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Three cups of coffee and an energy drink is just the right amount of stimulant that Tony needs to tip him over into the precipice of action.

Not that all of Tony’s creative decisions need such a push, but this one did. Especially because of how earlier this morning on the way to class, he’d bumped Steve, who said, “You’re certainly dressed for the occasion. Going to party later, right? You never miss one.”

“Naturally,” Tony replied. “Sometimes I like to surprise, but other times I am predictable.”

“You’re reliable,” Steve said. “In your own way, of course.”

Tony isn’t the type to swoon – too many limbs flailing everywhere, plus that would be just plain uncool – but Steve’s smile made him want to. Steve noticed his bright red jacket, a shade warmer than his usual so that id’ pop against Jan’s Valentine’s decorations all over school; Steve asked if he was going to the party at Club A after class; Steve knows that Tony never misses a party if he can help it.

This feverish sequence of thoughts all in a row is the result of Tony’s crush having come to its zenith. He knows it, he’s embraced it. Steve is fantastic and funny, and so nice that he didn’t even notice those first few months where Tony fumbled around him feeling awkward and inadequate. Steve merely thought that Tony didn’t want to be his friend, until they were, and then Tony realized just how deep Steve’s awesomeness went, and then Tony started noticing Steve kind of… looking back. Maybe. Long lashes over blue eyes that flickered away whenever Tony turned too quickly.

Perhaps? It’s not hard empirical evidence, but it’s a starting point. A Valentine’s day card that expresses Tony’s hopes would be a tentative step towards getting said actual evidence. It could crash and burn, but Tony has plenty of experience with that in general, and Steve is so unlike anyone that Tony’s ever known that he had to take that chance. Right? Right.

The plan is: leave a Valentine’s card in Steve’s dorm room mailbox.

Sure, Tony could have done that first thing in the morning, but he’d bet dollars to donuts that at least a quarter of the student body are also giving Valentines to Steve, and Tony wanted his to be on top, i.e., the first one that Steve sees when he opens his box. This requires timing, and the aforementioned stimulants (fetched by helpful bots throughout the rest of the school day) to keep him focused enough to see the plan through to its conclusion.

After all, Tony’s spent weeks repeatedly talking himself into doing this, interspersed with interludes of talking himself out of doing it, and it would not do to lose focus when D-day is here.

As soon as the last class ends, Tony’s off. The general chaos of the Academy in enhanced Valentine’ Day excitement means that no one notices anything untoward by his taking off in his suit. He’s not the only student to make their exit through a window, even.

The dorms are barely a minute away, and still quiet. The mailboxes are just inside the entrance, and Tony sneaks in when the coast is clear, thanks to JARVIS keeping a lookout. He has to be quick.

Sure enough, Steve’s mailbox is full.

“Mister Popular,” Tony laughs, not that Steve cares at all about being popular, though if Tony said it to his face Steve would go red as a beet. The card that’s been burning a hole in Tony’s jacket the whole day now gets to be very, very carefully pushed into Steve’s mailbox, right at the top of the packed pile. The procedure requires all the years of Tony’s finely honed motor-skills in order to be completed, and he exhales with relief when it fits.

How about your box at the Tower, sir?” JARVIS says. “You’ve received some cards as well.

Tony startles. “Really? Is, um. Is there anything from Steve?”

Unfortunately, the Captain was not seen on camera delivering any of them, no.”

“Oh.” Tony shakes off the disappointment – it’s not like he expected to get one from Steve, anyway. There’ll definitely be one from Jan, and maybe one from Rhodey, but Tony can look at those later.

The point is, Tony did it. He did it. He put together a card for Steve, wrote how he feels on it (succinctly, but Steve will understand) and delivered it. He’s the freaking king of the world, that’s what he is.

Tony leaves the dorms with a spring in his rocket boot-enhanced step that leads into a breathless soar up into the sky, because to ride on the high of an accomplishment is to delay the fear of what would happen if it goes wrong. And Tony’s thought about that, in great and agonizing length, but the conclusion he kept coming back to, again and again, was that the risk was worth it.

He likes Steve, and he hopes that Steve likes him back. Even if Steve doesn’t, he could like Tony enough as a friend to be open to going out a few times with him, just to see where it goes. The chance of any of this happening is too wonderful, too magical, that Tony couldn’t let it slide without doing something about it. Such as, say, taking advantage of a specific day of the year that is thematically relevant and allows a certain amount of leeway on such gestures.

Tony crows inside his helmet, and narrowly misses crashing into Moon Knight over the park. Moon Knight waves a fist at him, but Tony just laughs and brings the repulsors forward to take him to a hover.

There’s a crowd gathered on the quad.

This isn’t unusual for the Academy, where there is always something happening every day, but Tony spots in the throng a flash of blond that is the top of Steve’s head. He detours into a landing on the edge of the quad, curious – after all, there is a reason that one of his best friends is the school’s gossip.

Tony retracts his suit and nudges the nearest person, who happens to be Bobbi. “New arrivals?”

“Yeah,” Bobbi says. “Check it out, they got spat out by the Time Fog.”

Anything to do with the Time Fog makes Tony wary, but not enough to cancel out his curiosity. He powers up his rocket boots a smidge, lifting him off the ground just enough that he can see into the center of the welcome wagon. Huh, it’s Dum-Dum Dugan, another Bucky Barnes but with glasses, and… Peggy Carter.

Tony drops back onto the ground with a clunk of his metal boots.

Peggy Carter is here, but not the woman that Tony knows as his aunt. This is Peggy in all her youthful loveliness, dressed in the old-fashioned but still chic blouse, skirt and bow that Tony knows from photos. She’s in a circle with Dugan and Bucky and their other friends, but it’s Steve’s who’s closest by her, his face a portrait of shock and amazement. As Tony watches, Peggy turns to look at Steve, and she pokes a finger at Steve’s chin, making him laugh.

That certainly answers the question of if the Academy would do something special for Valentine’s Day.

Steve looks so happy. Tony’s pretty sure Steve’s eyes can’t literally sparkle, but they seem to be doing exactly that. That’s exactly the kind of face that Tony works so hard to put on Steve’s face, and it’s just… there. As if it’s that easy. Tony’s chest tightens around the arc reactor, in an embarrassed clench that rises all the way up his throat.

The group starts to move. Towards the Main Hall, of course, where Fury and Maria Hill will see to their settling in.

Which includes dorm assignments.

Steve’s going to be heading back to his room soon. On the way, he will check his mailbox and see Tony’s death warrant sitting right on top.

Abort abort abort.

“Shit.” Tony turns on a booted heel, realizes that he doesn’t know which way he’s going, and stops to fumble at his gauntlet.

The dorms are busy now that classes are out and people are prepping for the party or dates or whatever else they’re planning for the night. Chances that Tony won’t get caught sabotaging Steve’s mailbox have precipitously dropped.

A flash of red and black at the corner of Tony’s eye makes his head snap up. He runs and trips on grass a little on his way to catch up to Natasha.

“Wait, wait, wait, Natasha, are you busy?” Tony says. “I really need your help.”

Natasha turns to him with a bored look. “You couldn’t wait for me to answer?”

“I can pay you.” Tony’s almost dancing on his feet now. How long does he have? Where is Steve right now? “Your super-spy skills, I can pay for them. I can pay an embarrassingly exorbitant price for them.”

“Do you think I need money?”

“I can pay with… something else? A favor?”

Natasha perks up. If it were any other thing on the line, Tony might be worried, but he can’t afford that right now. “What do you need?”

“I put a Valentine in Steve’s mailbox. I need you to destroy it.”

Natasha scoffs. “That’s it?”

“I need it destroyed right now. Right now, ASAP before Steve sees it, okay? This is of super maximum importance, I will owe you.”

“You will.” Natasha nods and turns a cool eye to the scene behind her – the dorm, the quad, the crowd. Nothing in her expression says that the task is anything more than an amusing trifle, easily accomplished. “Consider it done. I will contact you.”

“Good, okay, good.” Tony turns to check the crowd again – yep, they’ve mostly dispersed – and when he turns back, Natasha is gone. As far as Tony knows, she has no powers, but he’s still not surprised.

Natasha never ever fails, so Tony is… fine. It’s fine. Steve won’t see the card and Tony won’t be hilariously humiliated, and Steve gets to go to the party with the date of his dreams. It’s fine, it’s perfect, Tony didn’t actually make a mistake, he just got his hopes up for a second there. Reality asserted itself, which it sometimes does, and Tony is just grateful that it happened before he got too carried away.

It’s funny, though, how for a minute there Tony really thought that they might… Anyway.

The nervous tension in Tony’s body leeches away, but he’s still running on three cups of coffee and an energy drink, so he can’t exactly relax, either. The only other option is to channel that energy into analyzing in excruciating detail how he wasn’t an idiot for planning this for weeks and angsting over how to design the card and how to deliver it and what wording he should use to make Steve smile, but Tony doesn’t feel in the mood for that either.

Tony taps his gauntlet, sending a message to Jan asking if needs help with the party decorations.

NO YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED HERE YET,” Jan replies. “WHY AREN’T YOU GETTING DRESSED.

Dang, Tony forgot that, too. He had a nice outfit made for the occasion – following some of Jan’s advice, naturally – which is waiting for him at the Tower. A sharp dark maroon get-up but with accents to match whatever Steve’s wearing, because Steve always wears blue, and he’s the kind of guy who never asks for that kind of small touch but always notices and always appreciates the effort.

Well, at least now Tony doesn’t have to be anxious about planning really fun dates for Steve, or be afraid of forgetting important things Steve tells him, or spend so much energy figuring out how to impress Steve so he won’t think that Tony’s selfish and shallow. All that work, now neatly avoided. Yeah, that’s looking on the bright side of it.

“Coffee,” Tony says out loud. Yes, he should have more coffee, that would help. Somehow. It can’t hurt, anyway.

Tony trundles off to the nearest pop-up bistro near Pym’s lab, where he gets a double shot with extra foam and rainbow sprinkles. His plans for the evening are thoroughly trashed now, so he decides that he’ll finish coffee, go back to the Tower to change into his outfit, and then hide in the bushes until all the red-and-pink has passed. Yeah, that sounds good.

The coffee part is almost done when he receives a message from Natasha. “Meet me at the stadium in 10.”

Geez, does Natasha want her favor now? Or… did she fail to destroy the card?

Tony downs the last of his coffee and flies off in a tizzy. It’s not even ten minutes but Natasha’s already there, sitting cross-legged in an end zone. She stands up when Tony lands, and doesn’t blink at Tony’s flustered, “What is it, did something go wrong, what happened, how much trouble am I in?”

“Nothing went wrong,” Natasha says. “What do you take me for? It’s all fixed.”

Tony exhales. “Okay, phew. So, why’d you call me over for?”

“The favor.”

Now?”

“Now,” Natasha says firmly. “I want you to stay here for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes, right here, no running, no flying away.”

“Okay,” Tony says slowly. “What are you going to do, dump chocolate sauce on my head and make me streak across the quad? Not that I won’t do it, but—”

“Asking questions is not part of the favor.” Natasha puts her hands on Tony’s shoulders and adjusts his position, as though a couple of inches on the other side of the end zone makes any difference at all. “You stay still, and we’re even. Twenty minutes from,” she looks at her watch, “…now.”

Tony puts a synced countdown in his gauntlet, because why not.

“I’m going to the stands,” Natasha says. “I will be watching.”

“Um. Alright.”

The lack of clarity is a concern, of course. This is Natasha, and Tony’s always on guard around her despite her being one of like five people on campus who functions as a true barometer of the school’s status. If she’s worried or scared, then some major shit is about to come down. But just because Tony trusts her with his life, that doesn’t mean he trusts her with his emotional well-being.

“Is a thunderstorm coming or something?” Tony calls out at Natasha’s shrinking form. “Because if it’s just to tire out my calves, I have to warn you that twenty minutes is barely a…”

Someone’s running towards them. Actually, that’s Steve coming towards Tony in a brisk, vigorous jog towards, his form absolutely perfect and absolutely perfect for admiring if Tony wasn’t suddenly seized up in a panic.

No, he can’t panic. He has to be cool. Nonchalant. Calm and self-possessed, and 100% not a person who’d prepared an ill-advised Valentine’s card for a friend.

“Tony!” Steve exclaims.

“What!” Tony bleats. Wait, no, he’s going to be cool, and he’s not going to be distracted by the heaving of Steve’s chest as he comes to stand in front of Tony. “Oh, hey, Steve, what’s up?”

“I, uh.” Steve shakes his head a little, as though snapping out of a stupor. It’s a strange look on him, as is the way his eyes bore into Tony’s, as though searching for something.

Tony resists the urge to back up and shy away from the attention – never mind that he’s sought Steve’s attention from day one, really. Steve won’t see anything; he hasn’t seen anything all this while, and anyway Natasha did her job and Tony’s safe now. He grins and cocks his head, guileless. “Busy day, am I right? Did you need something?”

“It’s, yeah, wait, no, I thought…” Steve coughs, as though suddenly uncertain. “Don’t you want to go the party with me?”

“What?”

“Isn’t that what…” Steve fumbles with his jacket, and pulls out a Valentine’s day card. Tony’s Valentine’s day card, out of its envelope, and with its stupid cartoon drawing Tony made of both of them – Steve on the right in a block of ice, and Tony on the left with a dialogue box that reads, ‘You’re so cool! Be my Valentine?

All the blood drains from Tony’s face. He turns to face the stands, where Natasha’s sitting. For some reason, the Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes is with her, and they’re sharing a bag of peanuts. Both of them slightly raise their left arms and tap their watches, as though saying in eerie synchronicity: twenty minutes.

“But Natasha said—” Tony trails off. She said that it’s all fixed. She never said that she destroyed it, did she.

“Is this a joke?” Steve asks, with what sounds like a plaintive edge in his voice, though that can’t be right. “I’d really appreciate it if you’d tell me if it is, so I’d know?”

“Don’t be silly,” Tony says before he can stop himself. There’s enough plausible deniability in the card itself, as long as Steve doesn’t notice the little hearts drawn circling the cartoon figure of Tony. “I made them for loads of people, loads of people, why are you making a production of this, obviously I know exactly what I’m doing at any given time—”

“Tony, stop.”

Tony realizes that he’d powered up his boots without realizing, and is rising off the ground. Steve noticed before he did, and has a hand – the one not holding the card – wrapped tight around Tony’s gauntlet, keeping him from rising any further. His grip is… strong. Alarmingly strong, though he doesn’t seem to be straining at all.

“Okay, it’s not a joke,” Steve says quietly. Tony opens his mouth to distract him with – something – but Steve keeps going, “Thank goodness. Yes, Tony, the answer’s yes. I’d love to be your Valentine.”

“What the hell are you on about?” Tony tries to shake Steve’s grip off his gauntlet, but no dice. “You don’t want that.”

“Yes, I do. Can you please stop trying to fly away so I can give you yours?”

“Give me what?”

“Tony, land.”

He’s weak for that voice, so sue him. Tony kills the rocket boots, and has another mild heart attack when Steve reaches into his jacket for another card. Another Valentine’s, without an envelope but with a beautiful watercolor painting of Stark Tower, and two small figures with distinct color schemes in flight over it. The text On the Way to a Happy Valentine’s! is in the motion lines of the figures’ flight.

“You got me one,” Tony says quietly. “You didn’t have to, Steve.”

“Of course I did.” Steve smiles. “I was going to give it to you at the party, if… certain things happened.”

“Don’t you want to go with someone else?” Tony’s genuinely confused, and is still confused when Steve frowns with him. “There’s – other people. Other people who have arrived today, even, and I thought that…”

“Oh, Tony. No.” Steve purses his mouth unhappily, and Tony has the beautiful, wonderful, amazing realization that he was wrong wrong. Double-wrong in a double-negative that crosses each other out, because Steve is here. Steve made a Valentine’s card for him, and seems honestly miffed that Tony thought that he might want to go with someone else.

“Huh,” Tony says.

“Yes, Tony, huh.” Steve breaks into a breathtaking grin. “How about that?”

Tony can’t help it. Joy swells inside him, refusing to be contained, and it finds relief in Tony’s throwing his arms around Steve in a hug. Tony squeezes tight, and Steve squeezes back, where all those wonderful muscles hold on tight until Steve seems to be wringing all of the anxiety from these past weeks right out of Tony’s bones.

“I really like you, Steve,” Tony breathes.

“I like you, too,” Steve says against Tony’s neck. “A lot. Thank you for the card.”

Tony laughs and pulls back to look Steve in the eye. “’Thank you for the card’. Very polite.”

“I do try to be.” Steve clears his throat, his eyes darting down to Tony’s mouth. “Which means I should ask before I—”

“No, no, it’s good, you can,” Tony says quickly. “If you want to, not that you have to—”

Steve presses his lips to Tony’s, and – okay, that’s very nice.

It’s nice and warm and makes Tony feel tingly all over. Steve is so solid and real; there’s nothing dreamlike and hazy about it at all, or with the threat that Steve would suddenly fade away when Tony opens his eyes.

They probably should have saved the kiss for later, after a full evening of looking dapper for each other and flirting properly and getting a better idea of where the other person stands. But that was Tony’s original plan, and plans are meant to be adjusted, or outright thrown to the wind if a better opportunity comes along.

There’s a breather between the kiss, into which Tony says, “Yeah. Totally worth all the fuss.”

“Everything’s a fuss with you, Tony,” Steve says, though his eyes are glazed over a little. “It’s the best.”

Tony lets out a flustered laugh, but Steve is earnest. Wonderfully earnest. Unlike some other people. He glances at the stands, but they’re empty. “Okay, they’re gone.” He frowns. “Since she broke the terms I shouldn’t have had to stay twenty minutes, anyway.”

“But aren’t you glad you did?”

Tony flushes. “Yeah.” He leans in to kiss Steve again, but jerks back when another thought occurs. “Did you know what I asked Natasha to do?”

“She offered me a double-cross-or-nothing.” Steve shrugs, unperturbed. “Waited for me at the mailbox with your card, and the offer to betray a ‘client’ if I’d do her a favor.”

“Hey, that’s—”

“The favor being coming here and giving her ‘client’ a clear answer, one way or another. She didn’t say the card was from you, but I got the gist.”

“That’s still…” Tony sighs. “Okay, that is very her, so I can’t be angry.”

“We can still get back at her,” Steve says. “If you want.”

Tony gasps. “Holy shit, I like you so much.”

Steve just beams. “Good.”