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Science Is Not The Opposite

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Steve tried his hardest not to shift around on his chair. Sure, he was nervous about this new job – or rather, his first real job as a teacher – but that didn’t mean everyone needed to know. Especially not assistant principal Hill who was more than a little intimidating. It was bad enough that Steve had barely gotten any sleep and called Tony on the way to school for a pep talk which in fact had been more reassuring than he’d expected. His friend was right, he had the job, his references were great and he was excited to be working with children and making a difference. It also helped that Ms Hill had told him she had been very impressed by his portfolio when he’d first met her at his job interview. The school was nice enough, had undergone renovation only a few years back and the range of art classes and projects being offered was bigger than at any school he’d worked at during his teacher training. It could barely get any better, right?

The office that hadn’t changed since last time he’d been here a few months ago was a good representation of the rest of the four storey building. It was modern, all soft, light colours and sharp edges, but a little empty for Steve’s taste; practical and somewhat impersonal. And the chair he tried not to shift on too much was uncomfortable enough for Steve to hope this meeting would be over soon, he was positive sitting here much longer would leave him with back pains for the rest of the day.

Therefor he was relieved when Ms Hill plucked a sheet of paper from the printer and handed it to Steve with a smile. “Now Mr Rogers, the art room is on the second floor, room 311, but your students won’t get there before lunchtime. Most of your art classes start tomorrow and on Wednesday, then you’ll be busy. Same goes for history, you’re going to have another room for those classes; it’s right down the hall from the art room. Your first class for today is at one so you have enough time to set everything up and take a look around if you wish. During lunch break I’ll introduce you to the other teachers and if you have any questions just stop by my office and ask away.”

After a brief look at the class schedule Steve thanked her with a shy smile, gathered his things and left the office, quietly closing the door behind him to let her get back to whatever business she had to attend to. The bell rang as he passed the main entrance and Steve took a quick step backwards as a small group of students dashed past him to make it to their first class of the year. Steve looked after them and smiled again. He couldn’t wait to start teaching.

With his portfolio tucked under one arm and a tote bag with some of his art supplies slung over his other shoulder he made his way up the stairs to the second floor. There he turned right and slowly walked down the hall, glad nobody could hear his wheezing breath and hoping that taking those two flights of stairs would get a little easier with time. As he was reading the room numbers and looking at the posters and paintings by students that adorned the space between each door he could hear soft voices from most classrooms and here and there a burst of laughter or muffled groans of protest at the announcement of certain teachers the students would have this year.

Engrossed in a poster about last year’s science fair, Steve barely noticed a door a few yards down the hallway opening. He took a step back and turned to head to the end of the hallway when –

“Umpf!”

Steve’s bag slipped off his shoulder at the impact and several brushes, markers, a pair of scissors and three tape rolls scattered over the floor as Steve stumbled back. In the last moment a warm hand closed around his wrist and prevented him from falling flat on his ass as Steve flailed helplessly with his other arm, losing his portfolio in the process, before finally regaining his balance.

“Shi- I mean, I’m so sorry!“ Steve apologised and hectically kneeled down to pick up the mess. Luckily his portfolio seemed to have survived the fall undamaged, as did his supplies. “I was just looking for the art room, didn’t pay much attention and really didn’t hear you.” Damn his left ear for being that bad. Maybe he should consider wearing his hearing aids after all.

“It’s fine, I wasn’t looking where I was going, either,” a male voice assured him. “Are you okay?” The man crouched down next to Steve and handed him his glasses that thankfully weren’t broken. He helped him gather the brushes that were strewn all over the floor and reached underneath the heaters on the wall to grab a marker that had gone astray.

“Yeah, I’m good. Thank you so much,” Steve added when the stranger handed him the utensils. Having made sure he hadn’t missed anything, Steve readjusted his glasses and finally looked up at the man – and immediately wished he hadn’t.

The stranger was gorgeous, long, dark hair falling into his grey-blue eyes, stubble that practically begged Steve’s fingertips to ghost over it and Steve instantly felt his face flush a dark red at the thought. He really wasn’t used to talking to people who were this attractive (or rather, attractive people talking to him), especially not at his work place, and he wished himself far, far away. His mind had literally just started fantasising about the guy mere moments after running into him. Not the best first impression to make, mind you. And he might very well be a new co-worker.

“You’re new, I take it?”

Steve nodded, sure his voice would fail him if he so much as attempted to speak and suddenly feeling like a deer caught in headlights.

“Well, you’re headed in the right direction,” the brunet smiled and it took Steve a moment to realise he was talking about the art room. “Just turn left at the end of the hallway, then it’s the second door on the right. You should hurry, class has already started. Didn’t Ms Hill come along to show you the way and introduce you to your new classmates?” Handsome Stranger looked somewhat puzzled at that thought.

His new…? Steve wasn’t quite following and shook his head in confusion. “No, um, she has another appointment and just told me where I have to go.” At least his voice didn’t betray how embarrassed he felt – unfortunately the same thing couldn’t be said for his still bright red face.

“Well then, better hurry up. Although I’m sure if you’d carry fewer supplies for only that one class around you might get there faster next time,” Handsome Stranger smiled. “I doubt you’ll need all of those today – or in any art class, really, not even the advanced one. I think your art teacher will hand out a list of what you’re going to need this year.”

Finally, it clicked. His classmates. His art teacher. Steve clenched his hands around his supplies and tried to keep his composure. It wasn’t the stranger’s fault he’d just mistaken him for a student. Steve was small and thin and looked several years younger than he actually was, even with the edges of his tattoos peeking out from under his collar and his rolled up sleeves. It happened fairly often but that didn’t make it any less embarrassing and degrading. Especially when he was being mistaken by someone only a few years older than him (and this gorgeous, oh god, how much his fingers itched to draw this jawline, those soft, full lips and beautiful eyes). He mustered up a polite smile. “Actually, I’m the art teacher. This is my first day and I haven’t quite figured everything out yet. So thanks for your help, I’m sure I’ll fine the room.”

To his satisfaction, it was the stranger’s turn to blush and stammer, “Oh, I, um… I’m sorry, it’s just… I’ve never seen you here before and I thought…”

“Don’t worry about it. And thanks again.” Steve gave a curt nod and stepped around the guy to head to his classroom, passing an open door with curious students looking at him from inside the room and a few giggles following him. Great, now he was even more anxious than he’d been five minutes ago. Would his students even take him seriously? What if they didn’t? What if they decided he wasn’t enough of an authority figure and made his life hell?

No, that was not going to happen. Not again. Steve had wanted to become a teacher because he liked imparting art and history in a manner that made others look at those subjects differently and to be there for the students that couldn’t defend themselves. He didn’t want what had happened to him during his time in school happen to another kid, with teachers standing by and doing nothing as innocent students had been bullied, and he’d been delighted to find out that this school even had a LGBTQ+ club.

So he was not going to even consider the possibility that the students might be just as cruel to him as the ones in his classes had been in high school, and he was not going to think about that stranger. Steve prayed he was some student’s father, or maybe the janitor or something, but considering that the guy had just come out of a classroom he probably was one of his new colleagues which might just make his lunch break even more awkward than it would undoubtedly be anyway. It was probably best to push any thought about him to the back of his mind.

So far Steve had only met Ms Hill and the scary headmaster, Mr Fury, but none of the other teachers. Ms Hill had assured him the others would welcome him with open arms and spoke highly of the faculty but on the other hand that was part of her job, wasn’t it? She couldn’t exactly go ahead and tell him his new co-workers might be horrible. He just hoped he would be able to get along with the other teachers. Sure, this was his job now and he didn’t have to become best friends with everyone but not making enemies in his first few weeks here would be nice. Sometimes Steve had a hard time keeping his opinions to himself and he really didn’t need to come into conflict with anyone. Tony had told him more than once he was a hundred and fifteen pounds of concentrated sass and righteousness and if Steve was being honest with himself he had to admit that Tony wasn’t exactly wrong.

When he finally found room number 311 he heaved a sigh of relief and unlocked it with the key Ms Hill had handed him at the beginning of their meeting. Stepping inside, Steve took in every detail of the large room with its white desks and huge windows. There was a set of cabinets behind the teacher’s desk, undoubtedly full of supplies, and the back wall was occupied by several shelves for storing projects his students were working on. Setting his supplies on the nearest table, Steve let the excitement bubbling in his stomach take over and chuckled softly. Great lighting, enough space for bigger projects and a small park he and his students could use in summer directly bordering the school grounds. It was perfect. And he could deal with colleagues and students thinking he was far younger than his actual age, it wasn’t like he hadn’t experienced that hundreds of times before. Steve decided he would make his time here count and not to let anything get him down, and with that in mind he started unpacking his things and going through the cabinets to see which supplies the school offered.

Afterwards he would walk around the building to get familiar with everything. He also wanted go look for the other classroom, the one he’d teach history in, and maybe swing by the small darkroom in the basement he intended to use for the photography group he’d suggested to offer – if anyone decided to sign up, that was. At this point, he had almost forgotten about his run-in with the handsome guy whom he would most certainly not draw when he got home and curled up on his sofa with a cup of tea and his sketchbook. Because that would be utterly ridiculous and also just a tiny bit creepy.

***

“Hey, what’s that kid doing in here?”

“What kid?” Bucky turned and looked into the direction Sam was staring. Standing right next to the door, looking a little lost and far too young to be here, was the boy – no, man, Bucky corrected himself mentally – that had bumped into him this morning. He groaned softly and shook his head, still embarrassed about that particular encounter. “Apparently that’s the new art teacher.”

Raising a brow, Sam turned his attention to Bucky, momentarily forgetting his half-eaten sandwich. “You’re joking, right?” he asked with a quick glance back at the new guy.

Bucky shook his head. Unfortunately not, he thought and prayed that the skinny blond would not see him, or at least not come over to sit anywhere near them. He was sure the guy wasn’t that bad, really, but Bucky honest to god was embarrassed.

“Are you sure? How do you even know?” Sam pressed. “Since when do you know more about new teachers and students than I do?”

Of course Sam wouldn’t let that go; Bucky suspected it had something to do with injured pride. In Sam’s opinion he was the first one to get notified of anything remotely interesting regarding new staff or students, claiming it was his duty to know about anything and everything going on in this school since he was not only the PE teacher but also the school counsellor. Bucky was sure it had more to do with Sam being nosy as hell. “Guy bumped into me this morning,” he muttered and picked at his salad. Why the hell had he thought a salad was enough for lunch? “I thought he was a student and told him to go meet his new classmates.”

Sam almost choked on his sandwich. “You didn’t.”

“Yeah, I did.” Bucky buried his face in his hands and rested his elbows on the desk in front of him. It might well have been one of the most awkward encounters of his life – usually he was known for his charm and nonchalance but back there, in the hallway right in front of his classroom, he’d mistaken a new colleague for one of the students and his own class had witnessed the whole thing through the open classroom door. Bucky couldn’t recall ever blushing in front of a class but the colour just hadn’t left his cheeks even when the new art teacher had stomped off, looking more than a little piqued.

Suddenly a hand was ruffling his hair and someone right behind him mocked, “Wow, I knew you were a mess, Barnes, but that’s a first even for you.”

“Shut up, Natasha, he looks like he’s seventeen,” Bucky grumbled and caught her hand before she could make even more of a mess of his hair. It was no surprise that a new staff member was everything the faculty gossiped about, at least for today. In a week or two, give or take, nobody would care that blondie over there was new.

Sam watched as the new teacher looked relieved when Ms Hill walked towards him to show him to an empty seat where he could leave his things and have lunch. “Yeah, man. Since when do we employ teenagers?”

Natasha sank into the chair next to Sam’s and leaned forward to get a good look at the new teacher. “He’s not a teenager, he’s twenty-six. And teaches history as well, not just art.”

“How do you know that?”

Giving him a Cheshire cat grin, Nat winked at Sam and whispered, “I know everything, Wilson.” Bucky didn’t doubt it for a second; she was a remarkable and sometimes scary woman who could dig up information (and dirt…) about anyone.

“Are you talking about the new guy?” Peggy chimed in from Bucky’s other side, making him jump since he had been so focused on glaring at his salad that he hadn’t noticed her at all. “He’s adorable, isn’t he? And I hear he’s absolutely talented.”

“I think he just heard you,” Sam noted with an amused grin and really, when Bucky peeked over to the new guy he was staring right at their little group, hands buried in his pockets and jaw set. “And I don’t think he likes being called adorable.”

Luckily, Maria chose that moment to get everyone’s attention and introduced the new guy. “Everyone, I want you to meet our new history and art teacher, Steve Rogers. He’ll also run a photography project after classes. I expect everyone to help him out if he has any questions.”

There were a few nods, some welcoming comments and smiles sent into Rogers direction. When Rogers’ glance swept over him Bucky automatically hunched down in his chair and immediately felt ridiculous because of it. Bucky watched as Rogers’ cheeks turned a soft shade of pink and he tried to muster up a shy smile for his new colleagues. Bucky certainly hoped the guy was more confident in a classroom, otherwise things might get hard for him. They would just have to wait and see how this turned out.

Chapter Text

Except for being called adorable Steve’s first break and meeting the other teachers had been better than expected. Ms Hill had showed him to a free space next to a teacher with dark hair and glasses who had introduced himself as Bruce Banner. He taught science and health classes and was a quiet but friendly man and Steve had gladly spent the lunch break talking to him and getting to know more about his new colleagues. Banner wasn’t one to gossip but he had been nice enough to tell Steve which of the other members of faculty taught which subjects – apparently Handsome Stranger was the science and computer science teacher, James Barnes. Great, of course Steve had to have at least one embarrassing encounter with another teacher on his very first day. When he had asked how the projects and clubs after classes worked and who ran which Banner had given him an overview and pointed out even more teachers. The lady who had called Steve adorable was the one running the LGBTQ+ club, making Steve almost forgive her. Almost.

At some point a good-looking guy (not that he was keeping track of how attractive the other teachers were, Steve just couldn’t help but notice such things and he kept telling himself that it only had to do with him being an artist and appreciating the human form) with short black hair and a tooth gap had joined them, introduced himself as school counsellor Sam Wilson, and told Steve to ask him if he had any questions regarding his students or let him know if there were any problems. Steve had thanked him quietly, mustered up a smile and tried not squirm under the scrutinising gaze.

To his chagrin he also noticed the group around Barnes staring over at them and obviously chatting about him again – or rather, the two women and another man that had just joined them with a cup of coffee; Barnes was glaring at his lunch. At least he seemed to be about as embarrassed about their first meeting as Steve was. Good. Nonetheless Steve didn’t exactly like being the centre of attention and he was feeling more and more uncomfortable and anxious. With a few polite words he quickly excused himself, gathered his things and headed to the door. Glad he made it without running into anybody yet again he hurried back to the art room, heart pounding way too fast in his chest. He really hoped these stairs wouldn’t kill him one day. Once back in the classroom he took a few deep breaths and tried to calm down.

Steve kind of wanted to cuddle into his bed, barefoot with some tea and his sketchbook to sketch his first day’s impressions. That would have to wait, though, since his very first class was about to start in less than ten minutes and he was also low key buzzing with excitement. In this state he’d barely manage to draw anything, he was sure.

After all it wasn’t his first time teaching, not really. There had been plenty of internships and tutoring students and none of that had been a disaster. Sure, some students were more exhausting and complicated than others, but he managed getting along with everyone as long as they were respectful. And his first class was a freshman one so it was rather unlikely to be mistaken for a student. Again. Things might get a bit harder when he’d get to teach the juniors and seniors but surely he’d be fine. Teaching was his calling, Steve knew that, and he would not let his run-in with another teacher or anything else affect his excitement.

For the last few minutes before class he laid out a few materials, went over his list again and did everything to distract himself from the tiny bit of doubt nagging in the back of his mind. Everything would be fine. Shortly before the bell rang he leaned against his desk and he watched as students arrived in dribs and drabs, most of them eyeing him curiously, some of them returning his smile or saying hi. It took a bit before everyone was seated and the chatter died down but then, with the ringing of the bell, Steve started the class and introduced himself.

The lesson was mostly uneventful if Steve was being honest but that didn’t tone down his joy to be there. After discussing the list of utensils they would need, talking about the things he had planned for the school year and subtly promoting his photography club, Steve handed out some newspapers, magazines and coloured cards, announcing they would make their own nameplates. He had even found some glitter glue and told the children to be as creative as they wanted.

When all of the students had finished cutting out letters, gluing them onto the paper, drawing and writing with glitter glue and coloured pencils and two dozen colourful and sparkling name plates adorned the desks Steve leaned against the desk again. With barely fifteen minutes left he asked his students which kind of art was their favourite. For a moment or two, everyone looked at him or around the class, then a few hands went up and Steve smiled encouragingly at a girl with a black and white nameplate reading Jane.

The rest of the school day went by faster than expected. Steve’s first history lesson with a sophomore class mostly revolved around the topics they would talk about during the year and the time periods they had learned about so far. Then Steve used the last twenty minutes to play a history version of two truths and a lie with the teenagers, giving them interesting, funny and weird history facts and letting them try and figure out which ones were true.

Afterwards he wanted to stop by the teacher’s lounge again to grab a few pens he’d forgotten in his haste to get away during lunch break. As he rounded the corner and spotted Barnes searching for his keys in front of the door of the lounge he stopped dead in his tracks. He thought feverishly for a few seconds, but there still were students lolling about and walking through the hall, some of them watching him with mild interest, so he eventually decided he had no other option but to walk up to his colleague still searching all of his pockets for his keys.

“Uh… should I?” Steve asked as he joined Barnes at the door, his own key in hand, noticing the slight flinch Barnes didn’t manage to suppress.

Barnes looked up – or, more precisely, lifted his head enough to meet Steve’s eyes since technically he was still looking down – and instantly took a step back to make space. “Yeah, sure,” he mumbled and Steve tried to figure out if Barnes was blushing or if he was just imagining things. “Can’t find my key for sh- Well, y’know.”

Unlocking the door, Steve nodded awkwardly, then he held the door open for Barnes to step in first. His Ma had raised him right, thank you very much, and he would always hold doors for everybody, no matter how weird Barnes might look at him. Steve followed him inside but before he could slip away Barnes’ right hand landed on his shoulder, far more gently than he’d expected and a tiny part of him which he tried to ignore thought that was just because he looked so frail, especially in comparison to his new colleague.

“I’m sorry, by the way. Seriously. Um, about this morning. I really didn’t mean to offend you or anything, I was somewhere else with my mind and then that happened.” Looking honestly sheepish, Barnes gave a small shrug and a lopsided smile. “Hope you’ll forgive me.”

“It’s okay, you’re not the first one to make that mistake,” Steve said and bit his lip. He really just wanted to get his things and leave but Barnes looked like he wanted to say something else. Apparently, he changed his mind, though, and just nodded. Steve gestured at his place at the table, mumbled something about having to grab his stuff and said goodbye before things could get any more awkward. He’d almost reached the table when he heard a “Guess I’ll be seeing you around, Rogers.”

“Sure,” he managed and turned to nod at Barnes again but the science teacher had already disappeared out the door again. Steve couldn’t help but wonder if he’d even done whatever it was he’d come in to do.

***

No ten minutes after he had gotten home and shucked his jacket Steve’s phone had rung and Tony had asked all about his first day. Steve had been in the middle of heating up some leftover soup from the day before and had had to tuck the phone between his shoulder and chin as he’d stirred the pot. He had told Tony about the classroom and the building as he carried the pot to his breakfast bar and sat down. Then he’d talked about meeting Banner and Wilson, his students and the first lessons in between spoons full of soup but has purposely left out his encounters with Barnes. Tony had interrupted him now and again to ask questions and finally said the words Steve had expected to hear since the beginning of this call.

“See? Told you it would be fine.”

“I know,” Steve had replied as he’d rolled his eyes. “Listen, I gotta go.” It wasn’t that he had something against talking to Tony but he honestly was exhausted and not in the mood for teasing so he had quickly ended the call and switched his phone to mute.

Now he was finally curled up in his favourite armchair, wrapped up in a soft blanket with his feet tucked under himself in hopes of keeping them warm, and nursing a cup of tea. He had decided to go for more detailed drawings so he’d chosen the armchair over his bed for the sake of favouring his back if he spent more time than anticipated on drawing (which happened a lot more than one might think) and because the lighting was just better. He could have sat down at his desk in the master bedroom turned studio but for now he just wanted to be warm and comfortable so the armchair it was.

He had put on one of his favourite albums and after setting his tea aside he chose a soft pencil to sketch out his new classroom looking out on the trees of the small park. Soon the sketch wasn’t enough to hold his attention, though, and Steve found himself drawing the group of teachers on the other side of the teacher’s lounge – Sam Wilson, Margaret Carter, Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton, and James Barnes, according to Banner. They had glanced his way a few more times but other than that mostly joked around and talked amongst themselves and Steve had instantly admired the way they acted around each other. Sure, he wasn’t there to make friends, but if they could do it, maybe so could he. For now he was just the new guy, though, so he’d have to be satisfied with capturing the energy and cheerfulness surrounding the small group.

And who could blame him if what started as a hurried sketch turned into elaborate portraits with light and shadows playing over distinct features; stubbled jaws, full lips, long, red curls, tooth-gapped smiles, sharp jawlines and piercing eyes? It wasn’t like anybody was going to see them anyway – well, except for Tony, maybe, if that bastard started snooping around in Steve’s sketchbook again. And it definitely wasn’t his fault that so many of his new colleagues were so aesthetically pleasing. Plus art was a great way to process experiences so there was nothing wrong with it. Nothing at all.

Yeah, right.

It was almost midnight, the vinyl long since stopped, the speakers only swooshing quietly and the last bit of tea gone cold, when Steve finally set the sketchbook on his coffee table and carefully stretched his back. A few more sketches of trees, the school building and logo and other teachers filled the pages but his eyes stayed on Barnes’ face a little longer. With a shake of his head he got up. Obsessing over the awkwardness between them wouldn’t do him any good and he didn’t need anything complicating the relationship to any of his colleagues. It was best to forget about everything; Barnes had apologised, after all. And Steve definitely should forget how nice those grey-blue eyes were and what a perfect model the science teacher made. All he needed to concentrate on was teaching young minds to think for themselves and be creative.

Chapter Text

Tuesday and Wednesday went by rather uneventfully with Steve teaching students, planning lessons and trying to make himself invisible in the teacher’s lounge – partly to avoid drawing Barnes’s anyone’s attention to himself, partly because he felt incredibly self-conscious. On Thursday morning, however, Steve had just set foot into the teacher’s lounge half an hour before his first lesson when a panicked voice caused him to look across the room to the small coffee station cramped into a corner between the windows and some shelves.  

“Please, for the love of god, tell me the coffee machine isn’t broken,” Barton whined and turned to Romanoff with wide, desperate eyes. “How am I going to survive an entire school day without coffee?! How is anybody gonna survive that?!”

Romanoff merely shrugged one shoulder. “Hill said she’d take care of it but it might take a day or two. There’s a Starbucks a couple blocks away, y’know. If you hurry you’ll get back just in time.”

“I need real coffee, not that sugary wannabe stuff that won’t keep me awake for more than an hour,” the maths teacher complained and Steve wondered where he’d gotten a black eye and the need for a band aid across the bridge of his nose.

“If you’d get more sleep…” Romanoff trailed off as she leaned against the closest desk.

With a curse and a growled, “I don’t need any stupid advice, I need coffee,” Barton flopped down on a chair and buried his face in his hands. His next words were muffled. “I can’t do this. I can’t live without coffee.”

Having watched the whole tragedy and noticing that nobody else seemed to care about their co-worker’s outburst, Steve hesitantly stepped closer. “There’s a small coffee shop that opened up a block from here recently,” he said timidly. “I was in there last week, they have, um, normal coffee.” Not that Steve had tried it, he definitely was more of a tea person and caffeine wasn’t exactly good for him with all of his health issues, but it had smelled delicious.

Barton’s head turned to Steve so fast Steve thought he might dislocate something. “Where exactly?”

“Uh, you gotta turn left when you leave the main entrance and then just down the str-”

He didn’t even get to finish since Barton had forcefully pushed his chair back and made the few steps towards Steve, grabbed his shoulders, looked straight into his eyes and interrupted him with a, “You’re a life saver. You’re my hero. I love you.” Then he hurried past Steve and out the door, almost colliding with an older teacher Steve had not seen before. The man grumbled something to himself and shook his head at his younger colleague.

As Steve gaped after Barton he noticed something purple behind Barton’s ears and he had to blink twice to realise they were indeed hearing aids. Huh. If Barton could wear them for work and nobody gave him shit about it maybe Steve could consider it, too. Maybe Tony was right and he was far too self-conscious about his being hard of hearing. Despite his weird coffee obsession Barton seemed like an interesting guy.

“He’s always that way when it comes to coffee, just ignore him.” The words, uttered right next to Steve’s good ear, made him flinch and turn to look at the redhead that had sneaked up to him. “Hi, I’m Natasha Romanoff. You can call me Natasha.”

Wow. She was even more gorgeous up close – and a little intimidating – but her smile seemed sincere. “S-Steve Rogers.” Hesitantly, he shook the proffered hand that was even smaller than his own one but warm and soft.

“Nice tattoos. Did you design them yourself? I mean, since you’re an artist and all that.”

Steve blushed and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, a nervous habit he had desperately tried and failed to break. “Uh, yeah, I did.”

“They’re beautiful. I’d love to see more, not just the bits that peek out under your collar. If you don’t mind, of course.” Natasha smirked.

“Hands off the new guy, Romanoff,” Carter chirped as she strode past Steve and Natasha and winked at them.

Feeling his face heat up even more, Steve wondered if Natasha had actually just flirted with him. But that was ridiculous, really. She was gorgeous and tough (at least from what he could tell so far, and he prided himself in reading people right; he had an artist’s eye, after all) and he was, well, just him. Just Steve.

To his surprise, Natasha shot right back with a grin and a, “Why, you interested in him? I’m sure Angie wouldn’t be so fond of sharing.”

A few teachers looked over to watch the exchange and Steve wanted the ground to open up for him – now he had become the center of attention against his will and there were few things he hated more than that. His face grew even hotter and he stared his shoes. Sure, getting a little attention couldn’t be avoided when being the new guy but being watched as two of his colleagues were talking about him as if he wasn’t standing right next to them was an absolutely nightmare. And he couldn’t even disappear without it being noticed.

Carter soon turned her attention to Steve – and wasn’t it funny how he was actually relieved about being talked to instead of talked about as the other teachers lost interest – and introduced herself, then went on to chattering about how much she loved his idea to offer a photography club. When she took a breath Steve dared to ask her about the LGBTQ+ club and she beamed and promptly invited him to this year’s first meeting.

It felt like no time had passed when suddenly Barton sank down onto a chair near them and sighed dramatically. “I won’t have to die. Rogers, you saved my day. My week, even! I owe you, seriously.” He raised his cup of coffee to Steve, then downed half of it in one go just when Steve noticed a second one in his other hand.

“Is he alright?” Carter asked with a stage whisper.

“Coffee machine broke,” Natasha explained and rolled her eyes at their colleague. “But he’s acting like the world just ended.”

“I need this to live.”

Shaking her head, Natasha muttered, “You’re a drama queen, Barton.” Steve suddenly had the urge to draw a study of her hair flying around her face. Stop being a creep, he quickly told himself.

“You love it,” Barton declared. “One day I’ll get you to go out with me.”

The following snort was accompanied by a “Keep on dreaming.”

Completely unfazed, Barton leaned over to Natasha and gave her a confident smile. “You know everyone ships it.”

“Who ships what?” Wilson who had just entered together with Barnes asked curiously and Steve couldn’t help but notice Wilson’s hand on the small of Barnes’s back.

“The kids ship Romanoff and me.”

Wilson snorted. “They really don’t.”

“Yeah, they say she’ll kick your ass if you keep on flirting with her,” Barnes added.

“That is so not true,” Barton protested just as Natasha said, “I just want to let you know that I could kick everyone’s ass, including yours, Barnes.”

Steve bit his lip to keep himself from grinning. He wasn’t part of that circle of teachers and Romanoff certainly looked like she could kick his ass if he didn’t keep to himself, no matter how nice she’d just been to him. And it was about time he headed to his classroom anyway, he realised when he glanced at the clock above the door. He gathered his notes and bag and made his way to the history classroom which lay on the ground floor. No stairs, thank goodness.

Perhaps one day he would become part of that group. The thought passed quickly and Steve chided himself for even getting his hopes up. They seemed nice, yeah, but Steve Rogers wasn’t one to make friends easily.

***

 “So what’re they like?” Tony asked and picked up his glass of wine to take a sip. He had asked Steve over for interrogation disguised as dinner. And as much as he dreaded the interrogation,  Steve wasn’t one to turn down a free dinner – not until he got his first pay check, at least (and even then probably not because hello, free food?!). As it turned out, Tony had decided to pull out all the stops and hadn’t cooked himself. Instead he’d invited Steve to a fancy restaurant and told him to order whatever he wanted. And Steve was taking advantage of that.

“What is who like?” he asked innocently between forks of salad and bites of freshly baked bread.

“Your new colleagues, Rogers, who else? Anyone interesting? Hot? Or are all of them just old and boring?”

“They’re fine. I talked to a few and they were helpful and nice. Some a little weird, maybe,” he added when he remembered Barton’s near-breakdown over the broken coffee machine.

“Wow, your description is so detailed and vivid, it’s almost like I was there with you.”

Steve rolled his eyes and washed down the last bit of his appetizer with a sip of wine. “I don’t know what you expect me to say.”

“I wanna know all the hot gossip.”

Tony smiled at the waitress and thanked her when she set the plates with their entrée in front of them. Steve pretended not to have heard Tony’s previous statement. Only when Tony kicked him under the table did he look up at him. If only the paparazzi waiting outside to get a glimpse of the famous Tony Stark knew what kind of person he was, Steve thought and rubbed his shin. “There is no gossip.”

“Oh come on Steve, I know teachers are blabbermouths. You can’t fool me. I know you notice everything, even if you might not hear everything ‘cause you’re still too proud to wear hearing aids.”

Glaring at his friend, Steve huffed, “I’m not too proud.”

“Yeah, right. So, how many crushes do you already have?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Tony snorted. “Of course.”

“I hate you.” This had been a big mistake, Steve thought as Tony continued teasing him. Eventually he would get so annoyed by all those questions that he’d cave in, and Tony knew that just as much as Steve did, so for now he just tried to concentrate on the delicious steak right in front of him and ignore Tony at least for a few more minutes.

Because he most certainly didn’t have even the teeniest tiniest bit of a crush on three of his new colleagues. Absolutely not.

Chapter Text

Naturally, Tony hadn’t stopped bothering Steve. He’d even gone so far as making him take a ride home in Tony’s far too expensive car so he could continue nagging him. Steve hadn’t cracked but Tony still was convinced that Steve had a thing for at least one or two of his colleagues – not that Steve could actually blame him, mind you, he just got crushes way too easily. And he liked people (in the appreciating pretty and nice people way, not in general, people mostly sucked in his opinion but that wasn’t the point as Tony had pointed out oh so helpfully), so what? It still wasn’t any of Tony’s damn business, no matter how much he’d complained about Steve refusing to tell him about his schedule so Tony could come pick him up after work and “check out all the hot teachers”.

Unfortunately, Tony simply didn’t give a fuck and when Steve stepped out of the building the next week, chatting with Peggy about both of their after school activities, his friend’s voice carried over to him from the other side of the street where Tony was leaning against his car and grinning at him, looking a little worse for wear in simple jeans and a greasy T-shirt. Steve managed to suppress a groan and merely rolled his eyes when Tony crossed the street, pretending not to notice the students gaping at him and his car respectively.

“Stevie! I thought I’d drop by and pick you up,” he announced as he made his way through the kids leaving the building. “And who is this lovely lady by your side? Hi, I’m Tony.”

Steve wanted to murder him. Slowly and painfully. But as always, Tony ignored Steve’s glares and held out his hand for Peggy to shake. With a sideways glance at Steve, Peggy gave Tony a small smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes and took the proffered hand. At least she wasn’t as easily charmed by Tony’s image as most of the students were.

“Peggy Carter.”

“Oh, British. How wonderful, don’t you think, Steve?”

“Yeah, and so does her wife,” Steve shot back and grabbed Tony’s arm. “Come on, Tony, let’s go. Bye, Peg, I’ll see you tomorrow.” With that he started dragging Tony to his car, but not without throwing another glance back at Peggy to mouth “I’m so sorry” at her.

“She’s gorgeous, can’t blame you for having the hots for her,” Tony remarked and turned his head to wink at Peggy, to Steve’s mortification.

“She’s married. And gay. She’s actually the one leading the LGBTQIA+ club. And a very interesting and nice person who I don’t wanna scare off. And I do not have the hots for her, Jesus, Tony, could you not say shit like that when there are still students within earshot?!” Steve hissed.

“Calm down, Stevie,” Tony grinned and slapped Steve’s back – not nearly as hard as he’d slap Rhodey or any other friend of his, not that he’d ever mention about it, but he was careful with Steve since he’d found out about his crooked spine and the pain that accompanied him most of the time.

Steve rounded the car and got into the passenger seat, his eyes still shooting daggers. “I will kill you,” he said as soon as Tony had taken seat behind the wheel and the door was closed.

Tsk’ing, Tony revved the engine and pulled onto the street. “So small and so full of rage.”

“I’ll. Kill. You. Torturously.”

“Yeah, right. You love me too much to do that.”

Grinding his teeth and reminding himself that it was not a good idea to punch Tony in the face while he was driving, Steve tried to calm down. “That’s where you’re wrong. I despise you. And how the hell did you know when my classes ended anyway?”

“I know people everywhere.”

“So you waited in front of my place of work until I showed up.”

When Tony didn’t bother answering and instead just scoffed and pretended to focus on the street Steve shook his head. “How long did you stand there? I don’t wanna get called into Hill’s office tomorrow ‘cause some guy was creeping around in front of a school and freaking out kids.”

“I wasn’t creeping around, I was –”

“…waiting to check out my colleagues even though I told you not to and being a creep,” Steve interrupted and Tony merely shrugged.

“So there were quite a few hot teachers that left before you finally decided to show up,” he eventually gave in before noting, “objectively speaking. You know guys aren’t exactly my thing.”

Steve snorted. Of course Tony had to no-homo his statement. “Keep telling yourself that. You know that I know that’s a lie and you playing straight isn’t gonna throw me off.”

Waving away Steve’s words, Tony changed lanes and took a right turn. “Eh, details, not important. What is important, though, is that there’s at least five teachers who might be your type. Unless you’re also into old grumpy men.”

“You’re annoying and gross and I regret ever telling you where I work,” Steve grumbled and was glad that his apartment building was just a few blocks ahead of them.

Of course getting a ride had cut his way home in half and spared him from having to take the crowded subway and thus getting shoved around but Tony could be a pain in the ass and since Steve had started this job his friend was especially annoying. Not even trying to talk about his newest projects and inventions worked, Tony was dead set on getting to know every little detail about Steve’s work life, going so far as to send him several texts a day which was highly unlike him, especially when he was working on something. Usually, not even Pepper managed to get him to pick up his phone much less leave his workshop and yet here he was, leaving in what had to be the middle of a work session judging by the smears of grease on his face that he hadn’t quite managed to get off and his unkempt hair.

That was when it finally hit Steve.

There was a reason for Tony to be this invested in Steve’s new job – besides Tony generally being a nosy person who barely gave a damn about boundaries, of course.

Steve’s head whipped around so he could glare at Tony who had just started manoeuvring the car into the only free parking space about a hundred yards from Steve’s home. “You wanna set me up! You think I’m lonely and need a partner and I need help ‘cause I’m incapable of finding someone myself!”

His friend’s poker face was good, Steve had to admit, but he still didn’t buy the simple “Nope.”

“I swear to god, if you try to pull any of that shit I actually will murder you.”

After he’d turned off the engine, Tony looked over at Steve calmly. “I’d never,” he claimed, but both of them knew that he absolutely would.

“Tony, stop sticking your fucking nose in stuff that isn’t none of your goddamn business! I don’t need your help to find someone I like and want a relationship with! So stop your damn meddling!”

“Who says ‘s gotta be your next significant other? Might as well be a one night stand,” Tony raised his voice a little over Steve’s tirade, not bothered by it in the slightest.

“I don’t need – or want – you to find me a fucking one night stand either! Why do you have to be involved in my sex life?! And why do you always think you have any goddamn fucking right to be involved in shit that doesn’t concern you at all?!”

“My, what if the children could hear you swearing like this, Stevie? You oughta be a role model. Besides, you haven’t dated in what now, six years? Seven? Eight?”

“So fucking what, I’ve been busy, you know that. And don’t fucking start with your ‘I’m far busier than you and I manage to get laid’ bullshit. Because I don’t care about your sex life.”

All pretense of innocence forgotten, Tony smirked. “At least I got one. And I’m just worried about you.”

Steve didn’t believe a single word and he was done, so done with his stupid friend and the stupid idea that Steve needed help. That he needed a date. He was very happy with how things were. Well, okay, maybe not very happy, but content, so he accused Tony, “You’re not. You love this… this intruding! I hate you. Go away. Leave me alone.” He undid his seatbelt and opened the door.

“Wow, you’re so mature, Steven. Your students can clearly learn a lot from you.”

“Fuck off.”

“I’ll buy you food and we can discuss this calmly,” Tony tried to bribe him, and then he had the audacity to add, “I really feel like there’s some unresolved tension here.”

“Fuck. Off.” With that, Steve slammed the car door shut and stormed off.

He was well aware of the fact that Tony would neither stop bothering him nor stay out of Steve’s (non-existent) love and sex life but Steve was determined to ignore him from now on. Still he couldn’t help think Tony’s words over once he had calmed down. It didn’t make him any less pissed at his friend but somehow Tony had managed to strike a chord with Steve.

***

Over the following weeks, Steve thought it best to avoid (literally) running into his colleagues during recess and after school when there would be time to talk. He kept to his place in the teacher’s lounge and mostly talked to Bruce – and Peggy, who would occasionally stop by Steve’s chair and chatter away about students they shared, about books, movies and artists they realised both of them enjoyed and about Peggy’s club. There had been a short-lived feeling of jealousy and sadness when he’d first found out she was married but he had quickly chided himself. Sure, Peggy was lovely and he really had started to like her and they had lots of common interest, but he wasn’t here to get into a relationship. Not that he’d ever have a chance with someone like her anyway. And she deserved someone better than him. That someone definitely was Angie. When he agreed to come to one of the LGBTQ+ club’s meetings about a month into the school year Angie was there. She was a whirlwind, a prospective actress and the way she and Peggy looked at each other made the younger kids in the club giggle and whisper to each other. It was obvious they were head over heels in love.

On the bright side this meant that Steve managed to get over this crush rather quickly over the course of the first weeks and eventually he started to consider her a friend. Peggy would try and get him to come over to her and her friends’ corner of the room and to involve him in their conversations but Steve always politely declined, stating he had things to take care of.

It wasn’t that he wanted to be the weirdo that talked to nobody but he couldn’t help but feel awkward amongst a whole bunch of people – especially as he was still the new guy and was positive that Barnes hadn’t forgotten about the embarrassing incident on his first day as well which made being anywhere near him even worse. Steve still doubted he would get over it anytime this year. Tony had told him he was way too oversensitive and proud and just because his colleague had deemed him a student didn’t mean he didn’t have a chance with him – which a) ew, no, you definitely can’t phrase it like that and b) of fucking course had Tony managed to get the whole story at some point and immediately picked up on why exactly it was bothering him so much.

But he was still mad at Tony and doing his best not to think about him or any of his innuendos and blatant questions. Nobody could say Steve wasn’t one to hold a grudge.

The weather had slowly started to get colder and the leaves were turning all shades of yellow, orange and red and Steve was looking forward to spending some quality time with his watercolours to capture the beauty of autumn. He was still keeping to himself, watching from the corner of his eye and listening to his colleagues. At least by now he could actually hear what they said – Clint wearing his hearing aids with such nonchalance had encouraged Steve to wear his own ones at school, too, even if Clint had no idea. Steve wasn’t even sure if anyone had actually noticed but that just helped him feel far less self-conscious about it than he would have at his previous jobs.

One late afternoon when classes had finally ended for most of the teachers, Steve pretended not to notice how most of his younger colleagues gathered together, laughing and making plans as he tried to figure out where the hell he’d left his notes for the pop quiz he’d prepared for the next art class. He knew his seniors would protest but he was fairly confident everything would work out okay. Luckily there were several very talented or at least creative kids. Sure, they preferred drawing, painting and sculpting over the theoretical details of different epochs but Steve liked to believe he had a knack for getting people, even bored or stressed students, interested in art history as well. Which did not solve the problem at hand, mind you. Steve really didn’t feel like walking all the way back to his classroom in hopes to find this stupid slip of paper, especially since he was positive that he’d left it on his desk several days ago.

“You looking for this?”

When Steve looked up, his hands still buried underneath a pile of notes and files that were dangerously close to the edge of his desk, he found Thor, the soccer and football coach, smiling down at him. The piece of paper looked tiny in his hand and usually Steve would have at least been somewhat intimidated by a guy this massive hovering above him but Thor hat something calming about him. How he managed to keep the sports teams on track was a mystery to Steve, considering the usual yelling-and-threatening-is-the-only-way type of coaches were the only ones he’d had the displeasure of working with so far.

“Banner opened the window earlier, the wind must’ve blown this off your desk,” Thor continued when Steve just looked at him. They’d barely gotten the chance to exchange more than a word or two since Thor usually stayed near the gym and football field in his own tiny office, according to Peggy.

Finally snapping out of his surprise, Steve managed, “Oh, yes, thank you. So much. You’re saving my quiz.”

“In that case, I’m sure your students would have preferred I hadn’t found it,” Thor remarked with a grin.

“Yeah, probably. I won’t tell them you’re the one who rediscovered it and ruined their day, though,” Steve tried to joke and immediately felt stupid.

To his surprise, Thor actually laughed before he nodded a goodbye at Steve and headed towards the door where Natasha and Clint apparently had watched the whole kind-of-awkward encounter. Steve quickly busied himself with tidying up his desk again – he hated leaving a mess at work – and then stuffed the note into his messenger bag. He’d just grabbed his jacket when he heard someone calling his name.

“Hey, Rogers,” and Steve turned to Clint, expecting something along the lines of ‘see you tomorrow’ but instead his colleague nodded his head towards the hallway and asked, “you wanna come along, grab some early dinner with us?”

“Uh, what?” So intelligent, really. He was such a moron.

“Yeah, c’mon, it’ll be fun,” Sam encouraged him with a smile.

Steve wasn’t quite so sure about that, already feeling awkward and slightly anxious because of the sudden attention, but for once he couldn’t think of an excuse. Feeling like a deer in headlights, his mind raced, but there was nothing. Finally he realised it was pointless and he might as well endure an evening away from his armchair so he forced himself to smile and hoisted his bag onto his shoulder. Getting along well with his colleagues would be nice, considering the fact Steve planned to stay at this school for quite a while. And it was always good to try and make new friends, right?

Right?

He prayed he wouldn’t regret this and inconspicuously made sure his inhaler really was in his bag. Steve Rogers liked to think he was prepared for everything.

Chapter Text

As it turned out, Steve was not prepared for everything, inhaler or not. In fact, there was probably nothing that could ever prepare him for a night out with some of his new co-workers, namely Natasha Romanoff and Thor Odinson.

To his surprise, the evening with his new colleagues started off smoothly and Steve’s anxiety eventually settled, leaving him to enjoy the food and conversation – or rather, hide behind his burger and fries (which were damn good, okay) and listen while his colleagues talked, made fun of each other and watched Clint hopelessly trying to flirt with Natasha across the table. No talk of work, just a pleasant conversation about anything and everything. He noticed how the women as well as Sam, Bruce and Thor tried to include him in the conversation, asking a few questions and throwing him small comments, but Steve mostly felt content to just watch the others’ interaction. He had to admit he was actually having a quite good time, even if the place the others had chosen was a bit too loud for his taste so he eventually switched his hearing aids to the lowest setting. Well, that and the somewhat uncomfortable chairs that had him shifting around after already having sat in the hard chairs at school the entire day. And the alcohol.

Natasha bought a round – Steve couldn’t remember the occasion for the life of him – and he’d agreed to drink with the others. One round couldn’t do much harm, right? After all, it was only one glass with barely two inches of alcohol in it. He was a man of his word, even when it came to sticking with his own resolutions. One glass of alcohol, and one glass only. But whatever witches’ brew it was, it showed its effect in a minimum of time. Even taking his light bodyweight into consideration – as well as the fact that Steve barely drank alcohol – it gave a kick, and an alarmingly strong and fast one at that.

The more time the alcohol had to spread through his veins, the more the place seemed too loud, too hot, just too much, and it was getting hard to concentrate on anything but the buzzing in his ears and the swaying of the room around him. Sliding off the chair, Steve quickly nodded at the question whether he was okay, unsure who had voiced it, and carefully made his way towards the restroom. He desperately needed a moment for himself, away from the noise and the stuffy air and the stench of alcohol and food. Maybe he should switch off his hearing aids for a minute, he thought as he pushed open the door to the men’s room.

Once inside, he rested the heels of his hands on the sink and leaned forward, closing his eyes. The whole world was still spinning around him, even worse now, so he squinted at a wet stain on the bathroom floor and took a few slow breaths, wondering why the hell he was feeling so miserable. It had just been one damn drink, for fuck’s sake. For a second he wondered if there had been something in it, but he quickly dismissed that thought. He knew the effects a spiked drink had on him, and this wasn’t the same. But even with him trying to rationalise his situation, Steve’s heartbeat quickened and he fought desperately to keep his cool.

If there was something he was well practised in, though, it was calming himself down. Luckily this wasn’t an asthma attack or, even worse, a panic attack, but still. He concentrated on his senses, ticking off a mental list of things he could see – the stain on the ground, small cracks in the sink’s surface, a drop of water falling from the tap every few seconds, the almost empty soap dispenser from the corner of his eye and his reflection in the mirror, staring back at him with wide eyes –, feel – his heart beating in his chest, the steady flow of air in and out of his lungs, the sink’s cold ceramic surface slowly warming under his hands and his skin breaking out in goosebumps –, hear – muffled conversations, the flushing of a toilet in the ladies’ room adjacent to the men’s room and the blood rushing in his ears –, smell – the typical smell of any public toilet, even if this one luckily was quite clean, and the alcohol on his breath – and taste –a hint of the hot sauce he’d had with his fries –, all the while breathing in as steadily as he could manage. Eventually, the floor tiles stopped overlapping and came into focus again.

Tony always teased him about being a lightweight, especially when it came to holding his liquor, but this was a new low. Thinking of… there were still several texts and voice messages from Tony waiting for Steve to reply to. Perhaps this was the right time to text him back. No, not perhaps. This was definitely the right time. Steve felt clear enough to articulate his disdain for Tony’s constant stream of comments regarding Steve’s private life, felt righteous, felt – sick, so suddenly that he rushed into the nearest stall, slamming the door behind himself so hard it swung open again, and bent over the toilet. Thankfully, the rush of nausea slowly receded and with a couple more deep breaths Steve finally managed to stand up straight again.

As he made his way back to the sinks, still wobbly on his feet, Steve decided it was about time he called it a night. Since he should at least let his colleagues know he was going to leave he figured he’d at least try to act normal, even if it was just to save face in front of Natasha who had already had three drinks by the time Steve took his timeout and hid in the restroom. In hopes of sobering up even a little he splashed some cold water into his face. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t do a thing.

The door to the restroom opened just as Steve was about to reach for one of the scratchy paper towels to pat his face dry and Clint stumbled inside, catching himself on the frame and just so avoiding getting his fingers crushed by the closing door a second later.

“Whoops…” he mumbled to himself, then noticed Steve and grinned. “Hi.”

Meeting his eyes the mirror, Steve gave him a smile. “Hey.” When Clint’s reflection approached Steve’s, he turned around, his eyes flicking past him to the rack of disposable towels. Clint didn’t seem to notice that he was blocking the way and Steve was still dripping water onto the ground. Instead, he leaned closer, squinting down at Steve.

“So. Just gotta ask. Your hearing aids ain’t just a fashion statement, are they?”

Well, that wasn’t exactly a question he’d expected. “Uh… no?” He hadn’t meant to phrase it as a question but Steve had no idea what Clint was getting at.

Clint nodded solemnly. “I figured. Just kept wondering, y’know, ‘cause I was sure I would’ve noticed them if you’d worn them from the beginning.”

Oh. So that was his point. “Yeah, uhm, I just thought… since nobody seems to mind yours… Well, I figured nobody would give a damn if I wear mine, too.”

Clint snorted and leaned out of Steve’s personal space again. “They’d mind if I didn’t wear them ‘cause I don’t hear shit without them. But yeah, I get it. ‘s still different than other impairments like having to wear glasses or just generally looking normal.” At the last word, he rolled his eyes. “Some kids can be real annoying about it but I don’t give a fuck about their opinions on that. Besides, I had a student a couple years back who always got teased about her hearing aids. Sweet kid, pretty quiet, but some of her classmates were little assholes. When I noticed they didn’t leave her alone I figured it was time for a new pair for myself and showed up with these ones the next week. They stopped commenting on hers and mine pretty soon after that when I explained to ‘em why we have to wear them and how they work.”

“I really like them,” Steve said softly.

Turning his head so Steve could see them more clearly, Clint smirked. “They were the most in-your-face ones I could find back then and the colour has grown on me. And this school doesn’t give a damn about disabilities. Ask Barnes.” He shrugged and seemed to remember something. “Anyway, that’s not why I came in here,” and with that he stepped around the wall dividing the sinks from the toilet stalls and urinals.

Steve looked after him in confusion, unsure what Clint’s comment about Barnes was supposed to mean. Shaking his head at himself, he finally grabbed a paper towel to dry his face and hands and was about to pull open the door when Clint’s voice echoed through the restroom again.

“Hey – Barnes is so not straight, in case you’re wondering.”

It was like Steve’s feet were suddenly glued to the floor as he stopped dead in his tracks, heat rushing to his face. “Wha-what? I don’t kno-”

Clint scoffed. “Please. I’m almost deaf, not almost blind. I see you shoot glances at him every other minute when we’re on break.”

“I just, uhm, I don’t…”

“Yeah, right, and I was just trying to not hit on Natasha for once.” The sarcasm in Clint’s voice would’ve pissed Steve off in any other situation, but now he was too flustered to get mad. And besides, somehow Clint made it sound like he was actually meaning well as he continued, “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me. Wouldn’t be surprised if Nat and Peggy have caught on, too, though.”

Well fuck. How could Steve have been this stupid? It wasn’t like his colleagues were oblivious – they were teachers, after all. Even if students always thought they were blind morons most of the teachers he’d worked with so far simply chose not to see or hear certain things. Why would it be any different in the teacher’s lounge?! Stupid stupid stupid, abort mission, his brain supplied oh so helpfully, and Steve wanted to kick himself. “Nah, what, that’s not it, I just… I keep wondering if I should talk to him again, about, well, about my first day, you know…”

“Oh, that. Right.” Clint snorted. “Happens to the best of us. You’re not the only new guy who’s been mistaken for a student, don’t take it personally. ‘sides, Bucky was pretty embarrassed about that. Probably far more than you were.”

“Huh, yeah, I guess…” Steve mumbled, flinching at the memory. “Uhm, well, I should… head back inside. See you.”

“See ya.”

The sound of a fly being opened was the last thing Steve heard before he quickly headed back into the seating area, exhaling slowly. That had been close, but Steve’s reasoning had actually worked. You really don’t need people figuring out you like Barnes even though you’ve barely talked to him, Steve told himself as he slowly fought his way through the crowd and back to the table his colleagues were still occupying.

Once he finally reached it and slumped down into his chair, he wrapped his hands around his half empty glass of coke. The other teachers were still immersed in banter so Steve watched them, waiting for a small break in the conversation while he finished his drink. When the opportunity finally presented itself as Peggy went through her phone to show the others some photos of her summer holiday in England Steve leaned forward.

“So, uh, ‘m gonna head home, I gotta… I still got some stuff to do,” Steve called over the general noise and quickly added, “Thanks for taking me with you, this was fun!” He definitely didn’t want to sound like the guy who left early and didn’t appreciate the evening out.

The others made disappointed noises, Natasha even tried to make him stay for “just one more drink, c’mon”, but Sam nodded in his direction. “Y’know what, lemme bring you home,” he said and reached for his jacket, leaving little room for discussion.

Not that that would ever stop Steve. “No, no, you really don’t have to do that, ‘m fine, I can get home by myself.”

Sam chuckled and got up. “You’re not fine and I actually still have to grade a couple papers, too. Think we’re headed in the same direction so it’s really no trouble. Plus I have a car so you don’t need to take the subway.”

That did indeed sound good enough for Steve to reluctantly accept. He really wasn’t in the mood for having to haul his ass home in a rattling subway car and somehow ignoring the crowds of people since he’d forgotten his headphones this morning. A quiet car ride certainly was the better option, so Steve shut up for once and let Sam lead him outside to his car after they’d said their goodbyes. He chose to disregard the fact that Sam was walking far closer than usual, making sure he could grab Steve in case he stumbled. Steve was immensely relieved when he reached the car without tripping over his own feet. He sank into the cool leather seat and the low rumble of the engine as well as some quiet music playing on the radio calmed his thoughts as Sam steered the vehicle through the streets.

“T’was nice of you guys to invite me tonight, thanks,” Steve mumbled and watched the streetlights fly past.

“Sure thing. We don’t do this often, but when we do most of the younger teachers come along and it’s always a good time.”

Steve smiled at that. “Yeah, I bet.”

When Sam parked the car in front of Steve’s place a couple minutes later, Steve tried to get him to stay in his car and head home, but Sam insisted on bringing him all the way to his apartment door. He waited patiently while Steve tried to get his key to cooperate, then followed him into the building and stayed right behind Steve as he trudged towards the steps leading up to his apartment.

Turning around on the second step and finding himself at eye level with Sam for once, Steve grumbled, “’m good, you don’t hafta help me up the stairs.”

“Like hell I don’t, I don’t wanna have to fill in for you ‘cause you broke your leg or something. Believe it or not, art isn’t really my strong suit,” Sam grinned. “Let’s go.”

Steve muttered half-heartedly to himself and did his best to climb up the stairs without making too much noise, knowing the old lady living in the apartment below his own was most likely sleeping in front of her TV already. Eventually, they reached the landing in front of his apartment and Steve fumbled in his pockets for his keys yet again, spinning around himself once when he didn’t find them in their usual place.

“Whoa there buddy, careful!” The hand wrapping entirely around Steve’s bicep saved him from crashing face first into the doorframe. Nimble fingers gently prised the set of keys from his hand, the hand they’d been in since Steve had unlocked the front door. Whoops. “C’mon, lemme do that.”

Once he’d opened the door, Sam guided Steve inside and helped him sit down on the small bench next to the door. Steve managed to toe his shoes off and stuffed them under the bench to all of his other pairs that threatened to spill out of the cramped space.

“Where’s your kitchen?”

In lieu of an answer, Steve jerked his head to the left, immediately regretting the sudden movement as the world around him spun dangerously. With a soft groan he dropped his head into his hands and stared at the wooden floorboards. Never again would he drink anything that Natasha ordered.

Somewhere in his kitchen several cupboard doors opened and closed again until Sam found what he was looking for. The muted sound of the tap was followed by Sam’s footsteps returning to Steve’s tiny hallway and stopping right in front of him. “Here, drink that. Someone shoulda warned you, you shouldn’t take any drink Nat offers. They’re deadly if you’re not used to it.”

Steve peeked through his fingers and up at his colleague. Sam was holding a glass of water, practically pushing it into Steve’s face, leaving him little room to do anything but accept it.

“Thanks,” he mumbled, the awkwardness of this situation hitting him like a crashing wave. There he was, having to be brought home by a guy from work he’d known for less than two months because he’d gotten drunk off of one damn drink. As he took slow sips he avoided Sam’s eyes, instead fidgeting with the hem of his shirt with his free hand. Great impression you’re making here, Rogers, he thought. From the corner of his eye he could see movement, then Sam squatted down next to him. A moment later a warm hand came to rest on his shoulder and squeezed it.

“You gonna be okay there?”

“Yeah, yeah, you go home, I’ll be jus’ fine,” Steve muttered into his glass. The last thing he needed right now was Sam thinking he needed help to get to bed.

Sam looked at him closely – probably to make sure he wouldn’t pass out or crash into another wall while heading to his bedroom, Steve supposed – and eventually nodded. “Alright, champ. You go get some rest and Imma head home. Bucky’s probably wondering why I’m taking so long, he just texted that he’s walking home right now.”

Hold on, what? Surely Steve must’ve misheard Sam because this didn’t make any sense. He tried wrapping his head around the words as he blinked at Sam, but to no avail. His mouth was faster than his brain and he couldn’t help but ask, “Bu – hic – Bucky?”

“Yeah. We live together,” Sam stated as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Which, considering how pretty he and Bucky were and how well they seemed to get along, it just might be. That certainly explained how close they were, how often Sam was casually touching Barnes. It was on Steve that he’d just never connected the dots, and now he was left gaping at Sam, causing him to snort a laugh.

“Man, I thought you knew. Or rather, thought gossip travelled fast in this school – well, every school, probably – and you’d heard something. Some of the kids seem to love it.” He shrugged with a small grin lighting up his face.

“Uhm, no, not… not really.” To say Steve was crushed was an understatement, really. Sam was cute and just… so nice. And Bucky… well, Steve didn’t even want to think about him right now, but perfect certainly was a word that crossed his mind for the briefest of moments. Even if that might just have been thanks to his alcohol-muddled brain. And what did he have to offer a science teacher, anyway?

Sam, however, was oblivious to his inner turmoil and stood up straight. “Well, since you insist you’re alright I better get going. And you should drink some more water before you go to sleep, ‘kay? Wouldn’t want you to come to school hungover tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Sam.” Steve tried his hardest not to look like a kicked puppy and went for a grateful, albeit somewhat forced smile.

With a “Sure thing” and a bright smile that still managed to light up the room, only slightly adding to Steve’s grumpiness, Sam opened the apartment door and headed out, leaving Steve to sulk.

Of course every single one of his new colleagues he had even the slightest interest in was taken, hell, two of them were dating each other. Just his luck. Then again, they were all way out of his league and relationships with co-workers weren’t the best idea anyway, he muttered quietly as he dragged himself off the bench and into the bathroom. And there was no point in pining over people who would never be interested in him, either, so Steve resolved to do what he always did: Suck it up and let it go eventually.

Only the nagging feeling that it might not be that easy this time around stayed with him far longer than he liked to admit, and as he slumped into his bed pictures of Sam and Bucky whirled around his mind. He groaned and buried his face in his pillow, briefly considering smothering himself. But then who would teach his students how important art and creativity were in everyday life? Fucking hell.

Chapter Text

Unfortunately, the blissful sleep Steve’s intoxicated mind craved so much refused to come and relieve him from his gloomy thoughts. Instead he lay awake, tossing and turning while the world spun dangerously, making his bed feel like the Raft of Medusa – which was bullshit, he knew that, because the weather conditions hadn’t been nearly as bad as Géricault had depicted them in his painting and the raft wouldn’t have rocked as much as his bed did right now.

The clock on his phone read half past midnight when he finally gave up on sleep and stumbled into his kitchen to boil some water. Might as well have a cup of tea, maybe that would make him feel a little better. He certainly didn’t want to deal with being hungover the next morning, so drinking something that wasn’t killer alcohol hopefully would at least help a little. While the kettle did its work, Steve unlocked his phone and started typing out a text. It wasn’t as well-phrased and dramatic as he’d intended earlier, he would have to save that for another time, so after several typo-filled attempts of telling Tony he was an idiot he simply typed,

I’m drunk. Send help.

The reply came almost instantly.

Steve where are you???

Please tell me you’re not about to get arrested again

My lawyers are on holiday and won’t be back till next week

Please get your skinny ass thrown in jail another night

Asshole

I don’t get arrested cause I’m drunk I get arrested cause I’m AWESOME n the police are no fun

But nah I’m home

Turning back to the counter he’d been leaning against, Steve set down his phone, grabbed a mug and selected a bag of herbal tea. He definitely needed something to help him calm down enough to get some sleep. Next to the mug on the counter, his phone vibrated with two more messages while he poured the hot water onto the tea bag, watching the steam rise as the calming smell wafted up. Steve wrapped his hands around the ceramic mug, revelling in the warmth seeping into his always cold hands for a few seconds until he couldn’t bear the heat any longer.

Tony’s texts were still lighting up the screen and Steve picked up his phone again, swiped to unlock it and read the messages.

Alright, I probably deserve that. But then why do you need me to send help?

You seriously got me worried for a minute there

Cause life’s a bitch and everything’s unfair, he typed back, still moping. The least Tony could do right now was feel sorry for him, too, even if he didn’t know what was going on.

Oh boy, what happened? Want me to come over?

What? No no no, that wasn’t the plan, he wanted to pity himself in peace, dammit! Steve typed hectically, deleted everything again, and finally settled for, Nah. U r just gonna make fun of me

I would never! Of course Tony would say that, Steve thought and snorted. But he knew him better than that.

Yea u would.

Wouldn’t.

So what’s going on?

Nobody wants me.

As soon as he’d hit send, Steve dropped the phone on the far end of the counter, already regretting the text, and stared at his mug blankly. Drunk him should not be texting, that much was obvious. But damn it, drunk him was also a little bit of a drama queen who wanted his best friend to tell him he was right and life was shitty. The phone vibrated again and now he’d have to deal with his stupidity. He knew if he didn’t reply to Tony’s message soon he’d call Steve and demand to know what was going on. Steeling himself, Steve reached over the counter and slowly pulled the phone towards himself again.

The text bubble on his screen read, Okay, hold on, what’re you talking about?

With a sigh, Steve began typing again, taking several attempts until the text didn’t consist of more typos than actual words.

Everyone’s in a stupid relationship but no one’s in a stupid relationship w me

I’m coming over.

s a school night I gotta sleep

Hah. As if his mind would let him get any rest when he was feeling this miserable, a little voice in the back of his mind scoffed, and Steve remembered his mug of tea. It probably wouldn’t help but at least it would make him feel warm for a bit.

The bag had been in too long already and the tea had turned bitter in the meantime, but it was still hot and Steve took a few sips, then peeked at his mobile again.

Well since you’re obviously not sleeping I’m coming over

Great. So not what he needed right now, and Steve let Tony know just that.

No Tony go away

I mean stay away

Too late.  And don’t even dare think you could just not open up the door. Remember I have a key to your place and I am not averse to breaking down your door if I have to

Steve groaned and let his head fall against the wall cupboard, wincing as his forehead connected painfully with the wood and making the tableware inside rattle. Shit. Having known Tony for years, Steve was painfully aware that arguing was utterly pointless. There was nothing he could do but drink his stupid tea and wait for Tony’s arrival.

At least it didn’t take Tony long to make his way over to Steve’s place, he always drove fast, and Steve wouldn’t be surprised if he’d just double-parked his car. After all, paying a ticket wasn’t anything but a minor inconvenience to him. No fifteen minutes after the last text, Steve’s doorbell rang and he grudgingly buzzed his friend in.

Tony took two steps at a time and almost leaped into Steve’s apartment, stopping mere inches in front of Steve’s face and looked at him with an unexpected, worried expression in his eyes. “So what’s up, cupcake?”

“Don’t fucking call me that,” Steve grumbled and shuffled into his living room, careful to avoid bumping against any walls or furniture on his way to his armchair.

“Not even a tired smile?”

“Nope. Really just makes me hate you. Didn’ even want you to come.”

“Then you really must be in a sour mood.”

“Always hate it when you call me that.”

“I hadn’t even noticed!” Tony exclaimed dramatically and flopped down on the sofa. “Alright, seriously, what’s up? Why did you get drunk? And please tell me you didn’t drink all by yourself, you coulda at least invited me.”

“No. I was out with my… with some of the other teachers. I swear ‘twas only one drink, like, this much,“ he held apart his fingers to indicate how full the glass had been, „but I dunno what it was and apparently you should never accept a drink from Natasha and –”

“Hold on, hey, how’re you feeling right now? And when did you drink it?” This time, the worry took over Tony’s entire posture as he leaned forward and stared at Steve intently.

“’m okay. Really. Don’t look at me like that, I swear, ‘s just alcohol. Very strong one, but just alcohol.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Absolutely.”

“Okay. You were pretty unsteady on your feet, though… How’d you even get home?”

“Sam drove me.”

“That’s nice of him.” Still a hint of suspicion in his voice, but Tony seemed calmer again.

Steve nodded and suppressed a yawn. “Yeah. He’s so nice. He’s a great guy. An’ he’s together with Barnes.” Welp, there, he’d said it.

Apparently, it took Tony a second or two to piece the names together with the new information, but then he furrowed his brows. “Together? As in, in a relationship?”

“Yup.”

“How do you know?”

“Sam told me, right before he left an’ headed back home to their place.”

“Huh, okay. Well that’s… not great.”

“No shit. Understatement of the century. It fucking sucks, so much.”

Now that it was out and Tony looked at him sympathetically, Steve realised he didn’t feel better even one bit. Telling Tony had been a bad idea.

And Tony didn’t make wallowing in self-pity any easier for Steve. “Okay, now you’re being a bit dramatic, don’t you think?”

“No. You’ve not seen them. Sam’s so dreamy and Bucky is just… fuck, he could probably turn even you.”

Tony snorted a laugh, then quickly bit his lip when Steve shot him a murderous glare. “Sorry, yeah, okay, I believe you. That really sucks. But I’m not gonna say I’m feeling sorry for you because I know you wouldn’t’ve made a move anyway.”

“No wonder. They’re dating each other ‘cause they’re both gorgeous. I’d never stand a chance with either of ‘em. I’m just the new teacher with a crush and get mistaken for a student.”

“Nah, now come on. You’re a great guy and everyone would be lucky to have you in their life ‘cause you’re considerate and creative, you’re sweet and also the most loyal punk there is.”

“You’re just sayin’ that ‘cause you’re my friend.”

“No, I’m saying that because it’s the truth. You know I don’t do flattery and I always mean the things I say.”

“Well, even if that was true, doesn’t change that nobody wants to date me.”

Raising a brow, Tony said, “To be fair, you haven’t exactly tried to find anyone to date. Or even just tried to get to know them better by, I don’t know, starting conversations or something.”

That definitely wasn’t what Steve wanted to hear right now, but he also didn’t want to argue with Tony because he knew his friend wasn’t exactly wrong, so he simply crossed his arms over his chest and shrugged, deciding to glower at the coffee table instead.

Tony sighed and leaned back against the couch cushions. “How about this – you go get some sleep now, I’ll pick you up after school tomorrow, we’ll go get some food and talk this out while you’re sober, maybe even come up with a plan of attack or something.”

“I’d never destroy a relationship!”

“Well, good, that’s not what I was talking about, so relax. I meant we’re gonna see if we can figure out where you could meet nice people who’re also looking for a relationship.”

Oh. Whoops. But Steve still didn’t like the prospect of Tony coming up with ideas to find him a partner, so he growled, “I swear to god, if you plan on setting up a blind date for me again…”

“Wouldn’t dream of it. Promise. So, when are you getting off tomorrow?”

“Probably not at all, since no one even wants to hook up with me, much less date me.”

“Hah, funny,” Tony deadpanned. “You say shit like that to your students, too?”

“No. Sex ed is Bruce’s job, I think. He’s the health teacher. Work ends around two, though. Got a short day.”

“Great. Then I’ll see you tomorrow, and you go haul your ass back to bed now. You and me both know if you sleep on the couch your back will kill you tomorrow. Or rather, today,” Tony remarked amicably and offered his hand to Steve who took it after a moment’s hesitation and let Tony pull him up.

“Yeah, yeah, fine…” he grumbled and scuffled towards his bedroom under Tony’s gaze. As he sank down onto his mattress he could hear the apartment door softly click shut behind his friend.

***

Thankfully, the next morning wasn’t quite as terrible as he’d expected. All the water and tea he’d drunk before finally falling asleep had prevented him from being too hungover and the cup of bitter, strong coffee he forced himself to drain made him feel more or less human again, albeit like a slightly jittery one. And even though he didn’t feel like going to work, the lessons would hopefully keep him occupied and distracted enough to keep him from sulking.

His schedule for the day mostly consisted of lessons with some of the more pleasant classes he taught. Overseeing freshmen while they let out their more or less existent artistic talent often was loud and stressful, so he felt lucky for mostly having to teach history today– he could simply let them do small group projects and have them compare their results near the end of the lesson. So much for his group-projects-are-for-lazy-teachers-and-most-students-hate-them-rant Tony had had to endure a few times while they were still attending college. Today, though, was an exception, Steve promised himself.

Nearing the end of the school day, he almost felt like his normal self again. The last class he had was a sophomore class and some of his favourite students were in this one – yes, he definitely had favourite students. Every teacher had, even if they denied it.

When the students had settled into their seats, Steve walked in front of his desk, leaned against it and managed a smile. “Alright, settle down, let’s get this…” He trailed off when he spotted something out of the ordinary. “Peter, why’s there a fire extinguisher right behind you?” That thing certainly hadn’t been there during his other art lesson today.

“Because he’s such a hottie!” Ned piped up, and most of his classmates started laughing while Peter blushed, looking somewhat confused.

Even Steve had to bite his lip to keep himself from grinning. “Alright, calm down, guys. Peter, could you move it into the corner? I don’t want anyone to trip over it. Thanks. Okay. Today I want to start with the development of art from the Renaissance till today. Let’s do some brainstorming: Which kinds of developments and progress can you think of?”

There were a few moments everyone – well, everyone except the boys in the back row – thought about the question, then a few hands raised and Steve nodded at Cindy.

“Just, all the different styles that exist. Artists always developed new styles and kinda… reacted to history? Like, they drew stuff that they experienced or that was important at the time?”

“So basically new subjects and focus on different topics,” Abe chimed in. “Old art is mostly just depictions of wars, Bible scenes and stuff like that and they eventually started painting other things.”

“Yes, exactly,” Steve agreed and picked Kate.

“Also, new methods of painting with colours. I mean, people were able to start painting outside, right?”

“Yes, that’s absolutely right, this is part of the reason why the impressionist movement started. Anyone else?”

Betty raised her hand. “Photography was invented.”

“Very good.”

“Architecture counts too, right? Just look at old buildings, you can barely compare them to modern ones. It’s completely different materials and also mostly pretty minimalist nowadays.”

“That’s a really good point, Michelle. Is there anything else you can think of besides architecture and painting where different materials are used nowadays?”

Michelle thought for a second, then said, “You mean like sculptures?”

“Yeah, exactly. Or, thinking of everyday objects, also jewellery and clothes have changed a lot, and I think we can all agree they are also art, in a way. – See, since the 20th century Western culture sets great value upon functionality. You can occasionally see that in visual arts but especially in architecture, that’s why most of the big projects and important modern buildings are so minimalist.”

“So that’s why so many buildings have tiled walls, easier to wipe off blood…” Flash muttered from the back row, still loud enough earning himself chuckles from the other students.

They went on for a few more minutes, discussing changes and developments. When he was satisfied with his students’ brainstorming session, Steve dimmed the lights and after a few seconds of fumbling around with the laptop, he started a presentation with photographs of paintings, sketches, and buildings.

“You came up with really good aspects, and we’ll talk about all of them over the next few weeks. Today we’re going to start with a point nobody has mentioned, though: ‘Older’ art is full of symbolism and certain colours and motifs stand for certain things. It’s like a language you can read, which usually doesn’t work with contemporary art anymore. Take vibrant blue and gold in European paintings from the middle ages, for example. Those colours were incredibly expensive and mostly reserved for Jesus, Mary and other saints, sometimes also for kings. Or water, which usually represents eroticism – just think of Narcissus looking at his reflection on the surface of the water. He was so in love with his reflection that he ignored the beautiful nymph Echo who was really into him and eventually drowned in the water trying to kiss his own reflection.”

Several students chuckled, and there was a disbelieving “What?!” from the back rows.

“There used to be a lot of symbols in pretty much every painting. Another example would be the skulls and – often broken – hourglasses representing death or butterflies symbolising the immortal soul in the vanitas paintings we looked at at the beginning of the year.”

“I don’t get it. Why would you paint random stuff instead of just showing the obvious? And butterflies, really?!”

“’cause you couldn’t exactly draw porn and hang it in your palace or something,” Flash said.

“Well, you’re not entirely wrong,” Steve admitted, ignoring the class’s laughter. “But objects, colours and attributes are usually used to represent concepts or specific people. Let’s look at…” he skipped a few slides until he found a Baroque piece, “…this painting for example. These women aren’t just women, they’re allegories – personifications, if you will – of the seasons. All of them have certain colours, objects and plants attributed to them which show exactly who represents which season. And now imagine analysing a famous contemporary piece of art the same way, interpreting every small detail. It might work with some pieces, but the way people create art has changed along with the codes they use in their work. Take movie posters or album covers, for example. Nobody would seriously try to interpret cover art the way we interpret Baroque or even Expressionist paintings. Even when we look back a little, say, to the Beatles – their Abbey Road cover is a photograph of the Beatles crossing a crosswalk from the left side of the picture to the right, all wearing different coloured suits, one without shoes, showing a street with parked cars and lined by trees in the background. Trying to analyse that in regards to the colours of their suits or why Paul McCartney isn’t wearing any shoes would be ridiculous because it’s not meant to be interpreted in any way. Modern art follows a different set of rules.”

Michelle raised her hand again. “Why are two thirds of those women at least half naked, though? Barely any of the men are nude. Unless they’re satyrs or cupids or something. Looks like nothing has changed in centuries…”

“Yeah, painting clothes is probably less work than painting a full nude and then painting see-through materials over them,” America muttered, and several other girls nodded.

Only Liz turned around to face them. “Maybe because women are miracles of nature?” she suggested, and Steve had to admit that a part of him wanted to laugh along with her classmates.

Instead, he chose to get the class to settle down again. “How about we save this discussion for next time? It’s a great question and deserves to be answered in more than the ten minutes we have left.” And he also just wasn’t up for this discussion today, not that he’d ever admit that to anyone. He still didn’t feel too well and it was getting harder to concentrate, so he’d rather tackle this topic with a clear head and maybe some slides with different examples.

Besides, the only difficult conversation he certainly couldn’t avoid today was the one with Tony, and he’d rather keep it at that. Preferably without running into Sam or Barnes on his way to meet his friend as well. He didn’t want to face either of them right now.