“Hey, Tony! Got any plans for Christmas?”
The smile was a reflex, smooth and practiced. Tony turned towards the photographer who'd asked the question, giving the asshole his best side. “Yeah. Sleep and alcohol,” he said, setting off a wave of laughter. He flicked a quick salute at the press gathered outside of the SHIELD building. “I've got a date with about six different versions of 'A Christmas Carol' and a very comfortable couch.”
“That's a bit of a comedown from last year, isn't it?”
Tony grinned. “The Valasquez sisters were both lovely, but they managed to find a flight home this year; no need to crash at my place.” The identical twin supermodels had spent the week before Christmas the previous year parked on his couch, drinking eggnogg and beating Clint and Thor at Super Smash Brothers, but Tony wasn't about to tell anyone that. They'd both benefited from the coverage from the gossip sites
Because when Tony went more than a month without a visible hookup, the press started asking questions that were awkward for everyone involved.
“What about you, Captain Rogers?” one of the paparazzi yelled. “You got a date? I got a nice sister, I'm sure she'd love to meet you!”
Steve gave the man a look. “And I'm sure she'd love to find out that you're trying to set her up with a random man you don't even know,” he said, and Tony struggled to keep a straight face. Disapproving Cap was his favorite Cap, provided, of course, that that disapproval was aimed in someone else's direction.
“Hey, if the guy looks like you, pretty sure she'll forgive me,” the photographer said.
“In that case, please send her my apologies,” Steve said, with a faint smile. “I've got other plans.” With a brisk nod in their direction, he headed for the door.
“He's a very busy man,” Tony explained to the gathered crowd. “You should see his calendar. It's-”
“We're already late, Stark,” Steve called back over his shoulder. “You can play with your friends later.”
“Aw, isn't that cute?” Tony asked, tucking his hands in his pockets. “He thinks I have friends.” One last grin and a flick of a salute, and he headed for the door. “Good day, gentlemen and ladies. Stay warm.”
The sound of camera shutters followed him through the door, going silent only after it closed behind him. Steve was waiting for him beyond security, his hands braced on his hips. “You shouldn't encourage them,” he said, giving Tony a dark look from beneath his lowered brows.
Tony grinned at him, affection sweeping over him. He had an unfortunate weakness for a cranky Cap. “You shouldn't fight them so hard,” he said, as they headed across the broad lobby towards the elevators. “You make it easy to get shots of you, and they're worthless, Steve. You struggle to keep yourself out of the limelight, and the one or two that manage to get a good picture, the price goes through the roof.” He flicked his sunglasses off of his nose, folding them and slipping them into his pocket. “You really need to learn to play the game.”
“I hate this game, and all the players,” Steve groused as he stabbed at the elevator call button with a bit more force than was strictly necessary, and Tony struggled against a smile.
“All of them?” he asked, as the doors opened. “Really.” He slipped past Steve, light on his feet when he wanted to be. “I'm hurt, Cap.”
Steve gave him a look, but there was a smile tugging at the corners of his tight mouth. “All of them,” he said, reaching past Tony to press the button.
Tony waited until the doors were shut before he reached up, catching Steve's collar with one finger, dragging him down. “You're surprisingly attractive when you're indignant, you know that?”
“There's a camera in here, you know that, right?” Steve breathed, but he didn't pull away, or pull back.
“And you can be a secretive as you want,” Tony whispered back, his knuckles brushing against the line of Steve's jaw, “but don't kid yourself. Fury knows we're shacking up.”
Steve made a displeased sound, but the tension was bleeding out of him with each breath, his shoulders relaxing, his head falling forward until his forehead was brushing against Tony's. “We're not shacking up, Stark.”
“Right,” Tony said, and before he could manage anything else, Steve was there, his lips gentle against Tony's. Tony grinned, warmth washing over him. “Secretly shacking up.”
Steve wrapped his arms around Tony's waist, tugging him in close. “It's not a secret,” he said, and when he said it, Tony was pretty sure he believed it. “It's just-” His eyes met Tony's. “Private.”
“I know.” Tony leaned into him, just for a second, because he was weak sometimes. And when it came to Steve, he was always weak. This was enough. This was absolutely enough.
Steve's arms tightened, just for an instant, and then he was pulling away. “Do we have plans for Christmas?”
“All the usual.” Tony straightened his shirt as the elevator came to smooth stop. “Decorate the place, put up a tree, realize that we should've bought presents already, pick out something far too expensive off a website just because they promise to deliver by the next day, shove it in a gift bag-”
Steve was laughing out loud now. “So you DO have plans.”
“I have expectations,” Tony said. “Plans are a little harder.” He smiled. “I think we can just wing it, can't we?”
“Why do I see this ending poorly?”
“Because unlike me,” Tony said, “you have a tendency to learn from experience.” He tucked his hands in his pockets. “Tell you what. If we live through this meeting with Fury and Hill, I'll let you make plans.”
“That's a sucker bet, and I know it.”
“There's that learning from experience thing again,” Tony mused, and stepped off the elevator to his doom.
“Who're the flowers for, Cap?”
Steve bit back a curse. “It's a plant,” he said, because that was boring. Flowers were exciting, flowers were romantic, flowers were a gesture. A plant was none of that, which was only fair, because neither was he. He shifted the poinsettia into the crook of his elbow. “It's... A plant.”
The photographer grinned from behind his camera. “Yeah, I figured that out.” He took a couple of quick shots, and Steve did his best not to flinch. “Who's it for?”
“It's not for anyone,” Steve said, giving him a stern look. “It's-” The camera flash went off, and gritted his teeth against the impulse to hide behind the poinsettia's spreading leaves. “It was on sale.”
That much was the truth, at least. He'd seen it in the window of the florist's shop, too big and too bright, too close to Christmas to find a buyer. But the leaves had reminded him of Tony's armor, a sharp, candy apple red, and the big, metallic gold ribbon on the pot hadn't hurt either. The price, even after the discount, still made him wince, but he'd been proud of his impulse buy, right up until he'd walked up to the Tower to find a lone photographer loitering on the sidewalk outside.
Now he just felt stupid, carrying a plant almost the size of his torso around the city in the middle of the day.
“Handsome and financially prudent,” the photographer said, skipping backwards over the sidewalk. “You really are the most eligible bachelor in New York.”
“If that's true, no wonder no one in this city dates,” Steve mumbled, right before the door to the Tower opened.
“Oh!” Pepper pulled up short, her face splitting in a bright smile. “Steve! How're you-”
The camera shutter clicked, and Steve snapped. “Merry Christmas,” he said, half throwing the pot into her hands.
He had an instant to see the confusion on her face, and then she disappeared behind a wall of red and green leaves. “Oh.” The leaves rustled as she tried to get a grip on it. “I- Thank you.”
“Merry Christmas,” he repeated, and he entered the building at a pace that absolutely wasn't a run.
“You... Gave away my plant,” Tony said.
“Can we not discuss this?” Steve asked. He was slumped on the couch, his head thrown back, one arm draped over his eyes.
Tony stared down at his phone. “You gave PEPPER my plant,” he said, bracing a hand on his hip. “PEPPER.”
“I'm aware, can we not-”
“I can't believe you gave Pepper my plant.” The picture was a deliberate taunt. The caption was worse. 'I think this was supposed to be for you,' Pepper's text read. 'Steve threw it at me.'
Tony glared in Steve's direction. “For a man who is supposed to be good under fire, Rogers, you panic easily when it's a camera aimed at you and not a gun.”
Steve lifted his arm just far enough to aim a look in Tony's direction. “When it's a gun, I usually get to have the shield,” he said, his voice dire. “And I'd really like to stop discussing this now.”
Tony tossed the phone aside. “I'm stealing my fucking plant back,” he said, stalking past
Steve's hand shot out, catching his wrist. “It's a dumb, it's..” He heaved a sigh, looking very tired all of a sudden. “I just thought it would look nice, don't make such a big deal of it.”
“Don't make such a-” Tony gave him an indignant look. “Pepper's gotten more out of this relationship than I have! That's-” He leaned over. “What have I gotten out of you, Rogers?”
“My undying devotion and affection?” Steve tried.
“Which is nice,” Tony admitted. “It's, it's a benefit to keeping you around, but-”
Steve tugged him down to sit on his lap. “Also a surprising amount of sex,” he mumbled into Tony's shoulder, his ears red.
Laughing, Tony stroked his hair back from his face. “Have you looked at yourself?” he asked. “It's not surprising at all. So, okay, you love me, and you really love sex-”
“But Pepper got a plant,” Tony said, and Steve was laughing against his shoulder, his breath hot through Tony's shirt. “Pepper absolutely got-”
“I'll get it back,” Steve said, and Tony leaned over, pressing a kiss to his head.
“It's fine,” he said, his fingers smoothing over Steve's head. “I'll just bring it up in every argument we have for the next year of so. That's all. No big deal.”
“Lovely,” Steve said, but his arms were tight around Tony's waist. “Sorry.”
Tony let out a breath that was half sigh, half laugh. “It's a poinsettia, Steve. I appreciate the sentiment, but I'm pretty sure they're bringing them along with the Christmas tree this week.” His fingers tangled in Steve's hair. “You are planning on showing up for that, right?”
“You're the one who tries to ditch the team gatherings, not me,” Steve said, and Tony would've been insulted, but that was pretty much true.
“Well, it's your lucky day, because I intend to show up this time,” Tony said. “Just you and me and a couple of hundred boxes of ornaments.”
“And the rest of our team,” Steve said, and Tony hear the smile in his voice.
“I plan on ignoring them,” Tony said. “Which takes some work, with Barton, and a lot of work with Thor, but-” He nodded. “Just you and me and a lot of background noise.”
Steve looked up at him, and some of the pinched, tired look was gone from his face. “What can go wrong?” he asked, with a ghost of a smile.
"Why is the press here?"
It was a little too loud, a little too sharp, and Coulson looked up, his eyebrows arching. Tony took a deep breath, doing his best to get himself back under control. "Why,” he repeated, much quieter this time. “Why. Is the press here?"
Phil looked back down at his tablet. "Because you need all the good press you can get," he said.
"We just saved the world, like, twice last month,” Tony said, flapping a hand in the general direction of the world outside the windows. “The- The entire world!”
“And what have you done for us lately?” Phil asked. He made a notation on his tablet. “It's just a few select representatives. Go out there, hang some lights, smile nice and get it over with.”
“This was your idea, wasn't it?” Tony asked.
"The cabal of people who prefer you not be tarred and feathered every time you set foot outside does in fact include me,” Phil said. “But I do not act independently of the group.”
“Good to know,” Tony said. “I-” He stabbed a finger in Phil's direction. “Out. Out of my house.”
“Evicted right before Christmas,” Phil said, and Tony decided that he really didn't like the man. “However will I cope?”
“I don't know, but you'll be doing it on the street tonight,” Tony told him. Not waiting for a reply, he stomped back towards the living room.
As impromptu photo ops went, it was pretty harmless. A half a dozen photographers, all from highly reputable publications, were doing their best to get a few usable candid shots without getting in anyone's way. Steve wasn't playing along, his head down, his body language tense, and they were giving him a wide berth. Even Bruce was giving them more to work with, and they knew it.
Tony snagged a candy cane as he slipped around behind the tree. “Hey,” he said, picking up a box of ornaments. Steve, halfway up a ladder, glanced down at him. Some of the tension went out of his face, and Tony held the box out to him like a peace offering. “This wasn't my idea,” he said. “I swear.”
Steve managed a smile. “I know,” he said. He took the blown glass ornaments from Tony. “It's just... Not what I was expecting.”
Tony braced an arm on the ladder, his attention half on the photographers that were wandering the room, snapping pictures of Clint as he struggled to untangle the Christmas lights. “I know,” he said, his voice pitched low. “Look, if you can play along, if you can do this-”
“I can do this,” Steve said, waving him off.
“Yes, let's just try to look less murderous, okay?” Tony smiled at him. “It was supposed to be a surprise, but-” He leaned in. “I booked a private table for us. For dinner. A very nice restaurant, uptown. Very quiet, very discreet.” He leaned over to grab another box. “What do you say? Dinner, champagne, me being my usual charming self?”
Steve rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. “Private table?”
“They have a nice little nook of a room in the back. For visiting dignitaries and privacy loving individuals such as ourselves,” Tony said. “And a staff that knows how to keep their mouths shut.” He plucked a perfect sphere of blown glass from the box and held it up. “I know this isn't what you wanted, let's...” He gave Steve a hopeful smile. “Let's try again?”
Steve considered him, his face unreadable. And then he reached out to take the ornament from his hand. “I'll wear my best suit,” he said, and Tony heaved a sigh of relief.
“I'll wear my best looking one,” he said, just before Natasha leaned around the tree.
“Sorry to interrupt,” she said. “But Clint just took a knife to the lights.”
Tony pressed a hand to his face. “Of course he did.”
“Of course he did,” Steve said, but he was smiling now.
Tony would take it.
He picked up his phone before it could finish the first ring. "You're late."
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line. "Hello to you, too," Tony said, his voice wry. "How are you? Having a nice evening? Enjoying yourself?"
"Not really, no, because I'm sitting in a very nice, very empty room by myself," Steve said. "In a very nice suit." He stared at the array of silverware that surrounded his place setting. "Wondering why they've given me six forks."
"You look hungry on the best of days," Tony said. "They're probably just covering all possible contingencies."
"Wonderful," Steve said. He let his head fall into the cradle of his palm. "Tony. In all seriousness."
"I'm always serious, darling, it's one of my major failings," Tony said.
Steve caught himself smiling. "I had heard that." He glanced at his watch out of the corner of his eye. "You're late."
"I'm here, Tony. I got here, right on time, and there's candles and this tablecloth probably cost more than a year's worth of my old Army salary, and-"
"Yeah, but that was, what, twelve fifty? Thirteen dollars?" Tony asked, and it wasn't funny, it really wasn't. But his voice was warm and familiar and Steve loved him so much it hurt.
"You set this dinner up," Steve said, trying to sound stern. "And you're late."
"Yes, because I'm outside, and so are about fifty photographers," Tony said.
Steve's eyes slid shut. "Oh, dammit."
"My reaction was similar but a bit more..." Tony made a considering noise under his breath. "Slightly more spicy."
"I can imagine." Steve shifted in his seat, still terrified that this tiny, fragile chair wasn't going to hold his weight. "Tony. There was two guys out there. Two, at most."
"You got here first and you went in alone, and they want to know who your date is," Tony said. "Let me guess, you got here, glared at them, and plowed through the front door." Steve stared in sullen silence at the chair opposite him. Tony sighed. "Right. So. They're going to wait here, until your date shows up."
"It's not, there's not-" Steve's shoulder slumped. "Tony-"
"I'm here, and I'm alone, and neither of us thought to bring a beard," Tony said, his voice tired. "If I walk in there now, they're going to go nuts."
"I don't-" Steve realized he was clutching the snowy white napkin in one fist, and he tossed it down. "There's no reason to suspect that you're here for me."
Tony sighed, an audible exhale. "Darling. You walked in looking very fancy and I'm sure, very fine. I am wearing a suit that's about two steps above my usual satirical excellence. If we were both sweaty and unshaven and carrying, I don't know, various pieces of sporting equipment, we could probably make a meet-up at the local Applebees look like just a couple of guys grabbing a burger."
"Could you even recognize an Applebees?" Steve asked, his chin braced on one fisted hand.
"In theory," Tony said. "I've been to a lot of horrible places. I blame Rhodes."
"Right," Steve said, his lips twitching. He took a deep breath. "I just wanted one nice dinner, Tony. One. Nice meal. Alone. Just..." His voice trailed away, his shoulders slumping. "Merry Christmas."
Tony was silent for a long moment. "Come on out," he said. "I'll meet you back at the tower, we'll get a pizza and put on 'It's a Wonderful Life' and-"
Another moment of silence. "No?" Tony asked.
Steve reached for his napkin. "No," he repeated, snapping the fabric out and spreading it onto his lap. "No. I'm done. I'm done with all of it, and I've already ordered, and I'm going to sit here, and eat a very expensive meal, and I'm damn well going to enjoy it."
This time, the silence stretched a little longer. "You already ordered," Tony said at last.
"Yes," Steve said, because he as an idiot, he was absolutely an idiot. And he might be a lousy liar, but he was a stubborn liar. He reached for the big, leatherbound menu that the maitre d' had left within reach. "No idea what I ordered. It's all in-" He squinted down at the menu. "In French."
"Didn't you serve in France?" Tony asked.
"This might surprise you, but our cuisine was kind of substandard," Steve said. He paused. "There's no prices on this menu."
"Yeah, that's..." Tony paused. "That's the date's menu."
Steve stopped, his mouth pursing. "Do we not tell our dates what things cost in this modern world?" he asked.
"I'm sensing disapproval."
"It's disingenuous, that's all I'm saying." Steve slapped the menu down. "In any case. I already ordered."
"Of course you have."
"I'll see you. After I eat." Steve scowled at the empty chair where Tony should be. "I-" It had been so much effort, so much planning and so much energy and goddammit, he just wanted to have a nice meal.
A nice date.
"Bring me your leftovers," Tony said.
"Right," Steve said, and he hung up, because that was mature. Because he was mature. And he regretted it the immediately. Because this room was very empty and very stark and felt very expensive. It was the kind of room that Tony fit into without even trying. Tony, suave and collected and sophisticated, who made things easier for Steve without even trying. Tony, who made things feel comfortable, feel natural.
How strange could a place be, how alien, how foreign could it be, after all, if Tony was there, his shoulder brushing against Steve's, smiling in that way he did when he was happy. When nothing was perfect, but that was fine.
He wasn't sure how long he sat there, staring at nothing, before he heard the door to the private dining room open. He straightened up, trying to force a smile onto his face. "I'm sorry, I'm just going to-"
A large, leatherbound version was placed gently in front of him. "I'm sorry, sir, I heard you had a complaint." Steve's head jerked up, and Tony was there, smiling the way he did when he thought he was putting one over on the world, his dark eyes dancing. He leaned in, whispering into Steve's ear. "I found you one with prices."
"What are you-" Steve rocked back in his chair. Tony, laughing, straightened up. He was wearing a black vest over a white shirt, a napkin draped over his arm, and a crisp bow tie. "What are you wearing?" Steve managed.
Tony smoothed a hand over his chest, his fingers light on the fabric. "What do you think?" He dropped into the chair opposite Steve, the movement graceful and controlled. He tossed the napkin down between them. "I think it suits me."
Steve stared at him, caught somewhere between laughing and outright frustration. Tony, reading him like a book like always, just braced his elbows on the table, lacing his fingers together and leaning his chin on them. "I mugged a waiter in the back alley," he said, one eyebrow arching.
Steve's head tipped forward. "You did not."
Tony held his pose for another second before cracking. "No, I didn't," he said, reaching for the menu. "I found a busboy who was smoking behind the dumpster and paid him an obscene amount of money to swipe me a vest and tie." He flipped to the back, his eyes narrowing at the entree listing. "It was good enough to get me through the kitchen."
Steve pressed a hand to his eyes. "Tony, you didn't."
"It was this or try to squeeze through the window on the bathroom." Tony leaned to the side, giving Steve a wicked look around the edge of the menu. "And I wasn't sure that it was the men's room."
Steve realized that he was smiling. And it felt good. It felt right. "You snuck in through the kitchen."
"Well, what choice did I have?" Tony said. He lay the menu down and unbuttoned his vest, the movements easy and Steve wondered if he even knew he was doing it. He was okay with it. There was something about Tony, rumpled and unguarded, all that sleek surface disturbed, that was everything he wanted and nothing he was equipped to deal with.
The question sank in, a little too late, and he leaned forward. "What do you mean, what choice did you have?" Steve asked.
Tony ran a hand through his hair. "You're a lousy liar, Steve, and I'm not." His lips curled up, slight and sweet, and Steve's chest ached. "So if you want to do this, then let me do the lying." He looked up. "And pass the wine list."
Steve's fingers hovered over the wine list. "Is that how you see this?" he asked, his voice quiet. "That you're lying for me?"
Tony blinked, shock washing over his features, and then it bled out, leaving only a warm, affectionate smile in its wake. "I love you," he said, and Steve wanted to cry every time Tony said that. He wondered if Tony knew, because when he said it, he would lean forward, the warmth of his palm ghosting against Steve's cheek, against his jaw. His fingers were rough, but gentle, for all that. "I love you," he repeated. "And I lie a lot."
Steve chuckled. "Yeah. I might've noticed." He caught Tony's hand, tipping his head to the side to press a kiss against his palm. "Stop lying for me."
"But of all the things I lie for or lie about, you're my favorite." Tony stroked a thumb over Steve's lips before pulling away. "Besides. This is important to you."
"Not as important as you," Steve said. "Nothing..." He leaned in. "Nothing is as important as you."
Tony's smile was luminous. "Liar," he whispered, and it carried no sting. "But I love that about you." He leaned back in his chair. "And you deserve one nice meal, one nice date." He reached for the water glass. "So you're going to get one." He held it up, a toast. "Merry Christmas."
Steve reached for his water glass, his fingers just hovering over the surface of the crystal. It wasn't right. But he didn't know why. He picked up his glass. "Merry Christmas," he said, tapping the rim of his glass against Tony's.
It wasn't right. But he was pretty sure he knew how to fix that.
“Tony, be reasonable.”
Tony paused, halfway up the hallway, a hastily wrapped present braced against one hip and the others cradled against his chest. “Did... Did you just hear yourself saying that? Was that something you said? Willingly, did you-”
“I realized when I was saying it that it was not my best move, but every so often, I do like to appeal to your rational side,” Pepper said.
“Not your best choice, that's... That's unlikely to work, so maybe-”
“And that's why it's only 'every so often,'” Pepper said. “Happy'll be out front waiting for you in ten minutes.”
“Have you heard a single word I've said?” Tony said, his voice flat. “Seriously. Have you-”
“I try not to listen to you, because it never works out well for me,” Pepper said. “You. Front lobby. Ten minutes. Happy'll be there. Just... Just do this for me.”
“It's Christmas Eve,” Tony said. “It's-” He glanced at his watch and nearly dumped the presents on the floor. He juggled the packages, trying not to lose anything. Something hit the ground with a crunch. He ignored it. “It's seven pm on Christmas eve, don't you think that I might have something better to do right now?”
“Because I do, I have many, many things that I'd rather be doing,” he said, striding up the hallway. He was pretty sure he was trailing ribbon in his wake and he was pretty sure he didn't care. “There's, there's so many things that I'd rather be doing, and-”
“And you're going to put on a pair of nice slacks and a jaunty sweater and you're going to come downstairs,” Pepper said. “Because the Avengers party is tomorrow, and you've already had dinner, and the only thing left is to sit in the rec room while Clint and Rhodey mock Rudolph, and you despise that-”
“Claymation is unnatural,” Tony said. “It is, I don't have many strong opinions on many things, Pepper-”
“Oh my GOD, how do you tell lies that big with a straight face, Stark, seriously-”
“Seriously, it's horrifying and I've already made it clear to Rhodey that I'm going to disown him if he forces us to watch that or that thing with the Heat Miser again, I have nightmares.” He stared at the base of the tree. There were a lot of presents there. Unimportant presents, as they weren't for him or from him. He nudged a few boxes to the side with his foot. No one would notice. “I have seen things, I have seen things and lived through things and Namor alone is reason for two thirds of my nightmares, but no. What I have to fear when I close my eyes?”
He dropped his presents directly in front of the tree. They were the biggest and most impressive, after all. “It's that weird little elf who wants to be a dentist.”
“And I'm here to save you from this nightmare fuel,” Pepper said. “An hour. Two. Tops. I just need you to put in an appearance, Tony, it's good-”
Tony's head fell forward. “Good press,” he said with her. He pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers. “Right.”
Pepper was quiet. “Please,” she said, and it was gentle and he hated it when she was gentle.
“It's a lot easier to ignore you when you're yelling at me,” he said.
“I know. That's why I'm not doing that right now,” Pepper said. “It's just a charity thing, please, Tony?”
He took a deep breath. “I am doing this only because A. Steve went for what he termed a 'quick 10K' and that means he's running around the whole island, and B. because I hate Rudolph with the white hot passion of a thousand dying suns.”
“Don't care,” Pepper sing-songed at him. “As long as you show up. Ten minutes. Wear something warm, it's an outside presentation.” Tony let out a long, pained groan, and she hummed in agreement. “Wear your gray coat and the blue scarf.”
“I hate that scarf. I look...” He stomped back towards the elevator. “Like a demented British academic.”
“It's not your worst look,” Pepper said. “Hat.”
“And knowing my luck, I'll end up photographed with hat head.”
Pepper sighed. “Is that better or worse than being photographed with pneumonia?”
“If Happy isn't waiting for me at the curb, I swear I'm coming right back up here and dumping half a bottle of scotch into the nearest hot drink and sleeping until New Years.”
“He'll be there. Tony-”
“This is what you get for Christmas, you know that, right? I'm returning your Christmas present and this is what you get. My presence. My illuminating existence in your life for one evening and-”
“I bought my own Christmas present, and you have no idea what it is, so good luck with that,” she said, her voice sweet. “Ten. Minutes.”
“You're the worst,” he said, but she'd already hung up on him, which was fine, it was easier to get the last word if no one was listening any more.
Nine and a half minutes later, he stepped off the elevator into the lobby, knotting the scarf around his neck as he walked. He waved at the security guards. “How's things out there?” he called.
“Busier than usual, Mr. Stark,” Reggie said. “Think someone tipped 'em off that you were coming, otherwise they'd all be home in bed by now.”
“Be real, Reg, they'd be staked out in front of the new hot club in town, waiting for the newest hot mess celebrity to drown their holiday sorrows in overpriced liquor,” Tony said, eyeing the door. “If I'm not through in five minutes, come out and tase someone, okay?”
Reggie tipped his cap up. “You got it, Mr. Stark.”
Laughing, Tony pushed his way out the front door and onto the sidewalk, slipping his sunglasses on before the camera flashes could blind him. “Evening,” he called. “What are you all doing here? Slow news cycle?”
“About to get far more interesting,” someone called, and Tony wasn't paying attention anymore.
Because Steve was leaning against the side of the car, a massive bouquet held loosely in one hand. As Tony stumbled to a stop, he straightened up. “Hi,” he said, holding up the flowers. Tony stared at it. White roses and holly, the bright red berries and glossy green leaves inter spaced with the silky white blooms.
He looked up. “Steve?”
Steve smiled at him. “Merry Christmas, Tony,” he said, and somehow the flowers were in Tony's hands, and that was fine, because Steve was leaning in, just a little. Cautious. Careful. Giving Tony plenty of time to pull back, to put some distance between them.
Tony met him halfway instead, closing the distance, his free hand coming up to brace on Steve's shoulder as Steve's lips found his.
The paparazzi went insane.
Steve pulled back, just far enough for his breath to wash over Tony's lips. “Hi,” he repeated.
“Hi,” Tony whispered back. “Who are you, and what've you done with Captain America?”
Steve laughed, and Tony felt it through his entire body. “Are you implying this is out of character?”
“I'm implying that I'm pretty sure that you're a skrull, and I'm also implying that I'm probably okay with that if you don't leave your dirty socks in the middle of the bathroom floor again,” Tony said. He took a step back, and Steve caught his hand.
“Still me,” he said, and his eyes were almost painfully blue. “Come on.”
“I can't, I have a thing, Pepper-” Steve arched an eyebrow at him, his head tipping forward, and the other shoe dropped with a resounding thud in Tony's head. “She set me up.”
“A little bit,” Steve admitted.
“She set me up,” Tony said, his mouth hanging open. “Son of a bitch, she-”
Steve kissed him again, and Tony knew he was only doing it to distract him, and he didn't care. “Come with me,” Steve whispered.
“I'll follow you anywhere,” Tony said, and to his shock, he meant it. He honestly meant it. He grinned up at Steve. “Name it.”
Steve grinned back. “Good. We're going skating in Rockefeller Center.”
The haze of hormones cleared in an instant. “No.”
“Too late, you said anywhere,” Steve said, and Tony would've said something short and obscene, but Steve was still holding his hand, his fingers tangled in Tony's. He smiled, and he seemed to glow with it.
But maybe that was just the reflection of the camera flashes.
“There is no way we can still get a spot, it's Christmas Eve, are you-”
“Phil called in some favors,” Steve said.
“Betrayal. All around me,” Tony managed, as Steve brought their linked hands up, brushing a kiss across Tony's knuckles. “This is...” He struggled to swallow. “Rank betrayal.”
“I'll buy you a cocoa,” Steve said. He tugged Tony towards the car. “What, can't you skate?”
“Can I- Of course, I mean, obviously I can skate!” Tony said, and Steve gave him a look. Tony's chin came up. “Who can't skate?”
Steve grinned. “Good. Then there's no problem, is there?”
Tony opened his mouth to say something, and Steve's fingers tightened on his. He was tall and broad and perfect, his pale hair ruffled by the cold wind, his cheeks pink, the red scarf around his neck a spark of color and light in a world that had long since gone dark and gray.
He was smiling at Tony like Tony was all that he wanted, all that he needed, and Tony forgot what he'd been trying to say.
“No,” he said. “No problem at all.”
“I starting to think my Skrull theory was correct.”
Steve sipped his coffee. “Mmm,” he hummed. “It's possible. If I was, I'd probably be eager to keep you from questioning anything, so...” Without looking in Tony's direction, he held out the coffee cup. “Shower sex.”
There was a moment of silence. “I'm morally conflicted,” Tony admitted. But he took the coffee anyway.
Steve grinned down at his tablet. “You should be used to that by now,” he said.
Tony shifted closer, rolling over to rest his head in Steve's lap. “I should be, but I'm not,” he admitted with a yawn. Steve smoothed his hair back, and Tony batted at his hand with a languid hand. “Why are you even awake?”
“It's Christmas morning,” Steve said. He turned the tablet around so Tony could see it. “Look what Santa brought me. It's our Christmas card for next year.”
The headline was “Superhero Shocker!” and Steve could almost forgive that because the picture was perfect. Tony, his legs a tumbled mess in front of him, had fallen back into Steve's arms. His head was back, and he was laughing, his face flushed and his eyes closed. Steve, behind him, had his arms around Tony's waist, holding him up, his skates braced on the ice. He was grinning down at Tony with an expression of such obvious adoration that it was embarrassing.
Steve liked it anyway.
Tony stared at it for a long moment, his eyes narrowed. “No,” he said at last, and Steve started to laugh. “Absolutely not, no, we're-”
Steve leaned over, cutting off the flow of words with a kiss. “Thought you could skate,” he whispered.
“I might've been lying about that,” Tony admitted.
“Yeah.” Steve kissed him again. “I might've noticed.” He put the tablet on the bedside table, right next to a very large poinsettia and a vase full of white roses. “Want to go open presents?”
Tony shook his head. “I think everything on my wish list is right here.” He smiled up at Steve. “Merry Christmas.”
Steve smiled back. "Merry Christmas.”