Coulson looked up as Tony entered the common room and shoved Barton's shoulder with his own before he stood up and walked to the kitchen, buttoning his jacket.
"Hey, Stark?" Barton called from where he was sitting beside Steve on the couch. "What would you think of some Christmas decorations around the Tower?" Bruce looked up from the armchair where he was reading, placing a forefinger on the page to mark his place.
Tony directed a quizzical look at him. "Uh, sure? I mean, Sta—uh, Avengers Tower, now— will get decorated just like the rest of our buildings do every year. Pepper's in charge of it," he said, squeezing her hand, and he smiled at her affectionately. "Should be easy enough to get them to come up here and do our floors, right, Pepper?"
As Pepper opened her mouth to respond, Steve stood up and preempted her. "Tony, we can't do that," he protested. "No offense, Pepper," he said, tipping his head deferentially to her. Barton stood, too, and supported Steve with a solid nod and his arms folded firmly across his chest.
"Uh, what? Have people in our quarters?" Tony asked. "They'll be vetted. Full background checks, approved by SHIELD. And Pepper," he added for emphasis. "That's the hard-to-get approval."
"No, we can't have someone else do our Christmas decorating," Steve replied. "Decorating for the holidays is..." He trailed off, searching for the right word.
"It's personal," Barton assisted. "It's your own taste and your own choices, for good or bad."
"It's something families should do together," Steve added, and Tony could almost see the flag and smell the apple pie aroma drifting in a breeze from him.
"That's what the TV shows all say, anyway." Barton shrugged noncommittally. "I wouldn't know."
"Yeah, well, me either," Tony muttered, "I was never classy enough for Stark family home decorating."
A yelp and thump from the kitchen broke the uncomfortable pause that followed. "JARVIS, how can we possibly be out of coffee?" Coulson growled. "STARK!"
"What?" Tony's eyes rounded. He held his hands up to the others in a temporizing gesture. "Coffee emergency!" he exclaimed, forestalling further discussion. "Must fix!"
He dashed into the kitchen, only to hear Coulson thanking JARVIS for allowing Coulson to use him in his deception.
"Are you kidding me? When did this become my life, that an undead super-secret spy is colluding with my AI to give me incipient coffee-deprivation induced heart failure?" Tony muttered cuttingly.
"I needed to get you—and only you—in here with me. I'm not above looking a little foolish to protect my agents. Now." Coulson paused pointedly and fixed Tony with an intent stare. His ordinarily-mild blue gaze was now more like one of Barton's arrows pinning Tony to the wall. "Christmas decorating," he said.
"Ooookay," Tony said, raising his brows.
"None of the Avengers have exactly had a stellar home life," Coulson went on.
"Sure, even I know that much," Tony agreed.
"You have never seen Barton's quarters at Christmas," Coulson said with an emphatic forefinger to Tony's chest for emphasis. "Or Romanov's." At Stark's quizzical look, Coulson continued. "You're familiar with Charlie Brown's Christmas tree?" Tony nodded, clearly not seeing the connection. "Barton's tree dreamed of growing up to be that elegant and dignified."
"Ouch," Tony winced. "So, you're saying that under no circumstances should we allow either of them to decorate," Tony confirmed.
"No," Coulson contradicted him sharply. "I'm saying that under no circumstances should you prevent either of them—any of them—from decorating."
"You know," Tony said thoughtfully, "you have that look about you that says that you believe the words you're using are making logical sense."
"Stark." Coulson reined Tony in with just the single, sharp word. "This is the closest thing any of them have had to a real home in years, perhaps ever. Think," Coulson exhorted him firmly, pushing him back toward the common room. "Just... Think."
"That man," Tony grumbled as he stalked back into the common room, shaking his head. "If we're out of Folgers, Coulson" he continued, voice rising, "just drink the shade-grown, free-trade, bird-friendly, organic, single-farm Sumatra. Like. Everyone. Else!" He finished his rant by yelling the last words over his shoulder toward the kitchen.
"So," he began brightly, rubbing his hands together and turning to the others, "where were we?"
"Decorating our own living quarters," Steve said firmly.
"Sure, whatever," Tony agreed airily. "We can do that. How hard can it be?"
"Well, that all depends, Tony," Pepper put in. "Do the Avengers know that they're dealing with a man who has no idea what Christmas decorations should look like?"
"Pepper, you wound me with your words," he returned, throwing a hand over his chest and directing wide puppy-dog eyes at her.
"That's right, Tony," she said, blue eyes sparkling with laughter. "Two words in particular: Christmas. Bunny."
"Fine. JARVIS, order us up ten or twenty sets of lights and a bunch of ornaments, whatever the cool decorators are using this year..."
"What?" Steve exclaimed.
"No!" Barton objected.
"Tony, you don't do it like that. You don't just..." Steve waved his hands about helplessly. "Throw money at an idea and—"
"Excuse me, have we met?" Tony asked, walking toward Steve and extending his hand for a shake. "Tony Stark,billionaire, and, yeah, that's pretty much exactly what I do. It's my day job. And my side jobs. And my hobbies, too."
"Surely there are plenty of left-overs from previous years' decorating plans?" Steve asked.
"Yeah," Tony responded, "no idea, and don't—"
"—call me Shirley!" Barton and Bruce chorused with him.
"Boys," Pepper chided fondly.
"What have they done now?" Natasha asked as she entered the room.
"Eighties movies," Tony replied. "Like much of the 80s, it's catching. Often incurable. You should run," he grinned.
"They're planning to decorate the Avengers' floors for Christmas," Pepper explained.
"Nice," Natasha said placidly. "All of us together?"
"Sure, if we can find the stuff. What do you say, Pepper?" Tony asked. "Think the decorators will have left a few bits and bobs in storage in years past?"
"I'll find out," she promised, pulling out her phone. With Pepper managing hiring and oversight, every year the decorating designs and themes for the public Stark buildings had been exemplars of style and good taste. Whatever she was able to dig out of the leftovers would surely be better than anything Tony could order.
Tony turned to Steve and Barton, the main instigators. "May I order a new tree, or does that have to be vintage as well?"