“The due date is in your syllabus. You guys should open it once in a while, there’s loads of useful information in it.”
You packed up your things and pulled the strap of your messenger bag over your shoulder as you hurried out of the classroom. Your professor stopped you just as you were about to reach the bottom of the stairs.
“Miss, can you stay behind a moment?” Professor Coulson’s voice held that authoritative tone he took when he was upset. “Mr Rogers, you’re welcome to join us.”
You looked over your shoulder at Steve who was slowly packing away his pens –including the mechanical pencil you had thrown at him during the lecture. He zipped up his pencil case with a smirk, sensing you were watching him.
Professor Coulson said nothing as he leant back against the edge of his desk, his arms crossed over his chest. Great, you had pissed off your favourite teacher…
“You are my best students,” he began. You and Steve kept a neutral expression, though, on the inside, you both preened like peacocks at the compliment. “But you’re also my worst nightmare.” Professor Coulson fixed you with a pointed stare. “In this class, we do not throw pencils at other students.” He turned to Steve, giving him a hard look. “And we do not scoff when another student speaks.”
The two of you looked away, your head hung in shame. As strange as it seemed, you didn’t want to disappoint your history teacher. It wasn’t like him to snap at his students. He was one of the only good teachers; always friendly and caring.
“I understand,” Professor Coulson continued, his voice soothing. “American history is fascinating, and you’re both strong-minded people. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but you’ve got to learn to tone it down.”
“I’m sorry,” Steve said. “It won’t happen again.”
Professor Coulson let out a frustrated sigh. “Oh, it will.”
Still staring at your shoes, you grinned to yourself. He wasn’t wrong.
You had known Steve for four years now, and each year the rivalry between the two of you only seemed to intensify. At the beginning of each semester, teachers prayed not to see your names on their class roster.
You suspected they were counting the days until you both graduated.
“My colleagues had warned me about you, but I naively thought I’d be able to put an end to your little war.”
“Only the dead have seen the end of war, sir,” you quoted, smiling coyly at the way Professor Coulson pinched the bridge of his nose.
“You exhaust me,” he grumbled with a shake of his head. “Get out of my classroom, it’s time for my Xanax.”
You chuckled at his joke and walked toward the door, Steve following a few steps behind you. He stepped on the back of your shoe, pulling it half off.
He chuckled as he walked past you, and you stared daggers at him while you wiggled your foot back into your shoe. When he made it to the door, you surged forward, wrapping your hand around the door handle.
Professor Coulson’s loud voice echoed through the empty classroom. “Any peace is better than any war,” he said, exasperated. “Remember that.”
“Yes, sir,” you both said through clenched teeth.
Steve batted your hand away like it was an annoying bug and pulled the door open. He could feel Professor Coulson’s eyes on him, so he made a show of letting you exit the classroom first.
“After you,” he said, holding the door open for you. Then he added in a whisper, “Ass kisser.”
“Thank you, wannabe,” you said, whispering the last word as you ducked under his giant arm to leave the room.
“Why are all our copies of Liberty, Equality, Power stacked in the supply room?”
Steve looked up at his best friend-slash-colleague like a deer caught in headlights. Bucky knew something was up, he gave him a questioning look.
“I don’t know,” Steve finally replied, “but there must be a reason, so don’t put them back on the shelves.”
“You’re gonna get us fired, man.”
“We’ve done nothing wrong,” Steve whispered as they returned to the reference desk. “It’s the campus library, no one cares, Buck.”
It was a beautiful sunny day, and even with the pressure of the exams looming over them, most students had decided to spend the day outside rather than visiting the library. Steve was glad of the respite. Things could get pretty intense during exam season.
“I bet it has something to do with that girl from your history class.”
Bucky gave him a knowing look. “Yeah, sure. There are other ways to catch a lady’s attention, y’know?”
“I’m not trying to catch her attention,” Steve grumbled. From the corner of his eye, he saw you leave the history section with a frown on your face. “I don’t care about her.”
Bucky mentally rolled his eyes. Steve wasn’t a good liar.
“Okay,” Bucky began, “if you’re not interested, maybe I’ll ask her out on a date.”
He bit back a grin when Steve’s jaw clenched hard. It only lasted a second before Steve schooled his features into a neutral expression.
“Go for it,” Steve said with a shrug. “She’s annoying, you’re annoying. A match made in heaven.”
Bucky deflated. He really thought he was going to make Steve admit that he was behaving like a five year old because he had a crush on you. Bucky opened his mouth to speak when someone stopped in front of the reference desk.
“Hi! Can you help me find this book?” You smiled at him as you slid a piece of paper across the desk.
“Liberty, Equality, Power?” he read out loud.
Bucky stared at the small piece of paper, torn between laughing and banging his head against the desk. He threw Steve a look and found him staring at his own computer, a little grin on his face.
“I checked the library’s website, it says you still have three copies left but I can’t find them in the history section.”
“Having trouble with the Dewey decimal system?” Steve asked, chancing a glance at you.
“I don’t know, I don’t work here. Are you having trouble with the Dewey decimal system?” you sassed back.
Steve stood up from his chair and leaned forward, his hands flat on the desk top. The intimating stance might work on some people, but not on you. You leaned over the desk and fixed him with a narrow glare.
“Are you saying I’m not doing my job right?” he asked through clenched teeth.
“You and I both know this is the book Professor Coulson asked me to read for my exposé,” you replied, tilting your head. “And all the copies are suddenly gone. You trying to sabotage my presentation, Rogers?”
The sound of a book hitting a hard surface made you both turn your head. Bucky was standing next to Steve, his hands on his hips, and a copy of your book on the desk top.
“Someone mis-shelved it,” Bucky fibbed, smiling politely. “Sorry for the inconvenience.”
You straightened up, slightly embarrassed that you had let your temper take control. It was something that only happened when Steve was around. He always had a way of making you lose control.
“Thank you, you’re really helpful,” you told him, cradling the book against your chest. You walked back to your seat, throwing Steve one last look. “Jerk.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Steve called out after your retreating figure, then turned to Bucky. “Seriously, man?”
“You’re a petty shit, y’know that?”
When you returned to your seat, Natasha looked over your shoulder at the two librarians with keen interest. You opened your book and started to work on your assignment.
“So, tell me,” she said, drumming her manicured nails on the table impatiently. “It looked like you and Rogers were about to throw hands.”
“He’s a jerk,” you told her without tearing your eyes away from the paragraph you were trying to read. “Luckily, his friend isn’t.”
“Yeah, Bucky Barnes is pretty cute.”
“Uh-huh,” you replied distractedly.
“Rogers is hot, too,” she continued, watching you closely. “Have you noticed that he’s always covered in cuts and bruises? Who knows what he does in his spare time,” she mused, slightly annoyed that you weren’t reacting at all. “Hey! Are you listening to me?”
You sighed and looked up at her. “No, I was trying to tune you out but you’re too loud. If you think Steve’s hot, why don’t you go over there and ask him out?”
She raised her chin and subtly glanced at Bucky. “You know I prefer brunets. Plus I’m pretty sure Rogers’ a virgin, and that’s too much responsibility for me.”
You scoffed. “He’s not a virgin.”
“How do you know?” she smirked.
“I don’t, but- I mean look at him, there’s no way he’s still a virgin. And besides, he used to date that girl, remember?”
“Peggy Carter,” Natasha sighed pensively. She shrugged when you threw her a knowing look. “Told you, I like brunettes. And just because they were dating doesn’t mean they had sex. I’m 90% sure he’s never done it. He acts all tough and mysterious, but there’s something shy and vulnerable about him. I bet if you scratched the surface, you’d find a man desperate for love.”
“Why are psychology students always analysing people?” you mused out loud.
Natasha’s eyes narrowed menacingly. “Shut up or I’m doing you next.”
“Whatever,” you grumbled. “You wanna drive out to the mall? I need to find something cute to wear on my date with Alex.”
Natasha wrinkled her nose in disgust as you both started packing up your stuff. You placed Liberty, Equality, Power close to your bag and pulled out your library card.
“I can’t believe you agreed to go out with him.”
“Why? Everyone loves him. He does tons of charity work, he’s involved in student government, and I mean, he’s pretty hot.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she shook her head. “He seems nice and all, but- I don’t know, I feel like it’s just a façade.” You rolled your eyes at her. “Don’t give me that look, I’m not analysing him. It’s just a feeling I have.”
“C’mon, Nat! Not everyone has a hidden agenda. He’s ambitious, maybe a little cocky, but I don’t think he’s a bad person.”
You approached the reference desk, checked out the book and slid it into your bag. You wished Bucky a good evening and pointedly avoided looking at Steve. Natasha found the scene a little amusing.
“At least it confirms my theory,” she said, once the boys were out of earshot.
“That you like blonds.”
Steve threw his duffel bag on the pavement and shrugged his leather jacket on, grumbling under his breath when he spotted blood on the right sleeve. He cringed as pain radiated through his lip. He put his hand to his mouth and realized that his lower lip was swollen.
His entire face hurt, especially his nose. It had gushed blood over his lips and chin, leaving a coppery taste in his mouth. He picked up his bottle of water and rinsed his mouth before he used the remaining water to wash the crusty blood from his face.
A hand landed on his shoulder, startling him. He whirled around, his fist raised, ready to fight.
“Woah, fight’s over,” the man said, taking a step back. “Here’s your share.” Steve counted the money and stuffed the bills in his pocket. “You fought well, kid. Go home, I’ll call you soon.”
The man patted Steve’s upper arm and walked back to the bar, which was only a cover for an underground fighting ring.
With a huff, Steve picked up his bag. A wave of dizziness washed over him and he thought he might fall over. He probably had a mild concussion, or something like that. It sure felt like one. He straightened up and waited for the dizziness to pass.
Then, out of nowhere, he saw you walking toward him. He gawked at you, expecting you to dissolve like a mirage but you kept on walking, and he realized you hadn’t noticed him yet.
You were wearing a red dress with small white polka dots. The skirt reached just below your knees and it seemed to move in synch with the wind. You were too well-dressed, too pure, to be in this shitty neighbourhood.
Some of the men leered at you and whistled as you passed them. One of your hand was wrapped protectively around your waist, the other was holding the shoulder strap of your purse. A lamb amongst wolves, Steve thought.
He could tell the moment you recognized him. Your eyes widened and you walked a little faster. You stopped a few steps away and looked at him, a mix of relief and confusion on your face.
The polite exchange over, he looked around the street, glaring at the men who dared to meet his eyes. He could feel your eyes on him, on his swollen lip and bruised cheekbone.
“What are you doing in this neighborhood?” he asked, as nicely as possible even though he was tired and disoriented.
“Oh, I’m just taking a leisurely stroll. This part of town is so beautiful,” you said, sarcasm dripping from your words. He cocked an eyebrow at you and your brave façade crumbled. “I got lost.”
“Are you heading back to campus?” You nodded. “C’mon, I’ll walk with you.”
“I’m not scared,” you said, stubborn as always, then added in a whisper. “Thank you.”
You walked side-by-side in complete silence. Steve tried to think of something school-related to talk about; not because he wanted to talk but because walking made his entire body ache and he didn’t want you to hear his pathetic little whimpers.
“So, um, what where you doing?” you asked, glancing furtively at him.
“Stuff,” he answered in a gruff voice.
You fought the urge to roll your eyes. It was like talking to a petulant child. “Uh-huh, is that why your face is all messed up?”
“I feel fine.”
“Seriously, you need to go to the hospital.”
“I feel fine,” he repeated, enunciating each word sharply.
You knew he wouldn’t budge so you let the subject drop for now. Instead, you dug around in your purse and found a small bottle of painkillers. He accepted them with a small smile and swallowed two pills dry.
“Sorry,” he said meekly. “I don’t like hospitals.”
You didn’t know what to say, so continued walking as though you hadn’t heard him.
The sun was starting to set, painting the skyline in oranges and purples. A light breeze made you shiver. Goosebumps dotted your arms, and you mentally scolded yourself for not wearing a jacket.
Before you could react, Steve shrugged his jacket off and draped it over your shoulders. You tugged it closer and slipped your arms into the sleeves. You gave him a questioning look.
“I might be a jerk, but I ain’t an asshole,” he said, a smirk forming on his lips. It must have been painful, you thought. “Don’t want you to catch a cold before the exams.”
“That’s-” you paused, trying to find the right words, “very thoughtful.”
“Eh,” he replied with a casual shrug, making you laugh.
“How do I look?” you asked, holding your arms out like a scarecrow.
His jacket was at least two sizes too big for you, especially around your shoulders. The collar was too large, it was covering up most of your neck. The man was built like Hercules, and… well you weren’t.
Steve looked over at you, bundled up in his ratty jacket with a dumb smile on your face. The first word that came to his mind was ‘adorable’ but there was no way in hell he’d tell you that.
“You look like an idiot.”
You chuffed a laugh and rolled your eyes. He said it in a friendly way, with no malice behind the words at all. He expected another quip but, to his surprise, you stayed quiet.
You continued walking until you reached Washington Square Park. Steve lived off campus, like most graduate students, but he had overheard you say that you still lived on campus with your friend Natasha.
“So, um,” he started awkwardly, “where do you-”
“Are you hungry?” you cut him off. “I’m starving and there’s a restaurant just up the street. It’s close to the residence hall.”
Steve nodded. “Sure.” He had a strange fluttering sensation in his stomach. He was probably hungry.
The smell of bread and marinara sauce made his stomach announced itself with an embarrassingly loud rumble. You flashed him a teasing smile and he looked away, his face bright red. You found it cute.
“We should order an extra-large pizza,” you said, looking at the menu above the serving counter. He grumbled something under his breath that sounded like a curse. “I’m sorry, grandpa, I didn’t catch what you said.”
“Nothing,” Steve grunted.
The restaurant was packed so you ordered your drinks and pizza to go. You reached in your purse and pulled out your wallet but Steve was already at the counter. You opened your mouth to tell him to split the bill, but then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a stack of hundreds.
He did it discreetly, away from prying eyes, but you were standing right next to him. He heard you gasp, and quickly pocketed the money. When he peeked at you, you quickly looked away as if you had not seen anything.
“My treat,” he said quietly, trying to gauge your reaction.
You meekly nodded and let your gaze skitter across the restaurant. People were having a good time, laughing and eating. You envied them a bit. It should have been you, but instead you were standing there with a guy who hated you. Or so it seemed.
An excited squeal escaped your lips when you spotted the ice cream counter. They had more flavours than you had fingers and toes to count them. You ordered two scoops of your favourite flavour before you turned to Steve and asked him what he wanted. He seemed a little surprised but his eyes lit up when he looked at the display case.
This time you didn’t let Steve pay. “My treat,” you told him with a grin.
He felt another little flutter in his stomach. He squeezed his eyes shut for a second, trying to push away the unwanted feeling.
“This isn’t a date,” he blurted out, more to remind himself than to inform you.
Your face twisted into a whimsical grimace as you took the two cups from the man behind the counter.
“A date? With you? Gross.” You held the Rocky Road cup close to his lips, using the cold paper cup as an ice pack. “Hold this here, it’ll help with the swelling.” You pressed your own cup against his cheekbone where a bruise was forming. “I’m warning you, Rogers, I don’t want any of your freakishly long eyelashes in my ice cream.”
Your words might have been harsh but your eyes shone with mirth. Steve held the cup against his cheek with a smile that showed both gratitude and playfulness.
This was different from his usual post-fight routine, though, to his surprise, it wasn’t unpleasant. It was soft, and judging from the way his body responded, soft was exactly what he needed.
He looked absolutely ridiculous with the two cups pressed against his face. His tongue flicked out to taste his ice cream, and you turned away to hide your smile.
After a few more seconds, he handed you your cup of ice cream. You ate slowly; the sounds of people talking, the click of silverware on plates, and the soft whir of the hoven filled the silence between you.
Once your pizza was ready, you went to a nearby park. There were no benches or tables, and you silently wondered where Steve was taking you. You got your answer when he crossed the lawn, ignoring the ‘please, keep off the grass’ sign.
“What are you doing?” you asked, staying on the gravel path.
He looked over his shoulder, frowning. “What does it look like? I’m trying to find a good spot.”
“There’s a sign right here that says ‘Please, keep off the grass.’”
“Didn’t see it.”
He laid the pizza and drinks down on the grass, and dropped his gym bag before he sat right next to the sign. You crossed your arms over your chest, his large jacket made you look silly.
“Oh, c’mon!” Steve called out, exasperated yet ready to laugh. “You think they gonna call the S.W.A.T. team?”
You watched him bite into a slice of pizza and your stomach chose this moment to remind you that you were starving. Begrudgingly, you walked over to Steve and sat with your knees bent and your legs to one side, like a mermaid resting on a rock.
“If we get into trouble-”
“I’ll take the blame,” he cut you off with the same dumb smile permanently plastered on his face. “I’ll tell them you were my prisoner.”
You glanced up as you bit into a slice of pizza. “You’re an idiot.”
Steve shrugged, unaffected, then threw an olive stone behind his shoulder. He let his eyes roam over your body with cool detachment. You were wearing a casual dress, though it looked quite elegant. He didn’t know anything about women, but it looked like a dress you wear on a first date.
His raspy voice broke the peaceful silence between you.
The words slipped passed his lips before he could stop them. It was probably the concussion that made him blurt out things. His eyes widened and his cheeks flushed red as he desperately tried to rephrase his thoughts. Your eyebrows narrowed in amused confusion.
“It’s not what I meant,” he quickly added, wincing a bit when you cocked an eyebrow at him. “That- ok, you are pretty, not that I care or anything. I just meant that you’re wearing a nice dress and it’s Saturday so, I don’t know, maybe-”
Watching him fumble over his words was entertaining, and strangely adorable. You understood what he was trying to say, and decided to come to his rescue.
“I had a date,” you confirmed.
Steve closed his eyes and blew out a grateful sigh.
“And as you can probably tell,” you added, “it didn’t go very well.”
You didn’t notice the way Steve flinched or the way his hand balled up into a fist at his side. His knuckles were raw, and there were signs of recent bleeding. “Did he –or she- hurt you?”
You smiled. You couldn’t pretend that his protectiveness was unwelcome. “No, he didn’t hurt me. He just wasn’t who I thought he was.”
“Do I know him?”
“Yeah, everyone knows Alexander Pierce.”
Steve did a double take. “You serious? You went on a date with Pierce Junior?”
“Yeah,” you said, taking another slice of pizza. “But can you really call it a date when you leave after twenty minutes?”
Steve had an incredulous impressed look on his face. “His father donated so much money, they named the new lab building after him.” When you only shrugged in response, he continued. “What happened?”
“I thought he was a good man. A man who uses his family name and money to help others, but he’s just like his father; cold and cynical.” You licked a bit of marinara sauce off your thumb and continued. “I said, ‘This isn’t working. I don’t want to waste your time, or mine. I think we should go our separate ways.’”
“And what did he say?”
You scoffed. “He told me not to make a scene. He said he had a reputation to uphold.”
“A true gentleman.”
The sun was practically set, a few sun-powered lamps were casting their lights along the walking path. The atmosphere was starting to feel a little too romantic for your impromptu picnic. Thankfully the New York City traffic was there to make things a little less awkward.
Steve threw the pizza crust into the box and wiped his hands on his jeans. He could feel your eyes on him while he chugged down his drink. He knew what you were looking at.
“Can you stop staring at my face?” he groaned, slightly irritated.
“You look really pale.”
“I’m half Irish.” He hid his grin behind his cup.
You rolled your eyes at his remark. “You look paler than usual. Did you get into a fight?”
“Yes.” There was no denying it, the cuts and bruises were a dead giveaway.
“Did you win?”
“Yes.” He didn’t take his eyes off you. Part of him hoped it would intimidate you, but there was also genuine curiosity.
It took you a little bit longer to ask your next question. As if you were afraid to say it out loud. “You got paid, didn’t you? That’s why you carry all that money.”
Steve gritted his teeth. It seemed like you had connected the dots, and now that his secret was out, he wondered if the butterflies in his stomach hadn’t been a warning.
“Yeah,” he said, forcing the word out.
You tilted your head to one side and observed him with a frown. You mulled this over. Steve couldn’t tell what you were thinking but you seemed to come to some kind of conclusion.
“Is it like Fight Club?” you asked, keeping your voice low.
He couldn’t help but laugh a little. “Not really.”
You shifted a little closer to him. “Why do you do this? It’s too dangerous. You could be arrested, or worse, beaten to death.”
Steve looked away. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. He threw a glance at you and was surprised to see genuine worry in your eyes.
“Why do you care?” he asked. “We’re not friends. And everyone knows we can’t stand each other, even our teachers. So why do you care?”
“I don’t need a reason,” you replied. “I care about a lot of things.”
Steve observed you a moment longer. You were still wearing his leather jacket, and he had to admit that it had never looked better than it did at that moment.
“Can I trust you?”
“Tell me your secret and I’ll tell you mine.”
He playfully narrowed his eyes at you. “You don’t have any secrets.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised,” you replied with a wry smile.
“Fine, but it’d better be good,” he said, winking.
Flustered, you tried to hide your smile by rubbing your mouth with your hand. It gave him enough time to take a deep breath before he began.
“I didn’t wake up one day and think ‘I bet fighting people for money is fun, let’s do it’. When I found a job at the library, I was already working two jobs. I was running on caffeine and spite, and my grades plummeted down,” he paused, sighing. “I take care of my ma’. She can’t work anymore because of her arthritis, and my father took off when I was a kid. I need money to pay her bills, to buy her meds and whatnot.”
“Don’t pity me,” he cut you off. “I’m fine. I make $900 a fight, my mom has a roof over her head, and I’m about to graduate. Everything’s fine.”
“Everything’s fine,” he repeated.
You didn’t argue. You recognized that sentence for what it was; a positive affirmation, a mantra. It was probably something he repeated to himself every day.
It was then that you realized just how badly you had misjudged him. He wasn’t perfect, but he was a good man. He was selfless, caring and motivated, and he was starting to grow on you.
His foot nudged your knee. “Now, c’mon, I wanna hear your secret.”
You spent another hour sharing secrets. You told him things you had never told anyone before, not even Natasha. You learned that Steve loved to draw, that his favourite show was Band of Brothers, and that he preferred stiff towels.
“They’re scratchy,” he had said, “I like that.”
Steve was enjoying listening to you talk. You gestured a lot when you talked. It was your thing. You were rambling and oblivious to the way he was looking at you.
You talked and talked until it was so dark that you couldn’t see one another. Then Steve offered to walk you home and you agreed, not ready to let him go. It was strange how fast you had changed your mind about him.
A few hours ago, Steve Rogers was an annoying know-it-all. Now you saw him in a different light. He was still an annoying smart-ass but he was also so much more than that.
Steve walked you up to the glass doors of the residence hall. He swayed gently on the balls of his feet, his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground. You felt a little awkward, too.
“Thanks for walking me home,” you said. “And for the pizza.”
He smiled to himself before briefly meeting your eyes. “Yeah, tonight wasn’t too bad.”
You gave a breathless laugh and nodded. “Take care of yourself,” you told him, pressing two fingers to his chest.
It was a tiny shove with barely enough force to make him move but he played along. He pretended to lose his balance and stumbled a step back. It made you smile, and Steve’s stomach fluttered again.
He gave you a similar shove, his lips curled in a boyish smile. “See you soon.”
You didn’t know what to say next so you just kept looking at him. His eyes went to your lips, and you found it hard to breathe. You licked your lips and let your eyes wander across his face, from his eyes to his mouth and back to his eyes.
He slowly leaned towards you, his heart beating wildly in his chest. Then the door behind you opened and you were forced to take a step to the side. The woman held the door open for you before she disappeared down the darkened street.
The moment was gone. You turned back to Steve, now unable to look him in the eye, and gave him a little wave as you entered the building.
Your entire body buzzed with excitement and you felt like squealing. You were in a dreamlike state, smiling dumbly at the man behind the counter. He looked at you expectantly, a little grin on his lips.
“I need to swipe your card,” he reminded you. “Nice jacket, by the way.”
You frowned and looked down at your jacket. Only it wasn’t yours. It was Steve’s old leather jacket, and you had completely forgotten that you were wearing it. It was warm and solid around you, and smelled like cedar wood.
You mumbled a curse before you ran out of the lobby. You sprinted towards Steve, shouting his name, catching the attention of a few passer-by. He turned around just in time to catch you as you skidded to a stop in front of him. He held your hips to keep you still.
His confusion melted into a smile when he saw you, and you found yourself mesmerized by the warmth of his body.
“I just,” you trailed off, realizing how close your faces were.
“Yeah,” he encourage softly, licking his lips.
“You forgot your jacket.”
It took a few seconds for your words to register. As the realization of your words hit him, he abruptly let go of your hips and took a step back. For a second, he had thought that you wanted to kiss him.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, unable to look you in the eye as you handed him his jacket. “I thought- Never mind.”
He turned to leave but you stopped him. You touched his face, your eyes never leaving his. Gently, you cupped his uninjured cheek and ran the pad of your thumb over his swollen lip.
You wanted to kiss him, but it wasn’t right. He had a concussion and his face was all bruised. You doubted he’d want to kiss you after a good night’s sleep. It hurt but you pushed the feeling aside.
You placed a kiss on his cheek, avoiding the bruise on his cheekbone, and took a step back. Steve was frozen in place, a dumbfounded look on his face. You walked backwards toward your building, biting your lip to keep yourself from laughing.
You made your way back to your apartment and unlocked the door. You felt so light and happy that you sagged against the door, sighing heavily. Natasha was sitting in the living room, multiple psychology books scattered around her.
“I guess I owe you an apology,” she said, watching you closely. “Pierce isn’t as bad as I thought. I mean… you look like you just found a room full of puppies.”
You shook your head. “I went out with Steve Rogers instead.”
Her eyes widened with interest. With one long, smooth move, she swiped the books to the side with her stretched leg, as if to make a path for you. “Sit down and spill.”
You spent the next few days studying for your next exams with a smile on your face. Steve was never far away from your thoughts. Strangely, you had not run into him at all, and you began to wonder if he was avoiding you.
You saw him again during your history exam. You had taken your usual seat, he had taken his usual seat. Nothing particular happened. He didn’t look at you, and you tried not to glance at him too much. You had to stay focused.
Later that day, you went to the library to finish an essay. Steve was busy typing away at his desk, a stern and focused look on his face. The bruise on his cheekbone was healing well and the cut on his lip had healed to a thin pink line.
You greeted him cheerfully but all you got in return was a tight-lipped smile. Frowning, you followed Natasha to your usual table.
“That was weird,” you whispered, pulling your books out of your bag.
Natasha sat down opposite you and gave a casual shrug. “Not really, I’d say it’s pretty much how you usually behave around each other.”
“That’s what’s weird. He’s acting like nothing happened between us. I mean, we almost kissed… twice. Maybe it was the concussion.”
Natasha rolled her eyes. “It wasn’t the concussion, he’s just dumb and shy and nervous. He probably doesn’t know what to say, and, to be honest, you can be really scary sometimes.”
“Yes! You!” she replied with the same intonation you had just used.
She opened her laptop and started working on her essay, ignoring you as you raised your middle finger at her. You tried to work, too, but it was too difficult to concentrate on this dumb essay question when Steve Rogers was right behind you.
You kept glancing over your shoulder at him, resisting the urge to go over there and ask about the date. No, it wasn’t a date. It was nothing, just two people eating pizza. You blew out a sigh and returned to your homework.
After reading the same paragraph twice, you closed the book and looked around the library. A group of students, who had booked a study room, were attentively listening to Professor Coulson. The library wasn’t packed, most students had already finished their exams, but you could hear the soft buzz of conversation around you.
When you turned back to the reference desk, Steve was gone. It didn’t take you long to find him though. He pushed a book cart past your table without looking at you and headed for the history section.
You wondered if you should go after him. Tell him how you felt. You didn’t want to be rivals anymore, you wanted to get to know him better. Natasha covered your hand, effectively stopping the tapping of your pen on the open book.
“Go,” she said, jerking her head in Steve’s direction.
Grinning, you pushed your chair back and hurried toward the history section. There were fewer students in this part of the library. Most of them were in the study room with Professor Coulson.
You turned the corner and there he was, stretched up on his tiptoes and putting books back on the shelf. He almost dropped a book on his face when he saw you.
“What’s going on?”
He glanced at you with a puzzled frown. “I’m putting these books on the shelf, isn’t that obvious?”
“Don’t play dumb, Steve. You know that’s not what I meant.” He sighed and turned his back to you. “Why are you so cold to me?”
He leaned against the bookshelf for support and ran his hand through his hair. You could practically see the wheels turning in his head. When he didn’t answer, you took a step forward.
“I thought we were friends now,” you said, your voice small and fragile.
“Can we be friends?” Steve asked, motioning between you with his index finger. “Because in all the years we’ve known each other, I don’t think we’ve ever said ‘hi’. The other night was fun but it doesn’t have to mean anything.”
You looked down at your shoes, trying to hide the hurt his words had caused. Steve pinched his lips together and gripped the edge of the shelf tightly.
He had hoped that his infatuation would eventually wane but it hadn’t, and now he was ruining everything because he was too scared to acknowledge his feelings, too scared to realize that your night together hadn’t meant as much to you.
He watched your expression turn from disappointed to guarded and tense. The look you gave him –as if you were facing a complete stranger– well, it nearly broke his heart. It was obvious that you had trained yourself to hide your true feelings, and it made him feel even guiltier.
Swallowing thickly, he mindlessly tucked the pencil he was holding behind his ear. It was the mechanical pencil you had thrown at him during Professor Coulson’s class. Your eyes followed his movement.
Your head snapped up, jaw tight and eyes narrowed menacingly. “Fine, we’re not friends. I want my pencil back.”
“You threw it at me, it’s mine now.”
You walked up to him and tried to snatch the pencil from him but he caught your wrist in mid-air. He looked at you with a pained expression, pleading with you to understand. You were unaware of his inner turmoil. He wanted to be brave enough to open up to you, to tell you he’d been thinking about you since that night.
He had to try.
With a small sigh, he dropped your joined hands to his side. His fingers trailed down your wrist. His eyes were locked on yours as his fingertips caressed the length of your palm. You took the plunge and linked your fingers with his.
He saw the questions, the confusion and anticipation that swirled in the depths of your eyes. Slowly, he leaned closer and paused, his lips mere inches away from your own.
“If you don’t kiss me right now, I’m going to scream.”
Steve snorted out a laugh. “We’re in the library, you’re not allowed to raise your voice.”
“You’re so fucking infuriating.”
“Truce?” he asked, rubbing the tip of his nose against yours.
“I’m going to scream,” you warned him.
He smiled and pressed his lips to yours. Your lips were soft and warm, and before he could stop himself, his hands came up to hold your face as he kissed you again. You melted against him, holding onto his hips to anchor yourself.
You gasped against his mouth when he lifted you and placed you on the cart. Pulling away, he grinned at you and settled between your legs. You shifted uncomfortably, feeling a strange weight under your ass. You grabbed the book you were sitting on and snorted.
“Liberty, Equality, Power,” you read the title out loud.
Steve took the book from your hand and sent it flying down the alley, discretion be damned. It made you laugh.
“You won’t need it,” Steve groaned before he caught your bottom lip between his teeth.
The book stopped right in front of Professor Coulson’s feet who stood there, frozen, with a cringe on his face. He was unable to move, forced to watch his two best students make out like horny teenagers, all groping and hungry kisses.
You were both too busy to notice him, and the situation was awkward enough. Once his brain rebooted itself, Coulson walked away and rubbed his eyes frantically, trying the erase the image from his brain.