“It seems like a lot,” Steve says, reluctant. He knows it’s not wartime anymore, but he can’t quite suppress the twinge of guilt he feels at measuring out two entire cups of white sugar.
“I wouldn’t recommend deviating from the recipe, Captain Rogers,” Jarvis says, with a somewhat unsettling amount of understanding. Tony programmed Jarvis to have a personality, but Steve’s still not used to it.
“All right, if you say so,” Steve says, and dumps the sugar in with the butter. He has memories of his mother doing this when he was a kid, and stealing a taste from the bowl before she rapped his knuckles and told him to wait.
He beats in the eggs and sifts in the flour, and it’s not too long afterward that he’s buttering and flouring some cake pans. He’d expected to make do with an ordinary rectangle pan, but after consulting Jarvis and doing a bit of hunting, he finds a cabinet where a few pristine, never-been-used round cake pans are tucked away.
He feels -- well, he feels accomplished. And after the cake is baking, the icing is a snap -- butter and sugar and melted chocolate, in this thing called a food processor that nearly makes Steve jump out of his skin when he turns it on -- but in a few seconds, the icing is ready, and all he has to do is wait for the cake to come out of the oven and cool.
He putters around the kitchen and washes up the dishes by hand, even though Tony has told him a hundred times to use the dishwashing machine. When the cakes are cool to the touch, he carefully stacks one on top of the other, a layer of icing between, trying to get it just so. Despite his best efforts, it’s a little lopsided. He smooths icing over the rest of it, wishing he could do something a little fancy on top, but Jarvis tells him there are no icing tips on the premises, and the plastic-bag method that Jarvis relates to him from the internet doesn’t sound like it has enough control to do something really nice.
“What are you doing?” Tony says from the kitchen doorway.
Steve sticks out his tongue in concentration and does one last pass with the spatula before looking up. “What does it look like I’m doing?”
Tony shoves his hands in his pockets and strolls close to the kitchen island. “Listen, you want to get your Betty Crocker on, I am in full support. What’s the occasion?”
Steve wonders for a moment if that’s a joke, one of the any number of incomprehensible things that Tony says that are meant to be funny. But the longer he looks at Tony, the more he realizes that Tony is absolutely serious -- he has no idea what would possess Steve to -- well, to get his Betty Crocker on, apparently. “It’s your birthday,” Steve explains.
Tony blinks. “Uh. We already did that, remember? Saturday, big party, lots of people, I know you remember because you were there and you can’t get drunk, let alone blackout drunk.”
That is true, and the hell of it is, Steve isn’t sure that being drunk would have made anything better. The party was two days before Tony’s actual birthday, and it was full of famous people and fancy clothes and glittering jewelry, and Tony smiling and shaking hands with everyone and being miserable underneath it all. “You hated it,” Steve says gently.
Tony’s brow furrows, like he doesn’t understand what that has to do with anything.
Steve almost asks what Tony did for his birthday as a kid, but it’s a path that Steve doesn’t really want to go down -- Tony’s childhood is a touchy, landmine-ridden area that doesn’t really bear tromping through if one wants to get out of the conversation alive. So instead he puts a candle on the cake, strikes a match, and then pushes the cake in Tony’s direction. “Make a wish, Tony.”
Tony stares at the tiny lit candle on top of the cake for a long moment, and a cascade of expression passes quickly over his face, grief and wistfulness and vulnerability. And then he closes his eyes, lashes dark against his cheeks, and blows the candle out.
“What did you wish for?” Steve asks.
“Don’t think I’m supposed to tell you,” Tony says, and reaches out one finger to steal a bit of icing.
“Oh, geez, would it kill you to wait?” Steve scolds him affectionately, and cuts two pieces of cake before sliding one on a plate to Tony. It’s nothing like the precise, immaculate cake from the party -- Steve’s offering is a little messy, and maybe the bottom of the cakes is a little more brown than he wanted it to be, and oh man, who is he kidding. “It might not be any good,” Steve warns him, wincing preemptively when Tony puts a forkful in his mouth.
Tony chews thoughtfully, swallows, and says nothing. Another bite, and still nothing.
“Seriously,” Steve says, feeling a little nervous. “You don’t have to eat it if it’s bad. I mean, it’s my first time making a cake -- well, Jarvis helped, but.”
Tony forks up another piece of cake and holds it out to Steve. “Go on,” he says, after Steve hesitates.
So Steve leans forward and closes his mouth around Tony’s fork, and Tony is holding his gaze as he does so, eyes warm and -- surprisingly, the cake is pretty good. He’s not going to win any contests, but it’s respectable.
“It’s great,” Tony says, and maybe it’s one of those things that Tony says, the ones that are nice and polite and don’t mean anything, but Steve doesn’t think so. Because Tony looks like no one’s ever done this for him before, and he can’t fathom how it’s come to pass but he’s going to hold on to it with both hands.
“Happy birthday,” Steve says sincerely, and they dispense with cutting slices and pick at the cake directly until after the clock ticks over to midnight.