The only shirt that's clean is the shirt Steve wears every fourth of July. It's navy blue, with a star in the middle and a flag somewhere on the back. He's been buying the same shirt from like Old Navy or something since he was a kid at his mother's insistance, because the Rogers family is large and patriotic. If you were ever looking for that wholesome sort of American Family look, and you were willing not to dig too deep -- you could turn to the Rogers. Apple pie and fireworks and a flag out front. All that jazz and then some.
Steve puts on the shirt because it's clean and he's seventeen and laundry is still the sort of thing he thinks he can take a class on when he gets to college. His mother is out of town, something about stress and she needs a break and jesus, Steve, do you not think about the shit you do before you do it? He can't blame her, really. What's done is done, but it'd be better if it'd never been done in the first place.
It's a blessing in disguise, though, switching schools right now. Steve's been on the wait-list for SHIELD PREP since he was six months old.
It's a thing, look it up.
SHIELD is a fancy ass school with rich as hell students carrying 4.2 GPA's and early acceptance letters to MIT. Steve's whip smart and he's in the National Honors Society and the vice president of the Spanish club and that's, like, great, and everything, but he's scared shitless of this school and these kids.
He gets his first wake up call when he pulls into the parking lot.
It's not like his family doesn't have money -- they can afford to send him here for the next two years. It's just that having a piece of shit on wheels builds character, or something. Steve's car belonged to his cousin and before that it was his uncle's and before that it wasn't a piece of junk. But Steve always thought that it was a pretty good car before. Decent and reliable, if clunky, loud, and on the verge of exploding. He pulls up between a Beamer and a Lexus and throws up in his mouth, just a little bit.
He immediately regrets the shirt. Right away. He can feel people giving him this raised-eyebrow thing that he's gotten on similar occasions. Maybe it's the New Kid scent he's giving off -- it's a small school. Everyone probably knows everyone. Steve takes a left toward the front office, hands them his transfer papers and picks up his schedule. Every professor has at least three letters after their name. There's a reason, he figures, SHIELD's the best prep school in New England.
The woman at the desk is absolutely without a doubt the least helpful person Steve has ever met. He ends up leaving more confused and can't figure out where the fucking bathroom is so he can hide until classes are over. He's just about to make a run for it when a slender hand wraps around his elbow, turning him around properly, away from the doors.
"You can't skip your first day. That's bad form."
Steve opens his mouth to say something, but she's already taking off, waving for him to follow. "Sorry," he mutters. "What?"
"I'm Natasha," she says, red hair bobbing as she talks and speed-walks. "Good to meet you. Heard a lot about you before you came in. Everyone knows when there's freshmeat. I'm part of the New Student Initiative. We're a small club, help new kids get to know their way around. You're already mister popular, you know that?" Steve just stares, trying to keep up with her pace. Her boots snap severely on the tile. "There's a lot of stuff you need to know just to last the day. The rest you'll learn as you go." She points as she walks.
"That's Pepper Potts, head of yearbook. She knows everything about everyone and she's a hundred percent off limits. Believe me, I've tried. She has a fairly permanent boy toy, goes by Rhodey. Captain of the golf and badmitton teams. Respectively. He only sounds like a heinous prep though. He's an army brat, headed into the air force after graduation.
"Rhodey and Pepper collect secrets and share them with each other. Stay on their good side, and you'll look like fucking Miss America in your senior photo. Had to learn that one the hard way.
"That's Coulson. He's the student head of security. He looks small, but don't fuck with him. Last year some preps from the upper east side snuck in and tried some sort of sabotage mission on our football team. The girl's lacrosse team found them in their supply closet, tasered, had no clue what happened the night before." Steve swallows thickly. "You getting this? It's important."
"I just want to find my locker."
"Here." She spins on a dime and taps one of the doors. "This is yours. The one next to it is Clint's. Clint and I make out on Thursdays between second and third hour, so don't be alarmed. It's just business."
"I've got AP French. You--"
"Romanov!" A hand appears on Steve's shoulder, connected to a rather gruesome man with a face that looks like it's been melted. Steve feels nervous and twitchy.
"Gotta go, captain America. Nice shirt!" she calls after him, taking off down the hall. She's gone before he has the chance to question the nickname. The hand comes off, finally. Steve takes a step back.
"I hope she wasn't bothering you."
"N-no sir. The...the New Student Initiative? I--"
"There is no New Student Initiative, Mr. Rogers. She was trying to recruit you." ("Recruit me, what--") "Miss Romanov, like yourself, has a reputation. It would be best, I think, if you kept to yourself, Mr. Rogers. You've brought enough trouble to this school as it is, just by being here. I don't think you want anymore."
"Of course not, sir. I never meant--"
"What we do and do not mean to do is irrelevant. It is what we actually do that matters, Mr. Rogers. What is your first class?" Steve hands him his schedule. "Dr. Fury's class is down the hall and to the left. Hurry, then. You'll be late."
It is a mistake and a terrible thing that Steve is in physics. The last math class he took was geometry for Christ's sake. Geometry. He's always been more inclined toward history, but somehow or another his schedule is full of chem and physics work. It's a mistake and it needs to be fixed, but right now Steve is staring at the most terrifying teacher he has ever seen -- the dude has an eyepatch who the fuck wears an eyepatch -- and all he wants to do is be wearing a different shirt and, also, be swallowed up by the ground, if at all possible. Maybe both.
"Do you know what time it is, Mr. Rogers?"
"It's, uh, seven-fifty-nine, sir."
"Yes, it is. Have you ever heard the saying, 'Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.'?"
"I have, sir."
"In my class, 7:59 is late. I began handing out instructions four minutes ago. The next time you come to my class, if you decide to come back at all, you will be here on time. Is that clear?"
"Good. Banner. Stand." Steve is unsure what he means by that until a kid with wire glasses and dark curly hair stands up in the back. "That is your new lab partner. Sit with him."
"Yes, sir." Fury nods and sits down at his desk. Steve makes his way between the lab tables and settles next to the kid. He's doodling in the margins of his text book and watching Steve carefully, like he might bite. "Uh, hi. I'm Steve."
"Bruce." The kid looks him up and down. "Nice shirt."
"You're the new kid, right?"
"I guess everyone knows."
"Word travels fast."
"Yeah, I met some girl this morning--"
"Natasha?" Bruce asks, head sticking up. He has this strange smile on his face, and Steve is certain he doesn't express himself like this often enough to figure out how actual facial expressions work, because it's weird and Steve is immediately on edge about it. "She--"
Fury starts yelling, snapping Steve back into class. Chapter two has a page of problems in the front that need to be done in the next ten minutes. If everyone finishes, there's no homework. Steve opens his book and figures that it's probably about time he tell someone that numbers aren't really his thing.
"Natasha was probably recruiting you," Bruce says casually, flipping his pen cap into the air. Steve is, one, impressed he uses a pen in this class, and two, confused, because why does everyone keep talking about that?
"Did you meet anyone else?"
"Uh, some dude with like a candle wax face." Bruce laughs. "You know him?"
"One of the principals. He's the nicer of the bunch. You're lucky it was him."
They talk until Fury clears his throat and starts writing shit on the board that might as well be another language. Fuck, it is another language. Steve groans. "The questions! We didn't--" He stops when Bruce pulls out his notebook, surprised to find all the questions answered in neat, tiny handwriting. "You..."
"Fury spends too much time talking and not enough time watching his lesson plans." Bruce shrugs on his jacket and looks at the clock. "I'm going to zone out until class is over. Don't have too much fun without me." Steve looks from the work to Bruce's face, so completely zen and calm. When Fury comes by to collect it, Steve hands it off without a word. Bruce offers their teacher a smile. Fury is not impressed. He knows Steve's complete shit at this class. He can smell it.
The rest of the class is spent talking about more stuff Steve can't even begin to comprehend and he zones out with his new lab partner for a while until the bell rings and everyone is moving en masse to the door.
It's funny. Doesn't matter how fancy the school is -- some things never change.
Fury says something that is definitely totally not at all funny like --
"I've got my eye on you." Steve looks hard at the wall behind him. Bruce plays it off like a pro. He gives Fury a prize-winning, self-effacing smile that makes even Steve think he's an angel -- and Steve knows, this kid's far from innocent, he's got fugitive written all over his face -- and says something about tutoring Steve so he can keep up.
"That better be the only thing that happens," Fury mutters, but there's something strange in his voice that Steve doesn't quite recognize, at first.
Then he realizes, much later in the day--
Bruce makes sure he gets to his second class, Spanish, on time, and it's a relief to be in a place where he knows what's happening. And Bruce is waiting outside the class when he gets out, just a little bit down the hall. Turns out they have English together, on the other side of the campus. He asks Steve pointed questions about his old school, the classes he took, what he did. Steve's in the middle of explaining the election fiasco for the Spanish Club when the speakers sound out, Tony Stark, please come to the principal's office. Tony Stark to the principal's office -- and Bruce has this smile on his face, like he can't even fucking believe this shit.
"Told him it was a bad idea," he mutters, shaking his head. Steve knows that name. Tony Stark -- he's seen it before, seen it a hundred thousand times.
"Wait, Howard Stark's son goes here."
"Uh, yeah. He does."
"Isn't he like a genius, though? Should he be at MIT or something?"
"He should be. In elementary school they wanted to put him on an accelerated track, but he hung back with us lowlifes." Bruce shrugs and opens a classroom door. "Anyway. He's trouble." Bruce says those words like he knows what kind of trouble Tony is, like he's been there and seen it and decided, yes, mmhm, Tony is trouble. Steve figures that's enough.
Steve just keeps following Bruce on into the cafeteria when it's time for lunch. He was expecting, at this point, waiters and cloth covered tables, but it looks a lot like his old cafeteria, just with nicer chairs and less pizza. He follows Bruce through a line and gets some kind of rice and chicken thing with a mango juice carton. Bruce manages to finagle his way into getting three extra scoops of rice and a kiwi, of all things. The cashier gives him a nice smile. He gives her a ten. "I've got his," he says, jerking his head toward Bruce. "He's new." The woman looks at him sadly and waves him on.
Clint is Natasha's "business partner" or something. They have a happy trade of sexual favors going, with the clause that they can see other people. Bruce explains this with a lopsided smile on his face watching them trade sloppy makeouts at lunch before swapping drinks. Steve feels weird.
"Is he a recruit?" Clint nods toward Steve, shoving a fork full of food in his mouth.
"No." Bruce shakes his head. "He's in two of my classes. I'm just helping him out--"
"He's a recruit," Natasha says kindly. "Everyone heard what you did, Steve. I have to say, bravo."
"That Red kid's a fucking asshole. So's your old football team, by the way," Clint says, voice only a little bitter. "Red was terrorizing the field. Had to put him out of commission."
"Red's a bully."
"That's what we're trying to get at. Clint just has...a lot of football feelings." Natasha shoots him a look. "You're like us, Steve. You've got something good you'd like to do. So do we. We started this group back in middle school, but we've been taking it to the next level for a while now."
Steve stares at her, going from confused to fucking lost in two seconds flat. "Look, I don't--"
"Hey." Clint taps Bruce's juice carton. "Is Stark in trouble?"
"He tried to smuggle his invention into the greenhouse and got caught by a janitor," Bruce explains with all the patience of a very good friend who has been tried and tested. "The Council took him in." Steve frowns. "The Council is the group of principals that run the school. We never really learned their names, so we just call them the Council. You met one of them on his own today. Tony knows the Council pretty well, to a certain extent."
"Why don't they just kick him out?"
"You kiddin' me?" Clint shakes his head. "Howard Stark pays in cash for that kid to go to school here. And the science fair project he and Bruce do every year brings in at least a couple grand. Maybe more." A flush crawls over Bruce's neck. He busies himself with his rice. "They just give him a lot of hell." Clint shrugs. "Tony was the one who told us about you. He's, like, best friends with Pepper and her beau, that dude, what's his name."
"Rhodey," Steve supplies without thinking. Natasha winks at him.
"Right. They grew up together. They love each other. I don't know, it's deep and it means a lot. Anyway, he gets all his gossip from them, and they know everything about--"
"That's the first rule isn't it?" A pair of hands settle on Bruce's shoulders. Bruce looks up, smiling. "Afternoon, everyone. I could hear you talking about me down the hall? Voice's carry. This must be the new guy -- wow. That is a fantastic shirt. Where'd you get that? Wait, don't tell me. Old Navy? I knew it. Had to be. You're Steve. I'm Tony."
"You're talking too fast," Bruce mutters, shrugging off Tony's hands. Tony settles next to him instead and Bruce pushes his plate of food over. Tony eats the rice and the kiwi. Steve thinks he understands.
"Rule one," Tony says after a minute of chewing. "Tony Stark knows everything." He swallows his food. "Now listen up, America, because I'm about to recruit you."