“Oh, come on, you've got to be kidding me,” Tony groaned, burying his face in his hands. “The Ruler? Again? And anyway, that is such a bad villain name. Talk about uninspired. He should be ashamed.”
“Yeah, Tony, because your name is so much better,” Clint said with a smirk, nudging Tony with his elbow.
“Says the guy called 'Hawkeye',” Tony shot back, sticking his tongue out. “And technically, I didn't choose the name. Just for the record. It's still much better than 'The Ruler', though. Ugh.”
“Children,” Natasha chided, rolling her eyes. “If you could stop pulling each other's pigtails for a second. This guy is obviously a problem. He's done considerable damage already, he has hurt numerous people, and we haven't even come close to catching him so far. We need to change tactics.”
Steve, Bruce and Thor were just quietly sitting there, watching the three others bicker over the Ruler and his devilish plans.
“Is it just me or are they having fun?” Bruce whispered. Thor and Steve nodded in unison, rolling their eyes good-naturedly.
It had become a pattern, lately. Tony and Clint would pick a fight, and Natasha would resolve it by (figuratively) hitting them both on their heads. All three of them seemed to enjoy it.
“Lady Natasha,” Thor interrupted the ongoing bickering. “It seems to me you have a plan.” Natasha turned to Thor, her smile turning positively wicked.
“I sure do,” she announced proudly. “Since we don't seem to be able to catch him with our usual methods of hitting stuff on the nose, I thought it was time to apply my skill set. We're going undercover.”
“I would like to catch this villain very much, he has done much harm,” Thor said with a frown. “But 'undercover' means that we should hide and try to uncover his true identity, yes? And-”
“And for that, we need clues about his true identity,” Natasha finished. “Luckily, I'm a spy and have used my impressive spy skills to find a suspect. He's a teacher at a high school.”
“Oh no,” Tony groaned, demonstratively sliding lower on his chair until he almost vanished under the table.
“Erm, what?” Steve asked, horribly confused when Clint followed Tony's example, while Natasha was grinning at him like a Cheshire cat.
“Worst idea ever,” Steve mumbled to himself. Tony, next to him, shrugged unenthusiastically, but if Steve had to guess, he'd say that Tony looked almost excited. As if a horde of high school children wasn't something to be feared.
You're not the tiny Steve you were before, Steve said to himself. You are going to be alright. You can do that. You've faced Hydra, a few school children are nothing in comparison.
His self-encouragement wasn't working very well, though. Hydra goons, he could punch. And well, he had used to do the same thing with high school bullies, too. Only that had been when he had been weak and skinny and beating someone up had been his only defence from getting beaten up himself.
Captain America, the hero that so many children had grown up with, had actually no idea how to be a role model. Talk about irony.
“Relax,” Tony whispered, leaning into Steve a little so no one else would hear him. “You'll do great. By the way, I dig the beard.”
“I look like a lumberjack,” Steve whispered back. “I should have worn a flannel shirt.”
Tony sniggered at that and gave him a look. Steve couldn't stop his heart going badump, because Tony with his beard shaven, his hair cut short and a pair of glasses on his nose looked both very much unlike Tony Stark and unexpectedly good. And he was still leaning into him. That would be-
“You're not looking bad yourself,” Steve coughed, tearing his own eyes away from Tony's mesmerizing eyes.
Tony looked positively smug. “Well, I am-”
“Yes, yes, you're pretty, we all know,” Steve huffed. “You have only told us so five hundred times already.”
“Of course I am,” Tony pouted dramatically, pulling on Steve's shirt. “I am the prettiest there is. And now let's go.”
It was a disaster. Tony could say whatever he wanted, Steve was an absolute disaster as a teacher. He had no idea how to interact with the students, hell, he had no idea how to make them listen to him. He stumbled through his history lessons like he was a clueless idiot.
After the second lesson was over, he was positively mortified.
Tony made it even worse. By lunchtime, he had already won over several classes, the students basically lying at his feet. When Steve met him in the hallway of the school, every second student passing them by greeted 'Mr. Randall' enthusiastically, while they only had odd, suspicious looks for Steve himself.
“Don't worry about it,” Tony tried to cheer him up, squeezing his arm gently. “You just need some time to get used to it. I've been doing this for years, winning people over with a smile and a one-liner. Believe me, after a while they're going to like you more than me.”
Steve probably made a very dark face, but Tony simply kept smiling and patted his arm in encouragement.
“Gaaaay,” one of the older students commented as he passed them by.
“And what's it to you?” Tony shot back, quick and merciless as usual. “We're better men than you could ever hope to be.”
And that was how they accidentally became a couple.
Because that was apparently how students' minds worked: A throwaway comment became a rumour became the undeniable truth by the end of the day. When the last bell of the day rang, every single student and every last teacher knew that the two new teachers, Mr. Randall (Physics) and Mr. Smith (History) were a couple.
A super gay couple.
Tony actually laughed when he heard about it and made jokes all the way home.
Clint, who had been on 'surveillance duty' with Nat (of course she would let others bite the bullet and stay at home with a computer and a cup of coffee in front of her), was absolutely delighted and wouldn't stop cackling when they arrived back at the Tower.
Bruce, who had managed to escape from going undercover as well (which was unfair, really, because everyone knew that Bruce had the Hulk perfectly under control), shook his head and smiled at Tony's and Clint's jokes in a 'what can you do' manner.
Thor gave Steve a pat on his shoulder and an invitation for a sparring session, which Steve accepted only too gladly. With Thor, he didn't have to pull his punches, and that was exactly what he needed right now.
“It bothers you, does it not,” Thor commented when they were both sweating and breathing heavily (Steve a little more than Thor, but hey, he could live with being outdone by a veritable god).
“What, the rumours?” Steve asked, wiping the sweat off his face with a towel.
“No,” Thor said. “That they are making jokes about the relationship between you and Anthony. Especially when Anthony himself does.”
Steve froze. He wondered why he was surprised. He should be used to the fact that Thor always unerringly managed to find his blind spot by now. But Steve had really, hoped that no one would find that particular spot.
“What can I do, Thor,” he sighed. “I know it's idiotic.”
“It is not,” Thor assured him, putting an arm around his shoulder. “And you should not dismiss your own feelings.”
“Thank you, Thor,” Steve smiled. “You're a great friend. But really, it's foolish, so please, don't tell anyone.”
Steve didn't see Thor shake his head in exasperation when he turned away to get his water bottle.
The next day, they had become something like a rare animal exhibit at a popular zoo. Wherever they went, students were pointing fingers at them and whispered. During classes, everyone was completely quiet, staring at Steve in expectation, as if he would start to...do something any minute now. Tony took a lot of pleasure in the whole thing, spending a lot of time very much in Steve's space, touching him and whispering things into his ear.
It was the purest form of pleasure and torture at the same time.
But they couldn't stop if they wanted to now, because they had realised that the teacher they suspected of being 'The Ruler' had taken offence to their relationship and kept glaring at them in anger. A surprising amount of teachers had been utterly supportive, but that one teacher seemed to be downright disgusted with them.
“I could get an apartment where we could pretend to live together,” Tony suggested in a quiet moment when he snuck into Steve's classroom during break time. “And maybe we could get him to attack us there. Of course, it'll turn out to be a trap.”
Steve's mind was more stuck on the 'pretend to live together' part, so all he did was nod numbly. He hadn't really thought that Tony was serious.
Of course, he had forgotten that Tony was always serious when it came to outlandish plans.
So when they had finally made it through the second day of unruly teenagers and odd looks, Steve was completely confused when they didn't head back towards the Tower. Instead, Tony led him to an apartment, one that looked exactly as one would expect the apartment of two teachers to took like.
Tony obviously misinterpreted Steve's bafflement at the sight of a shared apartment and put a hand on his arm.
“Don't worry,” he said in a calming tone. “It's just for a few days. The others have been working on it all day, and not even a mouse can enter the perimeter without us noticing. Your shield and your uniform are hidden over there, by the way.” He pointed at a small dresser that innocuously stood in the hallway.
Steve nodded, mostly busy with trying to viciously swallow down the question whether they got to share a bed or not. Whatever the answer was, he figured, it would not contribute to his mental well-being.
They watched TV before they went to bed, like probably thousands of other couples in this city. Steve sat on the sofa, frozen, trying to deal with the surreality of the situation. It wasn't like Tony and him hadn't been friends before. But Tony was busy, with SI and his inventions and Iron Man. He also had other friends, and every so often, Tony had to ditch the rest of the Avengers to take care of some urgent business or go to some kid of event.
So they actually didn't spent that much time together. Steve tried to be understanding, but he could never quite get over the fact that Tony was the one Avenger he spent the least amount of time with.
Tony didn't seem to realise that Steve was mostly busy dealing with his own inner turmoil and kept laughing and making silly comments about what was happening on TV. Eventually, he made Steve laugh and even coax out Steve's special brand of very dry humour (that Tony actually seemed to really appreciate). Steve guessed that was why he was popular with the students. Tony Stark's public persona might sometimes be a bit of an ass, but when you interacted with Tony himself, he had this way of treating others that never made you feel bad about yourself. Instead, he made people confident.
Steve ended up having fun, and he kind of forgot to feel bad about the whole thing. Until it came to the question of sleeping arrangements.
“I told Natasha two beds,” Tony muttered to himself before he turned to Steve with a crooked grin. “Well, Steve, I do hope you are secure in your masculinity. Unless you want to sleep on the sofa.”
“If you think I haven't shared a bed with a man before, you're dead wrong,” Steve said, trying to sound more confident than he was. Tony lifted his eyebrows, but Steve swatted him. “Not like that, you ass.”
“Yes, my ass is fabulous, thank you very much,” Tony boasted, swaggering over to the side of the bed he had decided was his. “Well, let's sleep then.”
It was weird, waking up in the same bed as the person you had a crush on, and then proceed going through your morning routine together with that person. Steve's only saving grace was that Tony did not function well in the mornings and wasn't really capable of actual human speech before a few cups of coffee. Steve might have got away with a fair amount of staring.
Steve shouldn't indulge in these feelings, he knew that, but he couldn't suppress the mushy feelings slowly spreading in his chest. And a sleepy Tony was just...cute. (Although Steve did miss the usual morning hair a bit. Right now, the hair was way too short for flopping over his forehead and into his eyes.)
Steve had to viciously stomp down the urge to lean over the kitchen table and kiss that sleepy face.
The teacher they suspected of being 'The Ruler' was glaring at them like they had personally insulted his dog on the third day, too. Which was great, really, because that meant that they could coax a reaction out of him soon. And the sooner they managed to do that, the less Steve had to suffer.
His classes went better that day. The students had started to actually listen to him, and they also started to interact with him in earnest.
This was how teaching was supposed to be, he thought to himself. Students that were taking an interest in the subject and actively participating in discussions. And if they asked him a suspicious amount of questions about gay rights etc., Steve could deal with that. He knew all about the social movements of the 20 th and 21 st centuries, and was perfectly willing to pass that knowledge on to his students. He figured those were the important things, not learning dates by heart.
After one of his classes was over, a tall, lanky boy came to his desk, hemming and hawing for a few seconds.
“You don't need to hold back with me, you know,” Steve said, a little unsure and hoping that he sounded encouraging.
“You...” the boy stuttered, fingering the buttons on his shirt. “You have a really popular boyfriend.”
Steve had the reflexive urge to tell the boy that Tony wasn't really his boyfriend, but they were, after all, playing that whole fake relationship up. He settled on a smile.
“He is, isn't he?” he said with a small sigh.
“How...how did you get together?” the boy asked nervously.
“We actually clashed pretty badly when we met for the first time,” Steve said, laughing at the memory. “In retrospect, it was all very silly. But we became friends after that. And I guess we realised that we had more in common than we ever thought we could. And then we kind of...slipped into it, I guess.”
“Really?” the boy asked in astonishment.
“Yeah,” Steve answered. “Sometimes, things need time. We had to get used to each other. And we had to get rid of our own bias first.”
“That's...that's great,” the boy said. “I...”
“You have someone you like?” Steve gently nudged him.
“I...yeah,” the boy stuttered. “I just don't think he likes me. That way.”
“I see,” Steve said. “That's a difficult situation. And you probably don't want to tell him?”
The boy nodded.
“Yeah, I get that,” Steve continued. “But listen. A friend of mine always tells me that no matter whether your feelings are reciprocated or not, they are not stupid.” He paused for a moment, trying to find the right words and probably failing. “I understand how you feel, you know. When you think that the person you like won't ever like you back. It hurts. But don't ever feel bad for how you feel. Whatever might be, it doesn't make you unworthy of love or anything.”
The boy nodded. “Thank you,” he eventually whispered, looking down to his feet.
Steve wished he could do more. But he was the same as that boy, unsure and scared of rejection. He didn't feel like the more adult of the two of them at all.
A movement at the door suddenly caught his attention. He had already thought it was the Ruler, but luckily, it was only Tony, clearly caught in the act of trying to sneak away undetected. When the boy saw him, he blushed a deep red and ran past Tony and out of the classroom.
“That was sweet,” Tony commented, coming over to where Steve was still standing at the desk. “I told you they would start to like you more than me pretty soon.”
“I don't think that's what it was,” Steve said, shaking his head.
“Oh, but it was,” Tony assured him, leaning into his side. “You're inherently trustworthy. People can feel that.”
“I'm really not,” Steve denied, because at the moment, he didn't feel trustworthy at all. When it came to their relationship, to their proximity, he really didn't. He was a liar.
Tony, unaware of Steve's thoughts, only huffed, offended that Steve had disagreed with him.
That night, just after they had gone to bed, their plan worked out and the Ruler attacked their apartment. He never even made it to the inside of their apartment, though. When the proximity alarm was triggered, Steve and Tony jumped out of bet and suited up. But by the time they arrived on the rooftop building, ready to join the fight, everything was already over.
Natasha stood there, looking incredibly smug and very proud that her plan had worked out so flawlessly.
“Go back to bed, you two, you're obviously not needed here,” she greeted Tony and Steve, who were mostly busy gaping at the Ruler sobbing and going on about 'these evil homosexuals destroying America' (not that either Tony nor Steve was homosexual) while being hold up by the Hulk. He looked rather banged up, Steve noticed with satisfaction. Judgemental assholes tended to have an especially bad time when the Hulk got his hands on them.
“Yeah, go have your honeymoon, Mr. Lumberjack and Mr. Inmate!” Clint cackled, tying up the Ruler with gusto. Thor bonked him on his head when he tried to escape from Clint's careful ministrations, and grinned at Steve encouragingly.
“Hey, how are you talking to your leader and co-leader?” Tony asked, offended.
“The leader of the Avengers is me right now,” Natasha said pompously. “And you two are just two high school teachers that have become victims of the Ruler. Good night.”
And with that, the four of them disappeared, the Ruler in tow.
“Well, that was rude,” Tony commented, letting his armour disassemble once more.
Both of them were pumped with adrenaline that had nowhere to go now, so instead of going back to sleep, they ended up in front of the TV. Instead of his usual running commentary about just how awful late night television was, however, Tony was quiet and seemingly lost in thought for once.
Steve idly watched the show that was on right now, not really bothering to try and understand what it actually was about. He wondered if the Avengers had really been alright, and that he should let Natasha run things more often. It was pretty nice, not having to clean up for once.
“Do you think we could?” Tony suddenly startled Steve out of his thoughts after they had been sitting silently on the sofa for a while.
“Could what?” Steve asked, confused because Tony's comment had nothing to do with what was currently happening on TV. At least he thought so.
“...slip into it,” Tony quietly said.
Steve was caught by a sense of vertigo. It took him only a moment to connect the dots. It had been him who had said that earlier that day, after all. It had been...had Tony realised that Steve was speaking about his actual wishes rather than telling the boy a quick lie?
“I don't know,” Steve said, forcing himself to tear his eyes away from the TV and look directly into Tony's eyes. They were dark and staring straight back at him, unreadable. Don't ever feel bad for how you feel. That was what he had said. That was Thor had always said. “I kind of wish we could.”
They stared at each other for a moment, wordlessly.
Then Tony tilted to the side, sliding along the sofa until he bumped into Steve's side and his head was propped on Steve's shoulder. “We could.”
Steve blushed hotly. It was...so...dang it. He gave in to the urge and wrapped his arms around Tony, pulling him closer.
“We could,” Steve murmured to himself, placing a scratchy kiss on top of Tony's short hair, making Tony snigger.
“You know what?” he asked, curling further into Steve. “I really dig the beard, but please don't ever wear your costume again when you have one. That is the worst thing I have ever seen. Bad image.”
Steve laughed harder than he probably should have. But it felt good, laughing curled together on the sofa with his, well, boyfriend .
Just before they inevitably fell asleep like that, snuggled together, Steve sent a silent thank you to a certain God of Thunder.
He would gladly take the inevitable 'I told you so'.