“Mr. Barnes? Can I speak with you for a moment?”
Principal Morita was standing in the hallway waiting the moment he pushed through Midtown’s doors. He appeared to have been waiting for just this opportunity, a thought that made Bucky groan internally as he forced a neutral expression onto his face. Teacher he might now be, but it didn’t make the prospect of speaking with the principal first thing Monday morning any better.
It made things much, much worse, in Bucky’s opinion. When he was a kid, the principal hadn’t been standing between him and getting his morning mug of coffee before class started.
“Yeah, sure,” he responded, nodding and trying very hard not to glance at the clock overhead. If this really was just a moment, he might just be able to get the dregs out of the coffee pot in the staff room before his first period.
Principal Morita nodded towards his office, leading Bucky past a gaggle of students and inside. He clicked the door shut behind him, trying to avert his eyes from the picture frames perched atop the filing cabinet. Jim Morita’s face, younger and less war-worn, stared back at him from his service photo. In Bucky’s first few years back from service, Jim had still be around though in failing health. Bucky had met the older Morita shortly after he’d started at Midtown Science and Technology. He’d been hired shortly after he’d returned home from the front, the one school that had been willing to hire him while he worked on securing his teaching credential. In that first hellish year of teaching, it had been at Principal Morita’s suggestion that Bucky had invited Private Jim Morita to come speak to his class during the unit on World War II.
He’d been grateful for the friendship and understanding, but since the other had passed Bucky had found himself avoiding the pictures Morita had set up in his office, the images of the elder Morita still causing an uncomfortable throb in Bucky’s chest.
Bucky hadn’t even realized how long he’d been staring at them until Principal Morita had cleared his throat as he sat down, pulling the other back into the moment.
“Midtown has been offered a unique opportunity,” Morita said, shuffling through the papers on his desk. He appeared to be looking for the papers in question, and it would only figure that the one day he needed the man to be meticulously organized he wasn’t.
“A unique opportunity?” Bucky asked, trying not to sound impatient.
“We will be having a very special visitor to our school,” Morita offered, finally plucking the stack of papers from a half-concealed pile and settling them in front of him. “While the experience isn’t necessarily related, given the nature of our guest I thought it would be most beneficial to have them visit with one of our history classes.”
“Mrs. Sheridan has been here longer. Shouldn’t she get first crack at it?” he asked. Mrs. Sheridan was also an aging, grouch of a woman who seemed to grow more and more out of touch with her students each year. Bucky still hadn’t quite forgiven her for her commentary on his “unkempt” appearance when he’d first joined the history faculty. All things considered, he hated the idea of giving up an opportunity to her, but the nerves of having such attention drawn to one of his classes made him wary.
“Yes, well,” Principal Morita offered, tone just the right note of uncomfortable to be dancing around that subject. “Given your openness to visitors and the nature of this specific one, I think that your US History class provides the ideal environment.”
“Well, if you insist,” Bucky responded, still not entirely sure what indicated his class as the ideal. “Can’t really argue with the principal now, can I?”
“No, you can’t,” Principal Morita offered with a small chuckle, enough to let Bucky know he hadn’t overstepped. “Though I don’t think you’ll want to.” The other man paused with a knowing smile and Bucky could feel the confusion bleeding onto his face. Had Morita not been the principal, he might have urged the other to go more quickly— there was precious time to get coffee being wasted here. Not that the smug sort of grin on the other’s face made him more intrigued by this opportunity or anything.
“Midtown Science and Technology has been asked to pilot a new program that will touch on such things as building self esteem, preventing bullying, and helping guide our students to make positive choices. There’s a series of videos that’ll be shown during various classes throughout the day, but since we’re one of the first schools to adopt it and we’re located in New York, they’ve asked another favor of us,” Principal Morita explained, fixing Bucky with a look as he got to the real point of the matter. “They’ll be sending the spokesperson here as kickoff PR, showing him interacting with the students and premiering the first video with a class. We’d like to have him do this in your third block history class.”
“And do I get to know who the spokesperson is?” Bucky asked, arching a brow. Morita had mentioned something about the type of visitor, but from the explanation it sounded like some corporate bigwig from Stark Industries or something. He didn’t know what the principal was playing at, but putting him in a room with some arrogant millionaire while he pretended to teach the kids not to bully and be honorable-
“Captain Steve Rogers,” Principal Morita responded, his own eyes lighting up with a certain sense of joy. Bucky was immediately grateful he didn’t have his coffee yet— if he had, he might have choked on it in that exact moment. Next, he was aware the he might have been more touched by Morita’s offer and what it meant to him if he wasn’t trying to process the fact that Captain America was coming to their school. In the end, all he managed to do was stare in shocked disbelief as his brain tried to formulate an intelligible answer.
“Wait,” he started, only after he’d managed to keep the ‘bullshit’ from ringing off his lips. Friend or no, Morita was still the principal. “Captain America is coming here? To my classroom?”
Never in his life had he thought that he’d hear this. Granted, for most of his life Captain America had been believed to be dead, dropped somewhere in the Arctic in his final heroic deed to save the world from Red Skull.
It had been one thing to invite Jim Morita in and allow him to butter up the class with his tales of being in the Commandos. He might have complained that the kids only wanted him there for Steve Rogers, but Bucky had always enjoyed seeing the glint of excitement in his eyes as he intoned just how stupid or hairbrained whatever plan the Captain had come up with was. Media outlets may have done all they could to amplify the legend and mythos surrounding the national icon, but he’d never come more alive for Bucky than when Morita was shaking his head, remarking on what a shithead Rogers had been, and pouring himself a glass during their visits.
He tried to imagine what Jim would have said if he’d brought him this news now.
“Is that going to be a problem?” Principal Morita asked, snapping him back into the present. He blinked, taking in the slight furrow in the other man’s brow as he watched him.
“Oh. No no,” Bucky responded. “Not a problem at all. The opposite, really. I’m really grateful you picked my classroom.” Bucky sincerely hoped his words weren’t coming out as minced in bewilderment as they sounded in his head. He hadn’t had nearly enough coffee yet to wrap his head around this. He ran a hand through his hair, a whole slew of questions threatening to burst forward all at once. “Is there anything I need to prepare?”
“We’ll go over the details at the staff meeting on Wednesday,” Principal Morita responded. “I figured you’d prefer it if I didn’t surprise you with this there, and if you’d been opposed I would’ve needed to reach out to someone else to host him in their classroom.”
“Well, if there’s anything between now and then, you know where to find me,” Bucky responded, glancing up at the clock despite his smile. As much as he felt like he could ride the waves of this opportunity into next week, if he spent much longer here he’d miss his shot at the coffee pot. “Which…” He gave another meaningful look at the clock, Principal Morita’s eyes trailing.
“Oh! Is that the time?” Morita asked, pushing back the sleeve of his jacket to double-check on his watch. “Yes, well, we’ll talk later. Make sure you’re at the staff meeting on Wednesday. I need to…” The words were lost somewhere in the shuffle as the principal stood up, whirling as if looking for something before he grabbed his ring of school keys and deposited them in his pocket. “We’re good here?”
Bucky waved him off, standing himself. As long as Susan the librarian hadn’t managed to commandeer the coffee pot for a post morning cleaning he’d get lucky. It wasn’t until he’d settled into his desk chair and was taking a long draw of coffee out of his Captain America: The Series mug that the full weight of the conversation with Principal Morita hit him, more potent even than the first touches of caffeine in his system.
He was going to need a new coffee cup.
Even with the news of Captain America’s imminent visit, Bucky’s good mood was only bolstered until the lunch break. It had powered him through his first block’s insistent requests for extra credit. (“No, I will not promise you extra credit when you should be focusing on the work already assigned.”) He’d used it to find the willpower to combat his second block’s zombie stares as they went over (for the third time) what had prompted the United States to enter World War I. The prospect had even helped him get through his mentor period’s far too personal questions about what he’d done over the weekend. (“Did you have a hot date, Mr. Barnes?”)
Where he might usually have been annoyed with his juniors for asking, Bucky was still chuckling over their dogged pursuit as he dismissed them to lunch.
“Go on now. You’ve got to have better things to waste your lunch break on than wasting mine,” Bucky offered as he ushered the final lingering students towards the door with a sweep of his arm. The only two students left were Tania and Xavier, both of whom had been part of his mentor class since their freshman year. They were easily some of his favorite students, even if they habitually caused him to want to pull his hair out by not turning in their assignments in his US History class.
“Mr. Barnes, that makes it sound like you’re actually going to do anything with your lunch break,” Tania said, giving him a look.
“Well, if you both move along I might just be able to catch the end of the chicken nugget day rush,” Bucky responded. “I happen to be very invested in whether Coach Wilson made it to the front of the line or not.”
“You sure you’re not going to use it to send mushy texts to your girlfriend?” Xavier chimed in, giving the sort of sly look only a seventeen-year-old could manage.
“And here I was thinking we’d exhausted that conversation,” Bucky responded with a roll of his eyes. “One, it’s none of your business. Two, you two better get on with it and eat your lunch. I’m not going to explain to Señora Gonzalez why you’re trying to sneak your lunch into Spanish again.”
“Your continued denial only makes it that much more likely you do have someone special in your life.”
“I’ll refer, again, to point the first. Now, shoo,” he made another gesture towards the door and both students, still giggling over the conversation, finally made their way out and turned towards the lunch room. “And remember, you have a history quiz tomorrow, first block!”
“Those two will never change,” a new voice supplied. The students had just barely made it around the corner when Bucky was faced with his department chair and coworker, Carol Sheridan.
“They’ll come around,” Bucky offered in response, trying to keep his tone light. “They’re good kids. I’d take ‘em over assholes who do all their work any day.”
The look on Carol’s face was decidedly disapproving, but Bucky couldn’t bring himself to care. The woman didn’t often come visit him during the school day, but when she did it generally didn’t mean well.
“Did you need something, Carol?” he asked, this time making sure to check their surroundings for students.
“Kenneth told me you’ll be having a visitor.” Bucky could almost pick up the jealousy in her voice, but he kept his voice neutral. “I told him I’d be glad to offer any help you might need getting ready. I could help you set up your classroom?”
“To be honest, Carol, I haven’t gotten that far yet,” he responded. Of course she wanted to meddle, and he cursed that he’d probably have to let her a little bit. She was his department chair, after all. “I just found out this morning and I’ve got a pretty full day. We could talk about it after school, if you want? I’ve got some kids coming in for tutoring, but that usually doesn’t last more than an hour.”
He should have felt bad for offering a time he knew she wouldn’t want, but he couldn’t bring himself to be too upset. If she really wanted to be part of it, she’d make the sacrifice. His lunch periods were generally reserved for gearing up for the rest of the day and he was loathe to give it up now.
“How about a lunch meeting tomorrow?”
“I usually have kids from my mentor class come in at lunch on Tuesdays,” he responded. “But if no one comes in, I could talk. Does that work for you?” The kids had been less frequent visitors considering the point in the semester, but he was hopeful at least one of them would show up. Hell, he’d take Tania and Xavier heckling him about his (lack of a) love life over Carol directing him on how she thought he should set up his room.
“That sounds good,” she responded. “Can I bring you something for our lunch meeting? I have a free period.”
“Are you going to that deli off campus? I’d take their tomato soup and bacon grilled cheese any day.” Bucky softened a bit at the offer. He knew he was hard on Carol at times, but for all her meddling she had her moments where she was kind. He needed to work to remember that more.
“Tomorrow, then,” she offered, and he felt better that she’d softened at least a little as well. “And I better not hear you offering students incentive to come in at lunch tomorrow, James.”
“And why would I do that? I’m not that obvious, am I?”
That, at least, earned a shake of the head and a roll of her eyes that seemed more good-natured than annoyed.
“Now I’ve got some papers to correct,” she responded. “Glad we had this talk.” The moment of friendliness disappeared as quickly as it had come, but Carol walked away leaving him at the door of his classroom.
Bucky watched her go, relieved only that the conversation had ended so quickly. He had a feeling that this was far from the last time she would rear her head over the visit. When Carol found out who was coming? He didn’t imagine he would get through the ordeal without her meddling in some way, shape, or form. All of that, however, sounded like a problem for the Bucky of tomorrow. For now, he wanted to enjoy his lunch break in peace and prepare for his afternoon classes.
By the time the school day was over and Bucky had locked up, he was more than ready to meet Sam at their weekly drink spot. He’d met the other man at the VA when he’d first come back. What had started as Bucky reluctantly sitting in the back row of a few of Sam’s talks had turned into casual conversation as he helped set the chairs back in order which had, eventually, given way into a valued friendship. While his school schedule had made it harder for Bucky to make it down to the VA as often, he and Sam had set up time each week to get drinks and catch up.
“So what’s got you floating on air?” Sam asked, nodding his direction as he slid into his seat.
“I am not floating on air,” Bucky responded, leveling Sam with a look. He had been trying not to lead with the news of Captain America’s visit, but he should have known that the other would catch onto it almost immediately.
Sam’s trademark skeptical eyebrow in response told Bucky just how much he was buying Bucky’s assertion.
“Yeah? ‘Cause you look like the sun’s about the burst forth on your face. Which is pretty damn impressive considering you usually look somewhere on the spectrum of ready to murder someone.”
“I do not,” Bucky protested, weakly. Shaking his head, he decided to let the charade end early and just get on with. “Okay, the sunshine coming out of my face is still a vast over exaggeration, but I did get some pretty damned good news at work today. You just might be interested in it.”
“Oh? That Mrs. Sherry or whoever finally retiring? Because then I might just have to celebrate, too, because it means you’ll stop complaining about her every week while I’m trying to enjoy my beer,” Sam offered.
“As much as you and I would enjoy that, this is much better,” Bucky responded. He might have felt a tad bit smug about what he was about to drop on Sam, but it wasn’t every day Captain America was coming to your classroom.
“You gonna tell me? Or do you want to play a guessing game?” Sam asked him, his face neutral despite Bucky’s excitement.
“Well, just so happens Morita needed someone to have a guest in his class,” Bucky offered. Determined to draw some excitement out of Sam, he set the scene of the story instead of merely blurting it out.
“So he asked you. You’re all excited over no lesson plans for a day?” Sam looked duly unimpressed with that notion.
“I hate you, you know that?” Bucky quipped in return, scowling. “If you’d let me finish the story…”
“Alright. Go on, go on,” Sam waved with one hand as he took another swig of his beer. “Launching into it like it’s some epic story. Come on, man, just spill it already.”
“Captain America. That’s who’s coming to my class.” As much as Bucky wanted to play it cool, he couldn’t help the grin that came as he offered the news. He watched Sam expectantly as the other took a long draught of his drink before setting it down with an infuriating level of calm.
“Captain America, huh?” he asked, and the neutral tone in which it was offered only served to turn some of Bucky’s enthusiasm into irritation.
“That’s all you have to say?” he settled on asking. “’Captain America, huh?’ Like it’s not Captain America coming into my classroom. The type of guy they dedicate a whole exhibit to in the Smithsonian and all you have to say is ‘Captain America, huh’?”
“What do you want me to do, holler it to the whole restaurant?” Sam asked him, casting a glance around as if to articulate his point. Sam did have one, as infuriating as it was to admit it. He wasn’t sure how much he was even supposed to be saying about Captain America’s visit to Midtown. He scowled, settling back in his seat as he weathered Sam’s chuckle at his expense.
“Really, though, how’d you get so lucky?” Sam leaned forward at the table. “I would’ve thought Carol would have her claws all over that.”
“Well, Carol should’ve tried to get along with Jim Morita better,” Bucky responded. “It helps when you had a positive relationship with one of the Howling Commandos.”
“Never going to live that one down, are you?” Sam asked with a snort.
“Not if you’re going to keep acting jealous over it,” Bucky responded, smirking. All the same, it earned a small throb of pain in his chest- a reminder of the wound that still existed with Jim’s absence. He’d always meant to introduce Sam to Jim, but plans had never come to fruition before Jim had been admitted to the hospital the final time.
“I’ll give you that,” Sam said. “First you get to meet a Howling Commando and now you’re going to get to meet Cap himself.”
Sam sat back in his chair, crossing his arms as his expression suddenly got serious.
“So, what’s a friend gotta do to get a visitor pass?” he asked.
“It’s a school event, Sam,” Bucky responded, voice going flat.
“I know, I know.” Sam waved him off, laughing all the while. “Just thought I’d ask. Can you blame a guy? It’s Captain America.”
There it was. Sam was finally showing the enthusiasm Bucky had been hoping he would. He knew Sam liked to give him a hard time, but it wasn’t like Sam could hide how much he admired the Avenger either. It was part of the things they’d bonded over, right alongside yelling at the Rangers over beer and their military service. Part of him wished there was a way to bring Sam, but he doubted the school was going to be very open to visitors the day of a national icon.
“Maybe I’ll put in a good word,” Bucky responded, giving Sam a sly look. “Never know. He might have a burning desire to come stop in on a random VA.”
“Oh? You will, will you? Drink your beer, Barnes, and don’t let this all go to your head,” Sam responded, though his voice lacked any true chastising.
Bucky grinned before taking a smug drink of his beer.
“So, what’s Cap going to do, anyway? I doubt he’s just stopping by because the grandson of an old war buddy is the principal,” Sam asked, getting serious now that the initial joking was past.
“Morita said something about videos? I guess they want to use Midtown for a kickoff for some PR campaign he’s doing,” Bucky responded, trying to review the conversation from that morning in his head. “I’m supposed to be talking to him about it more over the next couple days. They haven’t even made the official announcement at school yet.”
The conversation trailed on through what particulars he had into how the rest of the week had been going.
“Remember,” Sam had offered as he was gathering his things to leave. “This is supposed to be fun for you, too. Don’t get yourself so worked up over it being perfect that you end up not enjoying it.”
Though he waved it off, Bucky held onto the words and tried to remind himself of them the minute he’d arrived back at his apartment, the nerves already rising.
As the date of Captain America’s visit to Midtown School of Science and Technology approached, the school launched itself into a flurry of preparation. The janitorial and maintenance staff could be found at any given moment trying to soothe the dents out of lockers or replacing broken fixtures that had otherwise gone unnoticed. The grounds staff had been charged with making what little green space existed look flawless, even more meticulously manicured than it had been during the visits for accreditation. Floors were waxed, walls were repainted, and the student news broadcast’s reports seemed to focus heavily on proper attire and ways to greet guests.
Midtown had always struck Bucky as a nice school, but he’d never realized just how much went without notice or care until Principal Morita and the members of the board seemed eager to make sure the school was spotless.
For Bucky, the days of preparation only made the nerves gather more tightly in the pit of his stomach. He’d been assured multiple times that all he needed to do was be present, keep his class from getting out of control, and facilitate any questions the students might have for Captain Rogers. Even these assurances, however, did little to assuage the fresh wave of anxious energy that washed over him each time he saw a new sign welcoming Captain America appear in the hallway.
Despite being his classroom, the efforts to get the space ready had seemed to draw in anyone who thought their opinion was worthwhile. The janitors had been more than happy to assist Bucky with the sweeping and mopping, even going so far as to make sure none of the desks wobbled or had obscenities carved into their tops. Bucky personally thought that someone raised in Brooklyn might find them amusing, but Mrs. Sheridan had piped in that they might offend Captain Rogers’s sensibilities. He hadn’t felt like arguing with the older woman over that, far more focused on stopping his department head from redecorating the walls of his room with the materials from her own classroom. It had, perhaps, been a low blow to mention that the displays of student work might prove a point of interest for their visitor in front of Principal Morita, but the harried man had taken a moment out of his own laundry list of tasks to agree with him.
Even with that matter settled and his classroom back in his control, he’d found himself almost more stressed when left to his own devices. It was only when he was on the third seating chart for the fourth room configuration that he realized Captain America probably wasn’t going to spend enough time surveying the room to care how he had his class papers organized. He settled for making sure there were fresh whiteboard markers in the tray, an extra chair in the front of the classroom, and that he’d switched out his Captain America: The Series mug for something less certain to embarrass him in front of a national hero. The last decision he made before leaving his classroom the night before was to steal a second mug from the teacher’s lounge in case Captain Rogers might want something to drink out of while talking to the class.
Hell, he couldn’t even remember if he was supposed to provide something to drink.
The school was already swamped by the time Bucky arrived on the morning of Captain America’s visit to Midtown School of Science and Technology. Bucky had tried to take an earlier train that morning, but that plan had been quickly thwarted by a series of unplanned stops due to issues with the switches. He’d ended up arriving at school only just before the time he normally did only to find the campus already swarming with students and news crews. Bucky tucked his head down to his chest, walking with a swift sort of purpose that managed to carry him to the doorway without being apprehended by a reporter trying to score an interview. They probably had more than enough eager participants from the student body anyway.
“James!” Morita’s voice cut through the din of students in the hallway, startling Bucky out of his thoughts. The use of his first name coupled with the stress in the principal’s voice set Bucky on edge. Thankfully, Morita’s posture relaxed into something far more relieved than annoyed as soon as the distance between them was closed. “I was beginning to wonder where you were.”
“Yeah, the trains,” Bucky started with a sigh, before realizing by Morita’s expression that he wasn’t particularly interested in why he’d been late. With his telltale clipboard in hand, Bucky suspected his arrival had just been one of many things on the list that had yet to be checked off.
“Well you’re here,” Morita offered. “I’ve been told Captain Rogers will be arriving after the school day has begun. It will make it easier if the students are in classes, especially with the press…” He ducked to the side as if he could get a good view out the front door from around Bucky and sighed, shaking his head. “That should give you a few minutes to prepare your class before we bring him down for the unveiling of the videos and Q&A.”
“You’re telling me the first time I’m gonna see him is when he’s walking in my classroom door?” Bucky asked, fighting back the abrupt upsurge of nerves that he’d been trying to keep down for the better part of the morning.
“James, I wish we could have introduced him to the entire faculty, but they had very specific demands,” Morita responded. Of course whoever was planning this event would want to make his life that much more difficult. It seemed entirely unfair that they were dropping a national hero into his classroom and not even giving him a chance to work through all of that before he had to keep himself composed in front of a classroom of students. Bucky tried to tell himself that maybe it would be better that way. At least this way he didn’t have to worry about what Captain America thought of him before he’d even entered his classroom.
“So will I at least get a warning? Something? Before you unleash the guy the whole school’s been tripping over for the past two weeks onto my first block class?” Bucky asked. He knew he probably should have tried to bite back some of the irritation in his voice, but if they were going to spring these kinds of things on him they couldn’t expect much else.
“I can have the front office call you. Does that work?” The principal’s tone read with a forced levelness, and he glanced nervously down at his clipboard. Bucky gave his own not as measured sigh in response, but figured that was probably the best he could hope for. He was eating precious minutes into his morning routine by trying to get more out of the frazzled man anyhow.
“Yeah, sure. Just make sure they send him in after they’ve made the call,” Bucky responded, before forcing his attitude to lighten some. It wasn’t Morita’s fault these PR people clearly didn’t have an inkling about how to enter a school. He offered the other man a decidedly more friendly smile. “Take care of yourself, alright? He’s just some guy in a fancy suit.”
The smile he got in response was strained and nervous, and oh if Bucky didn’t feel exactly the same. It was one thing to call Captain America some guy in a suit, but another to attempt believing it. Captain America had been such a part of his formative years that it was hard to fathom what he’d be like when he was standing across the room. He wondered briefly how the man would stack up with the stories Jim had told his class, and realized the weight of what this must mean for his grandson as well.
Bucky watched Morita scuttle off to take care of the next line item on his list, feeling oddly subdued. Jim had passed just shy of a year before they’d found Steve Rogers frozen up somewhere in the tundra. Jim had missed his dear friend and Captain by mere months, and Bucky couldn’t help the small pit of sorrow that filled him for a moment with the realization that Jim would have wanted to be here for this.
He couldn’t dwell on it long, however. A quick glance at his watch told him he was wasting precious time that could be spent making sure, just one more time, that his classroom was in the best shape possible for Captain America’s visit. He turned on his heel to head to his classroom, already mentally scanning his seating chart one final time.
The classroom was more or less in the same shape Bucky had left it in the night before albeit cleaner- the janitors had likely been through one more time to make sure it was spotless—but it wasn’t until he’d slumped himself into the worn chair at his desk that he realized they hadn’t been the only visitors to the room. The two plain coffee mugs he’d managed to commandeer from the staff room had gone missing, leaving the space just in front of his monitor empty except for a single slip of lime green paper—a post-it note.
Saw these coffee cups left out and figured I’d take them back to the staff room. If you need anything else, let me know. Good luck today! – Carol
Bucky nearly swore at the note, only just managing to bite down on the string of curses that threatened to burst forth. Of course his department head had felt the need to come check in on his classroom. It was just like Carol Sheridan to let herself into his classroom to snoop on his preparations for a big event she hadn’t asked to be part of. He honestly should have been more surprised that his room hadn’t been entirely rearranged in the night to fit her liking. She’d probably even convinced herself she was really helping, but why else did she think he’d left two perfectly clean mugs on his desk?
“Fuck.” He permitted himself just one when he glanced up at the clock and noted just what time it was. The staff lounge was probably swarming with teachers and the few clean mugs had already probably been snatched by his coworkers. His perfectly laid out plans were crumbling, the first wrench in the plan of the day. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
The only option was to fumble through the cabinet by his desk where he usually stashed a mug or two. He passed over the Captain America: The Series mug almost immediately. There was no way that one was coming out of its hiding place in the wake of the genuine article. The only other mug, however, was a mint green mug whose handle had been super glued back on. It looked rather clearly like it had seen better days, and Bucky couldn’t imagine himself offering it to Captain America.
The Captain America mug would have to do. He tried to console himself with his classroom still being intact. Besides, he would rather have Captain America drink coffee after his Captain America mug than let the other go without if he wanted it. Call him many things, but Bucky Barnes would not be known as inhospitable to his guests.
He didn’t have much time to dwell on it, however, as he could hear the not quite muffled conversation of students gathered outside his door. Bucky had offered to let them come in early, knowing his students might be as eager to establish themselves before their guest as he was. Not having exact word on when Captain America was going to arrive still left him jittery, but at least there wasn’t a lesson he was trying to fit around the visit. If he didn’t show up at the beginning of class, it gave him time to review expectations with his students.
“Okay, class. We’re-” Bucky’s attempts to calm the class down were interrupted by the phone on his desk ringing. Normally the phone was a sign to students to be quiet, but with each ring the class seemed to grow louder. Bucky knew what it meant, and so, apparently, did his students. Shooting one glare the way of his students, he snatched the phone up.
“Mr. Barnes?” Mrs. Rosales intoned over the phone, her voice sounding just faintly starstruck. He had a feeling it wasn’t because she was talking to him. “I was told to ask—I mean, tell, yes, tell you that Captain Rogers is on his way down to your classroom.”
“Thanks, Carmen,” he offered, before sighing and trying to brace himself. “We’ll be ready, I guess.” If he could ever truly be ready for what was about to happen. He hung up the phone and turned to class, now operating under a dull roar of excitement.
“Class!” he barked, raising his voice just enough to carry over the din of the students and their side conversations. “Class please!” His tone was sharper the second time, earning an abrupt cut off and silence. He cleared his throat before leveling them with a look. “Our guest—yes, Bobby, I know you know who it is—is just about to make his way to the classroom. Please remember to be on your best behavior or you will be turning in an extensive report to me on a topic of my choosing. Do you understand?”
The chorus of affirmations tapered off just in time for the knock at the door. As the students’ heads whipped back with laser focus, Bucky found himself taking a deep breath and trying to get his heart to settle back in his chest. He could only just make out flashes of blue through the small window in the doorway.
For a moment, Bucky felt more like an excited child than the teacher standing in front of the classroom. The years of sitting eagerly in front of the television, Captain America doll clutched to his side as he watched the animated version take on the forces of HYDRA and Red Skull. There had been a Captain America poster in every dorm room he’d ever lived in. Even as an adult, it had seemed like a dream when they’d announced that Captain America had been found and recovered from the Valkyrie’s crash site. Bucky could hardly fathom that the very same Cap was about to enter his classroom now.
The minute Captain Rogers slipped through the doorway into his classroom, Bucky knew that no amount of mental preparation could have made him ready for the moment. Even though he’d always known that Captain America had been a real person, it took his brain a moment to process the fact that he was standing there looking very much like he’d managed to walk right out of the pages of one of his history textbooks. It most definitely didn’t help when the other’s eyes swept the classroom of excited students and found their focus directly on him. (Bucky hoped sincerely he didn’t look quite as awestruck as he felt.)
“You must be Mr. Barnes,” the Captain offered, and all too suddenly he was closing the distance between them, slipping between the desks with a sort of awkwardness that was still far too graceful for someone human. As he came closer to Bucky’s desk, he extended a hand out to him for a handshake. “Thank you for letting us interrupt your class today.”
If Bucky almost found himself gaping at the extended hand, it was abruptly ended by him promptly kicking himself mentally for staring instead of shaking his hand like a damned normal person. Then again, not everyone got the opportunity to shake Captain America’s hand only moments after he’d entered their classroom. He offered what he hoped was a relaxed, pleasant smile and shook the offered hand.
“Yeah, that’d be me,” he responded. “Glad you could join us. Not every day I get to introduce my students to someone we’ve talked about in class.” It was a history teacher’s dream, and even in the moment he was having a hard time believing it was happening to him. Cap’s handshake was firm, and there was a sort of genuine warmness in both the set of his lips and his eyes that Bucky found to be exactly what he had hoped for but hadn’t wanted to get his hopes up for. Cap was, after all, a celebrity and celebrities had to deal with these things all the time. Being genuine was probably exhausting, which made Bucky appreciate it all the more.
After pointedly reminding himself that he couldn’t keep shaking the other’s hand forever, he schooled his expression before turning to face his class. He briefly caught a glimpse at Morita, who gestured for him to give the introduction wordlessly from beside a rather professionally dressed woman and a man who appeared already to have the camera rolling.
“Class,” Bucky started, the first word coming out almost like it had been lodged in his throat. “As you know, we have a guest today in class. Captain Ro- Captain America will be here to answer questions about what we’ve been studying in class, but first he’s going to show us a video.” The inflection came out almost as a question, sparing a nervous glance Cap’s way. For a moment there was a flash of confusion on the other’s face before it flickered into an easy, practiced smile.
“Captain Rogers works just fine,” he responded to the class, and Bucky wasn’t sure if he was just being kind or wondering what kind of a disaster the man beside him was going to be. “Let me just start by saying thank you for having me today. It’s an honor to be here with all of you.” If the words were formal and surprisingly uncertain, the smile that the Captain pulled when offering his thanks was enough to melt Bucky’s skeptical heart. Surveying the class, he could see a number of faces that seemed equally melted. The other, seemingly gearing up for another boring discussion, he’d have to watch. Even Captain America, it seemed, wasn’t enough to spark stellar behavior out of them.
As long as they kept themselves quiet and didn’t make a scene, Bucky would try not to hold it against them.
Bucky turned back towards his desk only to find that one of the stern suits that had come into the classroom had already commandeered his chair and computer. They’d already inserted a flash drive into his hub and seemed perfectly at home there probably pulling up those infamous videos that Principal Morita had reminded him about on multiple occasions. Figuring that if Captain America could face armies of alien invaders bravely he could surely handle twenty-three eleventh graders, Bucky decided to take up a spot in the back of the classroom somewhere between his favorite cluster of students and Principal Morita. He settled in just in time for Captain America to sweep into his introduction.
“I’m here today because I know that most of you face a number of difficult decisions in your life,” Cap started, his voice taking on the bravado Bucky had grown up hearing others try to emulate his whole life. “The world may have changed a lot since I went under the ice, but many of these challenges have existed since I was a kid and many of them will continue to exist even after you’ve all grown. Your teachers all want to help you face those challenges and grow to be the best individuals you can be.”
“Mr. Barnes,” Tania murmured, her eyes darting back to him in a manner that could best be read as ‘teenager feeling talked down to.’ Bucky put a finger to his lips and flicked his eyes towards the front. When she protested, he cast a pointed look in the direction of the principal. Whatever she had wanted to tell him she likely didn’t want Principal Morita overhearing. She rolled her eyes but turned around and continued listening.
When Bucky had turned back, it appeared Cap had said his (short) bit and the suit who’d taken over his desk was standing up and beckoning the other towards him.
“You’re the lucky ones who get to see these videos before everyone else,” the woman offered them, tone forcibly bright. It was apparent to Bucky she’d probably never spoken to seventeen year olds like this in her life. “The rest of the school is only going to see the introduction video in tomorrow’s homeroom.”
“She wanted to show all of them,” Morita confided quietly to Bucky. “I managed to convince her to keep it to the highlights or she’d have eaten up the whole Q&A.” The principal’s tone made Bucky uncertain whether he was happy that he’d fought for the time he’d promised Bucky or that he also seemed to dislike this woman as much as he did.
“Um, Mr. Barnes?” The woman’s voice rang out from the front of the room. “Could you get the lights for us? Please?” She beamed a smile at him, the forced sweetness in her voice earning a smug look from Tania as he flipped the switch and turned off the overhead lights. Before the classroom could be plunged into total darkness, the video queued up on the screen, bathing the room in an almost too-bright white followed by sounds that seemed directly lifted from the Fourth of July.
“Hi, I’m Captain America. I’m here with you today because your school has elected to join schools all over the country in Cap’s Better Citizen course,” the Captain America on the video intoned. It mirrored the greeting that the real deal had given just moments before, but the performative quality in the video came across about tenfold. “Sometimes making the right choice is difficult. It’s far easier to go along with what our friends or peers want us to do. We need to stand up for what is right given any opportunity, and I’m here to give you some quick and easy tips to remember how to make smart decisions.”
The words were delivered all while the Cap on the screen kept one hand on his hip, the other pointing towards the audience currently made up of twenty-three students. In the darkness that now enveloped the classroom, Bucky had a hard time making out Captain America’s face, but the students slowly leaning back away from their desks gave Bucky the first indication these videos were not going to be as effective as whoever had come up with them thought they were going to be. He supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised that the Captain was this out of touch with what kids wanted these days. That or he was simply used to giving whatever speeches someone fed him.
But the videos only got more ridiculous as they went on. Bucky could hear the murmurs of his students and was only grateful that the students were at least keeping their voices down. If Cap or lady-in-the-suit had caught on to the shifting in the room, they certainly hadn’t let on that they had and Bucky wasn’t about to step in and draw it to their attention.
“So you screwed up…” The video started, reeling into the second that seemed to deal with making a bad choice.
“This feels about as effective as when my dad sits me down for a ‘talk,’” Xavier, another one of his brighter kids, whispered to Tania just aloud enough for Bucky to overhear. Tania giggled and Bucky had to bite down on his lip as he cast a nervous glance over at Principal Morita. At least he nor the camera guy had noticed the conversation.
“Take it from someone who’s been on ice the last sixty years, there’s nothing cooler than following the rules.”
“I’ll follow the rules if you never make a joke like that again,” Tania whispered back to Xavier. Bucky had to hide his face behind his hand for a moment, trying to keep his composure. The joke was bad. Whoever had written this had clearly not run it by a test group of high school students before deciding it should be released into one. Bucky knew that he probably shouldn’t be laughing at them, but they were no less ridiculous just because they’d gotten Captain America to star in them.
“Whether you’re a student or a soldier, there’s always one thing that will give you an edge- a hot lunch!” the Cap on the screen expressed brightly.
“The only ‘hot lunch’ on that screen is you, Cap,” Tania offered and that was Bucky’s breaking point. He snorted loudly, only just managing to duck behind his hand as he tried to bite back the laughter that wanted to follow. If Tania and Xavier hadn’t been aware their conversation could be overheard, they knew now. Both students whipped their heads back towards their teacher looking somewhere evenly between shock and amusement at the reaction.
Bucky only just managed to send them a stern look back before he had to squeeze them shut, willing the noises of repressed laughter to stop. It hadn’t even been that funny, but coupled with the cheesiness of the video he couldn’t stop himself. Every time he thought he had a handle on it, the words “hot lunch” would run through his head once more and earn another snort.
Finally he managed to look Morita’s way. This time, the principal was looking back, mouth drawn though he didn’t seem sure whether to be confused or disappointed.
Even the stern look on Morita’s face and the increasing attention he was gaining from students made it hard to hold back to choked, barely contained noises of his laughter. It wasn’t Captain America’s fault the videos seemed more effective for students several grades younger. It definitely wasn’t his fault that Bucky had students who’d decided to make running commentary on said ridiculous videos while they were being presented in class. Bucky wanted to claim it wasn’t even his own fault that he was laughing, but that hardly mattered. It took several beats longer than he’d anticipated to pull himself back together in the back of the classroom.
It helped that he was able to channel a withering look in the direction of the gaggle of students whose eyes he could see glancing back his way instead of towards the videos still trudging onward at the front of the classroom.
He didn’t get a chance to look forward and see if Captain America had noticed the laughter, as the video stopped playing and plunged the classroom into a darkness that gave Bucky a precious few moments to school his face before he flipped the switch back on. As he did, he could hear the familiar rustle of students trying to look attentive now that they were much more visible than they had been moments before.
“Well, I know you’re supposed to have a Q&A now with Cap, so why don’t we start with any questions you might have about making good choices. I’m sure that Captain America would love to answer any you might have,” the woman chimed in, standing brightly and obliviously in front of the students. She was met with silence from the room, and Bucky thanked his lucky stars his students were choosing now to listen to his lectures on being respectful. It dragged on for a few minutes before Cap finally stepped forward to her side.
“Or, if you feel like you’ve heard enough of that, I’ll take any questions you might have,” he offered them, placing an assuaging hand on this Molly’s shoulder. “I was told that Mr. Barnes has said you’ve all been chomping at the bit for this.”
“Class,” Bucky offered from the back of the room, calling their attention as he tried to display the composure he should’ve had the whole time. “If you’d like to pull out your questions?”
The shuffle of papers as the class searched through their folders and backpacks for the questions they’d had to turn in for approval beforehand was a relief to the nerves that had sprung up anew in the aftermath of his laughter. When he caught Cap’s look across the classroom, he could only manage a weak smile and hope the other wasn’t planning a hasty retreat as soon as he’d answered the bare minimum of questions.
“When Mr. Barnes is ready-“
“Oh they’re all yours,” he offered Cap before he could finish. “Please show our guest the proper respect by raising your hands.” The statement was punctuated with a glance around the classroom. His kids were usually pretty good, but when things got heated or exciting the regular rules of classroom decorum had a tendency to go out the window. He gestured for Steve to take over before he took his place next to Principal Morita again.
If there was any alarm in Bucky’s turning over the class to him, Cap weathered it well by plastering on another winning smile as he faced the class. He glanced around at the class briefly before his eyes once again found Bucky in the back of the room.
“They should have questions prepared,” Bucky offered in clarification, mustering a smile in response. He knew what staring down this group was like, and he only hoped they’d remember the number of discussions they’d had about being respectful. If Captain America wasn’t enough, he hoped the rolling cameras in the back of the room would serve as some kind of motivation.
Naturally, Tania’s hand was the first one to go shooting into the air.
“Captain America, sir,” she started, the image of a student. Bucky wasn’t sure for who’s benefit, but he’d take it. Cap didn’t need to know she’d been the one calling him a ‘hot lunch’ just a few minutes earlier. “What’s one thing you’re looking forward to trying in the 21st century?”
“Well, there’s a lot of food that wasn’t around when I was a kid that I’ve been told I need to try,” he responded. “I’ve got a running list of suggestions from my teammates and people at Stark Industries, but if you have any, I’d be glad to add them to the list.”
This earned a flurry of excitement from the class as students waved their hands in the air (mostly) to shout suggestions at the man. Bucky’s heart warmed watching as the other scribbled down the suggestions from the students in the class into a small notebook. This was the most genuine he’d seen Cap since he’d walked through the doors.
Once the Q&A session was underway, it seemed to go without a hitch. Despite the students asking their stock of far too personal questions (“My cousin says you’re dating Black Widow. Are you dating Black Widow?”), Cap seemed to handle them as masterfully as he did any threat on television. As he watched, glimpses of the man Jim Morita had spoken of became apparent as the layers of formality chipped away. As the questions continued, the Cap from the video series seemed to disappear almost entirely.
“I guess I’d been hoping there’d be equal pay by the ti-“ Cap’s response was cut off by the bell ringing. While there was some shuffling, none of the students got up to leave the classroom. “Oh, is it time already?”
“Unfortunately,” Morita cut in before Bucky could speak. “This is only a passing period. They’ll all need to head on to their next classes.”
There was a chorus of groans from the class, and Bucky couldn’t help but chuckle at that.
“Make sure to thank our guest before you leave,” Bucky responded. “I think he’s sticking around for a few minutes, too. So if you have a burning question you just have to have answered, I’m sure Captain America won’t mind. But, I won’t be writing any of you late slips for your next class so it’s at your own risk.”
There was a cacophony of hasty “thank you”s from a number of the students before they slipped out to leave for their next class. A few chose to linger as the camera crew awkwardly shuffled out of the doorway to let their classmates out. Bucky wanted to close the gap up front to speak with Captain Rogers, but he lingered back by Principal Morita instead. This was the kids’ moment, and he didn’t want to ruin their opportunity by pushing himself ahead of them. He only hoped he might be able to catch a moment before Cap was no doubt shuffled away to leave.
“If you could tell Captain Rogers we’ll be waiting in the front office?” the woman, Molly, asked him when she suddenly appeared at his side. “We want to get a few more shots of the school before we call it a wrap.”
Molly was already slipping away before Bucky could answer. He looked over at Morita, who’d pulled himself away from the wall and seemed prepared to leave.
“Think you can handle this, Barnes?” he asked, nodding his head towards the students lingering with Cap. “I better go check to see if anyone needs me up front. Could you ask the Captain if he’d mind stopping by my office before he leaves?” There was an eagerness and awe in Principal Morita’s voice that was ill-disguised behind a professional request. Bucky didn’t know how much time the man had been able to secure with Cap before he’d come in, but he was aware of how much this would mean to him.
“Of course,” Bucky responded, flashing a grin. “It’ll make my day—getting to send Captain America to the principal’s office.”
That earned a laugh out of Morita before he, too, made his way out the door.
“Quick, Mr. Barnes, now’s your chance!” Xavier offered in a stage whisper as soon as Morita was out the door. “You can go flirt with your idol—we won’t tell.”
“Flirt? Where’d you even get that idea,” Bucky responded, though it took great effort not to blanche at the insinuation. “I don’t even know the guy.”
“No, you’ve just read every book on him. And make sure we have a whole unit on him every year,” Tania supplied.
“I’m a history teacher and he’s arguably one of the largest contemporary American icons. It’s not like I don’t have a reason,” Bucky shot back. “And you both should be heading to your next class instead of insinuating far too personal things about the teacher you have to see again right before lunch.” He gave them both a look.
“But Mr. Barnes-“
“Good bye,” Bucky offered, giving them both a wave. “Have fun in P.E.”
Both students groaned but offered no further protest as they moved on to their next class. By the time Bucky had turned around to face the front of the room, the last of the students were filtering out in a hurried rush to make sure they didn’t miss their next class.
“So, Kenneth told me you knew Jim Morita?” Cap asked, seeming to parse over the words carefully in the silence that came with Bucky attempting a thorough wipe of his whiteboard. Bucky was momentarily thrown off guard by the fact that Captain America knew this—that it had come up in whatever short interaction he’d had with Principal Morita that morning.
“Um, yeah. I did,” he responded, feeling a sudden wave of self-consciousness. “Only for a year or so? When I started working here his grandson mentioned he’d be open to speaking with classes. I was young and not sure what the he… what I was doing so I figured it was one class period the kids could talk to someone else.”
“I’m sure he got a kick out of talking to them,” Cap mused, the nostalgia coming across in his voice. Bucky took a moment to glimpse back at him, take note of the sadness that seemed to pervade even a pleasant conversation.
“He had a thing or two to say about you,” Bucky offered, lip quirking upwards in an attempt to pull the other back out of his head. It wasn’t entirely altruistic—if he let himself think about Jim for too long he knew he’d be pulled into his own emptiness over the loss.
“All good things, I’m sure,” he said. The glint in his eyes seemed almost teasing.
“Told them not to believe everything they read in their history books. Called you-“
“A cocky shit and a goddamned fool?” The words are delivered with a smile, and Bucky was pretty sure Cap’s grin widened at the shock he knew had rippled across his face. He held the grin for a moment before breaking into laughter he tried and failed to contain behind a hand.
“Okay, okay, I know,” Bucky responded, conceding in a flat voice. “I shouldn’t be surprised given you were in the army and you’re from Brooklyn. But give me a break, it’s still weird to hear it when you’re in your Cap getup.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Barnes,” Cap responded, though laughter still danced in his eyes even behind a now carefully schooled expression.
“You look about as apologetic as every sixteen-year-old who gets called out in this classroom,” Bucky shot back, only just refraining from rolling his eyes. “And it’s Bucky, please.”
He did, at least, manage to stop himself before he confided how weird it still was to be called ‘Mr. Barnes’ when students weren’t present. That was only magnified when the person calling him that was Captain America.
“It’s nice to meet you, Bucky,” Cap offered at that, and there was something so warm and genuine in it that Bucky almost melted on the spot. If it was anyone else- He couldn’t bring himself to finish the thought. “And thank you for giving up part of your free period. Even if you did laugh at the promotional material.”
Just like that the warmth had morphed into a teasing, shit-eating grin that didn’t look as out of place on Captain America’s face as it should have.
“And here I was thinking you might let me live that one down a little bit,” Bucky responded, exasperation exaggerated to hide the creeping mortification making another pass.
“Not a chance. You did laugh at Captain America.”
“Is they any way I can make it up to you?” Bucky asked, not entirely familiar enough with the other to ascertain if he was really put off by the laughter of just giving him a hard time. The last thing he wanted was Captain America to remember him as the teacher who’d laughed at him during the presentation to his class.
“Well, you could start by showing me the way back to the office?” Cap offered in response.
“That’s where I’m supposed to go next, right?”
“If you follow me, Captain America, I’ll show you the office and get you a cup of coffee for your troubles,” Bucky offered. “There was supposed to be one here for you this morning, but the trains were running late and I didn’t have time to fight for the coffee machine.”
“You can call me Steve,” Cap- Steve responded, ducking his head a little. “It’s less of a mouthful.”
“Alright then, Steve,” Bucky responded, smiling as he tested out the name on his own lips. He only hoped that his face didn’t give away quite how much being told he could call Cap by his first name made his heart swell. “If you want to bring that mug there-“
He paused, but it was too late. He’d forgotten that the mug on his desk was not one of the perfectly innocuous mugs he’d grabbed from the teacher’s lounge, but the Captain America mug he’d used every day since Tania had given it to him as a Christmas present her freshman year. Steve had already turned to grab it, and the look spreading on his face told Bucky he was already doomed.
“You have a Captain America mug?” he asked.
“One of my kids got it for me as a present,” Bucky countered. “It’s like a rule you have to use those where your students can see it.” Of course it would be Tania’s gift that served as further embarrassment when it had been her comments that made him laugh earlier. If he hadn’t known better he would have attributed it to Tania having some special power with which to seek out the best means to embarrass him in front of a childhood idol.
“And they just happened to pick out a Captain America mug?” Steve asked, taking far too much delight in teasing Bucky.
“I’m a history teacher. You’re kind of a big part of half my courses.” He was not going to give in to this easily. “Now do you want coffee or not, Steve? ‘Cause there’s only one coffee machine in this joint that really works and I don’t think you want to take the risk of choosing wrong.”
“Only if I get to use this mug,” Steve responded, and though he’s still teasing Bucky senses something a little more genuine in his tone.
“Yeah, okay, fine,” Bucky responded. “Just don’t break it or anything, alright?”
The glint in Steve’s eyes as he slipped the cowl back into place made Bucky uncertain whether to be wary or pleased.
The trip to the teacher’s lounge was short and relatively painless. The bell signaling students should be in class had long since rang and the lounge itself was blessedly vacant of other teachers on their planning period.
Once he’d indicated the working coffee machine to Steve and let him prepare his coffee the way he liked, he leaned against the counter and nursed his own mug while trying to keep back his usual hum of pleasure over the caffeine.
“So, have I shown you how sorry I am for laughing yet?” Bucky asked, trying to break the ice once more so he didn’t spend the rest of his time with Steve staring at him while he used his Captain America mug.
“This is a pretty good cup of coffee,” Steve offered over his mug. “But— “
“But?” Bucky cut in, arching a brow. He almost launched into how unfair it was that Steve was lording this over his head when he’d only laughed because Tania had called Steve hot when he decided that was a topic better not put on the table.
“Are you sure I can’t keep the mug?” Steve asked, and though his tone was teasing Bucky already found himself wanting to keep that pleased look on the other’s face. Even if he was being an asshole who was clearly milking the whole laughing thing for some reason Bucky hadn’t quite placed yet.
“Not on the table, pal,” Bucky responded, managing to affect his “exasperated teacher” tone. “I have a hard enough time keeping mugs without Captain America swiping them.”
“I would never steal,” Steve retorted, mockingly offended.
“Yeah ‘cause I can only imagine what the papers would do with that. ‘Captain America Steals from Helpless Veteran Teacher,’” Bucky shot back.
“You’re not helpless,” Steve responded.
“Yeah? You hardly even know me, Steve. This could all just be a front,” Bucky said, finding this banter comfortable—friendly. It felt similar to the relationship he’d built with Sam, if not exactly, and he found himself entertaining for a moment the idea of what this friendship could be like. Captain America was a busy man though, and the likelihood a national icon and Avenger would want to spend his time with a school teacher seemed so far-fetched it was almost laughable.
“I wouldn’t consider someone who regularly throws themselves in front of teenagers helpless,” Steve countered. His lips quirked upwards for a moment, amused by a thought he then shared. “Or someone who can handle themselves around Jim Morita long enough to call him a friend.”
“Well, I don’t know about friend-“
“And I’ve been told I have a hard time taking compliments,” Steve said. The smile he offered was nothing short of fond, and Bucky knew he’d already fallen way too far. He hid his face as best he could by taking a long drink of his coffee, trying to make sense of the multitude of thoughts buzzing around in his head.
“So, I have an idea to make all this up to you,” he said.
“You do, do you?” Steve quirked a brow, curious and unconvincingly skeptical.
“Why don’t I help you cut down that list of food places my kids gave you a little bit? If you pick one, I’ll take you there myself. Make sure you have a good experience and all that.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he wanted to pull them back. He had just met Captain America—Steve. That was far too forward for a maybe ten-minute conversation.
The butterflies of anxiety only multiplied and morphed into something else at the delighted look that earned from Steve.
“I’d like that,” Steve said. “Are you free tonight?”
This was not happening.
“I can shuffle putting off grading papers to tomorrow night,” he responded with a small nod, his voice feeling suddenly small.
“Oh, Captain, there you are. I was beginning to worry.” Principal Morita’s voice interrupted the nervous rush in Bucky’s ears as he entered the teacher’s lounge. Steve’s warm look faded suddenly into alarm, but he was able to pull a winning smile back on with a practiced precision Bucky was envious of.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Barnes was just showing me where to get coffee,” he said, lifting the almost empty mug in explanation.
“Thank you, James,” Principal Morita offered, gaze drifting Bucky’s way for a moment. “I’ll leave you to enjoy?”
“I’ll be in to your office in just a moment. Don’t want to hold you up any longer,” Steve responded.
As Morita dodged past them to gather his own coffee, Bucky gave Steve another nervous smile. Whatever awkwardness he’d just managed not to feel when it was just the two of them became magnified tenfold with Morita standing in the room looking conspicuously like he was trying not to interrupt their conversation.
“Can I see that list again?” Bucky asked. Steve nodded, producing the crumpled sheet of paper to show Bucky. Bucky hastily scribbled his phone number down on the paper before handing it back. This way, at least, if Cap decided he was being far too trusting he could back out without worrying about a stalker situation.
“Just another for you to consider,” he offered carefully, grateful he was able to steel himself enough his hand wasn’t shaking. Steve took the paper with a nod, lip quirking up in a one-sided smile when he noticed what Bucky had written down on the paper. “I should get back to my room. Have to get ready for mentor period. It was, uh, nice to meet you, Captain America.”
“It was a pleasure to meet you, too, Mr. Barnes,” Steve responded, the formality of Captain America back in full force in front of Morita. “Thank you for your hospitality and the use of your class.”
He offered Bucky a firm handshake, and Bucky shook his hand again. This time, he hoped his shock wasn’t as obvious as he felt.
“And I believe this belongs to you,” he indicated the mug. “I’ll wash it out and make sure it gets back to you before I leave.”
Bucky nodded, grateful only for how easy it was to fall back into the awkward sort of celebrity shock Principal Morita probably expected from him. As he left the teacher’s lounge, he pulled out his phone with the hopes that someone else might be able to help him walk through what had just happened.
Sam wasn’t going to believe this.
[So I think I just asked Captain America out on a date?]
[You what?] Sam texted back so fast that Bucky swore he must have been watching his phone for news of how the time with Captain America had gone.
[Okay, maybe not a date. But I offered to take him to get dinner and he accepted. In some circles that would be a date, right?]
He was probably reading way too far into the whole thing. Would he like it to be a date? Somewhere in the back of his head, a pubescent, acne-riddled Bucky Barnes was shouting for joy at the very notion of it. There was nothing telling him that Steve Rogers was anything other than straight, and he’d probably just accepted the offer because he’d been a friendly face and Cap hadn’t wanted to be rude.
[You mean to tell me you asked Captain America to dinner and he said yes?] Sam texted back. Bucky could almost hear the cautious disbelief of the words in his head, Sam’s unique tone when he thought there was a good possibility that Bucky was pulling his leg.
[I did] Bucky responded, trying to come across glowing with more pride and smugness than he was able to muster in his shock.
[Bullshit. Where? What time? I need to see this with my own two eyes.]
[One, I don’t know yet because I only had time to slip him my number. Two, like I would give you that information Sam Wilson.]
[Oh come on,] Sam texted back after a few moments. [I provide great moral support. You of all people should know this.]
[I’m not going to jeopardize my standing with Captain America so you can come spy on us.] He didn’t blame Sam for wanting the opportunity, but he also wasn’t inclined to share it just yet. Bucky knew that it was highly idealistic to believe that this could be anything else other than a casual chance to get out, but he couldn’t help but hold onto it. As it was, all he could hope to do was feel out the situation if he did get to have dinner with Captain America.
[Okay, I hear you. But you better let me know if you do end up going and what it’s like.]
[Will do. Now I have to get ready for class. Bye!] Bucky waited to see that Sam had read the message before he set it down on his desk and shuffled through for his notes. It would be easier not to be anxious about Steve’s maybe text when class started. He’d need all the help he could get if he was going to make it through the day without imploding.
By the time class had started, he’d locked his phone in the top drawer of his desk to keep from checking it each time he had a spare moment at his desk.
Chapter 5: The Epilogue
Chapter by assemblingbrokenmemories
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“So imagine my surprise when I take my phone out of my desk to see that Steve had already texted me,” Bucky offered the group, leaning into the solid warmth of Steve’s side. Steve had wrapped an arm loosely around him, a drink nursed in his other hand.
“That’s because somebody told him if he didn’t act on the little crush he was developing they might just have to stop by the highschool themselves,” Natasha chimed from her spot on another couch.
It had taken a while to get used to the notion of spending time in Avengers Tower with the rest of Steve’s team. The fact that now, almost a year to the day after Steve’s visit to Midtown Prep, Black Widow was sitting across from him adding in her own details about the day was something even an idealistic Bucky Barnes could hardly have fathomed.
“Wait, you had a crush on me already?” Bucky asked, his gaze turning towards Steve abruptly.
“I’d though that was fairly obvious by the fact our first date ended with a kiss,” Steve responded, the barest touches of color coming into his cheeks despite the smile on his face.
“A little crush?” Tony interjected from the bar, pausing as he mixed himself a drink. “I thought our Star Spangled friend here had found his way into my repulsor jets with the way he was floating.”
“At least you didn’t have to deal with that until the day of,” Sam chose that moment to speak up. “Bucky here was floating from the day he found out about Cap’s visit.”
“Okay, but that’s not really that exciting. You had a crush on me? Why?” Bucky had always figured that by the end of the night Steve had been at least willing to see where the attraction was going, but he’d never thought it had started as early as that morning. While all the events of that day had seemed to come right out of his best and brightest dreams, the idea that Steve had felt as strongly as he had still seemed so far out of reach.
“You haven’t seen the way you interact with your kids, have you?” Steve asked him, looking just back at him. “Or the cute face you make when you’ve had your first sip of your first cup of coffee in a day?”
“I think Stark might have been on to something. ‘Little’ might be an understatement for Rogers’s crush,” Natasha offered, lips quirking upwards in the closest approximation to a smile they’d get from her.
“I think I’ve got the videos I had to send in of myself teaching for my degree and I think that qualifies me saying I have no clue what you’re talking about,” Bucky responded.
“Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t true,” Steve shot back. There was a cheekiness in his grin that Bucky had always found endearing even if it usually earned a roll of the eyes from him. “You told me you wished you could get your kids to stay in their desks after the bell, but I remember hoping they’d leave fast enough I’d get a chance to talk to you.”
The genuineness in his voice had Bucky ducking his head to look at his lap, cheeks burning with this newfound revelation. He supposed he should have had an idea. Given the fact that Steve had been willing to meet up with an almost stranger for dinner that night should have alerted him to the fact that there might have been some interest. All the same, it was still entirely baffling that Steve Rogers had wanted anything to do with Bucky Barnes.
“You mean to tell me that you were trying to get time alone with me in class?” Bucky asked him.
“And I almost didn’t go for it,” Steve responded with a smile that still made Bucky feel like he wanted to melt. “It would have been easy to follow the principal out.”
“But he didn’t and it’s all very romantic,” Tony interjected once more. “Just remember this is a family friendly living room, okay? Keep it PG rated.”
“Are you sure you should be setting rules you can’t follow, Tony?” Natasha asked.
“You can watch them play happy couple on the couch but I’m meeting Bruce down in the lab,” Tony shot back, dodging the subject. He took his glass with him as he made his way back towards the elevator.
“As enticing as the offer sounds, I’m going to hit the training floor,” Natasha offered. “You in, Wilson? Figure we can give the lovebirds some space.”
“If it means not being the third wheel, count me in,” Sam responded, already standing off the couch. Both Natasha and Sam disappeared quickly after Tony, making their way to the training floors and leaving Steve and Bucky alone.
“So, I still haven’t finished that list your kids gave me,” Steve offered after a moment. “Would you be interested in hitting one up?”
“There are still some good ones on there,” Bucky responded, smiling. “They’re closer to my place. Do you have to come back to the Tower tonight?”
“I think I’ve earned a night out. Ready to go?”
Bucky answered Steve’s question by pulling him in for a quick kiss, beaking away with a smile. It seemed like it had been both a short while and an eternity since they’d tackled the first on that list, letting an evening develop into what they had now. While Bucky might never stop questioning what stars had aligned to get him here, he was quite happy to let them stand as they were.
“As long as we’re careful. We nearly ran into Tania last time and I’d never hear the end of that.”
And that's all, folks! Thank you for coming along for the ride on this fic!
Again, thanks to my fabulous artist, DrowningbyDegrees, and my amazing beta reader BurlesqueComposer. Without them this fic would not have gotten anywhere near completion.