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Helpful Distractions

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Mr. Thor put down his chalk after drawing a sharp underscore under the weekend homework assignment. The collected twelve year olds of the class watched his every move expectantly. "You have an hour of free study time," he announced to the class in general, pushing his glasses up his nose. "Use it wisely."

As soon as it was announced, Tony picked up his things and ran to the back of the class. He dumped it all on a table, spreading everything out for easy use. Free study time was his favorite part of the day, just like Mr. Thor was his favorite teacher. Since he always had his work done weeks in advance, there was never any pressure to do anything but exactly what he wanted.

And what he wanted was slowly making his way back, bag in one hand and cane in the other. Steve had to pause to juggle slipping books every now and then, but Mr. Thor at least made sure the desk rows were wide enough that he didn't have trouble navigating. Tony sat on his hands and waited, mentally planning out Book Carrying Robot #103-b to keep from offering to help. The first (and last) time he'd tried, he'd nearly gotten his head bitten off and Steve had ignored him for a week. He wasn't sure what bothered him worse, Steve ignoring him or yelling at him.

"Hey." Steve dropped his books on the table and lowered himself to the chair Tony had accidentally-on-purpose left pulled out. His blond hair was tousled like he'd been running his hands through it, and there were bruises under his eyes, but he was smiling. "Thanks for the help."

"Eh, it's no big deal." Waving it off like it was a pesky fly, Tony slipped to the right edge of his chair. It was close enough that his knee bumped Steve's under the table, and he couldn't move without their shoulders touching. "I like helping you. What've you got for me this time?"

The smile turned into a frown. "Everything from last week," Steve admitted, pulling out his list of homework. "Mr. Thor said I can turn it in whenever, but..."

"Yeah, I hear you." Steve was sick all the time, and the homework piled up fast. It was why Tony had spent the whole school year helping him. Tony was always ahead, and Steve was perpetually behind. It worked out for both of them, and kept Tony from getting too bored. But... "You know, this would go faster if I could come over after—"

Steve didn't even wait for Tony to finish the question. "No."

"Worth a shot." One day, Tony would figure out why Steve never wanted him over; he was fine with hanging out anywhere else. Tossing the standard rejection from his mind as part of Steve's intrinsic Steve-ness, Tony sighed and leaned in closer. It was like sitting next to the world's best personal furnace sometimes. He had to fight the urge to wrap himself around Steve and just snuggle in for the rest of the day. Steve might let him, but Mr. Thor would probably look at them funny after the first hour. "Okay, we've got an hour. Let's start with math."

Steve made a face, but they flipped open the text book, jumping straight to the quiz at the back. Math was one of Steve's weak spots, which was perfect because Tony could do it in his sleep. Explaining how something worked was different than just knowing that it did, which was enough to keep Tony interested. Usually.

This time, the flow of numbers wasn't enough. Steve's shoulder was just there. Against his.Touching. Tony fidgeted, pulling his shoulder out of contact with Steve's, then putting it right back because that was even more distracting. Next to him, Steve had his lip between his teeth and a furrow between his eyebrows as he tried to work out what -a divided by b2 was supposed to equal.

Tony struggled valiantly with his impulses, writing out the formulas Steve needed to buy himself time. It worked for all of two minutes before he gave up. Math just wasn't as interesting as Steve. Which meant it was time for a Plan. He toed off his shoes, tucking them out of the way, and settled back against Steve.

Under the table, his sock-clad toe nudged Steve's ankle, to no response. Buoyed by the lack of immediate scowling, Tony let his foot slip around behind Steve's, until they were insole to insole. That did get him a look, but it was confused more than angry.

Tony smiled brightly. "What is it?"

After a long, thoughtful pause, Steve shook his head and went back to the homework. Tony waited a moment, then slowly dragged his foot up the inside of Steve's ankle.

Steve's pencil stopped moving. The tips of his ears had turned red. "Tony..."


"What are you doing?"

"What do you think I'm doing?" It took a bit of maneuvering, but Tony managed to get his toes up the side of Steve's calf. It surprised him how much muscle he felt there—he'd kind of expected Steve's legs to be a scrawny as the rest of him. "I'm helping."

Blushes crawled up Steve's cheeks to meet the red already on his ears. "You're distracting me," Steve hissed, hunching down into his chair.

"Good!" Tony dragged his foot along Steve's shin, and got a visible shiver in response.

Steve tried to tug his leg away, but Tony tightened his knee to keep it hooked. They struggled back and forth before Steve gave in, leg going limp against Tony's. "That's not helping."

"We're always studying. It's not like I get to see you any other time," Tony shot back, dropping the bit about helping. He wiggled his toes. "We should hang out after school today. Hit the park or something. I could distract you there instead."

Like a mighty sequoia falling, Steve leaned forward until his forehead pressed against the desk. Even the back of his neck was red, the blond buzz-cut prickly and nearly transparent. "Okay. If I get my homework done, you can distract me after school. Deal?"

"Deal." Tony grinned and put his foot back on the floor. He did not, however, pull it back to his side of the table. "You had that problem right, by the way."

"I hate you," Steve muttered into the table.

"Don't lie, you love me."

Steve glanced over, the edge of a smile tugging at his mouth, then picked up his pencil and went back to work.