Bruce stared at the doors of the high school as other students passed him by. He hadn't been in a school for over 8 months and hoped this time, things would be better. With a sigh, he unfolded the schedule in his hands and looked it over. Tony said they'd have a class together, but he never found out which one because, as usual, Tony changed the subject. He hoped it was more than just the one. He’d never gone to a school where the classes were divided up by the days, and despite being a sophomore, starting a new school was always… well, awkward.
Looking over the list, he had three classes for the day—someone bumped him as they passed and Bruce stumbled forward as he caught a flash of red hair and a familiar smirk. Natasha kept walking, Clint at her side as Bruce chuckled quietly to himself and followed from a distance. He wondered though why she’d cut her hair short. She’d looked lovely during the summer with her long, curly hair.
An arm grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him off of the sidewalk. “Bruce!”
“Tony!” Bruce grinned and laughed.
“So, guess what?”
“I get to be your guide for today and tomorrow! This means I get to cut part of my classes to drag you around the school and make sure you don’t get lost.” He looked quite proud of himself; probably talked his way into the position.
“Aw, buddy, you shouldn’t have!”
“Tony!” a blonde called and ran up. “You forgot your phone at my place last night,” she handed it over. “Oh, hi Bruce.”
“Pepper.” Bruce nodded to her then threw a look to Tony, who returned one that told him not to ask. He knew they’d broken up this last spring, but they still hung out from time to time.
“I guess I should be glad that Jarvis actually likes me.” She smirked.
Tony made a sound of disbelief. “He unlocked it for you?! Bad Jarvis!” he snapped at the phone.
“You gave her security clearance, sir,” a British accent chirped from the phone.
“MUTE,” Tony growled and shoved the phone in his pocket.
“I was just making sure you went to your doctor appointments,” Pepper told him with a smile and moved closer to hug him. “I wish you’d stop pretending you’re perfect.”
“But I am perfect,” Tony told her with a smirk as they pulled apart.
Pepper rolled her eyes and looked to Bruce. “He thinks that attitude is appealing.” Bruce just shook his head with a smile as Tony tried to convince Pepper. It was a losing battle.
“Ready to join the sheep?” Tony clapped him on the shoulder.
“Don’t listen to him, Bruce. Just be yourself and you’ll be fine. I’ll see you later,” she said and left them to join the stream of students heading inside.
“Well then, shall we?” Tony gestured at the door, and led Bruce inside. “Oh, how convenient! Here we have our trophy cases and such, mostly for sports, but I had the science ones moved up so everyone could admire my lovely face!” Tony gestured toward one that looked dedicated to showing off the awards he and other students had won for the school.
“I suppose you get to take them when you leave?”
“I think I’ll donate them.” Tony shrugged. “I’m not selfish.”
“Aaaand the sports ones! We’re kicking some pretty major ass in soccer so far. I think it’s all due to Steve.”
The name sounded familiar. “Isn’t that the skinny kid I met a few summers ago who lived near you? I liked hanging out with him. But tell me how he is kicking ass?”
“Ah, you remember him! He may have been skinny, but I’m sure you remember he was always a bit heroic.” Tony gestured to follow as he led Bruce to the soccer trophies and pointed at one of the pictures. “He had a bit of a growth spurt since then.”
Bruce stepped closer and then stared at the picture Tony’s finger hovered over. “You’re kidding.”
“No jokes here,” a new voice interrupted them.
The two spun to see the soccer captain himself standing with his arms crossed. Bruce couldn’t believe his eyes. The scrawny kid he’d met was gone, replaced by a tall, muscular and handsome young man. There was no way this was the same guy. This had to be a prank Tony was pulling on him.
“Hey, I remember you.” Steve pointed at Bruce. “We met at Tony’s place during middle school, right?”
Bruce could only nod. He couldn’t believe it. It really was the same voice, albeit a bit deeper.
Tony put an arm around Bruce. “Bruce, my best friend. You remember Steve, right?”
“Yeah,” Bruce croaked and cleared his throat. “Good to, uh, good to see you again.”
“Likewise.” Steve nodded. “Looking to join the team?”
“Oh, god no.”
“Bruce is more of a sit and tinker guy more than run and kick. Like me!” Tony grinned.
Steve laughed. “Well, are you going to come watch try-outs anyway? You always have a good eye.”
“Sure, I’ll be there. I’ll bring Bruce to assist.”
“Whatever, genius.” Steve waved as he turned to go. “I’ll see you later. Nice seeing you again Bruce.”
“Likewise.” Bruce returned the wave.
“Won’t miss it!” Tony called.
Bruce watched Steve walk away. Okay, he wasn’t watching the walking so much as he was staring at Steve’s ass. So what? He turned to Tony, his cheeks warm. “That’s him!? That’s…”
“Kind of amazing right?”
“I’ll say. He looks nothing like he used to. I mean, I only saw him a few times, but…”
“You liked him, right?”
Bruce nodded. “I can’t believe the change. Did you do some sort of experiment on him?”
Tony laughed. “No, Steve was a bit of a late bloomer.” Tony glanced at the young man who was at the doors now. “And boy did he bloom…”
“Yeah, I can—wait, what?”
“Oooooh dear.” Tony smirked and Bruce realized what he’d done.
“Kill me now,” he pleaded.
“Can’t. Watching this happen is just too damn much fun.” His attention shifted suddenly. “Natasha! And what are you doing here?” Tony looked to Clint who ignored him.
“What’s wrong with him?” Natasha asked.
“Nothing!” Bruce replied.
“Yeah, you could say that.”
“Yeah, about his—OW!” Tony coughed as Bruce’s elbow jammed into his side.
“Let me see your schedule,” Natasha offered as Bruce handed it over. “Well, we have Calculus together this morning, so you’ll be totally fine. Would you like to walk with me so you can get rid of captain inept here?”
“I think the word you’re looking for is adept?”
Natasha took Bruce’s arm and led him away. “I think you’ll like it here.”
“I’M STILL HERE!!” Tony yelled from ten feet away as they laughed and kept walking.
“Are we going toward the math department?” Bruce asked as the sound of Tony huffing faded.
“Good, because Tony only showed me his trophies.”
“Are you in any way surprised by this?”
Bruce snorted and earned a grin from her. And that was when he noticed. “People are staring at us.”
“Probably surprised that you’re on my hip instead of Clint.”
“Are you popular?”
“Here we are!” Natasha led them into a room and shoved Bruce in the desk just inside the door and took the one behind his, the last in the row.
“Why here? I like sitting up front.”
“Easier escape route.”
“Again with the escape routes.”
“What? I have habits.” She smiled innocently. Bruce had learned over the summer that she and Clint had self preservation first on their minds, a practice they picked up from being incorrigible pranksters. Every time they walked into a room, they chose a seat for ease of escape or to have their backs to a wall. Tony sometimes overrode their decision based on reasons.
“Are you flirting with me, Natasha?” he teased as a group of entering students stopped and stared.
“Maybe,” she smiled sweetly as the teens moved, hissing back and forth at one another. “Getting into rumors on your first day. Congratulations.”
“Exactly what I need.” Bruce turned to face forward as the bell rang and class began.
It all went much smoother than expected. There were the usual first day introductions, but with the schedule being as it was, they started right in on the book. The second hour of the class was given to the students for studying. Bruce and Natasha did the homework together so they wouldn’t have to do it later. At least half the class followed their example, the other half gossiping instead.
Bruce parted from her after class as Tony picked him up and whisked him off to the English department where he had his class with Pepper. After that, lunch went much different than he’d expected. Instead of eating in the cafeteria, the group met others outside and they sat at a group of picnic tables, chatting and eating. Tony made sure to introduce Bruce to everyone as Pepper and Steve had brought friends along. Bruce wondered if things always went this well when Tony was involved.
“Do you always eat outside?”
“When it’s not raining,” Steve answered from where he lay on the grass.
“What do you do when it’s raining then?”
“Hm, we usually split up. My friends and I eat in the gym then play some basketball. Tony joins sometimes.”
“Pepper has a mean throw,” Tony piped up with a grin as she rolled her eyes.
“Or we drive to a restaurant,” Natasha offered. “What did you do before?”
“Sat by myself in the corner.”
“Were you ousted as a geek?” one of Steve’s friends asked.
“Well, we’re all geeks here, so don’t worry about that.”
Steve smiled so Bruce returned it, until he saw Tony’s smirk. Bastard.
After lunch, Bruce had his Chinese class, in which he knew no one. He was a bit bored, but he didn’t mind. His friends were all over so he could handle one class on his own. Once the school day was done, he felt much better. All of his classes had gone smoothly, and he had friends who actually liked his company. He felt like he’d worried all for nothing, but maybe that was a good thing.
“Move it, pipsqueak,” was his only warning as someone behind him shoved him to the side and into the row of lockers. Bruce winced as his elbow hit one of the locks and glanced to the side to see a group of taller guys glare as they walked past. He could have sworn he heard the word ‘leech’ from them as he shifted to lean back on the lockers, cradling his elbow.
“Hey!” Tony came around the corner and jogged up. “Ready to watch practice? What’s wrong?”
Bruce smiled. “Nothing, just hit my elbow.”
“Ouch. Funny bone?” He put an arm around Bruce to lead him away. “Listen, tryouts don’t take long, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”
“Why do you have to put your arm around me?” Bruce grumbled.
Tony grinned. “Am I ruining your chances with someone?”
Tony hummed happily then said quietly, “Trust me; I’m not here to ruin it for you. I think you and Steve would look very cute together.”
Bruce held his tongue as they exited the building. Denying his immediate fondness for Steve would have made Tony tease him that much more. He just let Tony steer him to the fields and up onto the bleachers where he was deposited next to Natasha, and also Clint who was nearby dozing a few rows down. He then watched as Tony went down to the side of the field and talked to Steve.
“Tony has a keen eye, is what Steve told me.”
Bruce raised an eyebrow at her. “How so?”
“He’s painfully honest as to who is actually good at what they’re doing.”
“You mean he has no brain to mouth filter.”
“Exactly. So, how was your day?”
“Not bad.” He rubbed his elbow, thinking back on what had happened just before he came outside.
“You’ll get used to it,” she said as he nodded. “So how did he convince you to come out?”
“He thinks Steve and I will make a wonderful couple,” Bruce joked.
Clint snorted. “Get in line,” he said as he pointed at a group of girls off to the side of the field—with his eyes closed.
“I didn’t know you liked him,” Natasha bumped her shoulder with his.
“I met him once before, but I don’t even know him.” Bruce shrugged.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll get the chance.”
The next morning after his first class, Bruce grabbed Natasha and pulled her into a corner. “HE’S IN MY GYM CLASS.”
She blinked. “What?”
“Steve is in my gym class,” he hissed. “Why is he in my gym class? Why does someone that perfect have to be in my gym class?”
“Good question, because we put him in your history class.”
His panic disappeared. “What do you mean by that?”
Natasha smiled. “We hacked into the system and made sure one of each of us had a class with you.”
“Tony told us to.”
His heart dropped a little. “He didn’t believe in me?”
“No, no Bruce. He wanted to make sure you were comfortable. He said you had a really hard time at your last school and we wanted to help.”
“It’s true, I did.” He sighed. It seemed like a nice thing to do.
“But Bruce, I still don’t know why we’re doing this…”
“I’ll tell you soon Nat. I promise.” He smiled and she didn’t seem pleased by the answer. “Then you can tell me why you cut your hair.”
That brought her eyes back, sharply. “Sounds like a fair trade.”
“Good.” He nodded as they moved apart and he headed away for his history class. On the one hand, he was glad Steve wasn’t in his history class. It kept him from getting distracted. On the other hand…
Bruce let his head fall against the desk once he got to the classroom. Gym class. Of all the things Tony would do to him. Why? As the bell rang, Bruce sat up and noticed the classroom was blessedly clear of his friends, save a few people he recognized from other classes. Somehow it was comforting to know that after suffering through gym watching Steve sweat—augh no—running and being active, he would have a class without anyone to tease or taunt him about it.
Bruce glanced over to see a browned haired girl sitting next to him. “Hi.”
“Bruce.” They shook hands.
“So, how come you hang out with Natasha so much?”
Bruce smiled at her straightforward manner. “I met her during the summer, so she’s one of the only people I know here.”
“Then you should know about how whipped Clint is for her.”
He laughed. “I wouldn’t say whipped, but they are pretty inseparable.”
“Oh, good. Most guys crush wildly on her the first day. Let her borrow my tazer one time,” she told him with a grin.
“Oh, no. I have no interest in Natasha.” Or any other girls for that matter, he thought.
“Just be careful. I heard she got him in trouble just before classes started. He must be really devoted to still be with her despite that.”
Bruce frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know the details, but there were rumors about her blabbering something to Fury,” Darcy told him as class started.
Bruce sat back and thought on it. That didn’t sound like her. As to Clint being whipped, well, Clint tended to do whatever he wanted, as long as he got her approval, and vice versa. Classic soul mates if he’d ever seen a set. He shook his head and sat up to listen to the teacher. Whatever was going on, he would find out eventually.
Once that class block was done, Bruce felt better. He’d let himself get lost in early American history and was now heading to his Professional Cooking class. Now this was something he might find a challenge.
He walked into the room lined with high tables and thought it to look similar to his old chemistry classroom. Maybe it had been converted, he thought as he took a stool at one of the tables near the window. A hand hit his shoulder as Tony took the spot next to him and grinned.
“This is the class?”
“Cooking? You’re kidding.”
Tony just gave him a look and shrugged before resting his chin in his hands, swinging his feet off the stool. “I just figured I should learn how to cook properly. You know, living alone and all.”
“Oh.” Bruce suddenly felt like an idiot. All summer, more often than not, Tony came over to eat with Bruce’s family. When Tony had invited him over, they’d looked up random recipes and proceeded to destroy the kitchen every time, mostly on purpose. His maid often helped clean up the next day, but Tony seemed to really like the cooking adventures, even if Pepper found it immature.
“Yes, Mrs. Bingley!” Tony sat up as the teacher walked into the room with an armful of books.
“I trust you won’t bring one of your contraptions to class to destroy whatever we plan to bake?”
“Perish the thought!” he answered with a grin. Bruce raised a curious eyebrow as Tony explained quietly, “Let’s just say I was overzealous last semester.”
“What did you do?”
“Don’t worry, it’s part of Mrs. Bingley’s safety spiel, which she’ll get to later on.”
Tony wasn’t wrong. By the end of class, Bruce’s morning worries were entirely gone and they were laughing as they walked out the door.
“So, I’ll probably see you tomorrow.”
“Wait, what?” Bruce stopped with Tony on the side of the hallway.
“I have a class at the university. You’ll be safe in Chemistry, right?”
“I always wear my goggles. Have fun.”
“Making adults feel stupid? Always!”
Seat in the front or seat in the back? This was an important decision for Tony as he considered his choices from just inside the door.
Oh, wait just a minute. Tony’s eyes followed a black haired young man entering the room and take a seat at the front corner of the room. Interesting. Tony took the seat next to the door, the corner furthest from the young man. It was easier to observe people from further away. He’d learned that from Legolas—er, Clint.
The young man that had caught his interest was tall, wore mostly black save the dark green t-shirt with gold writing under his leather jacket, and had longish black hair slicked back. Not a hairstyle Tony was likely to try, but it seemed to suit the guy. He carried himself with an air that said he was better than everyone, and Tony respected that. He also couldn’t miss the British accent when the young man spoke to another classmate. Now, would this guy be a good addition to his current friend pool, or would he be an asshole that needed to be knocked off his pedestal?
Tony sat back and waited as the class started. The professor went through the usual spiel of what the class was about and then took roll. Tony got the usual stares when his name was called. He acted normal, like the genius he was. No need to let them think any different.
The young man he’d been watching answered to the name Loki. Interesting. Tony wondered how high his parents had been when they named him. Loki looked very disinterested through the entire class introduction. Tony didn’t even remember his name registering for Loki when it was called. More and more interesting!
Tony’s phone buzzed. [Spill.]
He smirked. [Patience]
[Not likely for either of us.]
The first class turned out to be very informal, and the professor asked each student why they were taking the class. When they got to Tony, he rattled off how he was interested in robotics and developing clean energy, as his father had been doing. He left the bit about his father out though; he didn’t like bringing that up. Though when he spoke, it was the first time Loki looked up from scribbling in his notebook. The only other time was when Loki mentioned taking the class to learn how things worked and were developed. So humble! There had to be another reason. And the way he spoke, like some old fashioned gentleman, sparked Tony’s curiosity. Was it considered stalking if he just wanted to be an informed individual?
The professor then talked about what they would cover in the course and boring, boring, boring. Tony stopped paying attention.
[I think you’d like him]
[Him? Not her? Very interesting.]
[Well, not more than Clint of course]
[Of course. Tell me more.]
[I find it more interesting that you’re interested in my interests]
[Can’t say I’m surprised by it. You are you.]
[I am me, aren’t I?]
[Rolling my eyes hard right now, just so you know.]
[What can I say, I’m an equal opportunity interest kind of guy]
[You never told me that.]
Tony smirked. [You never asked]
Tony’s attention shifted as the professor said they would get started on Friday and let them all go. The urge to bother Loki arose and Tony found himself following the young man out the building.
Loki didn’t stop. In fact, he could swear that the guy sped up. Tony wouldn’t stand for that.
Loki glanced back at him.
“You have got to be joking.” He stopped with an exasperated sigh as Tony caught up. This guy was really tall, around 6’2” maybe?
“So what’s with the accent and speech pattern? You can’t possibly be that old fashioned?”
Loki pinched the bridge of his nose. “It is no concern of yours.”
“It is part of a wager.”
Tony’s eyebrows shot up. He wasn’t expecting that. “Really? With whom?”
“My brother, if you must know. Now if you will excuse me…”
“But how will he know if you talk like a normal person?” Tony walked alongside Loki. Damn this guy was taking long strides. Hm, long legs mean… Tony cut that thought off.
“For someone who is considered so smart, you really are quite dense.”
“Did I miss something? Drama club bet?”
“Everyone on campus knows about our agreement. Did you just transfer?”
“Nah, I’m from the high school.”
“Oh, bloody…” Loki stopped short and took a breath to calm himself, then turned to leave. “Go away.”
“Nope! We’re classmates!” Tony chased him again, determined. To what end though, he wasn’t really sure yet.
“Not outside of the actual class!”
“Your accent is amazing.”
“It is real, I assure you.”
“What does your brother sound like?”
“I bet you’re biased.”
“I could not agree more.” Loki stopped and held up a hand before Tony could speak. “For the love of god, leave me alone. I have no interest in your petty rich kid amusement or snide remarks to vex me.” He turned on his heel and walked away.
“See you Friday!” Tony called with a wave and slipped his sunglasses on as he walked in the opposite direction. Having someone new to pester always made him excited. He needed to call Bruce.