Tony really, really hates these kinds of parties (the really fancy ones where he's the host, has to wear a boring black tie, and behave). Even if it is a Christmas -- no, sorry, holiday -- party, complete with lights and ice sculptures
It's kind of essential for him to go, unfortunately, due to the whole Avenging thing he's somehow gotten himself into. Steve has to go, too, but Clint and Thor are banned, and Bruce is excused if he frowns enough. Natasha goes of her own free will, seemingly, just like Pepper.
Ah, Pepper. Who is standing next to the bar (strategically, probably) and chatting with Coulson. Who looks very stunning in her red, lacy dress. Who Tony is hiding fro -- no, avoiding. Kind of, unless you ask him, because then he's certainly not avoiding anyone, he's Iron Man, he's brave and fearless and -- oh, cocktails.
"Excuse me," Tony calls as he steps out from behind his potted plant and makes a beeline for the drinks that are currently not being blocked by his ex-girlfriend. "Excuse -- oh, uh." He stops in his tracks, because now the drinks are being blocked by the Black Widow, and that's almost worse.
"Good evening, Stark," Natasha says in a way eerily reminiscent of her time as Natalie Rushman minus the "Mr." Tony fights the impulse to run and crosses his arms instead.
"Yeah, hi," he says, "I know, we should be bonding as a team or whatever Coulson said, but maybe you can bond with Steve over there while I go get a drink --"
"Would you like to dance?" Natasha says suddenly. Tony blinks and, of course, instantly checks her out like he's been trying not to for months. She's wearing a steely, dark gray dress in some shiny material and heels that would make Tony marvel at how she walks if he hadn't worn lifts before.
"So, you can go do that, and I'll go get a drink or four, and when I’m finished, I can come over and be buddy-buddy with -- you did say dance, right? As in dancing? As in swaying from side to side and making eye contact or touching or whatever? What? Why?" He frowns at her. "Is this a trap?"
"Steve doesn't dance," she says, which doesn't answer his question at all. "Come on." And, to his surprise, Natasha gently takes his hand and leads him onto the dance floor. There's some Christmassy, jazzy tune playing that he doesn't particularly like, but it's good enough for the pretentious crowd and their pretentious dancing.
"This is actually happening," he says in disbelief as she places one of his hands on her hip and the other on her shoulder. "I'm dancing with you, and I'm not dead."
"You do know I can hear you, right?" she says with a quirk of her red-lips. Tony's stomach twists into an uncomfortable knot. Oh, he is so screwed.
"Clint isn't going to shoot me halfway through the song, is he?" he asks. She laughs.
"I can dance with whoever I want," Natasha says pointedly. Tony goes speechless at that (actually speechless, for a moment he can't say anything) and just stares at her. "That's getting creepy, you know," she says. "The staring thing."
"Sorry," he mutters, then blurts out, "why do you come to these parties, anyways?" He probably shouldn't have asked that, but she apparently wants to dance with him, so, what the hell?
Natasha just shrugs. "Guess I'm taking one for the team, as Steve would say. Or maybe I'm keeping an eye on you. Both of you."
"Or maybe you're going to kill me and make it look like an accident," he sing-songs.
"Or maybe I just wanted to dance with you," she says, and the song takes that moment to end. She smiles, small, tiny, and just for him, and Tony laughs.
"Wish granted," Tony says, relaxing a little. "And I didn't even step on your feet, look at that! I’m a proper gentleman."
"Aren't you always?" she replies dryly.
For the rest of the night they keep each other company, making fun of the rich and stuck-up guests, trying the strangest of the hors d'oeuvres, and strategically hiding behind people (okay, mostly Steve, because he's tall) or plants from Pepper. It's kind of, no, it's really weird, and Tony isn't sure what to think. He’s distracted enough that he almost forgets to over-think it. By the time the night is over and the people are leaving (his favorite part), Tony has barely given Natasha a second thought.
The two of them are the last out of the room. She stops him in the doorway with a strange, faint smile on her face.
"Mistletoe," she says, looking upwards. And, what do you know, there is mistletoe, Tony should hire new decorators --
Natasha leans forward to press a soft, chaste kiss to Tony's lips and pulls back a moment later.
"Merry Christmas, Stark," she says brightly before she steps out from under the mistletoe.
"What the hell?" Tony breathes as she walks away, but he smiles and feels kind of warm inside (no, really, what the hell?) and, okay, maybe Natasha isn't as frightening as he's always thought.
Really, what it comes down to is that someone out there really, really hates him. (Well, a lot of someone’s. There's a list. And probably a waiting list for that list as well.) It shouldn't be a surprise that Tony would be the one to walk into the kitchen at 4:53 AM, grease on his hands and his face, and be confronted with Clint. Baking cookies. In a purple apron. And…barely anything else.
"Eeek," Tony squeaks. He didn't know he could squeak.
"Stark," Clint growls as he turns around. "Don't you dare touch a single cookie. I have them numbered. I will know." Clint waves a spatula at him, and Tony's eyes follow the little bit of dough that flies off. Clint narrows his eyes at him, but Tony just gapes. He's really glad Clint is at least wearing boxers. And…socks, for some reason.
"You're half-naked and baking," he says out loud. "In my kitchen. Wearing socks."
"No shit, Sherlock."
There is a long, awkward pause.
"Is this, like, your version of masturbating?" Tony asks. "Because I can leave. If it's a private thing."
Clint throws a cookie at him. Tony catches it automatically and shoves it into his mouth. It's sweet (okay, duh) and covered in powdered sugar, with a maraschino cherry in the middle.
"Oh my god," Tony says through his mouthful of cookie. "What is this? Oh my god. I've never had a Christmas cookie like this. That was amazing. That was magical. Who said you didn't have superpowers? You can bake cookies. You are beautiful." Clint turns with a smirk, purposefully flashing more skin underneath the apron, and Tony mentally amends his last statement with "in every way." What? He's only human.
"It's called a snowball," Clint explains with his self-satisfied smirk. "Couldn't sleep. I thought I'd make cookies. Christmas is in a week, anyways."
"That's a dumb name for a cookie," Tony points out.
"They're Coulson's favorites," Clint shrugs. He grabs a few different kinds of cookies and shoves them onto a plate that he pushes in front of Tony. "These are Natasha's, peanut butter and chocolate," he continues, pointing to peanut butter cookies with Hershey's kisses in the center, "and Fury's only weakness is these sugar cookies."
"Holy shit," Tony mutters as he bites into the freshly iced sugar cookie, "I didn’t know sugar cookies could taste good. I'm amending your position on the team from sharpshooter to Team Cook."
Clint snorts. "You wouldn't want that," he promises, leaving Tony alone with the cookies to pull out the last batch and turn off the stove. “Baking and cooking are two different things.” Tony makes an inappropriate moaning noise around his next cookie. "Jesus, Stark," Clint laughs. He crosses his arms over his apron-ed chest and grabs for the pile of dirty bowls and measuring cups. "At least help me clean up. What are you even doing in here?"
"Ah, coffee," Tony says after he finishes the last cookie. He bolts out of his chair towards the coffee maker. "Coffee. The maker in the shop ran out of beans. Jarvis turned on the one up here for me."
"Shouldn't you be in bed?" Clint says with a raised eyebrow.
"Shouldn't you be wearing a shirt?"
"Hm, no," Clint says, brushing flour off his purple apron and leering at Tony. "Shirts are totally optional." He steps forward to tap Tony in the chest with his spatula.
"Well, why don't -- oh, fuck," Tony groans as his eyes travel upwards to the ceiling fan, where some dick has hung mistletoe (probably Bruce, who has a hidden mischievous nature that both frightens and delights Tony). "Actually, never mind," he says, stepping backwards into the counter as Clint looks upwards. "Wow, coffee, I love coffee, do you want any coffee?" he babbles as he pours himself a large cup of coffee from the coffee maker.
"Stark," Clint laughs, and turns him around by the shoulders, "Tony," and he steps forward and winks.
"Jesus Christ," Tony says, and then smiles, "What the hell?" He leans forwards (and upwards, but he doesn't like to focus on that) and kisses Clint. Clint, the douchebag that he is, opens his mouth and kisses him in a way that's positively filthy, opening his mouth so Tony can taste the sugar on his tongue. Tony puts his hands onto Clint's bare shoulders and leans in a little.
They're interrupted by a loud sigh. Tony pulls back abruptly and turns bright red to see that it's Coulson, standing in the kitchen doorway, looking utterly nonchalant. Tony's mouth opens and closes wordlessly.
"Good morning, Barton," Coulson nods as Clint hands him a cup of coffee -- Tony's cup of coffee, which he had apparently taken from the counter while Tony was busy being flabbergasted, the jerk -- and salutes him seriously.
"Morning, Coulson," he replies casually, pulling off his apron and hanging it over a peg before leaving the kitchen as if none of it had happened. Tony stares at the empty doorway for a long moment after Clint leaves. (And it's not because he's hot, even though he is.)
"If you keep making that face, it will stick that way," Coulson says over his coffee and newspaper.
Tony likes to play music in his lab. Bruce likes to listen to music, too, but not Tony's music. For some reason, be it explosions or The Buddy System or the intervention of Coulson and his Team Bonding, they end up working in the same lab-slash-workshop-slash-Man-Cave. (As in Iron Man Cave, in case Natasha raises and eyebrow and says "man?" in that skeptical tone that still sends Tony running.)
Bruce, as it turns out, is not above using the Other Guy as an excuse to choose the music, which would annoy the hell out of Tony if he wasn't encouraging him to do just that all the time. (He's also not above using his infamous Puppy Dog Eyes.)
That's how they start listening to the radio.
Tony hums under his breath distractedly as he works, mind running equations and processes and whatever else his genius brain can do. "It’s for the best you didn't listen," he hums under his breath as he works, "It's for the best we get our distance...mmhmmm…Oh, fuck," he says with vehemence as the song fades into the next.
"Are you okay?" Bruce calls from his side, the lab.
"It's," Tony slides off the workbench and gets to his feet. "Christmas music," he growls in a venomous tone. Bruce gets an amused look and instantly tries to hide it, sneaky little thing that he is. Tony sighs and narrows his eyes at Bruce to let him know that he doesn't fool him.
"Ah," Bruce nods, "Jarvis, play one of our stations that isn't playing Christmas music." There is a brief pause where Tony glares at the nearest speaker, which still hasn't stopped playing the evil, evil music.
"I’m sorry, doctor, but they're all playing Christmas music," Jarvis replies. Tony lets out a strangled scream and storms out of the workshop/lab.
"Tony!" Bruce calls after him.
Tony yells, "I'm going to buy my own radio station," as he runs up the stairs. Bruce just sighs -- seriously, why does everyone act like he's a constant threat when he's so adorable? -- and retreats into the lab.
Later, after Pepper has talked Tony down from buying a radio station over the phone ("It will all end in less than a week," she promises him over the phone, but she's lying, she's been captured by some evil Christmas-loving supervillain who is going to take over the world with Christmas music -- hey, there's an idea. Tony whines until she sighs, tells him to deal with it, and hangs up.), he finally gives up on that endeavor.
He has a cup of coffee, steals some of Clint's cookies from Coulson's plate in the TV room (they "help him get through paperwork," apparently, as he's still barred from field duty), and watches the rest of the episode of Dog Cops playing to pass the time. Then, he gets a really good idea for this thing to add to the…thing he's been building.
"Coulson, keep an eye out for supervillains who try to take over the world with Christmas music," he says as he retreats during the commercials.
"Will do," Coulson replies, never tearing his eyes away from Sergeant Whiskers on the screen.
Tony runs through numbers in his head and mutters to himself as he heads down the stairs to the workshop/lab. He doesn't even notice what's going on until he's already through the door and on his way to his workstation.
"-- don't want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I need. I don't care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree." Tony stops and stares, because Bruce is singing. And dancing. (Badly, he notes with some glee.)
"Oh my god," Tony whispers, "I was right."
"I don't need to hang my stocking there upon the firepla -- oh, god," Bruce says, turning to see Tony standing on the other side of the table. Jarvis doesn't shut off the music, which makes him feel more than a little bit ridiculous.
"No, no," Tony says, waving his hand, "I'm just going to --" he begins to back up towards the door.
"I --" Bruce stammers, "uh, I --"
"Just want you for my own, more than you could ever know?" Tony quips, biting into a smile. "No, no, I know, I'm sorry, you can--"
Bruce narrows his eyes. "Make my wish come true?"
They stare each other down for a very long moment, so long that Tony starts running equations again.
"BABY, ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOUUUU," they sing together as the song comes back to the chorus.
"God, I hate myself," Tony mutters as Jarvis turns up the music.
"Don't we all?" Bruce adds, stepping forward to take Tony's hand -- what the fuck, why does this keep happening to him? -- and swing him around to the music.
"I won't ask for much this Christmas, I won't even wish for snow," they sing as they prance around the lab.
Tony laughs as Bruce dips him, "And I'm just gonna keep on waiting, underneath the mistle -- FUCK," as he looks up, up to the ceiling of his traitorous lab, to see the dreaded item itself.
Bruce looks up and laughs when Tony squirms out of his grip.
"Why does this keep happening to me?" Tony mutters. "This is becoming a Coincidence, and I hate Coincidences."
"Not sure if I should be offended or not," Bruce jokes with an attempted smile, but he looks a little…sad, really. Oh, no, oh, no, no, no…
"Oh, come here," Tony says as he grabs Bruce's collar and pulls him in. He waits until Bruce nods before he leans in for the kiss. He's a surprisingly good kisser, a really good kisser, actually, top five, at least (top three if the music was better). Bruce kisses him hungrily, brings his hands up to cradle Tony’s face, and closes his eyes. He isn’t too sloppy, and he even bites Tony’s bottom lip a little with a smile. Tony's brain finally catches up enough to realize that he's kind of making out with the guy who notoriously Hulks out over sexual excitement, but he doesn't really care.
"Wow," Bruce says with a gulp when Tony finally releases him, "Happy Hanukah, Christmas, and Festivus all in one."
"I'll take that as a compliment," Tony smirks as he skips past Bruce to finally get back to the …thing, which he has somehow completely forgotten the purpose of.
"Tony!" Thor booms. "TONY!"
Tony jolts out of bed, looking around for the scene of disaster and destruction that should excuse him being awakened at such an ungodly hour.
"Ugrph," Tony says when he sees nothing but Thor, in his pajamas, standing in the doorway to his bedroom. "Hrmph?"
"IT IS CHRISTMAS MORNING!" Thor laughs and claps his hands together. "There are presents, my friend! Come, Coulson says that we may not open them until all are present." He smiles at his little pun.
"Does he now?" Tony groans as Thor pulls him out of the room and towards the TV room before he can even get dressed. "Whoa, what the hell, I'm not even wearing a proper shirt," he protests, thankful at least that he's wearing pajama pants and a thin white tank top. "Thor--" Tony protests, but they're already in the room, where the rest of the Avengers are sitting on the floor, in chairs, or couches, in various states of dress (Coulson is wearing his immaculate suit, as always). Tony wonders how much of it is due to Thor's excitement, and how much to their laziness.
"What happened to 'shouldn't you be wearing a shirt,' Stark?" Clint calls from across the room. Tony sticks out his tongue.
"I got the perfect thing for that," Natasha smiles as she picks a present from underneath the tree and slides it across the floor to him. He sighs and unwraps the gift. It's a…a…
"A horrible, hideous, horrendous Christmas sweater," Tony says, and pulls it over his head.
"I'll take the alliteration as a compliment," Natasha says, and hands her next gift to Clint, who lets out a childish squeal.
"Aw, you shouldn't have."
It's…actually kind of nice, not that Tony will ever admit it, but he likes it. Christmas has always kind of sucked, but this doesn't suck. He gets a Wal*Mart gift card from Clint, the cheeky jerk ("Buy yourself something for once, Stark."), a watch from Steve, a Hulk-patterned tie from Bruce ("Are you getting money from them using your likeness?"), and a stress ball from Coulson.
"It's…used," Tony says, because it's kind of…squished flat.
"Yes," Coulson says in a flat tone. Tony blanches for a moment, until Coulson smiles -- a wide, real, actual smile, not one of those polite ones Tony has seen him throw around to disarm people -- and pulls another gift out from behind a pillow. It's a teddy bear. A Captain America teddy bear.
Tony instantly begins to blush.
"I am so sorry," Coulson mutters to Steve, who just laughs.
"It's worth it," Steve chuckles, and Tony frowns.
"Worth it --?" But Clint has already pulled out his phone to show an old, black and white photo of Tony, as a child, hugging a Captain America bear. As far as childhood memories go, it's not a bad one.
"I thought I destroyed all evidence of Beary -- hi, Thor," Tony says as Thor appears right next to him with his present.
"Beary?" Clint snorts, "You built, like, robots? And you named him Beary?"
"I do not have a history of naming things well, Hawkeye," Tony spits across the room. "Have you met my bots? At least I didn't name him Steve, because then I technically would have spent most of my childhood sleeping with Steve, and that's just --"
"There's something seriously wrong with all of you," Steve groans into his hands. Natasha pats him on the back.
"Whoa, poptarts," Tony says as he tears the paper off the poptarts, "thanks, Thor, these are really --"
"Brown Sugar Cinnamon is my favorite," Thor says triumphantly. Tony grins up at him.
"Thanks buddy, these are great, I love poptarts." Thor smiles, feeling pleased with himself, and then moves on to give Coulson a round object that turns out to be a chocolate orange.
When the floor is littered with wrapping paper and they've all stolen a piece of Coulson's chocolate orange, Clint claps his hands together and says that he made cinnamon rolls last night that should go into the oven for a proper breakfast.
"Will there be coffee?" Tony asks, and everyone gives him a look, because of course there will be coffee.
Of course, when he and Thor step through the archway from the TV room to the hallway together, Tony glances up, and, sure enough --
"MISTLETOE!" Thor booms, making everyone stop in their tracks and turn to stare at them. "I have heard of this tradition!" Thor says happily. "I have been informed that it is a fine Midgardian custom to kiss whosoever steps underneath the plant."
"It's also a Midgardian custom to never, ever, ever actually do that," Tony says in a high voice. Thor frowns at him.
"That's never stopped you," Bruce points out. Tony turns to glare at him. He glares right back.
When Tony turns, Thor looks a little…heartbroken? No, not heartbroken. Confused?
"Alright, big guy, just don't crush me," Tony says, because it's a genuine concern. Thor leans down (really leans down), and carefully, carefully, kisses him. It's kind of scratchy (which Tony supposes kissing him is like, anyways), but Thor isn't sloppy or overeager, as Tony had imagined. It's also kind of nice, considering that Thor literally has the abs of a god and Tony is, as he keeps reminding himself, only human.
He hears Clint say, "Well, now I just feel like a whore," from the side of the room. Bruce laughs his assent.
"Thank you," Thor says as he claps Tony on the shoulder and steps away with a smile on his face. "I am honored to have participated in this tradition with you."
"You're not so bad yourself, big guy," Tony says, punching him on the arm. When he turns to look at the others, Bruce and Clint are kind of…squinting at each other. Coulson is staring at the floor. Natasha just smiles.
Yeah, he's revising all previous statements otherwise. Christmas is terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.
Tony spends the rest of Christmas on high alert, taking down the evil mistletoe whenever he happens across it and stuffing it into the trash can because no, he will not defile a(nother) national hero. When he catches Clint putting up one of the discarded sprigs of mistletoe, he just looses it.
"You--" he starts, and shakes his head to clear it.
"Sorry?" Clint says innocently.
"But, you--" he continues.
"Stark, are you broken?"
"It was you," he whispers, pointing an accusing finger. Clint finishes attaching the mistletoe and steps off the chair. Tony looks up, finds a spot without any mistletoe, and takes a careful step back.
"It’s not my fault if it hasn’t happened yet,” Clint leers, "remember that." He cackles, evilly, and Tony wonders if maybe Clint is his new nemesis or something. Nah, he thinks, that'd be weird.
Tony replies by running out of the room, shrieking.
"Tony?" Steve calls as he pops his head out of his room when Tony runs past. "Is everything okay?" he sounds concerned, so Tony looks up (all clear) and stops.
"Clint," Tony breathes heavily, "he's -- it's --" and starts backing up against the wall when Steve takes a step towards him. "No," he whispers, breaking off at a run towards the elevator.
When the doors slide open, Pepper's standing with there, looking nice in a comfy Christmas sweater with her hair up in a ponytail -- and mistletoe over the doors. Tony takes a step back.
"NO!" he yells, and Pepper's face gets that pinched look he sees a lot.
"Tony," she starts, but he holds both his fingers together in a cross. "What are you doing this time?"
"It's Clint," Tony gasps, "mistletoe," and backs away from her as she takes a step towards him.
"Oof," he says as he runs into Steve's massive chest.
"Oh, thank god the hallway is clear," Tony says as he turns to Steve, who glances up automatically and stays there with his eyes glued to the ceiling. Tony doesn’t dare look up. "Right?" Steve doesn’t say a word. “Right?”
Tony looks straight up and meets Clint's eye where his head is sticking out of the air vents with a sprig of mistletoe clenched in his hand directly over Steve and Tony's head.
"Oh," Tony says, shutting his eyes and opening them again. "Oh, oh, this is like my favorite dream gone so, so wrong."
"Favorite dream?" Steve says, looking down at Tony and quirking an eyebrow at him. Pepper lets out a tittering laugh, the traitor.
"Shut up and kiss him, Steve," Clint cheers, "it's not that bad."
"I'm not going to kiss him if he doesn't want to kiss me," Steve says with a sigh. Then, his eyebrows knit together. "What do you mean, 'not that bad'?"
Tony sighs, stands on his tiptoes, and pulls Steve's head down a little to press their lips together. Steve smiles into the kiss and cups Tony's face in his hands (holy shit, holy shit, goes his internal monologue) and Tony runs a hand through Steve's blonde hair. Clint wolf-whistles, Pepper's camera goes off, and someone makes a very disturbed sound from the other end of the hallway (his bets are on Coulson, but Tony doesn't want to think about Coulson right now).
When it's finished and they pull back, mouths red and throbbing, Steve takes a step away. He smoothes down his hair and utterly fails at hiding his grin.
"Unnnh," Tony says articulately. He licks his lips and glances up. Clint disappears into the vents, cackling.
"Are you okay?" Pepper asks, coming forward to pat him on the back.
"It's over," Tony says weakly as he turns to her and lays his head on her shoulder. It's warm, and sweater-y, and smells nice. Like Pepper. (The person, not the seasoning.)
"That's nice, Tony, Happy Christmas," she says pleasantly, tapping him once on the head before leaving him alone in the hallway with Steve.
"Well," Tony says, nodding up at Steve. "Well, um. Um," he says significantly.
"Um," Steve replies with a smile.
"Um," Tony repeats, and flees.
And One He Didn’t.
It's New Year's Eve, NEW YEAR'S EVE!, and Tony has finally let his guard down just in time for the fireworks display. He tears Bruce away from the terrible TV-Movie he's watching, uses reverse psychology on Clint, asks Natasha nicely, and doesn't even have to ask Thor or Steve to come out onto the balcony. They take their sweet time getting their coats, unfortunately.
"Coulson!" Tony yells from the doorway, "come on! Fireworks!"
Coulson gets out of his armchair, sighs, and gets to his feet.
"You'll miss the section dedicated to Captain America if you don’t hurry," he says with a wink as Coulson takes his good old time putting on his coat. "Come on."
"Stark," Coulson says when he joins him in the doorway, "They haven't even started yet."
Tony stops and follows Coulson's eyes as they flicker up, over Tony's head. He looks up, stomach sinking in dread, as he sees the last, tiny, wilted sprig of mistletoe hanging there.
Tony looks back down, makes eye contact with Coulson, and leans in.
"No," Coulson says, shielding his face with his hand. "No."
And he leaves Tony in the doorway, alone, trying to reach the mistletoe so he can tear it down and stomp on it. He finally reaches it, and crushes it to a pulp before throwing it off his tower.
Clint still laughs at him.