Steve jerked his eyes away from his sketchbook, flushing a bit when he saw Ms. Munroe glaring at him disapprovingly from the front of the room. She crossed her arms, frowning.
"Now that you've rejoined the rest of us," she said dryly, "maybe you'd like to answer my question?"
He had absolutely no idea what she had been talking about for the past, well, however long it had been. A quick glance at the clock told him it had probably been a good twenty minutes since he'd stopped paying attention. Still, he didn't want to just admit that he hadn't been listening.
What was it Sam had told him back when Steve first moved here, back in February? "If you're going to get in trouble with Ms. Munroe, at least try to make her smile while you're doing it."
"Um, forty-two?" he guessed. He just hoped she'd get the joke.
Several of his classmates burst out laughing, though the majority of them obviously had no idea what the reference was from. Steve noticed a few of the band geeks shooting him surprised looks, and he couldn't help but sink a little lower in his chair. He kept forgetting that he was supposed to be a jock now, not someone who made Hitchhiker's Guide references.
Still, Ms. Munroe was smiling at least.
"I'll give you points for creativity," she said, shaking her head. A moment later, she had to reach up to brush a lock of white hair out of her eyes. "Unfortunately, while there is a time and a place for Douglas Adams, I'm afraid that the middle of my lesson on World War II is not it."
Steve didn't even have to fake the sheepish look on his face. "Sorry, Ms. Munroe," he said, casually sliding the sketch he'd been drawing under his history book. "It won't happen again."
Still smiling, she turned back toward the board and pointed at the PowerPoint presentation that Steve hadn't even noticed that she'd put up. "I know that most of you don't see the point in learning about something that took place seventy years ago, but please try to bear with me. If nothing else, I can promise you some explosions."
At least trying to pay attention to the lesson, Steve couldn't help but let his gaze drift to the front right-hand corner of the room. Tony Stark was slouched in his chair, a bored look on his face as he scribbled something in a notebook. Considering the rumors Steve had heard, it was probably something would end in explosions as well - though not the ones Ms. Munroe was talking about.
Biting his lip, Steve glanced at Ms. Munroe. Her attention was focused on the screen, where a giant map of Europe was now pulled up.
Carefully, he slipped his sketchbook back out. Then he glanced back at Tony Stark, studying the way his neck curved a bit as he worked on . . . whatever non-U.S. history related thing he was he was working on. With one more quick glance up at the front of the room to make sure the teacher wasn't paying attention to him again, Steve went back to drawing.
Steve's mind was racing as he hurried down the hallway toward the cafeteria, trying to remember just what Dr. Pym had said to study for the fifth period biology quiz. He hadn't actually studied, but that's what lunch was for. At least, it was if he could actually remember what chapter they were even on right now.
"Hey, you! It's Rogers, right? Steve Rogers?"
Distracted, Steve turned around only to find himself face-to-face with Tony Stark. He blinked a few times. "What do you want?" he asked, mentally kicking himself the moment the words left his mouth.
Tony just grinned. "I have to admit, you're probably the last person I expected to make a Hitchhiker's reference."
Not for the first time, Steve wished he had superpowers so he could simply turn invisible or fly away. As it was, he felt his face start to flush. Damn it, why had he made that stupid comment?
"Anyway, I'm Tony," he continued, not even pausing to let Steve respond. He held out his hand. "Tony Stark."
Steve stared at him. "You do realize that everyone in the school knows exactly who you are, right? My first day here, I had seven different people point you out to me before I even made it to lunch." He paused, finally prying his gaze away from Tony's face and focusing on his hand instead. "And seriously, do you really want me to shake your hand?"
"Well, yeah, but it never hurts to be polite," Tony said, shrugging a bit. He pointedly nodded at his hand, which was still outstretched.
Not quite sure what else to do, Steve reached out and shook his hand.
Tony's face lit up, his grin growing even bigger. "See? That wasn't so hard."
"Hey, Tony! Hurry up, will you!"
Tony glanced over his shoulder; still not quite sure what to think, Steve followed his gaze. Pepper Potts, vice president of the junior class, and James Rhodes, poster boy for the school's JROTC, were both standing beside the stairs that led down to the shop classes. Pepper rolled her eyes, pointing up at the clock hanging in the hallway across from them.
Grumbling under his breath, Tony turned back toward Steve long enough to shoot him a grin. "Sorry, gotta run. I'm supposed to be meeting with Mr. Howlett about an extra credit assignment right now." He winked. "If he agrees, I get to set things on fire without getting in trouble for once."
Not even waiting for Steve to answer, Tony went dashing off to catch up with his friends. Rhodes punched him in the arm, shaking his head as they started down the stairs. Potts, on the other hand, turned back long enough to shoot a puzzled look at Steve; her eyes widened a moment later, as if she'd just figured something out, and she quickly turned back around and followed after the other two.
Steve had the strangest feeling that he'd just missed something.
"You're trying out, right?" Peter Parker asked, raising an eyebrow as he dropped down beside Steve on the bleachers.
Steve raised an eyebrow. "What?"
Peter gestured over at the table set up on the side of the football field, a pile of papers stacked on it. "The football team," he said slowly, making a big deal of enunciating each syllable clearly. "I'm pretty sure that Coach Dugan is planning on knocking you over the head and forcibly dragging you to practice if you don't."
Laughing, Steve reached in his backpack and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. He held it up so Peter could see it. "Yes, Peter, I'm trying out."
"Good," Peter said, grinning. Before Steve even knew what was happening, a bright flash of light blinded him, forcing him to blink away spots.
Still grinning, Peter sat his camera down on the bleacher beside him.
"Do I even want to know what that was for?" Steve asked, still blinking away spots.
Peter shrugged. "Hey, I'm a reporter. It's my job to find stories wherever I can." He tilted his head a bit. "Speaking of which, what's going on with you and Tony Stark?"
Steve raised an eyebrow. "Uh, nothing?"
"Come on, Steve, spill!" Peter said, leaning back. He was in full reporter mode now. "Tony hardly ever talks to anyone except Pepper and Rhodey, but I've had four different witnesses say they saw him grab you in the hall a couple of days ago."
"Really, it's nothing." Steve shifted uncomfortably. Well, at least he had an idea why Pepper Potts had been staring at him the other day. "I made a stupid reference in Ms. Munroe's class, and he wanted to talk about it."
Peter shot him a skeptical look. "That's it?"
Peter opened his mouth to say something else. Then his eyes suddenly went wide, and his gaze focused back on the football field. "Okay, Luke's just being cruel by this point."
Sending up a quick prayer of thanks that Peter had such a short attention span, Steve followed his gaze. A well-muscled student he vaguely recognized from a few of his classes was walking away from the table, a permission sheet in his hands. Coach Dugan was watching him walk away, a look on his face that made Steve wonder if Peter might not have been serious about him planning to forcibly drag Steve to practice.
Steve frowned. "I don't get it."
"There's no way in hell that Luke Cage will ever join the football team." Peter shook his head. "He's in the band. Percussion."
Steve nodded. In the months since he'd moved, he'd heard a lot about the cold war between the band and the football team. Most of it had been related to the fact that it was quickly becoming a not-so-cold war. "Then why's he here?"
Peter shot him a rueful grin. "He's just trying to be cruel. The coach has been trying to get him on the team since freshman year, and every year Luke goes as far as picking up a permission sheet before telling him, 'sorry, band's a bigger priority.'" He leaned in a little closer to Steve, lowering his voice conspiratorially. "Between you and me, I think he likes making a grown man cry."
"Seriously?" Steve turned in his seat, following Luke with his eyes as he walked off the field. "You'd think he'd join the team. He looks like he'd be good. He could probably get a decent football scholarship."
Peter shrugged. "That's Luke for you. He never does anything that people expect."
It was right then that seven windows exploded over in the section of the school that housed the shop classes, flames shooting out of three of them. Everyone around the football field either ducked for cover or yelled, adding to the cacophony. A few seconds later, the handful of teachers standing around the signup table all went dashing back toward the school building with hurried yells for the students to stay where they were.
"And then there's Tony Stark, who always does what people expect," Peter continued, acting as if nothing had happened. He reached down and picked up his camera, eyeing the teachers running toward the school as if trying to figure out the likelihood of him being allowed to take pictures.
Steve stared blankly at the smoke trailing up into the sky.
Peter reached out and patted him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, you'll get used to it. We all have." He laughed. "And, hey, look on the bright side. No seventh period physics with Dr. Reed!"
Not quite sure what to expect, Steve stopped and turned around when he heard Tony Stark calling his name. Tony was hurrying toward him, grinning.
"Hi, Tony," Steve said politely. What else was there to say? He tried his best not to stare at the way Tony's shirt was riding up, showing an inch or so of pale skin above his jeans.
If anything, Tony's grin grew even broader. "Did you hear about the explosion?"
Steve stared at him. "Uh, yeah? Classes were cancelled for the last two periods, remember? The entire school noticed."
Tony waved his hand. "No, not that one," he said, frowning disapprovingly. "There was an explosion over by the docks last night. It was all over the news."
Steve kept staring. He opened his mouth only to close it a moment later, not quite sure how to word his question.
As if he was reading his mind, Tony rolled his eyes. "No, I didn't cause it. The cops are saying it was just a meth lab that blew up."
"Well, that's good to know," Steve said weakly.
Tony held up a finger. "But," he added, "I'm pretty sure they're lying since the FBI doesn't usually come investigate meth labs. I mean, if that's what it really was, it would be the ATF."
Steve nodded, not quite sure why Tony was telling him any of this. He didn't really know how to respond.
They stood there in an awkward silence for a moment. Tony fidgeted, playing with a fancy watch on his wrist that probably cost more than anything Steve had in his entire wardrobe.
Steve folded his arms over his chest uncomfortably. "Uh, don't take this the wrong way, but why are you even talking to me?"
Tony blinked, apparently in surprise. A slightly hurt look appeared on his face, and he opened his mouth. Whatever he was going to say, however, was cut short by a firm hand coming down to rest on his shoulder.
"Mr. Stark, I need to have a word with you." There was a pause. "Again."
"Principal Fury," Tony said, bringing his hand up in a mock salute as he turned around.
Fury glared at him. "Stark, I don't care if your father paid for the new football stadium," he nearly growled. "That doesn't give you free reign to do whatever you want."
Tony made a big show of thinking about it. "Really?" he asked. "That's not what the school board said when--"
"If you even think about mentioning that incident from Homecoming, I'll expel you." Fury really was growling this time. There was no other way to describe it.
Tony just grinned. "But the giant robot flew so well, at least until it exploded." He shrugged. "Besides, like you said, my dad paid to fix everything, so it all worked out in the end. And my mom's already agreed to cover repairs from yesterday, if that's what this is about. By the time it's all said and done, the shop classes should have a lot more new tech for students to use."
For a moment, Steve honestly thought the principal was going to reach out and strangle Tony. The older man's hands were clenched into fists, and his face was quickly turning a shade of purplish-red that Steve had never actually seen on a living person before.
Vice Principal Hill suddenly appeared out of what seemed like nowhere, quickly grabbing Fury's arms and forcibly steering him in the direction of the office. "Summer vacation starts in less than a month, sir. It's not worth it."
"Would you like to place money on that, Maria?" Fury growled, trying to pull out of her grip. He shot Steve a look.
She kept pushing him in the direction of the office, pausing only a moment to glance over her shoulder. "Mr. Stark, I suggest that you get back to wherever you're supposed to be right now," she said firmly. "Preferably without doing anything that involves fire alarms. And the same goes for you, Mr. Rogers."
She shot him a knowing look. Steve squirmed.
"I really would hate to have to speak to your mother," she continued, still pushing the principal in the direction of the office. "I know she doesn't have a lot of spare time right now."
"Yes, ma'am," Steve said quickly, lowering his head. Ignoring the puzzled look Tony was shooting him, Steve turned and walked away.
"Steve?" There was a pause. "Hey, Steve, wait up."
Steve kept walking, not even turning around.
"So, are you heading home?"
Steve jumped, looking up from his tattered copy of Lord of the Rings to find himself staring straight into Tony Stark's face for what felt like the millionth time in the past week. He guiltily shoved the book into his backpack, well aware that the odds of Tony not noticing its title were slim to none.
"Are you stalking me now?" Steve asked, angrily pushing past Tony and continuing down the street. The last thing he needed was for Tony Stark to follow him home.
Tony hesitated a moment before running to catch up. He managed to get a good foot ahead of Steve, at which point he spun around and started walking backwards so that they faced each other. "Stalking is such a harsh word."
Steve glared at him.
"Okay, okay." Tony held up his hands. "Maybe I'm stalking you, but it's only a little bit."
Without thinking, Steve reached out and shoved him. Tony's eyes went comically wide, his arms flailing a bit as he unsuccessfully tried to keep his balance. With a startled yelp, he went sprawling to the ground.
Steve felt his anger instantly drain away, replaced firmly by guilt.
His eyes almost as wide as Tony's had been a few seconds earlier, Steve knelt down beside him. He ran his gaze over the ripped knee of Tony's no doubt designer jeans, blood already staining the material around the rip.
"I'm sorry," Steve said quietly, not meeting Tony's eyes. "I'm not used to people actually falling when I shove them."
"What, does gravity work differently in Manhattan?" Tony asked angrily.
Tony waved off Steve's offered hand, climbing shakily to his feet without any help. Steve silently stood up as well, finally looking at Tony's face. He definitely looked pissed off.
Steve let out a bark of laughter, surprised at how harsh it sounded even to him. "Not exactly," he said softly. "It's just that this time last year, Peter Parker would have made me look small."
The angry expression on Tony's face disappeared, replaced by a surprised one. "Huh?"
Sheepishly reaching up to rub the back of his head, Steve half-heartedly shrugged. "You've got to love growth spurts," he said, self-consciously bring his arms back down to his sides. "One minute you're the class geek who can't walk a straight line without tripping over your own two feet, and the next the football coach is practically begging you to join the team."
Tony was still staring at him, the blood tricking down his leg apparently forgotten. "You're kidding, right?" he asked. "I mean, seriously? You?"
Steve shrugged again. "Come on, I don't live that far from here. We should probably get your leg cleaned up before you bleed to death or something."
A blank look appeared on Tony's face, and he glanced down at his leg. "Huh, I didn't even notice," he muttered.
Steve tried not to smile. He didn't think he succeeded all that well.
"This is where you live?" Tony asked. Steve could hear something in his voice, but he couldn't quite tell what it was. He just hoped it wasn't pity. Or ridicule, actually, but he could probably take that better than pity.
Steve unlocked the door and ushered Tony inside. "Yeah, well, some of us can't live in mansions," he said, trying to keep his voice level.
Tony grimaced. "Sorry. That didn't come out the way I meant it to."
Shrugging, Steve shut the door behind them and started down the hall. He tried not to let his relief show; he knew the apartment wasn't much, especially to someone with as much money as the Starks. "The bathroom's this way," he said, gesturing for Tony to follow. "Sorry about the mess. Mom's been working a lot of doubles lately, and I kind of suck at cleaning."
"It's fine," Tony said. He sounded distracted.
Steve glanced behind him, flinching a bit when he saw that Tony had noticed the framed drawings hanging in the hall. He'd tried to convince his mom not to frame them, but she'd insisted. He just hoped that Tony didn't notice the signature on them. It wasn't really that legible, so maybe he'd luck out.
"Sorry again about shoving you," Steve said awkwardly. "I'll pay for your jeans."
Tony thankfully turned his attention away from the drawings at that. He stared blankly at Steve for a moment before bursting out laughing.
Steve tried not to flinch. "What's so funny?"
Tony stopped laughing, though his eyes were still twinkling in amusement. "Trust me, you don't have to pay for the jeans. I can afford to buy my own."
"But it was my--"
"Steve, seriously," Tony said, cutting in, "don't worry about. It's no big deal."
Steve bit his lip, but he didn't argue. Instead, he simply turned and walked a few more steps down the hall, opening the bathroom door and turning on the light. He gestured inside. "Bathroom's in here. There are probably some bandages in the cabinet."
Tony grinned at him as he walked in. "Thanks."
The intercom crackled to life, Principal Fury's voice echoing slightly in the almost empty hallway. "-- swear to God, Maria, I'm going to kill that little son of a--"
There was a loud screech, followed by some pops and more crackling sounds. Steve grimaced at the sound, reaching up to rub his ears. The folder he was carrying slipped from his grip, papers flying everywhere as it hit the ground.
"Students, please ignore the bell when it rings and remain in your classrooms."
It was Vice Principal Hill's voice now, though the principal could still be vaguely heard in the background using some language that Steve was fairly certain the school board wouldn't approve of. Steve frowned, glancing around as he leaned down to pick up his scattered papers. There were only two other students in the hall with him, both of them wearing puzzled looks on their faces identical to his own.
"Mr. Stark, please come to the office immediately once you manage to deactivate your--" There was a momentary pause, as if she couldn't believe what she was about to say. "Your flying robot."
Loud crashes from the surrounding classrooms signaled almost every student in the school rushing to peer out of their rooms in hopes of seeing something.
Shaking his head, Steve reached over to pick up the last of his papers, making a face when he realized just which sketch it was. It probably wasn't a good idea to leave drawings like that sitting in his folder where anyone could find it. What if--
What looked like a small, red and gold orb with a single hook projecting out of it flew around the corner. Steve froze, staring. The orb bounced a few times before darting forward and grabbing the sheet of paper he had just picked up out of his hand.
Then it flew away.
Steve stared blankly at his empty hand for a moment before he remembered just what picture he'd been holding. "Shit!" he exclaimed, dashing off after what he assumed was Tony's runaway robot.
There was a loud crash somewhere around the corner.
A few seconds later, the intercom cracked to life again. "Mr. Stark," the vice principal said, her voice calm, "your robot is heading down the history wing. Please stop it before it destroys every security camera in the building."
There was another loud crash, this one more metallic-sounding than the last one. Steve though he heard some cheers coming from a few of the classrooms, but he didn't stop as he turned the corner . . . and saw the robot flying repeatedly into a row of lockers. There was already a noticeable dent in several of them.
Steve heard footsteps behind him, and he raised an eyebrow when Tony came dashing around the corner. There was a remote in his hand emitting a rather alarming number of sparks from it.
"I'm assuming this is your extra credit assignment for Howlett?" Steve asked.
Tony had the good grace to at least look a little sheepish. "It was," he admitted. Then he frowned. "Wait, what are you doing here?"
Still frowning, Tony turned toward the robot and narrowed his eyes when he saw the paper it was holding. Then he grinned. "I knew you were the one who drew those pictures at your house!"
If anything, Steve felt his face grow even warmer.
Tony shot him a confused look before glancing more closely at the picture the robot was holding. Then his own face turned a little red.
Yeah. Steve was definitely not going to keep any more nude drawings in his art folder at school where anyone could find them. Especially when the models he had based them on bore more than a striking resemblance to Tony Stark.
"Stark!" It was Fury's voice over the intercom now, Vice Principal Hill's voice in the background asking him to give her the microphone right now, damn it. "Office! Now!"
There was more whistling and popping noises from the intercom, and Steve couldn't shake the mental image of the principal and vice principal fighting each other to gain control of it. It didn't help that something similar really was probably going on in the office.
Tony looked at the robot. Then he looked at Steve.
"Um," Steve managed to choke out. That was about the extent of his vocabulary at the moment.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Tony threw his head back and laughed. He grinned at Steve and winked. "Come on," he said. "Help me grab this thing before Fury has a heart attack. Then we can, you know, have a talk."
Steve couldn't help but grin back, even though at the same time he wanted to disappear again. He wasn't quite sure what he was about to get himself into.
Still, he couldn't wait to find out.