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Learn Me Hard Oh, Learn Me Right

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Your eyes, they tie me down so hard.

I'll never learn to put up a guard.

So keep my love, my candle bright.

Learn me hard oh, learn me right.

 

Week Four 2018 Fall Semester

On a bright Monday morning Steve found himself sitting outside Dr. Potts’ office staring gloomily at the ominous red D that glared back at him from atop his first assignment,  mocking his failure louder than a crowd of people ever could.

The crisp clip-clap of heels on the linoleum had a blush of shame riding high on his cheeks before he even looked into the cool eyes of his college calculus professor. “Mr. Rogers, to what do I owe the pleasure of seeing you at -” with a glance to her watch her brows rose, “seven thirty in the morning, aren’t you typically at football practice or did Coach Fury have an aneurysm?”

“Ahh,” Steve rubbed the back of his neck, “he’s the one who sent me after -” He trailed off, waving the paper as his evidence.

“Mmmm,” Potts unlocked her office and stood patiently within the frame, “well c’mon in then, take a seat.”

Steve fumbled his backpack onto his large shoulders, all the finesse from years of athletic training out the window as the hideous slide of anxiety slithered its way through his belly, before easing himself into the office and the chair across the large desk. He hated this part, hated the disappointment and the inevitable feeling of failure.

Every other class he aced. American Literature? He was basically a professional at giving detailed interpretations of the arching themes from the loss of innocence to the ideological American Dream. Political science? Ha. Steve was well known to live up to his title as Captain, not just on the football field, but also in his classes where he would regularly stand up and give speeches about the current state of affairs of a certain “presidential cheeto” who obstructed justice on a daily basis and how that obstruction of justice was simply an egotistical sociopath’s way of running the government, to which rounds of applause would meet him as he sat back in his chair.

Art? Really any art class was Steve’s foray into an escape to which he excelled. The moment he sculpted, picked up a brush, or held anything remotely close to a graphite pencil in his hand, he radiated pure joy; creating pieces that were hung anonymously throughout the art department with pride by his professors. Art was the secret he kept just for himself.

Getting lost in the blending of colors and melding of textures was his vacation that he dreamed of going on everyday for the rest of his life that only a handful of people knew about. But Math? Well. Math was the bane of his existence and he had avoided it like the plague...which is why he hadn’t touched it since the summer after he graduated high school three years prior.  

Taking the paper out of Steve’s hand primly she looked it over, flipping through the pages her graduate student had marked in a very aggressive red pen. “Steve, this is the first quarter of the semester and I have to say, I understand why Fury’s worried. When did you take college algebra?” Potts commented from her seat across from him.

“Um a summer course at NYCCC, in 2015.”

“Ah...and how’d that go?”

“Not terribly?”  Steve responded hesitantly, desperately hoping she wouldn’t delve into the mechanics of how he managed to pass the course with a very slim C. If she knew how many hours were spent studying with his eighty year old retired teacher neighbor who had the patience of a saint, she would definitely know that he didn’t have a chance in hell of making it through this course.

“Is this the only other math credit you need for your degree?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Hmmm.” She pondered, flipping through the pages a few more times before looking at him, her expression softening just a touch. “Have you always struggled with math, Steve?”

The blush crept higher as the same shame he had felt since second grade when he realized that not everyone saw the numbers slipping and sliding around the page like he did “Um, yes ma’am.”

“It happens. You’re not the only one.” She assured, handing the papers back to him. “Luckily, we’re still in the beginning of the semester and you still have time to catch up. I’m going to highly suggest tutoring at the student center. You can get a one-on-one tutor there, or do group tutoring, and your tuition covers two sessions per week.”

“Thank you ma’am.” Steve accepted the paper and stood, sliding his backpack over his shoulders. Making his way out of her office he paused when she called his name. “Ma’am?”

“Ask for Bucky Barnes.” Her lips turned up at the name. “He’s one of the math majors that I oversee, haven’t had a student work with him who hasn’t passed.”

No pressure , Steve thought. “I’ll make sure to do that. Thank you Dr. Potts.”

“Good luck Steve.

He didn’t need luck, he needed a miracle.

*oOo*

Bucky Barnes was having a perfectly normal day, thank you very much. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and he was far away from all of it; hidden in the back corner of the library, tucked into his favorite hoodie, surrounded by old books with his music on blast, away from the rest of the student body who lounged about around campus. Just the thought made him shudder. Ew, people. Ew, sun. Ew, birds.

Turning the page, he delved deeper into the next chapter of ‘Modern Quantum Physics’, engrossed in Planck’s mathematical equation involving a figure to represent the individual units of energy. He let his chin rest in his palm, as Mumford & Sons blasted their fiddles and banjos through his ear buds, his mind drifted into the equation, letting it unravel in his head, taken apart exponent by exponent, the white board of his mind was covered in numbers and algorithms; a beautiful portrayal of what Bucky Barnes considered to be ‘peace’.

*oOo*

That’s how Steve found him, exactly where Natasha said he’d be. He’d run into Nat at the student center while signing up for tutoring and enquiring about said math tutor. Nat and Steve ran into each other often at the house. Typically he could find her sitting on Steve, Thor, Clint and Sam’s raggedy second hand couch with her feet up, head in Clint’s lap as they watched The Great British Baking Show. They were the type of friends that didn’t have need to have long drawn out conversations, but always seemed to know if the other was a in good mood or bad mood. Occasionally she’d help Clint and Sam organize the football parties that marked a win, or a loss... well really any reason to do a keg stand, that had Steve panicking among the giant crowd until his fifth shot in, that she’d serve with a smile and a wink as if she knew about his inherent need for liquid courage.

Finding Nat at the student center, manning the desk for tutors, was no surprise, as she was the queen of keeping everything organized and everybody on the right track.

“Rogers, whatcha need?” She asked, quirking a perfectly shaped eyebrow and popping her gum from behind the desk.

“Hey Nat.” Leaning his elbows on the desk he gave her his cocky half smile that he kept reserved for moments when confidence was lacking, it always worked in post game interviews when a camera was shoved in his face so surely it would work here. “Kinda fallin’ behind in Potts’ Calc 261 class, she recommended some guy named Bucky to uh, kinda help me as a -”

“Tutor.” Nat finished for him, grabbing from a stack of papers she slid it in front of him. “James is great, and lucky for you he doesn’t have anyone on his list for the semester yet. He’s aced every Math course Columbia has to offer, so I’m not going to be offended that you’re lookin’ for him and not me.”

“Oh no,” he hastened, filling out his name, preferred times, cell number, and checking the 2x a week box. “I’m didn’t, we never re- I just…Dr. Potts recommended him and I -”

“It’s fine Rogers. If you need any help while I’m at the house feel free to holler at me.” She took the paper and looked it over. “If you want to find Barnes and introduce yourself he’s typically in the library, pretty easy to spot - he’ll be in the back corner of the fourth floor, hidden under too many books and listening to his music too loud. Go easy on him, he’s jumpy around pretty boys.” She recommended shooting him a quick wink before turning to the next student; a helpless looking freshman who stared up at Steve in awe.

“You’re Steve Rogers, the quarterback.” He explained.

Steve gave the probably barely eighteen year old a nod. “I am.”

“That pass you threw in the fourth quarter against Ohio State last year was legendary, man.” The smaller guy said, beaming up at Steve with unmistakable admiration.

“Thanks.” Steve rubbed the back of his neck, fingers tightening along the corded muscle, praying for sweet release from the tension that always coiled in them around unfamiliar people. “Um, have a good day.”

He gave a small wave and turned, not missing the way the smaller man exclaimed, “he’s freakin’ huge!” and Nat’s snort in response.

Confined to the elevator within the library Steve finally allowed himself to blow out the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. Leaning his head back against the cool metal he let his mind drift for the short ride. Some days he hated being the quarterback, hated the attention, hated the underlying pressure that pulsed around him whenever he was anywhere remotely close to the student body.

He had found ways to avoid every crowded area of the school like the plague; taking short cuts around buildings and eating off campus with the money he made from being a TA for his art professors. Anything to avoid people staring at him in awe without any knowledge of who Steve actually was.

In Steve’s mind he wasn’t the star quarterback, he wasn’t that typical frat-boy partier that people saw when their eyes raked over his six foot three frame, and he wasn’t the guy who had cheerleaders hanging off his arm as displayed on March of 2019’s school calendar. With the doors opening to the fourth floor he had to wonder just who Steve Rogers would be if he hadn’t received that football scholarship senior year of high school.

Following Nat’s directions he allowed himself to amble among the aisles, finding solace among the books that probably hadn’t been touched in years. He let his fingertips run over the dusty spines as he worked his way back to the far corner, taking his time before yet another interaction with people.

He was exhausted and it was only 9 am. People were exhausting, he concluded to himself before stopping at the sound of muffled drums. Apparently some people were also determined to blow out their ear drums.

Rounding the corner of the last shelves he stopped short. Oh. His mind went wonderfully blank at the sight of the man sitting with his legs tucked under him in his chair, hair twisted messily into a haphazard bun, while drowning in an oversized light gray hoodie. The music was blaring so loud that Steve caught what he thought was a banjo solo.

As the man turned the page, examining what looked to be the longest mathematical equation ever written, his free hand scribbled notes messily on the notepad beside him. He saw the brief change in his shoulders, tensing the way one does with the sudden awareness of being watched, his head jerked up and the steel blue eyes pierced into Steve. Christ .

Yanking the buds out of his ears the man cocked his head to the side, eyes cool and disinterested. “You lost?” He asked.

Shit shit shit. Why, why did his voice have to sound like that? “Um no, was actually looking for you.” Steve managed.

He snorted in reply, the sarcastic half smirk sent a jolt through Steve’s system that he would have to decipher later. “Doubtful.”

“You’re uh... Bucky, err James Barnes?” Steve asked, biting his lip apprehensively - there were other corners of the fourth floor, who knows what those possibilities held, other hot burnetts in oversized hoodies with disheveled hair?

The man’s eyebrows shot up. “I am...and you are…?”

“Steve Rogers.” Steve moved automatically, stepping forward and leaning across the table with his hand outstretched, which Bucky took hesitantly, not bothering to move from his chair. As Steve’s palm enveloped Bucky’s he continued, “I’m kinda struggling with Potts’ Calc 261 class and she referred me to you for a tutor...if you do that kinda thing… which Nat, uh Natasha Romanov, said you did do that kinda thing so I ...umm...yeah” He hadn’t let go. He probably should let go. Dear God man, LET. G O.

Dropping his hand back to his side he watched as Bucky pulled out his phone. “Oh...guess you are. Just got Nat’s text and the confirmation email.” He looked back up at Steve skeptically. “Why are you taking freshman course as a…”

“Junior.” Steve filled in. “I um...kinda avoided math like the plague since I got here.” He answered honestly, giving Bucky a sheepish grin.

Bucky replied with a noncommittal hum. “Phone.” He held out his hand.

“What?”

“Give me your phone, you’re gonna need my number if I’m going to tutor you.”

“Right.” Steve clumsily dug out his phone from his back pocket and handed it over the table.

“Tuesday, Thursdays work for you?” Bucky asked, quickly typing in his info before calling himself from Steve’s phone.

“Can’t, I have practice.”

Bucky arched a brow questioningly before handing the phone back.

“Football…” Steve drew out, waiting for the inevitable ‘o h duh, that’s Columbia’s quarterback ,’ moment.

Bucky shrugged. “Okay? Can you do Fridays?”

“We have our games on Fridays or Saturdays.” Steve supplied. Didn’t everyone know that about college football?

“Can’t your team play on Monday’s like the other intramurals?” Bucky asked flippantly.

“Intramurals?” Steve laughed, not knowing whether to be annoyed or relieved at the lack of recognition. “No, we really can’t.” He scoffed.

With a sigh Bucky gave him a tight smile. “Fine, Mondays/Wednesdays then?”

Monday nights he tried to reserve for being in the Art hall, the live models always came on Monday’s for extra sitting practice and Steve hadn’t missed one yet. He blew out a breath. “I can make it work, what time?”

“I have classes until 6 that I have to TA for, so 6:30?”

Goodbye art, Steve thought begrudgingly, “Sure. Where?”

“I’ll text you.” Bucky added, already shoving his ear buds back in and turning back to his book. Steve starred for a solid five seconds before Bucky looked up again. “Anything else?” He asked expectantly.

“Uh...no, I guess not.” Steve answered, frowning at the blatant dismissal. “Nice to meet you too.” He rolled his eyes, and headed back to the elevators. A little pissed off for a reason he couldn’t quite pinpoint, and coming to the now science backed conclusion that all people were exhausting.

*oOo*

He made sure Steve was far far away before looking up from the mathematical equation that now seemed like it was written in Spanish since encountering the man... no man wasn’t the right word to describe what he just experienced ... Adonis? Adonis worked . Flexing his hand he stared at it slightly surprised by the remaining warmth, well he didn’t spontaneously combust from touching the man. Yet.  He plucked his head phones out and paused his music before opening the text screen to Nat.

Bucky Barnes: Could’ve warned me that the person coming my way was a hot blonde with the shoulder to hip ratio of a dorito.

The reply took seconds…

Natasha Romanoff: I see you’ve met Steve.

Bucky Barnes: YOU COULD HAVE WARNED ME.

Natasha Romanoff: Now where’s the fun in that?

Bucky Barnes: You’re an ass.

Natasha Romanoff: You two meeting at the house for tutoring?

Bucky Barnes: the house?? what house?

Natasha Romanoff: Clint’s house.

Bucky Barnes: Why the fuck would we meet at your boyfriend’s house for tutoring Nat?

Natasha Romanoff: Because dipshit, Clint and Steve are roommates, along with two other delectable men.

Natasha Romanoff:  Study there, stare at pretty men, maybe see me.

Natasha Romanoff:  It’s a win win.

Bucky Barnes: I’ll think about it.

Well well well, the plot just keeps thickening doesn’t it? Bucky thought to himself, stretching out his legs and rolling his neck. It wasn’t often that Bucky tutored anyone past their freshman or sophomore year, most of the lower level classes were on the difficult side, it being Columbia and all, but only people with some understanding of math had to take upper level classes and therefore rarely needed him to tutor.

Having a junior, who probably hadn’t touched math since some shitty community college or AP high school course three years prior, asking for help sounded like the makings of a nightmare. It would probably be back to the basics, jog the guys memory, and then he would catch on. Easy. And at least he would have something pretty ( and blatantly straight, the little voice in his head reminded him) to stare at while he worked.

Checking his watch he noted the time, ducked his head back into the book and made the equation burn the image of the very hot piece of straight ass out of his mind. Hot was hot, but he had three more classes and a session with a professor to review his Quantum field theory before he could even begin to think about staring at pretty boy’s ass…and what a delectable ass it was… FOCUS BARNES .