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i (really, really, really, really, really, really) like you.

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Steve’s imagination has entertained the most outrageous things over the years. Take the time he thought he was the descendant of Captain America, for example (he was five, sue him). Or maybe the time he thought he saw God when Scott Lang accidentally nailed him on the head with a football because concussions.

But that’s the thing about the imagination, they’re just figurative. Most of the stuff that swims Steve’s brain has a very, very low possibility of coming true.

So no one should blame him for almost walking into a wall when Tony fucking Stark shows up at his mother’s bakery one Friday night.

Sure, Steve’s thought about it over the years, thought about it the moment he laid eyes on Tony, came up with various scenarios on how it’d go down, what they’ll say, what they’ll do.

But he’s never thought it’ll ever happen. Tony fucking Stark shouldn’t know of Steve’s existence. Tony fucking Stark, son of one of the richest people on the planet and one of the most popular kids at school, shouldn’t know of scrawny, weak Steve Rogers’ existence.

His hands begin to shake as Tony strides over towards the counter, a lazy grin plastered on his face. The familiar scent of grease and mint waft through the air as Tony closes the distance between them.

And that’s when everything comes crashing down on him.

His crush is here.

His crush is going to be standing in front of him in a second.

His crush, who doesn’t know about his existence, is going to be standing in front of him in a second and he

Steve should duck back in the back, demand his mother serve Tony while he completes his little freak-out alone. But of course, like the idiot he is, he blurts out, “It’s you,” instead.

Tony’s lips quirk to the side, his eyes glinting under the ceiling lights. They’re so much prettier up close. So much prettier, holy shit. They're so brown.

“You know who I am?”

Steve couldn’t help but preen at the flirty tone directed at him before quickly reeling his pleasure in. Tony flirts with everyone. It’s how he communicates. Steve shouldn’t be happy about something like this.

“Of course I do! You’re—You’re—”

You’re the guy I’ve been crushing on since we were kids.

“You’re Tony Stark,” he says instead. “Everyone knows who Tony Stark is.”

For some reason, Steve’s reply causes Tony to deflate. “Oh.”

Backtrack, Steve. Fucking backtrack.

“I mean, you’re also the guy in my Lit class,” Steve quickly amends. “You sit behind me. ”

Tony lets out a laugh and god, it's so pretty too. It's bad enough that he looks pretty. But his laugh? Sounding pretty? It's downright criminal.

“I'm pretty sure I know who sits in front of me, Steve.”

Okay, now Steve has to be dreaming.

“You know who I am?” Steve squeaks out.

Tony’s brow furrows. “Why wouldn’t I know you?”

Steve feels his cheeks heat up. “I’m a nobody. A nobody—”

“A nobody who squared off against Rumlow and his goons last week. All seven of them.”

Steve ignores the sting that hits his heart. Because of course, that’s how Tony knows him. How could Steve forget about his own little reputation? No one ever takes notice of scrawny little Steve Rogers unless he’s getting beaten up.

“And lost.”

“And lost,” Tony echoes kindly. “But you did, anyway. You stood up for Peter. And all the other times you stood up to the bullies at school. It’s amazing.”

If Steve's cheeks were warm before, they're definitely on fire now. He knows how much Peter Parker means to Tony. Their close brotherly relationship, something that warms Steve’s heart.

“Oh. Uh, thanks.”

Tony grins, leaning over with his arms on the counter. He has several inches over Steve, his gorgeous brown eyes boring into Steve’s. Just the thought of their height difference does funny things to Steve’s pathetic heart.

He is never, ever telling anyone about his size kink. It’s already bad enough his own friends tease him mercilessly about it. He doesn’t need to add Tony to the mix.

“Let me just say if I was there, I would’ve totally jumped in. No one messes with Peter. I’m glad you were there.” Tony exhales and fuck, their faces are close, so close that Steve can feel Tony’s warm breath. “And your boyfriend.”

Steve whips his head up in alarm. “My boyfriend?”

Tony nods slowly, as if it physically pains him to do so. “Yeah. James Barnes, right? I think you call him Bucky?”

A flash of his best friend’s face pops up in his head. Steve banishes it before he gets more grossed out.

“No! He’s not— I’d never— That’d be like dating your brother! Gross!”

Tony looks relieved at that, his lips curl upwards. “I don't have a brother so I can't really say,” he snorts. “But I get you. I get that shit all the time with Rhodey.”

Steve mentally files that information for later. He won’t lie, he’s one of the many people who thought that way. Good thing he’s proven wrong from the source himself.

He is so glad his mother isn’t out here witnessing him fail at communication. So fucking glad.

“So,” he begins, clearing his throat, “anything I can do to help you tonight?”

Tony straightens. All of a sudden, he looks nervous. Steve can’t remember the last time he’s seen Tony nervous. In fact, he doesn't think he's ever seen Tony nervous.

“Yeah. I was, uh… You know Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, right?”

And just like that, Steve’s heart breaks into two.

“Something for a special someone, huh?” he asks, hoping he doesn’t sound as disappointed as he feels.

Fortunately, Tony doesn’t seem to register Steve’s dejection. “Yeah! Yeah. I was thinking of getting a card and I—”

“All the cards are here,” Steve cuts in. He jabs his index finger at the basket full of greeting cards in front of the cash register, turning away to mask his pain.

He shouldn’t feel upset. Disappointed. After all, he’s scrawny, little Steve Rogers, the outcast of the school. How could he think that the smartest, most handsome, and most charming guy he's ever known would give him a second glance? Tony’s way out of his league. Guys like Tony go for jocks and cheerleaders and other trust fun kids. Not nobodies like Steve.

Steve heads over to the cupcakes display, trying to make himself busy by rearranging them. It shouldn’t take long for Tony to pick a card and bail and write to the love of his life—

His train of thought is cut short by a quiet harrumph in front of him.

Tony’s in front of him again, flashing a nervous smile, one that Steve couldn’t help but clumsily return.

“I was, uh…” Tony clears his throat again, tugging at the collar of his T-shirt. It’s one of the many band T-shirts Tony seems to adore. They’re mostly of classic rock bands and grease-stained. Today's Band of the Day is Coldplay. Surprisingly, there's not a single grease stain in sight. “I was wondering if you could help me pick something.”

Steve’s first instinct is to yell a resounding ‘no’ and an ‘over my dead body’ before hightailing out of the building. There is no way he’s going to help Tony get the person he’s been pining for.

But then the possibility of Tony giving the bakery a one-star review on Yelp crosses his mind. The last thing he needs is his mother directing that Disappointed™ Stare of hers at him for the rest of his life.

So with his head held high, he strides back to the counter.

“Of course,” he replies. “So, what’s your special someone like?”

Tony pauses, blinking as if he was lost in thought. “Huh?”

“What do they like?”

Tony frowns. “He… He likes art. So I guess something artsy?”

Huh.

A ‘he’. A ‘he’ who likes art. Steve’s a ‘he’ who likes art.

God, why couldn’t he be the guy Tony seems to be gone for?

“Well, all the cards we sell here are all handmade by me. So.”

Tony’s eyes widen as he appraises the selection. “Wait. You made all of these?”

Steve nods, squaring his shoulders in preparation for what Tony has to say. He doubts Tony would have anything bad to say. Then again, he’s been proven wrong before. Steve might have a crush on the guy for most of his life but he wouldn’t hesitate to fistfight Tony if he has to. Because no one—

“Holy shit. You’re amazing.”

Steve’s breath catches at the compliment.

Okay now, this has to be a dream. There’s no way Tony would—

“This is amazing. Damn, Rogers. I heard you’re great at art but this is so much better than I thought.”

Or maybe not.

Tony’s probably laying it on too thick (why, Steve has no clue), but he’s going to take all he can get because he’s a weak, weak man.

“Thank you. That’s sweet coming from you.”

Tony cocks an eyebrow. “Me?”

“I mean, I’ve heard about the shit you make in Engineering.”

“They’re not as good as what you do, trust me.” Tony plucks a card from the basket, flipping it over and thrusting it towards Steve. “I mean, this is amazing. I don’t know how you managed to sell these.”

It’s a plain white card, with a little doodle of a blue planet with a ring around it, with the words, I love you to Uranus, etched around the circle.

“I made a stack of inappropriate ones and secretly slide them into a pile once just to see how well it’d go.”

“Let me guess. They were a hit.”

“Yup.”

“Of course they are. People love inappropriate jokes.” Tony picks up another one, turning it over. “Ooh. This is a cool one.”

Steve leans forward, craning his neck to catch a glimpse of the front. “Ah. That one.”

Tony grins. “It’s a really good pun.”

For the third time (or fourth, who knows at this point), Steve basks in Tony’s compliments. “Yeah. Wanna know something?”

“What?”

“I actually came up with it while I was eating a jar of Nutella. The large one. And before you ask, it’s not the humongous one. It’s the… The medium-sized ones? They’re bigger than the thirteen ounce ones.”

Tony’s eyes widen. “Really?”

“Yeah. It was like three am and I was hungry. I was lazy to whip up something so I just ate the whole jar of it.”

Surprisingly, Tony looks downright impressed. “Gross. Gross but cool. Doubt your stomach liked that.”

Steve grimaces. “Yeah. Had to skip school for a week. Ma wouldn’t stop saying, ‘I told you so’, for days.”

Tony does a double-take. “Hold up. Is that the same week you couldn’t come to class and missed midterms?”

Heat spreads across Steve’s cheeks. “Uh, yeah.”

“Yikes.”

“Yikes is right.”

“But worth it, right?”

“Totally.” Steve pauses, wringing his hands. “I’m surprised you noticed.”

“Of course I’d notice,” Tony exclaims, sounding surprisingly offended. His eyes soften, his voice lowering. “I’ve always noticed you.”

Steve’s heart leaps in his chest, his mouth dry.

He did not— Tony did not just tell Steve what he just—just—

Their eyes meet for a brief moment before Steve glances away, his eyes trained on the countertop.

“So,” Tony begins, “which one’s your favorite?”

Steve whips his head up in surprise. “What?”

“I mean, you seem to have impeccable taste. And all of them are amazing—”

“I doubt they’re all amazing—”

“They are,” Tony insists. “I don’t know anything about art but I know quality when I see it.”

Steve manages a smile, his brain short-circuiting for the bazillionth time tonight. “Thanks.”

Tony mirrors the gesture. “Don’t thank me. It’s the truth. So… Which is it?”

Steve cocks an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to get something your person would like?”

“True. But I’m just curious. Since you drew all this and all. You must have a favorite.”

Steve nods, leaning forward to take a good look. “Well…”

Tony turns the basket around and pushes it away from him, allowing Steve to take in the cards without snapping his neck. The little gesture makes his stomach churn.

Steve’s so screwed. Not only is Tony smart and hot, but he’s also considerate as fuck. It’s a tragedy that he can’t have Tony, more so that he’s going to lose him to someone else.

As if you even had him in the first place, his brain chides.

Jesus, how the hell is he going to move on? How the fuck is he going to survive seeing Tony arm-in-arm with his new boyfriend on Monday?

Steve squashes that thought, returning his attention to the present. “I’m actually pretty proud of this one,” he says, handing it over.

It’s a dark blue card, with a doodle of a packet of Kraft Singles. On the bottom is written, You may be single, but damn if you aren’t fine as hell.

If only Steve’s as suave as he in his writing.

Tony barks a laugh. “That is pretty good. I can see why it’s your favorite.”

“Actually, it isn’t. My favorite isn't even out here.”

Tony frowns. “Really?”

Steve nods and oh god, he needs to stop. He is not going to—

“Hold on. Give me a sec.”

His mother is thankfully nowhere to be found when he ducks into the back office. She’s probably in the bathroom.

A good thing considering the predicament he got himself in. He really isn’t in the mood to explain to her about how he’s helping the boy he’s half in love with for years pick out a Valentine’s Day card for someone else.

Sucking in a deep breath, Steve unzips his backpack, fishing out his prized card. It’s something he whipped up the night before – a card featuring two mugs of coffee drawn with adoring smiles directed at each other.

I want to sleep in and drink lots of coffee with you, it says underneath the mugs.

He made it after a conversation with Bucky and Sam, which involved them trying to persuade Steve to ask Tony out for the millionth time. And just like all those times before, Steve had chickened out, opting to channel his feelings through art instead.

Steve had entertained the thought of gifting the card to Tony on Monday. Not face-to-face, no. He would’ve popped over to school earlier than usual and slip it through the side of Tony’s locker like a coward.

Maybe Steve would’ve included a short letter detailing everything. About his stupid pining and feelings. About how much he desperately likes Tony. And his mussed-up hair and sleepy eyes and his obsession with coffee and his quick snark. About how much he’d love to get to know Tony better.

Well, he supposes he is giving the card to Tony. Just not in the way he would’ve liked. And that sucks so fucking much.

Steve steels himself, taking in a deep breath. It’s fine. He’ll get over it. He’s always pegged Tony as unattainable, anyway. As long as Tony’s happy, Steve’s happy.

Or at least, he’ll try. He'll learn to be happy for him.

“It’s not funny,” he begins when he hands the card over, “and it’s pretty corny and kinda simple but—”

“It’s perfect,” Tony breathes out. “It’s fucking perfect.”

“Yeah?”

Tony lifts his head up, his smile gentle and broad. He’s staring at Steve in awe, like he’s everything he’s ever wanted in his life. Steve loves and hates him in this moment.

“Yeah.”

Steve tries his best to stop his heart from further breaking as he ducks down to grab an envelope. He should be glad that Tony adores it. That’s what matters, after all. It’s why he made the card in the first place.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a red velvet cookie before,” Tony says as he hands a five-dollar bill over to Steve.

Steve pauses, glancing at the jar of cookies on top of the cake display. “Yeah. Ma thought it’ll be a hit during this time of the year.”

“Oh, right. I forgot your mom owns the place.”

Steve frowns. “How do you know that?”

Tony’s grin turns smug. “I know things.” He pauses. “Well, Nat told me. Nat told me a lot of things about you. About your art and uh… Yeah.”

Steve’s eyelids flutter, his lips parting. He… He doesn’t know how to feel about that. One thing’s for sure is that he’s definitely going to have words with her later. A lot of words.

“I know it sounds weird—”

“Not at all,” Steve interrupts. “I… I’m just flattered.”

“You look like you wanna dig a hole and shove your head in it like an ostrich.”

Steve chuckles. “I, uh… I’m just not used to compliments.”

“You should. You deserve them.” Tony glances away before Steve could reply. “These cookies any good?”

Steve places the jar onto the countertop and picks up a pair of tongs. “They’re good. And I’m not saying this because I work here or ‘cause my mom baked it. On the house, by the way.”

Tony’s eyebrows arch. “I can’t—”

“It’s fine,” Steve replies, waving the tongs around before plucking a cookie out of the jar. “Ma wouldn’t miss one.”

Tony’s lips tug into a smirk. “Never pegged you for a rebel.”

“Never pegged you for a goody-two-shoes,” Steve counters, bagging the cookie in a small paper bag.

Tony scoffs, crossing his arms in front of him. “Excuse me. I am not a goody-two-shoes. I am a bad boy.”

“You’re neither. You’re a dork.”

“I am not!”

“A geeky dork.”

“Excuse you—”

The bell chimes behind them. An elderly couple makes a beeline towards the cake display, arm-in-arm.

And just like that, the bubble pops.

Steve clears his throat. “I should—”

Tony bobs his head. “Yeah. Thanks for the cookie. And the card.”

“Yeah.” Steve musters a grin, hoping it’s genuine enough to hide his broken heart. “Good luck with uh… With your Valentine.”

Tony shrugs, smiling anxiously. “Just hope it’ll go well.”

“I’m sure I will,” Steve replies sincerely. “I doubt anyone could say no to you.”

“Because I’m Tony Stark?”

He shakes his head. “Because you’re Tony.”

Tony falters, his lips parting as he stares at Steve with an unreadable expression.

Now’s a very good time to dig that hole and stick his head in there, Jesus Christ.

Steve’s friends have always told him how transparent he could be with his feelings. If Tony doesn’t know how he feels before, he knows now.

If he does, Tony doesn’t say it. He just flashes him a two-finger salute, throws out a, “See you on Monday, Rogers”, before heading out into the night, leaving as quick as he came.

Steve watches him disappear, watches Tony take his heart away with him, watches Tony walk into the arms of someone else—

Someone lets out a low whistle behind him.

“So, that’s Tony Stark.”

Steve whirls around, clutching his heart. “Ma—”

His mother elects to ignore Steve’s distress, her teasing grin unwavering as she leans against the office's doorframe. “I have to say, you’re right. The pictures don’t do him justice.”

“Ma—”

She lets out another chuckle before sauntering over to attend to the couple.

Steve tries not to think about it as he throws himself into his work. Dwelling on it, wondering about it, would just make the whole thing worse.

He might’ve succeeded if Tony hadn’t returned ten minutes later.

“Oh god,” he blurts out, noticing the envelope and paper bag in Tony’s clutches, “is there something wrong with the card? Is there a defect? I could whip up something—”

“It’s fine.”

“Is it the cookie, then? I swear—”

Tony chuckles, shaking his head. “Not that either.”

Steve falters. “Then why—”

“I’d tell you if you’d let me finish.”

Steve clamps up but only for a brief second. “He doesn’t like it?”

Tony slides the card towards Steve. “Open it.”

“But—”

“Just open it.”

Frowning, Steve flips the envelope. What he sees makes his heart almost stop.

In loopy black ink, is his name.

“Open it,” he hears Tony repeat, this time in a much gentler tone.

Steve barely registers his fingers moving, barely registers opening the envelope as his body thrums with anticipation and nerves.

Steve,

I don’t know how to say this without being a cheesy fucker. I’ve turned it all in my head for a while now so whatever, here it is. Please don’t laugh. Despite the general consensus, I’m not good at saying the things I mean.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that I see you. I’ve seen you from the moment we’ve met. And I’d love to get to know you better, if you like. Or yours. If you want.

Sincerely,

A geeky dork

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Tony murmurs.

Steve glances up, meeting those brown eyes he’s been slowly falling for over the years.

“You’re a couple of days early,” he breathes out.

Tony shrugs. “Gotta beat everyone to it.”

“I never—” Steve swallows, doing his best to refrain from screaming. “No one’s gotten me a Valentine’s Day gift before.”

“Well, they’re idiots. Whoever they are. Because you—” Tony's gaze softens. “You deserve a million gifts.”

Steve swears his arrhythmia is going to get him before the night ends because holy shit. Holy fucking shit.

“You know, I made that for you. I wanted to… I was supposed to give that to you on Monday.”

Tony freezes. “Really?”

“Really.”

Tony’s lashes flutter, his lips curling in a genuine smile. Steve has never seen anyone this pretty in his life.

“Well,” Tony begins, tilting forward until their faces are inches away from one another. “I can totally manage that. But first. Coffee. Nat told me you like the diner down the block. I was gonna get you a slice of pie from the place but then I’d figure we could make a date out of it. I mean after you’re done closing up, of course. And if you want to.”

“Oh, I—”

“You boys can go ahead,” his mother’s voice pipes up from behind them, jolting them both apart. “I can close up. The sooner Steve stops talking about how gorgeous your brown eyes are, the better.”

Steve spins around, his cheeks warming further. “Ma—”

“Honey, I’ve been hearing this for twelve years. Don’t you think it’s time your old lady’s ears get a rest?”

Never has Steve wanted to sink into the ground as much as he does right now.

Thankfully, Tony saves him. “I’ll get him out of your hair then,” he assures before turning back to Steve. “I mean, if you want to.”

“He definitely does.”

Steve groans. “Ma—”

His mother rolls her eyes, returning her gaze back to the cake display. “Alright. I know when I’m not wanted anyway. Have fun, boys.”

“Thanks, Mrs Rogers!”

“Call me Sarah.”

Tony rears his head back, caught off-guard. “Thanks, Sarah!”

She flashes them a beam before turning away, giving them as much privacy as one could get in a bakery.

Tony leans forward. For a split second, Steve prepares himself to be kissed. But then, Tony veers to the side, tickling Steve’s ear with his breath.

“I like your mom.”

Steve ignores the swell of disappointment brewing in his stomach. “She’s great.”

“She’s awesome.”

“When she’s not embarrassing me, sure.”

“I heard that,” his mother calls out.

Steve turns around, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “I thought you said you’d leave us alone.”

His mother mimes zipping her mouth before returning to her task.

“So, before we were so rudely interrupted,” Steve continues, “I was gonna say that I’d like that, you know. The date, I mean. I’d like that very, very much. Let me just head to the back and grab my stuff.”

The smile he receives in return is blinding. The smile that he's always wanted trained his way for years. The smile that's now meant for him and only him.

“Sure,” Tony replies. “Meet you outside?”

Steve grins. “Meet you outside.”