Steve is halfway through his grading for Professor Erskine’s Human Sexuality in Cross Culture Perspectives course when he gets a text from Tony that just reads, ASSEMBLE?
I still haven’t finished the villains for next week, Steve texts him back. Every time he opens up the Photoshop file with Doctor Doom—he’s got HP out the ass and the party is going to be super fucked by his power-stealing attack—Steve ends up feeling guilty about all of the grading he’s not doing for Professor Erskine and closes it again.
Next week??? Tony sends back, followed by four squid emoji and an umbrella. Presumably Steve is supposed to think that Tony is crying in the rain with a bunch of cephalopods about Steve’s lack of progress, but Tony’s probably actually busy setting Helmholtz coils on fire somewhere in the Engineering building.
Steve sends, Probably, and then goes into his phone’s settings to turn vibrate on silent off. Once he’s finished the last of these midterm papers he’ll be able to devote his energy to designing a quest worthy of Doctor Doom. Steve doesn’t know why he even bothers—he always plots out elaborate schemes full of riddles and side quests and puzzles and then Bruce crits a punch to start a bar fight in the first ten minutes and everything gets fucked up—but he always does, every week without fail. He’s such a shmuck.
Steve means to work on Doctor Doom—he opens the Photoshop file and connects his shitty tablet and then swears at it and restarts everything because the stylus won’t work—he really does, except he takes four seconds to take a bite of his avocado toast and check Facebook and the thread that he shares with the other members of the Student Leaders Intersectionality Network is blowing up. According to the two most recent messages, Kitty thinks that protesting in person is their only option and Maria, unsurprisingly, is pushing for an immediate meeting with the Dean of Students to register a complaint. Steve has to scroll up past about forty messages, most of them capslocked, to find the original link.
“Where’s my avocado?” Bucky shouts from the kitchen, and then he stomps over to Steve’s desk nook in the living room, sees his face, and grimaces. “Fuck. What happened?”
“The student government board invited Dov Charney to speak next week,” Steve tells him. He wants to bury his face in his hands but he’s still holding his tablet stylus and it pretty much breaks if he breathes on it funny. “About labor rights. I can’t believe that they got funding approval for this.”
“Aw, kid,” Bucky says, like he’s not a full ten months younger than Steve. “That sucks.”
“It’s unbelievable that our student activity fee is going to fund sexual harassment and exploitation,” Steve says. He’s so angry that he’s shaking a little bit; a piece of avocado falls off of his toast and onto the surface of his tablet with a wet plop. “We’re going to have to meet with Dean Fury about this. And protest, of course.”
“Of course,” Bucky says, resigned.
Steve meets with Maria and Kitty for a strategizing lunch the next day in the Hillel office. They’d done a Doodle for the optimal meeting time with everybody, but Luke and Nico both have labs all day and America is doing an internship at the mayor’s office this semester that sends her off campus on Tuesdays. T’Challa had responded to the initial Facebook thread with, “I’m out of town until Friday, CC me on all emails.”
“I made an appointment with Dean Fury for tomorrow afternoon,” Maria says grimly. “I would be worried about our talking points, except they speak for themselves.”
Kitty shreds a breadstick with her fingertips and frowns down at Maria’s list. “Are we emphasizing them by how shitty they are or by how legally backed up the accusations have been? Because I’m not sure I’d open with the sexualized children posters. Like, talk about them, absolutely, but I think if we go in with the harassment cases—”
“Right,” Maria says, drawing an arrow between bullet points.
Steve takes advantage of the brief moment of silence to add, “I’m not sure Fury will keep them from holding the talk.” Best case scenario that would happen, of course, but. “Somebody in the dean’s office had to approve his selection in the first place.”
“We could demand a refund?” Kitty suggests, and then she makes a face. “I know, that’s a stupid idea. Logistically, like, impossible. But it makes me so mad that we’re all paying $80 a semester and it’s going back to that asshole.”
“As much as I love to complain about the programming council’s budget,” Maria says, “I’ve met with Dean Fury about that twice already and he’d probably throw me out of his office if I brought it up again.”
“Maybe tomorrow isn’t the best time to take a stand on that,” Steve says, “but—I know somebody on the newspaper? That’s the kind of thing they might be interested in covering, long-term, and it gets you and Campus Women’s out of the line of fire, Maria.”
“Thanks, Steve,” she says. “Always a gentleman.” Here she pauses and raises an eyebrow. “By friend on newspaper, you mean—”
“Oh my god, friend,” Steve says, choking on a piece of cheese.
By the time Kitty kicks Steve and Maria out of the Hillel office, Steve is nearly late to Special Topics in Cultural Anthropology, which is on literally the completely opposite end of campus from the student union. He doesn’t have time to drop by the newspaper office on his way out, so he emails a handful of links to Peggy and sends her a text reminding her to check her email.
He’s forgotten to return his phone to vibrate, of course, which means he gets out of class two hours later to the surprise of four increasingly angry emails from Peggy about whatever has been happening to the student activities fee budget and one text from Natasha that just says, We can play without the dolls this week, Steve.
One, Steve sends back, I have responsibilities other than planning this campaign. Two, if you think you’re getting Steve-made figurines again after Bruce threw Kingpin through a window last month, you’re unbelievably wrong.
Natasha doesn’t reply, but Steve ends up waiting for the 51C instead of walking back home in the rain and he gets home ten minutes later than usual to find her in the kitchen, pouring water into the rice cooker that Bucky had gotten from a former neighbor after he’d helped her move out her sofa. It has to be unplugged five minutes before the display says the rice is done but it was also free so Steve isn’t one to split hairs about it.
It’s not really possible to fit more than two people at a time in Steve and Bucky’s kitchen; Steve has to wait for Bucky to wedge himself into the corner by the fridge before he can open the cabinet above the sink and fish out a glass. Bucky, who is an asshole, watches Natasha take the rice cooker out into the living room to plug it in and is silent and judgmental as Steve fills his glass at the tap.
“What?” Steve finally asks, after Bucky has watched him drain the glass and rinse it out.
“Natasha just spent like twenty minutes aggressively making dinner and you what me?” Bucky says. “She made fucking chili, Steve.”
Steve tries not to wince, doesn’t succeed, and then gives up and sighs. According to Bucky, who takes ‘friends since birth’ really seriously, Steve looks just like his mom when he does that. “I know, I know,” he says. “The campaign is important to me, I promise. But, Buck. The CEO of American Apparel.”
Because it’s “unfair” and “dirty,” Steve tries not to look pleadingly at people too frequently. He does so here and Bucky squints at him, like he’s trying to smother Steve with the power of his mind alone. “Ugh,” Bucky finally says. “Fine. Whatever. I’ll—convince them to move the session back a week.”
Steve attempts to casually put his glass into the drying rack next to the sink. “Are you going to come to the protest?” he asks in the general direction of the faucet.
“Do not push your luck,” Bucky says, which means maybe.
Completely by chance, Steve runs into Clint in the anthropology student lounge the next afternoon. Steve is using the shitty microwave to warm up some of Natasha’s leftover chili and rice and Clint appears like he’s been magically summoned by the smell of Natasha’s cooking.
“No,” Steve says, “no, no extras,” but Clint stays and looks increasingly pathetic and Steve feels guilty about pushing the session back for a week when everybody is already sad because Thor and Janet are studying abroad this semester, so he ends up spooning some of the chili into a conical paper cup from the water dispenser out in the hallway.
THANKS, Clint signs; a few grains of rice fly off of his spoon and join the other gross debris littering the floor of the anthro student lounge.
“No problem,” Steve says, resigned. “Natasha just—showed up and made it, last night.”
“That’s because you’re sad,” Clint says. For emphasis, presumably, he then signs PATHETIC. Steve already regrets giving him any of the chili.
“I’m busy,” Steve says, “it’s something you’re probably really unfamiliar with over in the school of general studies—”
Clint signs FUCK YOU so often that it was, obviously, the first sign Steve learned, followed closely by BEER? (“The eyebrows make it a question,” Sam had said, sagely, and Natasha had punched him in the kidney.)
“Fuck you, too,” Steve says. “I have to organize a protest now, if you’re done stealing my lunch.”
Clint says, “No,” through a mouthful of chili and Steve ignores him. Although it’s awkward and takes some juggling, Steve unpacks his laptop from his backpack and sets it up on the table in front of him without leaving his chili exposed to Clint’s wandering hands. Steve has yet to answer any of Peggy’s emails and she’s sent him three more. They’re longer now and have links and attached Excel files that look like they weren’t intended for student consumption.
“What’s this?” Clint asks. He points to the spreadsheet and for a second Steve thinks Clint is emphasizing a single line, maybe one with the critical information that Peggy needs for her article, but it turns out Clint means, like, the entire Excel file.
“Student activities budget,” Steve says. Clint makes an aggravated noise in the back of his throat and Steve looks up and repeats it. If he sits for too long in one place he starts to slump and it moves his mouth of Clint’s line of sight.
“Why do we care?” Clint says, with all the disdain of someone in the middle of their fourth year as an undeclared major.
“Because a significant amount of this money is going to Dov Charney,” Steve tells him, and then of course he blinks and it’s thirty minutes and four Wikipedia pages later and Steve is down half of his now-cold Tupperware container of chili with no actual progress made on either the protest or Peggy’s impending editorial.
“Don’t you have class or something?” Steve asks Clint suspiciously.
“Or something,” Clint says with a shrug, which seems to his approach to college in general.
Although he couches it nicely, Dean Fury says hell no to Maria’s proposal that the programming council cancel their invitation for Dov Charney to speak.
“The students voted,” he says, leaning back in his desk chair and interlacing his fingers over his chest. Everybody in SLIN had cleared their schedule except for T’Challa, still trapped at a conference in San Diego, so they’re arrayed in front of Dean Fury’s desk like a weird choir. Rhodey does acapella, so Steve knows from strange choirs.
“The programming council voted,” Maria corrects him. There are like three people on earth willing to interrupt Dean Fury for the purpose of correcting him and Maria is one of them. “Which is, of course, at twenty-three students only a small portion of our total body—”
“Miss Hill,” Dean Fury interrupts right back, “I appreciate your point, but it’s unfortunately irrelevant.”
There’s a brief noise out of America that sounds a little bit like Steve and Bucky’s busted water heater before Bucky had blackmailed their landlord into getting it fixed; she says, “It’s irrelevant that the programming council voted to bring a reported sexual harasser into our university to talk about labor rights?”
“They have autonomy, Miss Chavez,” Dean Fury tells her. “It’s in their organization’s constitution.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Luke says. “The programming council is a student organization and under your authority. Their constitution doesn’t opt them out of that.”
“If you’d read their constitution,” Dean Fury says loudly, “you would know that, provided their board votes unanimously, decisions made by the programming council can only be overturned in extreme cases.”
Nico says, “This isn’t an extreme case?” in approximately the same tone as America’s water boiler noise.
“Frankly, no,” Dean Fury says. There’s something about his expression that gives Steve the impression that he is not totally unsympathetic to their cause, but it’s sort of a moot point because three seconds later he adds, “I think we’re done here?” in a way that makes it not at all a question.
Both Americans for Informed Democracy and the Rainbow Alliance have weekly programming on Wednesday nights. Serendipitously, they’re scheduled that night for Ballrooms A and B; Steve and America leave Dean Fury’s office and go straight down to the first floor of the student union to scrounge up a janitor to take down the room divider. An absurd amount of the Rainbow Alliance budget goes to craft supplies and Steve’s vice president is also on the Green Campus Initiative and has access to basically all of the recycled cardboard on campus, so twenty minutes into their combined meeting it looks like some kind of glitter bomb has gone off and Steve is giving a brief tutorial on basic figure drawing for the people who want to get really artistic for their posters.
He looks up from explaining the two balls and a line model for shoulders to see that Bruce and Tony have claimed space in the back of the room, both of them having apparently gotten over their native distaste for extracurricular activities.
“I didn’t think you guys even knew where the student union was,” Steve says when he finds them fifteen minutes later. Bruce’s sign is basic, black paint on a white background, like he’s trying to be evocative of the American Apparel marketing aesthetic. He might be, for all that Steve knows. Tony’s poster is an ambitious monster. There’s a lot of glitter happening.
Bruce says, “Tony looked it up on the campus map,” and puts down his paintbrush for a second to examine his poster. “Does the last line look centered?” he asks.
“Nobody cares,” Tony says without looking up. “Because your poster is boring.”
“I like it,” Steve volunteers, and Bruce signs THANKS absently. It’s the kind of thing they’ve all picked up from hanging around Clint, just like Steve banged his toe on the lip of the bathtub a few weeks ago and swore in Russian before he knew what he was doing. “Are you planning on coming to the protest?” asks Steve.
Tony draws a narrow line of glue around the E in EXPLOITATION. “Of course,” he says. “Like I would trust this masterpiece to some rando asshole.” After a moment’s consideration, he picks up the bag of green glitter and sprinkles it over the wet glue. Steve thinks about telling him that something tonally weird is happening with his poster, but—well, there’s not really much point in going to bat with Tony over his design decisions and, frankly, ostentatious will probably only help them in the long run.
“Me too,” Bruce says, “if I can get out of lab and back from upper campus on time. When are you starting?”
“Around seven,” Steve says. He stays even after Bruce and Tony have returned the entirety of their attention to their poster-making endeavors. He wants to say something about the campaign but he’s not sure how to phrase it without coming across as a dick. Finally he says, “Sorry about having to push Avengers back.”
Tony says, “Shut it, nerd,” and swipes a bottle of blue paint from a nearby cluster of Rainbow Alliance members.
“It’s fine,” Bruce tells him. Even when he and Tony are yelling at each other about Tony not recycling any of his enormous stash of empty pizza boxes or other miscellaneous roommate shit, they still work in frightening unison; both of them look up in tandem. “We’re all busy, we get it.”
“But we’re still totally mad,” Tony clarifies. “Not cool, Rogers.”
Just like 90% of the shit that comes out of Tony’s mouth, this dissolves any guilt Steve might feel about having to postpone the campaign session. “Who ended up in the hospital with mono last year and had to be replaced by his girlfriend, who was better than him in literally every capacity?” Steve points out.
Like every other time he’s reminded of his own mortality and occasionally lackluster health, Tony makes a displeased face that’s somewhere between a pout and a scowl. “Yes,” he says, “my girlfriend is better than basically everybody, but as I don’t see my dad anywhere this clearly isn’t the Tony Stark’s Deficiencies Hour, so let’s come back to the point at hand.”
“—which is that it’s fine that you delayed, don’t worry about it, focus on the protest,” Bruce says. Behind him, across a sea of excited AID and Rainbow Alliance members, Steve can see America pick up a tube of acrylic paint and point it at her girlfriend in a way that’s probably flirty but screams ‘impending disaster.’
“I gotta go, sorry,” Steve throws behind him as he books it for America and Kate. “Thanks for coming, guys!”
Tony and Bruce are gone by the time the meeting winds down at quarter after ten. Steve and America cart the still-wet posters up to their respective offices until they run out of flat space for them, at which point America calls Luke and harasses him until he shows up to unlock the Black Action Society office. “Shit,” Luke says, propping the door open and watching Steve and America drape cardboard rectangles over BAS’ super nice office couch. Steve has taken a twenty-minute nap on it before and woken up more refreshed than when he slept ten hours in his own bed. “You guys went all fucking out.”
“The Rainbow Alliance never jokes about glitter,” Steve deadpans; America tries to give him a dead arm in retaliation but Steve is skinny enough that he’s hard to get a grip on and he slips out from under her hand.
“Your squad of hippies did half of this,” America points out. Luke laughs, the same way everybody else does when AID gets called a hippie commune, and Steve flips both of them off. It’s true that AID has a higher proportion of people with hemp backpacks and hipster tattoos than the other SLIN organizations but there are worse traits, frankly.
Luke pointedly swings his key ring around his index finger and says, “This is fun but are we done? I have a lab report to write and I’m sure Steve’s boyfriend misses him something fierce.”
Rather than rising to that bait, Steve says, “Based on earlier, I’m sure Kate wants to suck America’s face off at the bus stop, so who are we to stand in their way.”
“Well, I’m sure once you get your shit together you too will be enjoying bus stop PDA,” America tells Steve with a grin that’s a little too filthy for his comfort. “I don’t get why people give a fuck about dudes but even I know that his shoulders are really nice.” She waggles her eyebrows and both she and Luke laugh as Steve flips them off again, more pointedly. You would think being friends with Tony for four years would’ve cured a person of embarrassment but Steve can still feel himself turn red; the plastic frames of his glasses feel cool against his face.
He must still be flushed when he gets home because Bucky looks up from the piles of reference books on the coffee table to say, “You okay? You’re kinda red.” His hair’s getting long enough that there are a few wispy curls of it falling over his forehead. America was right, Bucky does have nice shoulders.
“I’m fine,” Steve says, and pure misery drives him to his rickety desk in his office nook, where he turns his back on Bucky and the rest of the living room so he can hammer out the drawing of Doctor Doom. At some point Bucky goes to bed and puts his hand on Steve’s shoulder as he passes, but Steve has his enormous headphones on and he just says, “G’night,” without looking.
He has to stop a few minutes later; he takes off his glasses for a brief second and rubs at his eyes until they stop feeling gritty. What a dumb fucking situation to be in. God, Steve is such an idiot.
Come Saturday morning, Steve has just enough strength of will to put on his glasses and unplug his phone from its charger before he flops back in bed. He’s supposed to be spending the day in the library looking up sources for his Special Topics paper but sleeping until eight or nine PM seems like a better idea.
I’m getting no comment’d up and down the programming council, Peggy apparently texted him at 5:14 AM, a mere three hours and four minutes after Steve had gone to bed the night before. Do you know anybody who’d be willing to do off the record? They don’t believe me for some reason.
Yeah, I wonder why, Steve texts her back. One of them’s in Erskine’s class that I TA but I gave him a B- on his midterm paper so I think he hates me.
You are absolutely no use to me, Rogers, Peggy replies instantly. Steve wonders if she slept at all last night. According to the student directory one of them is in Slavic Studies. Can you ask Bucky if he knows Boris Turgenov?
The windows in Bucky’s room are north-facing and he never opens the blinds, so Steve crawls into Bucky’s bed by feel. He elbows the lump of comforter in various places until Bucky oomphs and says, “Fuck, what, fuck?” in a sleepy rasp.
“Do you know Boris Turgenov?” Steve asks. “It’s for Peggy.” Bucky’s windows are open behind the blinds and it’s freezing; Steve grabs a corner of the comforter and rolls until he’s taken half of it and wrapped himself in semi-snuggly. Bucky makes an aggrieved noise but doesn’t stop him.
“Yeah,” Bucky finally says. Part of his head crawls out of the comforter and he blinks at Steve from underneath his nest of fucked up hair. “Kind of an asshole.”
“Would he talk to Peggy off the record?” Steve dutifully asks, even though he can feel himself beginning to fall back asleep.
There’s a long pause; Steve’s closing his eyes just for a second, to rest them, by the time Bucky says, “Maybe? I could ask him.”
“Great,” Steve says, “thanks,” and then he opens his eyes to sunlight valiantly fighting through Bucky’s blinds and all of the comforter piled on top of him. Steve’s phone says it’s 11:03 AM and when Steve finally gathers enough willpower to get out of bed and stumble into the kitchen, he finds Bucky there, still in his pajama pants, drinking a cup of coffee and eating a piece of congealed pepperoni pizza.
“Ugh,” Steve says. The sight sort of shocks him into wakefulness.
“Do you want some?” Bucky asks. “I can pick off the pepperoni.”
“Ugh,” Steve repeats. “Is there more coffee?”
There is, so they stand in the kitchen drinking their coffee as Steve texts Peggy with the news that she now has somebody who can negotiate with the program council for her. Bucky slumps until his arm is pressed against Steve’s, so warm that goosebumps erupt down Steve’s forearms. His arm hair grows sporadically between the lines of his tattoos and watching the individual hairs announce themselves is more embarrassing than anything else so Steve knocks his shoulder against Bucky’s bicep, purposefully being as bro-y as possible, before resting back against the counter.
“You got plans today?” Bucky asks after the last of the coffee has been drunk from the bottom of the pot, thick and sour and slightly burnt.
Steve says, “Yeah, the library.”
“What a coincidence,” Bucky says, “me too,” so they go to campus and steal a table on the fourth floor from a bunch of rowdy sophomore engineers. They spend the entire day there, occasionally venturing out for more coffee and tuna sandwiches from the cart in the basement and Steve feels the nervous tension from the last week’s frenetic activity start to slowly ease out of him, viscous and slow, like molasses.
Theoretically the SLIN members are getting together at quarter of seven to cart their piles of signs down to the first floor auditorium but Human Sexuality in Cross Culture Perspectives doesn’t get out until six-thirty; Steve shows up ten minutes late with Chipotle. “Sorry, sorry,” he says, out of breath and waving an enormous bag of burritos around. “I got a bunch of different kinds for everybody, how’s it going?”
Instead of an actual answer he gets ones and fives shoved in his face as people tear open the Chipotle bag. “I’ve only got four dollars in cash,” Nico says apologetically but that doesn’t stop her from ripping the foil off of the top of a carnitas burrito and inhaling half of it in a few seconds.
Steve takes the lack of screaming panic to mean that things are going as well as can be expected; he steals the last vegetarian burrito out from under T’Challa’s wandering eye and takes it with him to where Peggy has cornered a bunch of African Students Organization board members and is mining them for quotes.
“Steve!” Peggy says cheerfully. She looks as impeccable as ever, which is impressive from most people but even more so from somebody who sleeps as rarely as Peggy. “Do you want to give me the rundown on this?”
“Sure,” Steve says gamely. “Have you eaten? There might be a few leftover burritos.”
Peggy eschews food in favor of details, which Steve gives her until she’s filled three notebook pages with scribbled shorthand and Steve’s halfway through his burrito. “You should talk to Nico—she’s the one who found out about Charney coming—and Kitty suggested the protest. Maria’s the best one to get quotes from about Dean Fury. Do you want the other half of this? Seriously. Take it.” With Peggy and the burrito now directed over to Nico and her pack of Asian Students Association members, Steve is free to supervise the distribution of posters and brainstorm chants with Luke and Maria.
It’s all going very well by seven—Tony and Bruce had come by with their posters and Natasha and Sam had come together and are loitering near the back, probably saying mean things about the chants—and Steve has settled himself into the background, letting the people who are very good at shouting like Maria take the lead. He thinks he sees Bucky for half a second disappearing behind a clump of extremely tall Campus Women’s members but by the time the crowd shifts, he’s gone. By seven-fifteen, as the first floor auditorium has begun to fill up, people are coming by to ask why they’re protesting and Steve’s arms ache a little from holding his sign above his head but it’s worth it, because he’s still so mad about this entire situation.
And then, of course, right after seven-thirty things begin to go a little awry.
The timer on the rice cooker reads 07 when Bucky bangs through the front door of the apartment. Steve is cross-legged on the floor in front of the rice cooker, sketching out a vague floor plan of Doctor Doom’s lair. “Hey, was that you I saw at the protest? I remembered afterwards that you have Czech Film at 7:30 on Thursdays. Also, we need to get an extension cord for the kitchen,” he tells Bucky, who drops his bag to the ground with a crash of what sounds like aluminum cans. Probably Dr. Pepper, knowing Bucky.
“What the hell, Bucky,” Steve tries and Bucky folds his knees up under himself and drops into a crouch so he can kiss Steve, curling his big hands into the soft denim of Steve’s collar.
“Um,” says Steve when Bucky finally pulls out of the kiss. His mouth feels enormous and swollen; the timer says 03 and the rice cooker is so overheated that Steve can feel it through the thin fabric of his cords. “Shit.”
“I got it,” Bucky says roughly and he leans over and yanks the power cord out of the wall, nearly electrocuting them both and sending their dinner splashing across the floor.
It takes him a second, but Steve eventually realizes that Bucky’s hands are shaking with a fine tremor, like the spasm of an overworked muscle. “What’s wrong with you?” Steve says. The pages of his sketchpad, which had been crushed underneath one of Bucky’s knees, are crinkled almost beyond salvaging.
“Did you almost get kicked out of school?” Bucky demands.
“What, no,” Steve says, and then he amends, “well, maybe.”
“What is wrong with you, oh my god,” Bucky says. “How can one human being cause—so much trouble?”
“Excuse you,” says Steve. “Who almost burned down my mom’s apartment? Because I remember telling you that lighting the pilot light with a candle from Mrs. Silvas’ advent wreath was a terrible idea and you didn’t listen.”
Bucky ignores this. “Your mom is going to kill me,” he says. He’s still holding Steve’s collar but more gently now, his fingers spread out across Steve’s shoulders. “I thought she was going to strangle me after that stunt you pulled freshman year but she really will, if you get kicked out because you refused to listen to a disperse order from campus police.”
To be fair to Bucky, none of freshman year had been his fault. Steve should have realized that the OC gas dispersed by the police at protesters would trigger his asthma bad enough to land him in the hospital. Bucky had even told Steve that being a legal observer for the ACLU was nearly as bad as protesting the G20 himself, although Steve disagrees with him about that to this day. “That wasn’t your fault,” Steve reminds him. “God, Bucky, you’re not actually my mom.”
“You need like five moms,” Bucky says. He looks meaningfully at the rice cooker. “Including one who knows how to cook.”
“Okay, do you want to make dinner, then?” Steve says. “No? Then shut up,” and they end up making out against the floor for at least another hour. It’s long enough that the rice has become a congealed mass the consistency of boxed mashed potatoes and the pot of lentils that Steve had left boiling on the stove is basically soup. By then it’s after eleven and India Garden is doing their half-price takeout special, so Bucky orders them navratan korma and murg badami and they eat it on their futon out of the plastic containers.
“Why does our rice never taste this good?” Bucky laments once he’s demolished half of his chicken, and Steve laughs so hard he spills cauliflower down the side of the futon. It’s pretty much the best night Steve has had in a long time.
“Having now evaded the external security forces, you walk into Doctor Doom’s lair,” Steve says. “The hallway stretches in front of you for about ten feet before it splits into a four-way intersection.”
“Seriously?” Clint complains.
“I’m going to guess,” Tony says. He rolls his d20 for luck and gets 3.
“You think the left corridor is a really great idea,” Steve tells him to a chorus of groans. Natasha says something filthy and mean in Russian.
“Okay, okay, left corridor,” Tony says. “Now what?”
“At the end of the hall you see an enormous metal door. The sign on the front of it says TEST AREA. The door appears to be locked.”
The entire party turns to Natasha in unison; she rolls her eyes and her d20 at the same time and Pepper almost falls off of the futon when the people arrayed around the coffee table erupt into excited shrieks. “The fucking Door-lord strikes again!” Tony crows, reaching across the table to high-five her.
Steve says, “Black Widow picks the lock on the door and it immediately falls to pieces in her hands. The door opens.” Why does he even bother writing doors into things anymore? Natasha always fucking crits while lock picking. “Inside is your typically evil secret villain science lair. There are science things.”
“Fume hoods,” Bruce suggests. “Evil fume hoods.”
“Inside are evil fume hoods,” Steve agrees gamely. “In a tank in the center of the room you see—“ Here Steve pulls a sheet of printer paper out from under the coffee table and tapes it onto the front of his laptop, so they can all see the alien he spent four hours drawing last night. Getting the lighting right on something creepy and underwater is awful. He hopes they appreciate that he gave up sex with Bucky for this fucking alien.
“Shit,” Bucky says, squinting at it. There’s a warmth to his voice that trickles down Steve’s spine when he continues, “That’s fucking amazing, Steve.”
“I get closer to the creepy alien tank,” Clint says.
“How much closer?” Steve asks.
Clint groans and says, “I don’t know, like two feet?”
It gives Steve incredible personal satisfaction to say, “Roll stealth.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Clint says. He rolls a five, looks at his character sheet for his modifier, and signs 9 at Steve.
“Alarms go off,” Steve says, switching over to iTunes, “and, from somewhere in the distance, comes the pounding of drums.” It’s the Batman Begins soundtrack but, frankly, Steve has yet to find better fight music.
“I take a brief second to remind Hawkeye how much I fucking hate him,” Bucky says, glaring at Clint. Steve looks up at the sound of his voice for a millisecond and then he keeps looking, unable to stop himself, as Bucky leans back into the futon to ask Sam to pass his water bottle.
“Get your own fucking water, man,” Sam says, but he kicks it in Bucky’s general direction a second later anyway. Bucky grins at Sam and then his eyes come back to Steve. After a split second of visible confusion, he gives Steve a big, slow smile as he uncaps his water bottle.
“What a bunch of nerds,” Pepper says as Steve gives the party a minute to shuffle their character sheets over to their attacks; she takes the opportunity to wink at Steve before she returns her attention to her laptop. God knows how she and Sam manage to get any work done, but they come every week without fail.
“A door behind the tank opens and out pours five Doombots. Bruce, roll an anger check.” The Doombots are silver thimbles out of a pack of twenty that were a dollar at Goodwill. Steve carefully places the thimbles on the edge of the whiteboard lying flat on the coffee table and uses a dry erase marker to sketch the room around them. “The shot glass is the tank, so—Clint, you’ll be right in front of it—”
Bruce passes his anger check. The Doombots roll first and do, predictably, next to no damage with their low basic attacks. Steve’s hoping to lull the party into a false sense of security before he breaks out Doctor Doom. At the beginning of the next round, Steve tells Bruce to roll another anger check.
“Crit fail,” Bruce says grimly, and he switches out the Lego scientist on the whiteboard for a green Troll doll. “Hulk’s here and he’s pissed.”
“About fucking time,” Natasha says. Her eyes are flicking between the Doombots, maybe calculating how many she can get to if she sacrifices her major action for a second move.
“Can I say it?” Tony wants to know. When nobody objects in the picosecond he allows for it, he says, “Fuck it, I’m going to say it. Avengers assemble!” A ragged cheer breaks out from around the coffee table.
“Oh my god,” says Pepper, cracking up.
“A bunch of fucking nerds,” Sam says. “All of you. I swear to God.”