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The Christmas Unicorn

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Title by monobuu

Bucky practically threw himself into the elevator. He was tired and angry, and about to kill Brock, whose massive screw up had meant that Bucky had to cancel his vacation plans, and work two weekends in December on top of that.

Made worse by the fact that his parents and siblings had decided to go, en masse, to Ireland for Christmas that year and visit with Grandma and her sister, Bucky’s Great Aunt Kit. And they’d be gone until mid-January, and there was no way Bucky was going to be able to go with them. He’d had to cancel his ticket and eat the cancellation fee. 

On the other hand, it did mean not doing the holidays this year. And being the oldest of seven kids and the only one without a spouse or kids of his own, (except for Rachel, but she was only eighteen) things tended to get awkward.

So, of course, there was only one other person in the car. The guy from the penthouse, who Bucky knew by face, but had yet to actually speak to, even if they did see each other in the elevators several times a week.

And there was Christmas music playing over the piped in speakers.

“Ug. Holiday music,” Bucky grumbled. “You’d think, maybe just once, they could stop starting that shit in October.” Then he bit his lip, because sometimes people actually liked listening to the same fifteen songs over and over again, and bad covers of the same fifteen songs. Some people must, otherwise, why would they play them?

The guy glanced at him, then suddenly grinned, a mischievous sort of smirk. He tucked his hand into his pants pocket, and the music suddenly... stopped.

Bucky blinked. “What-- what was that? How did you-- did you actually do that?”

The guy’s grin widened. “I did. It’s an ambient noise nullifier. Temporarily blocks sound being broadcast on a particular wavelength, specifically, the one most often used for things like elevator music and terrible department store muzak.” He pulled his hand back out of his pocket and offered it. “I’m Tony, I live upstairs.”

“Nice to meet you,” Bucky said, taking the man’s hand. His fingernails were professionally manicured and buffed, but his hands were calloused. It was an intriguing combination, especially mixed with the faintest scent of his cologne. “Bucky Barnes. Your current neighborhood curmudgeon.”

Tony glanced at  Bucky’s prosthetic. He didn’t stare too long, or ask about it, which was both nice and disconcerting. Bucky was used to it being the first thing people mentioned. On the other hand -- ha! pun -- there were a lot more vets around these days wearing fancy prosthetics, and they weren’t quite so unusual.

“A pleasure,” Tony said. “Usually I’m the only Scrooge in the area. What’s your story?”

“Not much of a story, really,” Bucky said. The elevator bank of lights was glowing like a Christmas tree. Stops on at least twelve other floors on their way down. Ug. “Christmas around my family is exhausting. I’ve got four sisters, two brothers, and nineteen nieces and nephews. Plus my mom, her two sisters and assorted cousins. I’m the only single, childless schmuck in the entire lot, not counting the baby, which you can just imagine…”

“I’m not sure I can,” Tony admitted. “I’m an only child. That does sound exhausting, though. You don’t like kids?”

“Oh, no, I love kids,” Bucky said. “Would love to have a few of my own someday. And it’s not even that I don’t love the holidays, but I’ve spent the last twenty years or so wishing I could just. Not. Sometimes, you know? And this year, I get my wish. The whole Barnes clan is off to Ireland. And I’m stuck here in New York, because my co-worker, Brock, ruined a whole server cluster of client deliverables, and we’ve all got mandatory overtime until the end of the year. So, it’s got the whole Monkey’s Paw thing going. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.”

“Ouch,” Tony sympathized. “I hope you’re all considering appropriate ways to ‘thank’ this Brock fellow for his contribution. I mean, the whole holiday thing is awful -- this thin veneer of niceness that we spread over all our ugly for a month, increased stress and mandatory gift-giving and all that bullshit -- but having to spend it working overtime? When one of the few good things about the holiday season is time off? That’s terrible.”

“Oh, I think Brock will find himself on the top of the pink slip list next time we have layoffs,” Bucky said. It wouldn’t be personal, or Bucky’s fault, but he wouldn’t be sorry to see Brock go, either. Which is what he got for harboring a crush on his co-worker, right up until the first one-nighter after drinks and Bucky found out what a tool the guy was.

The elevator stopped and let someone else on. She glanced up at the ceiling, perplexed. “Earlier this morning it was playing Christmas music,” she complained. “That was nice.”

“Yeah?” Bucky wondered. “Huh. I dunno. That’s weird.” He glanced at Tony, winked. “Such a shame.”

Tony winked back, a secretive smirk tugging at his lips. “Yeah, too bad,” he agreed. “I’m sure you’ll be able to get your Christmas fix somewhere else, though. ‘Tis the season, and all.”

They continued down the elevator in almost perfect silence, although Bucky was fighting the urge to laugh every time he looked at Tony.

He has a nice smile, Bucky thought suddenly, and he did. Tony’s whole face lit up, brown eyes merry. If it wasn’t for the avowed curmudgeon declaration, he might have even looked the very picture of someone feeling the Joy of the Season.

A few more people got on, and nearly every single one of them glanced up, at least for a moment, like there was going to be a sign on the ceiling that said Christmas is Cancelled or something.

By the time they reached the first floor and people started disembarking, Bucky was about ready to split his sides.

The last of the passengers dispersed into the parking garage, or headed to the trains, or to catch their Ubers.

And Bucky lost it. He cackled, bent in half, hands on his knees, out and out, practically rolling on the concrete floor.

“But… but… but…” he spluttered, “there’s always Christmas music.”

Tony was chuckling, warm and deep and utterly delightful. “Joys of the season,” he said cheerfully. He put his hand in his pocket again, and as the elevator doors closed behind him, Bucky could hear the music starting back up, that overly cheerful jangling chime. “Here’s to many more peaceful rides.” He winked at Bucky again, then pushed through the front doors and turned down the sidewalk.

Bucky turned, almost absently, to watch him go, and then--

Couldn’t look away. Tony walked with the precision grace of a runway model, hips swinging lazily, perfect ass bouncing. 

Oh, I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave.

***

Tony sank into his office chair with a happy sigh. He loved his chair. He loved his office. Specifically, he loved that his chair was in his office and that his office was not connected to the speaker system for the rest of the building, so he didn’t have to listen to any of the music or endure any of the overcheerful announcements of “winter holiday” activities that the various departments were hosting and/or encouraging.

He didn’t begrudge anyone their stilted office parties (too formal for real fun, too relaxed to actually get any work done) or their secret santa exchanges (sure, pick out a gift for someone you barely know, there’s bound to be a lot of special meaning in that) or their ugly sweater contests (...why?) but he didn’t want to have anything to do with them, either.

He leaned back in his chair and watched his computer booting up and thought about his neighbor, Bucky, who apparently hated all the frippery and nonsense of Christmas almost as much as Tony did, if for somewhat different reasons.

Maybe, Tony thought, he should invite the guy out for drinks or dinner or something. They could not talk about Christmas, and then when they were invited to some festive gathering, they could truthfully claim that they had other plans already. Bucky was smoking hot, too, with those intense blue eyes and that shy little smile that burst into the most gorgeous laughter. Artfully-messy hair, broad shoulders and muscle definition that Tony could make out even through a sweater. Yum. And that prosthetic, that was pretty drool-worthy, too; such gorgeous engineering. Though probably a somewhat touchier subject than which overplayed Christmas carol was the worst.

Yeah, definitely inviting Bucky out to do something. Even if he wasn’t into guys that way, Tony could enjoy the scenery and avoid the Christmas nonsense.

Pepper, Tony’s PA and all around life-saving angel, came into his office with a stack of files tucked under one arm, her tablet under another, and a cardboard carrier with two paper cups of coffee -- one peppermint latte for Pepper, and one black for Tony. “Morning, Tony,” she said, putting the coffee down first, because she knew him very well. Also, she was wearing a cream-colored suit, and if he dove over the desk to get the coffee, he might spill on her. “I’ve got all the white papers here for the two o’clock, a proposal from marketing that needs your signoff, a whole stack of Christmas cards that I will probably throw right in the trash, but I need to be able to tell people that you saw it, even if you just saw it going into the bin. Your tickets for the New Years thing that you said you’d do, but I don’t know if anyone really expects it, and a report from the Maria Stark Foundation charity. Anything you need today?”

Pepper said all of that evenly, clearly, and with just enough animation in her face to keep Tony’s attention, but as soon as she was done, she sagged. Like she wasn’t getting enough sleep, or her favorite shoes had broken, or the spa was closed. Something.

Tony stared at her for a moment, because Pepper was a friend as well as his PA, one of the few people who didn’t seem to feel the need to try to convert him to Christmas or some such bullshit, and he didn’t want her to look sad or upset or tired. He took his coffee and sipped -- nice, the coffeeshop on the second floor had switched back to the blend Tony liked best -- and then pulled the marketing proposal toward himself and signed it without looking at it. If Pepper was bringing it to him then she’d already vetted it and found it acceptable.

“Two o’clock,” he said. “I will look at the white papers.” He didn’t promise to read them, but he’d at least skim the executive summaries. “Chuck the cards unless there’s something in there that’s actually personal and not just other businesses or employees trying to suck up. You can tell them the usual bullshit.” His marketing and PR team sent out their own cards, he assumed. It was all so pointless. “Leave the New Years tickets; I will think about going if I can find a date who would actually make it fun.” New Years wasn’t quite as bad as Christmas, but it was still pretty annoying. Gummed up traffic throughout the city for a solid week. “And I’ll look over the Foundation’s numbers sometime this week.” That was the one bright spot in the whole holiday murk -- the charities did much better around the holidays. “I need you to tell Daniels that I am not going to approve his cockamamie project unless he comes up with some believable production and ROI numbers, but you can keep him dangling for a few days if you want.” He cocked his head, studying her again. “And tell me what’s wrong.”

“It’s been kind of a day,” Pepper said. “Starting last night, and just... It’s not a big deal, we’ll manage. I’m just a little overwhelmed. Well, I mean, it is a big deal, but it just. Is. You know? Stuff you have to deal with, even if you’d rather not?”

“Sure,” Tony said, because everyone knew about that kind of stuff. “Anything I can do to help? You know I’d do anything for you.”

“Do you mean that? I mean, anything?” She brightened a little bit and that was encouraging. “I mean, I don’t want you to feel obligated, but I could really use a little bit of help.”

“Absolutely. Come on, Pep, you’re the only thing that makes my life bearable, some days. Let me return the favor a little. What do you need?”

“Okay, so, May’s mother is sick,” Pepper said. “You know, my mother-in-law, who thinks May is living in sin and spends all her time telling the children that we’re not really their moms? That one? She’s horrible, and we don’t tend to spend a lot of time with her, for obvious reasons. What kind of woman says that to a four-year-old boy who just lost his parents?”

Tony nodded, because he’d listened to Pepper rant about her mother-in-law before, and what could he do but agree with her?

Pepper took a deep breath. “So, she’s asking for May. Deathbed visit. May wants to go, she wants her mom to have peace and you know, closure or whatever. We were going to bring the children with us, but I really, really don’t want to. I mean, who wants to spend Christmas with a dying relative that doesn’t really like you? I know I don’t, but May needs my support.”

Tony made a face. “Yeah, she shouldn’t face that alone, but that does sound awful. I’m sorry you’re going to have to deal with that. What can I do to help? Travel costs? Hotel?”

“Could you keep Peter and Morgan over the holidays? They already know you, Peter loves you to pieces, they wouldn’t worry or have to be scared if they were with you?” Pepper didn’t quite put her hands up to make a prayerful argument, but she looked close to it. 

And god, how could Tony even think of telling her no? She’d been the most important person in his life for years; he adored Peter and Morgan; and they really should not have to face their hateful troll of a grandmother, because Tony was pretty sure that a deathbed change of heart wasn’t in the cards. And finding a caretaker through the holidays, at the last minute like this? Yeah, that wasn’t happening. “Yeah, of course,” he said. “It’ll be an extended sleepover.”

“Oh, my god, really? Tony, really, you will?” Pepper clapped both hands over her mouth, eyes brimming with sudden tears of relief. “Oh, you’re the best, just the absolute best.” She snatched a tissue from his desk and blotted her eyes before her mascara ran everywhere and ruined her business face. “Oh, my god. Thank you. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Tony said, reaching over the desk to pat her hand. “What are friends for, right? You focus on May, and let me handle the kids. I’ve babysat for you before, it’ll be fine.”

“I’m… this is going to be so much relief, I can concentrate on helping May and not on worrying about the kids, I’m just going to go call her and let her know,” Pepper said. She sniffled once, looking much less mature and put together than she usually did. It was a good look on her, really.

“You do that,” Tony said. “Take the day, if you need to. Let me know when you want to bring the kids over.”