massive Christmas tree. Then Pepper swerves into view, only looking slightly annoyed.

"Tony? Where are you?"

"Hell," he grumbles. "Listen, I know it's last minute and you're busy and, if that sweater is any indication at all, your husband is in need of immediate psychological attention, but I need you to work your magic, okay? I can't really talk right now, but there's an elf with a list."

"You realize that you're making even less sense than you normally do," she says, but it's just old habits dying hard, because this is Pepper, and she's still the only person in the world who speaks fluent Tony Stark.

"Just make it happen, Pep, alright?"

She throws up her hands. "Fine." Then her head tilts, just slightly, and she raises an eyebrow, the eyebrow of doom, and he knows he hasn't gotten off that easy. "Careful, Tony. Your reformed Grinch is showing."

"So funny, you're hysterical, really, you should take this show on the road." His phone flashes furiously – literally, it's Fury on the other line – and he opens his mouth to make a quick getaway, but she just smiles and shakes her head.

"Go, go. Evil waits for no genius billionaire playboy philanthropist. Though… how's that 'playboy' part coming along?"

"Okay, love you, bye-bye," he singsongs, and switches over.

"Stark," Fury rumbles.

Tony gives a little bow to mask his epic eyeroll. "My liege."

"You're downtown. Macy's?"

"We can be back in twenty," Tony says. "I just have to rescue Cap from the Lollipop Guild."

"Don't bother, you're already on site. The puppets from the Christmas windows are alive and on the loose. They are now using people as puppets. I'm sure I don't need to explain the logistics."

Out of nowhere Steve clears his throat and claps a hand on Tony's shoulder, shield already strapped to his other arm, and it's only then that Tony hears the faint sounds of screaming. If it's at all possible, Fury's eye becomes infinitely more judgmental. "Hope you've got your briefcase."

He spots the overly-thankful mom on their way out and reaches frantically into his pocket again. "What do you do?" he says, still moving toward the exit. "Your job, what do you do?"

"I'm… I was an accountant."

He nods and flings the card like a frisbee – not quite Steve, but it'll do. "Give me a call on Monday."

They sprint down sixteen flights of stairs, and Tony can't help but chuckle. "That went well, don't you think?"

"Ignore him. We had the day off."

"Not Mein Fury, please, though I'm so telling him you said that." Tony takes half a flight in two big steps. "That scene back there. You, in the midst of Munchkinland."

The sudden flush in Steve's cheeks may be exertion, but Tony sincerely doubts it. "I have no idea what happened back there. They're kids, they're supposed to want to see Santa."

He doesn't bother with the treads anymore, just drops from landing to landing on the last two flights, leaving Tony scrambling to catch up. And he still has to get the suit.

"Sweetie," he says, working on the fire door to the garage, "Santa's a fairy tale, and fairy tales aren't real. You, on the other hand, you're a true story, and not even the bad made-for-TV-movie kind. Those kids just know the real thing when they see it."

The door pops open, and he pulls Steve in by the scruff of his neck, plants a kiss on his stunned mouth, and pats his very shapely posterior for good measure.

"Glad that's settled. Now go track down Pinocchio and kick his stringless ass."

---

And he'd thought the Potts-Hogan tree was huge.

The night before Christmas, Steve comes home with a fifteen foot fir strapped to his back, smiling wider than Tony's ever seen him. Even with the manor's soaring first-story ceilings, it'll be a pain to squeeze a star on top. Thor will probably have to fly it up there as it is.

"This is awfully ungreen of you, Steven," Tony says, clucking his tongue while Clint rolls his eyes.

"He's Captain America, not Captain Planet." He shoves a mini candy cane into his mouth, whole. "Fake trees are bullshit."

Bruce comes in carrying a box bigger than he is. As Bruce, anyway. "Not the way I would've put it, but I have to agree with Clint," he says. "It's just not the same."

Thor carries a squirming Jane through the doorway, a sight made infinitely more amusing by the fact that she's currently carrying a belly full of Asgardian offspring. "Honey, don't… Would you stop?" She wriggles futilely. "I'm pregnant, not paralyzed."

He deposits her lovingly on the couch, and, okay, Tony knows that Thor is the god of fertility, but this may be pushing it. Jane is a tiny, tiny woman, and there does seem to be quite a bit of baby in there, and he can't help but wonder about the weight distribution – even seated, she looks like she might topple forward at any moment.

Steve starts unpacking the bottomless box, pulling out strings of lights and blown glass balls and about half a ton of tinsel. "Tony, you want to get a fire going?"

"Jarvis, fireplace," he says, and sees it roar to life out of the corner of his eye. "Shouldn't we have done this sometime before today?"

"We always put up the tree Christmas Eve, once she got off work," Steve says, holding a stack of colorful foil strips. "It was tradition."

"Exactly how many traditions did you have?"

Natasha brings in a big bowl of popcorn and plops onto the couch next to Clint. She grabs a healthy handful and trickles the kernels into her mouth, and it's disturbingly hot, like approximately eighty-nine percent of everything she does.

"No concern at all about keeping the girlish figure, is there?"

She swallows deliberately and arches one eyebrow. "I don't know, Tony, how do you keep yours?"

Clint chokes on his candy cane, and she pounds him on the back and keeps her eyes on Tony and never blinks once, and this would be the other eleven percent, the percentage that's just plain disturbing.

Thor has managed to get his hands tangled in a line of chasing lights. "Brother," he says to Steve, pausing to frown at the twinkling wound around his wrists, "this is truly a kind and noble gesture. But the fruit of my loins will not arrive until the third month of your strange Midgardian calendar. While I grow tired of waiting, it is yet premature to celebrate in his honor."

Bruce pinches the bridge of his nose. "Thor, that's not… I thought we went over this. The seasonal celebration is, well – "

"Christmas is for another holy kid," Clint says. "Pop yours out on a Thursday, we'll all rejoice then."

Steve starts doling out orders like a festive drill sergeant – Clint's stringing cranberries and Natasha what's left of the popcorn, Thor is winding lights around the tree, Bruce is strategically placing tinsel. Jane is systematically attaching hooks to hundreds of ornaments, which means she doesn't have to move much at all. And Tony finds himself sitting next to Steve with a grin and a glue stick, making endless chains of pretty paper links from the foil.

Aside from the papercuts, it's pretty damn cozy. Even the carols streaming from the sound system are a little less annoying, especially when Clint tears up during "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and stabs himself with his cranberry needle. (Tony snickers, Clint snaps, "It's the message, alright?," and Steve nods in agreement and murmurs, "It's okay, I get it, " while surreptitiously shoving Tony in the side.)

Which makes it that much more annoying when the chorus of ringtones starts.

Before anyone can answer, Jarvis breaks into the music.

"Sorry to interrupt, sir, but the lawn reindeer have breached the perimeter and appear to be on attack," he says, and Tony sighs and lets his links flutter to the ground.

"Of course they are." Getting up, he glares at Thor. "I really hate your brother."

"See," Clint says, still sounding a little sniffly, "I told you the inflatable Frosty was the way to go."

---

The reindeer are just a diversion – they've barely got it covered when they get called in for decorative snowflakes terrorizing Long Island Chinese throwing star-style, a possessed life-sized nativity scene in Central Park West (and he really doesn't want to dwell on what the baby Jesus had hidden in his manger), golden rings of fire circling all five boroughs, and a giant styrofoam Santa scaling the Chrysler Building like King Kong.

"Just think," Tony tells Clint wearily, "that could've been Frosty."

By the time they get in, the sun is setting on Christmas Day. They grab Chinese takeout, since the kitchen is still destroyed, but the tree is half-decorated, there are no wrapped gifts waiting underneath, and no one has enough energy to care.

Okay, one someone cares. And he's trying not to show it, but he's kind of the most important someone, and Tony feels helpless (a feeling he thoroughly despises, since he has so little practice at it) and hates Loki more than ever.

Steve flops facedown on the bed. His hair, Tony notices, is slightly singed at the edges.

"Well, this has been a disaster."

"I think 'disaster' is a little strong, don't you?" Tony says. "I mean, you did the whole meet-and-greet with your adoring midget fans, and the whole house smells like tree. And Clint stabbed himself, which is always a plus."

"Thanks for trying, Tony." Steve's voice is drowning in the duvet, and he rolls over with a groan. "Can we just… go to bed and forget this whole thing ever happened?"

His tone tugs at something in Tony's chest, and damn Pepper for putting thoughts in his head, because he can't be sure it isn't the feel of his heart growing three sizes or something equally medically impossible, and suddenly he needs a plan.

"Sure, yeah, I am always up for bed," he says. "But you might wanna change? And you should probably shower, you smell like smoke and burnt styrofoam and you're kind of making soot angels on the silk."

"Oh geez, sorry," Steve says, and scrambles off the bed, and Tony shakes his head and says, "Relax, shit, I didn't mean it like – " and finally figures fuck it and grabs Steve and kisses him until he calms down.

"Go take a soak," he says. "Make it a nice long hot one, I won't even get in to distract you. Okay?"

Steve nods against his lips. "Okay."

He heads for the bathroom, and Tony heads downstairs to find his inner Santa. Or at the very least, a Scrooge that's not a duck.

---

Steve is sleeping like the dead when he creeps back in to set up, which suits his plans just fine. He's raided the manor's now-sizeable stash of holiday paraphernalia – some lights, some tinsel, some branches from the back of the tree that almost nobody will miss (because Bruce will notice, eventually. Bruce notices everything.). A big red bow Steve had snuck past him at some point and stuck to the top of Dummy's head.

After a quick shower and a little personal prep, he's all set.

"Steve." He rubs a finger along Steve's nose, then gently shakes his shoulder. "Come on, sleepyhead, up and at 'em. You have to open your present."

"Tony, wha…" Steve grumbles. "It's like three a.m."

"Four, actually," Tony says, and slaps him on the ass. "And I am not getting any younger. Let's go, up up up, or I'll make Jarvis crank the metal. I'm serious, I have the Skynyrd on standby."

Steve sits up, wiping at his eyes in a way that makes him look about twelve. "Oh my god," he yawns, "how are you this insane?"

"All part of my charm, admit it, that's why you love me."

"I have my reasons, but I don't think that's – " Steve starts, then stops cold when he sees the room.

There's a hanging curtain of popcorn and cranberries, and the paper chains are taped to the walls like a laser matrix made of glitter, and the tiny tree makes Charlie Brown's look majestic – a scraggly bunch of branches he's shoved through a piece of painted PVC, wrapped in red, white, and blue lights, and coated in a vomitus clump of tinsel, the bow clinging crookedly to the top.

As it turns out, he's really bad at this.

But Steve's face is like a gift, gorgeous and bright, so he must've done something right.

Steve climbs out of bed, goes over to touch the tree, and turns back with a grin that just might split his face in two. "Tony, this is… hideous," he laughs. Then he comes close and curls his fingers into Tony's hair. "Thank you."

Tony shrugs. "It's nothing, it's stupid, whatever."

"And that woman the other day? Was that nothing?"

"Strategy," Tony says. "I liked her, I've got a good feeling about her, I think she'll make a good addition to Initiative Corporate. And somebody's gotta sort out that tree mess, have you seen our tab from the city?"

Steve nods. "That sounds reasonable enough. So what about the kids?" Tony opens his mouth, closes it, and opens it again. "Pepper called earlier, said to tell you that everything was taken care of. I was curious. Four hundred kids, Tony?"

"Your point being? Why does everybody think the 'philanthropist' part is just thrown in there to sound good?" He means to leave it at that, but Steve shoots him a look, and Tony sings like a canary. "What, what, what was I supposed to do? The kids are there, they're seeing Santa, they've got visions of whatever dancing in their heads, their parents are too busy trying to feed them, and then there's you. So they wake up Christmas morning, they don't get what they asked Santa for, they're scarred for life, and they think Captain America let it happen."

Steve's eyes go all sappy and sympathetic. "Oh, Tony."

"Fuck, I hate Christmas," Tony mumbles, and sinks down to the bed. "It's so fucking disappointing. And I don't need a special day to celebrate disappointment, Steve, I do that every other day of the year. You had your mom and your traditions and all the 'god bless us, every one' in the world, I get that. But I didn't. I had a drunk father and a depressed mother and a pile of crap underneath the tree that didn't make anything any better, and I know that basically boils down to poor little rich boy whining, but there it is. So this is how I do Christmas, this is what Christmas means to me. I pay people and I buy things, and if Pepper points me at a children's wing or a soup kitchen or a thousand fucking food baskets, I do that too. And then I shut the hell up until it's time to do it all again."

Steve sits down next to him and puts a hand on his leg, warm through the thin layer of his robe. "I'm sorry that's what it was like for you, I really am. But I don't think that's how you do Christmas at all. Not anymore."

"Well no, now there's this," Tony says, sweeping a hand around the room. "Which is just delightful, thanks for that."

"What'd you get Clint for Christmas, Tony?"

"Nothing," Tony snorts. "I guess I finished his pressure-sensitive targeting system last week, it was hell trying to get the microsensors to report any kind of accurate data once it got down to millimeters, but I wouldn't say that's for – "

"Mmhmm," Steve interjects. "And Bruce?"

"You know, I've been adapting the ultraflex fiber Richards designed for his team, but that's just, I mean, the purple's gotta go and we're all pretty tired of seeing his jolly green giant."

"Just listen to yourself for a second," Steve says, squeezing his thigh. "These aren't things you paid anybody for. You're giving people meaningful gifts, because they mean something to you."

Tony blinks. "Well, okay, put that way… nope, still doesn't mean Clint's getting a gift from me."

Steve doesn't laugh, damn him. Doesn't even crack a smile. "The holidays are important to me because they mean family. My mom, Bucky… now you. All of you. And you can joke all you want, Tony, but we're your family, too. Maybe this is the new way you do Christmas, and you can make it mean something better."

There are tears in Tony's eyes, honest-to-god tears. And since Tony Stark doesn't cry, he puts a hand on Steve's face and leans forward to his lips and stays there until they're gone.

"I mean it," Steve says. "Thank you. Best present ever."

Tony smirks. "Oh, honey, it's cute that you think this hot mess is your present, but when I give, I give myself."

He stands up and strips the robe off, and the sight of Steve laughing like he doesn't have a care in the world is enough to make up for all of this.

"I take it back," Steve chokes out, wiping at his eyes. "How are you this insane?"

"I know, it's a good look, right?" Tony strikes a pose, hands on his hips, and the little bell on the mistletoe jingles. "Not actually edible, don't eat it, I'd rather not poison you with my penis, thanks. But I can work on it for next year, come up with something. Cranberries, maybe some parsley for color. And I'm thinking chocolate for Valentine's Day. Something that melts in your mouth and in your hands."

Steve only laughs louder, full-on clutching at his sides. "How did you even..."

"Very dirty mind and very carefully-placed double stick tape." He waggles his eyebrows and spreads his arms wide. "Welcome to the sixty-ninth Christmas. And, okay, I know you hail from a bygone era, but if that one's over your head, I honestly don't know what to do with you."

Then he climbs onto the bed and sprawls over Steve, who's smiling with shining eyes and hands that are already slipping lower, and it's all some sort of a Christmas miracle.

"Except, of course, demonstrate."