It was almost midnight on Christmas Eve, and Steve Rogers sat alone on his couch in the small apartment SHIELD rented out for him in Brooklyn. Outside a gentle snow was falling – muffling but not entirely silencing the bustling sounds of the city. The bright glow of flashing lights leaked in through the cracks of the curtains from where celebratory decorations had been hung along the various buildings in a festive spirit.
Inside the small apartment, however, the only source of light came from the table lamp Steve was using as he read through the files SHIELD had gathered on the Avengers. The whole New York thing was months in the past, and the small group had long since parted ways after the shwarma meal Tony insisted they had to have as reward for their efforts. But there was always the chance they’d be called on again, and Steve liked knowing who he was working with to maximize strengths and form the most efficient strategies possible.
Even if he had the contents of each manila folder memorized by now.
Steve sighed and closed the classified folder in front of him, pushing it aside. He reached over to the small radio in the corner and turned the dial until a soft click indicated it had been turned on. Instantly his apartment was filled with melodies that he didn’t recognize, but knew to be Christmas music by their lyrics and background jingling. He wondered what everyone else was doing – if they even celebrated the holiday – and made a mental note to call and wish each of the Avengers a merry Christmas in the morning.
Because Steve still didn’t have a great hold on that whole texting thing, and person-to-person contact was better in his opinion. It seemed that during his suspended state of slumber the world had not only made a technological leap towards a future only dreamed of in his day, but people also lost much contact with each other.
Everyone in the twenty-first century was in a hurry, and texting had become the new form of communication by Steve’s understanding.
Steve contemplated going to bed, even to be there a few short hours before the serum would have him up again and well rested, when there was a loud knocking on his front door. The knocks were inconsistent and not quite urgent, though incredibly repetitive. The soldier looked to his clock to confirm the late hour and frowned before pushing away from the table to go answer.
While Steve hadn’t expected anyone in particular, he definitely didn’t expect to find Tony Stark on the other side. Not after the way their initial meeting had gone (a mutual handshake was how they parted once the alien invasion was dealt with, both agreeing to respect each other’s presence and benefits in the larger picture).
“Oh good, you’re awake,” Tony muttered with a loud exhale. He was covered in snow, and there was a small cut on his forehead that leaked a trail of blood all down the side of his face. “I had Jarvis find your address. SHIELD really needs to get better security, I swear. You grew up around here too, didn’t you?”
Steve nodded, eyebrows pulling together. “Tony, what are you doing here?” he asked. “Are you okay?” He felt his body shift to a more defensive posture and his more captain side come forefront. Tony was injured, and certainly rather drunk by the heavy odor of alcohol he gave off. And while Steve had read that Tony was a bit of an alcoholic, something seemed off.
Tony hummed and stumbled forward; Steve’s arms quickly shooting out to catch him like second nature. “I thought you may be lonely since it’s practically Christmas and all of your friends are long dead,” Tony answered. His face was smashed up against Steve’s chest now, but he didn’t seem all that concerned.
Oddly enough, neither was Steve.
“It’s cold outside,” Tony said. “You’re warm. Are you always this warm? Or are you not so warm but feel warm to me because I’m cold?” Tony looked up at Steve with unfocused eyes. Steve noticed little snowflakes clinging to the man’s lashes start to melt away as he blinked in wait of Steve’s reply.
“I’m not covered in snow,” Steve pointed out. He stepped back and gently pulled Tony into his apartment with him so he could close the door so as not to disturb his neighbors. “Did you walk here?”
“Nope.” Tony pulled away from Steve. “I drove, mostly. I crashed my car a few blocks away, though, so I walked the rest. I had to break into the building which was a lot easier than it should have been. You’re not really safe here. Well, you probably are, because you’re Captain America, but your stuff isn’t.” Tony rambled on. Steve was slightly surprised at how clear Tony’s speech was even when plastered.
“You crashed your car?” Steve asked with concern.
Tony rolled his eyes and waved his hand at Steve. “Don’t worry, Cap. I’m fine. I didn’t hit anyone. Probably totaled my car and took out a street lamp, but that’s okay because Pep gets bills all the time from shit I wreck.” The man moved to look around Steve and nearly lost his balance again.
Of course Steve caught him effortlessly and held him up. “Did you drive drunk?”
“Yes!” Tony gave Steve a lopsided grin. “Better than flying. Did that once – destroyed my house and slept in a giant donut.” Tony patted Steve’s arm. “Don’t frown at me like that, it’s sad.”
Steve sighed and brushed the snow from Tony’s head and shoulders with his free hand. “You’ll catch cold,” he said when Tony gave him a questioning look at his action. “You should have a warmer jacket on. And a hat and gloves, and probably a scarf.”
Tony scoffed. “You’re just like Pepper,” he grumbled. “I’m the invincible Iron Man, remember?”
Steve gave the man an unimpressed face. “Without the armor, you’re just Tony Stark.” He pointed out. “Who may be many things,” Tony scowled, “But invincible is not one of them.”
Tony smacked away the hand that Steve was supporting him with. “For a national hero, you’re kind of a real jerk,” he said. “And I’m not going to get sick, thanks. Contrary to popular belief I do take care of myself. Heart condition to keep on top of and all that.”
“I’m sorry,” Steve apologized. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“Whatever.” Tony looked around with better balance this time. “This is all SHIELD can provide for Captain America? My bathroom is bigger than this place! Fury’s a greedy bastard, isn’t he?”
With a shrug Steve answered, “I don’t mind it. I don’t need a big apartment when this one had everything I need.”
“Steve, this isn’t an apartment. This is a shoebox.” Tony huffed. “I’m surprised you even fit in here with all your muscles.”
Steve gave Tony the smallest of smiles. He could see the exhaustion in Tony’s eyes and wondered when the last time the man actually slept was. According to Col. Rhodes, it wasn’t often. “Would you like a drink?” he offered. “I’ve got water, milk, tea-“
“Coffee,” Tony blurted. “I would love coffee. Do you drink coffee? I doubt a super soldier needs the caffeine, but us normal people do.”
“I drink coffee,” Steve confirmed. He didn’t think it was the best choice for Tony at the moment, but with the way the billionaire’s mood was flipping, Steve wasn’t going to argue. “How about you sit, and I’ll make you some.”
Tony nodded quickly. “Yeah, okay.” He wandered off towards the living room and fell onto Steve’s couch. It was silent a whole five seconds before, “How come you don’t have any decorations up? Are you anti-Christmas, or something? ‘Cause that would be kind of hilarious, actually, given how you’re a national symbol and all.”
“I don’t have decorations to put up, or anyone to put them up for. It’s just me and I didn’t really plan on celebrating much of anything,” Steve replied as he filled the coffee pot up with water. May as well make a whole pot, not knowing how long Tony would be over. And Steve wasn’t about to send him back into the cold air when he was clearly tired and hurt.
Steve grabbed two mugs from the cupboard and set them on the counter. While the coffee brewed, the soldier went to the bathroom to get the small first aid kit he kept in his medicine cabinet for times like these.
He joined Tony in the living room and sat on the opposite side of the couch, setting the little kit on the coffee table. The blond turned the table lamp on then folded his legs beneath him, shifting to face Tony. “Come here,” he instructed softly.
Steve patted his lap. “Come over here and let me look at that cut.”
Tony’s hand lifted up, fingers brushing over the gash. He winced. “That explains the headache,” he mumbled to himself. “But I’m fine, Captastic.”
“Just come over here and let me look?” Steve asked again. He sighed. Patience. That’s what he needed with dealing Tony Stark. Endless patience. “Please.”
“Really, Stars ‘n Stripes, I’m a-okay. Fabulous. Fan-fuck-“
“Please don’t use that language,” Steve requested with a frown. “It’ll only take a minute.”
“You’ll only waste a minute,” Tony corrected. “It’s not even bleeding anymore.”
Steve’s face was unfaltering. “You can’t have your coffee until I look at that wound,” he told Tony.
Eyes narrowing, Tony half-glared. “That’s complete bullshit,” he said. But he slowly moved to a lying position and rested his head on Steve’s leg. “When they thawed you, they forgot your heart.”
Steve chose to ignore the comment, though it stung a bit. It was a typical Tony statement, holding no real meaning. Tony was drunk, tired, and in some kind of pain. Steve wouldn’t push him any further. Not tonight. Not on Christmas.
“Stay still, please,” Steve asked while reaching for his kit. He popped it open and pulled out the small packets of wet cloth. Gently, Steve stroked Tony’s hair back and out of his way, started when the man gave out a happy little sigh.
Steve opened a few of the packets and used them to wipe away the blood that had dried down the man’s face. He cleaned around the cut, careful not to actually make contact with the open skin – watching Tony’s face closely for any hints of pain. The billionaire’s eyes were shut, and his mouth a straight line, remaining quiet while Steve worked.
When Steve used a cotton ball to apply some antibacterial cream to the cut he noticed Tony’s eyes and nose scrunch up in pain. Without realizing, he started combing his fingers through Tony’s hair as a means of comfort. “I’m not a cat, Rogers. You better not ruin my hair.”
Steve smiled and pulled his hand away. “Looks just as insane as when you arrived.” He put a bandaid on top of the cut and let out a small breath of relief. The gash appeared a lot worse than it really was. “All done.”
Steve expected Tony to get up, but the man remained how he was. Instead, Tony turned to his side and scooted up until his head was completely in Steve’s lap with his hand on the man’s knee. “Thank you.”
“It’s no problem.”
“No, thank you,” Tony repeated with a bit more emphasis.
“For what?” Steve asked with confusion.
“For not asking,” Tony answered quietly. “For just…letting me in and making me coffee and treating me like you would any other jerk who came in the middle of the night to ruin your Christmas.”
“You didn’t ruin my Christmas,” Steve said. “And this isn’t how I would treat everyone.” He returned his hand to Tony’s hair without thinking. It was soft and smooth and kind of completely wonderful.
This time Tony didn’t say a word.
“If just anyone came to my door in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t make them coffee. That’s only for friends.”
Tony opened one eye and turned his head just enough to look up at Steve. “Are we?” He asked. “Friends, that is. You don’t completely hate my guts?”
Steve pretended to think. “Not completely,” he replied, giving Tony a small, playful smile.
“Good.” Tony shut his eye again.
In the kitchen, the coffee finished brewing, but Tony didn’t seem to care any longer. It seemed he was finally giving in to the sleep his body desperately longed for. Steve had figured Tony really was asleep when the man whispered, “Pepper and I broke up. Right before Christmas. She says I care more about being Iron Man than I do her.”
Well, that certainly explained a lot of this.
“Maybe I do,” Tony continued, “But Iron Man is more than a suit. He’s a hero. For once, I’m doing something good. I’m saving lives instead of destroying them like Howard and Obie. Iron Man is my chance to redeem myself for all the stupid shit I’ve done. I can’t just throw that away. I’m happy, you know?”
When Tony looked up at Steve this time, the soldier’s heart clenched. Tony’s eyes were lost and searching. This was not the Tony Stark that Steve had read about and met months before. This man was not cocky and arrogant but desperate and hurting. This was the Tony behind the wall so high and mighty it seemed impenetrable.
This was the Tony Stark that stole Steve’s breath away in that moment.
“You deserve to be happy,” Steve finally answered. “And I’m sure that’s all Pepper wants for you too. Even if that means altering your relationship a bit.”
Tony blinked up at Steve a few times. “I am happy,” he repeated and rested his head back down against Steve’s thigh. “Right now I’m pretty happy….”
Steve smiled more. “Yeah?” he pulled Tony’s hair back and out of his face. “Me too.” Steve turned to turn the light off, casting them into a darker atmosphere.
“Even if I ruined your first Christmas out of the freezer?” Tony questioned sleepily.
“I’m happy because you’re okay, and because now I don’t have to spend Christmas all alone,” Steve elaborated.
Tony hummed, almost thoughtful, then curled up more on the couch with his face nuzzling Steve’s thigh for comfort. “Merry Christmas, Steve,” he whispered.
Steve pulled the blanket from the back of the couch and tossed it over Tony’s body. “Merry Christmas, Tony,” he whispered and continued to stroke a hand through Tony’s hair as he rested his head on the couch and closed his own eyes.
Maybe next year he would have a reason to decorate after all.