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Happy Fourth, Captain

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Steve doesn’t want it to be a big deal.

He doesn’t want it to be about him, either, because it really should be about America—because America came first (when he allows himself to feel particularly bitter, he thinks about how it sometimes feels as if America is one of the only things left that is actually older than he is even though he knows this is very untrue)—and is far more important than he is, in any case.

It’s America’s birthday too.

Steve doesn’t want it to be a big deal.

Naturally, Tony does.

 

X

 

“I’m not sure I understand why four African elephants need to be in attendance,” Steve says, squinting down at the list even though his vision is probably better than perfect.

“Four elephants, three rhinoceros, two water buffalo, a giraffe, and ten peacocks,” Natasha deadpans from where she’s curled herself into the window seat like a cat, doing something questionable with a knife as long as Steve’s forearm, “and they need to be here because Stark is throwing you the birthday party he never had as a child.”

Now that Steve thinks about it, this is probably true.

“Are you going to be there?” he asks anyway, partially to be polite and mostly because she’s his teammate and if he’s going to have a blowout birthday blast as Tony keeps calling it, he’d like all of his teammates to be there.

The corners of Natasha’s lips quirk up.  “I leave in an hour,” she says, and does not elaborate.

“Be safe,” he tells her sincerely.

She slides to her feet, and Steve isn’t sure where she puts the knife but it’s suddenly gone from her hands.  “Happy birthday,” she says, the words a little stilted as if she’s never had to say them before, “try not to let Stark go too crazy.”

“I’ll do my best,” Steve says, giving a small laugh despite himself.

Natasha’s still almost-smiling as she brushes past him, and he feels something small but heavy drop into his pocket.  Then she slips out the door without looking back, gone in the blink of an eye.

 

X

 

Bruce gives him a handle of whiskey.

“I know you can’t get drunk,” he says when Steve raises an eyebrow, “and frankly, that’s probably for the best.  But I stole this from Tony and thought you ought to have it.  Fitting.”

Steve can’t help it, he grins.  “Well in that case.”

Bruce shoves his hands into his pockets, looking a little worn and weary like he always does, but he manages a smile.  “You can always, I don’t know, pretend or something.”

“You sure you don’t want to keep it for yourself?” Steve asks him.

“Oh no,” Bruce replies with a small, self-deprecating laugh, “I don’t drink.  It’s, ah, a little too easy to get angry.”

“I understand,” Steve assures him.  Slightly at a loss, he lifts the whiskey in a small wave.  “Well, thanks for this.  Will you be at the, er, bash?”

Bruce has already turned away, no doubt planning on disappearing back into Tony’s labs, but he calls back over his shoulder, “I’ll be there.  Someone has to help them set up the bounce house properly.”

Bounce house, Steve mouths in small marvel to himself, and wonders what exactly Tony is planning.

 

X

 

Steve goes for a run in the afternoon because all these preparations for the bash are making him edgy.

“Did you like what we got you.” Clint says, popping out of the bushes very suddenly and nearly giving Steve a heart attack (he’s too healthy to ever worry about the likes of that, though).  It should be a question but with Clint everything is a statement.

Then again, with Clint everything is also a target.  Straightforward guy, Hawkeye.

“Not sure I follow.” Steve says cautiously.

Clint sighs, a little impatient.  “Natasha said she already gave it to you.”

“Oh,” Steve says, fishing in his pocket and pulling out a thick pocket knife, “this?  It’s great, I love it.”  Both sides are covered in American flags.  When Steve had first unwrapped it after Natasha had slipped it into his pocket, he’d sat at the counter of Tony’s expensive kitchen and had unfolded the implements one by one, impressed by how many different gadgets one little knife could hold.

“Sixteen different tools,” Clint says, a little proud, “I wanted to get the one that has 87 but Natasha said no.”

“Did she,” Steve says faintly, wondering what he’d ever do with 87 different small knives.

No doubt Clint and Natasha would know.

Clint nods, looking very grim as if it was a great shame.  “I got you this too.”

From out of nowhere—what is it with master assassins and summoning things from thin air?—he pulls out a small box of fireworks.  Steve takes it reverently, grinning at the brightly colored firecrackers within.  It’s cheesy and Clint probably bought it at the nearest grocery store, but Steve thinks it’s the best thing he’s seen all day.

“Happy Fourth, Captain,” Clint says, his grin a little softer than normal.

“Thank you,” Steve says with feeling, “do you think Tony would mind if we set them off later?”

Clint rolls his eyes.  “Tony probably has several rocket launchers ready to go.  Wouldn’t want anyone to claim that Iron Man is unpatriotic.”

“Oh, of course,” Steve agrees, but he secretly wishes that they could just set off the small box of fireworks instead.

Several men come around the corner of the house, lugging giant pieces of what appears to be a large tent between them.

“Oh, the tent guys are here,” Clint says dismissively, “better go make sure all the rides got here alright.”

“Rides?” Steve asks, a little warily.

“For the carnival,” Clint answers casually, and then lopes off in the direction of the workers without a further backwards glance.

This time Steve outright groans.  “Tony.”

 

X

 

Steve runs into Fury.  “Sir.”

Fury looks at him for a long moment with his single eye.  “Captain.”

“Have a happy Fourth, sir,” Steve says.

Fury inclines his head.  “You as well, Captain.”

Fairly decent conversation length, Steve reckons.

 

X

 

Thor arrives at dusk, and announces that for Steve’s Glorious Nameday, he has brought the food.

There is enough of it to probably sustain several small countries.

“We’re never going to eat all of this ourselves,” Steve says, a little dismayed.

“Fear not, Son of Rogers,” Thor booms, clapping him solidly on the shoulder, “I have brought a mighty appetite!”

“Yeah he’ll eat like half of it,” Darcy chimes in with a nod.

“We can always donate whatever we don’t eat to a homeless shelter,” Jane suggests kindly, “how about that?”

Steve nods, feeling a little better.  He opens his mouth to reply, but then he’s momentarily distracted when he sees several clowns walk past out the window.  Clowns.

“I need to talk to Tony,” he says, excusing himself, and hurries out the back door to the sound of Thor calling after him happily, “Later we will drink to your ancestors and make jest, Son of Rogers!”

X

Surprisingly Steve hasn’t seen Tony all day, but now he finds the man without a heart—supposedly—out by the large tent that has been erected, cocktail in one hand, shouting orders like he owns the place.

Well, he sort of does.

“Tony,” Steve calls, catching his attention at once, “Tony, we need to talk.”

“Steve!  The birthday boy!”  Tony throws up his hands.  “Oops, happy Fourth of July, too!  What do you think?”

Steve spares a glance.  The yard has been transformed into a carnival straight out of his own era, bright lights and happy music.  It’s a little nostalgic, but he makes himself focus.  “We need to talk.  About all of this.”

“Great, isn’t it?” Tony asks, grinning his best eat-shit grin.  “No, don’t say a word—I don’t expect you to fall over yourself thanking me.  At least not yet, anyway.”

“Don’t you think this is a little extravagant?” Steve asks.  He doesn’t want to hurt Tony’s feelings, especially with all of the effort Tony has obviously put into this whole spectacle, but he channels a little bit of Captain America, Avengers Team Leader, to be firm.  “This is very nice, but I would’ve been happy with just a small party for the team, too.”

Tony’s grin merely grows.  “What, you think this is all for you?  Don’t tell the press, Captain America is actually selfish!”

Steve blinks.  “What?”

“Please,” Tony says with a roll of his eyes, “I knew this isn’t the kind of party you’d want.  But I figured that you would like this.”  He jerks his chin back towards the house.

Steve turns around in time to see Natasha step out onto the lawn, dressed in plain civilian clothes, leading a pack of what has to be at least two hundred children, their loud, excited voices carrying clearly across the yard.  They run for the carnival, and soon the place is not only alight with lights and music, but shrieks of laughter too.

“Sent Natasha out to the ten nearest orphanages,” Tony remarks casually as they watch, “hope Thor brought enough food to feed ’em all.”

“Tony,” Steve says, at a loss for words.

Tony lifts his cocktail glass in a small salute, grinning.  “Happy birthday, you big sap.  Now for the love of Thor’s mighty brethren, go eat some cotton candy and enjoy the fireworks.”

 

X

 

Steve is dead tired when he makes it back up to his room in the early hours of the morning.  The night was a huge success overall, and he’s the content sort of tired as he shuts the door firmly behind himself.  The kids all had a blast, he thinks, grinning a little, and even though Tony had waved off all of Steve’s thanks, the man had seemed utterly pleased with himself.

Despite all of this, Steve is faintly relieved that his birthday is over and done with, at least for a year.

His bedroom windows have been thrown open wide, the small breeze making the curtains billow in.  He moves over to close them, ready to get some sleep, but stops when he notices something sitting on the sill.

Steve picks up the small cupcake with the gold and green frosting, glancing out reflexively into the night even though nothing appears to be there.  A small note sits beneath it, Happy Birthday Captain written in thin, spidery lettering.

“Thank you,” Steve says anyway with a small grin, and he’s pretty sure he gets a faint laugh in response.