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Taking the Bullet

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Steve froze in shock as the shots rang out.  There was a grunt, and something solid struck him, forcing him to stumble back a step before regaining his balance.  Blood was warm and sticky where it coated his shoulder, and he glanced down, his mind not processing what his eyes were seeing.  Was he really that stupid?

 

“Cap! Watch out!” There was a shout, and then a scream as an arrow lodged itself into the shooter’s wrist.  Steve’s hands reached up, gripping the man leaning heavily against him by the shoulders.

 

Tony winced. “Ow, Cap.  Be a little gentler, would you?”  His left hand was clutching his right shoulder, blood pulsing through his fingers from the bullet wound, brown eyes glazed with pain.

 

“I…you…what the hell were you thinking?” Steve hissed, his words tripping over each other as he hauled Tony up against his body, supporting him with an arm around his waist, the other holding his uninjured arm across Steve’s shoulders.  “That bullet wouldn’t have killed me, and I heal a lot faster than you,” he added, already moving, ignoring the panicking crowd currently fleeing the scene of the assassination attempt.

 

Tony snorted, then gave a small, pained moan.  “I don’t think a bullet to the heart is something you could recover from, Cap,” he murmured back, trying for light-hearted and failing.  “Better that I’m injured than that you’re dead.”  He stumbled along, his feet barely touching the ground as Steve got them out of there, catching sight of Natasha moving towards them quickly.

 

It was supposed to have been a simple gathering, just a little something to celebrate the Fourth of July.  And who better to give a celebratory speech than Captain America, the epitome of all things American?  Steve hadn’t particularly wanted to participate, and would’ve been just as happy celebrating in the relatively privacy of the Avengers Tower, but Fury hadn’t really given him much of a choice.  His only consolation was that Tony had agreed to accompany him up on stage.

 

Fury had seemed reluctant, but Steve rather suspected that it was only for show.  The people loved Iron Man, and Tony Stark was incredibly charming when he wanted to be.  Steve might be able to stir up feelings of loyalty and patriotism, but Tony could wrap the press around his little finger with a smile and a wave.  The two of them together were a force to be reckoned with, and the Director of SHIELD had used that to his advantage more than once.

 

But for all that they could charm those around them, they also made dangerous enemies.  And one of them had apparently thought that today would have been the perfect day to strike at the heart of America.  Taking out Captain America on Independence Day would have been a heavy blow.  The timing couldn’t have been better, since Steve didn’t have his shield, and Tony didn’t have his armor.  It hadn’t been needed.  At least, it shouldn’t have been necessary.  Steve was seriously reconsidering Tony’s suggestion that the armor, at least, be kept nearby when they went to public events like this.

 

Steve hadn’t even seen their attacker, temporarily overwhelmed as he was by the reporters shouting questions at him and the onlookers cheering.  So when Tony had stepped in front of him, and two shots had followed, he had frozen for a moment, his mind working to change gears.

 

Someone tugged at Tony, and Steve tightened his grip reflexively, not willing to let the other man go.  He was hurt; he needed help.  “Captain, it’s all right.  I’ve got him.  We need you to catch the guy who did this.”  It was Natasha, and Steve blinked slowly, then released Tony, who let out a low groan as his shoulder shifted, his eyes tightly closed as he allowed Natasha to support most of his weight.  “Barton got a good look at the guy, and he got an arrow through his hand.  He shouldn’t be hard to find.  Now go,” she ordered, and Steve was moving before her words caught up to him.

 

He frowned.  Sure, being injured might slow the guy down, but this was New York.  How many people did Natasha think lived here?  Then again, he realized, she undoubtedly knew that already, and she had still sent him.  The question now was, why?

 

“Hey, Cap,” Clint murmured into his ear piece, and Steve flinched.  He had forgotten that he was still wearing it.  Tony had actually been the one to insist on it, just in case.  Steve felt a reluctant smile tug at his mouth.  Only Tony would insist on having the coms, and then end up being the one who got hurt.  Typical.

 

“Barton,” Steve acknowledged, finally getting his head in the game.  “What have we got? You shot the guy, so I really hope you got a good look at him.”  Not that he had any doubt; Hawkeye’s sight was only matched by his precision.  He had earned his name, that was for sure.

 

There was a low chuckle.  “Guy’s an idiot,” Clint replied.  “Black jeans, not blue.  Bright red t-shirt.  Black ball cap turned backwards, not even hiding his face.  Brown hair, pale skin, about six feet even.  Red sneakers with a black streak up the side.”  Steve felt his eyes slowly widen in disbelief.  Was this guy really that stupid?  Between the shoes and the shirt, he should be easy to spot as long as Steve was looking in the right direction.

 

“Did you see which way he went?” Steve asked next, pausing to wait for a reply. The last thing he wanted to do was to start heading in the wrong direction.

 

The reply came a moment later.  “Might want to head down Delancey,” he suggested cheerfully.  Steve took off running, easily avoiding the people still on the sidewalks.  After the attack, most of the crowd had dispersed.  SHIELD had likely tried to contain as much of the crowd as possible – they’d need witnesses, after all – but if their guy had been on the edge, he could’ve slipped through easily enough before the scattered agents had time to react and close their ranks.

 

“Shit!” Clint swore, and Steve picked up the pace.  “He got in a car, Steve.  Heading towards Brooklyn, it looks like.”  Steve wondered where Clint was.  The steady beat of air rotors answered his question, and he glanced up at the SHIELD helicopter.

 

In front of him, a motorcycle stopped with a roar, and Steve skidded to a halt, recognizing his bike.  Bruce shrugged at him self-consciously.  “Ah, thought you might need this,” he said, climbing off.  Steve nodded his thanks, his throat closing up as he hopped on, revving the engine and taking off into New York traffic.  Fortunately, his bike wasn’t as restrictive as a car would’ve been, and he easily swerved across the lanes, sometimes sliding up along the shoulder.  He felt vaguely guilty about breaking the law, but he was far more concerned about catching the guy who had shot Tony and finding out who was behind the attack.

 

With Barton giving him instructions, it wasn’t much longer before Steve was parking the motorcycle in a small cul-de-sac, staring in disbelief at the address Clint had guided him to.  “You’re sure about this?” he asked, staring at the very normal neighborhood.

 

He could practically hear Clint’s shrug through the mic.  “Yeah, I’m sure our guy went in there.  No other activity that I’ve seen.  Shit, Cap.  Either this punk is really stupid, or really fucking clever.”  Steve nodded in agreement, before remembering that Clint probably couldn’t see it.  Not that it really matter, since he agreed anyhow.  If this was a bad guy’s lair or something, it was really cleverly hidden.  But Steve had the sinking feeling that it wasn’t that easy.

 

Steve was slowly putting the pieces together, and not liking what he was coming up with.  Still, there was no room for hesitation.  If this was just some punk that had agreed to take a shot at Captain America for money or something, his day was about to get a lot worse.  “I’m going in,” he murmured, grabbing his shield off the back of his bike.  Even without the uniform, the shield was a dead giveaway to his identity.  He didn’t want there to be any misunderstandings.

 

“Got it, Cap.  Be careful, in case it’s a trap,” Clint replied.  “We’ve got agents moving in, so yell if you need backup.”  He fell silent, and Steve turned off his com unit.  With a heavy sigh, he slung onto his back and marched up towards the door.  This was not how he wanted to spend his birthday.  A scowl firmly in place, Steve raised his hand and knocked.

 

*******

Nearly three hours later, Steve finally pulled his bike into Stark Tower’s private garage.  It would be dark in another hour, and Steve was ready for the day to be over.  The kid who had shot at Steve and gotten Tony was just that, a kid.  Steve had let the cops handle it after he had spoken to the boy, who admitted that he had done it for money, but that he didn’t know who had paid him.  Natasha had offered to talk to him later, but Steve had refused.  He honestly believed the kid didn’t know anything, and he’d be spending some time in jail for attempted murder.

 

The elevator doors opened before he reached them, and Bruce stood there, smiling at him in greeting.  “Welcome back, Captain,” he murmured as the soldier stepped into the elevator.  “I’m sure you’re tired, but Tony’s been asking to see you.  Would you mind - ?” he trailed off.

 

Steve shook his head, his shoulders relaxing a bit.  If Tony was asking for him, then that meant he was awake.  It also meant that he was probably giving everybody else a hard time, which would explain why Bruce had come down to greet him.  Tony could annoy anybody if he tried hard enough, and not even Bruce was immune to his irritability when Tony was laid up.

 

“Yeah,” he agreed.  “I wanted to check in on him anyhow.”  He didn’t look at Bruce, aware of how that had sounded, but trying to correct himself would no doubt only make things worse.

 

Bruce just nodded agreeably, not calling him on it, and Steve relaxed after a moment.  Then he noticed that they had passed the medical floor and were heading towards the penthouse.  He frowned.  “Tony’s not in the medical ward?” he asked bluntly.

 

The scientist chuckled with a small shake of his head.  “No,” he confirmed.  “Tony had plans, and a little thing like a bullet wound or two wasn’t going to stop him.”  His expression was one of wry amusement, and Steve just sighed, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose.  He didn’t actually get headaches anymore, but Tony was enough to test his patience even on a good day.  Today was not a good day.

 

And hand was on his wrist, and Steve looked at Bruce, who was watching him patiently.  When he saw that he had Steve’s attention, he smiled gently.  “He’s resting.  The bullets passed through him and didn’t do any serious damage.  He’ll be in pain for a while, but it’s nothing serious.  And he is resting,” Bruce added.  “But it’s been a long day for everybody, and Tony’s been looking forward to tonight for months now.”

 

Steve blinked, but nodded in acknowledgment.  If Bruce was okay with letting Tony out of medical, then he wasn’t going to say anything.  “Thank you,” Bruce murmured, squeezing his arm gently before releasing him, just as the elevator doors opened.  Steve realized that they’d actually been stopped for a while, and his eyes flickered to the ceiling.  JARVIS didn’t say anything, though, and Steve stepped out of the elevator a moment later.

 

“Happy Birthday, Steve!” rang out across the penthouse living room as soon as Steve stepped inside, and he froze, staring at the garish red, white, and blue decorations. Glitter and confetti littered the furniture and floor, and a huge banner was stretched from one end of the room to the other, reading “Happy Birthday, Captain America!” in red, white, and blue letters.

 

“Uh,” he managed dumbly, then shook his head, glancing around the room.  Clint, Natasha, and Pepper were standing to one side of a table laden with food and dessert.  Clint was grinning at him widely, and Natasha gave him a small smile as she elbowed Clint in the side.  Sam and Bucky were on the other side, watching him with concern.  Bruce moved away from his spot next to him, and Steve gave him an amused look.  Bruce just smiled back serenely.

 

Thor had been in the center of the room, but now he moved forward and enveloped Steve in a warm hug.  “Welcome home, friend Steve!” he greeted warmly.  “I am told that today is a special occasion not only for your country, but for you as well.”

 

Steve smiled up at the Asgardian, wondering which of them had explained why July Fourth was both a national holiday and Steve Rogers’ real birthday.  Tony hadn’t actually believed him when he’d told him, and Steve had finally resorted to requesting his birth certificate for proof.  Tony still swore it was a forgery, despite Steve’s assurances to the contrary.

 

Speaking of genius billionaire philanthropist’s, Steve didn’t see Tony anywhere.  He frowned, intending to ask where the other man was, but Pepper spoke before got there.  “Tony’s waiting for you out on the deck,” she smiled.  Steve gave her a small frown – he was supposed to be resting, not wandering around outside – and her smile widened, but she didn’t explain.

 

Bucky snorted.  “Go on, then, punk,” he muttered.  “Go check on the idiot so you can actually enjoy the party.”  Steve gave him a guilty look, but Bucky just gave him an encouraging nod.

 

Steve wanted badly to go check on his missing teammate, but he felt he owed the ones in this room something first.  “Thanks, guys.  Really,” he said, aware of just how awkward he must look.  He could give inspirational speeches with the best of them, call out orders like it was nothing, but he couldn’t manage a simple gathering of close friends without tripping over his own words.  “I really appreciate this,” he said, taking another look at all the decorations, and the table filled to overflowing with food.  His stomach rumbled loudly, and he blushed as the others chuckled.

 

He bowed his head.  “This really means a lot to me, and I promise I’ll be back in just a few minutes,” he murmured.  He clamped his mouth shut before he dug himself a deeper hole and scurried out the large French doors and onto the deck.

 

He saw Tony almost immediately, as the man was sitting on a lounge chair, his left arm bandaged and wrapped in a sling, his head tilted back towards the sky.  He turned his head when Steve stepped outside, smiling as he removed his glasses with his good hand.  “Hey, Cap,” he greeted.  He didn’t seem to be in much pain, but his eyes were glazed over. 

 

“Are you all right, Tony?” Steve asked, moving to crouch next to the other man, his hands hovering above Tony’s shoulder as he looked the man over.

 

Tony just chuckled.  “Yeah, I’m fine, Cap,” he replied with a nod.  “Bruce has got me on the good stuff.”  Ah, he was on drugs, which would explain why he looked so content.  He probably couldn’t even feel his shoulder at this point.  Steve just hoped he didn’t do something that he’d regret just because he couldn’t tell how bad it was.

 

There was a loud sound, like a gunshot, and Steve jolted up and forward, moving instinctively.  Tony blinked up at him, stunned, as a crackling sound filled the air, the deck flickering with reds and greens.  “Steve?” Tony asked, worry creeping into his expression.  “It’s just the fireworks,” he murmured. 

 

Steve didn’t move from his position, crouched over Tony’s body as if to protect him, but he did turn his head, watching as another flare shot into the sky before exploding in a circle of lights.  He felt himself flush in embarrassment as he backed off.  “Ah, I-I’m sorry,” he muttered.  “Today’s been a bit rough.”

 

Tony’s expression was understanding as he gestured to the lounge chair seated next to his.  “Tell me about it,” he answered, his voice soft.  “This wasn’t exactly how I had planned for you to spend your birthday,” he admitted as Steve took a seat, looking up at the sky and the fireworks so he wouldn’t have to look at Tony’s face.

 

Steve shook his head.  “It’s fine,” he said.  He didn’t know if Tony believed him, but the other man didn’t say anything.  Steve was aware of him shifting into a more comfortable position, and resisted the urge to help him.  Tony was a grown man and didn’t need Steve hovering over him like a mother hen.

 

A few minutes later, as the fireworks display truly got underway, flares shooting one after the other and lighting up the New York skyline, Tony spoke again. “So…Happy Birthday,” he murmured.  Before Steve could reply, Tony was out of his chair and standing next to Steve, looking down at him.  Steve blinked and tilted his head.

 

“Tony?” he asked, confused.  “Is everything all right? Is your shoulder hurting you?” he asked, worried as he sat up straighter, ready to help Tony back into the Tower.

 

The other man shook his head, holding up a hand.  “No, no, I’m fine,” he said. “Umm…it’s just.  I had wanted to do something special for your birthday, you know?” he asked rhetorically.  “Since this is your first one since you came back from being a Capsicle.”  His mouth was running away with him, and Steve just watched him carefully, impatiently wondering what he was getting at.

 

Tony rubbed the back of his head.  “I guess what I’m getting at is…” he started, then growled lowly.  “Aw, fuck it,” he finally said, dropping to his knees.  Steve winced at the solid crack when Tony’s body hit, and the other man sucked in a breath. “Okay, didn’t think that one through,” he said through gritted teeth, his hand reaching reflexively for his injured shoulder.

 

Steve leaned forward, just as Tony reached for him, and their heads collided a moment later, sending them both jerking back.  “Ow, fuck,” Tony muttered, glaring at Steve, who just rubbed his forehead and glared back.  Tony took a deep breath.  “Wow, okay, let’s try that again, shall we?” he murmured.

 

“Try what?” Steve asked, suddenly worried that maybe Tony had an undiagnosed concussion or something.  Tony was leaning forward again, and Steve reached out automatically to catch his arms, to keep him from falling.  The next thing he knew, a warm mouth was pressed against his lips, and Steve froze, his whole body going still.  Tony kissed him for a moment longer before pulling back, frowning unhappily.

 

“Shit, I fucked up, didn’t I?” he asked resignedly, running his fingers through his hair.  “I was reading too much into things. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…I…fuck,” he bit out, falling silent, his eyes dropping as he looked anywhere but at Steve.

 

Steve touched his mouth with his fingers, feeling his lips tingle where Tony had been kissing him a moment ago.  “I…don’t think you misread anything,” he said slowly, carefully, watching Tony’s face.  Dark eyes flashed up to stare at him in disbelief, and Steve relaxed his body, making himself as unthreatening as possible.  “I just wasn’t expecting it,” he admitted wryly.  “Takes some time to adjust.  Try again?” he asked, unable to keep the hopeful lilt out of his voice.

 

Tony stared at him for a moment, biting on his lower lip.  Then he nodded.  “Uh, yeah, sure.  My pleasure,” he muttered, leaning forward.  This time, when he pressed his lips against Steve’s, the soldier answered in kind, opening his mouth and greeting Tony’s tongue with his own.  His arms wrapped around Tony’s body, mindful of his bandaged shoulder, and Tony leaned further into him with a groan, shifting until he was crawling into Steve’s lap, straddling his thighs.

 

The fireworks display was forgotten as they kissed, Steve relishing in the intimate contact.  Finally, Tony pulled back for air, giving Steve a dopey smile.  “Happy Birthday, Steve,” he murmured.

 

Steve smiled, leaning in for another kiss.  “Best birthday ever,” he breathed.  Tony groaned and crashed into him, and for a moment, Steve forgot all about the attack, and the party.

 

They were interrupted minutes later by the arrival of the others, who spilled out of the doors and onto the balcony, some of them grumbling in mock disgust as they caught Steve and Tony still kissing, the shorter man straddling Steve, who had his hands up under the billionaire’s shirt.

 

Tony pulled back with a laugh, shouting back that they were just jealous that he got to make out with Captain America, and they didn’t.  Steve tilted his head back and laughed, filled with joy and surrounded by the people he loved.

 

Maybe the Fourth of July wasn’t so bad, after all.