I.

For the fifth time since 16:30 – when this meeting had been convened and was, incidentally, only six minutes ago – Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes' cell phone rang.

Secretary Ross gave him a pointed look. "It's Stark, isn't it?"

James Rhodes didn't quite lift his head. "Yes, it is."

"What," the Secretary of State leaned his elbows on the podium, "the Hell does he want, Colonel?"

"I don't know, Mr. Secretary," Rhodes answered lowly, "It's been several weeks since my last communication with Mr. Stark."

The phone began ringing a sixth time.

"Well for the love of God communicate with him now!"

Pressing the door closed behind him Rhodey put the phone to his ear, "Whatever this is, Tony," he said, "It had better be good."

"It's not." Tony said blithely, "What you up to? Something fun, I hope?"

"Damn it, Tony," Rhodey hissed, side-stepping an intern. "I'm in a meeting."

"You…can't be serious."

"Yes. Yes Tony. I can be serious," he said. He shut the empty conference room door behind him. "You know what? This is the definition of serious. You know who I'm supposed to be meeting with? Right now?"

Tony sighed. "Well, I'm guessing not Santa Clause. He usually makes people happy."

"No. It's the Secretary of State, Tony. Secretary Ross. About last time."

"Last time?"

"Yes, last time Tony."

"Wait…should I…remember 'last time'? Cause I'm drawing a pretty profound blank in that area…"

"Yes. You should remember 'last time', Tony. I have been working my ass off trying to clean up the mess you've got yourself into –"

"Don't do that Rhodes, you have a nice ass."

"Damn it, Tony! Do you have any idea what kind of situation you'd be in right now if it wasn't for what I'm doing for you?"

"I'm guessing a 'thank you' and some flowers isn't gonna cut it?"

"Not even the tip of the iceberg."

"Noted."

"I've got things to do besides picking up after the Avengers, Tony."

"Hey –"

"Now what is it?" Rhodey asked, "Need your diaper changed?"

There was a long silence on the other end of the line.

"I'm gonna let the insensitivity of that last remark slide." Tony finally said, "And – you –" he re-adjusted, "You're part of the Avengers now, you do realize that?"

Folding his arm across his chest Rhodey said, "Uh-huh."

"Okay. Good. I mean, I'd kinda hope so, at this point. Come on, the wedding's over –"

"The point, Tony?"

"And the honeymoon too, apparently. Speaking of diapers, and honeymoons, I've got a nut for you to ponder."

"Really, Tony?" Rhodey pressed the bridge of his nose. "Thanks. Thank you for that."

"'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire'…Not necessary. What're friends for if not to…mentally…scar you. What should I get Pepper for Christmas this year?"

Rhodey lowered the phone, "You've gotta be kidding me," he muttered. Then he recalled to whom he was speaking and their long history together, and he recovered himself, lifting the device back to his ear.

"…rabbit last year was a flop."

"Yeah?" he asked dryly, "Is that the sound it made when it landed in the Pacific?"

"That's the last time I take advice from a drunk…And that's not nice."

"Neither was giving the entire world your home address. How'd Pepper like that last Christmas?"

"Okay, that was one time!" Tony scoffed. "Guess who didn't take their vitamins this morning. Have you been to the doctor recently? I think you must be coming down with something. You're not usually this…crabby. I was just looking for suggestions."

"I don't have time for this, Tony."

"So this is it? After all those years of telling me I didn't have to do this alone?"

"That was about world safety, Tony. Not Christmas presents!"

"I don't see a difference."

Rhodey stopped pacing. "You can't be serious."

"Okay," Tony said. "Okay, fine. I get it. Eventually the kids gotta grow up, go to college, break up the band for good… They always say they'll get back together, but we all know how that goes…"

"Look, Tony, not today," Rhodey pressed the bridge of his nose, "Okay? I've got things to do."

"Maybe I'll buy her a farm by the base. You know, Upstate New York? Bet she'd like that. She and Mrs. Barton can be little farm-wives. She's been talking about getting away for a while now."

"That is a terrible idea."

"Rhodey, Buddy, I am a generator of bad ideas. It's not like Vision's any good at this now that he's been 'upgraded'. Usually I'd ask him, or Pepper, or…huh…"

"Look, Tony, there are other people in the world that you could ask. What about your Avenger friends? Try them for a change." Gaining momentum, Rhodey began to pace, "You know what?" he said, "Why don't you give Pepper that for Christmas? Give Pepper a break. I'm sure she'd love that. Ponder that nut."

"Mm. Nice. You know what? I just might."

And the line went dead.

"Hello? Hello? Tony?" Closing his eyes, Rhodey set the phone on the table and shook his head. "This ain't gonna be good."

Standing, he put the phone back into his pocket, straightened his coat, and left, shutting the conference room door behind him.

II.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Big Man

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Hey, Jolly Green

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Bruce

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Bruce

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

BRUCE

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Are you ignoring me?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

…Hi.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

After all we've been through, that's

all I get? Hi?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

Im at work.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Got plans for the holidays?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

No

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

Im gonna regret that, arnt I?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Nope

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Because you're part of my plan

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

More of a scheme, if you will. My

Christmas Scheme.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

I'm gonna make your Christmas

dreams come true.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

Why do I suddenly feel sick to my stomach

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Say no more. Your gratitude is

understood.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

Thats not what I meant

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Yeah, well, I edited you.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

I'm bringing out your better side.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

Heh. Sure.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

That means you're in, right?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

No

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

…I know where you live

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

You can't beat my roommate.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Aren't you supposed to be at work

right now?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Besides, I'm sure he's forgiven me

for last time.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Right?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

What are we even talking about?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

About? My…plans? Or…last time?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

Your plans, Tony

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Oh. Yeah. Thought you'd probably

remember the other one. YIKES.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

We're arguing about your basic

constitutional right as an American adult

to plan your own activities. No worries.

You'll never miss it. You're coming to

spend Christmas at the Tower.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

Avengers Tower?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Yep

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

…the day…?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

The Season

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

The season?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Got your floor all set up for you.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

Does Pepper know about this?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Said you liked it last time. 'It's real

nice, Tony,' if I remember. Get here

whenever you're out of work.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

No promises

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony Stark

Sweet. See you then.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Jolly Green

Why do I even bother

III.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

Agent Romanoff

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

Did you miss me?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

May I enquier as to the state of your

holiday plans?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Mother of Evil

TBD. Why?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

Is Birdman with you?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Mother of Evil

Mmm…who's asking?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

Handsome as Hell, billionaire prodigy,

Anthony Stark ;)

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Mother of Evil

Why not ask him yourself?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

You – of all people – should know

never to give the day-to-day particulars

of scheduling to a man. Normal modus

operandi would demand a wife be

contacted.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

Or a secretary.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

You…count.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

Somehow.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Mother of Evil

…Well?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

…I expected you to ask more than that.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Mother of Evil

Did you have a pertinent question, Stark?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

Yeah. Lost it in translation. Come to the

Tower. Bring a toothbrush.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Girl on Fire

…why?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

Oh. You're here too.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Mother of Evil

I showed him the text, former prodigy. I'm in ;)

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Fancy Pants

That was…too easy

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Girl on Fire

She likes Christmas

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Fancy Pants

That's…weird.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Fancy Pants

How 'bout you, Everdeen?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Girl on Fire

Everdeen?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Fancy Pants

Katnis. Gosh. Don't you READ?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Girl on Fire

Can't

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Fancy Pants

Can't. In this day and age. You can't

read. That explains some things.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Girl on Fire

Family

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Fancy Pants

That one word has broken too many

hearts. Can't let it stop our love, Barton.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Fancy Pants

Radio Silence is making me nervous.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Fancy Pants

Talk to me, guys.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

GUYS?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Mother of Evil

He's in.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

…Okay...?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

Does he need a medic?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Mother of Evil

He's fine.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

…Can he tell me that himself…?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Mother of Evil

No

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Mother of Evil

I stole his phone

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

Two master assassins and you solve

your problems like children

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Mother of Evil

Really, Stark?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

I'm proud of you.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

Did you bite him this time?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Mother of Evil

I usually go home with him on Holiday

Leave. I convinced him that we could

spend a few days with you first.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Stark

How'd you swing that?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Mother of Evil

Called in a favor and traded our tickets

for better ones.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Fancy Pants

Well, isn't that just like a woman,

eh? ;)

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Fancy Pants

Did she bite you this time?

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Mother of Evil

He's sulking. He's a big baby.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Fancy Pants

What she said

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Girl on Fire

Can it Stark, I had a quiet weekend planned

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Fancy Pants

I'll see you in ten, Legolas.

IV.

NOW CALLING: Amber Waves of Grain

Stark, is this important?

Um, how are you? How's your day going?

Fine, Tony. What's going on?

Hi. Nice to know I have a rep. I'm doing well, in case you were curious.

Stark, if you could get to the point…

You got something better to do? I mean, for Pete's sake, you're over ninety-five years old. Most of your contemporaries are just happy to be playing bingo in nursing homes right now.

I'm sorry, Tony. That was un-called for. I'm just in the middle of some things right now. What's going on?

Eh. I'll make you pay for it later. At my place.

Your place? You mean the Tower?

Where…else… would I mean?

What's going on at the Tower, Tony?

Do I detect a sigh? I really think I heard a sigh.

You want me to come by the Tower…?

No. I want you to stay at my Tower. For Christmas.

Now? For Christmas? That's not for another two weeks.

Are you sure? I've – son of a gun – my paper chain really is that long. Sure. Why not. Come on, Pops. Make a little tike's Christmas dream come true. Isn't – isn't that what keeps senior citizens going through the holidays?

Heh. Very funny, Tony. …You invited Barton? And Romanoff?

Yes. Wait. How did you – you don't have spider-senses, do you? 'Cause that'd be weird. Is that what this is? America-senses?

No, Tony, Romanoff texted me.

You. Wait. You text?

Yes, Tony, I text.

You text? And you didn't tell me?

Guess it slipped my mind.

How did I slip your mind? How long has this been going on?

Romanoff got me into it.

That's it. You're out. I don't want you at my Tower. I can't believe you text and you didn't tell me. But that means I'll have to nix her too…and she did get Barton in for me…

You're telling me you want all of us staying at the Tower? Until Christmas?

You cannot be implying that you have some self-righteous argument against it. Especially not after texting behind my back.

No, not at all. I just think you're maybe biting off more than you can chew.

…Gee. Thanks, Dad. Maybe you should text me some advice about it.

It's not like that.

I can't believe you text and you didn't tell me!

Get over it, Tony. Does Pepper know?

But I'm not over it. We'll be discussing this, later. My place. Fifteen minutes. Bring a toothbrush and long-jons.

Fine. But I'll be late. Gotta finish some things here first.

It's a date.

Tell Pepper. Or I will.

Uhh, static. Didn't catch that last bit.

V.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony

The game's afoot

NEW MESSAGE FROM: WARMACHINEROX

Glad to hear it.

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony

Our child

NEW MESSAGE FROM: Tony

…will be beautiful

NEW MESSAGE FROM: WARMACHINEROX

…I'm just not gonna ask.