Say hey, it's the birthday of the splendid musesfool, whose talent is prodigious and whose taste is exquisite. V, for you, a little bit of Steve Rogers in the kitchen. (My best thanks to the awesome tenaciousmetoo for the sharp beta.) It's a little gen, a little het, and a little slash - I hope you enjoy it! (Very vague character spoilers for the second Captain America movie, and none at all for the comics.)
"Kiss the Cook"
Bucky's arms shook, but he managed to sit up finally, and then reached below the thin blanket to tug the starchy sheet out of its tangle. He had to get better fast, if he was gonna take a pretty girl dancing on Friday night, but his wallet and pantry were equally empty. Going to Steve's wasn't an option, not with the kid catching every cold that came down the pike; flu like this would knock him ass over teakettle.
He shut his eyes and collapsed back down, and there was no one there he had to put on a show for, so he lay on his narrow, hard mattress and moaned quietly, feeling his voice trapped and itching inside his chest.
The hand on his forehead startled him, but his body didn't even bother going into panic mode; it must have recognized Steve's big goober face looking down at him. The kid was gonna chew a hole right through his lip if he kept gnawing on it. "Ease up, I ain't dyin'," he said, pushing a tender fist to Steve's jaw, pretending his arm didn't have the consistency of a wet noodle.
"Buck, you putz, you gotta take care of yourself every once in a while," Steve said.
"Sorry, grandma," Bucky cracked, taking in the way Steve stepped back into a stance with his hands fisted on his hips. That might have been more effective if Bucky couldn't span Steve's waist with his hands.
"When'd you eat last?" Steve asked, leaning over to see if there was a plate in the sink or on the dishrack. Of course there wasn't. Bucky didn't know why Steve even bothered looking. He resolved not to think about cuddling up and sticking his nose behind Steve's ear.
Still, he had to say something. "Bought a hot dog on my way home," he said, looking intently at the tip of Steve's freckled nose, as close as he could get to those innocent eyes.
"Did you know you're a terrible liar?" Steve asked pleasantly before delivering what he clearly thought was a bomb. "With a tell."
"I don't have a tell!" Bucky protested, though the scratchiness of his throat made him want to shut up.
"Okay," Steve said, all cheer, and Bucky started to doubt himself. Before he could puzzle it out for too long, Steve said, "Don't go anywhere; I'm gonna be right back with all the fixings for a gourmet dinner."
If Steve had been doing something he shouldn't for money, Bucky'd whup him himself, even if his chest did feel like it had been dragged inside out. But Steve turned those big guileless eyes on him as he darted through the door, and Bucky thought maybe he should take the opportunity to knock some sense into his own thick skull, because it was Steve, the kid whose middle name might as well have been Virtuous. "Where'm I gonna go, huh?" he called out as Steve was bolting down the stairs.
Bucky did end up going to dreamland, and he woke up to find Steve looking downcast. "Hey," he said, then paused to try to clear the rattle out of his chest with a series of sandpaper coughs that hurt like a mother. "Where's that five-star meal I was promised?"
Steve tried to smile, and that was when Bucky knew that he was facing disaster, even before he saw the pallid so-called spaghetti marinara Steve pushed under his nose. Holy cats, he really should've made friends with someone who didn't think that boiling everything was the way to go. The noodles were waterlogged and the sauce – well, the real stuff was an art form, and Steve had evidently thought all he needed to do was boil some tomatoes, most probably a couple that the grocery couldn't sell for full price anymore, and squeeze them over his pasta. Bucky would have killed for a plate of spaghetti with Mrs. P's homemade sauce, so thick with onions and spices that he never missed the meat, but he bolted down Steve's offering like it was just as delicious, only to choke on some slimy little tomato seeds.
"Mmm," he said, because at least his stomach wasn't growling anymore and, hey, the kid had cared enough to try – he wasn't gonna be the one to make Steve's clear eyes turn down in a sad frown.
"So maybe you don't have a tell," Steve said thoughtfully, scraping the pot to get the last of the food onto Bucky's plate. "But you're still a liar."
"And this is my punishment?" Bucky asked, deadpan, until Steve started to laugh that joyous laugh that always made Bucky want to kiss him.
Natasha went looking for Steve and found him in the pool, which was still churning from the energy he'd expended swimming laps. He pulled himself out when he saw her, and she saw that he was wearing what she persisted in thinking of as Daniel Craig shorts, even though they'd probably been the fashion when Steve was growing up. The water dripping from him seemed to highlight the freckles on his shoulders; he wasn't as shy as she'd assumed, but she knew she could still turn him scarlet if she told him that he looked positively lickable.
"Hey, Nat," he said, toweling dry his hair, apparently unaware of what the motion did for his muscles. She reminded herself that they were friends and she had other, less dangerous options – they might have been apart for months, but that didn't mean their reunion had to take place in a bed to be real. "Shoot, am I late?"
"Not really. I'm just hungry. And I think it's just us today."
"Double-time," he promised, and he was in the kitchen five minutes later, his t-shirt and sweatpants still streaked with damp. She sat at the breakfast bar and watched him, liking the way he mumbled to himself and kept consulting the recipes he'd printed out; he wasn't a natural in the kitchen, but he'd been the first to sign up for cooking a weekly meal when Pepper said something under her breath about giving the delivery guys a break. Steve was easy like that.
"Go do something instead of watching me, would ya?" he asked plaintively when he snuck a peek over his shoulder. She raised an eyebrow. "Or," he said, smiling and clearly thinking he could turn the tables on her, "you could talk."
"What are you making?" she asked, pretending she was being obedient when she knew he wanted to hear about what she'd been up to. He flushed a little, which intrigued her; was he that uncomfortable cooking, that even being critiqued by her and her notoriously unsophisticated palate was too much?
"Uh, brussels sprouts to start with," he said, a bashful hand stealing to the back of his neck.
"My favorite," she said, touched.
"Yeah," he mumbled, and went back to chopping off the stem ends.
"You know they're sweetest after a frost?" she asked, coming around the bar and grabbing a knife of her own. He sent her a sidelong glance, his big hands faltering.
"I got it," he said, ears fully pink. He looked over at her apologetically. "It's just – it's a little crowded here with two people."
Even when one of them was built like he was, that was absolutely not true; Tony had been as lavish with the kitchen as he was with his labs. Could it be that Steve was having some thoughts about dangerous options and satisfying reunions himself? Natasha obligingly set down the knife and went back to her seat.
She could've had him on the counter begging for her in the blink of an eye, but she paused. Fury and the Winter Soldier and whatever this new threat that had the Avengers assembled was were more than enough for him to handle, without any extra complications; Steve wasn't the type to compartmentalize, and that was a mess she wasn't ready to stir up.
His broad back still looked tight with tension. "What else is on the menu?" she asked, grabbing a bunch of oranges from the basket Pepper had put on the counter with a dark mutter of scurvy and starting to juggle them.
Steve looked over his shoulder again, and he broke out in a broad grin when he saw what she was up to. "Chicken and rice, plus some veggies."
"Mm-hmm," she said, trying to sound like she was concentrating on the fruit rather than what they could be doing instead of cooking. His kiss had been sweet and his hand on her waist tentative, but he had a reputation for being a quick learner.
Maybe this was just what he needed, a way to escape the strictures of his life without courting danger. She wouldn't exactly be getting a terrible deal, either.
Mind made up, Natasha waited until he had the sprouts, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt, in the oven and the stems and ends in the trash before she juggled a little closer to him. "Want to try?" she asked.
"Ha," he said, holding up his damp hands like he was under arrest. "Can't juggle, can't ride a unicycle, can't dance."
The motions were so automatic for her that she could let her hands work without thinking, leaving her eyes free to drag over his pensive face. For a blond, he had some seriously sooty lashes, and that mouth of his was like a succulent fruit itself. He smelled like soap and salt.
"Nat –" he said, tipping his head forward, just the tiniest bit, and she couldn't even tell if he'd meant to.
Thor's heavy tread killed the moment. The god strode into the kitchen, plucking one of the oranges out of the air, and Natasha sank back down on her heels. She hadn't even realized she'd been up on tiptoe, her body had compensated for the shift in balance so smoothly.
"May I share your repast?" Thor asked between appreciatively slurpy bites of his orange. Natasha caught the oranges neatly and lobbed two more his way, and he nodded formally at her, juice running down his chin.
"Of course," Steve said, because he wasn't just chivalrous to the ladies; no, he had to be courteous to damn well everybody, and even that wasn't enough to cool her down. "The brussels sprouts'll be ready in a couple minutes, and I was about to get started on the chicken."
Natasha stalked over to her seat and started to peel the last orange, flaying it in quick, precise strips.
The timer went off just as Steve put the chicken breasts in a hot, oiled pan. She glanced up to see Steve looking more harried than he should. "Okay," he said, back to talking himself through his kitchen ordeal, "take them out, make sure they're sizzling, drizzle a little more salt, throw on some pepper –"
"Pepper!" Thor said, sounding excited. "May I?" He gestured at the ridiculously large pepper-mill that sat in one corner of the counter next to other frequently used spices.
"Be my guest," Steve said, stepping back from the pan of perfectly browned, crisp-looking sprouts.
Natasha felt her spine tingling – something was about to go wrong. She looked up at the skylight, peering through it to see if there was anything coming from above. Nothing. The only thing she could hear was Thor grinding the gears of the mill.
And then she saw the catastrophe like it happened in slow motion. Steve laid a hand on Thor's arm to signal that the sprouts had enough pepper, Thor turned to accommodate him, and somehow Steve inhaled a hefty dose of the stuff. Steve sneezed then, all over those plump little sprouts, his entire body convulsing and his eyes watering, and as his sneezes escalated, the chicken, browning in a pan on the stove, started to burn.
Steve turned off the burner automatically and Thor, trying to waft the smoke away from the detector, created a small whirlwind. Natasha forced a smile for Steve's teary eyes but knew better than to try to wait out Thor's florid apologies.
As she walked out of the kitchen, she heard Thor say, almost meekly, "I am still hungry." She was too, but it clearly wasn't going to be Steve, domestic goddess, who satisfied her.
"We ain't all got your super-metabolism, man," Sam said when Steve called time-out on their marathon gin rummy session to raid his freezer and asked why he had something called Skinny Cow Chocolate Peanut Butter reduced-fat ice cream sandwiches; he said it easily, like he hadn't wanted a more personal acquaintance with that impressive physique for quite some time. "I want something sweet, that means extra laps."
He laughed when Steve assessed him seriously and assured him, "I think the wings'd still hold you up if you had a couple more pounds packed on."
"Nah," he said. "I don't really have much of a sweet tooth anyway. I'd just as soon have some fruit for dessert, most nights." He threw down a sequence. "Gin. Now are we done with this interrogation? I'm tryin' to teach you to play this game for real."
It took Steve a beat to react, like he was thinking about something else. "Oh – yeah. Sorry, just gathering wool."
Sam remembered then that Steve was not just old-fashioned but actually old, going by his date of birth, and that he'd probably played all of these games back when he was a kid, or at the very least, when he had a kickline of nubile dancers mothering and petting him throughout the early days of the war. Steve was probably looking for a friend, not a teacher.
He'd have to make sure to keep his freezer stocked.
He got home from the greenmarket one morning a week later to find Steve lounging on his stoop. "Hey," he said, pleased and wondering how Steve made a pair of jeans and a faded t-shirt look so good, "did I know you were gonna be here?"
"Nope," Steve answered, wearing such a bright grin that Sam figured he was playing hooky. Whatever nonsense he was working on in New York clearly didn't mean as much to him as the search for his undead best friend.
"Well, come in anyway," Sam said, and held the door open. He wasn't gonna start wondering if he was part of what Steve missed on his new assignment – time enough for that after Steve left again. "You wanna make yourself useful?"
That was practically a trick question for Steve, who always wanted to pitch in, lend a hand. What a good boy his mama'd raised. "Yeah, what can I do?"
"Here," Sam said, and handed him one of the brown-paper bags. You can cut these mangoes." Steve looked at him, eyebrows dubiously up, clearly wondering how that would help anything, so Sam clarified. "I don't know about you, but my plan for the day is to go for a run, shower, and then sit in my drawers and eat fruit salad that's cold from the fridge."
Steve cleared his throat and peered inside the bag, and Sam could see his ears had gone pink enough to drown out the freckles scattered over them. "Uh, okay. You might not wanna go for the run until later, though; there's gonna be a storm, and the heat's gonna break, so you might as well wait until then."
"Aye-aye, Cap," Sam said, and Steve was startled into laughter.
His kitchen was tiny, and they ended up working shoulder-to-shoulder, both of them needing the sink. Steve was struggling to keep each slippery mango in his hand as he carefully peeled it, and Sam said, "On your left," when he reached across him to rinse off box after box of berries. He sliced the largest strawberries into his big glass bowl, dumped the rest in after, and gave the bowl a good shake before starting to cube the first mango Steve had peeled. The heady scent of sugar was rising up between them, and Sam could feel the ripple of muscles against his side when Steve shiftily stretched out an arm to try to steal a blueberry.
"Wait, man," Sam said. "I got something even better." He pulled out the last bag he'd scored at the market, full of fat cherries so darkly ripe they were basically black. He reached in and pulled one out by its delicate green stem, holding it above his own mouth. Steve's eyes were tracking it like it was manna, and Sam hoped he'd read this right; it was an old trick, sure, but fingers crossed, one Steve would've missed in his time under the ice. He popped the whole thing into his mouth and had the stem knotted on his tongue when he stuck it back out. Steve's eyes darkened and Sam spit the pit and stem into the sink.
When he turned around, Steve was on him, that soft mouth pressed desperately up against his own, sticky hands cupping his face. Sam couldn't help smiling, even as it broke the kiss, and peeled Steve's t-shirt up his back, getting his hands on that hot skin.
Captain America, he was in a position to confirm, was delicious.
The name Bucky still didn't mean anything to him, but the man – his mission, Captain America – was hard to let out of his sight.
The Winter Soldier was so accustomed to the gaps in his memory that they weren't even obstacles around which he had to negotiate anymore; there was a freedom in it, a lifting of responsibility. And yet. And yet he couldn't help remembering how quickly the man had come to free him when he'd been trapped under metal, how much sorrow had filled his eyes instead of anger or fear. The Winter Soldier took up his usual spot and watched, as if the man's life were a movie playing around the clock for his sole benefit.
The man's life wasn't exactly regular, but it was also far from exciting; he met with the same small group of people repeatedly and spent most of his time doing research, more often from books than on the shiny computer that he seemed disinclined to touch.
When the Winter Soldier returned the next night, there was a small box on his preferred spot, and a flare of rage lit inside him that he hadn't realized he was being watched in return. Inside the box was a short stack of cracker sandwiches, chunky peanut butter spread thickly between each pair of crackers.
He smacked the box away. The lid, still near him, had a note taped to the inside. These always made you feel better. As he stalked off, he cursed himself for deigning to read it and wondering if it was true.
He couldn't keep himself from returning. The next night's note was shorter, and there was a smear of peanut butter beneath the two words. Please, Bucky.
The peanut butter was spread more thinly the following night. If you won't take care of yourself, let me do it for you. It was a masterful seduction, this pretense of bare-faced concern, as if there wouldn't be a price to pay for feeling safe and wanted.
It was astonishing, that six chiding words could derail his juggernaut of roiling, poisonous emotions – the certainty of rage and hatred and panic. The Winter Soldier surprised himself by laughing when he found the note that said You really shouldn't be wasting food. It was the first good point the man had made, so he raised the topmost cracker sandwich to his mouth and bit down. The sweetness nearly choked him, and he was rooted to the spot, wanting everything he'd once had when a gesture like this didn't have to be fraught with decades of meaning. His mouth was still gummed shut from the peanut butter when strong arms went around him and he heard a voice saying in his ear like he was a precious thing, a pipe-dream miraculously come true, "I got you, Buck. I'm here."
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/443322.html.