Steve shrugs. “Some kids gave them to me during my school visit today. I think they’re supposed to be Rudolph.”
Bucky makes a face and looks at the candy cane again. “Wasn’t that just some kiddie book?”
"Rudolph’s kind of a big deal now. There’s a song. And a cartoon," Steve says, in that tone of voice that he uses when he’s trying for this crazy modern world solidarity. It’s not very convincing.
"Huh," Bucky says.
One of the candy cane reindeer draws the short straw and ends up cracked open and eaten, but the other two somehow end up hanging out of the mouth of Bucky’s empty beer bottle on their coffee table.
"That is the saddest thing I have ever seen," Tony says a little over a week later, sprawling on their couch in a finely-tailored wool coat and purple-tinted sunglasses while Steve leans against the wall with his arms folded. They still haven’t cleared the beer bottle and candy canes from the table, both of them waiting for the other to be the first to call it ridiculous. Steve feels his lips thin a little now.
Tony sniffs and leans forward to tug at one felt antler. “It’s December 12th, and this is your sole concession to the season?”
"Not all of us have decorating staff on payroll," Steve points out—reasonably, he thinks.
"Come on, no tree? No wreath?"
Steve shrugs. Christmas is everywhere outside—they can barely walk down the sidewalk without being assaulted by tinsel and recordings of pop stars crooning carols. They never used to go all out—not that “all out” in the thirties and forties was anything like “all out” today—and since this is his first Christmas having Bucky back, he doesn’t want to go overboard into unfamiliar territory.
Tony looks stricken. Maybe. The oversized glasses cover a good portion of his face. “No chestnuts roasting on an open fire? No Christmas goose as big as the old you? No stockings full of the only oranges and penny candies you’ll have all year?”
"Are you mixing up my childhood with a Charles Dickens story again?"
Tony’s pulled out his phone and is tapping away, but looks back up to raise his brows. “Tell me you never said 'please sir, I want some more' and I’ll drop it.”
Steve snorts and ducks his head to hide his begrudging smile.
A key rattles in the lock, and Tony finishes whatever he was doing and slips his phone back into his breast pocket just in time for Bucky to walk in.
"I tried to tell him to leave," Steve offers, even as Tony picks up the hard-sided suitcase he’s placed beside the couch.
"Aw hell," Bucky groans.
"If you’d only visit for your maintenance checks, we wouldn’t have to play it this way," Tony says, as the suitcase unfolds itself into a portable workbench. "You’re a terrible test subject for Stark prosthetics. And you know, the more you avoid routine diagnostics, the more I’m not sure I like the level of aggression inherent in a piece of tech that’s attached to an autonomous person. Who isn’t me, I mean."
Bucky looks annoyed but shrugs out of his coat and rolls up the left sleeve of his tee anyway.
There’s a knock on the door about half an hour later and Bucky, who has been sitting on the coffee table and growling as Tony yanks on various mechanical joints, basically leaps to get it. Tony, surprisingly, lets him go, just leaning back and pulling his work goggles down to hang around his neck.
Steve’s sitting with a book against a wall without a line of sight to the door, so he only hears Bucky’s surprised, “What, no, wrong place—”
He looks around the corner and is nearly hit in the face with a bunch of silvery needles, attached to a tree that’s currently being shoved into their entryway by a delivery guy and what looks like Tony’s new chauffer. He turns around and puts on his best disapproving face. “Tony, what did you do?”
"What," Bucky adds, from behind eight feet of the nicest frasier fir money can buy, "the fuck."
Tony doesn’t look even a little sorry.
Steve comes home two nights later to a mostly-dark apartment. The only thing that keeps him from flipping the first switch he can reach is the gentle glow coming from around the corner of the living room.
Bucky’s sitting on the floor in front of the tree, around which has been wrapped a string of soft white electric lights. He’s got his legs crossed and his chin resting on the knuckles of his metal hand. For a minute, despite his muscular build being all wrong, he looks fourteen again, at those rare moments when the kid shone through the tough street-punk facade he was busy perfecting. When he sees Steve, he stretches and leans back on locked arms and grimaces a little.
"I got ‘em at the CVS when I stopped for milk. I thought it’d look," he says, helplessly, "I dunno, festive."
"It does," Steve smiles.
"Aw, you don’t have to agree with me," Bucky says, obviously embarrassed. "It just looked kinda bare, that’s all."
Despite both agreeing that they should probably unplug the lights before going to bed, neither of them does.
They end up putting all of their holiday cards on the tree in lieu of ornaments. The one from Peggy, the handwriting no less graceful for having a bit of shake to it, is nestled near the red-and-gold foil-embossed card from Tony and Pepper (but mostly Pepper). Bucky’s SHIELD-appointed therapist sent one, and Dum-Dum Dugan’s niece who’d met up with them in Boston when they were doing the grand tour after Bucky’d been released from custody. There’s one from the VFW and a couple from various SHIELD agents and two or three from their neighbors. The rest of the tree is stuffed with a selection of cards the public has sent, routed through SHIELD offices—a couple of glossy expensive cards made it in, but most of them are dollar-a-half-dozen cheapies or hand-folded pieces of construction paper, the insides covered in well-wishing scrawls or colorful if inaccurate drawings.
that’s so wholesome i could choke, Tony texts back when Steve sends him a picture.
When Steve reads it to him, Bucky snorts, “We should be so lucky.”
They end up at Stark Tower for Christmas Eve, drinking eggnog and mulled wine and hot toddies while Tony makes a show of casually allowing Pepper to prove she made all the important gift decisions. It’s nice to visit with everyone, and they spend most of the night talking to Natasha, Clint, Sam, and Jim Rhodes, who isn’t half-bad for Air Force.
Steve sighs audibly when Tony calls them over from putting their coats on to hand them two enormous stockings, filled with oranges and peppermint sticks and soft molasses candy and tin army men. Bucky, however, has just polished off his fifth glass of rum-masquerading-as-eggnog and says only “fuckin’ ace, I love these,” before cramming three candies into his mouth. Tony looks so vindicated that Steve’s half tempted to say “Merry Christmas,” because he’s not sure that either of them could come up with a better gift.
"Gimme that," Bucky says when they get home, then makes himself busy while Steve goes to put all of the leftovers they were sent away with in the fridge. When Steve comes back out into the living room, it’s to find their ridiculous new stockings hanging from the windowsill and Bucky standing next to the couch with his arms crossed, looking at it all—the lit tree, the stockings, the bottle with the candy cane reindeer.
Steve feels his mouth turn up. “Looks good,” he says, moving in to bump shoulders.
"Looks okay," Bucky corrects. After a moment, he adds, "I’m not one for fuzzy snowmen, or singing doormats, or—" he pauses awkwardly, "—you know, that stuff. But, I mean, if it’s gonna be laying around the place anyway…"
"Looks good," Steve repeats with a smile, resting his head against Bucky’s temple.
"Yeah, all right, if you say so," Bucky says, and turns his head a little and lets himself be kissed. He tastes like molasses, sweet from the candy and sharp from the rum, and if Steve maybe makes it a little sloppy by grinning a bit too much, Bucky doesn’t seem to mind.