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A Doctrine of Time

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Steve wasn’t terribly sure what he expected to find when he stepped into Dr. Shen's lab. Bubbling chemicals or strange machines, not two girls with a step ladder under an air duct.

“Ah-” they turned to stare at him.

“Athletics is in the next building.” girl one said.

“No, I was looking for Dr. Shen?”

“Oh, he’s at a meeting right now.” girl two said, looking up as thumping came from the air duct. “You’re tall, can you get up there and reach peter? He’s stuck.”

“I’m not stuck! I can almost reach it! Just another-” said a voice inside the air duct, followed by a grunt.

“Uh…”

“Yeaaaah, the spiders from lab 4 escaped. The radioactive ones.”

“They aren't radioactive! They were just- ow! It bit me!”

Steve climbed the step ladder and pulled the kid out by his ankles. He looked like he was 14, 16 at best, with messy brown hair and a jar.

“It ran off,” he said, almost sadly. “It was a big one too.”

“Don’t worry Peter, I’m sure there’s lots of flies for them to eat around here.” Girl One said, nicely.

“Oh wow.” Peter said, finally taking in Steve. “You’re huge. Are you the football coach?”

“Um, can I wait for Dr. Shen in his office?”

“Actually…” The two girls looked at each other, then back up at him with a grin.

 

For the next hour or so, he was moving furniture and equipment under the girls’ direction. It wasn’t heavy to him, but after the third time he moved the same table, he was starting to think it was for their entertainment.

The group of admiring female students that gathered at the doorway kind of clinched it.

Dr. Shen finally appeared, shooing them away to their classes or labs, and all the things Steve wanted to ask left his brain. The lighting wasn’t the best, but it highlighted the planes of his face and the warm brown of his eyes.

/Oh./ his hormones told him. /He’s pretty./

He also really hoped he wasn’t hearing Peter back in the air ducts.

“Captain Rogers, I’m so sorry about that-”

“Steve.” he found himself smiling at the doctor. “Call me Steve.”

“If it’s about your jacket, I have it at my apartment.” he adjusted his glasses, shyly ducking his head. “I can bring it by-”

“No, I just wanted to see if you were okay. They said you didn’t want to go to the hospital.”

“Oh, yes, it’s… complicated. Medical exams sometimes bring unwanted attention.”

“I’m sure, but are you okay?”

“Yes, I just needed to rest a little. Thank you… Steve.”

“You want to get some lunch? Talk about how much the city’s changed?”

“I-” he glanced up at Steve, the tips of his ears turning pink. Did he think he was asking him out on a date?

“Oh, I meant-”

“I have to teach o-chem in half an hour.” he said softly, adjusting his glasses again. “But I’m free after that?”

“Oh!”

“Where would you like to eat?”

“Honestly, I don’t know what all’s around here-”

“I could cook for you? My flat isn’t far.”

On one hand, it was a good way to feel out more about the doctor and what he was. On the other… a home cooked meal sounded nice. No one in the Avengers’ tower could cook all that well.

“Yeah, I’d like that.”

“If you want, my office, there’s chairs and books-”

“I like books.” Smooth, Rogers, very smooth. The ghost of Bucky was either laughing at him or was going to kick his ass.

“It’s a ninety minute class, I should-”

“Where’s your office?”

“Oh, yes!” It was funny to see someone so calm and collected during a kidnapping get absolutely flustered over lunch. Over cooking /Steve/ lunch. It made him feel a little better that he wasn’t the only one feeling awkward.

The professor’s office was small, but meticulously neat. There was a sword hung over the desk, a fish tank tucked in the corner, shelves with books and an occasional knick-knack. A far cry from the chaos of the art department back in the day, one step from being condemned.

That sword on the wall looked authentic, having been used at some point. Actually, didn’t he say he preferred blades? It might actually be a real antique sword. He wondered what Shen Wei would look like fighting with it. Was he an Asgardian like Thor? Yes he could just /ask/ him, but where would the fun be in that?

“Ah you can read anything you like, there might be a few novels tucked in around here-” he gathered up the papers on his desk as if the place wasn’t neat enough, then nearly tripped on his briefcase and fell into Steve.

“Easy there, doc.” he caught him by the waist, surprised by how firm he felt under the suit. He had very pretty eyes and a warm, spicy scent to him. He should not trust this man. He probably wasn’t human, and he didn’t know who he really was. A shy teacher or an old warrior?

“I should…”

“Professor, it’s almost time for-” a boy stood in the doorway, blinking at them. “Uh…”

“Right.” he was flushed now, grabbing the briefcase and nearly spilling his papers. “Right, let’s go.”

Something thumped in his chest and he stood there stupidly for a little while, trying to get all his thoughts back together. He was really shit at this investigation stuff, wasn’t he?

He shook himself out of it, noticing Peter at the doorway with dust in his hair and a grin.

“I got her!” he said proudly, showing the jar off. “Isn’t she pretty?”

And it was kind of pretty, a large yellow and black spider. “Is it poisonous?”

“Naw, she’s just a common garden spider. They are doing some sort of radiation experiments with them downstairs. I’m going to make sure she gets back.”
“Alright then.” he patted Peter's shoulder and he beamed under his approval. “Stay out of the air ducts, buddy.”

 

Two hours later, Steve followed Shen Wei back to his apartment after a quick stop for more vegetables.

“I haven't had much opportunity to have company lately.” he started as he let Steve inside. It was neat and tastefully decorated. Books, a few pieces of art, more swords and an old looking shield on the wall. It was calming, even if it looked sort of like a set, not like a place someone really lived. Shen Wei looked up at him, looking anxious. Like not having company lately actually meant he never had company.

“I’m not a great cook, but I’m good at washing dishes.” Steve offered, getting a grateful look in return.

“I hope you like Chinese food. I’ve never really gotten the hang of American cuisine.”

Steve spent the next while watching him chop and cook, fascinated by the way his hands moved. Good hands, clean, long fingers. Faint scars on the knuckles and calloused palms. He itched for paper and pencil, to practice drawing them. And Shen Wei seemed to relax as he worked, quick and precise in his movements, talking about food, about cooking.

“I always make too much.” he murmured as he plated the last dish, chopped cabbage fried with garlic, chili and vinegar. There was so much food, so different from any Chinese restaurant he’d been to before.

“Well doc, I’m a pretty big eater, I think I can make a good go at it.”

“Where are you staying?” Shen Wei asked, forking more chicken onto Steve's plate, then adding some salad to it.

“Stark tower. I might get my own place later, but it’s easy for now to be there.” so much for investigating the doctor, getting answers. Then again, he was having a nice afternoon and eating very good food, and the doc was looking at him- happy? Sad? Some sort of soft look, like it wasn’t Steve he was feeding, but someone long lost. He… knew that feeling. Wishing he could tell Bucky about something new, or Peggy about a song- suddenly it was better to talk about light things, about things Steve wanted to see, catch up on.

“I’m surprised you're not married, cooking like this.” he said, finishing off some soup. He didn’t eat everything he’d made, but he gave a very good try.

(it’d been a very long time since anyone made him a dinner like this, just for him.)

The doctor touched something under his shirt, a reflexive gesture he didn’t seem to be aware of.

“Do you want dessert? I don’t normally have sweets, but I can maybe-”

“Doc, I can’t eat another bite. But how about I bring you lunch tomorrow since you cooked for me?” the words came out before he could stop them.

“I’d… I’d like that.” he said, a smile brightening his face. And that smile was amazing, making his chest tighten in odd, warm ways.

They talked more as they cleaned up, Shen Wei making a shy offer to take him to the art museum, show him the new places around. And then it was getting late and Steve had to go, but not before he was loaded down with books and leftovers. As if he was going to go hungry without it.

It… must be lonely to live so long, to see people come and go. And it was nice to see someone familiar. Someone who, even for a little bit, knew Steve before he was Captain America.