Tony couldn’t believe he’d let Steve talk him into this. Bad enough that he’d been suckered into going to chop down a Christmas tree, but to have absolutely no access to the outside world was just unacceptable. He glared at Steve and reminded, “Kinda need to be accessible in case, you know, the world ends while we’re off chopping down an innocent tree.”
Steve continued to hold Tony’s phone out of reach. “Jarvis can reach you through the communicator if there’s an emergency.”
“Indeed, sir,” Jarvis chimed in over the audio.
Tony’s glower intensified and he muttered, “Traitor.”
Steve grinned and put Tony’s phone in his pocket. “If you’re not driving, then I’ll just…”
“Oh no you don’t!” Tony exclaimed, rushing to beat Steve to the driver’s side door. He jabbed a finger at the other man and said, “I may be crazy enough to get talked into this and be incommunicado during this, but you are not driving. Grandma.”
Steve just chuckled and held up his hands. “God forbid one of your cars actually drive the speed limit.”
“Damn skippy,” Tony grumbled, sliding into the seat of the SUV. There was no way he was taking one of his good cars on this trip. Not when it was going to involve hideous things like mud and tree branches scraping into precious paint.
Steve climbed into the passenger’s seat and immediately reached for the radio.
Tony slapped his hand away. “We are not listening to Christmas Carols.” Steve, the bastard, gave him a hurt look with big, blue eyes and Tony groaned. “Fine. Whatever.”
Smiling again, Steve turned on the radio and Bing Crosby filled the air in less than a minute. Pepper must have schooled him in digital radio, because he had no problem zooming in on the right station.
Tony shook his head and drove out of the garage, merging with traffic in a blare of horns around him. Steve clutched at the safety handle, which prompted Tony into feeling a lot better all of a sudden. He whistled along to the carols all the way to the highway, occasionally looking over to where Captain America clutched at the dashboard or safety handle at particularly close calls. It did his heart good.
Once they were on the highway, Steve relaxed a little and said, “Pepper still in Hong Kong?”
Tony nodded. “‘Til the fourth, yeah. She decided to take a few days off. Why, I don’t know. It’s not like I make her work or anything.”
Steve arched an eyebrow at him, clearly skeptical of that statement.
“Well, work much,” Tony amended. “And besides! She loves me. It’s not really work if you love what, or who, you’re doing, right?”
Steve snorted and said diplomatically, “That’s what I’ve heard.”
Tony let that go and started singing along with Frankie. He caught Steve’s surprised look and said, “What?”
“I didn’t know you could sing.”
Steve smiled and said, “I’m finding a lot about you to be a surprise, Tony.”
Tony wasn’t sure that was a compliment, but said, “Thanks, Cap.”
They drove in silence for a good half hour, listening to the music. It was a surprisingly comfortable silence, considering all their ‘professional’ friction. But then, they’d become friends, sort of, since leveling half of New York the summer before. Tony still thought Steve was a self-righteous throwback sometimes, and he was sure that Steve thought Tony was an arrogant asshole - though he’d never say as much - but they got along surprisingly well when not struggling to be top dog in a pack of alphas.
“Turnoff’s coming up soon.”
Tony nodded at Steve’s reminder and said, “I know where it is.”
Steve looked over at him. “You do?”
Tony’s mouth twisted sideways in fond amusement as he thought about his last trip out to this tree farm. “Pepper made me do this a few years ago. Rhodey joined in. I didn’t have a choice with both of them harping me about it.”
Chuckling, Steve murmured, “Of course you didn’t.”
Tony made a face and turned off the highway at the next exit. The city was long gone; now they were surrounded by white snow and evergreen trees, mostly pine, along the two-lane road. Houses occasionally dotted the land, but this was farm country for the most part; horse farms and small, organic farms.
“It’s beautiful out here.”
The oddly wistful tone to Steve’s voice startled Tony into looking over at him. “You have been out here before, right?”
Steve shook his head. “I lived in Brooklyn 'til I joined the Army and then I was doing this USO tour, but they never let me actually see much outside of the stage. And Europe during the war wasn't exactly good for sight seeing.”
Tony pulled over to the side of the road and twisted in his seat to face him. “Seriously? You have got to be kidding me. You never just went somewhere for the fun of it?”
“Well, I’ve been to the Bronx and Manhattan,” Steve replied with a frown. “Why?”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Why? Because there’s a whole world out there, Cap! Didn’t you ever want to travel around and see it? You know, when things weren’t falling apart around you?”
Steve shrugged and said, “Well sure, but it’s not like I can afford it.”
Tony literally banged his head against the steering wheel as he muttered, “Can’t afford it, he says.”
“Um, Tony? Why are you banging your head against the steering wheel?”
Tony stopped and looked at him again. “Cap. Steve. Look, do you even realize how much back pay and hazard pay and reward money you’ve probably got lying around in bank accounts? Seriously. After being frozen for seventy years, you probably have quite the nest egg built up. And even if you don’t, hello? Billionaire right here. We’re kinda roommates, so why not just ask me if you wanted to go somewhere?”
Steve folded his arms across his chest defensively. “Because I don’t ask for handouts, Tony. You gotta know that about me.”
Tony dragged his palm over his face, thoroughly exasperated by the bizarre man sitting next to him. How was he for real? “How are you for real?”
Steve frowned at him. “Can we just get the tree, please?”
Tony rolled his eyes and faced forward again, pulling onto the street. It was only another ten minutes to the tree farm and Tony parked the SUV in between all the many different kinds of trucks and cars. A few families were already tying the prized tree to the top of their vehicles, laughing and chattering together, shouting in some cases. Cold air instantly assaulted Tony and he shivered, pulling his leather jacket tighter around his body.
Steve met him around the front of the vehicle and said, “You look cold.”
“That’s because I am cold. It’s like, twenty degrees out, Cap,” Tony complained.
Steve held out a bare hand for a second and then said, “It’s only forty-one.”
Tony threw his hands up and stalked over to where the old man who ran the place, Gersh, sat on a stood in a tiny little lean-to. He was bundled up, but still had to be freezing his nuts off. Tony didn’t know how the old guy did it. Tony had met him a few times over the years since they got the Stark Industries Christmas trees from him. Plus that time Pepper and Rhodey had forced him to come out and mutilate a tree of his own a few years ago.
Gersh’s wizened face lit up when he saw Tony and exclaimed, “Mr. Stark! Great to see you again! Thought it’d be Pepper or her assistant to give me a ring. How many trees this year?”
Tony ignored Steve’s knowing smirk and said, “Just one right now. My friend here just had to chop down his own and dragged me out with him. Gersh, this is Steve. Steve, this is Gersh. He owns and runs this fine establishment.”
Gersh chuckled and shook Steve’s hand. “Good to meet you, young man. Well now, here’s your ax and just grab a sled. Go on and have fun, boys.”
Tony passed the ax to Steve and picked up the sled’s lead. “Which way you want to go, Cap?”
Steve set out east and Tony followed him. Silence fell almost right away, the only real sounds their boots in the snow, the shush of the sled, and the occasional birdsong. It felt like they were in a real forest, except visually, everything was much too linear. The trees seemed to go on forever, getting taller and thicker as they continued walking. After a while, it started to feel like they were the only two people in the world.
Tony stopped abruptly and asked, “So where do you want to go?”
Steve gave him a curious look. “When?”
“Whenever. Where do you want to go? For fun,” he stressed.
“What, like on vacation?”
“Sure. Let’s go with that.”
“I don’t know… I hear Niagara Falls is pretty spectacular.”
Tony really wanted to be in his SUV so he could bang his head on the steering wheel again; at least it was softer than the ones in his sports cars. “Anywhere, I don’t know, warm and exotic? Fiji? Hawaii? How about Ft. Lauderdale?”
That last was sarcastic, but Steve looked thoughtful and asked, “Where’s Disney World again?”
At that, Tony gave up. He looked around. “See any trees you want to kill?”
“What? You’re the one cutting down an innocent tree in its prime. I’m all for the non-flammable, reusable plastic trees. No muss, no fuss.”
Steve rolled his eyes and said, “This is a tree farm. It’s not going to hurt the ecology of anything by cutting one down.”
“How do you know? And have you asked the tree how it feels about this?” Tony asked, hiding a grin as he ostensibly turned to look in the other direction.
Steve chuckled and said, “That one. Over there.”
Tony turned back and followed the line of sight from Cap’s pointed finger. It wasn’t a huge tree, somewhere around six feet, but well portioned and full. “Go for it.”
It took Steve all of four minutes to chop the tree down; Tony timed him, just for the hell of it. Once Steve got the tree on the sled, Tony held the lead out to him. Steve frowned at him, so Tony said, “Hey. You’re the super soldier.”
“So, basically, you’re just here to drive and mock me,” Steve observed, lips twitching into a grin.
Tony shrugged, smiling back. “Why should today be any different?”
Steve shook his head, but the smile stayed put as he took the rope and started walking back towards the parking lot. Tony fell into step with him and, somehow, gravitated closer. By the time they reached Gersh, they were bumping shoulders.
“Was starting to think you boys got lost,” Gersh said, standing up. He peered down at the tree and said, “That’s a nice one! That’ll be seventy-five, Mr. Stark.”
Tony’s eyebrows went up. “Seventy five dollars? Come on. It’s puny. I’ll give you thirty.”
“Tony!” Steve exclaimed, sounding horrified.
Gersh clapped his hands together, looking almost gleeful at the haggling. “Thirty! And how am I supposed to feed my dog on that, never mind myself? Sixty-five, and not a penny less.”
“You’ve got a Chihuahua, which I maintain isn’t a real dog, so I’m sure you’d manage. But I’ll give you forty because I’m such a nice guy.”
“Nice guy, my hairy old ass! Sixty and I’ll throw in some rope, because I’m guessing you forgot to bring some.”
Tony had forgotten and paused. “Deal.”
Gersh cackled as they shook hands. “Good doin’ business with you, Mr. Stark.”
“You too, Gersh. Hey, some guys’re going to swing by next week to get the trees for the offices,” Tony told him.
Gersh nodded. “Was wondering about that. Was waitin’ on word from Pepper. Here’s your rope. Merry Christmas, Mr. Stark.”
Tony smiled. “Merry Christmas, Gersh.”
Steve and Gersh shook hands again and exchanged goodbyes.
It didn’t take long before they had the tree loaded on top of the SUV. Steve handled the whole thing. Tony might be able to put together a nuclear bomb with little more than paper clips and some plutonium, but he wasn’t ashamed to admit that the logistics of keeping a tree in place on top of a vehicle was beyond him. Not to mention tree sap was a bitch to get off.
Tony hummed lightly to the carols on the drive back to the city and Steve joined in now and again with words. It felt strange, doing something so normal. Tony didn’t do normal; or, hadn’t done in a very, very long time. They got back to the tower in about an hour, thanks to an accident only a few blocks away. Even that didn’t ruin the mood, though, and Steve insisted on putting it up right away.
It was just the two of them in-residence, as it were. Bruce was at CalSci running a promising new experiment with some gifted mathematician who couldn’t be persuaded to come to NYC. Natasha and Clint were, well, no one really knew except Phil and Fury, who weren’t telling. And Thor still wasn’t back from Asgard. No one had heard from him in months, which had Jane morose every time Pepper talked to her.
They actually had to go out for a tree stand and then decided to get lunch so it was a couple of hours before they returned to the tower. When they walked into the spacious living room, the tree still rested against a wall, but a few old cardboard boxes sat nearby. Tony recognized one with his mother’s handwriting in black marker, ‘XMAS DECORATIONS,’ but didn’t know about the other two. A quick glance at Steve showed the other man knew them well; he was wide-eyed and staring, gaze locked on the boxes.
Steve stumbled forward and then dropped to his knees, opening one with a shaky hand. “How did… where did you find these?”
Tony hesitated and then said, “I don’t know what they are, I didn’t find them. What’s in them?”
“My Ma’s Christmas decorations,” Steve whispered.
Tony made a mental note to give Pepper an extra extra bonus as he said cautiously, “That’s good, right?”
Steve lifted shining eyes to him and nodded emphatically, blond bangs flopping a little in his face. “It’s just swell, Tony!”
Tony oofed a little when Steve lurched to his feet and grabbed him in a hug that was just a little too tight. “Uh, Cap? Need to breathe here.”
“Oh!” Steve let him go, then laughed, running a hand through his hair self-consciously. “Sorry.”
Tony smiled. “No problemo. Look. Why don’t you, you know, sort through all those and then we’ll get this tree decorated to within an inch of its life.”
Steve nodded and then noticed the other box. “Oh hey, are those yours?”
Tony shrugged a little and said, “Haven’t used them in forever. I guess Pepper was feeling sentimental or something.”
Steve gave him a knowing look and then said, “I guess so.”
It took a lot longer to organize things than it normally would have, because Steve kept stopping and telling Tony stories about everything he pulled out of the box. There were handmade chimney stockings that his grandmother had knitted and delicate glass-blown ornaments that shouldn’t have survived seventy years of storage, and long lines of wire which, as Steve explained, “We popped some corn and strung the lines around the tree. Oh, hey! We can do that, right?”
“Sure. No problem, Cap,” Tony agreed.
They wound up working on the tree for the entire day. It was dark out before Steve was satisfied with what they’d done and declared, “That’s a great tree!”
Tony had to admit that it really kinda was. It was a mix of really old, somewhat old - his mom’s stuff - and new - things Pepper, Rhodey, and he had gotten a few years ago - but everything worked together once it was in place. Tony tossed an arm over Steve’s shoulder and said, “Jarvis! Take a picture!”
Steve asked, “Where do I look?”
Tony pointed to the hidden camera and said, “Say cheese!”
Steve obliged. “Cheese?”
Tony laughed and heard a couple of clicks. Facing Steve again, he said, “It’s a thing. Just say cheese when someone wants to take your picture.”
Steve still looked confused. “Okay.”
“C’mon. Now it’s time for the fun part. Eggnog!” Tony said, tugging Steve along with him.
Steve laughed, but let himself be towed along.
Tony, of course, spiked the eggnog when Steve wasn’t looking and then got the disappointment of his life when Steve made a face and said, “Don’t bother. I can’t get drunk.”
Tony’s jaw actually dropped and he said, “Not even tipsy?”
“Not even,” Steve said, pouring out the eggnog and then making himself a fresh glass without the rum. “Thanks for the thought, though.”
Tony heaved a dramatic sigh. “You really are a special little snowflake, aren’t you?”
Steve quirked a grin his way and said, “Looks like.”
They went back to the living room and sat on the largest of the three sofas, facing out towards the city with the tree to the side. Twinkling lights ahead and to his left, Tony let out a contented sigh and sank comfortably into the leather, head lolling back on the cushion. “This is awesome.”
“A little slower than what you’re used to, isn’t it?” Steve asked quietly.
Tony shrugged. “A lot slower. Still awesome. Thanks, Cap. For today.”
Steve nudged him a little with his shoulder. “I should be thanking you. You didn’t have to do this.”
Tony didn’t answer, not sure what to say. He sipped at the eggnog instead and said, “Javis, put some carols on, wouldja?”
“Of course, sir.”
Bing Crosby filled the apartment and Tony hummed along.
“You have a really nice voice,” Steve murmured.
Tony grinned and said, “I have a nice everything.”
Steve snorted, but then surprised Tony by agreeing, “You do.”
Tony arched an eyebrow at him. “Do tell.”
“Fishing for compliments?”
“With a fly reel.”
Steve chuckled and turned to face him a little more, shifting closer and resting his arm along the back of the sofa. “Okay. Let’s see. You’ve got nice eyes. A really nice smile, when it’s not fake. A generous heart. Don't think I didn't see you slip Mr. Gersh a hundred dollar bill. And you’re one of the bravest men I know. How’s that?”
Tony blinked at the sincerity in Steve’s voice, taken aback. He’d been teasing, mostly, fishing for compliments out of his usual insecurity. He hadn’t actually expected Steve to say anything. “Uh, thanks, Cap.”
Steve frowned a little and said, “Please call me Steve. It feels like you’re mocking me when you call me Cap.”
“Well I was at first, but mostly it’s a nickname now. No offense intended anymore,” Tony assured him.
It occurred to him then, that they were very close together on a sofa that could fit five people comfortably. Tony stared into those slate-blue eyes for a few minutes, not sure what he was seeing there. Steve clarified it, a lot, when he leaned forward and kissed him, soft and chaste.
Steve pulled back just a little, still close enough for Tony to feel his breath when he asked softly, “That okay?”
Tony nodded, too stunned to say anything.
Steve hesitated and then pulled back further and said, “Pepper told me you guys weren’t serious anymore. That you were, that you loved each other, but it wasn’t, it was, I think she called it, ‘friends with benefits?’”
Tony let out a sharp breath, but had to concede, “Yeah, that’s about right. I love her to pieces, but we nearly killed each other when we got serious a few years ago. So we backed off.”
“So, it’s okay if I do this,” Steve murmured, leaning in again to kiss him with more intent.
Getting kissed by Captain America was probably every woman’s fantasy but other than a few, odd thoughts about Steve’s hot body and gorgeous eyes, Tony hadn’t ever seriously considered him. First, he’d thought the guy straight as an arrow. But also because of just how much friction there was between them. None of that mattered right then, though, because Tony’s thoughts vanished under the gentle assault of Steve’s mouth to his and the careful slide of tongue over his lips.
Tony gasped with the sudden need to breathe and Steve took advantage of that, pressing him against the sofa and deepening the kiss. Tony groaned into it, opening further and kissing back. They made out with long, drugging kisses for what seemed like hours. When Steve finally pulled away, Tony honestly couldn’t remember where he was for a few seconds and had to open his eyes.
Steve smiled and trailed a finger down his cheek. “That’s a nice look on you, Tony.”
Tony let out a shaky breath as the penny dropped and he said, “This whole day was a date, wasn’t it?”
Steve grinned suddenly, dimpling in an abashed look. “Yeah. Pepper said I should wait to tell ya until it was over.”
Tony snorted, amused and annoyed. “Pepper was right. And by the way, you don’t need to ask her for my hand in marriage, if we get that far down the line.”
Steve softened and put an arm over his shoulder, tugging him in close. They arranged themselves on the sofa length-wise and Tony rested back against Steve, head on his shoulder. Steve pressed his lips to Tony’s cheek and said, “If we get that far down the line, I’m asking her and Rhodey for your hand in marriage.”
Tony laughed. Sure. Why not? It wasn’t like they didn’t run his life already anyhow. He wiggled his ass a little against Steve and said, “Just so you know? I put out on the first date.”
Steve chuckled and squeezed him a little. “Well, I don’t. Time for you to slow down a little, Tony. Think you can handle that?”
Looking out at their city, surrounded by Steve’s warmth, Tony laced their fingers together. “Yeah. I can handle that.”