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Lessons Are So Cold

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“Let’s go over this again,” Hill said, and Natasha and Sam groaned in unison. Steve had to agree with their exhaustion, taking off his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose.

“Lieutenant, I think we’ve all got it.” He told her. She looked pointedly behind him. Steve turned around to see Stark, leaning back in his uncomfortable station folding chair, fast asleep, mouth wide open in a silent snore.

Natasha wadded up a piece of paper and threw it at him. It landed perfectly in his open mouth, and he immediately started choking, spitting out the paper ball and coughing, flailing wildly. “What,” He tried, then kept coughing, glaring accusingly around at the mostly empty conference room.

Sam and Natasha high-fived, and Hill sighed deeply, rubbing her temples. Steve grimaced, looking back at Hill. “I promise we’re ready.”

“Fine. Let’s see how you well you guys have been paying attention.” She said, flipping the whiteboard over so they couldn’t look at her case notes. “Walk me through it.”

Steve took a deep breath. “We’re looking at a recent string ODs related to fentanyl laced drugs. The three most recent ODs were students from PS 941. Keilya Jones, Pietro Maximoff, and Myra Taylor. Pietro was the only survivor. We’re looking into students and staff at the school-”

“You’re casing the school.” Natasha corrected. “I’ll be investigating the strip club where one of our bodies worked. We have good intel from an informant-”

“Luis.” Tony muttered.

“From an anonymous informant ,” Natasha repeated. “That one of our dealers is a frequenter of the club.”

“And I’m looking into Officer Rollins.” Sam said.

We’re looking into Rollins.” Stark cut in obnoxiously.  

“Right.” Sam rolled his eyes. “I’m working with IA to see if any other cops were involved with his little side-hustle.”

Stark barely let him finish before adding, “And I'll be be doing the real work by accessing everyone’s personal accounts and running my who’s-a-bad-guy algorithm.”

“With discretion,” Hill added. “Stark, we’re not accessing personal accounts, we don’t need a privacy suit on our hands, Just whatever we already have access to through the precinct's server.”

“You got it. Only their work accounts.” He winked over-exaggeratedly.  

Hill just sighed. “And Wilson, be careful. We don’t need word to get around in the precinct that we’re working the Rollins case with Internal. He was one of our own, and a lot of people around here are still convinced of his innocence.”

“I’ll keep it on the DL, boss. Don’t worry.” Sam said.

“Great.” She said, the sarcasm poorly masked. “Romanoff, Rogers, cover stories.”

Natasha sat back in her chair, crossing her legs delicately and flipping her hair over her shoulder. She straightened her back in a way that brought attention to her chest. When she spoke, it was with enough vocal fry and upspeak to make a Kardashian cringe. Steve had to admit though, it was a pretty convincing west coast accent. “Natalie Roman, aka Ruby Red. The club’s newest hire. I’m from Tacoma and just moved to New York. I’m 23, I also have a day job in retail, and I’m working on getting a degree in business online. Maybe I just need a little extra chemical help juggling all these hats.”

Sam smirked. “Hell yeah. My wife’s a multifaceted and talented stripper.” Natasha didn’t look over at him, but did offer him a fist bump.

“Rogers?” Tony leaned over the table, looking at Steve with a shit-eating grin. “Care to share your cover?”

Steve sighed deeply, resisting the urge to punch their expert consultant in the face. “Steven Grant. I’m an 18 year old, I just moved to Brooklyn after my parents’ divorce. I’m transferring into the senior class of PS 941.”

“That’s really good, Rogers. Keep up that sullen teenager act.” Sam said with a laugh. Steve flipped him off.

He had been against the whole undercover thing since the beginning. Not only was he a shitty liar, but Captain Fury’s op idea was humiliating. Steve knew he was small, he knew he looked young, but this whole 21 Jump Street shtick was just insulting. But, it was his job, and Natasha was fine going undercover as a showgirl. Steve really had the easier gig.

Still, he was 27. He had no idea what teens we into. Was skating still cool? My Chemical Romance? He’d asked Shuri, his roommate's little sister, but she had just laughed at him. Steve had needed to go online, looking up things like ‘fidget spinners’ and ‘memes’. He was about to pretend to be a teenager, and yet he’d never felt more like an old man in his life.

“Principal Danvers-”

“Rhodey’s wife,” Stark added unhelpfully. He was just smug that he had gotten them in with the school.

“Sure.” Steve rolled his eyes. “She knows about my cover, and she’s put me into a lot of the same classes as Pietro. I’m supposed to befriend him, get info about the dealer, and find the supplier.”

“Right.” Hill looked at the four of them, chewing her lip. “Maybe we should run it one more time.”

“Maria,” Natasha said, standing to squeeze her shoulder. “We know what we’re doing. We’ve gone over this a million times. We can do this.”

Hill let out a heavy breath. She looked exhausted. Even her severe bun was looking a little worse for wear, with a few stray strands of hair falling into her face. “Okay.” She sighed. “Christ, its tomorrow. Are you guys ready?”

Steve silently nodded, doubt heavy in his mind. He probably looked as pale and anxious as Maria did, but he knew that no more prep work could prepare him for this op. He knew every angle of this mission. He had run through every possibility and every risk of the mission. He had gone over it enough times that he could run it in his sleep.

Still.

“Yo, Rogers.” Natasha slung her arm over his shoulders. “We’re going out to celebrate our last day as ourselves.”

“I dunno.” Steve said, even as she dragged him out of the station’s conference room. He glanced back at where Stark was animatedly arguing with Hill.

“Tony’s not invited.” Natasha added, and Steve relaxed slightly.

“Oh. Then maybe. But still," He gave her a grin, trying to project confidence that he wasn't really feeling. "It's a school night." 

Natasha laughed, and Sam joined them, wrapping his arm around Steve’s other side. “Hey, it might be good. Little Stevie Grant’s gotta be a rebel, right? Show up late and slightly hungover on your first day? That’s bad ass.”

Steve scoffed. “Dear god. Maybe I could actually be cool this time around.”

They purposely avoided their favorite local bar, Abe’s. It was a shitty old place, but the bartender was friendly, and because it was so close to the precinct, NYPD officers got half off. But tonight, they didn’t need anyone, especially not any cops, overhearing them.

“Trust me, this place rules.” Sam said. He opened the door to the shiny, new looking club called CYCLONE, ushering Steve and Natasha inside. “They’ve got live music, good drinks, and good dancing.”

Natasha scoffed at Steve’s skeptical look, looping her arm through his. “Come on, Steve. This place is a hundred times better than Abe’s. For one thing, it's clean.”

“The grime is part of the charm.” Steve grumbled, letting Natasha pull him over to the bar. She flashed a smile at the bartender and ordered three beers. He slid them across the counter to her with a nod.

She passed them to Steve and Sam, then leaned against the bar, grinning against the lip of the bottle. “What were you like in high school?” She asked Steve, a little too gleefully.

“Oh, you know.” Steve pushed up his glasses. “Awkward asthmatic virgin, president of art club and queer club, kind of self-righteous, no friends, got my ass kicked every other day.” He shook his head, taking a long pull of his beer. “Fuck, I can’t believe I’m going back.”

“Hey, man. Times are different.” Sam consoled. “Dorks are cool, everyone is gay, ironic assholes are the new jocks. You’re basically guaranteed to thrive.”

Steve snorted. “Thanks, Sam.” He looked at his bottle, turning it over anxiously in his hands. “I just wish they’d gotten someone with more experience. Like, Nat, you’ve gone undercover how many times?”

“That’s classified,” She told him with a wink.

“Exactly,” Steve sighed. “I’m a terrible actor. And, as the two of you are so fond of reminding me, I’m basically a hundred years old.” He huffed out a frustrated breath, taking another sip of his beer.

“Relax, Rogers.” Natasha said easily, bumping her hip into Steve’s. “You’ll be fine. Just remember what I taught you.”

“Besides, your twinkish charm and baby face will be able to carry most of the load.” Sam added with a grin.

Steve wanted to go along with them easily, but he was still freaking out about tomorrow. “And I’m not even technically Vice!” He burst out. Natasha raised her eyebrows. “I mean I’m only here because-” He shook his head angrily, the boiling rage he still felt over the Schove case just under his skin. “I just think this mission is flawed. I’m against arresting kids for small amounts of narcotics by going into their schools and getting them to confess by using what’s basically entrapment.”

Sam and Natasha looked at each other warily. Steve knew that he had a bad habit of going off on rants about the problems in the system, and the two of them had heard him go on about the problematic nature of narcotic enforcement plenty of times.

“Steve,” Sam said carefully. “This isn’t some poor black kid who’s passing out joints so he can make ends meet. This is something bigger, an organized drug ring that’s made its way into the NYPD, for chrissakes. We need to cut it off at the head, because people have died, Steve. Kids have died.”

“I know,” Steve huffed. “I’m just…” He trailed off, hoping they’d understand what he meant.

“We get it. You’re not used to this part of the job.” Natasha agreed. “You’re new. But you’re a good cop, Steve. You’ve just gotta, y’know,” She motioned with her bottle. “Learn not be a cop all the damn time. Figure out how to shut it off every now and then.” She poked him gently in the chest.

“I guess so.” Steve muttered. He stared at his beer, nervously peeling the label.

“Woah, 6 o'clock.” Sam said, leaning against the bar and nodding towards the dance floor. Natasha and Steve both turned to see whoever Sam was pointing out using his attractive person voice.

In the middle of the floor was a guy. Steve’s forebrain classified him as a caucasian male, with dark hair, blue/grey eyes, and approximately 6’1 and 170 pounds. Steve’s hindbrain simply growled with want.

“Oh.” Steve stated dumbly, watching the guy dance. His eyes were closed and he was moving to the music in a way that Steve should really arrest him for. There was no restraint or shame in the way he danced, just pure joy and reckless abandon. He was smiling, shockingly pink lips mouthing along with the words of the song. His long hair was up in a bun, but a few strands of hair had shaken loose, and were clinging to his his flushed cheeks with sweat.

“Wow.” Natasha said, and Steve looked looked over at where Natasha and Sam were staring at the guy with the same intensity that Steve felt. Sam nodded in agreement. “Yeah. 10/10 would hit that. Sorry, Nat.”

“No, no.” Natasha murmured, sipping her beer. “I completely agree.”

The guys eyes opened and locked with Steve’s. It was like a strange energy ran through the air between them, connecting them through lust or need or something. It was like an unseen wire that hooked itself into Steve’s chest and pulled him towards the man.

“Hold this for a sec,” He breathed, pushing his beer at Sam. He didn’t even wait to see if Sam had a good grip on the bottle before heading towards the dance floor. He had to push past a few other dancers, ignoring anyone who tried to tear his attention away from his intended target.

And then Steve was chest to chest with the guy.

“Hi,” The guy mouthed, grinning slowly. Steve could feel the heat of the man’s body, and moved closer, mirroring the smile.

“I’m Steve!” He shouted over the thrum of the music. The guy leaned in, and Steve turned his good ear to the man’s lips.

“Bucky,” He replied, and Steve’s skin prickled with the feeling of the guy’s breath on his skin. Steve chuckled in confusion.

“I don’t think I caught that!” Steve said, pulling back to smile and point at his ears. The guy laughed and shook his head.

“No, it's really Bucky!” The guy shouted. “My name is Bucky!” He looked down at where Steve was standing, not moving his feet, just sort of awkwardly standing in front of Bucky. “Are you gonna dance?”

“Oh,” Steve blushed. “I’m, uh, not much of a dancer.” He muttered. “For you though, guess I’ll have to make an exception.”

“What?” Bucky shouted, leaning closer to hear. His face was scrunched up adorably in confusion. Steve just shook his head, smiling. He took a step closer, wrapping his arms around Bucky’s waist. When Bucky just put his arms over Steve’s shoulders and continued dancing, Steve slowly slipped his hands into Bucky's back pockets, squeezing gently. He grinned cheekily when Bucky stumbled a little, flushing.

He bent down, murmuring in Steve’s ear. “Cheater.”

Steve stood on tiptoe, fisting his hand in Bucky’s shirt for leverage. His lips brushed the shell of Bucky’s ear as he murmured teasingly, “Prude.” He quickly nipped the skin just below Bucky’s ear, then rolled back on the balls of his feet with a grin.

There was a loud wolf-whistle, and Steve glanced back to see Natasha and Sam leaning against the bar. Natasha grinned a shit-eating grin as Sam gave him a big thumbs-up.  They gestured towards the door, indicating that they were leaving. He waved them off, giving them the finger as they left.

“Your friends ditch you?” Bucky asked, and Steve laughed.

“No, I think they could tell that they weren’t needed.” Steve replied, wrapping his arms over Bucky’s shoulders. “Or wanted.” With that, he pressed his lips to Bucky’s, who grinned into the kiss.

It wasn’t a particularly amazing kiss, nothing more than a chaste brush of lips, but it was like electricity traveled between them, urging them to continue, press into each other. It was like nothing Steve had ever felt before.

He tangled his fingers into Bucky’s hair, dragging his tongue along the seem of Bucky’s lips, coaxing them open. Bucky complied, panting against Steve’s mouth.

Steve pulled back, squeezing the nape of Bucky’s neck. “Do you, uh,” He rocked on his feet, nose bumping against Bucky’s. He was nervous, he almost never did one night stands, but the lust pooling low in his belly demanded that he ask. “Do you wanna get out of here?”

Bucky licked his lips, and Steve couldn’t help but track the movement. He said something, but Steve couldn’t quite parse it. Steve shook his head, trying to convey that he couldn’t quite hear. Bucky smiled, taking Steve’s hands and pulling him away from the dance floor, towards the bar.

When they reached a bit of privacy, or as much privacy as one can achieve in a crowded bar, Steve pulled Bucky back down for another kiss. Bucky chuckled against his lips, allowing Steve to take control of the kiss easily, backing up against the wall until Steve had him pinned. He pushed a leg insistently between Bucky’s, feeling smug as Bucky groaned into Steve’s mouth. “Yeah,” Bucky agreed, once they parted for breath. “Yeah, let’s get out of here.”

Chapter Text

Steve took his hand, dragging him out of the bar. “My place is only a few blocks from here,” He told Bucky as soon as their flushed skin hit the chilly night air, music still thrumming in their bones.

“Really? I’ve never seen you before.” Bucky replied, voice breathless and slightly giddy.

“Do you live nearby?” Steve asked, and Bucky shook his head.

“Nah, not really.” Bucky said, grinning at Steve and playfully swinging their joined hands. “I just frequent the bar. My friend’s a part owner, so I get cheap drinks. Plus, I bartend there sometimes when I need an extra few bucks.”

“Well, I guess I better swing by more often.” Steve said teasingly, though he said a silent apology to Abe’s.

Bucky smiled. “Tonight was your first time at the Cyclone, right? I know I would’ve noticed you otherwise.”

Steve felt warmly smug for a moment, bumping his shoulder against Bucky’s. “My friends dragged me out.”

“I guess I should send them a thank you note.” Bucky quipped, just as Steve pulled him to a stop, grabbing his keys and fumbling with the door.

He led Bucky to the elevator, pressing the call button a little frantically. The doors dinged open and Steve dragged Bucky inside, pressing the button for the 5th floor. When the doors slid shut, he practically jumped on Bucky.

They stumbled out of the elevator, bound together in a dangerous tangle of limbs. Bucky had to catch himself against the wall so that they didn’t crash into it. “Hold on,” Steve panted, grabbing his keys and turning to the door. Bucky plastered himself to Steve’s back, kissing the side of his neck. “We gotta be quiet,” Steve told him in a whisper, slowly opening the door. “My roommate’s asleep.”

“Mmkay,” Bucky said softly, letting Steve lead him through the dark apartment. Steve felt a moment of pride for managing to keep either of them from bumping into anything. They made it to the bedroom, and Steve shut the door and flipped on the lights in one fluid motion.

His room was slightly messy in the way that a busy adult’s could be. Steve was usually organized when it came to his work, but the other things in his life tended to be secondary, and therefore slightly chaotic. It was clearly reflected here, pencils and art pieces strewn haphazardly over his desk, his laptop sitting on his nightstand, covered in pill bottles. Steve tried not to feel self-conscious about the unmade state of his bed.

Bucky didn’t seem to care much, just helped Steve strip out of his button-up, then pulled off his own tight shirt. He easily let Steve manhandle him, let him push him onto the bed, let Steve straddle him. Bucky laughed, running his warm hands up Steve’s naked back as Steve leaned down to kiss his chin and neck and throat, grabbing Bucky’s wrists and pinning them to the bed, grinding their hips together.

“Can I fuck you?” Steve asked bluntly, dragging his fingers along Bucky’s face. Bucky smiled, gently catching Steve’s pointer finger between his teeth, licking the tip of it suggestively before letting it go.

“Abso-fucking-lutely.” Bucky said, surging forward and wrapping his arms around Steve’s waist, pressing kisses to Steve’s chest.

Steve laughed, sitting back on his heels, running his hand over Bucky’s hair. He looked down at Bucky, cupping his face briefly before leaning past him to the nightstand, opening the drawer and grabbing the bottle of lube and the unopened box of condoms. Steve tried not to think about how long it had been since he’d slept with somebody.

Steve sat back on the bed, tearing open the box and pulling a condom out. Bucky wiggled out of his jeans, flailing kind of adorably on the bed until he was completely naked. He shucked his pants onto the floor, then looked at Steve expectantly.

“Here,” Steve handed Bucky the bottle of lube, then rolled off the bed and stood, awkwardly shimmying out of his khakis. He was half-hard, and as he watched Bucky stretched against his sheets, lazily fingering himself, heat pooled low in Steve’s belly and his cock twitched excitedly. He ripped open the condom, rolling it quickly down his shaft.

He climbed onto the bed, overy-cognizant of his limbs, trying not to jab Bucky with any of his bony elbows or knees. Bucky grinned, running his hand down Steve’s side gently. Steve leaned down, pressing a kiss to the underside of Bucky’s jaw. “You ready?” He murmured, and Bucky nodded, gripping Steve’s shoulders.

Steve grabbed his cock, pressing slowly into Bucky with a satisfied groan. Bucky gasped quietly, groaning as Steve rocked against him. He wrapped his legs around Steve’s waist, urging him closer. Steve smiled, leaning down and bracing himself against the mattress, pressing a quick kiss to the Bucky’s hairline as he grabbed Bucky’s cock and leisurely started fucking him.

Bucky whined needily, reaching up for Steve. Steve allowed Bucky to pull him down as they rutted together, panting against each other’s skin. Steve buried his face in Bucky’s throat, and as he steadily grew overwhelmed, he bit down on the soft skin there. Bucky moaned loudly, whimpering as Steve apologetically kissed the mark he’d left there.

“Fuck,” Bucky panted, and Steve grabbed the headboard, fucking him harder and faster. Bucky grabbed his ass, licking Steve from the base of his throat to the tip of his chin.

Steve grabbed his hair, pulling it back and fiercely kissing him. Bucky kissed back with equal amounts of want and need. He didn’t know what quite pushed Bucky over the edge, but he cried out, fingertips pressing bruises into Steve’s skin, head thrown back beautifully. He came between their bellies, and as he clenched down, Steve couldn’t help but follow him over the edge. He pressed his face against Bucky’s hair and let go.

They stayed like that, panting and clinging to each other, a mess of sex and sweat between them.

Eventually, Steve pulled out, sliding off the bed and waddling awkwardly to the bathroom. He threw the condom in the trash and used the toilet. He walked back into his room, sitting down next to Bucky and passing him a damp washcloth.

“Thanks,” Bucky murmured, wiping his stomach and thighs. He sat up slowly, wrapping an arm over Steve’s shoulders. Steve smiled, leaning heavily against Bucky’s side. “If you don’t mind my saying,” Bucky started, then yawned. “That ruled.”

Steve laughed, lazily biting the skin next to Bucky’s nipple. “Agreed.”

Bucky ran his hand through Steve’s hair, scratching his scalp lightly. They just sat there for a few minutes in companionable silence, almost cuddling, until Steve’s stomach growled loudly.

Bucky pulled back, looking at him with an amused expression on his face. “Hungry?”

“Shut up,” Steve muttered, embarrassed. “But yeah, I guess I’m a little hungry. I think I worked straight through dinner.”

“Well,” Bucky said, standing and walking to where his clothes were lying crumpled on the floor. “Let me take you out. I’ll get you something to eat.”  

Steve almost pouted when Bucky pulled his pants on. “It’s almost one in the morning.” Steve noted, though he wasn’t disagreeing. Bucky’s hair was a complete mess, and he seemed to notice, pulling the rubber band out of it and running his fingers through it, then tying it back up.

“I know a place nearby that’s open.” Bucky replied, searching the floor for his shirt. Steve picked it up, handing it to him. “Thanks,” Bucky murmured, slipping it on. He looked it at Steve hopefully.

“Sure, fine.” Steve said, pretending not to be eager to spend more time with Bucky. He stood, grabbing his clothes and throwing them on. “Let’s go.”

They snuck out of the apartment, hand-in-hand. Bucky took Steve to a 24 hour diner, greeting the hostess by name. She smiled at him, leading them to a comfortable vinyl booth with two laminated, slightly sticky menus.

“You’re a regular here?” Steve asked, looking over the cheerful selections and the pictures of milkshakes and coffee and pancakes.

Bucky hadn’t even picked up the menu, clearly already certain of what he wanted. “Yeah. I have trouble sleeping sometimes, and I love breakfast food, so…” He trailed off, looking slightly surprised with himself, perhaps thinking that he’d overshared.

“Insomniac?” Steve asked gently, his cop’s brain wanting to probe further.

Bucky shrugged. “Something like that.” A waitress came by, smiling at them tiredly. Her eyes lit up slightly when she saw Bucky, and she reached out, squeezing his shoulder in welcome.

Steve couldn’t help but catalogue her. She was older, but still quite pretty. White, about 5’3, 150 pounds with greying brown hair and kind dark eyes. She smelled like a mom; old coffee, hairspray, and crayons.

“How’re you doing, honey?” She asked, voice slightly accented. Maybe Polish.

Bucky smiled at her. “I’m good, Marlena. How are you?”

“Oh, you know,” She said, waving a hand to say, same old. She turned her gaze to Steve, and he was surprised to find it sharp and calculating. She surveyed him quickly, then turned back to Bucky. Steve felt sized-up. “You brought someone with you!” She said to Bucky, sounding delighted.

“I told you I had friends,” Bucky said defensively, cheeks pinking slightly. “Anyway, I’ll have my usual.”

Marlena just nodded, turning to Steve. Steve cleared his throat awkwardly. “Uh, the banana pancakes please. No whip cream and no nuts.”

“Coffee?” She asked, taking out a small notepad to write his order down.

Steve nodded. “Decaf, please.”

She took their menus with another kind smile, heading back to the kitchen. Bucky’s foot brushed against Steve’s under the table, and Steve couldn’t help but smile at the linoleum table top. He felt flustered, the proverbial butterflies doing a tango in his stomach. He licked his lips, looking up at Bucky.

“I like you,” Steve said slowly, not quite understanding his own words. He felt a strong pull to Bucky, something that he’d never felt before, except maybe during work after he had closed a case. Being around Bucky, for the few hours that he’d had the pleasure, was immensely satisfying, and it left Steve aching for more.

Bucky blinked, a slow, slightly smug smile growing on his face. “You barely know me.”

“So far, I’d say it's been pretty nice.” Steve said with a shrug, and his mind reminded him of what they’d been doing not even 20 minutes ago, and his face heated. “I mean, I just, I think that I want to.”

Bucky shook his head in confusion, grinning at Steve’s rattlement. “Want to what?”

“Know you,” Steve replied, looking into deep, pretty grey eyes. “I think I want to get to know you.” He admitted, feeling more naked than he had when he’d been inside Bucky.

Bucky opened his mouth to say something, but before he could speak, Marlena returned with their food. Steve, curious, observed Bucky’s dish.

It was a mess of waffles and strawberries and whipped cream, along with a cup of apple juice and a side of hashbrowns. Just looking at it gave Steve phantom acid reflux. Bucky looked at it with something akin to pure joy, the same hungry look that he had given Steve back on the dance floor.

Steve looked at his own pancakes, and his stomach growled happily. He ignored the syrup and butter that Marlena had left for him, knowing that the sugar and dairy would only cause him later intestinal misery. He did, however, dig into the pancakes nearly greedily, groaning in pleasure as soon as the first warm bite hit his tongue.

Bucky grinned, face stuffed full of food. He tried to speak, then realized that he was inaudible. He carefully chewed his food, then swallowed, trying again. “Good, right?”

Steve nodded, covering his mouth with his hand as he chewed. “Delicious,” He finally said, mouth full.

“I love this place,” Bucky continued, putting ketchup on his hash browns and mixing the potatoes with his fork. “I live in Bed-Stuy, and I used to take these long walks when I couldn’t sleep. So one night, when I’m doing my zombie act, I end up in Fort Greene. Like I had just wandered aimlessly for a few miles and was suddenly lost.” Bucky laughed, shaking his head at himself. “I’ve lived in Brooklyn my entire life, and I was totally lost. So I find this place, this beautiful, glowing diner, and I go inside, just to ask for directions. It was maybe 4 am, and I probably looked like murderer, but Marlena just dragged me to a table and fed me, then called a taxi to take me home.” Bucky took another large bite of his waffle, whip cream smearing the corner of his mouth.

Steve smiled at the story, at the small insight into Bucky’s mind, and at the way Bucky licked his lips, chasing the sweetness.

“So now, whenever I can’t sleep, I come here. I know they’ll take care of me here.” Bucky smiling, and Steve thought that maybe there was something sort of sad there.

“Comfort food,” Steve surmised, taking another bite.

“In more ways than one,” Bucky replied shyly, knocking his shoe against Steve’s.

Steve smiled. “Thank you for bringing me here.” He said. Thank you for sharing this me. “It’s really good.”

They talked, about the food, about the diner, about the bar, about their friends, even a little about themselves. It was easy, the conversation flowing like water from a tap.

Eventually, Marlena came by with the check, and Bucky paid, ignoring Steve’s protests. They walked out of the diner holding hands, and as the stood in front of the storefront, Steve turned to look at Bucky.

“It’s three in the morning,” Steve said, voiced hushed with what felt like awe.

Bucky swayed closer to him, fingers twitching in Steve’s grasp. “I have work in the morning,” He whispered, almost an apology.

“Me too.” Steve said, and he was close enough that he could feel Bucky’s breath on his skin. He looked up at Bucky’s face, then stood on his tiptoes, pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth. With his spare hand, he reached into Bucky’s back pocket, retrieving his phone.

He rocked back on his heels, pressing to phone to Bucky’s chest. “I’m gonna put my number in here, and you’re gonna call me sometime.”

Bucky nodded, pupils blown. He unlocked the phone, handing it to Steve easily. Steve typed his number quickly, then sent a quick text to himself so he could have Bucky’s number in return.

He slipped the phone back into Bucky’s pocket. “Goodbye, Buck.” He whispered.

“Bye.” Bucky replied.

Neither of them moved, still breathing each other in.  

“It’s a long walk back to Bed-Stuy.” Steve murmured.

Bucky nodded, hair brushing against Steve’s cheek. “Yeah, I better go.”

They stayed, clinging to each other for a stupid amount of time. Eventually, Bucky laughed, and Steve joined him. The two of them just stood there, holding each other and laughing, laughing at themselves and each other for their strange behavior.

“I swear I’m not usually like this.” Bucky said, tucking a long strand of hair behind his ear. “I’m usually very cool.”

“Oh I bet,” Steve said sarcastically.

“Shut up,” Bucky muttered, pressing his nose to Steve’s. He kissed him quickly, then finally took a step back, fingertips brushing fingertips. “I really have to go.”

Steve smiled, fingers curling around empty air. “I’ll see you,”

“Yeah,” Bucky said, walking backwards, hands tucked into his pockets and a warm blush on his face. “Yeah. See you.”

 

Later, after Steve took his nighttime pills and crawled into bed, he couldn’t bring himself to regret the late hour or the heaviness in his stomach. He didn’t even worry about what the coming day would bring.

He just pressed his fingers against his lips and smiled.

Chapter Text

The beeping of his alarm was violent and made Steve indignantly angry. He groaned, thrashing about until he caught the clock with a closed fist. As it crashed to the floor, the shrill beeping continued and only then did Steve realize that his alarm was on his phone.

He turned his face into his pillow and let out an angry groan. He sat up, blindly fumbling at his nightstand until he found his phone and jabbed his thumb at the screen until the noise stopped.

Steve stood, stumbling to the bathroom clumsily. He turned on the shower and brushed his teeth, wiping the crust from his eyes. He stepped underneath the lukewarm spray of the shower, turning his face into the water. His muscles were inexplicably sore, and he couldn’t help but smile when he remembered the night before. Steve scrubbed down quickly, washing his hair and trying to wake up his body.

He shut off the water, grabbing a towel and drying off. He walked into his room, a deep dread growing in his stomach. Today was the day. Steve surveyed his closet. About a week ago, when they told him he was going undercover, Natasha had come over and done a great reckoning of his wardrobe. Gone were the button-up shirts and khakis, gone was 90 year old Steve. (Well, not gone. Just pushed to the back of the closet for safekeeping)

Natasha had been invaluable to him, training him in all matters undercover. She was so good at this, that Steve actually had a chance of not being found out on the first day. He grabbed a ratty band shirt from his college days and a pair of skinny jeans that were pretty worse for wear. He put on his scuffed gym shoes, then grabbed his zip-up hoodie for good measure.

Steve stared at himself in the mirror for a long time, trying to see a moody teenager and not the most obvious narc in the world. He finger-combed his hair, pushing his bangs into his face messily. When glaring at himself in the mirror didn’t suddenly make him ten years younger, he sighed, figuring it wasn’t gonna get any better than it already was. He put on his glasses on and slipped his hearing aid in, taking him morning meds.

He grabbed a backpack, stuffing his laptop, a spiral notebook, some pens, his inhaler, and a granola bar inside, then swinging it over his shoulder and walking into the main room.

T’Challa, his roommate, was sitting at the kitchen table, reading something on his laptop. He didn’t look up when Steve walked in, just pushed a paper bag from the Bergen Street Bagels across the table to him.

“Thanks,” Steve muttered, taking a warm bagel out of the bag. He knew that T’Challa had probably been up since five, working on the mayoral race coverage. “I’m gonna be out most of the day.” Steve said, taking a bite of the bagel. T’Challa grunted in agreement, staring at the laptop with a glazed expression on his face.

Steve sighed as he smelled T’Challa’s coffee brewing, wishing, not for the first time, that he could drink caffeine without having a minor heart attack. The exhaustion from the long night hadn’t caught up with him yet, but he knew that it would eventually.

Steve grabbed a few napkins, wrapping them around his bagel and heading to the door, waving goodbye to his roommate on his way out. He took the stairs down to the street, taking the subway towards Red Hook, where the school was.

He got slowly more anxious as he neared his stop. He was going back to high school, a very specific hell that he’d hated enough the first time around. Steve did a quick sweep of the train car, seeing about 5 other students either sitting down or holding onto the bars. Steve watched them, trying to observe the teens in their natural habitats. Three of them were staring down at their phones, one girl was sitting by the window, reading a book and bouncing her leg anxiously, and a kid on the other side of the car was falling asleep standing up, leaning up against one of the poles.

They all seemed slightly bored, with bad posture and annoyed expressions. Steve wondered if his scoliosis and resting bitch face is what made Fury choose him for this op. As he reached his stop, Steve took a deep breath, reminding himself that this was for the job. Two of the kids from the train got off, and he followed them, slouching his shoulders a little bit, holding onto the straps of his backpack as he jogged up the stairs.

The PS was just a block away from the subway stop, and as he walked, he joined the crowd of students. He slowed his steps, blending in with the wave of teenagers. He could do this, Steve thought, moving through the crowds, carefully listening to gossip, trying to see if there was anything he could parse, anything that could help the case.

He heard little vignettes from a few small groups that he managed to walk near, but nothing that seemed very important. Someone named Jacey or maybe JC was subtweeting someone named Polly or Paulie. Maria from the basketball team did a really sweet promposal for Vivian from the softball team. A girl named Wanda punched a guy named Brock in the face during lunch a few days ago.

The crowd carried him through the industrial metal double doors of the school, and he tried not to panic at the tidal wave of people that forced him forward. He looked around wildly, trying to figure out where he should go. Finally, he saw the sign for the registrar’s office, pushing his way through the mass of teens towards the office door.

The office smelled of stale coffee and boredom. The woman at the front desk didn’t look up at him, just continued typing. “Uh,” Steve cleared his throat awkwardly.

She glanced up at him, then looked back to the computer. In the reflection of her glasses, Steve could see she was playing online poker.

“What do you need?” She asked dryly.

“It’s my first day.” Steve said. “I need to pick up my schedule and the SEVP and the, uh,” teens don’t know the technical terms for government paperwork you goofus “All the other stuff.”

She didn’t look up from where she seemed to be making a impressive bluff. Steve was impressed with her poker face, even if her opponents couldn’t see her. “Name?” She asked.

“Steven. Grant.” He wanted to start spouting his cover story, just moved from Chicago, my parents are getting a divorce but I’m not too broken up about it, it's long overdue. I’m an only child and I’m not really thinking about colleges right now, but -

“V or ph?” She asked.

“V.” Steve answered, then panicked. What if Steven Grant was really Stephen Grant? Oh god, he’d blown his cover already and he hadn’t even spoken to a single teen.

She just pressed a few keys, then nodded toward the corner of the room. “It’s all in the printer.”

“Thanks,” Steve said, practically sprinting to the printer. He bounced anxiously on the balls of his feet, waiting for the ancient machine to spit out what he needed. Once it was all there, he stuffed most of it into his backpack, but he held onto his schedule, staring at it blankly. So many classes. Jesus, at least he knew he didn’t have to pass. He graduated once already.

“Uh,” He walked back over to the desk. “I don’t know where any of these rooms are.”

“Peter!” She shouted suddenly, making Steve jump. A young man scurried out,  and Steve noticed that he had a little name tag on that indicated that he was Peter Parker, office aide.

He looked at Steve and smiled. “You the new student?”

“Yeah,” Steve nodded. “Steve.”

“I’m Peter.” He said, easily. “Can I see your schedule real quick?”

“Sure,” Steve said, handing it to the kid.

“Oh, rad.” Peter said. “You’re in a couple of the same classes of me. I’m only a sophomore, but I’m taking Banner’s physics class, which is awesome, and engineering with Mr. Lang.”

“Physics and Engineering?” Steve said, dread settling deep in his stomach.

Peter must have seen his trepidation and laughed. “Don’t worry, dude. They’re both pretty cool. Here, follow me, I’ll give you a tour.”

Steve followed Peter out of the office, jumping a little as a shrill bell rang. The halls were empty now, deserted except for the two of them.

“Don’t worry about being late.” Peter told him. “I’ll make sure you get a pass from the office.”

Steve followed him, their sneakers squeaking on the linoleum floor. Peter showed his his classrooms, and also pointed out various spots that they passed, telling Steve in a conspiratorial voice things that happened there, much like a guide on a historical tour of Manhattan. “And to your left, you’ll see where Michelle Jones, one of my best friends, once saw two kids having sex between classes. I mean, there’s a 5 minute passing period, but if you think you can get off in that time, more power to you.”

Steve cocked his head. “Michelle Jones? Any relation to Keilya Jones?” He realized that he sounded like a cop and amended, “I saw about it on the news. My mom was freaking out about it. She almost didn’t let me come here, since 2 students had died.”

Peter made a sad face, scratching the back of his neck. “Yeah, Keilya was MJ’s big sister. Uh, I wouldn’t bring her up too much around here. She was really well-liked and everybody’s still really sad about her and Myra."

“Got it,” Steve said, nodding. “Sorry.”

“Nah, you’re fine, dude.” Peter said, though he was still looking at the floor. “Oh, uh, up here’s one of your classrooms. Government with Walters, right?” He pointed at an open classroom door, where a tall woman was lecturing her students. One of the guys inside waved at Peter and he waved back. The woman saw this, and walked over to shut the door. Peter winced. “Sorry!” He called to the closed door, then kept walking. “Let’s go to the math wing. Your first class is there.”

Peter lead him up the stairs to a long stretch of hallway. There were posters on the walls, saying things like: KINDNESS: IT'S INFECTIOUS and SENDING MEMES IN CLASS IS NOT DANK! They had all been properly graffitied, crude penises and “420”s and “69”s and “Alexis Conners is a slut”s drawn all over them.

“Up here.” Peter said, knocking on a door, then pushing it open. “Mr. Barton? I have a new student for you.”

Steve took a steeling breath, clenching and unclenching his fists in the empty air, trying to relax. This was fine. He could do this.

“Awesome, Pete! Show them in.” A voice called, and Steve looked at Peter with a grimace.

“You’ve got this, man.” Peter whispered encouragingly. He opened the door wider so that Steve could walk through.

Steve blew a out a gusty breath, then walked into the classroom. There was a smiling man at the front, gesturing Steve inside. In rows of desks sat about 30 kids, all in various states of boredom. However, as Steve walked in, he could feel their focus on him, their interest. Fucking vultures. He thought. He was a full grown adult. He didn’t need to be judged by a room full of teens.

“Alright, class,” Barton said, smiling at Steve, then at his students. “We’ve got a newcomer here. It’s their first day, so be nice. This is…” The man leaned over his desk, looking quickly at his roster. “Steven Grant. Steven, what are your preferred pronouns, pal?”

“Uh, he/him is fine.” Steve said, a little awkwardly. He had never been asked that back when he was in high school. Either this teacher was very cool, or Sam had been right. Maybe times were different.

Peter cleared his throat. “I’ll have the office send a blue slip.” He said.

“Sure, sounds good, kid.” Barton said, grinning. Peter nodded at Steve, then turned heel and walked back down the hallway. Barton closed the door then turned back to his class. “Kate, can you clear the spot next to you so Steve can sit?” A pretty asian girl wearing a purple flannel over a white crop top nodded, pulling a backpack off the desk next to her. Barton gestured to the spot. “Why don’t you take a seat?”

Steve muttered in agreement, climbing past the first couple of rows and slipping his backpack off his shoulder. He sat down, nodding in thanks at the girl, who Steve assumed was Kate. She leaned over to him, whispering with a wicked smile on her face. “Hey, Steven. Welcome to 941.” Her breath smelled like Juicy Fruit.

“Just Steve,” Steve corrected.

She grinned, this time something genuine. “All the same, welcome to 941, Just Steve.” She offered him a piece of gum, which Steve recognized as a teenage overture of friendship.

“Kate, don’t bother the new kid.” Barton said, not turning away from the board.

“Sure, dad.” Kate replied cheekily.

Barton turned back at that, raising his eyebrow. “Stop calling me that.” He pointed his dry-erase marker at her sternly.

She just blew a bubble at him, popping it loudly and sarcastically. He sighed, turning back to the board. He started to talk about cosines and tangents and Steve pulled out his notebook, jotting a few things down.

Peter Parker- sophomore, slightly hyperactive, nice kid. knows Keilya Jones' sister, Michelle/MJ

Desk Lady- (need name) plays online poker during work (possible gambling addict? distributes on the side to pay off her debts?)

He frowned at the page when he couldn’t think of anything else to write down. Steve had respect for teachers, and Barton seemed a good guy, but Steve couldn’t bring himself to pay attention to Geometry. He’d passed the class once, then promptly forgot anything he’d ever learned in it. Besides, Steven Grant was meant to be a slacker, a kid who could easily fall in with the wrong crowd.

So he started drawing.

It was easy, to lose himself in doodling along the margins of the notebook. He drew Bucky on the dancefloor, grinning and thrashing about to the music, nothing but joy in the lines of his body. Then, he drew Barton’s back, writing on the board as he explained something about triangles. Then, because the class was still not over, he drew Kate, blowing a bubble, unafraid of its eventual pop.

“Woah, that’s really good.” Kate whispered, leaning over to look at his notebook. He closed it quickly and shamefully, like he had been caught with porn. “Was that me?”

“Sorry,” Steve said quickly. “I’m not trying to be creepy, I just-”

“No, it's like, way cool.” Kate said, glancing up at where Barton was answering a student’s question. “I wish more people would draw me. Makes me feel like 15th century french royalty.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder piously and Steve laughed.

He tentatively flipped his notebook open, letting Kate see the small portrait of herself. She grinned, making a same face as her paper-and-ink double. “That’s so cool,” She breathed, touching the paper. She laughed at the drawing of Barton, then tapped the drawing of Bucky. “He looks familiar. Who is that?”

Steve shrugged. “Just, uh, just a guy.”

“Is he a TV show character or something?” She squinted closely at the paper, and Steve wanted to pull it back but he was saved by Barton.

“Kate, really? C’mon, man.” Barton said, sighing.

Kate sat back in her chair, looking unrepentant. “I was just explaining the ratio of sides to Steve.”

Steve nodded helpfully in agreement, and Barton squinted suspiciously, but didn’t pry. “Fine. Steve, if you need any tutoring, you can come to me before or after class, okay? I don't want you to fall behind.” Steve nodded again, fighting the heat rising in his face. He didn’t need to feel chastised, he was an adult, but he still sort of felt bad for not paying attention.

Finally, the bell rang, startling Steve once again. Everyone started to move, grabbing their bags and preparing to leave. Barton sighed, deflating a little as he’s cut off mid-sentence. “Everyone, you homework is page 137 of the textbook, questions 1 through 28!” He called as everyone rushed out of the room. “Have a good day! Make good choices!”

Steve followed the crowd out into the hall, trying to remember where Peter had said his World Lit class was. Steve grew excited. This was a class he shared with Pietro Maximoff, his main witness. He could get some actual police work done.

He reached Room 212, and felt silently accomplished that he had found it on his own. Steve pushed opened the door, already looking for Pietro.

He didn’t find him, but there, standing at the front of the classroom in the soft looking sweater with his hair pulled up in a gentle braid, was Bucky.

Oh, his hindbrain thought, he looks really soft .

Then, oh, his forebrain thought. Oh no.

Oh fuck. This is bad. This is so bad. This is so very very bad.

Chapter Text

Steve was still standing in the doorway, and as more students pushed through into the classroom, he was jostled, stumbling forward a few steps.

Bucky looked up at the influx of people, then he caught Steve’s eye. At first, he made a confused face, almost like when they were in the club and he could quite hear Steve correctly. Then, he seemed to take in the situation: the classroom where they were standing, the backpack on Steve’s back, and the probably somewhat horrified look on Steve’s face.

Bucky paled suddenly, shaking his head nearly violently. Steve put his hands out cautiously, taking a step towards him. Bucky took a quick step backwards, like putting distance between them would unfuck the situation.

“Bucky, listen-” Steve whispered, looking at the growing mass of students mingling around the classroom.

“Nope,” Bucky said, pointing nearly angrily at Steve and shaking his head again. “No. This isn’t happening.”

Steve wanted to calm him down, wanted to reach out and touch him, but he knew that all he could do was make the situation worse.

Bucky slumped into his chair, covering his mouth with his hand. “Oh, fuck. Oh, Jesus Christ.”

“Buck,” Steve tried again, opening and closing his hands in the air like he could do something, anything. He could see that Bucky was panicking, face rapidly losing color and chest rising up and down quickly. Steve glanced at the students, some of whom were starting to sit down, starting to look at Bucky. “Bucky, you need to calm down, okay? You can’t freak out here."

Bucky looked up at him, rolling his eyes even through his clear agitation. “Oh, sure!” He gasped, semi-hysterically. “Sure, I’ll just calm down!” He leaned over, putting his head between his knees and wrapping his hands behind the back of his head. “Fuck, I’m so fucking fucked, I fucked up so bad, fuck.” His voice cracked and Steve winced, wanting to help.

The bell rang and both of them jumped. Bucky roughly ran his hands over his face and stood, not looking at Steve. “Alright everybody,” He called, and Steve was surprised by the steadiness of his voice. “Take your seats.”

Steve blinked, then turned to the desks, dumbly walking to one of the empty seats, in the second to last row. He took off his backpack, still slightly in shock. Jesus, this was bad. Either he needed to come clean and blow his cover or…

Or allow Bucky believe that he had sex with one of his students.

Neither option was good.

“I trust that all of you read the Aeneid.” Bucky said, standing and writing on the board. “Can anyone tell me what two works inspired Virgil to write this?”

A girl in the front row raised her hand, and Bucky pointed at her. “Katlin?”

“The Iliad and the Odyssey.” She answered, and Bucky nodded, turning back to the whiteboard.

“Very good.” He said, writing ILIAD and ODYSSEY down on the board. He drew a line between them, making a t-chart. “Okay, someone tell me one thing that happens in the Aeneid.”

There was a short lull as the students looked at each other warily. Finally, one boy piped up. “There’s a battle between Aeneas and Turnus?”

“Great.” Bucky wrote battle under the Iliad side of the chart. “And we could see Aeneas and Turnus as reflections as which two characters in the Iliad?”

“Uh…” The boy trailed off. “Achilles and Hector?”

Bucky nodded, writing Aeneas=Hector, Turnus=Achilles under the Iliad section.

“But, Mr. Barnes-” One girl piped up. “Wouldn’t Aeneas and Achilles be the same? They’re both the heroes.”

“You may be right, Stacy, but Virgil was Roman, and the Romans believed they were descended from the Trojans. Therefore, they saw Hector as the true hero of the Iliad.”

“So the Aeneas is basically Iliad fanfiction?”

The class tittered, but Bucky just nodded. “Yeah, exactly. It's the end of the Iliad from a Trojan perspective, plus the journey-“ he turned, writing journey under the Odyssey section of the chart. “Leading his people to their promise land: Rome.”

Bucky stopped, eyes meeting Steve’s for a moment. He quickly looked away, clearing his throat briefly. “Excuse me, class. I need to step outside for a moment. While I’m gone, discuss more similarities between the Aeneid and Homer’s work and put them on the board. Cindy M, you’re in charge.”

With that, he fled the classroom.

 

-

 

Bucky ran the fuck away. He ran right out of his classroom and down the hallway and into the faculty bathroom, slamming the door shut and locking it firmly.

He pressed his back against the door, covering his mouth with his hand and gasping for breath. He slid down until he was sitting, not even thinking about the state of the floor. He couldn't do it. Bucky knew that he could teach the Aeneid in his sleep, but even that couldn’t carry him through this. His hand had been shaking on his dry erase marker, and he couldn’t focus, barely able to form words.

“Fuck,” He said, voice cracking. He could feel the panic claw its way up his throat, but there was nothing he could do about it. He could call Clint, but Bucky was pretty sure that this was his conference period. Besides, what would Clint even say? I don’t know what to tell you, bud. His inner Clint said. This seems p r e t t y  fucking bad.

“Yeah, no shit.” Bucky said. Maybe he should call Becca, she could talk him down. But then she’d want to know what was wrong, and then what would he tell her? That last night, he’d had one of the most amazing experiences, one the realest connections he’s had with another person since he’d moved back to Brooklyn, and it turned out to be with a student?

His mind quickly forced him to remember every second of last night’s encounter, each passing second making him feel stupider than the last. The messiness of his room, his unmade bed, leading Bucky through the dark apartment, whispering that his roommate was asleep . Just a kid sneaking back into his house after a night out, trying not to wake his parents.

His stomach dropped as he wondered what in Steve’s life had led to the kid’s attitude when it came to sex with adults. Bucky thought back to the bar, at Steve’s two “friends.” They hadn’t been kids, and when Bucky thought back, he thought that maybe he had seen them around the bar before. He wondered darkly about them, about what sort of sick people they had to be, taking a teenage boy to a bar and casually letting him go home with a stranger. Encouraging him to go home with a stranger.

God, poor Steve. Bucky had-had victimized him, and probably wasn’t the first person to do so. He was just as sick as Steve’s “friends.”

“Jesus, I’m so dead.” Bucky muttered, rubbing his eyes. “Fucking shit.” He grabbed the corner of the sink, pulling himself to his feet. He looked at his face in the mirror, and was confronted with his own ashen, ghost-like reflection. His eyes were red and he looked exhausted, even though he’d managed to fall asleep at 2:30 in the morning, which was relatively early for his neuroses-raddled brain.

Bucky turned on the cold water, splashing his face. He dried off on a shitty paper towel, but when he back at his reflection, nothing had changed. He still looked like a panicked corpse. Bucky sighed heavily, resting his forehead against the cool glass of the mirror. “Pull it together, Barnes.” He closed his eyes, counting backwards from 50.

He could rationalize this later, could try to problem-solve later. Right now, all he needed to do was maintain his sanity for the next 6 hours. Then, he could go home and have a panic attack in the privacy of his own room, like an adult. And after that, he could… he could figure how to do something that would fix this massive cow fuck of a situation.

 

-

 

Steve felt like he should go after Bucky, but he stayed glued to his desk. All the students turned to one another, all of them chatting, though none of them talking about the Aeneid.

“Psst,” Steve looked up at the kid sitting next to him, a friendly faced boy with floppy dark hair. “You’re the new kid, right?”

Steve just nodded, not trusting his own voice. His brain was doing mental acrobatics trying to figure out something, anything he could do or say that could keep his cover strong, but reassure Bucky that everything was okay.

The kid just smiled. “Kate texted me about you. I think she wants to adopt you or something. Anyway, I’m Billy, that’s Teddy-”

He pointed to the large blond kid sitting next to him. The kid nodded in greeting, giving a small salute. “‘Sup.”

“And we’re sort of like, the greeting committee for all the queer kids around here.” Billy finished.

Steve just raised an eyebrow.

“Not that I’m assuming anything!” Billy said quickly, cheeks pinking. “I’m just recruiting. Like, not recruiting queer kids, I’m not making a gay army for my big gay agenda or anything, I’m just- I’m the president of the LBGTQ club around here-”

“Co-President,” Teddy added.

“Right, co-president.” Billy said with an eye roll. “And it's kinda new and really small, and we’re always looking for fresh meat.” He blushed even harder and shook his head, amending, “I’m not saying you’re meat! I’m just saying… I don’t even know what I’m saying.”

“I think you were just getting to the part where you dislodge your foot from your mouth.” Teddy commented dryly.

“Eat my ass, Tedward.” Billy said, flipping him off.

Teddy just smirked. “Sometime later,”

“Fuck off.” Billy said, though he was smiling a little, blushing at the ground.

Teddy rolled his eyes fondly, looking at Billy in a way only a lovesick teenager can. “Anyway, we’re a nice, fun group of kids and we…” he trailed off, looking a little befuddled. “Okay, that doesn’t sound… great.”

“Yeah, not so easy, is it, dickface?” Billy said.

“I wonder how gangs recruit.” Teddy mused. “It’s harder than it looks.”

“Start over.” Steve said, laughing. Despite everything, these two had charmed him. Plus, joining a group could it be a good way to get more intel. “You run the queer club?"

“Uh, yeah.” Billy beamed at him. “Well me, Teddy, Kate, and Kate’s girlfriend, America run it. We’re the officers, anyway. Basically all the upperclassmen get to be officers. Teddy and I are juniors, the girls are seniors,” Billy laughed. “Then we’ve got the kids: Peter, Kamala, and Miles. They’re all sophomores.”

“Plus the Maximoff twins,” Teddy added. “When they bother to show up.”

“Yeah, I guess they’re sophomores, too.” Billy said with a shrug.

Steve perked up. “Maximoff twins?” Finally.

“Yeah, Wanda and Pietro.” Billy pointed at a pair of kids sitting in the very back, a girl with heavy eye makeup and a dark red floral sundress, and a boy with terrible bleached hair and an exhausted look on his face.

Bingo.

Maybe he could just talk to Pietro, get the identity of the supplier, get the hell out of high school, then explain everything to Bucky.

The door opened, and Bucky walked back into the classroom, pale faced and grimacing. “Sorry about that, class.”

“Are you okay, Mr. Barnes?” A girl asked timidly, looking concerned. Bucky smiled tightly at her.

“Yeah, Sarah. I’m alright, thank you.” He glanced at the board. “I see you’ve added to the chart, do you wanna tell me a little about your additions?”

The hour passed by excruciatingly slowly. Bucky didn’t look in Steve’s direction once, lecturing about the Aeneid with the expertise of a well-practiced scholar. Steve didn’t know what exactly he should do. He needed to maintain his cover, but what would Steven Grant do in this situation? What would anyone do in this situation?

All he could do was sit at his desk and twist himself in knots. Perhaps he should focus on Pietro, but simply staring at the boy wasn’t going to further his investigation any. He could flip open his notebook, but he knew that the drawing of a carefree Bucky inside would only fuel the guilt churning in his stomach.

When the bell rang, half of Steve wanted to bolt for the door, and the other half wanted to stay, to talk to Bucky, to ease his obvious pain. The latter impulse won, and he hovered by the door as the rest of the students pushed their way out of the room.

“Bucky,” He tried softly, even as the man’s eyes stayed purposefully glued to his desk.

He didn’t look up, shuffling papers with shaking hands like he could just will Steve out of his classroom.

Steve sighed, pushing his hair out of his face. “Can we please just talk?” When Bucky didn’t say anything, Steve huffed. “You’re being childish.”

“Hah.” Bucky said, not looking up. “I’m being childish. That’s funny.” His face didn’t reflect the humor that his voice held. “Fuck,” He hung his head for a minute, looking more than defeated. “At least tell me you’re 18?”

“I’m 18,” Steve replied quietly, hoping that the lie would at least soothe some of Bucky’s fears.

Bucky nodded at this, but didn’t look even the slightest bit relieved. He picked up his papers again. “You’re going to be late for your next class.”

“Actually, it’s my lunch period.” Steve said with a shrug, putting his hands in his pockets. “Listen, Bucky, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Of course what I-” Bucky started, suddenly turning to Steve, voice almost angry. Then he stopped, quickly biting his tongue and looking back to his desk, deflated. “Steve, listen,” It was the first time he’d used Steve’s name, and it was soft, quiet like he was speaking to someone very small and breakable.

Steve frowned, already seeing where Bucky was going. It made him feel sick. “You think that I was, what, victimized? Bucky, what happened last night-”

“Don’t,” Bucky warned, glancing at the open door fearfully.

“It was consensual, it was awesome, and I don’t regret any of it. ” Steve said, not quite knowing what he meant, but feeling slightly overcome with the need to tell Bucky something. “Look, it sucks that you’re my teacher, yeah,”

“Steve-”

“But last night was great, okay? I meant it when I said I wanted to know you.” He felt younger now than he had since he’d arrived at the school. He was pleading with Bucky; though why, he wasn’t quite sure. He just hoped he didn’t come off as a lovesick teenager with a crush, even though it might be how he felt.

Bucky finally turned to look at Steve, and he looked so very tired. “What happened last night can’t happen again. Ever. Okay? I’ll talk with administration to see about you getting moved out of my class, but meanwhile, it’ll probably be for the best if we don’t speak to each other again.” His voice sounded hollow, monotonous. He rubbed his eyes exhaustedly.

Steve knew he had no right to feel hurt by this, knew that Bucky was technically doing the right thing, but he still wanted to protest. Instead, he just let his shoulders slump dejectedly. “Alright.”

“Alright.” Bucky repeated, crossing his arms, then uncrossing them, then crossing them again. He looked incredibly uncomfortable, and somewhat sad. “Please go to lunch. Please.”

Steve nodded, shifting his backpack on his shoulders and walking out of the room.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Just Steve!” Kate called, waving him down. Steve sighed in relief. Holding a lunch tray and searching for a place to sit in the massive cafeteria was like being in a waking nightmare. Kate was a saint for saving him from the agony of trying to hunt for a seat.

He walked over to her table, sliding into the spot next to her. “Thanks.” He did a quick check of everyone at the table, seeing Billy and Teddy as well as a bored-looking hispanic girl, a dark-skinned boy in a colorful hoodie, and a girl with a truly amazing afro who was quickly scribbling down equations on a piece of graph paper.

Billy smiled. “Yo, Steve. This is America-” He pointed at the bored looking girl who was wrapping her arm around Kate’s waist somewhat possessively. “Miles,” The boy in the hoodie waved. He was clearly the youngest at the table. “And Riri.” The girl with the afro nodded, not looking up from her homework.

“Hey, everyone.” Steve said cautiously. Kate frowned at him.

“Are you okay? You look a little pale.” She reached out, like she wanted to check Steve for fever, but Billy slapped her hand away.

“Don’t be weird. We can’t scare him off just yet.” He hissed.

“Yeah, Kate.” Teddy said teasingly. “Don’t molest the new kid.”

She flipped them both off, then pouted, looking at America. “You don’t think I’m weird, right?”

“Oh, you’re mad weird, babe.” She scoffed, leaning over and pressing a kiss to Kate’s cheek.

Steve frowned, noticing that Kate was wearing an oversized denim jacket with an american flag on the back. It clashed badly with her purple flannel, which Steve noted was now buttoned all the way up. “You changed.”

“Ugh, yeah.” She rolled her eyes, stabbing a tater tot with the plastic cafeteria fork. “My economics teacher is a big old pervert, and he fucking dress coded me for my crop top. Like, yeah. I have a goddamned torso. Get over it.”

“They keep trying to get me for wearing my snapback.” America said. “This motherfucker said that wearing a hat backwards was linked to gang violence. Isn’t that the most racist shit you’ve ever heard?”

As a NYPD officer, it was sadly, not the most racist shit he’d ever heard. Though, as an NYPD officer, Steve had seen his fair share of gang-related violence, and there was almost never someone wearing a hat backwards in a cool and fashionable way who was responsible.

“That’s some bullshit,” Steve said, and America, Kate, and Billy nodded in agreement, which made Steve feel kinda cool.

“For real.” Miles said. “I get yelled at for putting my hood up! Like… c’mon. How else am I supposed to fight crime?”

“It’s cuz they think you’re causing ‘em, baby Morales.” America said sagely.

Teddy turned to Steve. “Are you gonna eat your green beans?” Steve shook his head, pushing his tray towards him. Teddy quickly shoveled the slimy semi-vegetable slop into his mouth, grimacing. Billy groaned, America and Kate both made the same disgusted face, Miles pantomimed gagging, and even Riri looked up from her homework, wrinkling her nose in distaste.

“Gah,” Teddy shuddered, pushing Steve’s tray back to him. Steve had watched the entire ordeal in confused fascination, and he just had to ask. Unfortunately, all that came out was a befuddled, “Why?”

“It’s this gross ass new thing he’s doing.” Billy said. “For a…. sports? I don’t know. Something hetero.”

“How dare you.” Teddy panted, then stole Billy’s strawberry milk, chugging it to chase away the taste. “I need to load up so I can kick Rumlow’s ass during practice today.”

Steve didn't point out that you were supposed to load up with carbs. The kid had clearly suffered enough.

America rolled her eyes. “You guys are literally on the same team.”

“Who’s Rumlow?” Steve asked, examining his ham and cheese sandwich dubiously.

Miles nodded towards a table in the corner of the cafeteria, where a loud group of rowdy boys were throwing shit at each other and wrestling. “He’s the leader of the pack of terrible straight white boys that think they run this school.”

Steve wrinkled his nose, remembering his own high school, and the tormentors who had made his experience a living hell.

“Anyway, Rumlow was on the football team with me, and now it's baseball season.” Teddy sighed. “And I have to be better than him in every conceivable way, to humiliate him in front of all of his bros, because he’s a dick who likes pushing people around.” Steve thought that there was some underlying anger there, like Rumlow had done something to personally wrong him. Once he saw the look Billy was giving Teddy, grateful and loving and sweet, Steve thought he knew what Rumlow might have done to earn Teddy’s ire.

“Wait, Steve before I forget- let me get your number so I can add you to the group chat.” Kate said, and Steve cautiously took his phone out. She took it from him, quickly typing, acrylic nails tapping against the screen.

She handed it back and Steve pocketed it, feeling nervous. He didn’t know why, but he felt like there was probably something incriminating on his phone that Kate could easily unearth. “Oh, and you should totally come to the meeting on Thursday. America and I are running for Prom Queen and King, y’know, subverting gender roles and challenging heteronormativity and all that. You could help with the posters!” She turned to America. “Steve’s like, an awesome artist.” She looked back at him. “Do you have an instagram?”

“Oh, uh-” Steve did not.

“Or a finsta?” Teddy asked. “Like half of everyone I know has a finsta now, and I was thinking of making one.”

“Really?” Billy asked, turning to him excitedly. “You’re finally jumping on the bandwagon? Mister Neo-Luddite?”

Teddy made a face. “I’m not a luddite, I just think it's stupid.”

Steve had no idea what a finsta was. “Um,”

“And you should add us on Snap.” Miles said. “Just like, don’t snap Peter, because he starts these long-ass streaks that are really kinda arduous to keep up with.”

“Peter?” Steve asked. “Peter Parker?” That was one word in that sentence that he had understood, and he was clinging to it.

“Yeah.” Miles got out his phone, showing it to Steve. There was a picture of Peter sitting at a desk with a filipino kid smiling over his shoulder. There was a caption that read math class w my boy ned.

“Huh.” Was all Steve managed. All he had social media-wise was a Facebook account that he hadn’t changed or even visited since last March. Besides, Steve Grant was not a 28 year old detective from Brooklyn who’s favorite movie is To Kill A Mockingbird, so it’s not like he could show these kids his facebook page.

“Yeah he’s the only other T representative of the LBGTQ club, so we’re pretty tight.” Miles said, “I mean, it's not like we’re the only trans kids in the entire school, like- there’s Anya and Gwen and Miguel, but Peter and I are the only two who were dorky enough to join this dumb-ass club.”

Steve smiled, surveying the kids around him fondly. If he were a more superstitious man, or even still a teenager, he would think that they were setting him up for a prank, or something as sinister. But Steve believe that they were truly genuine. A part of him wished that he had made friends like them in high school, instead of just following Peggy around.

Speaking of Peggy.

“Steve?”

He looked up, eyes going wide. The other members of the table looked up as well, many of them frowning in confusion. “Sharon.” Steve said weakly. Shit.

A small blonde girl with braces and and an ugly vintage jacket was walking to their table. Fuck. “Do you know her?” America asked lazily. Steve nodded jerkily.

“Yeah, uhm. One sec” He jumped up, quickly walking over to Sharon.

“Hey, Steve! What’re you do- hey!” Steve took her arm, dragging her out of the cafeteria and into a deserted hallway.

He let her go and she rubbed her arm, pouting at him. Steve sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Sharon, what the hell are you doing here?” He asked exasperatedly.

“Me?” She asked indignantly. “What are you doing here? It's a high school, you big weirdo! I go here!”

“Shh-” He hissed, looking around. “Sharon, just… shush.”

“I will not shush!” She screeched. “This is police bru-”

Steve resisted the urge to cover her mouth. “Sharon Grace Carter, be quiet!”

She shut her mouth, glowering at him. “You go to school here?” He asked and she nodded, still pursing her lips. “Okay, I need you to listen. I’m undercover, okay?” Her eyes lit up excitedly. She opened her mouth to speak, but he pointed an authoritative finger at her and she closed her mouth with a huff. “My cover is named Steve Grant, and I’m a senior here. You know me from…” He racked his brain. “Uh, summer camp. I was your camp counselor, alright?”

“That won’t work.” She whispered. “I go to the summer camp on Lake George with like, half the school.”

“Shit,” Steve muttered, trying to think. “Okay, um…”

“We met online.” Sharon said excitedly. “On Tumblr.”

“What’s tumblr?” Steve asked, and she rolled her eyes, shaking her head.

“It's a place where people talk about wanting fictional characters to kiss.” Sharon said, sighing. “It doesn’t matter, just say we’re mutuals.”

“Mutuals?” Steve tried, frowning. He shook his head, looking at her. She was a few inches shorter than him, so he didn’t feel ridiculous scolding her. “It’s important that you don’t hinder my investigation or blow my cover, okay?”

“Fine.” Sharon said crossing her arms.

Steve relaxed, taking off his glasses to rub his eyes tiredly. “Great, lets go ba-”

“If you take me to prom.” She added, smiling smugly.

Steve sighed deeply. “How about no.”

“How about, I know that you’re a narc and I put one thing on Twitter and it's all over for you,” She said, smirking.

“How about obstruction of justice charges,” Steve countered.

She squinted at him angrily, then leaned against the wall. “How about I’m a 14 year old girl and you’re a grown man impersonating a teenager and I can yell and yell and yell.”

“Fucking-” Steve rubbed his temples. “Fine! Fine, I’ll take you to prom, Sharon.”

“Yay!” She hugged him quickly. “I’ll be the only freshman there, this is so exciting! And I can help with the investigation! I’ll be like your guy on the inside, except that you’re already on the inside. I’ll be like… like your sidekick!”

“Uh-huh.” He put his glasses back on. “I’m going back to lunch”

This mission was the worst idea ever. Steve couldn’t wait for the day to be over.

 

-

 

Bucky leaned against the counter in the teacher’s lounge, resting his forehead against the rim of his travel coffee mug. He was chanting in his head, a quiet mantra that had been the only helpful thing he’d gotten out of therapy. Maybe he should have stayed for a few more sessions.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when a hand landed on his shoulder. “ Jesus,”

“Woah,” Clint held his hands up non threateningly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”

“Mmpf.” Bucky replied, closing his eyes and knocking the mug against his head. He wanted to disappear, to shrink until he was molecular and he could crawl in between the cracks in the walls and just live there; away from everyone and everything.

“Are you okay?” Damn Clint for sounding genuinely concerned.

“Yeah, I-” He sounded so insincere that he wanted to wince. He cleared his throat, rubbing his eyes. “Just tired.”

“You went out again last night,” Clint said leadingly, though it wasn’t a question.

“Mmhm.” Bucky confirmed. “I was at Morita’s.”

“Yeah, Jim said you went home with a cute guy and you didn’t get home until four. That’s late, even for you.” Clint grinned, smacking Bucky’s shoulder. “I’ve never seen someone look so miserable after a hookup.”

Bucky grimaced, pulling his mug closer to his chest like it could guard him from this line of questioning. He was sure that Clint saw whatever expression played across his face and he suddenly grew very serious. “You’re okay, right? He didn’t hurt you, or-”

“No,” Bucky couldn’t help but scoff, fingers brushing the soft fabric of his sweater, along his collarbone where a hickey lay, satisfying and painful in just the way he liked. “No, nothing like that.”

Clint relaxed, though he was still searching Bucky for any obvious signs of damage. “Okay, because this morning you were practically floating on air. I thought you’d found Jesus and, you know. fucked him.”

Bucky laughed at that, surprised by Clint’s turn of phrase. Clint smiled, looking relieved that he had gotten Bucky to smile. “I’m just worried, you know me. You seemed happy this morning, and now you look like a fresh corpse.”

“Yeah, I know.” Bucky said, bumping his shoulder against Clint’s affectionately. “I’m just… not feeling well.”

“Well,” Clint pursed his lips. “Feel better.”

The bell rang, and they both swore softly. Bucky couldn’t wait for this day to be over.

Chapter Text

The rest of the day went smoothly, which Steve felt he deserved after the hell he’d endured.

He stormed into the conference room, slamming the door shut behind him and throwing his backpack in a chair.

Sam looked up from where he was sitting with Stark, wincing as soon as he saw Steve’s expression. “Hey, man. How was your first day at school?”

“Not great.” Steve ground out. Stark looked up delightedly, probably ready to start making jokes, but Steve was not in the mood whatsoever. Steve jerked his head, and Sam nodded, clapping Stark’s shoulder and standing, following Steve out of the conference room and upstairs, onto the roof. Fortunately, there were no smokers hanging out, though the wind whipped bitterly, stinging their faces with cold.

“Alright, let’s hear it.” Sam said, wrapping his jacket tighter around himself. “I wanna get off this goddamn roof as soon as fucking possible.”

“Well, I fucked my lit teacher, I’m being blackmailed by a 14 year old, and I almost blew my cover because I don’t have a… a finsta.”

“Woah, wait, back the hell up?” Sam said. “What?”

Steve sighed, crossing his arms. “Remember the guy I went home with last night?”

Sam nodded, then his eyes went wide. “Oh. Oh no.”

“Yeah.” Steve said tiredly. “Now he thinks-”

Sam covered his face with his hands. “Oh christ. Poor guy.”

“And Peggy’s niece is making me take her to prom.” Steve told him, because Sharon’s interference was still bugging him.

“Peggy? You mean the assistant district attorney Peggy Carter?” Sam asked.

“That very Peggy, yes. Or well, her niece. Sharon. She’s 14 and very possibly a future criminal mastermind.” Steve answered.

Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. “She recognized you?”

“Nearly blew my cover in front of the entire school.” He replied. “And I didn’t buy drugs from a single teen.” He added miserably.

“Oh, Steve you poor dove.” Sam said, sighing. “Only you.”

Steve pouted, then turned down his hearing aid. It was only catching the wind, howling loudly and uncomfortably in his ear. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, you should take her to prom.” Sam said, or at least, that’s what Steve could parse.

He shook his head. “About Bucky. About the guy. I have to tell him, right? I mean, because of me, he thinks that he’s done something terrible. You should have seen his face, Sam. It was like I had slapped him.”

“I mean, in any normal circumstances, sure.” Sam said, stepping closer so Steve could hear him. “But Steve, this isn’t normal. This is an ongoing investigation. You can’t give yourself away just to ease one guy’s guilty conscious.”

Steve ground his teeth. He knew it was true, had needed Sam to say it, but he still resented it. Sam saw Steve’s expression, reaching out and tugging his arm. “C’mon, man. Let’s go inside. I’m freezing my ass off.”

Steve allowed Sam to pull him inside. Stark had probably been left alone in the precinct too long, anyway. He wasn’t an official officer, just a consultant, and there were certain things that were off limits to him.

As Sam filled out the paperwork for the massive bust he and Nat made on Grand Avenue, Steve glanced around, making sure that no one was looking over his shoulder as he pulled up the NYPD database. Searching “Bucky Barnes” didn’t yield any results, and Steve assumed that Bucky had to be a nickname. He pulled up the school’s website, scrolling through until the English department’s page until he found the link marked “Mr. Barnes”

James Buchanan Barnes- World Literature and American History

“James Buchanan…” Steve muttered, typing the name into the database. Sure enough, a single record popped up. It was sealed, and Steve frowned. Bucky didn’t strike him as a juvenile delinquent type. Still he clicked on it, doing a cursory reading over the information. Born March 10th, 1993. Jesus, he was younger than Steve by four years. Steve felt another pang of guilt.

Slowly, he scrolled down. He felt a little voyeuristic, a little guilty, but he wanted to know what Bucky had a record for. There was mugshot of a young Bucky, a scowl on his little face, as well as a nasty looking shiner. Disorderly Conduct was more than a little vague, so Steve scrolled further, trying to see the arresting officer’s notes. Subject, a ward of the state, is a repeated runaway. Warning arrest, no charges will be filed.

Steve pursed his lips. It was strange, and hardly an arrestable offence. Running away from home wasn’t illegal in New York.

“What are you looking at?” Steve quickly closed the link, spinning around in his chair. Natasha was standing there raising an eyebrow, with her arms crossed. “Already stalking your teacher boyfriend?”

Steve sputtered, then looked at Sam with betrayal. He didn’t look up from the incident report, shrugging. “Hey, marital osmosis. Everything I know, she knows.”

“He’s got a record?” Natasha asked, nodding her chin toward the computer.

“A bullshit warning arrest when he was 15.” Steve answered. “Nothing that can help our case.” He suddenly realized that she was wearing an unusual amount of makeup, and was wearing a trench coat along with impressive red heels. “Are you… heading out?”

“It's almost my shift.” She said with a smirk. She glanced around the office, and when no one was looking, she opened the trench coat, essentially flashing Steve and Sam. She was wearing beaded red lingerie, fishnet stockings, and a red belly button ring.

“Your belly button is pierced?” Was all Steve could think of to say as she closed the coat, primly tying the belt around her waist. Sam was still staring, a vacantly pleased expression on his face.

“It's glued on,” Natasha replied. She looked at Sam, amusement written across her features. “I’ve got to see the lieutenant before I head out. I’ll see you boys later.” She leaned down, kissing Steve’s temple, then kissed Sam on the corner of the mouth, walking away teasingly.

Sam watched her disappear into Hill’s office, the same dumb look on his face. He turned back to his desk, then after a pause, giggled.

Steve snorted, shaking his head. “You fucking dork.” While Sam stared into the middle distance, Steve got out his phone, sending a quick text to Peggy. He needed to meet up with Sharon.

 

-

 

Bucky sighed, going through his lesson plans. He had fought hard against the school board to has Oedipus Rex and Ovid’s Metamorphoses included in the curriculum. They were both important texts, but he understood their hesitance to have a bunch of fifteen to eighteen year olds reading the “adult themes” that came with any Greek lit, but he was able to argue about censorship and the importance of their impact on literature.  

“I have this girl in my class who keeps calling me dad,” Clint complained. He was sitting across from Bucky at the table, grading a bunch of trig quizzes.

“On purpose?” Bobbi asked, leaning over his shoulder and picking up on of the quizzes. “Jesus, how do you read this handwriting?”

“Bucky has to read full essays of that chicken scratch.” Clint said, pointing at Bucky with his red pen.

“I make them type everything now.” Bucky replied. “They’re still pretty bad, but…” He shrugged. He didn’t like talking bad about his students, but he taught an advanced class, and it was amazing how bad their writing could be.

“Well, is she trying to flirt with you?” Bobbi asked, slipping a mug of coffee in front of Bucky. He murmured his thanks.

Clint looked confused. “Who?"

“Your student who keeps calling you dad.” She replied, rolling her eyes.

“Oh,” Clint sipped his own coffee, seeming to ponder her question. “No, I don’t think it's like that. I think she’s trying to joke with me. To be honest, she’s one of my favorites. She’s whip smart, and pretty funny. I’m just worried about boundary issues.”

“As long as you don’t fuck one of your students, you’ll be fine.” Bobbi said with a sigh. Bucky stood abruptly, heart racing anxiously. When they both looked at him, he just jerked thumb towards the bathroom, then ran away.

“Fuck,” He muttered, leaning his head against the wood of the bathroom door. He felt completely ridiculous, jumpy and nervous. This whole thing with Steve has seriously fucked with his head. Once he regained his composure, he flushed the toilet and ran the sink so Clint wouldn’t worry. Bucky walked back into the living room, where Clint and Bobbi were still fighting.

Bucky never quite understood Clint and Bobbi’s relationship. They lived together, and were friendly most of the time, but they were also in the process of getting a divorce. They had been his best friends since middle school, but their dynamic had never made sense to him. Still, the rent was good and they cleaned up after themselves, so Bucky could handle an awkward situation every once in a while.

“Buck, do you have Kate Bishop?” Clint asked, dragging Bucky into whatever argument he and Bobbi were having. He sat back down at the table.

“Not in any of my classes, but she’s one of the presidents of my club.” He answered.

Bobbi raised an eyebrow. “One of the presidents?” Bucky shrugged, picking up his coffee.

“The kids wanted something impressive to go on their college apps, so all the upperclassmen of the queer club are the presidents.” He told her, then looked at Clint. “Why?”

“Does she ever call you ‘dad’?” He asked, almost pleadingly.

Bucky made a face. “What? No.”

Clint sighed, flipping to the next quiz. “I think she has an unhealthy fixation on me.”

“I don’t know Kate all that well, but from what I know of her, I’m pretty sure she’s just fucking with you,” Bucky said. “She’s got a girlfriend. They’re running for prom monarchs.”

“But maybe she wants me to be her father figure?” Clint asked, and he looked actually worried. “I’ve met her dad. He’s kind of a prick.”

Bucky shrugged. “I think you’re making giants out of windmills.”

“I think it's ‘mountains out of molehills.’” Bobbi said.

“He’s an intellectual.” Clint said with a wave of his hand. “Whatever he said, it was probably right.”

Bobbi looked at him for explanation. He looked up from his lesson plan. “Don Quixote.” He said in explanation.

She rolled her eyes, grabbing her gym bag. “I’m going to work. Please do something other than sit at the table and stare paper, please? It’s depressing.”

Clint flipped her off as she walked out of the door. “Dick.” He muttered. After a long moment, Clint looked up at Bucky, poking him with the cap of his pen. “But seriously, you look like someone killed your family.” He blanched. “Er…”

Bucky snorted at that. “You dumb asshole.”

“Hey man, I’m just trying to be compassionate.” Clint said, chewing on the end of his pen. “You’ve seriously looked like shit since lunch.”

“Think I’m just getting sick.” Bucky mumbled, and it was a weak excuse, but it was all he could muster. Clint just sighed, then drew a frowny face on one of his student’s quizzes.

“I don’t think I did a good job teaching my freshmen.” He said. “They don’t seem to understand any of this shit at all.”

Bucky glanced at the stack of red ink covered papers. “I don’t understand any of that shit.”

“Yeah, but you’re an adult. You don’t need math.” Clint replied. “Fuck, maybe I need Bruce to come in and do his Neil DeGrasse Tyson hypnosis or whatever he does to make kids understand physics.”

Bucky frowned contemplatively. “I’m surprised no one ever calls Bruce dad.”

“He does seem very paternal.” Clint nodded. Bucky pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a migraine coming on. His notes were swimming in front of him, and he took off his reading glasses with a sigh.

“I think I’m gonna go lay down for a bit.” Bucky told him, standing and pushing back from the table. Clint gave him a concerned look, but Bucky waved him off. “It’s just a headache.”

He closed the door to his room, flopping down on his bed dramatically. Bucky got out his phone, staring at it, not quite sure what he intended to do with it. He finally opened up the text app, seeing the last message his phone had sent. It was the one Steve had sent to himself, just the night before.

Bucky sighed, gently hitting his head against the phone. He turned it off, tossing it onto the nightstand. He was asleep before he could take off his socks.

Chapter Text

They didn’t move Steve out of Bucky’s class. Principle Danvers knew the situation, and wanted Steve to wrap up the case and get out of her school just as much as Steve did. That meant she kept Steve as close to Pietro Maximoff as possible.

He had made it through almost two weeks, and it had been a combination of making friends with the kids in the queer club and awkwardly avoiding eye contact with Bucky. 

what are you doing tonight?  

Steve stared at the message on his phone. It was from Kate, who had designated herself as Steve’s official ambassador to PS 941, which Steve learned was lovingly called “The Brig” by its students.

Probably nothing. Why? He replied, glancing up at Ms. Walters’ lecture. She didn’t pay him any mind. For most of his classes, he’d been keeping his head down, doodling in his notebook. After all, Steven Grant was something of a slacker. Maybe Steve was too.

He hadn’t made much leeway with the case. Pietro didn’t seem to talk to anybody put his sister, and the two of them were pretty standoffish. Steve had asked around, had met Peter’s friend, Keilya’s sister, but she either didn’t know anything or didn’t want to talk about it.

His phone buzzed again. Teddy’s got a baseball game tonight. we were all gonna go out and support him, even if he plays the most boring sport in the world.

Steve smiled down at the phone. He had an affinity for baseball, and he actually kinda enjoyed hanging out with these kids. Maybe he could manage to get some intel tonight.

Sounds good :) Steve sent. He had been working on his Teen culture, on using the internet and memes and emojis and the like.

Sharon and Tony, in what was possibly the strangest team up of all time, created social media accounts for Steve Grant. Kate, America, Billy, Teddy, Peter, MJ, Miles, Riri, Kamala, Sharon, and a number of students from The Brig all followed him. As small an accomplishment as this was, Steve felt strangely proud of it.

“Mr. Grant.” Ms Walters called, in manner that indicated she had tried a number of times. He wasn’t quite used to his pseudonym yet.

He looked up, bangs falling into his eyes. Natasha had forbidden him to cut it, saying it made him look younger. “Yes?”

She just raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “If you’re done with your phone…”

Steve tucked his phone away, shamefaced. “Sorry.” He muttered. He could feel other student’s eyes on him, and he shrunk a little in his seat.

She just crossed her arms. “Can you tell me three things that Reagan accomplished during his presidency?”

“Uh… yeah.” He has been born at the tail end of Reagan's last term, after all. He nervously tapped his pencil on his desk, trying to think. “Yeah, um. Uh, he… he invented a war on drugs to incriminate black Americans, he ignored and exacerbated the AIDS crisis, and, uh, and he tripled the national debt.”

For a moment, she looked impressed, but she quickly schooled her expression. “Alright. Not… quite the answer I was looking for, but true enough. Anyone else?”

A girl raised her hand, and it took Steve a moment to recognize her as  Pietro’s sister. When Ms. Walters called on her, she looked at Steve and smiled. “You forgot to mention funding Nicaraguan death squads and the Taliban.” Her voice was slightly accented, vaguely eastern european.

Steve smiled back at her and she quickly looked down, tucking her hair behind her ear. Ms Walters sighed, though she had a small smile on her face. “Alright, but this is a government and economics class. Let’s narrow it down, shall we?”

A girl raised her hand, answering with a tentative, “The, uh, the trickle down theory?”

After class, Steve jogged to catch up with Pietro’s sister, whose name could couldn’t quite remember. “Hey,” He said, grinning. They’d had a connection for a second there, however small.

“Hi,” She said, smiling at him, though her expression was slightly guarded. “It was pretty cool what you said in there.”

“You too,” Steve told her. “Fuck Reagan, am I right?”

She smiled, and he followed her as the walked down the hallway. “Totally.”

“I’m Steve,” He introduced, shouldering his bag. She glanced sideways at him, a mischievous smirk on her face.

“Yeah, I know.” She replied. “Everyone knows about you, Steve Grant.”

He made a face, trying to hide the anxiety rising like bile in his stomach. “They do?”

“Sure,” She shrugged. “New kids are interesting, and no one really knows anything about you. I mean, Kate Bishop and Billy Kaplan grabbed you right off the bat, but to everyone else, you’re an enigma.” Something in her voice was bitter. Steve wondered what she had against Kate and Billy, who might just be the nicest kids in the world.

“There’s not much to me.” Steve said with a shrug. “Pretty boring, really.” He hoped that he wasn’t trying too hard to play himself down, and he wanted her to be interested to be him, but not too interested. Jesus, this was really a tightrope walk.

“I’m sure you’ve got depths, new kid.” She said. “I’m Wanda, by the way.”

“Hey, are you…” He needed to come off casually. “Are you doing anything tonight? A few of us are going to the baseball game tonight.”

She wrinkled her nose. “I’m not really a sports person.”

Steve shrugged, trying to play it cool. If he could secure her friendship, he could be one step closer to interrogating his witness. “Neither am I, but it should be fun. A bunch of us are going, and we-”

“Who?” She asked, suddenly intense. Steve noticed that they had passed his classroom, but continued to follow Wanda.

“Uh…” Steve frowned. “Who what?”

She looked down, pulling uncomfortably at the sleeve of her dark red hoodie. “It's just, uh, I don’t get along with a lot of people here. I used to but…” Wanda trailed off, scratching the back of her neck. “Anyway, thanks, but maybe later.”

Steve tried to smile. “Alright, well. I’ll see you around, Wanda.”

“Sure,” She waved at him awkwardly and sort of sweetly, and his smile grew more genuine. “Bye.”

He turned heel and jogged back down the hallway to his engineering class. Peter and his friend, Ned waved him over to their table. Steve was grateful for them, because he couldn’t even set up his TV properly. He’d needed T’Challa’s little sister to come over to help him. “Hey, guys.”

“Hey, Steve, check this out.” Peter said, quickly waving him over. He was holding something gently in his hands, and when Steve looked closer, it appeared to be some sort of bug.

Steve was already recoiling. He wasn’t afraid of bugs, but he certainly wasn’t a fan. “Ugh, Peter, why do you have-”

“No, look!” He set it down on the lab table, and Steve saw that it was a spider, with long legs and a small body- but upon closer inspection, he realized that it was made of metal, small gears whirring quietly as the machine crawled across the table.

“Woah,” Steve breathed quietly, leaning down to get a better look.

“I know!” Peter said excitedly. “It’s dope, right?” He carefully scooped up the spider, rubbing his finger over it's head lovingly. “We made it in robotics club.”

“That’s…” Steve was speechless. “That’s incredible, Peter.”

“Thanks.” Peter grinned proudly. Mr. Lang stepped to the front of the class, already a few minutes late. He excitedly jumped into his lesson, hyperactively explaining mechatronics. Steve zoned out, drawing the little spider in his notebook.

He kept surreptitiously glancing over at the table in the back, where Pietro Maximoff sat, attentively take notes. Steve noticed that he was sitting alone. He frowned to himself. If he wasn’t with his sister, Pietro always seemed to be sitting alone. Maybe that’s what Wanda meant when she said that she didn’t get along with most people. The twins only seemed to be friends with each other.

After the bell rang, Steve scanned the hallway for someone he knew, hopefully someone who might know the Maximoffs. “America! Hey, America!” Steve jogged to catch up with her as she patiently stopped for him.

“What’s up, Just Steve?” She asked, playfully using Kate’s moniker for him. He smiled, shrugging sheepishly. The hallway was crowding with excited kids. 8th period had just ended, the last class on a Friday, and everyone was eager to go home and start their weekend.

“Hey, so I ran into this girl…” Steve trailed off, not knowing how to phrase his question.

America raised an eyebrow. “Are you about to ask me for advice on how to pick up chicks?”

“Eugh, no.” Steve said, cheeks pinking despite himself. He already had one teenage girl with a crush making his life miserable. He didn’t need another Sharon. “I was just curious. Do you know Wanda Maximoff?”

“Wanda? Sure.” America said, looking a little surprised. “I mean, she and, uh, she used to be pretty tight with the club. Last year she was dating one of the presidents, an enby kid named Vis. But they were an exchange student and I think the two of them broke up when Vis went back home.”

Steve noted this down in his mind, prying further. “So Wanda left the club after that?”

“Not… exactly.” America said, then glanced around the hallway. “Look, you know her twin brother? Pietro?”

“Yeah,” Steve said, already knowing where this was going, dread pooling in his stomach.

America sighed. “Yeah. You've probably already heard this story, but at the beginning of the school year, he and a couple of other kids got really fucked up on some shit that was cut with, I don’t fuckin’ know, man- something bad. Anyway, all three of them OD’d, and Pietro was the only one who survived. He was real messed up after that, and to make shit worse, a lot of people blamed him for Myra and Keilya dying.”

She breathed out an aggravated breath, rubbing her temple. “Listen, he’s a good kid, he’s just a little fucked up. Like, everyone knew he was on speed and shit, and people talk about Myra and Keilya like they were totally clean, like he forced them to shoot up, but that’s not how it is. He wasn’t the one who put poison in whatever the fuck they were taking.”

Steve stayed quiet, letting her talk it out. It was a simple interrogation technique, being a good listener to someone who clearly wants to talk. “Anyway, after all that horrible shit, he won’t talk to anyone besides Wanda. And Wanda’s like his fucking guard dog, man. The other day, Rumlow said somethin’ nasty, and she clocked him in the fucking jaw. I’m not gonna lie, it was fuckin’ awesome.”

Steve couldn’t help but smile at that. Wanda seemed like she would raise hell to protect her brother. “She seems pretty cool,” He tried. America looked a little surprised at how much she’d revealed, but all high schoolers are gossips. It's a wonder that he hadn’t heard the story already.

“She really was cool to hang out with, but she sorta shut off from everybody after Pietro. They were always close, but,” America shrugged. “After he almost died and people were giving him hell, it's was like… like, she needed to keep an eye on him. I think she blamed herself or something.” America was clearly struggling for the words. “And she cut us off because she thinks everyone hates Pietro, so she hates everyone back. It's like self-defense.”

“That blows,” Steve said, because he didn’t have anything more appropriate to say, and he was busy filing all this new information away in his head. Maybe Wanda saw Steve as safe, because ostensibly didn’t know what had happened, or at least he didn’t know the two girls who had died. “What time are we meeting for the game tonight?” He asked, changing the subject.

“Uh, the game starts at 6, I think. We were gonna meet at the pizza joint down the street at like, 5. You need a ride?” America asked. “I’ve got a van. It’s a piece of shit though. If you need a ride you should probably go in Billy’s mom’s car.”

“Nah, I’m good.” Steve said with a smile. “I’ll catch up with you guys.”

“See ya, Steve.” America told him, waving.

He scurried off, heading towards his apartment instead of the station house. He felt like a shower and a change of clothes before he went out again. School was so much more exhausting than work for some reason.

“Hey,” He said to T’Challa as he swung open the door.

He barely glanced up from his work, but there was a clatter from the kitchen and an excited voice yelled, “Is that Steve Rogers?”

“Is that Shuri?” He called back, and there was a gleeful squeal as the girl ran up and gave him a hug. “Hey, buddy.” He greeted, smiling. T’Challa’s little sister was an undergraduate student at Colombia, a junior in an ivy league college at only 16. She sometimes crashed at their apartment when she was tired of fending for herself at school.

Steve was suddenly struck with the urge to introduce her to the queer club kids. Shuri had a difficult time fitting in, the other students were threatened by her genius and age. Kate and Billy’s ragtag group of kids would accept her with open arms. Still, he couldn’t risk blowing her cover.

“It’s good to see you, kiddo.” He said, patting her on the back. “How’ve you been?”

“Ah, so-so.” She said, grinning. “I made five thousand dollars this week writing papers for graduate students.”

Steve covered his ears. “Hey, hey, hey- plausible deniability.” He sing-songed. “I don’t know about your illegal essay ring.”

Shuri just laughed at him, ruffling his hair, like he was the endearing younger sibling of a friend. Steve rolled his eyes, allowing it to happen, simply because he overly fond of her.

“Steve,” T’Challa called. “You’ve met the Chief of Police, yes?”

At the mention of the chief of the NYPD, Steve’s lip curled unhappily. “Yeah, I know him. Why?”

“His people aren’t replying to any requests for interviews.” He said unhappily. “I’ve interviewed every other candidate for mayor, but Pierce is shutting us out.”

“Sounds like him,” Steve said in disgust. “Sorry, man. I can try, but doubt he’ll listen to me. He hates my guts." 

T’Challa sighed. “Alright, thanks.” He rubbed his eyes, probably tired from staring at the laptop screen. "Even Xavier spoke with me, and he's been press-shy since the shooting."

Steve nodded grimly. He hadn't worked the Xavier case, but he was familiar. Some guy disguised as a reporter had shot Dr. Xavier in broad daylight. It was a miracle he had escaped with his life. T'Challa groaned dramatically, which wasn't usually his fashion. Steve guessed that this race had really been taking its toll. 

“Aw, my poor, helpless brother.” Shuri said, laughter in her voice. She walked over, rubbing his back soothingly. “Take a break, T’Challa. The work won’t walk away.”

“I suppose I can lay down for a few minutes,” T’Challa said, allowing Shuri to shepard him onto the couch. Steve smiled at their antics, heading towards the bathroom.

Steve showered, then changed clothes. He still had to wear his shitty teenager clothes, but at least he felt refreshed. He wrote down everything he had learned that day, though all he had was still just he-said, she-said. He needed some cold, hard evidence, or at least some witness testimony.

He tucked his notebook away, sighing and stretching. Steve had a few hours to kill until he had to meet up with the kids, so he got on his laptop, pulling up Pietro’s statement again. The cop who had taken his statement was a rookie, and he’d taken it while he was still in the hospital.

Steve had it memorized, and as he reread it, a familiar feeling of frustration crept on him. In the transcript, the officer is short and Pietro is disoriented, and all of the cop’s questions fall on, if not deaf ears, confused ones.

Steve sighed, closing the statement and opening up the court records for Pietro’s possession case. He knows that Pietro’s lawyers had talked to judge into leniency on the defense of infancy, given that Pietro had been 15 at the time, and he was given two weeks in a juvenile rehab center rather than a detention facility and exorbitant fines. It was a light sentence, and luckily, the families of the deceased were compassionate enough not to throw a wrongful death suits at a suffering kid.

He closed the records, feeling like he was banging his head against a brick wall. Still, he opened up the police report.

At 2:39 a.m. on October 7, 2018, Officer Yu was dispatched to 47 Delevan Street regarding a 911 call made by one Wanda Maximoff…

“Huh,” Steve hadn’t noticed that before. Wanda made the call. She must have been the one to find her brother and the two girls. Steve winced. That had to have been awful for her. She was only a kid. Steve steeled himself. They were all just kids. That was why he needed to find whoever was selling this poison to children and bring them down.

Chapter Text

“Where are you going, Steve?” Shuri asked slyly as he reached for the doorknob.

Steve froze, hand awkwardly outstretched. “Uh…”

“And I didn’t ask, but why are you dressed like you’re in a Drake video?” She added, eyebrow raised. Her voice was lilting smugly, and Steve turned around.

“What do you know?” He demanded, and she grinned, holding up her phone. He squinted, pushing up his glasses, though he was already expecting what she was showing him. It was his pintogram or whatever the hell it was called. “Shit,” He muttered. It was like every teenage girl in his life was out to get him.

“Why are you living a double life as a high schooler, Steve?” She asked, amusement ringing in every note of her voice. “Could it be that you’re undercover? A master spy, perhaps?”

Steve sighed. “What do you want?” He asked flatly.

She smiled faux sweetly. “Me? Oh, nothing. Just curious about where you are going.”

“High school baseball game.” He muttered, know that she had already decided that she was going along.

“Yes! Steve, yes!” She said excitedly. “I’m coming. T’Challa, can I go?”

“You would go no matter what I say.” T’Challa answered from where he was half-asleep on the couch. “Do not get yourself into trouble.”

She squealed excitedly. “Steve. I am going with you.”

“I figured.” Steve sighed. “Don’t blow my cover, understand me?”

She was barely listening, excitedly running around the apartment, getting her purse together, refreshing her makeup, and tying up a colorful headwrap. “Yes! I am so ready for the American pastime.”

“You’re gonna be bored,” He warned, because she hated football and soccer and any other show of male aggressiveness turned into sport, and baseball was twice as long and not nearly as interesting. Still, he was already smiling at her antics. Shuri just wrapped her arm in Steve’s, grinning at him.

They walked to the pizza place, and Steve texted Kate, making sure it was cool to bring a friend. She replied in cheerful affirmative. Shuri was practically vibrating next to him, her excitement palpable. Steve wasn’t sure what exactly was making her so enthusiastic, the idea of being part of an undercover sting, the idea of going to a baseball game, the idea of getting a taste of the American high school life, or the idea of spending time with people her own age.

“Here,” Steve said, tugging on her arm. The group had taken over a table in front of the counter-service pizza place, and Kamala spotted Steve first, smiling broadly and waving him over. She was sitting next to Miles, who grinned when he realized Steve was coming over.

Shuri bounced delightedly and started dragging Steve over, as if she was running over to greet old friends. Kate, ever the helpful welcome wagon, stood with an sweet smile, tugging on America’s hand until she stood as well.

“Hi! It’s nice to meet you! I’m Kate.” She wrapped her arm around America’s waist. “This is America, my girlfriend.” She began pointing around the table. “And that’s Kamala, Miles, Peter, Ned, and the one sulking in the corner over there is Billy.”

“Wow,” Shuri said, a bright smile on her face. “I will not remember all of those names.” She looked at Steve. “Look at all your beautiful and diverse friends! I feel like I’m on a Netflix show.”

Steve laughed, shaking his head. “Everybody, this is my friend, Shuri.”

“Hello!” She did an awkward half-wave, half-curtsy. “I’m Shuri. He said that. Hi.”

“She doesn’t get out much.” Steve tried to explain, and she turned, punching him in the arm.

He rubbed his arm, pouting at her. She just flipped him off. “Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t know anything.”

Kate had that slightly devious, slightly fond expression on her face, the one she had when had decided to adopt Steve. He sighed, thinking that if Kate and Shuri become friends, the world just might explode. Steve just handed Shuri a 20, nodding to the counter. “Buy us a couple of slices.”

“Are you bribing me?” She asked, a mischievous look in her eye.

“Yes,” Steve answered. “Now go.”

She laughed, squeezing his arm affectionately. Steve shook his head, smiling at everyone.

“Okay, I love her.” Miles announced. Everyone else nodded in agreement.

“She’s not from the Brig, right? I’m sure I would’ve noticed her.” Kamala said, then blushed a little. America snorted.

Steve shook his head. “Nah. She’s a student at Colombia.”

“Woah, really?” Peter asked. “I thought she was our age.”

Steve shrugged with one shoulder. “She is. She’s just wicked smart.”

“Woah.” America said, summing up everyone’s stunned expressions. “How’d they two of you meet?”

“Err…” Fuck. “I’m friends with her brother. Or, um. I was. In…” Where was he supposed to be from again? “Chicago. Yeah. I went to school with her brother in Chicago.” The last sentence was said triumphantly.

He was being stared at, so he quickly changed the subject. “Why is Billy moping?”

“I’m ninth wheel.” Billy sighed, and half of the table rolled their eyes. He just stared at his pepperoni pizza morosely. Next to him was a neon pink piece of cardstock with bright, glittery letters spelling out, “GO TEDDY, GO!"

Steve looked to Kate with confusion. “I don’t follow.”

“He’s being melodramatic.” She sighed. “Teddy’s already on the field with the rest of the team, so Billy’s being needy and sad.”

“Everyone’s got someone to hang out with but me.” Billy complained. “America and Kate, Miles and Kamala, Peter and Ned, and now you and your awesome friend.”

“My ears are burning.” Shuri asked, handing Steve a paper plate with a sly grin. “Here,”

“Thanks.” He said, taking his pizza. Peter scooted over, ushering Ned to do the same so Shuri could sit. Steve leaned against the table, blowing the steam coming off the slice of pizza. 

The kids started asking Shuri friendly questions, and she answered delightedly. Steve couldn’t bring himself to regret bringing her along, even if it was bad protocol. Seeing her interact with kids her own age, smiling and joking and having fun like a normal teenage girl made him feel like he had at least accomplished something in this mad whirlwind of an investigation.

When it came time to head to the field, Billy came back to life, jumping up and ushering everybody towards the school. They allowed him to shepard them, though they shambled slowly, still continuing their conversations.

They made their way to the stadium, and Billy was able to push his way to the best part of the stands, what Miles called the “Girlfriend Seats”. It was full of pretty girls holding signs similar to Billy’s, most of whom greeted them with fake smiles.

America quietly explained that, due to high school politics and hierarchy, Billy held the same social position as many of the more popular girls did, as a benefit of dating a jock. Teddy, while not of the straight, hyper-masculine sports mindset, was one of the school’s best athletes. Because of this, the two of them had to rub shoulders with a lot of jags- Teddy with muscle-laden boneheads and Billy with terrifying white girls with instagram followers in the high thousands. Still, both of them were determined to be the power couple of the sports clique.

As the two teams walked out onto the field, they all stood, cheering. Billy excitedly waved his sign in the air and Shuri cupped her hands around her mouth so her cheering would be the loudest. They flipped the coin, and Steve quickly explained the basics to Shuri as the PS 941 Warriors took up their positions on the field.

“Okay, which one is Teddy?” Shuri whispered, and Steve pointed to the catcher, squatting behind the home plate. Teddy was covered in padding, face obscured by his mask. He looked up, throwing a quick salute to them. Billy blew a kiss, and Teddy caught it cheesily, catcher’s mitt coming to his heart.

Rumlow, on the pitcher’s mound, rolled his eyes. He made a clear “wrap it up” gesture, slipping on his sunglasses and snapping the ball into his glove. America scoffed derisively. “Fucking asshat.” She stood, yelling, “It's nighttime, you douchecanoe!”

Kamala laughed, covering her mouth. “Shh!” She said, giggling and pulling America down. “We don’t want him throwing things at us again.”

Steve raised his eyebrow. “He’s thrown things at you?” He asked, voice light, though he was already thinking darkly about how deadly a well-pitched baseball could be. He had yet to directly interact with Rumlow, but his mental construct of the boy was growing more and more sour.

“That’s why we sit in the GFS now.” Miles explained. “He wouldn’t dare risk taking out Lindsay Lucas or Kaylee Brown.”

“Those bitches would take him down.” Kate agreed sagely. “Let’s go, Warriors!”

The opposing team, the Fort Hamilton High Tigers, took up the bat, and the crowd erupted into a mixture of boos and cheers.

“Hey, batter batter, swing batter!” Shuri shouted, and Steve looked at her. “I saw it in a movie,” she explained with a small shrug.

The first inning went by relatively quickly. There was clearly animosity between Teddy and Rumlow, but they made a pretty good team. There were little things here and there- Teddy would call certain pitches and Rumlow would throw trick shots instead, or Rumlow would throw a little more forcefully than necessary, and Teddy would stagger back, slinging annoyed gestures at him. The series of batters looked bewildered by their antics, but none of them were able to get a hit in.

It was a relatively boring few innings, and as Steve had predicted, Shuri was rapidly losing interest, prefering to chat with the other kids instead. Rumlow proved himself to be a pretty incompetent batter, while Teddy managed to expertly load the bases. Steve was beginning to realize the kid was an expert tactician.

Steve, who loved baseball, knew that the sport’s strength was repetitiveness and strategy, which wasn’t exactly intriguing to most people. Still, the Warriors were kicking ass by the seventh inning stretch.   

When the Warriors got up to bat, Teddy stretched in the dugout, waiting for his turn on home plate. A curly-haired man walked up to him, patting him on the shoulder, and checking out his hand. Steve frowned. “Hey, is that Banner?”

“Yeah,” Kamala said, leaning over. She was clearly not as involved with the game the same way everybody else was. Billy, Kate, and America had gone full dad-at-a-little-league-game, Miles was keeping track of the stats, and Peter and Ned had wandered off to buy concessions. Shuri was still chatting with the others intently, leaning over and asking Steve questions about the game every once and awhile.  

But Kamala had her homework spread out on her lap, thoughtfully scribbling out answers. Steve frowned. “He doesn’t strike me as the ‘coach’ type,” He said.

“I know, right? But he’s in charge of the freshmen team.” She smiled to herself, tapping her eraser against her knee. “He’s so sweet. I don’t think anyone else would have the patience for it. He also works as the athletic trainer, you know, checking kids for concussions and sprains and stuff.” She was gushing a little, and it was clear that she had crush on the nerdy science teacher.

Steve held back his knowing grin. “Then who’s the coach?” He asked, curious.

“Ah, it's kinda weird, you know? The way high school teams work. So, Dr. Banner coaches the fishes, Mr. Barton coaches the JV kids,” She pointed out the sandy haired man in the dugout.

Steve perked up, eyeing the team. It made sense that an underfunded school like PS 941 didn’t have enough money for an actual athletic department. Steve had marked Barton down as one of the good guys, but he could totally see the excitable man being a coach. He had that sort of upbeat, camp-counselor energy. Kamala pointed to a small, mousy, unexceptional looking man in the corner, looking at the players with disdain. Steve tried to remember if he’d met the man before, but he was coming up blank.

Kamala made a face, like talking about the man put a sour taste in her mouth. “And, I mean, Vice Principal Zola technically coaches varsity, but he’s basically just a figurehead. I doubt the dude has an athletic bone in his body, and he flinches every time a stay ball comes too close. Banner and Barton do all the legwork. They’re totally the mom and dad of the team.”

“Huh,” Steve said eloquently. He had been observing the teachers as well as the students, and he knew that Barton and Banner were friendly, or at least closely acquainted with…

He scanned the bleachers, searching for the teacher section. Steve found a small group of non-parent adults, recognizing a few of them. They were far away, but Steve could make out familiar long hair and a bright, pretty smile.

Bucky looked up, like he realized someone was staring at him. His eyes met Steve’s, and they just looked at one another for several seconds. That same feeling of electricity rose in his chest, the one that had first drawn them together in the bar.

Next to him, the kids broke out in cheers and hollers, standing and clapping. Steve jumped a little in surprise, then looked to the field as Teddy took up the bat. They were playing his walk-on music, a tune Steve recognized as a song from one of those High School Musical movies. Billy wolf-whistled, and Teddy pointed his bat in their direction with an over-the-top wink.

Shuri giggled as Billy pretended to swoon, and America just grunted in annoyance as he fell into her arms. She shoved him off, then continued clapping as Teddy got in position. The first pitch was a ball, and the second was a foul. Steve could see the tension in his shoulders building as he readied himself for the third pitch. The bat met the ball with a resounding crack, and he didn’t even check to see where it had gone, just took off running.

“Whoo! Yes!” Shuri shouted, grabbing Steve’s arm and pulling him to his feet. He put himself a little in front of her, in case the ball was flying in their direction. It wasn’t, but the last thing he needed was to bring Shuri back to T’Challa with a baseball shaped bruise on her face.

As Teddy passed home plate, Billy jumped up excitedly, America and Kate whooped and grabbed each other in a hug, Miles and Kamala high-fived, and Peter and Ned yelled, “Touchdown!” in a hilarious unison, then chest-bumped like a couple of jocks.

Steve just laughed at them, shaking his head fondly.

The game flew by pretty quickly after that, and the Warriors easily beat the Tigers 6-2. Steve was surprised when the kids rushed the field, and wanted to hang back, but Shuri grabbed his wrist and pulled him into the crowd.

Billy jumped onto Teddy, wrapping his legs around the boy’s waist and kissing him fiercely, despite his sweaty, grass-stained uniform. “Babe, you were awesome.” Billy panted, then kissed him again. “So awesome.”

Steve coughed awkwardly, looking away. Kate just laughed, bumping her shoulder against Steve’s. “They do this every time. Don’t worry about it.”

“Wow.” Shuri said with a grin. “High school is the best.”

“Oh, honey.” Miles just laughed.

“Playoffs!” One of the baseball players shouted nonsensically, then the rest of them cheered, repeating, “Playoffs!”

“Playoffs!” Ned agreed, making Peter crack up.

Steve shrugged. “I guess they’re going to playoffs.” He said to nobody in particular.

“Steve!” A voice shouted, and then he was tackled by a small body. He had to keep himself from throwing it over his shoulder as he a was trained to do. Even Shuri looked slightly affronted.

Sharon slid off his back, grinning at him. “I didn’t know you were gonna be here? Wasn’t it awesome? Oh, my god they way Altman just-” She pretended to swing a bat, making an explosion noise with her mouth. “I thought I was gonna lose my mind! They’re such a good team this year. I think they would win whatever the high school baseball equivalent of the Super Bowl. Who is this?”

The group around him had quieted in blank astonishment, all staring at Sharon. “Uh, Sharon, this is Shuri. Shuri, Sharon.” Steve introduced. The crowd was closing in a little, and Sharon was so small that Steve worried she would get trampled by rowdy jocks. “Er, you guys want to head out of here? It's getting a little…”

“Yeah, I’ll get us out of this mess. Teddy and Billy will be at it for hours. America?” Kate said confidently. America sighed, then held out her hand. Kate took it, and the rest of them followed suit, taking each other’s hands like it was perfectly natural. Shuri, Steve, and Sharon did the same as America lead them out of the stadium like a professional, shouldering people out of her way.

They made it to the street, pouring out in a single file line. Ned and Kamala both sighed gratefully, clearly glad out be away from the crowd. Steve turned to Sharon. “Are you here with friends?”

“I am now!” She said, grin too big for her face. Everybody was sharing a look as if they were witnessing something adorable.

Kate just smiled, swinging her and America’s joined hands. “We’re gonna head off.” She said with a smile. “It was nice to meet you, Shuri.”

“You too,” Shuri said with a small wave. The girls flounced off, Kate tucking her hand into America’s back pocket and America wrapping her arm around Kate’s waist.

“We better go, too.” Peter said, throwing his arm around Ned’s shoulders companionably. “It's almost 10, and if I break my curfew again, Aunt May’s gonna hit the roof.” Ned threw up a peace sign, letting Peter lead him off.

Kamala’s eyes went wide and she checked her phone. “Crap, yeah I better run, too.” She swore. “Abu and Ammi will ground me if I don’t get home in approximately 2 seconds.”

“I’ll walk you home,” Miles volunteered, then quickly amended, “I mean, if that’s okay.”

Kamala looked at the ground with a small smile, pulling on her sleeve. “Okay, sure.”

“Okay.” Miles repeated, and they blushed incompetently at each other, slowly walking down the street.

“Alright, kiddos.” Steve sighed, left with Shuri and Sharon. “Let’s get you home.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to stop and dust for prints, Columbo?” Shuri asked sarcastically, and he just flipped her off.

Sharon gaped. “She knows?” She demanded, sounding slightly betrayed.

“Shuri’s an old friend.” Steve explained. “She found that, uh, that flintstonegram you made.”

Both girls rolled their eyes. “It’s finsta.” They corrected in a judgmental unison. Shuri smiled, but Sharon just crossed her arms, looking away petulantly.

She turned to look at Steve, pout turning into an excited smile. “Is there some-” She looked around, leaning into whisper conspiratorially. “Detective work we should be doing? Do you think there’s something to investigate here?"

“No, Sharon.” Steve sighed. “I just came to baseball game to maintain my cover. I’m not expecting to do any work tonight. C’mon, let me take you back to your mom’s house.” He offered his arm to her, and she pouted again.

“I’m staying with dad tonight.” She grumped, taking his arm.

“Alright.” Steve turned back to Shuri, offering her his other arm. “If that’s okay with you?”

“I can just walk back to T’Challa’s.” She said with a helpful shrug, and Steve firmly shook his head.

“No way.” He said. “I’m not letting either of you walk home alone. I am by no means prepared to face your brother-” He directed this to Shuri, “Or your aunt-” He looked pointedly at Sharon. “If something bad happened. Let’s go.”

Both girls sighed childishly, and Steve had to hide a smile as they walked towards Sharon’s father’s house. It was a long walk, but the weather was pleasant, and Steve’s legs could use a stretch after sitting in the bleachers for over three hours.

It was slightly awkward, as Shuri tried to make pleasant conversation and Sharon refused to speak outside of snippy retorts, her hand wrapped possessively around Steve’s elbow. He almost sighed with relief when they reached the right address.

“You have a key?” He asked, and Sharon nodded, fishing in her pocket. Steve grinned to himself when he saw the pink mace attached to her keychain. It had to be gift from Peggy. She unlocked the door and gave Steve a quick, sneaky hug before saying, “See you monday,” and disappearing behind the door.

Shuri chuckled, taking Steve’s arm and walking down the street. “She seemed nice.”

“Yeah,” He scoffed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “She’s a sweet kid, really, but…” He trailed off, unable to think of the words.

Shuri just laughed, “Yeah, that’s how T’Challa used to describe me to his friends."

Steve just shook his head, leading her back towards the apartment. When he let her in, she laughed quietly, seeing T’Challa passed out on the couch. She just grabbed the throw blanket, draping it over him affectionately. Steve’s heart clenched at the sight and he grinned.

He went to his room, grabbing his laptop bag and a few other documents from work. “I’m gonna head to the office.” He told her quietly, standing in the door. “Lock up behind me, okay?”

“You work too much.” She scolded, but waved him off. He just smiled at her, heading back out. It was only about 10:30, but he hoped that was late enough.

He arrived at the 24 hour diner, looking around. It wasn’t as deserted as it was last time he was there, but it was still fairly empty. Marlena caught his eye, smiling at him. “Oh, Bucky’s friend!” She greeted excitedly.

“Hey,” Steve nodded at her. “Uh,” He didn’t know entirely why he was there, but he there and there was no turning back now.

“Here, come. You can have his usual booth.” She said, ushering him over to the same spot where he sat less than two weeks ago.

Steve nodded in thanks, getting out his laptop. He ordered an apple juice, sipping it and hoping the sugar would help keep him awake long enough without resorting to caffeine. He got some long overdue paperwork done, and since he had the time, he took a crack at Barton’s geometry homework. When the answers didn’t jump out at him, he just sighed and looked them up online.

At about an hour mark, he ordered some eggs and toast with a side of fruit. At two hours, he had actually finished all of his homework. At three, a few drunk people rolled in, and he almost got out his badge when one of them started harassing a waitress, but Marlena had it handled in an instant, throwing him out and asking his friends if they wanted the same. At four hours, Steve started falling asleep, head lolling slightly. Marlena shook his shoulder gently, asking if he wanted her to call him a cab. He shook his head, determined to wait.

Finally, at four hours and forty nine minutes, the bell above the door chimed, and an exhausted looking Bucky walked in.

Marlena walked over, squeezing his shoulder. “Oh, good, you are here. I thought you were going to stand up your new friend.”

“My what?” Bucky asked, voice sleepy and confused.

Marlena just nodded to where Steve was sitting. He waved awkwardly. “Hi.”

Chapter Text

Bucky blinked. Then he blinked again. Maybe his 3am brain wasn’t the best in the world, but he’d only ever hallucinated the once, and that had been after almost two weeks without sleep. He looked to Marlena, his rock, but she just smiled at him encouragingly and gestured for him to sit.

So, Bucky took a shaking breath and sat in the same spot he’d been in only days ago. Marlena asked him if he wanted his usual, and he just nodded silently, not taking his eyes of Steve. Steve pushed his stuff out of the way, and christ, of course he was working on homework.

“Uh,” Steve cleared his throat a little awkwardly, stirring his empty drink with his straw. “Wow. My plan did not extend beyond sit here and wait for you to show up. I should have thought about that while I’ve been just…” He clicked the pen he was holding nervously. “I just want to talk to you.”

Marlena came by with his waffles, smiling at them proudly. Now that the food was in front of him, he wasn’t exactly hungry. Bucky watched Marlena disappear into the back, then looked back to Steve. “I didn’t think there was anything else to say.” He said finally, voice hoarse. He pretended it was the last hour that left his throat raw. 

“You deserve an explanation.” Steve said, then grimaced, making a face like he was tasting something extremely sour. “But I can’t really give you a good one.”

Bucky sighed, rubbing his eyebrow. He wanted to shout at Steve, wanted to shake him and demand ‘then why are you here?!’ but he couldn’t do that anymore than he could kiss Steve again. Somethings were just plain ill-advised. 

“But, uh, I just want you to stop beating yourself up about it. In class, you look like-” Steve stopped, biting his lip. Then he added, “And I want to apologize properly. And I want to be your friend.”

“Listen,” Bucky sighed, and he saw Steve’s face fall a little, like he recognized Bucky’s tone. Bucky barreled on. “It’s… sweet of you to worry, but my wellbeing isn’t your concern. I’m an adult,” he winced a little at his own phrasing, “and I can take care of myself. Thank you for your apology, Steve, but we can’t be friends. It would be inappropriate. More inappropriate.” He amended.

Steve looked… disappointed, and kind of sad. Disappointed wasn’t the reaction Bucky had expected. Bucky had been a high school teacher long enough to know that when teenagers don’t get what they want, they bargain, they whine, they complain. He doesn’t judge, because he was the same when he was a kid. So, Steve’s reaction surprised him.

“I understand,” Steve said finally, which made Bucky raise his eyebrows further. “Still, you don’t deserve to feel like shit because of what I did and didn’t tell you.” He made that face again, that grimacing, sour expression, then continued. “You’re a good guy, Buck. You shouldn’t be losing any sleep over this.”

Bucky wanted to correct him, but he didn’t quite have it in him to argue with this kid. Marlena was clearly spying on them from the kitchen, so he gestured for her to come over. She looked at him expectantly. He just gave her a small smile. “Can I get this to go, please?”

“Pah.” She rolled her eyes at him, smacking his arm affectionately. “Jesteś bałwan.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know.” Bucky’s said, waving her off. She came back and practically threw a styrofoam box at his head. Bucky shoved his food in, knowing that they probably wouldn’t be very good by the morning. The whip cream and syrup would leave the waffles soggy and the hash browns sweet. Still, Bucky wasn’t one to waste food.

He got out his wallet and tossed a few bills on the table, enough to cover him and Steve. “C’mon. Let me walk you home.”

Steve looked like he wanted to protest, but he just grabbed his things, following Bucky out of the diner. “So, how have things, uh, how are you?” He tried, and Bucky snorted, shaking his head.

“It's alright.” He answered, shoving his hands in his pockets. The walk wasn’t far, but it wasn’t exactly close, either. It would be uncomfortable for them to just walk in silence. “How’s your first couple of weeks been?”

“Not bad.” Steve said, a small smile on his face. “The kids- I mean, Kate Bishop and her band of merry men- they’re really nice. Totally took me under their wings.”

“They’re good kids.” Bucky said, nodding a little in approval. He had seen Steve hanging out with Kate and Billy and Peter. They were smart kids, and natural leaders. He knew they would make good friends for any potential outsiders. Then, the realization of the kids’ social standing hit him and he glanced sideways at Steve. “Are you gonna… are you joining the Queer Club?”

“I… yeah, I think so? I mean, Billy sort of strong-armed me into it.” Steve didn’t look up. “I swear it's not just because…” He trailed off, fidgeting. “I’m not stalking you or anything.”

Bucky sighed, rubbing his temple. “I believe you.”

They walked in silence for a few minutes, nothing but the sounds of the city between them. Finally, Bucky had to say something. “You know, you shouldn’t-” He cut himself off, biting back the rest of the sentence.

“What?” Steve asked, looking genuinely curious.

Bucky shook his head. “Look, it's none of my business what you do in your personal life, but you should be hanging out with kids your own age, in malls or-or other places where teens hang out. Playing videos games and watching PG-13 movies. You shouldn’t be hanging around bars with adults, especially ones who encourage you go home with strangers.”

“Oh.” Steve looked down. “Uh, yeah. I know. My friends, um, they’re just…” He frowned seriously, and Bucky could tell he was struggling to find an excuse or a lie. But one didn’t come. Instead Steve finished with a lame, “Yeah.”

Bucky figured that was probably the best response he could hope for. “And if I find out that you’re hanging around the Cyclone again, I’ll call your parents.” He added, tone slightly joking.

He got a smile for his troubles, and a small little laugh. “I don’t think you need to worry about my parents anytime soon, Mr. Barnes.” Steve's shoulder bumped into Bucky’s and he wasn’t sure if it was intentional or not.

“You sure? You seem like something of a trouble-maker.” Bucky teased, then wanted to strangle himself. He didn’t know why he was encouraging Steve. He shouldn’t be encouraging Steve.

Steve scratched the back of his neck embarrassedly. “I don’t know about that. And as a matter of fact, my ma has started more trouble than me, or anyone else in New York. If you called her, she'd probably just high-five me.”

“At least we know where you get it from.” They were getting close to Steve’s apartment, and Bucky slowed his pace. He wasn’t sure if it was that he was hesitant to go back to the place where he and Steve had hooked up, or if he was trying to prolong the conversation. Bucky pretended it was the former.

They walked the rest of the way to Steve’s apartment in silence, but it was friendly. Steve got out his keys and smiled at Bucky, long eyelashes brushing against his cheek. “Have a good night,” He whispered, and Bucky nodded.

The door closed behind him, and Bucky looked at the food in his hands, feeling even more and confused and unsure of himself.

 

-

 

Monday came like a bullet to the brain. Steve groaned angrily, covering his face with a pillow for a moment and just breathing. He dragged himself out of bed and into the shower, feeling like a fresh corpse. He’d forgotten how much he hated this, waking up with a pit of dread in his stomach and the knowledge that he had eight hours in inanity ahead of him.

The weekend was fine. Hill’s team spend their time locked away in the conference room. Steve didn’t know what Fury was telling everybody else about what they were doing, but Tony’s algorithm didn’t have any hits, Sam wasn’t getting anywhere with any of Rollins’ friends, and Steve was still trying to get close to Pietro. The only one of them who had gotten anything done was Natasha, who had identified three more buyers who worked at the club, though she had yet to find the dealer.

Steve didn’t tell his team about his meeting with Bucky.

He took the train to school, nearly falling asleep standing up. The wave of teenagers carried him to 941. During Barton’s class, he sat next to Kate, letting her doodle on his arm as he rested his head against his desk. Barton scolded him a few times, but it was half-hearted at best.

The bell rang and he walked to Bucky’s classroom, and as he had been doing for the past week, he waited awkwardly outside the door, dithering until he had to go inside. He sat in the back, a few seats over from Pietro.

Bucky’s eyes flicked over to him for a second, and Steve felt a little gratified that he didn’t look as tired as he had in the past two weeks. The lesson was over Oedipus Rex, which a few kids naturally snickered over. Once Bucky started lecturing, though, they were rapt. It was the first documented murder mystery, starring a patricidal, incestuous king as the both the detective and the murderer. It was actually pretty damn interesting, and by the time class was over, Steve was regretting the fact that he hadn’t read it like he was supposed to.

As the crowd filled the hallway, Steve thought about hanging back to talk to Bucky, but he didn’t want to push it anymore than he already had. He was walking towards the cafeteria when he saw an altercation up ahead.

His cop instincts kicked in, his hand flying to his belt, though he didn’t have his gun. He pushed forward just in time to see one of Rumlow’s cronies, a large but fairly unremarkable boy, shoving a smaller kid to the ground.

He aimed a kick at him, but then Steve was there, pushing between them. “Hey! Enough.”

The boy sneered at him. “Back off, new kid.”

“Leave him alone,” Steve said, hands curled loosely at his sides, stance ready for a fight.

The larger boy glared at him, fuming a little, but he looked around at the gawkers watching, eager for a fight. He jabbed a finger in Steve’s face angrily. “You better watch your back.” He looked at the kid curled up of the floor behind Steve and spat, “Fuckin’ murderer.”

The crowd dispersed disappointedly, and Steve turned back to the kid behind him, crouching down. “Hey, buddy. You alright?”

Pietro Maximoff looked up at him with wide eyes, and Steve held out his hands in a motion of supplication. There were papers and books scattered on the ground, so Steve started gathering them, making sure no one stepped on any of them.

He handed them to Pietro, who took them with a quiet murmur of thanks. “You didn’t have to…” He trailed off, looking to the side, where the boy had disappeared into the crowd of teenagers. Pietro had the same accent as Wanda, though he was far more soft spoken.

“Whatever. That guy was being a jerk.” Steve said, wanting Pietro to stop making that slightly terrified, slightly guilty face. He stood, offering a hand up. Pietro took it, and as Steve pulled him to his feet, he winced and stumbled. “You hurt?”

Pietro grimaced, taking his weight off his left foot. “Twisted my ankle.” Steve crouched down, inspecting the ankle carefully. It wasn’t broken, but it was starting to look swollen.

“Here, let me help you to the nurse.” Steve said and stood, slinging Pietro’s arm over his shoulders.

He shook his head quickly, though his hand curled into Steve’s shirt. “Room 212.”

“Bu- Barnes’ classroom?” Steve asked, and Pietro nodded, not explaining. Steve didn’t say anything, just supported him, helping him the few dozen feet to Bucky’s class. Pietro didn’t knock, just pushed the door open.

Wanda was sitting in one of the desks, a lunch box in front of her. Bucky was grading papers, and soft music was playing from his computer. They both looked up at the door, and Wanda was almost immediately on her feet, rushing over to help.

“What happened?” She demanded, ushering Pietro into a desk. Pietro shook his head, and Wanda looked sharply at Steve. “What happened?” She said again, directing the question at Steve.

Bucky was getting up too, walking over to them, a concerned look on his face. Steve looked at Wanda. “Some kid, I don’t know his name, pushed him down. He twisted his ankle pretty bad. It’s not broken, but I think it might be sprained.”

“It's fine,” Pietro told his sister.

Bucky had a can of coke, and he pressed it into Pietro’s hand. “Here, I don't have any ice packs," He added apologetically. "But this should work just as well.” Pietro thanked him and held the cold beverage to his ankle.

“Who was it?” Wanda asked, looking furious. “Who did this? Was it Rumlow? I’ll kick his ass.”

“Language,” Bucky said quietly, though not sternly.

Pietro said nothing, and Wanda looked back at Steve. “Not Rumlow.” He said. “One of his friends. White, blonde, brown eyes, about 5’10, broad and sort of heavy.”

Bucky and Wanda both gave him a strange sort of look and he could kick himself for sound so much like a cop. “I think,” He added lamely.

“Sounds like Chad Peters.” Wanda said, tiny fists curling at her sides.

Pietro sighed, slinging his backpack off his shoulder. “Wanda, don’t do anything. It was nothing.”

“This isn’t nothing. You were hurt.” Bucky said, and walked back over to his desk. “I’ll call Vice Principal Zola. There’s a zero tolerance policy for violence here. You should know that,” He added, giving a significant look to Wanda. She huffed and crossed her arms, but nodded, like she was giving Bucky permission to call the office, rather than taking the matter into her own hands.

Pietro just looked sullen, pulling a lunchbox identical to Wanda’s out of his backpack. Steve stood there awkwardly, not sure of what to do.

In the end, he just sat down at a desk and got out his own lunch. After the first day’s disgusting cafeteria food, he had started grabbing food on the way to school. Today’s fair was a sandwich from a shop by his apartment.

He was about five bites into his lunch when he felt three different sets of eyes on him. He looked up, raising an eyebrow at Bucky, then the twins. “What?”

“This is my lunch detention.” Wanda said. Pietro nodded. It was clear that he wasn’t there because of any trouble he was in, but just because he would prefer to eat in detention with his sister rather than brave the cafeteria alone.

Steve put down his sandwich. First he looked at Wanda. “What did you do?”

“I punched that bastard, Rumlow in the face.” She said, grin vicious, as if she was saying and I’d do it again.

Bucky didn’t correct her language this time, just sighed a little, like a disappointed TV dad.

“Oh.” Steve said. He looked at Bucky. “Can I eat here?”

Bucky frowned with some consternation, but shrugged. “I don’t see why not.” He went back to grading papers.

“Okay.” Steve said, happily continuing to eat. He smiled at Pietro, who looked down at his lunchbox sheepishly. Steve got out his phone, seeing the texts from Billy and Kate and Miles, all asking where he was.

Studying w Banner. He sent. Flunked last week's quiz.

That seemed to placate them, and he tucked his phone away. He looked at Wanda, who was still fuming, and throwing worried glances at her brother every few seconds. “Hey, do we have a quiz in Walter’s class today?” Steve asked. 

“What? Oh. No, that’s on Wednesday.” Wanda said. “The Reagan Era and trickle down economics.”

Steve made a face and she laughed quietly. Pietro looked at Wanda, and murmured something in what sounded like Slavic language. She answered and he nodded, looking back at Steve appraisingly. “So you’re Reagan Steve?” He asked, actual color touching his voice for the first time. 

“Ugh. Please tell me that’s not what you’ve been calling me.” Steve said, looking at Wanda. “I want no association with that man.”

Bucky snorted, though he didn’t look up from where he was grading. A smile even managed to grace Pietro’s lips.

“Oh!” Steve realized something, going into his bag. “I’m a dumbass. Here,” He came back with his first aid kit, something he always brought with him when he was on the job. There was an ace bandage inside. “Let me see your leg.”

Pietro gave him a weary look. Steve held up his hands. “Nothing weird. My mom’s a nurse, so I know what I’m doing. It’s best to wrap it. Helps swelling.”

He still was giving Steve a weird look, but he eased off his shoe, setting his foot down on Steve’s lap. Steve, who’s had medical training, could wrap a sprained ankle like nobody’s business. He was quick and professional about it, tapping the ridge of his foot to indicate that he was done.

Pietro looked away, cheeks turning pink as he lowered his foot off of Steve. “Thanks.” He muttered, staring at his desk.

“Yeah, just keep your weight off of it and ice it often. Should be good as new.” Steve said, turning back to his sandwich.

There were a few moments of silence, before Wanda blurted, “You should get ice cream with us.”

“What?” Steve and Pietro asked in unison, though Steve’s voice was confused and Pietro’s incredulous.

Wanda shot a scathing look at Pietro, then turned to smile sweetly at Steve. “We get ice cream every Monday after school. It’s just… just like a tradition we have. Do you wanna come with?”

“I… yeah, sure.” Steve said, blinking a little at the offer. He could tell it was no small thing, Wanda giving up this bit of information. She was so fiercely protective, and she kept everything close to her chest. This was a blatant act of trust. “If, if that’s okay?” he amended, looking at Pietro. He didn’t want the boy to close off if he didn’t want Steve there.

Pietro looked down, tucking his short, badly bleached hair behind his ear. Steve noticed he had the same nervous tic as Wanda. “Yeah. Yeah, it's, it's fine.”

Steve could feel eyes on him again, and he looked to see Bucky staring at him. He couldn’t interpret the look on his face, but he could tell it was complicated. Bucky looked away quickly, clicking something on his computer. Steve smiled to himself, wondering if Bucky had volunteered to take Wanda’s lunch detentions so that she could eat with her brother and listen to music, rather than sit alone in a room, punished for defending her family.

“Sounds fun.” Steve said, trying for a disarming smile.

“Yeah, it started when we moved here. Charles, he said-” Wanda trailed off, looking pensive. Pietro also looked down and away, and Steve wondered who Charles was. “Anyway,” Wanda said, forced cheer in her voice. “You should totally come with. Here, give me your phone, I’ll text you where to meet us.” Steve compiled, because what else could he do?

The bell rang and they all started packing up their things. Wanda helped Pietro up, waving at Bucky as she left the room. “Bye, Mister Barnes! See you tomorrow.”

“See you.” Bucky said with a laugh. He glanced at Steve as he left the room as well, that same complicated expression on his face.

Chapter Text

Ice cream with the Maximoffs was fun. Steve got vanilla with sprinkles and insured Wanda’s mocking for picking such a boring flavor. “It's a classic!” He defended, but that only served to egg her on. Pietro just watched with silent amusement as he enjoyed his mint chocolate chip.

Once they were out of school, Pietro seemed to relax a little. When they were at the school, he carried himself a little like some of the more senior officers Steve had met, keeping his back to the wall at all times, checking to see of the exits were clear, eyes flitting around corners. Out of school he was still quiet and clearly anxious, but he didn’t seem like he was ready for an attack at any moment.

“Well, what are you eating?” Steve asked, hoping that her choice would be something he could pick fun at in defense of his plain vanilla.

Wanda made a snooty face at him, dipping her spoon into her ice cream delicately. “Chocolate cherry.”

Steve made a face at her, since he couldn’t think of a clever response. She just laughed delightedly, kicking him lightly under the table. Pietro handed her a napkin, pointing out that she had dripped onto her shirt. He shot Steve a conspiratorial smile as Wanda squawked over the dark stain on the fabric.They left the ice cream place after Wanda bullied Steve out of paying for his ice cream, saying that she would cover it. The three of them walked down the street, slowly, to accommodate for Pietro’s limp. Steve wasn’t sure where they were going, but he assumed it was the Maximoff household, so he followed Wanda.

At an intersection, they stopped for the light to change, and Wands paused a little in her stride, looking back at Steve. She frowned a little, almost like she had forgotten he was there. “Oh, uh…”

Steve almost offered to leave them, feeling a little dumb about presuming that he was invited over. Wanda cut him off, looking past him to Pietro. “Is dad home tonight, do you think?”

“Probably not.” Pietro said quietly, scuffing his foot.

Wanda nodded, like she had been expecting this. She shifted her backpack a little on her shoulders, then smiled at Steve. It was a little forced, but it was clear she was trying. “We’re gonna go to a family friend’s house. Do you want to come over? He won’t mind.”

“Are you sure?” Steve asked. He saw that both the twins looked a little downtrodden- perhaps at their father’s absence? He didn’t want to impose on a complete stranger, but he needed to get to the bottom of this investigation as possible. Besides, looking into the adults in Pietro’s life wasn’t a bad idea. He could have gotten his supply from his father or this family friend.

Surprisingly, Wanda grabbed his hand, pulling him along. “Yeah. It’ll be fun.” Her voice was strained with something, and when he looked at her, there was actually something a little devilish behind her eyes as she spoke, that same look she had given Steve when she told him that she had punched Rumlow. Steve could tell that she was doing this as a way to either protect her brother or punish someone else.

Pietro sighed quietly, like he knew exactly what his sister was up too. It wasn’t an upset sigh or a relieved one, just one that clearly meant here we go.

Wanda lead them to a corner where there was a bench, and she made Pietro sit. She got out her phone, typing somewhat rapidly. “It'll be about five minutes.” She told them, though Steve wasn’t sure what would happen in five minutes.

He was further surprised when, five minutes later, a lincoln town car pulled up beside them. “Uh…” Steve looked to the twins, but they were already climbing inside, so he followed suit. It was clearly expensive: leather upholstery, tinted windows, and an actual driver in the front.

They only drove for a few minutes, and Steve watched out the windows, saw as the streets grew nicer, the pavement shinier and the storefronts more welcoming. They were entering Cobble Hill, and more specifically, the historic district. The car stopped in front of one of the fanciest apartment building he’d ever seen. His artist brain catalogued that it was in a French Neo-Grec style, and was probably built around the 1870’s. His cop brain wondered what two fairly lower-middle class kids like the Maximoffs were doing here.

The driver opened the doors for them, and Steve helped Pietro out of the car. Wanda was already at the door, ringing the buzzer. A few moments later, a young, relatively attractive man in a soft-looking sweater and a wheelchair had opened the door.

Wanda bent down to hug him, and Steve squinted in suspicion, and the strange sense that he had seen this man before. This guy wasn’t setting off any alarm bells in his head, in fact, he was probably the mildest looking person Steve had ever seen, but his familiarity with Wanda was suspect, and his face was exceedingly familiar.

The man looked over at Pietro and Steve and his eyes went wide. “Pietro, what’s happened to you?” Steve was taken aback at the man’s english accent. It was somehow more surprising than the wheelchair, though Steve couldn’t help but think it was as familiar as the rest of him. “Here, come inside, let me take a look at that.”

“It’s fine.” Pietro grunted as Steve helped him up the ramp to the door.

The man raised his eyebrow and crossed his arms, and Steve was momentarily reminded of his mother, scolding him as she tended to his injuries after a fight. “I’ll be the judge of that. I am a doctor, you know.” The man said.

“Not that kind of doctor.” Pietro muttered, as the door was shut behind them.

Steve had to take a minute, looking at the expanse in front of him. To say it was the nicest place Steve had ever seen would be an understatement. It must have been handed down to the man, Steve thought, because the entire place screamed of old money, and looked as if it were a set piece from Downton Abbey. The only thing that seemed out of place was the chairlift on the long, beautiful staircase. “Woah.” Steve whispered, looking around at the chandelier and the crown molding and the paintings on the wall.

Wanda gestured for him to follow her, and they walked into a living room. The man was bending uncomfortably out of his chair to rearrange pillows on a large couch, and as Steve and Pietro walked in, he motioned for Pietro to lie down and prop his foot up. Pietro sighed, sounding, for the first time, like an annoyed teenager. Still, he did as he was told.

“Charles.” Wanda said, rolling her eyes. “This is our friend, Steve.”

“What?” The man, Charles, asked. His blue eyes flicked over to Steve and went wide. “Oh, a friend?” For a moment, he just stared at Steve like he was a miracle. Steve imagined that the twins didn’t bring friends home often.

He shook himself. “Sorry. I’ve completely forgotten myself. Where are my manners?” He pushed himself over to Steve, holding out a hand to Steve. “Hello. I’m Charles Xavier.”  

“Oh!” Steve said, forgetting any semblance of politeness. He slapped his forehead with recognition. “ That’s where I know you from. You’re Dr. Xavier. You’re running for Mayor.”

Charles chuckled, shaking his head ruefully. “I’m afraid so.”

Steve realized his rudeness and winced. “Sorry. Hi. I’m, um. I’m Steve.” Steve managed not to blurt out his real last name, still reeling. Why were they in a mayoral candidate’s living room?

“It's nice to meet you.” Charles said sweetly, then looked back at Pietro, genuine concern on his face. “What happened?”

Pietro didn’t look at Charles, mumbling, “Just twisted my ankle.”

“Just twisted it, did you?” Charles asked, rolling over and unwrapping the bandages to get a better look. “Yes, that looks sprained. I’ll lend you my spare cruches. We can’t have the both of us hobbled.”

Pietro managed a wan smile, and Charles looked to Wanda. “My dear, if you could go to the bathroom, I believe I have some painkillers. Er,” He glanced back at Pietro for the briefest of seconds. “Ibuprofen should be fine. And grab an ice pack from the freezer.”

“I can get the ice pack,” Steve offered, wanting something to do other than stand there stupidly.

Charles nodded, and Wanda went off in search of the ibuprofen. “Kitchen’s down the hall, to your left. It's massive, you can’t miss it.”

“Got it.” Steve said, taking off down the hallway. Charles had already taken himself off the suspect list. He obviously cared for these children, whatever their relation might be. His hesitance at giving Pietro anything stronger than advil was a clear indication that he knew of Pietro’s problem and didn’t want to exacerbate it.

Steve returned with the ice pack, handing it to Pietro, who looked somewhat mullish about all the fuss, but somewhat pleased with the attention. Charles’ motherly worry was somehow soothing, and Steve wanted to trust him, as much as one could trust a man who was both a complete stranger and a politician.

Wanda and Pietro both seemed completely at ease in his company.  Pietro just played on his phone as Wanda sat on the couch next to his head, getting out her homework. “Hey, do you have Richards for Physics?”

“No, sorry. I’ve got Banner.” Steve said, going to sit next to her in a comfortable looking armchair. He took off his backpack, but he didn’t get out any of his homework.

“Dammit.” Wanda muttered, pushing her hair back from her face. “It seems like everybody has Banner. I’m so jealous, I hear he’s like, the best.”

Steve considered this. “Yeah, I guess he’s pretty cool.”

Wanda turned imploringly to Charles, who was looking at something on an iPad. “Chaaaaaaaaarles?” She whined, batting her eyelashes at him. “Will you help me do my homework?"

Pietro looked up from where he was playing on his phone. “Mine, too?”

“Oh, I’m not falling for this one again.” Charles said, obviously trying for stern and failing. “I will not be tricked into doing your homework for you twice. I swear, the last time, your father-” He faltered for a moment, looking to the side as if examining a distant memory. “Ask Google if you must, but I am not a search engine.”

Wanda grumbled good-heartedly and she turned on the TV for background nose. It was playing Jeopardy, which Steve watched with rapt attention, because he was basically an old man trapped in a 28 year old body.

Charles occasionally answered the questions, not showing off, but mumbling them to himself as he read on his tablet, clearly only half paying attention. Pietro took a nap, which Steve was glad of. Kid looked like he needed some sleep.

Steve studied them all, trying to put all the data he had into comprehensive mind, hoping a clue would fly out at him. Nothing did, and Steve sighed quietly to himself.

After about an hour, Wanda had fallen asleep too, slumped over Pietro. She looked like she was shielding him, even in her sleep. Steve smiled at this image, and caught Charles looking at them as well, completely authentic fondness on his face along with a small, somewhat sad smile.

In that moment, Steve wanted to talk with him. Here was another adult who understood the situation, who knew the players involved and was separate from the school or the police. Perhaps if he could get someone else’s perspective on this entire mess, he could solve it.

But Charles was too deeply involved. To talk to him would be to blow his cover. Besides, he could be behind some of it. Sure, he didn’t have motive, but a rich and powerful man like him, close to these kids? He certainly had means and opportunity. Steve wanted to trust him, but at this stage, everyone was a suspect. Suddenly, Charles looked up from his tablet. 

“Steve, was it?” Charles asked quietly. Steve nodded. “Would you like some tea?”

“Sure,” Steve said, following him to the kitchen.

Charles was turning on an electric kettle, opening a ground-level cabinet and pulling out two nice mugs and a tin of tea. “How do you take it?”

“With honey.” Steve told him, shifting uncomfortable. He wanted to help, but he didn't know what he could do.

Charles pointed to the pantry. “It's on one of the higher shelves I believe. Out of reach for me."

“Okay.” Steve said, walking over. He noticed that a lot of what was in the pantry was out of Charles reach. The shooting had been nearly three months ago, and it was clear that he hadn’t completely adjusted to life in a wheelchair, though Steve was glad to see that he seemed to be doing okay.

The Xavier case had been a complete mess for the NYPD. Someone had shot a mayoral candidate in broad daylight and escaped. Pierce had called a press conference and put out a citywide manhunt for the attempted murderer, and it had ended in a police shooting of the suspect. Peggy had been righteously furious that Pierce hadn’t run anything by her office. It had been a total clusterfuck.

“Here we are,” Charles said as the kettle began to whistle. “Could you be a dear and grab some milk from the fridge? It's in the door.”

Steve nodded, heading to the fridge. “Um, almond or regular?”

“Regular. The almond is Wanda’s. She’s attempting veganism. It's a very noble pursuit, but not one I think I could put myself through.” He tipped milk into one of the mugs, stirring it delicately.

“How to you know Wanda and Pietro?” Asked Steve curiously. He prepared his own tea, then offered to take Charles’ cup as they went to the dinner table. Steve sat down across from him.

“I used to date their father.” Charles said. His lips were pursed a little as he blew the steam away from the rim of the mug. He took a sip and smiled.  “They come here every so often when they feel like punishing him.”

Steve laughed a little, thinking of Wanda’s righteous sense justice. Charles set his mug down and looked at Steve seriously.

“I’ve known them since they were 11, and I love them very dearly.” He said, voice mild, but full of meaning.

Steve raised his eyebrows. “You want to know my intentions?”

“I know Pietro’s hasn’t had the easiest of times.” He looked sadly into his tea. “I’m not his parent, but I feel feel some responsibility to him, and I feel as if what happened to him was my partially my fault. As does his father.” Charles stirred his tea, still not looking at Steve. “Now, I’m a geneticist, and the son of an alcoholic. I know about everything there is to know about addiction, Steve. Logically, I know that neither Erik and I are to blame. Their mother died of heroin overdose when they were children, and because of their long history of oppression, addiction runs deep in the Romani people. Pietro has made some mistakes, yes, but he also had the bad fortune of a strong genetic predisposition towards drug usage. He’ll be fighting his disease his entire life.”

Charles looked at him then, meaning and right behind his eyes. Steve knew in an instant that he was caught.

“Dr. Xavier…” Steve trailed off. He glanced back to the living room where the twins were still asleep. He lowered his voice. “When did you figure it out?”

“After the attempt on my life, I learned take my security and my family’s security very seriously. The cameras outside ran your face through recognition and you came up on the NYPD’s database.” Charles said, placing his iPad on the table, 

Steve nodded, taking a moment to consider his words. “I’m not here to arrest Pietro. He’s had his day in court and been sentenced, and you and I both know he’s suffered more than enough. The last thing I want is to cause him more pain. I’m just here to find whoever’s selling poison to children and take them down.”

Charles nodded, tension falling out of his shoulders. “It's been a hard year for my family. Erik and I split up. I was nearly murdered. Wanda had to do CPR on her brother to keep him alive long enough for the paramedics to take him to the hospital. Those kids have been through enough, Detective Rogers.”

“Dr. Xavier,” Steve set his mug down, looking Charles in the eye. “I promise you that they won’t come to any harm. I just want to bring the people who hurt them to justice.”

“Charles?” A quiet voice asked, and Wanda walked into the room, rubbing her eyes sleepily. Her makeup was smudged all over her face, making her look like a little kid who had been playing dress-up. “Did you make tea?”

“Yes, my love. Water should still be hot. Fix yourself something.” Charles said, pointing her to the kitchen.

Wanda nodded and shuffled off. Steve looked at Charles. “It's your choice, but I’d prefer to maintain my cover with the kids.”

“I understand.” Charles told him. “Pietro won’t tell us anything. Maybe he’ll speak to a friend. I don’t like lying to them, but…” He trailed off. “You seem like a good man.”

“Thank you.” Steve said.

Wanda walked into the room, sitting down next to Steve and immediately set her feet on his chair. She buried her face in the tea and groaned. It was obviously a ritual for her.

“Wanda, when does your father want you home?” Charles asked, and Wanda made a face, satisfied groaning turning into annoyed groaning. Charles sighed a little. “You didn’t tell him you were coming here, did you?”

She shook her head. “It's not like he’ll notice we’re gone.”

“Of course he...” Charles rubbed his temple, like he felt a headache coming on. “I’ll call him, see if you can stay for dinner.”

“No, I’ll do it.” Wanda said, pouting a little as she got out her phone to text her father. She looked over at Steve. “Are you staying?”

Steve shook his head. “Nah, I should probably get home. I need to start work on my World Lit essay.”

“Ooooh, you have Barnes’ class with Pietro, right?” Wanda grinned, poking him in the side. “He’s totally dreamy.”

“If you like that sort of thing, I guess.” Steve said, smiling to himself.

Wanda snorted. “Please. You’ve got the biggest crush on him. Every time he talks, there’s like, literal giant hearts in your eyes.”

“Shut up,” Steve muttered, knowing he was blushing.

“Aw.” Wanda said. “Stevie’s got a crush.”

“On who?” Pietro asked, limping into the kitchen. He looked at Steve for a second, squinting. “You’re in my spot.”

“Deal with it.” Wanda said, before Steve tried to move. Pietro stuck his tongue out at her and sat in the seat at the head of the table, then stole her tea, taking a large drink of it. Wanda rolled her eyes at him, but didn’t make a move to steal it back. “Steve, like all of us, has fallen for Mr. Barnes’ dreamy blue eyes and his long, soft hair.”

Pietro nodded at this, eyes glazing over with teenage lust. “Mmm. Yeah. He’s… really nice.”

“Yeah, that’s the word for it.” Wanda snorted. She sighed, the way only teenage girls can when thinking of someone hot. “I could eat him up with a spoon.”

Charles raised an eyebrow. “On that note, Steve, I’ll call you a car.” He rolled back from the table, shaking his head at the twins with exasperated amusement.

“Oh, that’s okay.” Steve said quickly. “I can just take the subway back.”

Charles took his empty mug and reached for Steve’s. “Nonsense. It's getting dark out. I can’t let you walk home.”

“Fine.” Steve huffed, catching Charles’ amused little smile.

Wanda grabbed his wrist, pulling him out of the chair. “C’mon, we’ll wait outside with you.”

“It's too cold,” Pietro complained, and Wanda dramatically rolled her eyes.

“Fine. I’ll wait outside with him.” She said, dragging Steve to the living room so he could grab his stuff. Pietro followed them anyway, arms crossed tightly over his chest, like he was hugging himself.

He walked over to Steve, looking at his hairline rather than making eye contact. “So, um. Thank you. For helping me today.” He said haltingly.

“No problem.” Steve said with an easy smile. “We little guys have to stick together, right?”

Pietro smiled a little. “Speak for yourself.” He offered Steve a hand, and Steve took it. He wasn’t expecting it when Pietro pulled him into a brief hug, but he returned it. Pietro pulled back, face pink. “Thanks.”

“See you around.” Steve said, letting Wanda lead him out of the apartment. They sat on the stoop, the sun setting low over Brooklyn. A chill crept into the air, and Steve pulled his hoodie tighter to himself. “Hey, Wanda, can I ask you something?”

“You just did.” She pointed out, but looked over at him. “Yeah, what?”

Steve wanted to find out how to phrase the question delicately. Instead what came out was, “Why did you punch Brock Rumlow in the face?”

He expected a deflecting answer like, he’s an asshole or he deserved it, some coded way of saying that he had been picking on her brother. Instead, Wanda looked pensive for a moment, seeming to think about what she would say. Finally, she seemed to come to a decision, turning to look at Steve.

“He sold the laced drugs to Pietro.”

Chapter Text

Steve laid out everything he had so far. His evidence wall had been depressingly barren so far, but now he had something.

Pietro bought from Rumlow. Steve called Principal Danvers and had her pull Rumlow’s records. He also had Sam run him and his immediate family through the database, but none of them had a record. Oftentimes, when teenagers were selling, it was because they had someone in their family who was either using or selling. But this didn’t seem to be Rumlow’s case. His parents seemed to be upstanding, upper-middle class people, so the supplier had to be someone else.

Rumlow’s school files were a little more enlightening. He was an alright student, mostly low B’s and high C’s. He’d gotten in trouble a few times, once for talking back to teachers, twice for picking on other kids, and twice getting caught vaping on school grounds.

Steve checked his phone for the time. It was getting late, and he had texts from Peter and Kamala and Riri, all offering to help him with his physics class. Steve surveyed his board, sighing. He needed to find out who Rumlow’s supplier was. They could always bring him in, interrogate him properly. A kid like that would crack under pressure. They could even get him to wear a wire. Still, there was always the chance that he could lawyer up.

Steve sent a quick text to the lieutenant, but he knew she would encourage him to get the supplier out of Rumlow without having to involve the rest of the precinct. She still didn’t trust most of them.

He took his meds and crawled into bed, hoping some intuition would appear to him in his dream. Unfortunately, if it had, he’d forgotten it by the time he woke up. He sighed miserably at the sun streaming through his window. He got ready, walking out into the kitchen.

Shuri was there, grinning at him and scooping pancakes onto T’Challa’s plate. “Morning Steve! Breakfast?”

“No thanks, I’m already running late. Why aren’t you in class?” Steve grabbed his backpack.

Shuri spun her spatula and handed him a plate of pancakes anyway. “My molecular physics professor canceled class last minute.”

“So, you’re here making pancakes?” Steve asked, sitting down and taking a bite of the pancakes. They were terrible. He chewed and swallowed slowly, smiling at Shuri. T’Challa locked eyes with him, grimacing as he shoveled pancakes into his mouth.

Shuri nodded, smiling at them. “Yep! It's my first time. Are they good?”

“Mmhm.” Steve said, and T’Challa nodded vigorously. Shuri smiled and sat on the table. She took a sip of T’Challa’s coffee and ruffled Steve’s hair.

“You look so cute as a high schooler! Oh, by the way, I love your new friends. That Peter Parker? He and I have been texting, and his prototypes for intricate mechanics are brilliant."

Steve smiled, getting up and pouring himself a glass of orange juice. While he was up, he fixed Shuri a cup of coffee. “His spider?”

“Yeah,” Shuri said, grinning. “I didn’t want to interfere with his science project, but the use case is very impressive.”

Steve nodded, picking up his plate and putting it in the sink. “I’m running late. Thanks for the pancakes, pal.” He kissed Shuri on the cheek and waved to T’Challa, grabbing his backpack and heading out the door.

He was late to first period, but Barton just waved him inside. Kate gave him a confused look, but he shrugged, the universal ‘ I’ll tell you later .’

In his notebook, he looked over everything he knew. Rumlow was a senior. He had Earth Science with Banner, Shop with Hou, Spanish II with DeHoyos, American History with Barnes, Economics with Walters, Statistics with Sharma, and double blocked Psy Ed with Zola and Barton. It made sense that of the teachers could be supplying, though gut instinct made Steve want to take Banner, Barton, and Walters off the list. Something else made him want to take off Bucky.

Still, he got out his phone and emailed Danvers and Sam, asking for everything they had on Rumlow’s teachers. Sam replied quickly; but only Bucky and surprisingly, Banner, had a record.

He surveyed his file, a few public intoxication charges and one report of assault while intoxicated. Steve raised his eyebrows. That seemed nothing like the soft-spoken science teacher Steve knew. All three charges had been filed in the late nineties, there were court-mandated substance abuse seminars, and it seemed like he’d been clean since. Just a college alcoholic. Not really the type of guy to peddle drugs to kids.

“Fuck,” Steve whispered, pinching the bridge of his nose. He really wanted to solve this and get back to his life. That meant actually talking to the kid, without the clout of the NYPD behind him.

Kate shot him another concerned look and he shook his head. When the bell rang, he left as quick as possible to dodge her questions. Steve ducked into Bucky’s classroom, and for the first time since he’d come to the Brig, he didn’t linger awkwardly outside.

Pietro was sitting in the back, a pair of crutches propped against his desk. When Steve walked in he caught his eye and smiled, waving him over. Steve grinned and took the spot next to him, trying to avoid the hurt look that Billy was sending him. “Hey,” Steve said, putting his bag down. “Where’s Wanda?”

“Hmm? Oh.” Pietro shook his head. “This is her free period. She usually spends it in here with me, but she needed to study for that quiz in economics.”

Steve wondered if she was avoiding him after her admission, or if it was that she knew that Steve would have Pietro’s back, that she didn’t have to guard him with Steve there. He laughed. “Yeah, I should probably study for that too, but-” He shrugged.

“Relatable.” Pietro agreed, laughing a little. He smiled a private smile, one Steve had only seen directed at Wanda and Charles.

Bucky walked to the front of the class, and he glanced to the back where Steve and Pietro sat. He nodded at them, then began his lecture on confucianist and daoist literature. It was interesting, but it couldn’t keep Steve’s attention. He was too focused, trying to think of a way to corner Rumlow. He knew his schedule, but he couldn’t just show up at the boy’s class. He could go to him during lunch, but he always has his gang of boys with him.

Steve clicked his pen, thinking. Approaching him during lunch could be dangerous, but Steve could handle a bunch of jackass teenagers. Maybe he could cut him some sort of deal, though he wasn’t sure what he could offer Rumlow. Plus he didn’t know how to ask, “Who’s your supplier?” without sounding like a cop.

This was harder than he had thought it was be. Steve was a straightforward person by nature. He wasn’t manipulative like Natasha or easily trustworthy like Sam. He was a detective, a police officer, and he acted like one.

The bell rang, and Pietro turned to him, looking hopeful. “Are you gonna stay and have lunch with us?”

Steve winced. “Yeah, I will. I just need to run to the cafeteria real quick.” He had an idea. It wasn’t a great one, but it was the best option he had. He needed to stop thinking like a cop and start thinking like a teenager, and when Steve was a teenager, he had a particular talent for getting into fights.

He walked right past the queer club table, going straight for Rumlow’s table. As expected, Chad Peters was there, jostling one of the boys next to him and grinning. Steve braced himself and shouted, “Hey!”

The cafeteria grew quiet, and everyone at the table turned to look at him. Chad recognized him and immediately sneered. “What do you want?”

“I want to finish what we started.” Steve replied, puffing himself up.

He knew the picture he made. He knew he looked ridiculous, and Chad turned to his friends and laughed. “What, you want to go, little man?”

“Yeah,” Steve said, nodding. “I don’t like bullies, and I think you need to be put in your place.”

That got the desired reaction. Peters stood, smirking at him. He was a solid foot taller than Steve, with about a hundred pounds on him. “You’re really sticking up for the Maximoff kid? You must be sucking his dick or something. You know he’s a killer, right? Two girls died because of your little boyfriend.”

“Oh, I think I know exactly who killed Myra and Keilya.” Steve said, looking right at Rumlow. He balked, glancing behind himself, like Steve might be looking at someone else. “And it wasn’t Pietro.”

Peters, oblivious to Rumlow’s pale, outraged face, scoffed. “Look, new kid. I’ll cut you some slack since you don’t know what you’re talking about. But I’m not the bad guy here. Your druggie boyfriend is.”

“You sure? Cuz, if we’re talking drug addicts, your crack head mom might have something to say about that.” Steve might have pulled up files on Chad Peters and his family. He hated using such a low blow, but it worked.

Peters grew red-faced with rage. He took two steps forward until he was practically chest-to-chest with Steve, huffing angrily. “What the fuck did you just say to me, you little prick? I’m gonna fucking kill you.”

“You gonna do it here, with everybody watching? You’ve already got detention for pushing Pietro. Do you want to make it an all-out suspension?” Steve hissed, getting up in Peters’ face.

“Fine.” Peters spat. “Parking lot. After school.”

Steve nodded, looking over his shoulder at the boys at the table. “Sure. Bring your friends.” Rumlow looked him in the eyes, and nodded once.

“Bring a goddamned mortician.” Peters replied, then turned back to the table.

Steve walked away, and the silent cafeteria filled with noise, everyone talking about what they just saw. He expected a large crowd for the fight. That was alright. All he needed was for one person to be there.

As he walked past the queer club table, America grabbed his arm. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Steve.” She said. He looked at the face around the table. Kate looked anxious, and Billy was pale. Teddy was shaking his head and Miles was just staring at Steve.

“I’ll be fine.” Steve told them, though none of them looked reassured.

Only MJ nodded. She was giving him an appraising look. Not for the first time, Steve wondered what she knew about her sister’s death. “You kick his ass, new kid.”

Steve nodded, grinning. “Put 20 on me winning. I promise you’ll make a killing.”

She gave him a small, discernible smile and slipped a 50 out of her wallet, setting it on the table. “See you after school.”

He went back up the stairs to Bucky’s classroom, texting Shuri as he went. He really should be using Stark for this, since technical consulting was what the department paid him for, but Steve trusted Shuri more.

Bucky looked up as he entered, only giving him a small eye roll as Steve waved at him. “I assume you’ll be joining us for lunch today, Steve?”

“You assume correctly.” Steve replied, taking his seat next to Wanda. She smiled at him, flipping her hair over her shoulder.

Pietro frowned. “I thought you were getting lunch.”

“I forgot that I had one already packed.” Steve said with a shrug. He unzipped his backpack, grabbing the Thai takeout leftovers from last night.

Both Maximoffs looked at it with varying disbelief. “What?” He asked defensively.

Pietro quickly shook his head. “Nothing.”

Wanda just wrinkled her nose. Both twins had nicely pack lunch boxes with things like carrot sticks and nicely made sandwiches with the crusts cut off. It was cute, in a bento box style. They reminded Steve of the school lunches his mom used to make. He nodded at them. “Did Dr. Xavier make those?”

“Oh, god no.” Wanda snorted. “Charles can’t cook to save his life. Even peanut butter and jelly is beyond him.”

Pietro smiled a little. “One of the downsides of growing up privileged. The only thing he can make is tea.”

Steve laughed. The idea of the posh man he’d met yesterday as a clueless bachelor was funny to him. “So do you make the lunches?”

“We used to.” Wanda said. “But they ended up being things like a bag of Cheetos and a pop tart, you know?”

“Do I ever,” Steve replied, thinking back to his college days. After he left the safety of his mother’s house and before he lived with Sam in their first apartment, he had been eating like a raccoon.

“So our dad makes the lunches now.” Pietro told him. “He hasn’t since we were kids, but, well, after…” he trailed off for a second. “He finds the time for it now.”

Steve nodded. Pietro was practically talkative today. He was glad to see that he was opening up. Wanda glowered at her lunchbox, like she was angry at it for receiving her father’s attention. Steve tried to balance what he knew of the man with these cute little bento boxes.

“What about you, Mister Barnes? You have anybody special making your lunches?” Wanda asked, tone coy. Steve looked up, suddenly, intensely curious.

Bucky laughed, shaking his head. “That’s an inappropriate question Wanda. But if you must know, no. I make my own lunches.”

He had a brown paper bag with carefully wrapped food. Steve tried to get a good look at it. “Are those empanadas?” They looked absolutely delicious. Steve knew they had to be good, because he watched a lot of food network programming.

“Yeah,” Bucky said, mouth full.

Steve frowned in disbelief. “You can cook?”

“Yes, I can cook.” Bucky sounded offended. “Why wouldn’t I be able to cook?”

Steve felt a little flustered. “I don’t know! I just thought because of the-“ he cut himself off, trying not to reveal too much to the twins. “I don’t know. Just…” He finished with a lame shrug, knowing he was blushing.

Wanda was laughing at him behind her hand and even Pietro looked amused. Bucky hid a smile behind an empanada.

Suddenly, the door flew open, a harried-looking Sharon burst through. “Steve! Oh, god finally.” She put her hands on her knee and panted for half second before straightening and throwing her hands in the air. “Holy fuck, what the hell, man! You’re gonna fucking die!”

“Uh,” Bucky stood, frowning mostly in surprise at this tiny, loud girl. Both twins were just staring at her.

Steve sighed. “Sharon, it’s fine.”

“No it's not goddamn motherfucking fine! Chad Peters is going to grind you into paste and then eat your fucking family!” She said, flailing wildly. Bucky, Wanda, and Pietro all turned to stare at him.

“Sharon-“ He tried again, taking off his glasses to rub his eyes.

“You called his mom a crackhead whore!” Sharon continued, voice going shrill.

“Okay, now, I didn’t say whore,” Steve said, pointing his finger at her, then stopped when realized he was mimicking his mother’s style of scolding. “Look, kiddo, I’ve got this handled, okay? Don’t worry about it.” He tried to give her a significant look, but she didn’t seem calmed.

“Peters is a fucking behemoth! You’re gonna die, and then you’re not gonna be able to take me to prom!” She whined, then collapsed onto the desk next to him.

In the ensuing silence, everyone stared at either Steve or Sharon. Bucky was still half-standing, face creased in an expression of bewilderment. Wanda and Pietro looked at each other for a moment, then back at Steve, obviously looking for an explanation.

Finally, Steve found something to say. “How did you know where to find me?”

Sharon looked up from where her face was resting on the desk. “I didn’t. I just saw that you went upstairs. I was running down this hallway and checking every classroom until I found you.” She said miserably. Some of her hair was stuck in her braces.

“I… have to report this.” Bucky said, frowning. “I mean, if Chad Peters threatened you-“

“He didn’t.” Steve said quickly. “We just yelled at each other some. No harm done.”

“No harm done?!” Sharon squeaked, face incredulous. “Steve, he’s gonna-“

“Kill me, I know.” Steve said. “Sharon, honey, listen. I’ll be fine.” He said this slowly, then patted his chest, where a badge might sit if he was wearing a uniform.

Her eyes went wide with realization. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” Steve nodded, grateful that she might stop screaming.

Bucky still looked skeptically at them. “Was there a fight?”

“No, no fight.” Steve said, shaking his head. “Just some name-calling. I promise, she’s just blowing this way out of proportion.”

Sharon immediately started to protest. “I am doing no such-“

“Sharon Grace!” Steve hissed, and she fell quiet, scowling at him.

Wanda looked between them. “Is this your little sister?”

“What?” Steve asked. “No. This is Sharon. We, uh, we met…”

“Online. We were tumblr mutuals for a really long time, and I didn’t even know he was coming here until I saw him last week.” Sharon said, the lie smooth and simple. There may be some of her aunt in her yet.

Steve just nodded. From his desk, Bucky was frowning. “So… nothing happened?”

“Nothing happened, Bucky, I’m fine.” Steve said, and realized his mistake a moment too late. Wanda, Pietro, and Sharon were all gawking at him. “I mean Barnes! Mr. Barnes. Sorry.” He blushed and Wanda went back to grinning teasingly at him.

‘You looooove him’ She mouthed at him, and Steve flipped her off.

Bucky had turned his full attention to his meal, not acknowledging his students or the rising color on his own cheeks.

After the lunch bell rang, Wanda and Pietro caught up in the hallway before Sharon could corner him and demand answers. He sent her off to class with a petulant pout on her face.

“Hey, so what’s going on with you and fuckface Peters?” Wanda asked, slipping her arm though Steve’s easily.

“Ah, yesterday I basically told him he oughta pick on someone his own size. Guess he didn’t take too kindly to that. He said some things, I said some things, and basically, there’s gonna be a brawl after school today.”

Wanda looked at him, a worried expression on her face. “You’re supposed to be someone his own size? I mean, no offense, Steve, but you’re smaller than Pietro.”

“Hey,” Pietro protested as Wanda held up his wrist to demonstrate how skinny he was. Then, he looked at Steve, guilt written plainly across his face. “You don’t have to fight him for my sake. I don’t want anyone else getting hurt because of me.”

“Trust me, guys.” Steve said. “I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve.”

Wanda just squeezed his arm anxiously before they parted, making their separate ways to class.

Tension was high throughout the rest of the day. Steve could feel eyes on him, hear the whispering of his classmates. He even saw bets being placed. When the final bell rang, people rushed for the parking lot, all wanting to have a good view for the show.

Steve texted Shuri and Sam, making sure they were both in position. Then, he squared his shoulders and headed for the doors.

Chapter Text

The parking lot was chaotic with noise and excitement. Steve had to push past several people before he was noticed, and once he was, a ripple of whispers made its way through the crowd and several eyes focused on him.

It was as if Steve was Moses and students were the Red Sea, parting for him as he passed. In the center of the crowd, there was a clear circle, where Chad Peters was pacing angrily. His friends were there, and Steve could see Rumlow, clear as day, scowling and leaning against a car. He could also see the crappy little Jetta that Sam drives, and he smiled. It was go time.

“Peters!” Steve called, watching the boy stiffen. He huffed like an angry bull, fists clenching by his sides. When he charged, Steve almost felt bad for him.

Steve graduated as salutatorian at the police academy, and he was only second place because Natasha had decided that the CIA was beneath her. He has had years of combat training, and was an expert in hand-to-hand and krav maga. Some asshole kid wasn’t even close to a match for him. As Peters reached him, Steve just stepped to the side.

Peters ran into a group of people, all of whom shouted in alarm.

Steve surveyed the closest members of the crowd and caught sight for Peter and Ned, who both looked terrified on his behalf. Peter was holding hands with MJ, who nodded at him, a smirk on her face. Steve gave her a wink, and threw a cheeky wave to the boys. Peter’s eyes went wide and he shouted, “Steve, look ou-” Before Chad was grabbing the back of Steve’s shirt and pulling him roughly.

The collar dug into the skin of his neck, nearly cutting off his air. Steve grinned, grabbing Peters’ arm and rolling him over his shoulder. He landed on his ass, roughly hitting the pavement. The collective crowd went totally silent. A few people gasped.

Steve winced in sympathy as Chad hit the ground, hoping that Peters wasn’t hurt. Of course he didn’t want to actually injure the kid, Steve was an adult and a cop. He just wanted to just humiliate him a little.

The boy got to his feet, face bright red with rage and embarrassment. He struggled to his feet, stumbling a little. Steve walked over, offering a hand to help him up. Peters slapped it away angrily, then stood. He swung a punch, wild and sloppy, and Steve just moved back a half step, letting Peters’ fist cut through the air harmlessly.

Peters let out a sound like a growl, then swung again. This time, Steve ducked under his arm and placed a kick to the back of his knee. Chad went sprawling, and Steve lunged forward, grabbing the back of Peters’ belt before his face could collide with the ground.

“Get the fuck off me!” Peters yelled, getting to his feet. He planted his hands on Steve’s chest and shoved him.

Steve allowed himself to stumble back a little, though the force wasn’t enough to knock him off balance. “Are you done?” He asked, straightening his shirt. “‘Cause I could do this all day.”

Peters lunged for him. Steve stepped to the side, sticking out a leg and tripping him. Chad sprawled onto the pavement, and several people yelled excitedly. Peters began to push himself up, and Steve crouched next to him.

“Stay down.” He advised, not unkindly. Peters tried to hit him again, and Steve grabbed his wrist, twisting his arm behind his back. “Tap out.” He demanded, and Chad yelled wordlessly and angrily, trying to buck him off. Steve wrenched his arm a little further, so that it would hurt.

Peters grit his teeth, then smacked his hand against the ground twice.

Cheers went up, and Steve got to his feet. He took a cocky bow, as the chant of “New kid! New kid! New kid!” rose through the crowd. catching sight of Kate and America and Billy and Teddy. They looked a mix of relieved and shocked. Steve smiled at them, but it didn’t seem to do much to change their stricken expressions.

Steve started walk back towards Sam when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He ducked, just as Peters attempted a punch to his head. Instinct kicked it, and Steve threw his head back, smashing into Chad’s face. He could hear the crunch of his nose breaking, and Steve tossed an elbow back, catching Peters in the ribs. As the kid doubled over, Steve spun around.

He barely kept himself from boxing Peters’ ears, which was the next move in the combo. Instead, he just shook his head, turning back around and walking away. The cheering, excited atmosphere that had taken the crowd when Peters tapped out had disappeared, and now the parking lot was deadly silent.

“Hey,” Steve said, and Sam, who was leaning against the driver’s side door, raised an eyebrow at him from behind his sunglasses judgmentally. Steve rolled his eyes and elbowed him gently in the side. “Shut up.”

Sam raised his hands defensively. “I didn’t say anything.” He wrapped his arm around Steve’s shoulder and squeezed him in a half-hug.  

Steve looked at Shuri, who was sitting cross legged on the hood of the car, typing frantically. “Did you get get it?”

“Of course I’ve got it.” Shuri said, not looking away from the screen of the laptop. “You kicked ass, by the way.” She closed the laptop with a click and climbed off the car. “Let’s go.”

They got in the car and zipped out of the parking lot, and Sam drove them back to the apartment. “What are we doing here?” Shuri asked, frowning from the backseat. Steve turned to look at her.

“This is where you get out, Shuri.” He told her.

She pouted dramatically. “I wanted to help.”

“You already have.” Steve told her sincerely. “Send me the program, we’ll take it from here.”

Shuri sighed, but leaned forward, clapping Steve’s shoulder amicably. “Send the check to my student mailbox.”

“You got it, kid.” Sam said, and Shuri ducked her head, blushing a little. She ruffled Steve’s hair and grabbed all of her stuff, climbing out of the car, disappearing into the building. A few minutes later, Steve’s phone dinged.

He opened up the link that Shuri sent him, and downloaded the app she had designed for him, for this express purpose. Steve shook his head in wonder and disbelief. Shuri had been in a parking lot of dozens of kids, and was able to pinpoint the exact signal that was coming from Rumlow’s phone, and hacked into his GPS. “Kid’s a verifiable genius. We should really hire her before someone else does.”

“She could replace Stark.” Sam said with a smile.

Steve laughed. “We can only dream.”

"Speaking of, should we have him run through the kid's social media presence?" Sam asked. 

Steve shrugged. "Why the hell not."  His phone beeped and he looked down. “Rumlow’s on the move.”

“Ugh.” Sam started the engine. “I really hate stakeouts.”

“I know you do.” Steve said, smiling at the memory of their first stakeout as partners, back before Sam’s change of heart and Steve’s demotion. They had been so excited for what was essentially sitting in a car for six hours. “You wanna pick up food on your way?”

“I guess we better.” Sam grumbled. “We don't know how long it’ll be.”

Steve nodded, directing Sam to start driving. “There’s a bodega around the corner. I’ll grab us some snacks.” He plugged his phone into the car, keeping it charged. His music came over the speakers and Sam made a face, turning it down.  

“I’d say you’re taking this teen shit too far.” Sam said, switching to an NPR radio station as they stopped in front of the bodega. “But your music taste has always been crappy.”  

Steve flipped him off, then got out of the car. The place only took cash, and Steve only had a twenty, so he bought a couple of large water bottles, a candy bar, and a bag of jerky. He walked back to the car, throwing the food into the footwell. “Where’s he off to?”

Sam, who was keeping track of Rumlow on the GPS, started driving. “Towards Gowanus. Probably just back to his house. I feel kind of skeevy, stalking a teenage boy.”

“You’re the one that gave me the truth and justice speech.” Steve said, adjusting the seat settings.

Sam smacked his hand away from the lever. “Don’t fuck up the lumbar support. Natasha’s picky about that sort of thing.” Steve snorted, but stopped messing with it. Sam shook his head. “I guess I just don’t get it. A few weeks ago, you didn’t want any part of this case. Now, you’re doing stake outs and beating up kids in a high school parking lot.”

“I guess…” Steve blew out a hefty sigh. “You know me, Sam. I get too close. These kids, man…” He shook his head. “Working homicide, I never got to see how the victims were affected- other than, you know, being dead. Sure, I had to talk to loved ones and family members, but it's not the same.”

“The Maximoff kid got to you, huh?” Sam asked, glancing over at Steve for a second.

Steve nodded, staring at the road. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess he did.” He glanced at the phone. “Turn right.”

“Working vice,” Sam sighed, turning on the blinker. “I know it's not what you wanted to do, and I know you think that it's a pretty shit system-”

“To be fair, I think most of America’s policing system is corrupt.” Steve said. “Left on Walcott.”

“Fair,” Sam laughed. “But vice is tough. Our job is to look after some of the country’s  most vulnerable citizens: addicts and sex workers and people who feel like they have nowhere else to go but rock bottom. And a lot of us deal with them wrong; we don’t try to get them help, but arrest them and throw them in to jail.”

Steve set his jaw. “Yeah.”

“But sometimes, Steve, we can get rid of the people who make them vulnerable. Pietro Maximoff isn’t the bad guy, and maybe Brock Rumlow isn’t either. But whatever mastermind is pushing these drugs onto kids, kids who have died -” Sam shook his head. “That’s someone who deserves to see the inside of a cell.”

“I know.” Steve said. “God, Sam, I know.” He moved so that the was sitting more comfortably in the seat. “I guess I’m just used to something more straightforward, black and white. There were victims and there were murderers. Up here, turn left.”

They pulled to a stop in front of an apartment building and cut the engine. Steve handed Sam a water bottle and the jerky. “I’m gonna run the address, see if there’s anything I can find.”

“It’s probably just his parents’ apartment.” Sam said, but Steve ran it anyway. He found a list of registered tenants, and none of them were Rumlows. He frowned, slowly scrolling through the names. He found a familiar last name, and got out his phone, writing a quick text to Teddy.  

Hey, is Gonzales on the the baseball team?

Less than a minute later, he had a text back. yeah he’s an outfielder. His phone buzzed again. kind of a dick. one of rumlow’s friends. why?

“This is a friend’s house.” Steve told Sam.

Sam raised an eyebrow, clearly slightly impressed. “Could he be getting the drugs here?”

“I dunno.” Steve said, though he felt uncertain. “I suppose maybe the parents could be supplying, but it doesn’t make much sense to me.”

“It’s not like we don’t have time.” Sam said with a shrug. He reached into the back, grabbing a back and pulling out a laptop. “I’ll run the name with the address.”

“It's Gonzales.” Steve said. His phone buzzed a third time and he looked at it. Teddy had sent him another text. btw that was some wild shit today.

Thanks? He replied, unsure of how to respond. He thought that the kids had all seemed pretty scarred by seeing him fight. After seeing their faces he was sure that he had blown his cover, or at least lost their friendship.

where’d you learn to fight? Teddy asked.

Steve frowned, trying to think of an answer. I took karate lessons when I was little. He typed, hoping that would suffice.

i mean, katies like a triple black belt or some shit but she doesnt go around throwing dudes Teddy replied. Steve couldn’t think of a good response, so he just closed his phone. He looked over at Sam, who was typing on his laptop. Steve blew out a gusty breath. This was gonna be a long day.

The radio played a brief interlude, signaling the start of the local news bulletins. The newscaster cheerfully announced a few recent tragedies. A serial rapist in Bushwick, no one caught. A mugging gone wrong in Central Park, two tourists killed. A molotov cocktail thrown into a convenience store, an islamophobic hate crime.

Steve glowered at the street, hoping for something to happen. Nothing does. The radio continued, discussing the mayoral election. Sam made an annoyed noise. “I’m so tired of hearing about this. Why did Pierce decide to run? Now every cop in the city has to answer a million questions about politics.”

“He just wants to amalgamate power.” Steve said bitterly.

Sam chuckled. “Oh, I forgot. You’re actually into politics.”

“Nah, I just fuckin’ hate that guy.” Steve replied. “And he’s running unopposed in the Republican primary.”

“He’s an evil white cop with decidedly draconian ideas about law enforcement. Republicans love those. Besides, Xavier’s unopposed too, after Hayes dropped out.” Sam said with a shrug.

Steve shook his head. “Yeah, but Ch- Dr. Xavier is actually a good person and a qualified candidate.”

Sam shrugged, then closed his laptop. “Nothing on the Gonzaleses. They’re clean.”  

“Mm.” Steve replied simply, checking the time. It was only 4:30. He sighed. Sam got out his phone and started playing Candy Crush, already bored.

They spent the next two hours sitting boredly, fighting over the radio, and playing the stakeout games they had invented to kill time back when they were rookies. Finally, they had movement.

“Door.” Steve said, maybe a little too frantically as the door to the building opened and several teenage boys piled out.

Sam sighed in relief, stretching a little. “Fucking finally. I’m getting-”

“Too old for this shit, I know, I know. You always quote Danny Glover at me.” Steve said.

Sam buckled his seatbelt and turned on the car engine. “I quote the black cop from every movie. Which one?”

“The one with the cargo shorts.” When Steve realized that more than one of the boys was wearing cargo shorts, he amended, “Red backpack, grey hoodie.”  

“You got it.” Sam pulled out of the parking spot, slowly circling around the block. It was easier to let Rumlow get to where he was going and track the GPS than to try and follow him. “Night bagels?”

Steve’s stomach growled, and he nodded. “I’ll give you five minutes.”

They picked up some bagels, then followed Rumlow’s phone to a brownstone duplex. Steve consulted his files, and confirmed that they were in fact, at the Rumlow family residence. “God bless big windows.” Sam said, digging through his bag.

 

“That makes you sound like a huge pervert.” Steve said, but took the offered binoculars. He peered into the window, which opened into a well-lit kitchen. He caught movement inside, and saw a slightly pretty, slightly heavy set woman stirring something in a pot.

Rumlow walked into the the kitchen, slinging his backpack onto the table. He walked to the fridge, opening it, and his mother turned around and scolded him, probably something along the lines of, “dinner will be ready in five minutes” or maybe, “where have you been?”

They argued for a few minutes before the mom gestured at the cabinets and Rumlow scowled, getting out plates and cups and setting the table. A man walked into the kitchen, tousling Rumlow’s hair and kissing the woman. She smiled and pointed him towards the table. They all sat down for dinner, and Steve lowered his binoculars. “This is depressingly normal.”

“Ugh.” Sam agreed. “Looks like a goddamn Norman Rockwell painting.”

Steve looked back at the dinner table. “I don’t think any of the people in Norman Rockwell’s paintings sold drugs.”

Mr. and Mrs. Rumlow cheerfully ate dinner, chatting with each other. Brock added to the conversation every once in a while, though he remained mostly silent, shoveling food into his mouth at an alarming rate. Steve focused on him. He was so sure that what he had said had rattled Rumlow. He had looked so startled, so freaked out by Steve’s backhanded accusation, that he thought he’d go running to the ringleader, leading them to the supplier.

Steve was growing antsy, wanting Rumlow to make move. “C’mon, kid.” He muttered.

Like he had heard Steve, Rumlow stood, grabbing his backpack and saying something to his parents. His mother said something, and Rumlow sighed dramatically, the way only begrudged teenage boys can. He grabbed his plate, going into the kitchen and washing it off in the sink. He turned back to his parents, then gestured to the sink, as if to say, “see?”

Mr. Rumlow looked ready to start scolding him, but Mrs. Rumlow just rolled her eyes. Brock grabbed his backpack and disappeared deeper into the apartment, where Steve could no longer see him. “Damn.”

“Hold up,” Sam said, leaning closer to the window. “2 o’clock.”

Steve raised his binoculars, seeing Rumlow, his hood pulled up, climbing out of his bedroom window. “Hell yes.”

This time, they followed him. Steve wasn’t gonna take his eyes off this kid for a second. He walked several blocks, nearly two miles away from his apartment. He stopped outside of a rather wealthy looking condo, and Sam pull the car to a halt. It was dark, but Steve had his eyes trained on Rumlow.

Rumlow looked around nervously, the walked to the building’s mailbox, opening it and pulling out a small scrap of paper. His eyes flicked over it, then he tore it up, sticking the pieces into the pocket of his hoodie.

Then he walked over to the cluster of trash and recycling bins, clearly counting each one. He hopped over the small gate and grabbed the fourth bin, taking the lid off of it and pulling out a package, wrapped in duct tape.

“Got him.” Sam said, unbuckling his seat belt.

Steve put a hand on his arm. “Not yet. Let him go.” Sam looked at him with confusion, but nodded. Steve grabbed his phone, frantically typing, trying to find who lived in that building.

As Rumlow started to walk away, and Sam started the car. Steve continued typing frantically. He found the records of that street and nearly groaned. The building belonged to property management company, and there was no list of tenants publicly available.

Steve pursed his lips, then hopped out of the car. Sam protested, but Steve walked over to the buzzers, running his fingers along the apartment numbers, quickly reading the names next to each one.

There, next to apartment C 36, was one A. Zola.

Chapter Text

Sam and Steve took their information back to the station. Natasha was out, undercover at the stripclub. For some reason, Stark was still there, and so was Hill. She looked up as the two of them walked in, and gave them a hopeful look. Steve was sure he looked smug. “What do you have for me?”

“Arnim Zola, the school’s vice principal. He’s supplying Rumlow.” Steve told her. He looked over at Stark. “That’s A-R-N-I-M.”

Stark was already typing away at his laptop. “Got it. He an immigrant?”

“Yeah.” Steve frowned. “I think he’s German.”

Stark shook his head. “No, he’s Swiss. Huh.” He stopped typing, looking over the several screens in front of him. Steve walked over, peering over Stark’s shoulder.

“What’ve you got?” He asked, and both Sam and Hill came over to look at the computers. Stark waved them all away, making a face.

“Christ, stop crowding me.” He muttered, shaking his head. “Not much. Dude is pretty boring. There’s a Facebook, but it just has pictures of his gerbils. Ew.” Stark wrinkled his nose. “What adult owns gerbils? Or rodents of any kind?”

Steve pinched the bridge of his nose. “Is there anything actually helpful?”

“Not yet.” Stark rolled his eyes. “Give me time, fucking hell.”

Maria sighed. “Fine. Guys?” She jerked her head to the other side of the room. Sam and Steve walked over to where the whiteboard was. Sam tossed him a marker.

Steve nodded and began writing on the board. “What are you doing?” Hill asked curiously.

“I’m charting what we have so far.” He answered, scribbling on the board. “It’s stupid, but I need to be able to visualize it.”

“Rogers loves charts. It's the only way he can get it up.” Stark quipped, but everyone ignored him.

Steve wrote Pietro’s name, then Rumlow’s, then Zola’s. He tapped the end of the marker against the Z in his name, frowning.

“How’s a public school vice principal get his hand on a key of dope?” Sam asked, and Steve nodded, writing means-? under Zola’s name.

Hill nodded. “Motive and opportunity are obvious, with a school full of teenagers, it's an easy way to make money, but you’re right, Wilson. We need to find what connections he has.”

All three of them looked back at Stark who through his hands in the air. “I’m not a wizard!” He defended. “Give me time, christ on a bike.”

“Steve, you’ll have to get closer to him, see what you can find.” Hill ordered, and he nodded, chewing on his lower lip.  

They continued working so late that Natasha came by, done with her shift at the strip club. “What the fuck are you all still doing here?” She asked, checking to make sure there was no one else there before taking off her jacket. Natasha was wearing a leather catsuit, tall black boots, and a short cropped black wig. Stark’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head. Sam just smiled smugly to himself.

Natasha walked over the podium and  tried to bend over down and grab something, but grimaced when she was about half-way, her outfit constricting her movement. “Shit that’s tight.”

“What are you looking for?” Steve walked over, ducking down under  the podium. Duct taped to the hollow inside, was a small package. “Nat, what the fuck? Do you just have dead-drops all around the office?”

She shrugged. “You never know when you might need something.”

He ripped it out and tossed it to her. Nat gave him a thankful nod and unwrapped it, revealing a package of wet wipes, a change of clothes, and some granola bars. At the many questioning looks, she just out the baby wipes. “I work a lot of late nights.” She wiped her face and the sevre makeup came off in streaks. “This is gonna take forever.”  

She caught sight of the board and smiled. “What’ve you got? Who’s…” She squinted at Steve’s messy handwriting. “Arnim Zola?”

“The school’s vice principal.” Steve told her, hoping that fresh eyes would be able to catch whatever he was missing.

“Is he German?” Natasha asked, looking at the photo of him that they had posted to board.

“Swiss.” Stark, and Sam, Hill all replied in unison.

Steve frowned. “Why do you ask?”

“I think that the manager of the club might be my guy.” She told him, then took off her wig, running fingers through her tumbling red hair. “Babe, unzip me?”

Sam walked behind her and unzipped the suit. Steve turned around, Hill looked at the ceiling, and Stark just gaped, open mouthed. “Tony.” Hill said sharply, and Stark turned back to his computers, closely inspecting the screens.

There were the sounds of Natasha changing, and finally she said, “All clear.” Steve turned back around to see her looking much more comfortable in Sam’s academy sweatshirt and a pair of jeans.

“What were you saying?” Maria asked dryly.

Natasha tied her hair up into a bun. “The manager of the club is a German immigrant named Johann Schmidt.”

Steve nodded, piecing together her logic jump. “You thought that if Zola was German-”

“I thought the two might be connected.” Natasha confirmed.

“They still might be. Here, write down everything you know about him. Stark can cross reference what we have about the two men, see if they run in any of the same circles.” Hill handed her a marker and looked over at Stark, clearly about to ask him to run a search on the new suspect, but stopped when she saw that the man was asleep at his desk.

She sighed. “It’s late. We should probably head out. Everyone snap a pic of the evidence board. We’ll meet tomorrow after Rogers is out of school.” With that, she erased the whiteboard and closed down her laptop. It was clear that needing to sneak around and investigate in her own precinct was wearing on her. The Lieutenant Hill that Steve was used to would have had them working until daybreak.

“Have a nice night, Maria.” Steve called, grabbing his backpack. Sam and Natasha were already by the elevator, and Steve waved at them, opting to take the stairs. The two of them had been especially… intimate lately, something about Natasha’s undercover assignment making them unable to wait until they were home to start making out.

Steve started to walk home, then paused. He might as well get ahead of things.

The diner was less densely populated than the last time he had been, probably because it was a weeknight. Still as he entered, Marlena smiled and directed him to a booth where Bucky sat, looking half catatonic as he quietly ate some hash browns.

“Hey,” Steve said, trying not to startle the man. He still looked surprised by Steve’s arrival, but he just blinked a few times, then nodded in greeting. Steve took that as an invitation to sit, shrugging off his backpack. His stomach rumbled at the smell of food, and he remembered that all he had eaten in the way of dinner had been some beef jerky and half a night bagel. “I’ll have the banana pancakes, please.”

Marlena nodded, and Steve turned to Bucky. “What are you doing here, Steve?” Bucky asked, not looking up from his plate.

“Getting dinner.” Steve said flippantly. Bucky looked at him then, raising an unimpressed eyebrow. It was such a classic teacher look that Steve snorted. “I need you to send me to Zola’s office tomorrow.”

Bucky blinked, then sighed. “Why?”

Steve got out his phone. He hadn’t personally recorded the fight, but it was all over Snapchat. He played someone’s story, showing to Bucky. He knew it's was a good shot of him flipping Chad over his shoulder. “Holy shit.” Bucky muttered. He glanced back at Steve, raising his eyebrows. “So I guess you and Peters really did end up fighting after all, huh?”

“Yeah, guess so.” Steve said with a shrug. Marlena came back with his pancakes and he thanked her. She smiled at the two of them and walked off. “Obviously, it's like, your job to report this.”

“Not at two in the morning.” Bucky said, almost pouting.

Steve waved a dismissive hand, putting his phone back in his pocket. “Yeah, but tomorrow. You’ve gotta send me to Zola’s. There’s a zero tolerance policy for violence, right?”

“I mean, yeah.” Bucky told him, taking another bite of his waffle mess. “You and Chad will go to the vice principal’s office, and your parents will probably be called. Plus detention.” Bucky waved his fork, frowning. “But why are you coming to me with this? Why are you turning yourself in?”

“I… felt guilty?” Steve tried, and Bucky gave him a disbelieving look. Steve sighed. “Look, are you gonna help me or not?”

“If you mean send you to Zola’s office, then yeah.” Bucky said, a slight furrow still in his brow.

Steve nodded, digging into his pancakes. His leg brushed against Bucky’s, and they both pulled back quickly, neither of them looking at each other. Steve was sure that the blush in his cheeks matched Bucky’s.  “I just-” Bucky started, then shook his head.

“What?” Steve asked, looking up at him.

Bucky was looking back, and Steve almost looked away. His gaze was cutting, like he was trying to look beyond what Steve was hiding. “You confuse me.” Bucky said finally, eyes flicking over Steve’s face like he was searching for something. “You confuse the hell out of me, Steve.”

“I-” Steve swallowed. “Yeah, I’m pretty confusing.”

Bucky laughed, shaking his head. “Eat your pancakes, you delinquent. I can’t believe you suplexed the school’s linebacker.”

“What can I say,” Steve shrugged, kicking his legs out. When his foot met Bucky’s, neither of them moved. “I’m a secret badass.”

Chapter Text

 

After Bucky made sure that Steve got home safe, he walked towards Bed-Stuy, hands in his pockets and his mind racing.

There was something about walking late at night: the cool air stinging his face, the usually frantic city growing quiet, the way he could go blocks without seeing a single other person, like he was the only human being in the world. Maybe it was unhealthy that he found that idea calming, but whatever worked, he supposed.

Steve Grant was not a normal teenager. He was unusually self-aware and thoughtful, far more grown up than most adults that Bucky dealt with on a day to day basis. He shook his head, hating himself for thinking like this. He sounded like very creepy dude on to catch a predator. She’s just so mature! Very grown-up for her age.

Bucky was a smart, reasonable person. He had studied Nabokov, for christ’s sakes. Trying to rationalize his attraction to a kid was more than just gross, it was unforgivable. Still-

No, there was no “still”, no justifications, no modifiers. Just Bucky’s self restraint and self loathing. God, ever since the impossibly strange Steve Grant had come into his life, Bucky’s head had been spinning. He was sleeping even less than usual, and Clint was growing worried. Soon, he would decide to call Becca, and Bucky couldn’t lie to his sister. She was the only family he had, and she was too perceptive for anyone’s good.

Bucky sighed a gusty breath, slightly pleased when it was visible in the cool night’s air. His mind has been chasing itself in circles so long that he was dizzy with it.

His fingers twitched, and he reached for a pack of cigarettes. It was a nervous tic he had developed in high school, one he hadn’t been able to get rid of, long after he had quit smoking.

A pack of drunken Turkish tourists walked past him, startling him out of his thoughts. He shook his head, like maybe he could rattle Steve out of his brain.

He made it home, slipping his keys silently into the lock. To his surprise, Bobbi and Clint were sitting at the dining table, a paperwork spread in front of them. “Hey,” Bucky said softly. “What are you still doing up?"

“Signing divorce papers.” Bobbi answered. She was wearing pajamas, and had one leg drawn up on the chair, an arm wrapped around it.

“Oh.” Bucky didn’t know what to say to that, so he just walked past them into the kitchen, putting his leftovers in the fridge.

He deliberated for a few moments, but decided it would be shitty to just run back to his room and abandon his friends. Bucky sat down next to them, looking over at Clint. “Should we get a cake?”

“Fuckin totally,” Clint broke into a smile. “What do you think, Bobs? A Fudgie the whale?”

Bobbi rolled her eyes, but she smiled fondly at Clint. “Yeah, we should throw a whole fucking party.”

“We should get balloons.” Clint added. “And a banner. Maybe we can hire a clown.”

Bobbi snorted. “Or we could just go to a strip club and get trashed.”

“Hell yeah, that’s my soon-to-be ex-wife.” Clint said, leaning across the table and high-fiving Bobbi. “Reverse bachelor party. Buck, you in?”

Bucky shrugged. “Why the hell not?”

“Hey, Bucky, doesn’t your old foster dad own a club? Maybe we could get some free drinks out of him.” Bobbi asked, and Clint threw Bucky a worried look and opened his mouth to say something, but Bucky just laughed and shook his head.

“Not now. It's a school night.”

Clint pouted. “I guess you’re right. It's not a good look to show up hungover.”

“Nerds.” Bobbi snorted, then stood, pushing back from the table. “I’m gonna go find a hookup.”

“It's past two in the morning,” Bucky said. “Everyone on Tinder right now is probably a creep.”

Bobbi made a face. “Dammit, you’re probably right.”

“He’s always right.” Clint said, then looked at Bucky. “Hey, did you bring waffles home?”

Bucky waved a hand. “Yeah, in the fridge.” Bobbi smiled, squeezing Bucky’s shoulder and heading to her room.

Clint sat down next to Bucky with the styrofoam box, already shoveling food into his mouth. Bucky scrolled through his phone, reading a  few emails.

After a few minutes, Clint kicked his leg under the table. It made Bucky think of Steve, and he pulled his foot back. “Sorry about Bobbi.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Bucky said. “She doesn’t know.”

Clint nodded, though the worried look didn’t fade from his eyes. “When was the last time you slept?”

Bucky shrugged, not looking up. “Dunno. Took a quick nap on the train yesterday.”

“You know that doesn’t count.” Clint scolded, sounding like a concerned parent. “Are you having nightmares again?”

“Just can’t sleep.” Bucky said. “A bout of insomnia, that’s all.”

He sounded altogether too defensive, and it made Clint’s tired gaze sharpen. “If you ever want to talk about it…”

Bucky nodded. “I know.” He said softly. “I know.”

Clint looked over at his phone and gestured at it. “What’re you doing?”

“Oh, uh, there was a fight at the school today. I’m writing up a report.” Bucky answered. Clint frowned, rubbing his face and getting syrup stuck to his cheek.

“There was a fight? I didn’t hear anything.”

Bucky typed on his phone, finding the YouTube clip that was already up, slowly gaining viewership. He showed it to Clint, who raised his eyebrows. “Holy shit, is that the new kid?”

“Yeah,” Bucky said, unable to keep his own surprised smile off of his face. “Yeah, it is.”

 

-

 

Bucky was true to his word, and the next day, Steve was called to the vice principal’s office. Kate quietly whispered, “Oooooh, you’re in trouble." 

Steve winked at her, nodding at Mr. Barton as he walked out of the room.

Peter was waiting outside of the classroom, meant to lead him to the office. He was nearly vibrating with nerves, and he practically jumped on Steve. “Steve, oh my god, you’re so boned.”

“I’ll be fine,” Steve told him, patting him on the back.

Peter shook his head, nervously folding a piece of paper in his hands. Steve followed him to the front office, texting Natasha as he went.

Chad was sitting in a chair in the waiting room, and he glared feverishly at Steve when he walked in. His nose was badly bruised, and he had two black eyes. Steve grimaced a little. He really hadn’t meant to hurt the kid. A door in opened, and a small, mousy man stuck his head out. “Are we all here? Excellent.”

He gestured for Steve and Chad to follow him inside, and he ushered them into the two chairs in front of the desk, closing the door behind him. “Now, do you know why the two of you are here?” Zola asked, sitting down across from them.

“No,” Chad said mulishly.

“The fight?” Steve asked, and Chad shot him a nasty look. Steve shrugged unrepentantly.

Zola nodded sagely. “Yes, the fight. I know you’re new to this school, Mr. Grant, but we have zero-tolerance policy for violence. Because you’re a first time offender, you won’t be suspended, but we are going to put you in both lunch detention with Mr. Barnes and after-school detention with Ms. Jones for the next week. And of course, you have a call to make to your parents.”

“Okay.” Steve said easily.

“As for you Mr. Peters, this is the second time in a week you’ve been caught fighting other students. You’ll be put in in school suspension for seven days, and you’ll have to explain this to your mother.”

Chad made a frustrated noise, but nodded. Zola’s lips twitched in a small smile, and Steve wondered if all Vice Principals were sadists or just this one. “And finally, I’d like the two of you to apologize to each other.”

Steve nodded and turned to Peters. “I’m sorry about everything I said, and I’m sorry about hurting you.” It sounded trite, but Steve really did mean every word. He regretted involving Chad in this, even if he was an asshole, he was still a kid.

“Whatever.” Peters said gruffly, then quickly added, “I’m sorry too.” Like he was ripping off a bandaid.

“Now shake hands like gentlemen.” Zola demanded, and Steve rolled his eyes a little, catching Chad doing the same. He held out his hand, and after a moment's hesitation, Peters took it. They shook, and Zola grinned at them. “Excellent. Now, which of you would like to call your parents first?”

Steve half-raised his hand. “I’ll go.”

“Great.” As Steve reached for his cell phone, Zola shook his head. “No, no. We’ll be using my office phone.” Steve wondered how many kids had tried to fake a call, or call a friend rather than a parent.

Zola typed on his computer for a few moments, then nodded, dialing the phone on his desk. He held it to his ear for a few moment before someone answered. “Hello, is this Maria Grant?”

Steve bit down on his grin as Zola spoke on the phone. “This is Vice Principal Zola from PS 941. Your son has gotten into some trouble, I’m afraid.” There was a pause. “I’ll let him tell you himself.”

He handed over the phone with that same sadistic smile. Steve took it, pressing the phone to his ear. “Mom?”

“Rogers,” Hill greeted. “I see you made it to Zola’s office.”

“Yeah.” Steve said. “I have something to tell you. I got in a fight yesterday.”

Hill snorted, and there was some murmuring over the line, and she said, “Hold on, Romanoff wants to talk to you.”

“Hey, delinquent.” Natasha sing-songed delightedly. “Guess what?”

“I have detention for the next week.” Steve replied, playing along.

Natasha cackled a little, then said, “So our two perps do know each other. Schmidt and Zola are old friends, actually. They went to college together, and they were part of the same club. I called the school, and they said it was disbanded back in 2003. So I did some digging into the club history, and it looks like it was this sort of pseudo white nationalist group.”

Steve raised his eyebrows, but just pretended to look scolded and said, “I understand. I just want you to know that I’m really sorry and I’m not going to get into any more trouble or join any gangs or anything.”

“We’re looking into white supremacist gangs now,” Natasha said. “So far it doesn’t look either of the men are connected, but I have my suspicions about Schmidt. Oh, and get this Steve. You know your teacher boyfriend with the record?”

Steve stomach dropped. “Yeah?”

“He’s Schmidt’s former foster son.” Natasha said, a little grimly.

Steve nearly dropped the phone. “What?” He asked, voice squeaking.

“Yeah, I know.” Natasha said, voice slightly apologetic. “You’ll need to find out what you can find out.”

Steve nodded. “Oh, um, what time is dinner tonight?”

“I’ll make the call in ten minutes.” Natasha said, and Steve cleared his throat.

Steve glanced at the clock and said, “Uh, actually I think that five would be better, mom.”

He ignored her small laugh. “Alright, my sweet boy. Mommy loves you.” She said.

“Okay, love you too. Bye.” Steve said, and quickly hung up. He was thinking quickly, trying to figure out how Bucky was connected, if perhaps this was a coincidence. Steve pursed his lips. There were almost no coincidences in his line of work.

Zola nodded, and Steve pushed the phone back over the desk to him. He dialed the Peters family as Chad slumped further down in his seat, arms crossed petulantly. Steve tapped his foot anxiously, staring at the clock as Chad spoke to his parents, not wanting to listen in on the call. 

Peters hung up just at the five minute mark, and Zola smiled. “Alright, gentlemen, I think that’s-”

“Mr. Zola?” The online poker desk lady opened the door. “There’s a call for you.”

“Send it through.” Zola said, and she shook her head.

“You’ll want to take it in the other room.” She said, and he sighed, standing.

He nodded at Chad and Steve. “Just a moment.” As soon as he had closed the door behind him, Steve was standing and walking around the desk.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Chad asked, and Steve looked up.

“I’ll give you fifty bucks to keep quiet about this.” Steve said, opening all the drawers and digging through it. In there was some paper, a few pens, and a stapler. Nothing worthwhile.

“Make it a hundred, and we have deal.” Chad said, though he watched Steve through squinted eyes.

Steve ignored him. The second drawer had a day planner in it, though it was mostly written in German. Steve took pictures of the entries for the weeks before Pietro’s OD as well as the current dates. The third drawer was a mess of useless paper. “What are you looking for?” Chad asked curiously, craning his neck to see what Steve was doing.

“I don’t know yet.” He answered honestly, then sat down in the chair. Luckily, Zola had left his computer open. Steve went through his emails. It was mostly business, correspondence from parents and teachers. Steve grimaced, then opened Zola’s web history.

He visited a lot of forums, and Steve wrote down the names of all of them. He also had a personal email that Steve quickly looked over. It was a lot of brands boasting sales, plus some spam. Steve went to the search bar, first typing in “Johann Schmidt”, then “Brock Rumlow”, then “deal”, “meeting”, “sell”, “supply”, and finally, “drugs”. He only had a hits on “meeting” and “sell”, but neither of them were actually talking about illegal activities.

Steve did find two emails from Schmidt, both of which he forwarded to himself. With that, he closed out all the tabs he had opened and sat back in his chair, texting Natasha the all-clear. He also got out his wallet, passing two fifties to Chad. “Thanks."

“No problem, dude.” Peters said, frowning down at the money. “But what-”

He was cut off by Zola walking back into the room, looking a little harried. He was clearly surprised to see them both still in the room, and he blinked a few times. “What were we… oh, yes. The two of you are free to go.”

Steve nearly booked it down the hall. He had a lunch detention to get to.

Chapter Text

Steve drummed his pen against the desk, watching Bucky eat whatever homemade lunch he had packed. Wanda and Pietro were talking quietly amongst themselves, throwing looks Steve’s way every once in a while.

Steve just stared at Bucky, willing answers to jump out at him. It could all be a coincidence, Steve told himself, but it would probably be the biggest in the world. He opened a fresh page in his notebook, frowning. 12 fentanyl-related ODs in the past month, centrally located in the northwest part of Brooklyn. Three high school students from PS 941, two dancers from the Red Room Gentlemen’s Club, four sex workers, one nurse, a security guard, and a college student. 9 deaths.

Jack Rollins of the NYPD’s vice unit had been the one to sell to April Hernandez, Courtney Wheeler, Lindi Powell, and Jake Hammond, all sex workers that he had arrested in the past, and had probably been abusing. It was clear that he wasn’t acting alone, but he knew how the system worked, and wasn’t about to be both a cop and a snitch in prison.

Brock Rumlow and Arnim Zola were responsible for the ODs at 941, dealer and supplier. There wasn’t any indication that there was anyone else involved, but Steve couldn’t be sure. Not now, knowing that the manager of the Red Room, the man responsible for the deaths of Emma Brown and Misa Williams, was Bucky’s foster father.

“Dammit,” Steve muttered, looking at what he had written down.

Wanda looked over at him. “What’s up?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Just… trying to figure something out.” Steve muttered, flipping the notebook closed. There was something, something that was right under Steve’s skin, something that they were all missing. This was just like the fucking Alana Schove case all over again. He sighed and rubbed the heels of his palms into his eyes.

“Steve,” Bucky said, and Steve looked up to see his pretty, concerned, kind face. “Are you okay?”

Steve tried to smile reassuringly. “Yeah. Just, uh, tired.” Bucky looked down, a strange mix of a emotion on his face, and Steve realized that part of the reason he was up late last night was his impromptu visit to Bucky at the diner. “I mean,” Steve said. “I’ve just got a headache, and this uh, this math homework isn’t helping.”

Wanda and Pietro were both giving him concerned looks now, and he realized that he wasn’t even close to pulling anything off. Maybe he should switch tactics.

“Look, I just…” He glanced at Bucky, then looked quickly away. He needed intel. As shitty as it was, he had to keep lying. “Just got into a fight with my mom, is all. Zola made me call her, and she’s gonna kick my ass when I get home, that’s all.”

Bucky’s mouth twitched into a frown. Wanda grimaced in sympathy. “That sucks. Are you grounded?”

“Uh, yeah.” Steve said. “Something like that.” He tugged on his sleeves and looked down. Wanda clapped him on the shoulder, companionably, and he flinched a little. Steve nodded, looking away.

“Sorry,” She said quickly, retracting her hand. As a cop, Steve knew all the trademarks of an abused kid, and he was projecting all of them. Putting on this act made him feel like the biggest asshole in history, but it was necessary.

“It's fine.” Steve replied, making sure to give his head a small shake. Bucky was watching him with concern, now. Unfortunately, so were the twins. “I’m fine.” He said again, giving the Maximoffs a reassuring smile. He pushed up his glasses with the back of his hand, looking down at his food.

The bell rang and they all collected their things. Steve smiled at the Maximoffs as they left, hoisting his bag over his shoulder. “Hey, Steve?”

“Yes, Mr. Barnes?” Steve turned back to look at Bucky. Bucky looked uncertain of himself, but waved Steve over.

“Is everything okay? At home?” Bucky asked, then grimaced. “I’m sorry, I used to hate getting that question when I was a kid, but…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “Listen, you have Jones for after-school detention, right?”

“Yeah,” Steve said, making sure to sound hesitant.

Bucky nodded, picking up the phone on his desk. “Hey, Jess? Yeah, I was hoping to borrow one of your delinquents after school. Grant. He’s close to failing my class right now and I wanted to help him get a better… okay, great! Thanks.”
Steve made a face, because he actually was nearly failing Bucky’s class. “What was that about?”

“Come to me after school.” Bucky said, a kind smile on his face. “We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want, but…” He sighed. “I just want to make sure you’re safe.”

“Okay.” Steve said softly. He smiled shyly at Bucky, then left the classroom, feeling like the worst person ever.

He made it through the rest of the school day, only minorly accosted by the other students. Many of them were impressed with the fight and want to ask him questions, others whispered behind his back. When he saw Kate, she was grinning excitedly, holding several large posters to her chest.

“Steve, look!” She waved him over, showing him the posters.

He grinned. “You got them back from the printer?”

“They look amazing!” She said, squeaking with excitement. She grabbed Steve in a quick hug. “Thank you so much!”

Steve blushed, pushing away. “It's nothing.”

Kate rolled her eyes, holding up the poster. It was a drawing he had made of her and America dressed up like mid-18th century french royalty. At the bottom is said, PROM QUEENS 2k18 “Steve, it's the most awesome thing in the entire world.” She said, still smiling. “We’re gonna post them around the school, are you in?”

He grimaced. “Nah, sorry. I’ve got detention.”

“Lame.” She made a fart noise with her mouth, just as the teacher walked in. Steve laughed at her as she was reprimanded.

As the final bell rang, he steeled himself and walked to Bucky’s room, knocking softly on the door. Bucky called for him to come in, smiling when Steve walked in. “Hey, save a seat.”

“Are we really studying?” Steve asked, hovering next to a desk.

Bucky shrugged, standing and cleaning the board. “If you want. Your last few quizzes haven’t been great.”

“I know.” Steve muttered, slipping his backpack off his shoulder. “I can’t tell any of the romantics apart. All those poets are writing about the same thing, and all their names are John or Robert or William. I’m not convinced that they’re not all the same old white dude.”

Bucky chuckled softly. “It's a little confusing.” He turned around, setting down his eraser and leaning against his desk. “I didn’t know that I’d be causing family troubles by telling Zola about the fight.”

“I asked you to.” Steve replied with a small shrug. They were both standing awkwardly, about ten feet apart.

Bucky’s brow creased. “Why?”

Steve just shook his head, looking down. “There are so many things I wish I could tell you,” He said, mostly to himself. He looked back up at Bucky. “What about you?”

“What?” Bucky’s face was creased with confusion and a little bit of something else.

Steve crossed his arms uncomfortably. This was an interrogation, he reminded himself. He needed information. “You know about my… mom and stuff. You wouldn’t have guessed if you weren’t, if you hadn’t- y’know.”

“Yeah,” Bucky sighed. “I, um, I grew up in the foster care system. Some of my guardians were great, and some… were less than great.”

What about your foster parent Johann Schmidt with ties to a neo-nazi organization, how about him?   “I’m sorry.” Steve said instead.

“Me too,” Bucky said with a wry smile. “Look, I know how it feels. Like you can’t escape. And I did a lot of stupid stuff, too. Not sneaking into a bar and hooking up with an adult stupid, but y’know,” Steve snorted. Bucky’s lips quirked up. “I guess I’m trying to say that it’ll get better. I know it sucks, and I know that sometimes it feels like there’s nothing you can do to get away, but you can.”

Steve felt even worse. Bucky was bearing his soul to him, and he had done nothing to deserve it. Still, this was detective work. He repeated that in his head. It's just detective work. “Thanks.”

“And if you ever need someplace to get away-” Bucky looked to the side, a flush creeping up his neck. “My couch is free. Platonically.”

Steve smiled. “Aw shucks. Thanks, teach.”

“Shut up,” Bucky laughed, shaking his head. “Fuckin’ punk.”

“No, really. I feel like I’m in an after school special.” Steve sassed, picking up his backpack. He bit his lip and couldn’t help but smile softly at Bucky. “Really, thanks. You’re a really good person.”

He’s a really good person. Steve repeated in his head. He can’t be the perp.

Steve repeated this to himself like a mantra, all the way to the station. As soon as he was there, he walked up to Natasha’s desk.

“Hey, Nat can you do me a favor?” Steve asked, rubbing his temple. He took off his backpack, throwing it at his feet.

“Sure thing,” She spun around in her spinning chair, pointing her pen at him. “What’s up? Need intel? A spy? Do you want me to pretend to be your mom again?”

Steve leaned against her desk and let out a hefty sigh. “Can you pull up the arrest record for Bucky?”

She wrinkled her nose. “Who the hell is Bucky?”

“Barnes.” Steve said. “James Buchanan Barnes. That’s ‘Buchanan’ spelled like the president.”

“Oh.” Natasha spun back around, typing into her computer. “Your teacher boyfriend. You think you’ve got something on him?”

“No, but-“ he sighed. “I have a theory. When did you say he was staying with Schmidt?”

“Uh, 2007 to 2009, I think.” She clicked her mouse. “Here’s the file. ‘Disorderly conduct…’”

“2008.” Steve said, tapping the screen. “Look, here it says that he was a repeat runaway.”

Natasha’s lips pursed, face growing serious. “Judging by the black eye he’s sporting, I can guess why.”

“So he can’t be working with Schmidt, right?” Steve asked hopefully. “We can rule him out as a suspect?”

“Steve,” Natasha sighed. “C’mon. You’ve been a cop a long time. You know how abusive relationships work. He could still have a hold over Barnes, or-”

“I just don’t think he’s in on it.” Steve said, crossing his arms petulantly. He wanted so badly to be right. “Bucky’s just- listen Nat, he’s just not that kind of person, okay?”

“I trust your gut, Steve.” Natasha said, standing and clapping his shoulder. “I’ve got to, its saved my life more than once. If you can honestly say that you want to rule Barnes out because of your instinctual gut reaction, I’ll believe you. But if there’s something more to it-”

Steve sighed, taking off his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose. “No, you’re right. I’m letting my feelings get too wrapped up in the case.” He glanced at the computer screen with Bucky’s arrest record, then paused. “Wait,”

“What?” Natasha frowned as Steve sat in her chair, peering closer.

“Holy shit.” Steve said, pressing a few key on the computer, then standing quickly. “Holy shit.” The printer started.

“Steve, what?” Natasha asked again, and other officers in the precinct were starting to look over. Steve darted over over to his desk, opening his drawer and digging through it.

Natasha grabbed Barnes’ arrest record off the printer, looking it over, trying to see what Steve had caught. She walked over to Steve’s desk. “I don’t-”

“Get Sam and Hill. Conference room.” Steve said, standing and clutching a large file to his chest. "I've got something."

Chapter Text

Steve pushed his way past a few junior officers and made his way into the conference room. It was empty, so he dumped his files on a table and dragged the whiteboard to the front of the room.

Natasha came in with Sam in tow. “Hill’s in a meeting.” She explained, shutting the door. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“Do you know why I left homicide?” Steve asked, unsure of what they knew. Sam and Natasha looked at each other warily.

“I have some idea.” Natasha said. “It was this or a suspension, right? Something about a case.”

Steve nodded, grabbing the old files that hadn’t left his side for over a year. “How much do you know about the Alana Schove case?”

“Teenage girl killed by her boyfriend, right? It was sort of a big deal.” Sam said. “It's sort of been the platform for Pierce’s campaign, the whole ‘tough on crime’ thing.”

“Yeah.” Steve grit his teeth. “A 16 year old girl was found in Prospect Park, raped and beaten to death. It was my case,” He shook his head, trying to reign in the temper that boiled under his skin. “Everyone wanted Alton Burke, the boyfriend for it. He had a weak alibi, but other than that, there wasn’t really much connecting him to the murder. By all accounts, they were happy, he was sweet, they were looking at the same colleges together. It wasn’t his DNA under her nails, and he had no scuff marks on his hands.”

Steve shook his head angrily. “But she was white and upper class and he was black.” He shrugged, even though he was grinding his teeth. “I tried to solve the case, tried to do actual police work, but no one wanted to hear it. They just wanted to hang the kid.”

Sam nodded, looking grim but unsurprised. “What happened?”

“I wouldn’t arrest him, not without something substantial. I could feel that there was something I was missing, something big. It was one of those cases where something just wasn’t right, you know? But her parents wanted an arrest, and when Pierce got wind of it, he took me off the case. I was replaced by a new transfer, Detective Jasper Sitwell, who arrested Alton the very next day.”

Steve nodded at Bucky’s file. “Who arrested Bucky?”

“Son of a bitch.” Sam muttered, scanning the arrest record. “Sitwell again.”

Natasha was just frowning, staring off into the middle distance. “I know that name.”

“I know it seems like a long shot,” Steve said. “But both of these cases have given me the same feeling, you know? Like there’s something bigger at play.”

“Wait, so why were you kicked off homicide?” Sam asked, setting down the record. “Just ‘cus you got replaced-”

“I kept investigating.” Steve sighed. “I was talking to Peggy, too, asking her to try and delay Alton’s trial, but Pierce had already talked to the DA, was having him tried as an adult, had made statements to the papers about how it was the worst crime he had ever seen. It was bad, man. He called Alton a monster, an animal, had even brought up New York’s ‘weak’ capital punishment laws.

“I guess he had gotten word that I was still looking for Alana’s killer, and he wanted me off the force completely, saying it was irresponsible, saying that I was harassing her parents and stuff. Captain Phillips talked him down, but I couldn’t stay in homicide.”

Natasha stood abruptly. “Holy fuck.”

“What?” Sam asked, as Steve demanded, “What is it?”

“The Xavier shooting,” She said. “The perp, what was his name?”

“Oh, crap, um. I don’t know. I know he was muslim because the news wouldn’t shut up about it, but his name is totally escaping me.” Sam said.

Steve nodded.  “All I know is that he was shot and killed by a cop.”

“He was killed by a cop.” Natasha said. “ This cop.”

Steve raised his eyebrows. “Sitwell shot him?” Natasha nodded, quickly typing on her phone. She flashed them a news article that read: HERO OFFICER WHO APPREHENDED XAVIER SUSPECT GIVEN MEDAL OF VALOR

“Apprehended is a nice way of putting it,” Sam muttered, but Steve’s eyes were drawn to the picture of Sitwell in his uniform, having the medal pinned to the jacket by Alexander Pierce.

Steve sat down, closing his eyes tightly, trying to think. “So Sitwell arrested Bucky, arrested Alton, and killed the Xavier shooter. What does that all mean? How is it connected?”

“Well, Bucky was arrested for a bullshit reason, and his foster father at the time is one of our guys,” Sam said, and Steve nodded. He opened his eyes and walked over to the whiteboard.  He wrote Sitwell’s name in large letters, then wrote down what they had.

Steve chewed his lip and tapped the board. “Okay. So Bucky’s a teacher at our school, and he’s the foster kid of Schmidt. That’s two points of connection. Xavier was dating Pietro Maximoff’s father when he was shot. That’s another point of connection.”

“What about Alana Schove and Alton Burke?” Sam asked.

Steve frowned. “I don’t know. I mean, the only thing that connects that case with this one is me.”

“And Pierce.” Natasha added. Steve looked at her.

“How do you mean?” He asked. She crossed her arms, staring at the board.

“Pierce made a media spectacle out of the Burke trial, and do you remember how insane he was when Xavier was shot? He had the entire NYPD looking for the guy, going on and on about terrorism and shit. And Pierce came out of both situations looking great, I mean, he was totally commended for bringing down the shooter, and during the Schove investigation, he went before the congress to argue on behalf of stricter policing.”

Steve frowned, “I mean sure, the guy’s a Republican’s wet dream, but I don’t see how he’s… connected.” He trailed off, eyes going wide. “Sam, find out anything you can about the Xavier shooter. He’s gotta have a name. Natasha, see if you can find any connection between Pierce and Schmidt and Zola.”

Neither of them protested being ordered around, just nodded and got to work, walking out of the conference room. Steve quickly erased the whiteboard and turned to the Alana Schove case file. He was going to solve her murder.


-


Bucky knocked on Carol’s door, peeking his head inside. “Hey, boss.”

“Oh, Bucky. Hi, come in.” She looked a little frazzled, papers strewn across her desk. She quickly cleared a space, beckoning him closer. “What can I do for you?”

He twisted the hem of his shirt anxiously, sitting across from her. He wasn’t sure if he was doing the right thing, but he had to do something . He told himself that he had to. No one adults had helped him when he was a kid. Not even the fucking police helped him. So Bucky had to help Steve.  He cleared his throat. “I suspect that a student of mine is being abused at home.”

“Really?” She asked, hands freezing. Carol was a great principal, but she’d seemed distracted lately. Bucky thought sadly that most of the school had been distracted since Myra and Keilya died. “Shit, hold on.” Carol went back to muttering, typing on her computer. “Okay, the student’s name?”

“Steven Grant?” Bucky said, the name coming out like a question. It made him anxious, like he was turning himself in.

“Oh.” Carol paused, fingers hovering over the keyboard. “Uh, okay. Let me…” she typed on her laptop for a minute, then smiled at Bucky. “Alright, Bucky. It’s all taken care of. Thanks for bringing this to me.”

“Don’t you need my report for the CPS?” Bucky asked, frowning.

“No!” She said quickly, then shook her head. “No, I’ll call you if I need anything else. Thanks, Mr. Barnes.”

Bucky nodded, walking out of her office, smiling as he passed the poster for America and Kate’s nomination for prom queens.
Maybe Steve could come to him, and maybe he wouldn’t. At least Bucky had done something to help.

Chapter Text

“What are you doing in here?” Lieutenant Hill frowned, staring at the Sam and Steve hunched over the desk.

Steve looked up, quickly waving her over. “Shut the door,” He said in a harsh whisper. She walked over to them, and Steve pulled over a chair for her. “We’ve got something.”

Maria looked over their piles of paperwork and frowned. “What am I looking at, here?”

“This is gonna sound…” Steve trailed off, looking for a word.

“Like a crazy ass conspiracy.” Sam said, and Steve nodded.

Hill straddled a chair, gesturing with her chin toward the stack of paper. “Tell me.”

Steve took a breath. “I think that Alexander Pierce is behind everything.” Hill raised her eyebrows, leaning back, gesturing for him to explain. “Okay, so-” He tapped on of the stacks. “This is everything we have on the Xavier shooting.”

“The Xavier shooting?” Maria asked, voice rising. “You think the Pierce, the Chief of Police, was somehow involved in the assassination attempt of Charles Xavier?”

“Do I think Pierce orchestrated the shooting of his political rival, then intentionally poisoned his son to either discredit him or personally dishearten him? Yeah, I do.” Steve said grimly. “I think that Pierce is responsible for a lot of things. I know it sounds weird, but listen: can you name the shooter?”

“What?” Hill frowned.

Steve nodded at the files. “The guy who shot Xavier. What was his name?”

Hill shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“Isn’t that sort of weird?” Sam asked. “It was one of the biggest New York media frenzies of the year. A muslim immigrant nearly kills the first openly gay man running for mayor, and you can’t think of his name.”

“So what was it?” Hill asked, clearly frustrated by their theatrics.

“Franklin Jacobs.” Steve said, opening a file, showing Hill the man’s photo.

She frowned. “Not exactly the name of a radical Islamic terrorist.”

“That’s because he wasn’t one.” Sam said. “Frankie grew up in Long Island. He’s been in and out of prisons his whole life, mostly for minor drug charges. Most recently, he was picked up on loitering charges.”

“Homeless?” Hill asked.

Steve nodded. “Most likely. Anyway, Jacobs has been totally erased on the online databases.”

“I had to dig through the records room for like an hour.” Sam complained.

Steve rolled his eyes. “Anyway, one of Jacobs’ firsts arrests was made in the late eighties. One rookie officer Pierce.”

“This sounds a lot like wild speculation, Rogers.” Hill said.

Steve sighed. “I know, but I had a hunch, so I called a few people and got Jacob’s financials pulled. Franklin Jacobs received fifty grand, one week before the shooting.”

“From who?” Maria asked.

Steve grimaced. “An offshore account.”

"So we can't get a subpoena." Hill sighed heavily. "Tell me more about this account." 

“Well, it's the same offshore account made a hefty payment to Jasper Sitwell when Jacobs ended up dead.” Sam said.

“And it's made several deposits into the IRAs of Arnim Zola, Johann Schmidt, and Jack Rollins.” Steve added. “As well as several other small time criminals and other cops, who we have to assume are dirty. One payment was made three days before the Alana Schove murder.”

Hill nodded. “You think that this mysterious benefactor is Pierce?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I do.” Steve said.

“You’ve been working as a cop long enough to know we don’t get paid enough to fund assassinations.” Maria told them, crossing her arms.

“Maybe not.” Sam said. “I mean, unless we’re running a massive criminal vice ring.”

Natasha walked through the door, dragging a cart full of folders behind her. “This is gonna take fucking forever.”

“What’s this?” Maria asked.

“All the crimes we think are related to Pierce in our sector. They were either committed within a week of a payment, or something he made a big deal about in the press.” Steve said, feeling a rising sense of excitement. He was this close to solving it. Not just the drug case, or the Schove case, but an entire mess of crime and corruption that had been poisoning people, killing people. All because Pierce wanted to be mayor.

“Alright.” Maria said. “Make a timeline-”

“Already on it.” Steve replied.

Hill nodded. “Right now, everything’s circumstantial. What we really need is some concrete evidence, or a confession. Pick up some of the criminals that have been paid off, see if you can get a name from them. I’m on board, but we need Fury and the DA’s approval, especially if we want to get a warrant to look into this mystery account. Steve, go to Nick, see if you can convince him.”

Natasha grimaced. “It’ll be a little rough, he and Pierce go way back.”

“Captain Fury will listen.” Hill assured him. “He’s reasonable enough. Plus, he likes you, Rogers. You’re a good cop.”

Steve blushed, collecting an arm full files. “You got it, Lieutenant.” He walked out of the conference room, walking over to the CO’s office. The door was closed, but that was pretty usual. Fury didn’t want to be bothered unless there was something important, but Steve thought this qualified. He took a stealing breath and walked in. “Sir, I’ve got something you’re gonna want to-”

“Detective Rogers.” Alexander Pierce smiled at him, setting down a cup of coffee on the desk. Fury was standing with his arms crossed, looking more irate than usual. “Always a pleasure.”

 

-

 

When Steve didn’t show up for school on Monday, Bucky was worried, but not surprised. Back when he was a teenager, he always missed a few days of school whenever he would piss off Johann. He wanted to text Steve; for some reason he hadn’t deleted the kid’s number, but he knew it wasn’t a good idea.

The end of the school year was growing closer, and his students were abuzz with excitement and anxiety. All the seniors had made their choices when it came to college or after-school jobs, and done actually trying for high school. Only half of the seniors even bothered to show up. Bucky reminded them that they still needed to maintain their attendance records to graduate, or go to prom. Sadly, it seemed to be the latter that they cared about.

The rest of the school was preparing for finals. Bucky had to comfort two crying freshmen after last period, one of whom actually buried her face in his shirt, getting tears and snot all over it. He had become a high school teacher to avoid tears and snot. He sighed, taking off his button-up.

There was a wolf whistle, and Bucky whipped around, seeing Kate standing in the door. He rolled his eyes, gesturing for her to come into the room. “Stripping in school, huh?” Kate asked cheekily, leaning against one of the desks in the front row.

“I’m wearing an undershirt.” Bucky grumbled defensively, resisting the urge to stick his tongue out at her. He had been sending far too much time with teenagers. He grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair, pulling it on. “What’s up?”

“Oh, I just wanted to stop by and let you know that we’re not having a meeting this week.”

Bucky made a face. “Since when do we have ‘meetings’? You guys mostly just hang out and have me sign off on hours.”

Kate shrugged. “Still. Just a heads-up. We’re on full prom mode until next Friday, when America and I crush it.”

“That’s right, voting started today, didn’t it?” Bucky asked, remembering that the student organizations committee had been had been out in full force that morning. “Who’s your competition? I know that Lindsay Lucas and Luke Taylor are running, but who else?”

Kate scowled. “The Lukes are our biggest competition, even though they look related. I don’t get white people, why do they date people who look like their cousins? They’re both so blonde and blue-eyed, it's disgusting.”

“Kate.” Bucky said, warningly. Kate had the bad habit of forgetting that Bucky was one of her teachers.

She shook her head. “Right. There’s Georgia Tran and Daniel Hanson, Courtney Franks and Benny Milne, and Harriet Ramirez and Jeff McIntyre.” Kate told him, counting off on her fingers. She sniffed. “America and I are by far the most attractive.”

“And the most deserving.” Bucky said with a smile. “You guys have fun.”

She smiled. “You got it, Mr. Barnes.” She walked out of the room, tossing her hair over her shoulder in a swift motion.

“Damn kids,” He muttered to himself, laughing a little. He sat at his desk, quickly grading some tests that had been taken late. After about 20 minutes of grading and answering emails, there was a brief knock on the door. “Come in!”

“Hey, bud.” Clint peaked his head. “You working late?”

Bucky powered down his computer. “Nah.” He grabbed his bag, walking over to Clint. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Alright!” Clint clapped his back, smiling. “Life of the party, Bucky Barnes, blowing off work.”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Whatever, man.”

“Call the presses!” Clint continued, laughing. “James B. Barnes, leaving at a reasonable time.”

He scoffed, giving Clint a fond smile. “Remember when we used to skip class together?”

“Aw, yeah. I’d get high, you’d stress out.” Clint laughed. “Bobbi would kick our asses.”

“Good times.” Bucky said, though he had been miserable back then.

On Tuesday, Steve still wasn’t in class. Bucky’s stomach panged in worry and sympathy when he saw Steve’s empty seat. Still, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary. On Wednesday, Bucky began to grow concerned. As lunch detention started, he turned to the Maximoff twins. “Hey, have either of you heard from Steve? He hasn’t shown up to class.”

Wanda made a face. “He hasn’t answered any of my texts.”

“Yeah,” Pietro said quietly, shrinking in on himself. “I hope he’s okay.” Wanda looked at her brother, then reached out to squeeze his shoulder. Bucky felt bad for the kid. Steve had been the first person to show him kindness after the OD, and he was probably feeling abandoned.

“He’s probably just… sick or something.” She said, though she sounded uncertain.

Bucky tried to smile reassuring at them. “Yeah, he must have come down with whatever all of my seniors seem to have.” He said sarcastically. Wanda gave him a half-hearted smile, but Pietro just picked at his food.

Thursday rolled around, and Bucky’s concern grew into something stronger. He asked Billy and America if they had spoken to Steve at all, but America just pursed her lips frustratedly and shook her head, and Billy shrugged helplessly. Even Peter, who usually kept close track of the people he was close to, just wringed his hands nervously.

By Friday, Bucky was worried enough to text Steve himself. He agonized over what to send, typing and deleting messages over and over again. Finally, he decided on something short and simple.

Hey, are you okay? -BB

After he sent the text, he couldn’t help but check his phone every few minutes. Even during his lectures, he glanced at his desk, hoping to see his phone’s screen light up. Still, no reply came.

Bucky stared at his phone, then quickly typed, I’ll be at the diner tonight.

He spent six hours at the diner, ignoring Marlena’s frequent worried looks and his own sinking dread. At about four in the morning, Marlena made him go home, calling him a cab.

 

-

 

The weekend was spent in a haze of anxiety, worrying about Steve and worrying about how much he was worrying about Steve.

Clint and Bobbi had their divorce party, and they got trashed, dragging Bucky out of the apartment for the night. The went to Johann’s club, and Bucky was relieved to find the man absent.

Bobbi and Clint had grabbed as many singles as the could find laying around the house, and Bobbi immediately flounced off to the bar to flirt with the girls and guys pouring drinks.

Clint found a table and Bucky sat down, looking around the dark-lit room uncomfortably. “God, I hate this place.”

“Sorry we dragged you out,” Clint said, but Bucky waved his apology off.

“It’s fine, it's my responsibility as your friend to make sure the two of you don’t sleep together.” He said, and Clint laughed.

“Hey, boys.” A sultry voice said, and Bucky looked up to see a woman with dark red hair looming over him. She was athletically built, wearing black lingerie and a sly smile on her face. “Have we met before?”

It was such a lazy line that Bucky wanted to laugh. He smiled and shook his head, though he could feel himself blushing. “Sorry, I’m gay and uncomfortable. My friend could use a dance, though.” He nodded at Clint, who was bright red, looking anywhere but the woman.

“Um. Hi.” He said stupidly. “I’m Clint.” The woman smiled like a predator and walked closer to Clint. Bucky patted his shoulder and walked to the bar, looking for Bobbi and a beer. Bobbi was suspiciously missing, but the bartender was still there. He ordered a drink and leaned against the bar.

A handsome man smiled at him, and it was a really nice smile. Bucky nodded in greeting, though his heart wasn’t really in it. The man seemed preoccupied anyway, watching the red haired woman who was dancing with Clint. Bucky wondered if he was her boyfriend or something.

His phone buzzed, and Bucky grabbed it quickly, expecting to see a message from Steve. Instead it was a text from Bobbi, telling him that she’d found someone to go home with and to not wait up. Bucky chuckled a little, then thanked the bartender when she slid him a bottle of beer.

He sipped the beer, looking around the room, eyes flitting over the dancing women and the groping men. He remembered when Johann had opened this place, and it had seemed like the sleaziest place in the world. It still was pretty gross, but not as bad as it had been when he was a teenager.

A flash of lights caught his eye and he saw a head of blonde hair. He watched the person turn, and Bucky’s breath caught in his throat. “Steve?” He murmured, his voice lost to the thrum of the music. Bucky wasn’t sure, he was drunk and it was dark, but the silhouette was achingly familiar.

“Steve?” He repeated, a little louder. Bucky took a few steps towards him, but another man stumbled into him, knocking his drink onto his shirt.

“Shit, sorry.” The guy muttered, patting at Bucky’s chest. It took Bucky to realize it was the handsome man from the bar. Bucky apologized, though it really wasn’t his fault. When he looked up, the person he thought was Steve was gone.

Bucky pushed his way outside, suddenly feeling the need for fresh air. He set his hands on his knees, feeling like he was going insane. There was no way it was really Steve. The kid might have a fake ID, but he probably couldn’t sneak into a strip club. Bucky was just going out of his mind. He texted an excuse to Clint and walked home.

 

-

 

On Monday, with Steve still absent, Bucky strengthened his resolve and went to the admin office after classes. “Hey, Janet, is Principal Danvers in?”

“No.” She answered, not looking away from the computer.

“Great, thanks.” Bucky said sarcastically. He saw Zola at the shredder and walked over. “Hey, I wanted to check on something.”

Zola startled badly, like he hadn’t realized anyone was nearby. He looked pale and sweaty, more so than usual. Bucky raised his hands. “Sorry.”

“What do you want?” Zola snapped, eyes darting through the office, but besides the two of them, Janet was the only person there.

“Uh, just following up on a report I filed. Carol’s not in so I was wondering…”

Zola sighed, looking at the shredder as the last piece of paper was destroyed. “Fine. Follow me.”

They went into Zola’s office, and Bucky sat down in one of the seats meant for students. “What were you looking for?”

“Last Friday, I filed a report with Principal Danvers about a student of mine, Steven Grant. Since then, he hasn’t shown up to school. I’m just worried. Has anything come back?”

Zola frowned. “Steven Grant, you said?”

“Yes.” Bucky said, and Zola’s face went through series of expressions.

“As of last week Steve Grant no longer attends this school.” Zola said, a flat expression on his face. “If you’ll excuse me,”

“Wait, hold on. What about the CPS report? Where did he transfer to?” Bucky asked, head spinning.

Zola was already standing, reaching for his phone. “Excuse me, Mister Barnes. I have a phone call to make.”

“But-” Bucky protested, but Zola just waved him off. Bucky gritted his teeth, but stood, walking just out of the room.

“Hello, Alexander? I think there’s something...” Bucky closed the door on Zola’s conversation.

Chapter Text

 

Steve walked down the street, grinding his teeth as the car down the street started up, following him as he made his way down the block. Every since his sudden suspension, there had been at least one unmarked vehicle and two plainclothes officers following him. He knew right away that he couldn’t risk going to the school and leaving Bucky and the kids vulnerable to Pierce’s goons. Steve knew that Pierce wasn’t afraid to hurt innocent people, children , to further his cause. He had done it before, when he had let drugs into PS 941. Two girls had died because Pierce had wanted to get to Xavier.

The disciplinary suspension was a clear cover-up, Pierce getting him out of the way. Steve had come too close to the truth back with the Schove case, and this time he had gone too far. Now he was under constant surveillance, without the authority of the NYPD behind him.

Luckily, Pierce had only caught on to Steve’s suspicions. He had no idea about the rest of the taskforce, or their undercover work. Steve may be pinned down, but the rest of the team was on the case.

Steve had managed to slip away from Pierce’s men a couple times to meet up with Sam and Natasha, but he was a control freak at heart. Being forced into the backseat was frustrating, and now on top of it all; he was being framed for embezzlement.

He bought a coffee and a bagel, raising the cup in greeting to the two men on his tail. They stared back, unimpressed. His phone started ringing again, and he ignored it, knowing it was probably from one of the kids, since it wasn’t Sam or Nat or his mother's ringtone. He felt guilty for their worry, but he couldn’t risk putting PS 941 in Pierce’s crosshairs. Sam and Natasha were already under close scrutiny, but Steve knew that they could handle themselves.

Steve took a walk around the block, just to stretch his legs and fuck with the guys following him. He was essentially on house arrest, working the minutia of the case in secret. Pierce was trying to ruin his reputation, make sure that no one would believe him if he came forward with what he knew. Steve wished he knew exactly how much of a threat Pierce considered him to be. The man seemed to have a habit of exterminating and obstacle that stood in his way. Maybe he didn’t think Steve was credible enough to damage his career, or maybe he had something planned.

Either way, he needed to get some solid evidence quick. The DA might not believe him, but Peggy would.

“Hey,” Steve said, coming back into the apartment. T’Challa nodded in greeting, then thanked him when he sat down the bag from the deli on the counter. Steve hadn’t told T’Challa about the suspension, and Steve wasn’t even really sure what he knew about the undercover operation. “You going into work today?”

T’Challa, who had a mouth full of bagel, nodded, getting to his feet and pouring himself a travel mug of coffee. Finally he finished chewing and looked at Steve. “We’re preparing for the mayoral banquet on Friday.”

“Oh.” Steve said. “Good luck with that.”

“Thanks.” T’Challa said, taking another bite of his bagel and grabbing his laptop. “If Shuri comes by, tell her that she needs to study. It's exam week.”

Steve threw him a salute. “You got it.”

T’Challa walked out of the apartment, and Steve quickly closed the window blinds. He went into his room, which looked like a serial killer’s basement. He had evidence posted all over the walls, people and documentation and crime scenes connected with string. He was trying to construct a timeline, figure out how long Pierce had been building this crime circle. It seemed to be connected with the white supremacist group that Zola and Schmidt were both apart of, and he seemed to have the NYPD completely wrapped around his finger.

Steve phone started ringing again and he sighed, looking down at it. Bucky was calling.

 

-

 

Bucky sighed as he got the “Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice message system. 917-” He hung up, tossing the phone on his desk. He knew that Steve hadn’t been answering messages and calls from any of his friends, but for some reason, he thought he’d be different. He had texted and called and left messages, but nothing was coming from it.

It was Wednesday, and he was beyond anxious. After his meeting with Zola, he had been completely shut out from the admin office. He had continued to question all of Steve’s friends, but none of them knew anything, and they all seemed just as worried.

“Hey, Buck.” Bucky glanced up at Clint, who looked exhausted. All of the teachers were run ragged. “You heading home?”  

Bucky looked at his pile of exams on his desk. “Nah, I’ve still got work to do. Hey have you-”

“Still haven’t heard anything about Steve, no.” Clint said. “I’m sure he’s fine, buddy.”

“Yeah.” Bucky said glumly. “See you at home.”

Clint cracked a cocky grin. “Actually, I wouldn’t wait up.”

Bucky raised an eyebrow. “Good for you man.”

Clint gave him finger guns and backed out of the room. Bucky laughed, shaking his head. Clint had apparently gotten lucky with someone at the reverse bachelor party and had been hooking up with them since. Bobbi was also regularly getting laid, which left Bucky as the sole celibate member for their little group. Still, he couldn’t even think of looking for a hook-up without being overwhelmed with guilt and worry for Steve.

He looked over the papers on his desk and frowned. No one knew what had happened to Steve, and the people who might wouldn’t said anything to him. Bucky got up from his desk, grabbing his stuff. He needed to clear his head, he wasn’t thinking rationally. He started walking, not entirely sure of where he was going until he realized he was in Fort Greene, Steve’s neighborhood.

“This is a bad idea, Barnes.” Bucky muttered to himself, but his pace never wavered. He passed the diner and Morita’s bar. He had only been to the apartment building once, but he didn’t need to stop for directions. He knew exactly where it was, the memories of that night seared into his brain so strongly that he couldn’t forget a single detail of it, no matter how much he might want to.

Only when he reached the front door did he hesitate, fingers hovering over the buzzers for a moment. None of them said “Grant”, and Bucky frowned, but figured that Steve mom must have kept her maiden name. He just buzzed the top button for the super, and thanked them when the door unlocked.

Bucky took the stairs to the 5th floor, needing the time to think. His brain was racing a mile a minute, a wild mix of what the fuck are you doing, you can’t be here, you have to make sure he’s okay, it's the right thing to do, no it's not it's weird and creepy and invasive, get out of here, it's fine, you’ll go once you see he’s safe.

When he reached Steve’s door, he grew paralyzed with indecision and fear. “You’re already here, Barnes. Might as well screw your courage to the sticking place.” He knocked on the door, softly at first, then again after there was no answer.

When he heard the door unlock, he took a sharp breath, muscles tensing. Instead of Steve or his mother, a young girl answered the door. “Hello?” She asked, looking at him suspiciously.

“Um, hi.” Bucky said stupidly. “Is, uh, is Steve here?”

She continued to frown at him. “Who are you?”

“I’m, I’m Bucky.” Bucky told her, resisting the urge to wring his hands. She looked at him appraisingly, then opened the door further, relaxing. Bucky peered inside a little. The kitchen and living room were vaguely familiar, but Bucky had only stumbled through them once, when it was dark and he was tipsy. It was mostly clean, though there were textbooks and school work spread on the couch.

“He’s not here.” The girl said. “I think he’s at work.”

“Work?” Bucky repeated, and the girl crossed her arms.

“Work.” She said again, though there was a faint, teasing smile on her face, the kind that Becca used to give him when she was messing with him. This girl was clearly someone’s younger sister. “You know, at the precinct?”

“The-” Bucky stopped, blinking in confusion. “Sorry, the precinct?”

The girl looked at him, brow creasing. “Yeah, the 77th.”

“Right.” Bucky said slowly. “The 77th precinct. Where Steve works. As a…”

“Detective.” She finished, looking concerned. “Are you alright?” Bucky was nodding, though he hadn’t really heard what she had said. Steve- Steve was a detective who worked at the 77th precinct. Steve was a detective. Steve wasn’t a student. Steve-

“Excuse me,” Bucky said, smiling tightly at the young girl. He walked stiffly down the hall to the stairs and out onto the street, where he doubled over. “Oh fuck.” He gasped, thoughts racing faster than he could comprehend. He allowed himself a small break down, confused and hurt. Steve was a cop. Steve was an undercover cop posing as a high schooler. Steve was an undercover cop posing as a high schooler to look into the ODs of Myra and Keilya and Pietro, it was the only thing that made sense. But why had he slept with Bucky?

Bucky needed to talk to Steve. He needed answers. He quickly looked up directions to the 77th precinct and started walking. He soon reached a government building with the flag of the NYPD hanging out front.

Bucky walked into the precinct, confusion and anger and anticipation warring in the pit of his stomach. He was stopped by a young woman in a uniform. “Can I help you, sir?”

“Um, yeah. Is, um, is Steve here?” Bucky asked, then winced at how unsure he sounded. He looked around the bullpen, spotting a familiar flash of red hair. It was the stripper from the bar, the one who had danced with Clint. A hysterical laugh rose in Bucky’s throat as he wondered who else in his life was an undercover police officer. Bobbi? Bruce? His fucking sister? He walked past the young officer and yelled at the woman. “Hey!”

The redhead whipped around. “What do you-” her eyes went a little wide. “Oh. It’s you.”

“Where is he?” Bucky asked, voice coming out angrier than he intended. He clenched his fist, counting back in his head, reigning in his temper. “I just want to talk to him.”

The woman glanced behind herself suspiciously, then grabbed the crook of Bucky’s arm. “It’s not a great time,” she whispered, pulling him towards the door. “Look, meet me at-”

“Romanoff! My office!” A large man with an eyepatch yelled from the back of the room. Another man stood by his side, wearing a suit. He looked strangely familiar. Bucky frowned as the man caught his eye, tilting his head and smiling.

“Shit,” The woman muttered, letting Bucky go. She sent him a look, but he wasn’t quite sure what it meant.

The suited man said something to the man with an eyepatch, then started walking towards Bucky. It made him feel slightly anxious, being the focus of this man’s attention. “Uh, hello.” Bucky squeaked as the man reached him.

“Hello,” The man said smoothly, a charming smile on his face. “I assume you're here about Detective Rogers?”

Bucky blinked as the man set a hand on his shoulder. “I… who?”

“Ah, that would be Detective Steven Grant Rogers. You’re from the school, yes?” The man amended, smiling at Bucky like they were old friends.

“Oh, um. Yes.” Bucky said, wanting to take a few steps away from this man. “Who are you?”

“I’m Chief Alexander Pierce.” He said, and Bucky felt stupid for not recognizing the man. His face was all over the papers, and he was one of Johann’s drinking buddies. Bucky had never met the man personally, but he knew his type. “Listen, Detective Rogers completely overstepped his bounds in the case, and Internal Affairs is looking into it. I’d like to speak to you about his behavior.”

Bucky blinked. “No, that’s… it's fine I just wanted to-”

“What he’s done isn’t fine. It was a violation of your rights and the rights of the public.” Pierce said, and Bucky felt a little cold. “Here,” He offered Bucky a business card. “I’d like to speak to you about the case. Meet me at my office tomorrow afternoon.”  

Bucky just stared at the card, blinking stupidly as his thoughts raced. “I, uh… okay.” He took the card and Pierce smiled. There fingers brushed, and Bucky wanted to protest. He needed time to prepare and finish grading tomorrow, because Friday was prom night, and he was chaperoning. Still, the meeting probably wouldn’t take too long, and Bucky needed to know about what happened to Steve. “Okay.” he said, smiling weakly. “ I’ll see you then.”

“Good man.” Pierce said, patting his back. Bucky walked out of the precinct, more questions than answers.  

 

-

 

Steve’s phone buzzed, and he sipped his coffee. He had been growing restless, cabin fever creeping over him like a fog. Shuri had kicked him out of the apartment, telling him to go to work. He had gone to a starbucks instead, using the free wifi to continue his investigation. He was deep in a rabbit hole, focused on the timeline they had constructed of Pierce.

He glanced over at his phone and saw that Shuri had texted. some confused white guy with a weird name and a pretty face came by looking for you.

Steve frowned, texting back, What?

He set his phone down, trying to piece together when Pierce had started his criminal dealings. It started ringing and he sighed, but looked down at it. Bucky was calling again. Steve grimaced, but pressed the End Call button. After a few minutes, his phone buzzed, alerting him that he had a voice message. Steve tentatively lifted the phone to his ear, listening.

There was a few seconds of staticy silence, and then a wry, unhappy laugh. “Hey, Steve. Or is it Detective Rogers?” Bucky sounded strangely calm, and it took Steve a second to register his words. When he did, his stomach dropped. “Shit,” He muttered, gaining a nasty look from one of the white moms at the book club.

Bucky continued, voice warbled. “I just don’t understand.” He said. “Why did you-what was the-” There was a tired sigh. “I don’t know what to think, Steve. I get that you had a job to do, but… and-and maybe I should be glad? That you’re okay, that you’re not a high schooler, but I… I just don’t know.”

Steve felt the familiar guilt twist around him like a vice. “Listen, the kids are worried about you. You could at least let them know you’re alright, or something.”

There was another short pause, like Bucky wanted to say something but couldn’t think of the words. “ I guess I hope you found what you were looking for. Goodbye, Steve.”

The message ended and Steve dropped his phone into his lap, putting his face in his hands. “Fuck.” He stated eloquently, rubbing his eyes. He was exhausted from chasing down leads and watching his back that his brain wasn’t functioning properly. Instead of any sort of problem-solving, all Steve could think about was how hurt Bucky had sounded. Without much thought, he pressed the redial button and held the phone back up to his ear.

It only rang twice before it was answered with a soft, “Hello?”

“Bucky,” Steve said, too quickly and too desperately. “Hey, look-“

“Steve?” Bucky asked tentatively.

“Hey, Buck.” Steve sighed, lips twitching. “I, uh, I guess I have some explaining to do.”

There was a sudden, surprised laugh, and Steve smiled. “Yeah. Yeah, I’d say so.”  

One of Pierce’s men walked by nonchalantly, trying to get a glimpse of Steve’s computer screen. Steve shot him a look and shut the laptop. “I-I want to tell you everything. I’ve wanted to tell you for so long, but I can’t.

There was a silence that Steve couldn’t parse. Finally, he could hear Bucky let out a small, imperceptible sigh. Steve knocked his phone against his forehead, closing his eyes. “Listen,” He said quietly. “I can’t talk now, not over the phone. Meet me at the diner tomorrow night, okay?”

“Steve, what are you caught up in?” Bucky asked softly.

“I’ll explain everything, I promise.” Steve told him. “Bucky…” He couldn’t think of what to say. “Just, I promise.”

“Okay,” Bucky whispered. “Okay.”

 

-

 

Bucky stood outside of One Police Plaza nervously, glancing down at the business card in his hand. Steve said he would answer his questions, but Bucky needed to know every side of this story, even if it meant talking to Pierce.

He took a stealing breath and walked into the building. The receptionist told him where to go, and he got on the elevator, tapping the side of his leg anxiously. When he reached Pierce’s office, he knocked lightly on the door.

“Come in!” A voice called, and Bucky opened the door, walking into the office. It was nicer than Bucky was expecting, with a large dark wood desk, a bookshelf that was decorated by several medals and plaques, and a fancy bar cart that sat behind Pierce. “Mister Barnes, it's a pleasure.” Pierce said, standing and offering his hand.

“Yeah, uh, same to you, sir.” Bucky said, shaking Pierce’s hand. Pierce gave him a smile and gestured to the chair.

“Please, sit.” He said, and Bucky complied. Pierce walked behind his desk, pouring two drinks at the bar cart. “I just hope you’ll take this as a formal apology on behalf of the NYPD.” Pierce said, handing Bucky a glass of fine brandy. It wasn’t Bucky’s choice of drink, but any amount of alcohol would be great right now. His head was still spinning with confusion. He took the glass gratefully.

“Yeah. Thanks.” He replied gruffly. Bucky swirled the glass around in his hand, watching the legs fall down the side of the glass like a window on a rainy day.

Pierce sat across from him, and Bucky couldn’t help but notice that his chair was positioned a few inches higher than Bucky’s. “Detective Rogers’ actions were completely unacceptable.”

“I don’t think I understand.” Bucky said. “What did Steve- what did Detective Rogers do?”

Pierce set down his drink, templing his fingers. “The, hm, “undercover mission” he went on at your school was unsanctioned by the NYPD and a completely irresponsible use of police resources.”

Bucky wrinkled his nose. “Why?”

“That’s what we’re trying to find out. What can you tell us about Detective Rogers’ time at your school? Were there any students or... teachers he seemed interested in particular?”

Bucky’s stomach dropped a little, and he looked into his drink. “I don’t know.” A small, traitorous part of his brain wondered if Steve had slept with him because of his connection with Johann. The man was still somehow managing to ruin his life, almost ten years later.

 

-

 

Steve leaned against the wall of the coffee shop, holding a cup and watching pedestrians walk by. He felt someone next to him, and he ducked his head, his hoodie falling over his face a little. He wanted to scoff at himself. He was terrible at all this espionage business. “Hey,” He said. “What’ve you got?”

“Well,” Natasha replied, holding out her hand. Steve handed her the cup of coffee. She took a loud sip. “We’ve been tracking the offshore account, see if he made any movement.”

“And?” Steve asked. Natasha sighed. He couldn’t see her face, but he could tell something was wrong.

Natasha took another sip of the coffee. “Steve, he transferred everything.”

“What?” Steve asked, turning to look at her.

She nudged him with her elbow. “Face forward, Rogers. Sam has Stark working on figuring out who he transferred it to, but we have to tread lightly. Pierce is planning something.”

“Shit.” He muttered, rubbing his temple. “He’s always two steps ahead of us.”

“We’ll meet up tonight to see what Stark has.” Natasha said.

Steve made a face. “Tonight’s no good for me.”

“What, you got a hot date or something?” She asked, and Steve looked down, face heating.

“None ya.” He answered, smiling a little. Natasha wolf whistled, and Steve rolled his eyes. “Shut up.”

A phone started buzzing, and Natasha grew serious. “It's Sam.”

“Put it on speaker.” Steve demanded, losing all semblance of sneakiness and turning to look at Natasha.

Natasha answered the phone, holding it between them. “Sam, I’m with Steve. Tell me what you’ve got.”

“Hey, babe. Hey, Nat.” Sam said, false levity in his voice. “So, we’ve got the name, but-”

“What is it?” Steve demanded.

Sam sighed. “It’s Schmidt. He transferred it all to Johann Schmidt.”

“Son of a bitch.” Steve said, and Natasha thanked Sam and quickly hung up the phone, turning to Steve with wide eyes. He frowned. “What? What’s wrong?”

“Steve, Schmidt has been missing for the past four days.”  

 

-

 

“Can you tell me anything else about what Detective Rogers might have uncovered?” Pierce asked. Bucky didn’t reply, just stared at the grainy wood of Pierce’s desk. He didn’t know what he would even say.

Instead, he took a sip of the brandy. He winced at the taste, too sweet. “I’m surprised you don’t remember me, Mr. Pierce.” He finally said, trying not to think of Steve. Anything would be better than talking about Steve, even this.

Pierce blinked, raising his eyebrows. He leaned back in his chair, pressing his fingertips together. “Have we met?”

“You had me arrested a couple times,” Bucky answered, staring into the glass. He tossed the rest of the drink back with a grimace. It was probably bad form with such an expensive brandy, but he was gonna need it. “Uh, back in 2008. I was staying with your buddy Johann Schmidt. He must of called in a-” Bucky rubbed his hand over his eyes, trying to form words around his heavy tongue. “He musta called in a favor or something, cus, uh-”

“Ah,” Pierce nodded, a slow smile creeping across his face. “I remember now. You were Schmidt’s little runaway.”

“He was kicking the shit out of me.” Bucky said, surprised at his own vehemence. He felt like he couldn’t control his temper. He was usually so good at keeping it under wraps. “When I tried to tell the arresting officer, he just said, he said-” His words were slurring, and he couldn’t control his limbs.

Pierce stood, placing a hand on Bucky’s shoulder. “Are you alright, Mr. Barnes? You’re looking a little sick.”

“I don’t-” Bucky said, trying to shake his head, but it just rolled limply to the side. He could feel panic rising in his chest. “What’s-”

He tried to stand, but Pierce clapped a hand on his shoulder, pushing him back down into the chair. “Mr. Barnes, you’re angry at your former foster father. He ruined your life, after all.”

“What are you…” The words were barely coherent. He wasn’t sure why this man was so close.  

Pierce clapped Bucky’s cheek, a friendly smile on his face. “He beat you as a child, tormented you, and now he’s pushed you into selling drugs to your students.”

Bucky wanted to protest, but he couldn’t make words. He could barely keep his eyes open. Pierce shrugged. “I mean, he was running an entire drug ring. He’s a bad person. Only makes sense that you would kill him.”

The last thing Bucky thought was that Pierce’s grip on his shoulder was far too tight.

Chapter Text

 

Steve sat at the diner, knee bouncing anxiously. It was clear that Pierce was planning on pinning everything on Schmidt, and Steve wanted to be out in the field, taking him down, but there was nothing he could do. He had to let Natasha and Sam take the lead on this.

Marlena walked to the table, setting down a fruit bowl. “Thanks.” Steve muttered, and she smiled sweetly at him

It was about 11 pm, and Steve was growing more and more nervous. He hadn’t specified a time that they should meet, so he had been waiting at the diner for almost two hours now. Steve curled his fingers around his phone, indecision weighing in his stomach. Part of him felt like calling Bucky would seem needy desperate, but the more adult side of his brain reminded him that communication is important, and this wasn’t even a date.

Steve shook his head at himself and picked up the phone. He listened to it ring and ring until he reached Bucky’s voicemail. He frowned as the anxiety in his gut turned fiercer. The nervous wreck part of him was already going through every horrible thing that might have happened to Bucky.

He let out a breath, telling himself to think rationally. Steve pressed the call button again, and was greeted by the voicemail message before the first ring. That meant one of two things. Either Bucky had hung up on him, or his phone had been turned off.

Steve nodded to himself, then put a twenty dollar bill on the table, calling Natasha. “What’s up, Rogers?” She asked, and Steve made his way out of the diner, heading east, towards Bed-Stuy.

“I need you to give me the current address of James Buchanan Barnes.” Steve said seriously, ducking his head as a few people passed by.

There were a few moments of silence, then Natasha said, “Lafayette and Marcy. Sam and I will meet you there.”

Steve frowned, wanting to remark that she had answered rather quickly, and without any questions, but she had already hung up. He picked up his pace, heading towards the G train. It was mostly empty, a group of slightly drunk college students and one sleeping homeless person in the car with Steve. Once he reached his stop he rushed up the stairs to the street so fast that his lungs started to seize up and his chest tightened. He had to remind himself to take it easy, that having an asthma attack now wouldn’t help anybody.

Steve reached the corner of Lafayette and Marcy and saw two people on the other side of the street. He jogged over to them, and Sam caught his eye. “Hey, man. What’s up?”

“Bucky found out about me.” Steve said quickly, continuing his brisk pace. Natasha and Sam scrambled to keep up with him. “We were supposed to meet tonight, but he didn’t show.”

“Fuck.” Natasha bit out, walking a little faster.

Steve frowned, looking over at her. “What do you know?”

“He was at the station yesterday. I wanted to talk to him, but Pierce got to him before me.” She said quickly through gritted teeth. “Shit, I knew I should’ve-”

“Pierce?” Steve asked, alarmed. “What did he say?”

Natasha shook her head. “I couldn’t hear. Barnes walked out fine, but he might’ve said something to him.”

Steve nodded, trying think. “Maybe Pierce just, just lied to him and now he doesn’t want to see me.”

“Let’s hope.” Sam said, then grimaced. “Not that I want him to-”

“We’re here.” Natasha said, cutting Sam off and heading to the door of an apartment building. Nat and Sam lead Steve up the stairs, a strange familiarity behind their actions. When they reached door, Steve knocked politely, bouncing nervously on his feet.

The door swung open, and a tall blonde woman answered with a frown. “Can I help you?”

“We’re with the NYPD.” Natasha said, flashing her badge. Steve held out an arm to stop her, trying to seem less authoritative.

“Sorry to bother you, but is Bucky home?” He asked, trying not to fidget nervously. The woman’s frown deepened and she looked at Natasha and Sam. “Do I know you?”

“What about Clint? Is he home?” Sam asked, and Steve turned to look at him. The woman raised her eyebrow, then walked back into the apartment.

“Hey, dumbass!” She called. “There are some cops out front for you!” A sandy-haired man walked out into the hallway, and Steve blinked surprisedly when he realized it was Mister Barton. They locked eyes, and Barton’s face went through a series of complicated expressions.

“Steve?” He finally asked. “What are you doing here, at my home, where I live?” His eyes flicked behind Steve and he blushed. “With Nat and Sam?” The last question came out as a squeak, and Steve whipped around to stare at the Romanoff-Wilsons.

“Are you sleeping with my geometry teacher?” Steve asked. Natasha shrugged unrepentantly as Sam stared at the ceiling. Barton just looked at them with a completely baffled expression. “Oh my god!” Steve said, throwing up his hands with exasperation. “You guys are unbelievable.”

Natasha slapped his arm. “We’re here for a reason, and it's not to judge our sex life.” She looked at Barton. “Clint, listen. My real name is Natasha Romanoff. Sam, Steve, and I are undercover cops. We need to know where James Barnes is.”

“Oh.” Barton said, continuing to look bewildered. He looked at Steve and his eyes went wider. “Oh! That’s why you dropped off the face of the earth!” Steve nodded. “You really worried a lot of people.” Barton told him, putting his hands on his hips. I was almost enough to make Steve smile when he realized that Clint was using the voice he used when he was scolding students.

“I know.” Steve said seriously. “I told Bucky, but now he might be in danger. Do you know where he might be?”

Barton’s brows creased in worry and thought. “I-I don’t know. He’s been acting weird recently. Um, Bobs?” He called back to the woman who was watching this exchange from the living room. “Did Buck say where he was going tonight?”

“Meeting some guy.” She answered. “I think his name was...Piercer? Something like that.”

“Pierce.” Steve said quietly, feeling cold. “He went to meet Alexander Pierce. God dammit!” He slammed his hand against the door jamb. Barton jumped back, startled by Steve’s sudden outburst. Sam grabbed Steve’s shoulder, but he shrugged off the touch.

Natasha remained stoic. “Clint, can you call him for us?”

“...sure.” Clint said tentatively, getting out his phone. He tapped the screen a few times and held it to his ear, then lowered it a few seconds later. “It went straight to voicemail. Is it… is Bucky okay?"

“Shit, I should never have dragged him into this.” Steve muttered, rubbing his hand over his face. “Fuck.”

Sam grabbed his shoulder again, but this time, Steve let him. “It's gonna be okay.” He said. Natasha just held her phone to her ear, looking like she wanted to pace.

“Yelena, it's me. I need to know what he’s been up to for the past-” She held her phone to her chest, looking at Clint. “What time did he leave?”

“Uh…” Clint shrugged. “Around 4:30, I think. Is Bucky in trouble?”

Natasha just put her phone back to her ear and curtly said, “7 hours.” She listened for a few seconds, then nodded. “Spasibo, Yelena.”  She hung up, looking at Steve and Sam. “Pierce has been in his office for most of the night. He went home at 10:38.”

“Do… you have surveillance on the chief of police?” Steve asked.

Natasha pursed her lips. “After he discovered that you were on to him, I called a few of my non-NYPD contacts. I didn’t want you to end up on his hit list.”

“Aw, she had your enemies tracked by former SVR agents.” Sam said, putting a hand over his heart. “That means she loves you.”

Steve turned around to interrogate Natasha. “Did she Bucky? Or anyone moving large crates, boxes, carts-”

“She saw someone matching his description go in to the building, but she hasn’t seen much movement otherwise. She’s checking her surveillance now.” She said smoothly.

Steve started nodding nervously. He needed to think. “We need to sweep the building, starting with Pierce’s office and working our way down.”

“Steve-” Sam said.

He continued to pace in a small circle, counting off on his fingers. “Check with his known associates; Zola, Sitwell-”

“Steve,” Natasha sighed, rubbing her temple.

“Bucky might already be hurt, so we’ll need a bus on standby.” He continued, and Sam clapped his shoulder, shaking him a little.

“Steve!” Steve shut his mouth, looking at Sam’s face. Sam squeezed his shoulder gently. “You need to take a breath, man. We can’t storm One Police Plaza. We can’t commandeer a SWAT team, we can’t make a single official action without Pierce knowing about it. ”

Steve hung his head for a moment. “Fuck. You’re right. Shit, shit.” He rubbed his hands over his face. “What are we gonna do?”

Natasha slapped his shoulder. “Think, Rogers. Pierce is a perfectionist bordering on obsessive compulsive. He would never make a move unless he had a clear alibi with at least forty witnesses. We don’t know where Barnes is or where he’s gonna be, but we know Pierce. We know how he thinks. When will he make a move?”

He opened his mouth, then closed it, trying to think. Finally, he snapped his fingers. “Tomorrow night, the mayoral banquet. He’ll be surrounded by cameras, there’s no way he could implicate himself.”

“That’s prom.”

They all turned back to see Barton, who was still standing in the doorway, stock-still and pale. His eyes darted between the three of them and he cleared his throat. “Tomorrow night is prom night. Bucky was supposed to chaperone.”

“Prom, right.” Steve said, remembering the dozens of angry texts that Sharon had sent him. He suddenly thought of something. “Will Zola be there?”

“Uh, yeah. I think so.” Barton said. “Why?”

Natasha shook her head. “Two alibis for the price of one.”

“Zola’s been supplying drugs to the students.” Steve explained to Barton, who blinked a couple of times in shock, but nodded in understanding. Steve thought that he was adjusting relatively well.

“Oh.” Clint said. “Well, yeah. Zola is usually there at prom, keeping kids from getting too frisky. He’s a professional killjoy. Again, I’d like to ask, is Bucky alright? What’s happening?”

Once they had explained everything to a confused and horrified Clint, they called Stark, who never seemed to sleep. He was able to track Bucky’s phone, but it had been thrown down a storm drain. Steve frantically checked buildings nearby, but Natasha and Sam stopped him, forcing him back into his apartment.

Steve spent the entire night planning, calling up Sam and Nat and Maria at all hours. Maria had agreed to tail Pierce, as she was attending the banquet with Fury. Natasha and her “contacts” would surveil Pierce’s known associates, and Sam would have ESU on stand-by. The sun was rising, and the clock was ticking, and Steve had some phone calls to make.

The line rang, and Steve paced anxiously. Finally, someone answered, and Steve breathed a sigh of relief. “Hello, Dr. Xavier?”

“Sorry, he’s, uh, he’s busy right now.” A familiar voice said.

Steve winced a little with guilt. Pietro sounded tired. “Uh, no problem. Can you tell me when he might be available?”

There were a few moments of silence, then rustling on the other end. “I can take a message if you like.”

“That’s okay,” Steve said quickly. “I’d rather speak to him directly.”  

Pietro paused, and then quietly asked, “ ...Steve?”

Steve sighed. “Did Charles tell you?”

“Wanda, actually. After you ghosted everybody, she told me you were a cop. She figured it out a while ago, I guess.”

Pietro didn’t sound bitter, but Steve still felt terrible. “I’m really sorry, Pietro. I wasn’t there to cause more trouble for you. I just needed to-”

“No, it's fine. I get it.” Pietro said, and he just sounded defeated. “I just feel kinda dumb for not seeing it before. It's not like you were stealthy.”

“I was too,” Steve protested, then shook his head. Now wasn’t the time. “Listen, kid. I really am sorry for lying to you. I know it might feel like I was only pretending to be your friend to get information-”

“Which you were,” Pietro said.

Steve nodded. “Fair enough, I was. At first. But you’re great kid, Pietro. I really wish you could see yourself like I do, or like Wanda does. You’re sweet, you’re kind, you’re even sort of funny when you put your mind to it.”

Pietro snorted. “Ass.”

“What I’m saying is that, if you’ll allow it, I’d like to remain your friend. In real life.” Steve said stubbornly.

Pietro said nothing for a few moments, then laughed a little. “That’s really weird, Steve. I mean, you’re like a million years old and you want to be friends with a recovering teenage speed addict? Like, get a life, man.”

“Fair enough.” Steve said with a grin. “And I’m 28. That’s younger than Charles.”

“Yeah, and he’s my former step-dad. Weird.” Pietro said. “Why did you want to talk to him, by the way?”

“Oh!” Steve said. He was getting distracted. “Right, um, his life is probably in danger. Alexander Pierce is trying to kill him, or at least get him to drop out of the race. I was gonna recommend that he hire security that has no ties to the NYPD.”

“What?” Another voice shouted, and there was a struggle for the phone. Wanda must have won, because the next thing he heard was her demanding, “Steve, what?”

“Hey, Wanda.” Steve greeted. He didn’t have a lot of time to explain everything. “Yeah, that guy who shot Charles was working for Pierce, who also orchestrated Pietro’s OD and just kidnapped Bu- Mister Barnes. It's a whole thing. Anyway, at the banquet tonight, a lot of stuff is going down, so I thought I’d give him a heads-up. How did you find out about me?”

“What?” Pietro squeaked.

Wanda spoke over him. “You were loudly discussing it with Charles in the kitchen over tea. Why do you think I told you about Rumlow?” Wanda said dismissively. “Do you think he’ll try to hurt Charles?”

Steve grimaced. He never should have been chosen for this op. He was so shit at being undercover. “Honestly, I don’t think he’ll try anything tonight, but I think it's better to be safe than sorry. Pierce is smart, he won’t engage directly, but he could pay someone off to slip something in a drink or disable some brakes or something.”

Wanda and Pietro didn’t say anything, and Steve scolded himself. He was scaring them. “But, one of my colleagues will be there, keeping an eye on everything. It really should be fine.”

“We have to go.” Wanda said resoundly, and Steve put his face in his hands.

“Wanda, I just told you a very dangerous man with lots of dangerous friends will be there. The same dangerous man you tried to have both your step father and your brother killed. Going to the banquet would be a very bad idea.”

Pietro chimed in. “No, she’s right. We have to protect Charles.”

“And when Erik hears about this, he’ll have to come!” Wanda added excitedly.

“You’re right!” Pietro added, and Steve could hear genuine glee behind his words. “When Dad finds out, he’ll tear Pierce apart with his bare hands.”

“And then he’ll kiss Charles and we can all go home. It will be awesome.” Wanda concluded.

Steve sighed. “This is not the time for any parent trap shenanigans. This is a very unsafe situation that you, should not be involved in.”

“But your friend and Erik will protect us.” Wanda said confidently. “Thanks for telling us. Bye Steve!”

“No, Wanda- wait!” Steve just heard the dial tone and sighed heavily, collapsing backwards on his bed. “So far, not great, Rogers.”

He knocked his phone against his forehead, then opened the group chat that he had been steadfastly ignoring since he had left the school.

hey guys. can we meet?

 

-

 

Steve waited outside the pizza place where he had met the kids before the baseball game. It was too early for it to be open, so he was just leaning against the wall, checking his phone every few seconds. Finally, a large blue van that he knew to be America’s rolled up, reaching a screeching halt. As she got out of the driver’s side, Steve raised a hand in greeting. “You’ve really got to get those brakes checked.”

“Where the hell have you been, tonto del culo!” America demanded, slamming her car door. Kate got out of the passenger’s seat, opening the sliding door, helping Billy, Teddy, and Peter, Miles, and Kamala climb out.

Steve grimaced, tucking his hands into his pockets. “Y’know,” He shrugged. “Around.”

“Dude,” Teddy said, voice disappointed. “We’ve been mad worried about you.” Billy wrapped his arm around his waist.

Kamala frowned. “Are you okay? I mean you disappeared without a word.”

“I know.” Steve sighed. “I wish I could have told you, but it would’ve… it's complicated.”

America scowled. “Uncomplicate it.”

Kate, who was standing next to her, sighed, turning to smack her arm. “I’m sure he has a good reason.” She said, then turned to face him, crossing her arms. “Right, Steve?”  

“I…” Steve blew out a breath. “Okay, listen. My real name is Steve Rogers, and I’m a detective with the NYPD.”

The kids all stared at him blankly. Steve scratched the back of his neck. “I was undercover, investigating the drug related deaths at the school. I uncovered something big, really big, and I need your help. I will now field your questions.”

“Holy. Shit.” Miles said quietly, eyes wide.

Peter nodded. “Holy shit.” He agreed. “Can I see your badge?”

“Do you have a gun?” Teddy asked.

Billy made a face. “Oh my god, Teddy, you can’t just ask that.”

“Were you looking for students to sell you drugs?” Kamala asked seriously. “That’s entrapment.”

Steve shook his head. “No, that’s not why I was there.”

“How old are you?” Kate asked.

“I’m 28.” Steve answered.

“Twenty-eight?!” Billy demanded. “Bitch, what moisturizer do you use?”

Steve laughed. “Chronic illness and stunted growth.”

The kids clambered, everyone asking questions and talking over each other. Steve raised his hands, growing serious. “Listen, I want to get everything set before you guys have to get to school.”

“What do you need our help with?” America asked, tilting her head.

Steve sighed. “Bucky, Mister Barnes, has been kidnapped.”

“Holy fuck!” Peter yelped, as everybody lost their minds, all shouting and demanding answers from Steve.

“Hey, hey, hey, one at a time.” Steve tried, raising his hands. They all continued talking, and Steve closed his eyes, taking off his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose. He was already so tired, he hadn’t slept at all, and Bucky’s disappearance was gnawing at him.

Eventually the kids grew quiet, all of them looking at Steve. Kate cleared her throat. “So what do you need us to do?”

Steve looked at them all. “Let’s talk about prom.”

 

-

 

“How do I look?” Steve asked, straightening the bow tie of his tux. It was the same one he had worn to Sam and Natasha’s wedding, and it smelled a little of mothballs, but it still fit him well.

Shuri smiled, flicking some dust off his shoulder. “Like a movie star.” She was wearing a suit and a chauffeur's cap. Steve had assured her that the get up wasn’t necessary, but she had insisted. She grabbed her laptop bag and patted his shoulder. “Are you ready?”

Steve checked his gun, tucking it into his concealed holster. He grabbed the corsage for Sharon. “Let’s go.”

They walked downstairs together, the car already idling in front of the apartment. Peggy stepped out of the driver’s side. “I know nothing about this.”

“Shit, Peggy.” Shuri whistled, checking out the black Lincoln Continental. “Your car is awesome.”

“I know.” She huffed, tossing Shuri the keys. “Don’t scratch it.” As Shuri ran over to get in the driver’s seat, Sharon stepped out of the backseat.

She was wearing a black dress, her usually frizzy hair combed down and shiny. It looked like Peggy had done her makeup, her trademark red lipstick and eyeliner on Sharon’s face. “You look really nice.” Steve told her, then handed her the corsage.

Sharon blushed, looking down. “Thank you,” She mumbled, turning the flower over in her hands.

“Alright, let me get a picture.” Peggy said, raising her phone. Steve sighed. He posed with Sharon and let Peggy took a few photos, not wanting to argue with the two women. “Perfect. You look lovely, my dear."

“Thanks, Aunt Peggy.” Sharon said.

“Why don’t you head to the car?” Peggy told her. “I need to have a word with Steve.” Sharon nodded and headed to the back seat. Steve saw Shuri turn around and compliment Sharon. He smiled, glad that they seemed to be getting along.

Peggy turned to look at Steve. “I trust you to take the appropriate actions to get a confession from Pierce. This is a trial that none of us want to have.”

“I’ll do what I can.” Steve said, turning to the car.

Peggy grabbed his arm. “I also trust that you’ll keep my only niece safe, Steven. If you know what’s good for you.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Steve nodded, then stood on his tiptoes to kissed her on the cheek. “Thanks Peg.”

She squeezed her arm. “Go find your friend.”

Steve got in the backseat, where Sharon was sitting, vibrating with excited energy. “This is so exciting, we’re like, undercover and stuff.”

“Yeah,” Steve said, as Shuri pulled out onto the street. He drummed his fingers anxiously against the window, checking his phone. Natasha and her crew were in place, Maria had eyes on Pierce and Xavier and the Maximoffs, and Sam was ready to move whenever he was given the signal. It was all up to Steve, now.

Shuri fiddled with the radio station until an eighties song came on, something she could hum along to. Sharon continued chattering on as Steve just stared out the window, trying to even his breathing.

When they reached the dance, Shuri got out of the car, opening the doors for Sharon and Steve. Peter ran up to them, camera in hand. “Can I get a picture for the yearbook?”

“Sure.” Steve said. He pulled Sharon in, and they both threw up peace signs.

Peter took their picture, then held out the camera to them. “Would you like to see?”

“Yes, please.” Steve leaned over, looking at the little display of the camera. Peter flipped through a few photos, three of where the various security guards were stationed, and two of Zola, standing by the refreshments table. Steve smiled, clapping Peter’s shoulder. “Looks great, thanks.”

Steve offered Sharon his arm, and they began walking towards the dance. Shuri nodded to Peter. “Nice pictures, mate.” She offered her hand, and Peter shook it, transfering a small handful of  mechanical spiders to her. Shuri got back in the car, and Peter walked away from her, taking out his phone.

There was a small line at the ticketing booth, and Steve glanced around. When he saw no eyes on them, he took Sharon by the hand, sneaking around the back alley, where there was an emergency exit. Peter’s pictures had shown that the back door was guarded, so Steve was cautious as he opened it a crack, peering inside.

Thumping music and flashing lights flooded the small alleyway, and Sharon ducked down, afraid of being caught. Steve listened carefully, finally hearing Billy’s voice.

“This is an outrage! Injustice!” He yelled, and Steve smiled.

Someone else was trying to speak over him. “Young man, this is not-”

“Get your hands off of him!” Teddy shouted, and the rest of the crowd started to grow quiet. The guard got to his feet, shifting uneasily.

The other person coughed embarrassedly. “I was just-”

“We have an equal right to be here as anyone else!” Billy said indignantly. “Just because you’re homophobic doesn’t mean-”

“I’m not, I wasn’t being-” The person stammered. “You were- we have rules here, about inappropriate contact.”

Teddy scoffed. “So two boys dancing together is ‘inappropriate contact’?”

“You’re ridiculous.” Billy said. “It’s twenty-goddamn-eighteen. Grow up.”

Steve stifled a laugh behind his hand. The chaperone continued to splutter. “I- you were, no one else is allowed to be- allowed to touch like that! This isn’t- it's not about that .”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Teddy said sarcastically. “It’s not like Lindsay and Luke aren’t at third base right now.”

“Hey!” A female voice shouted. Further yelling ensued; Luke Taylor had a quick temper, and he and Teddy weren’t exactly friends.

There were sounds of fighting, and the guard at the door sighed. “Fuckin’ kids.” He jogged over to where the commotion was happening, saying, “Alright, break it up.”

Steve took Sharon’s hand, slipping inside. He made sure to go into the thickest part of the crowd, away from the chaperones and guards. Once they were in the clear and the fight subsided, he turned to Sharon. “Go on, have fun.”

She grinned and grabbed him in a quick and brusque hug, then ran off to the dance floor. Steve waited, watching. Zola was in position, leaning by the drink table and scowling at the dancing teenagers.

Steve checked his watch impatiently. After three and a half minutes, the music faded and Principal Danvers walked onto the stage, holding a microphone. “Alright, everybody! It's the moment you’ve all been waiting for. It's time to learn our class of 2018 prom king and queen!”

Everyone cheered and clapped, and Steve smiled to himself. A girl that he recognized as president of student council ran on stage, handing her an envelope. A group of boys and America walked onto the stage. “Our prom king nominees are: Daniel Hanson, Benny Milne, Jeff McIntyre, America Chavez, and Luke Tay-”

The student council president whispered something into Danvers’ ear. “Oh, I’m being told that Luke Taylor has been removed from the building, and is therefore disqualified.” She cleared her throat, then fumbled with the envelope. “And the winner is… America Chavez!”

Steve cupped his hands around his mouth and cheered. America walked to the front, wearing a blue tuxedo with a red tie. She took a deep bow as people clapped for her, and let Ms. Danvers place the crown on her head. Steve started walking to the other side of the room.

“And can our prom queen nominees come onto the stage please?” Danvers requested, and the girls walked on stage, most of them were already pouting. Kate stood in her purple dress, a smug expression on her face “Please give a warm welcome to Lindsay Lucas, Georgia Tran, Courtney Franks, Kate Bishop, and Harriet Ramirez!”

Zola was watching the proceedings with a bored expression on his face. Steve saw Miles work his way out of the crowd and over to the drink table, pulling his hoodie up.

“And the winner is…” Danvers paused for dramatic effect. Miles seized the moment, running over and yanking Zola’s pants down. “Kate Bishop!”

Everyone burst into applause. Zola grabbed after Miles, but he had already taken off, running out of the ballroom and down the hallway. “Somebody, get him!” Zola called, struggling to pull his pants back up, but everyone was watching the stage as Kate, who was in the middle of accepting her crown, stumbled and nearly fell off the stage. Security rushed over to her, but she recovered, smiling embarrassedly at the crowd. Steve walked out quietly, just as Zola started running after Miles.

Steve took a shortcut down the hallway, and waited patiently for a few seconds until Miles came to a running past him, taking off his hoodie and tossing it over to Steve. Steve put it on, thankful that he and Miles were almost the exact same size.

He peeked down the hall, and saw Zola in the distance, red-faced and huffing. Steve pulled up the hood and ran the rest of the way down the hallway, slowing his pace a little so Zola was close behind him. There was a small utility closet open at the end of the hall and Steve ducked inside.

Zola followed him inside, grabbing the back of his hood. “You little-”

The door slammed shut behind them. Zola turned quickly, trying the handle, only to find it locked. “What the-”

Steve reached over, turning on the light. “Hello, Arnim.”

Zola turned pale. “I- you, you’re not-”

“Not what?” Steve asked. “Not supposed to be here? Not a student? Not supposed to know about what’s going down tonight? Or how about this?” He took his gun out of his holster, and cocked it. “I’m not leaving until you tell me what you know.”

A small, spider-shaped machine crawled up Zola’s pant leg, tucking itself into his pocket. Another crawled into Steve’s.

Zola had his hands raised, and he was stammering nervously. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Try again.” Steve said, pointing his gun at Zola. Part of him was uneasy with aiming his weapon at a civilian, but most of him was too desperate to care. “What does Pierce have planned for tonight? Where’s Bucky Barnes?”  

Zola swallowed. He looked at Steve’s gun, then back at his face. Then he turned around and banged on the door. “Help! Help me! I’m locked in here with a crazy person!”

“I don’t care!” Kamala yelled on the other side of the door. “You shouldn’t have done crime, Principal Zola!”

Steve shrugged when Zola turned back to look at him. “She’s right. We have pretty compelling evidence against you, Arnim. We have Rumlow’s testimony against you, and you know that Pierce will turn on you as soon as he’s given the chance.”

He wasn’t exactly lying, but he sure as hell wasn’t telling the truth. “The more you tell me now, the easier life will be for you later. But if you don’t tell me anything and someone gets hurt tonight, I will make sure that you’re prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

“I- okay. I’ll tell you what I know.” Zola said.

After Zola told him everything, Steve banged twice on the door. It swung open, revealing Kamala and Miles on the other side. “Underclassmen are not allowed to be at prom.” Zola muttered at them from where he was handcuffed to a radiator pipe.

“Drug dealers aren’t allowed to be vice principals.” Miles replied with a shrug. “So I guess we’re even.” Kamala laughed, elbowing him in the side. Zola shot them a glare.

Steve just walked past them, tossing Miles hoodie back to him. He was already on his phone. “Sam, the loading docks on Coney Island. Pierce is setting up Schmidt to take the fall for everything, the drugs, the crime ring, all of it. They’re gonna kill him and frame Bucky for the murder, make it look like a murder suicide.”

“10-4.” Sam said, then hung up. Steve ran out to the parking lot, where an NYPD motorcycle was waiting for him.

He made it there in just under ten minutes, turning off his lights and sirens as he grew close. The docks were dark, and nearly abandoned. Steve cut the engine and got off the bike. Sam and ESU weren’t there yet, but time was running out.

Steve walked quietly between the loading crates, holding his gun. He tried to keep an ear out, but the only thing he could hear was the crashing of the waves. His mind was racing anxiously. Did Zola lie? Was Steve too late?

Just then, there was a gunshot. Steve took off running in the direction of the sound.

“NYPD, freeze!” Steve yelled.

He drew closer, seeing four people. There were two men holding a third, who was slumped over in the sand. The fourth person was laying face down, a growing pool of blood underneath him.

“Officer!” One of the men called. “Come quick! He just shot that guy!”

“Yeah.” The other man said. “We were just walking by when we heard the shot!”

Steve squinted, walking closer with his gun raised. They were holding the arms of the man between them. When he looked up at Steve, his breath got caught in his throat. There, kneeling in the sand with glassy eyes and hair in his face, was Bucky.

“Step away from him.” Steve demanded, gesturing to the two men. “Back away slowly, hands where I can see them.”

They looked at one another. The taller of the men frowned, looking at Steve.  “Sir-”

“Do as I say.” Steve said. “Now.”

The shorter man shook his head, a slow grin growing on his face. “You’re that cop, aren’t you?”

“Sir, I need you to lay down on your stomach with your hands on the ground.” Steve said evenly. He glanced over at Bucky, who wasn’t moving, just staring at his hands. “Bucky? Are you okay?”

“Ah, ah, ah.” The shorter man said, flashing a gun. “Don’t take another step, or the teacher gets it.” He placed the muzzle of the gun against Bucky’s temple.

Bucky finally reacted a little. “Seriously? You couldn’t pick a more cliche line?”

“Shut up.” The taller man said, slapping Bucky across the face.

“Alright, alright.” Steve said, raising his hands in the air. “Okay, it's alright. Just, don’t touch him.”

The shorter man nodded, gesturing to Steve’s gun. “Drop the firearm.”

Steve bent down slowly, placing the gun on the ground. The shorter man smiled. “Now kick it here.” Steve kicked it over to them.

“Alright.” Steve said calmly. “I’ve done as you’ve asked. Now let him go.”

The taller man laughed. “Are you kidding? We just got a two for one deal. The boss’ll probably pay us extra for getting rid of the thorn in his side.”

“Is that what you think will happen when this is all said and done?” Steve scoffed. “You don’t think Pierce will make you disappear? You know what he does with loose ends.”

The shorter man looked uneasy, but his partner just laughed. “Pierce is about to be the most powerful man in the city. He’ll always need people to clean up his messes.”

Steve’s phone buzzed, and he grinned. “And how long have you had that job? What about Pierce’s other ‘janitors’? Did you know Franklin Jacobs?” Steve gestured towards the bleeding corpse behind him. “Johann Schmidt?”

“Fall guys.” The shorter man said.

Steve raised his eyebrows. “Schmidt was his oldest friend. If Pierce can turn on him, what makes you think he won’t do the same to you, two shitty hired guns?” With that, Steve made a dive for his gun.

There were two shots. The first one sailed past his ear, but the second him square in center mass, a blooming pain rising in chest.

“No!” Bucky shouted, throwing himself over Steve. There were suddenly lights and sirens and Sam’s booming voice came over a loudspeaker.

“NYPD, freeze! You are completely surrounded. Drop the weapons.”

“Steve,” Bucky said anxiously, pale face blurring in Steve’s vision. He cupped Steve’s face with one hand, the other flitting over his chest.

Steve coughed. “‘M fine.” He said, catching Bucky’s roaming hand as the ESU guys tackled Pierce’s goons. He unbuttoned his tuxedo shirt, revealing the kevlar vest underneath. “‘M fine, Buck.”

Bucky sighed, placing his hand over where the bullet was lodged in the vest. He laughed breathlessly, resting his forehead against Steve’s. Steve smiled, bringing one hand up to stroke over Bucky’s hair. “I’m twenty-eight.” He whispered, then leaned up to press his lips to Bucky’s.

They parted, and Bucky dragged his thumb over Steve’s cheek. “Asshole.”

Chapter Text

 

With the recorded confessions of Zola, along  the eventual testimony of the two men on the beach, Rumlow, Sitwell, and several other officers and small-time criminals that Natasha had spent the day gathering, Hill was able to arrest Pierce just as he was leaving the gala.

It was less than ideal, Pierce had lawyered up, and Peggy was bracing herself to take everything to trial. Of course, the press was all over it. Maria, along with Natasha and Sam,  had been fielding non-stop questions. Thankfully, they were able to keep the spotlight off of Steve and Bucky.

After the beach they both been taken to the hospital, riding in the back of an ambulance together, quietly sitting side-by-side. They were both wearing shock blankets, and Steve answered the ride-along officer’s questions as best he could.

Steve didn’t have to stay at the hospital long. He knew what broken ribs felt like, and there wasn’t much they could do for him other than wrap him up and give him some pain meds. Still, he stayed with Bucky. They had no idea what Pierce had drugged him with, so they were keeping him overnight for observation while they ran a tox screen, keeping him on a saline drip flushing out his system.

“You don’t have to stay.” Bucky said, smiling a little dreamily as Steve sat down in the chair next to him. He was still slightly drug hazy. “That can’t be comfortable for you.”

“Nah, I’m sailing on the good stuff now.” Steve told him, patting Bucky’s hand a little. “And I’d much rather be here with you than filling out the inevitable heaps of paperwork waiting for me back at the office.”

“You probably only have a few minutes before Clint and Becca show up and kick you out.” He said, still smiling at Steve.
Steve shrugged. “I’ll stay with you until then. If someone has a problem with that, I can always flash my badge.”

“You’re still wearing a tuxedo.” Bucky pointed out, then laughed nonsensically. “Fuck."
“What?” Steve asked, chuckling at Bucky’s outburst.

“I killed him.” Bucky said, staring at the far wall of the small hospital room. “I killed Schmidt.”

Steve shook his head. “No, Buck. You didn’t.”

“I shot him.” Bucky said. “The gun was in my hands and it went-” He made a gesture with his, indicating a small explosion. The doctors had wrapped his hands, because he had powder burns on his skin. Apparently he had tried to wrestle the gun away from the man who had shot Steve.

“You were forced to.” Steve told him. “You’re no more guilty than the rope he was tied up with. You were the one holding it but they were the ones who pulled the trigger.”

Bucky made a considering face. “Maybe.” He was quiet for a few seconds, then huffed. “I probably should go back to therapy, huh?”

“Probably,” Steve agreed.

Bucky grinned. “You’re such a dick, you know that?  When you came to school that day, I really thought that I had done something terrible.” His mind was making scattered leaps that Steve had a hard time following, but he nodded.

“I know.” Steve said quietly. “I’m really sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”

“I get it.” Bucky sighed. “You had a job to do. Catchin’ bad guys ‘n stuff.”

Steve curled his fingers around Bucky’s hand. “My job, first and foremost, is to serve and protect. I try never to forget that, because a lot of cops do, but I… I guess I’ve been distracted since Alana…” He shook his head. “I’m really sorry, Buck.”

“Tell me.” Bucky said, squeezing Steve’s hand as best he could. “I want to get to know you.” His eyes crinkled a little, and Steve smiled, remembering their first conversation at the diner. Bucky moved over on the bed, patting the empty space next to him.

“Alright.” Steve said softly, gingerly climbing on the bed.

 

-

 

It was nearly two weeks later. Pierce had finally entered a plea deal after the amount of testimony against him grew to overwhelming proportions. The New York penal system was scrambling, because Pierce’s had influenced a large number of cases in the state. They were all being reviewed, and Steve had already offered his testimony for Alton Burke’s appeal hearing.

“You ready?” Natasha asked, straightening Steve’s tie. He nodded, letting out a breath. His uniform felt tight, constricting. Nat smirked at him, smoothing down the fabric on his shoulders. “Go get ‘em, Rogers.”

He walked onto the stage with Sam and Natasha behind him. He gritted his teeth against the flashing lights and applause; it was all a little too much for him, and he had to remind himself to breathe.

Chester Phillips, Steve’s old captain at the homicide unit, had been instituted as the temporary Chief of Police. He didn’t smile at Steve, but gave him a subtle little wink as he made his way to the center of the stage. “For extraordinary heroism performed in the line of duty, and exceptional arrest of a felon who is a danger to the community, using diligence and professionalism in the performance of his duty, Detective Steven Grant Rogers is to be awarded with the Silver Star for Bravery and a Merit Award for Excellent Arrest.”

The camera flashes grew more intense as Phillips pinned the metals to Steve’s lapel. He shook Steve’s hand and drew him closer, whispering in his ear, “Good work, kid.”

Phillips moved on to Natasha. “For an exceptional arrest of a felon…”

Steve scanned the audience, seeing Bucky sitting in the first row. He gave Steve and awkward little wave, and Steve smiled, nodding at him. Clint was next to him, watching as Sam and Natasha were awarded, a proud smile on his face.

Bucky had complained about Clint’s constant worry over him since he had come home from the hospital, but it was clear that his mothering wasn’t going completely unappreciated.

The pomp and circumstance was a little much for Steve’s liking, but he had to grin and bare it for Charles’ and Peggy’s case. He knew that Pierce’s people were trying to minimize his crimes by making it look like a political hit job, so the DA’s office needed as much support from the NYPD as possible.

When the ceremony was over, Steve hopped off the stage, walking over to Bucky, taking his hands. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Bucky said, leaning down. Steve stood on his tiptoes and kissed Bucky on the corner of the mouth. Bucky smiled, rocking back on his heels. His phone beeped, and he check the time, eyes going wide. “Shit, we gotta go. Clint-” He grabbed Clint’s arm, pulling him off of Sam and Nat. “It’s time.”

“Shit,” Clint repeated, blowing kisses to the Romanoff-Wilsons and jogging out of the building.

They all slid into Clint’s car, speeding off towards the Barclays Center. “Crap, I wanted to change out this before the graduation.” Steve said, taking off his hat.

“Nope. They’re all gonna see you in full copper uniform. Medals and all.” Bucky said with a smirk, flicking Steve’s badge.

They arrived at the convention center, and Bucky and Steve got out of the car while Clint searched for a place to park.

It was super crowded, the bleachers crawling with parents and family members. Bucky was scanning the crowd, looking for the teacher’s section.

“Over here!” A voice shouted, and Steve turned to see Billy waving his arms at them. Steve grabbed Bucky’s hand, pulling him over.

“Steve, I can’t just-” Bucky protested, but allowed himself to be pulled over to the kids. Billy, Teddy, Miles, Kamala, Peter, MJ, Ned, and surprisingly, the Maximoff twins, were all there.

“Hey,” Steve greeted, reaching over to hug Wanda and Pietro. “Good to see you.”

Teddy snorted. “Nice outfit, narc.”

“Seriously.” MJ agreed, totally deadpan. “Does anyone else smell bacon?”

Kamala made a face. “Mean.”

“Hey, Mr. Barnes.” Pietro said shyly. Wanda looked pointedly at Steve, then pointedly at their joined hands.

Bucky quickly let go of Steve, clearing his throat. “Well, I should go find someplace to sit.”

“Aw, c’mon.” Peter said, waving his popcorn around. “Sit with us, Mr. B.”

Bucky looked at all the kids, most of whom were still teasing Steve. “I don’t know, Pete.”

The band started playing. Kamala shrugged, smiling. “Well you can’t go now, it's starting.” Bucky sighed and sat down next to Steve, knowing he was trapped.

“It's nice to see you here,” Steve whispered to Wanda.

She smiled, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Yeah, I think it was just time, y’know, to have friends again.”

“I’m glad.” Steve said with a smile, watching Pietro and Miles have a passionate conversation about some show that they both watch.

The valedictorian started her speech, which was mostly just references to vines and a lot of dabbing. They were fairly fortunate that Kate and America had last names that were early in the alphabet, because there were a lot of students graduating.

When their names were called, Billy stood with a bright pink, glittery sign as the rest of the kids cheered and hollered obnoxiously.

Kate walked on stage with her prom queen crown pinned to her cap, and she did a backflip as she accepted her diploma. America just ran off stage when she was done, hugging Kate and spinning her around.

After everyone’s name was called, they had a moment of silence for Keilya and Myra, who would never get to graduate. Peter held MJ’s hand, letting her pretend that she wasn’t crying.

They piled out of the convention center as a large group, meeting up with America and Kate out front. Billy ran over to them and tackled them in a hug. “Girl, oh my god.”

“Girl, I know.” Kate said.

“NYU, baby!” America cheered, and the three of them started jumping up and down excitedly.

Teddy laughed, then clapped Steve’s shoulder. “A bunch of us are gonna go get bahn mi. You wanna come?”

Steve looked at Bucky, who had a slightly panicked look on his face. He smiled. “Nah, sorry. I’ve got a date.”

“Good on you, man.” Teddy said, nodding at them. Wanda just shot him a knowing smirk.

Bucky and Steve said goodbye to everybody and congratulated the graduates, then left to their celebrations. After they were a couple blocks away, Bucky bumped his shoulder into Steve’s. “A date, huh?”

“Yeah.” Steve said. “I’m going on my first date with this guy. I’m really excited.”

Bucky tried to hide a grin. “That so?”

“Mmhm.” Steve said. “There’s this cute little diner I’m taking him to. It's real close to my apartment too.”

“You hoping to get lucky?” Bucky asked teasingly.

Steve shrugged one shoulder. “I figure I’m already pretty damn lucky to have met this guy. He’s real sweet. Good with kids. Well-read. Can cook.”

“Sounds like a real keeper.” Bucky said.

“Yeah.” Steve agreed. “Yeah I think so too.”