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The Long Road Begins at Home

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Food preparation ought to be a straightforward process, with predictable steps and outcomes. It is merely chemistry and math. It should not require tactical flexibility.

However.

Barnes rises at 0515 to put the turkey’s internal organs, 1 carrot, 2 stalks of celery, and 1 onion into 1.5 L of water over a low flame. That task accomplished, he goes upstairs to pinch Rogers’s toe.

“Did you ever consider maybe a light shake, or calling my name, instead of trying to break my toe waking me up?”

Aw, got a tender foot, pal?

“Time allotted for exercise, ninety-four minutes,” he says.

Rogers opens one eye.

“You’re actually going to let me run today?”

“As long as you get out the door in under twelve minutes.”

Rogers achieves this goal. Barnes sits on a bench in the park and drinks a mocha in between his shoulder exercises. It’s so damn cold that he almost wishes he could run. He plays through the day’s plan in his mind.

Pain levels low.

Stress levels low.

Confidence high.

 

Obstacle no. 1: Bread.

Barnes proofs the yeast while Rogers showers, and it looks exactly like the picture online. He braces the bowl between his stomach and the wall and stirs in the required amount of flour with his left arm. It forms a “rough, shaggy mass” as per the recipe.

Then Rogers ruins it.

To be fair, there’s no way to guarantee that Barnes could’ve done any better with two functioning hands. Additionally, he’d have to wear some kind of covering on his metal hand or wear bread dough between the plates for the rest of eternity.

First Rogers squeezes the dough, which makes the additional flour fly everywhere. The flour is supposed to be incorporated.

“I think that was too hard,” Rogers says, rubbing flour out of his eyes with the back of his wrist.

He pats at the dough, which continues looking “rough and shaggy” and does not hold together. In the picture, the dough makes a smooth ball. One is supposed to poke it and watch it rebound to a smooth surface.

Rogers mashes the dough.

“I have no idea what I’m doing, Bucky. There’s nothing on there about how to actually knead it?”

Emergency measures are required. Barnes gets on the phone.

“Building. We need to know how to knead bread dough.”

“Certainly, Sergeant.”

Building JARVIS sends Barnes a video of a smiling woman folding and pushing at the dough in a motion away from her body. They watch the video 3 times, and Rogers tries the process. The extra flour mixes into the dough, and after 7.75 minutes, the dough is smooth and slightly shiny. Rogers pokes it, and the indentation pops back out.

“You did it.”

“That was actually kind of fun, Bucky.”

 

Obstacle no. 2: Lack of proper kitchen equipment.

They put the bread dough aside to rise, and Barnes tops off the stock simmering at the back of the stove with a bit more water. Rogers cleans the large amount of flour out of his hair.

Barnes pulverizes a number of gingersnaps – a wholly satisfying process after the bread troubles – but the rest of the pumpkin cheesecake belongs to the person with two working hands.

“It says ‘beat together until creamy’.”

“I’m pretty sure this was intended for using a mixer, Bucky, not my bare hands.”

“What, those muscles can’t take it?”

Rogers glares pretty bad at that, but it’s nothing on the glare after he breaks the first spoon.

“I told you we should’ve had it catered. This is ridiculous.”

“Stir.”

There’s plenty more glaring (and another broken spoon), but the cheesecake gets into the oven within the required timeframe.

 

Obstacle no. 3: Steven Grant Rogers’s excessively bad attitude.

“I submit that I have already peeled enough potatoes for a lifetime, and that was before I even went into the Army. Do you know how much money and effort went into making me? I’m a goddamn national hero in two different centuries. I think I should get to be put to better use than peeling an entire fucking bag of fucking potatoes, Bucky.”

Barnes turns the TV on to the Macy’s parade.

“You’re gonna make me listen to all that noise? Seriously? I can’t hear myself think. And what are those balloons even of? A talking sponge? What is the point of that?”

An advertisement comes on for a Christmas sale.

“Since Halloween, I’ve been listening to this crap. Buy this, buy that. Doesn’t anybody go to church anymore? Go caroling? Because apparently the point of Christmas now is three months of commercials for new cars and jewelry. What about feeding the poor? What about taking five goddamn minutes to not have every little thing be bright and loud and expensive, huh?”

Barnes slams his metal hand down on the counter - not hard enough to crack it, but hard enough to make a loud noise. Rogers jumps and glares. He does not look afraid.

That’s good. Barnes doesn’t want to make him afraid. He just wants him to shut the hell up.

“What is your problem.”

“The hell do you mean is my problem, Bucky, you’re the one trying to break my damn kitchen.”

He is going to make a speech, dammit. The time for speechifying is intended to be later, during dinner. And that speechifying is supposed to be about thankfulness, for shit's sake, as the name of the holiday is "Thanksgiving," not "Bitchmas."

"You have done nothing but moan and torture potatoes for nineteen minutes. You want me to take over, pal? Figure out how I can hold the damn things and I will fucking take over. But what. Is your problem."

Rogers continues to glare at him, but his sense of guilt is never far below the surface, and Barnes can see it beginning to rise to the top.

"Did you eat breakfast?"

Breakfast was not in the tactical plan. It is a significant oversight.

"I am not having a blood sugar-related fit, Bucky."

Except you are, champ.

"Eat a sandwich, Rogers."

"What?"

"Eat. A damn. Sandwich. Steve. Sit on your sofa and watch a marching band and get the hell over it."

Rogers slumps miserably to the refrigerator and makes a sandwich of suffering. He mopes to the sofa and slouches down to chew with sadness.

Barnes works out how to hold potatoes down with a fork well enough to quarter them and get them into a pot of water without killing his shoulder. By the time he's done, Rogers's posture has visibly improved, he keeps glancing at the kitchen as if he wants to talk, and his ears are pink.

Barnes takes him the rest of the gingersnaps as a reward for good behavior.

"Sorry I was such a jerk, Bucky."

"I'll think about forgiving you."

Sass really does work with this guy.

 

Obstacle no. 4: Dead time.

The cheesecake comes out, the potatoes are mashed and set aside, the turkey and its temperature sensor have gone into the oven, the dough has been shaped into balls and left to its second rise, and the Olds aren't due for 75 minutes.

As it turns out, Rogers in Grumpy Mode was correct about the parade: it's loud and repetitive.

Setting the table takes 13 minutes. Tearing bread and pan-frying sausage for the stuffing takes 20 minutes.

There's still nearly an hour to wait.

This should've shown up more clearly in the tactical plan.

Fortunately, Rogers has the same cooking channel as Esther. Unfortunately, Barnes learns that Foolproof Thanksgiving contained an error on the menu and they were supposed to make pie, not cheesecake.

Great. Dessert is ruined.

 

Obstacle no. 5: Barnes is a damaged dumbass.

Finally the Olds arrive: 8 minutes before the agreed-upon time. Their arms are full of items: bags of empty plastic containers, full bottles, and small boxes. The containers are put aside, but Lidia pours out sherry for everyone, and Esther's little boxes contain snacks.

"Football on Thanksgiving is a law," Ollie says, taking over the television.

Another thing not mentioned in Foolproof Thanksgiving.

"Ooo, cheesecake," Lidia says as she noses through the kitchen, "much better than boring old pie."

Okay. Maybe dessert isn't totally ruined.

The Olds examine and comment on all the food preparation and declare themselves satisfied. The scent that comes out of the oven when Esther peers at the turkey is so enticing that Barnes reels a little. Note: he also neglected to eat breakfast.

Assessment: better eat some of those snacks.

It is a highly enjoyable span of time. Barnes learns some American geography, and that professional sports teams like to name themselves after large cats. Also that he is not allowed to root for the Detroit Lions, which is a shame, because their outfits are a pleasing shade of blue.

He will root for them secretly.

Esther's snacks are highly superior and amenable to experimentation: 2 kinds of cracker, 4 kinds of cheese, 2 kinds of olives, and a paste made from legumes that Barnes would like to eat in large amounts with a spoon.

Olives: outstanding food product.

Barnes spends a pleasurable 23 minutes assembling crackers, cheese, olive, and bean paste into different combinations in an attempt to find the optimal combination.

Sadly, the precariously balanced snack tower in his hand goes flying when the noise sounds - a rapid series of beeps. Identified: countdown sequence of an explosive device. Now Thanksgiving is really ruined, thanks HYDRA.

"Get down!" he shouts, and moves.

He kicks out, sending Ollie to the floor and the sofa cushion after him to provide some measure of cover. On his way to Esther, Barnes knocks Lidia sideways, toward the coffee table. Esther he grabs around the waist with his metal arm in mid-dive, rolling behind the sofa, where he curls his body over her, metal hand shielding her head.

The beeping continues.

And continues.

"Oh!" Lidia says, and a huge laugh rises out of her.

Barnes looks up, still curled around Esther. Lidia did not fall sensibly behind the coffee table. She's in the middle of the floor, her skirt hiked up so that the rolled tops of her stockings show, and one of her shoes is off. She has her hands on her belly, and she is absolutely howling.

Steve has maintained position by the oven, next to the source of the beeping. Which continues. His face looks like it's trying to do 7 things at once.

"Jimmy!" Lidia laughs, "oh you sweet thing."

"Is the coast clear?" Ollie asks.

No. The beeping continues.

"Bucky. Buck. It's the thermometer," Rogers says in a strangled voice. "It's the. Turkey."

Then he laughs, high and loud, which sets Lidia off again.

"Oh for pity's sake," Ollie says from the other side of the sofa.

"Bucky! The goddamn turkey is done!" Rogers shouts, bent in half with hilarity.

The beeping continues.

What is going on.

Esther trembles against his chest. Barnes looks down, and she has both hands pressed against her mouth. Her glasses are askew.

She too is laughing.

There is a click from the kitchen, and the beeping stops. The silence is not followed by an explosion. Just more laughter.

Barnes climbs to his feet and helps Esther up. She pats her hair and glasses back into place without looking him in the eye. The corners of her mouth continue to twitch.

Ollie is a shambles on the floor, with his 15 hairs splayed out and the sofa cushion lying at an angle across his body. Barnes hauls him up and replaces the cushion.

Rogers and Lidia are still laughing.

On one hand, laughter is a sign of positive emotional state. On the other hand, Barnes feels like a dope without even fully understanding why yet. On the other other hand, there is apparently no explosive device and therefore no danger. On the other other other hand, the turkey has had several extra minutes of cooking time and might be ruined.

He needs to be a quadruped to handle all the facets of this situation. Preferably a tiny quadruped, like cat Eleanor, capable of hiding under the dining room table for a while.

"Well," Ollie says, "I can't say that I remember the last instance where I spent any time on the floor."

That sets Lidia off again.

Rogers regains the presence of mind to at least remove the turkey from the oven. It's attractively brown and shiny and not at all resembling a charcoal briquette.

Respiration returns to baseline.

Assessment: overreaction by approximately 9 million percent.

Also, he landed on his right shoulder while rolling with Esther. Lidia is in hysterics, Ollie is still glowering, and Roger's won't look at him.

Has he ruined Thanksgiving.

He looks at Esther.

"Oh, Jimmy, it's all right."

Rogers approaches quickly. Barnes cannot help flinching. You know, just to ruin Thanksgiving a little more.

"What did you think it was, Buck?"

"Explosive device."

"Oh no!" Esther says, and takes his arm.

"Completely understandable," Lidia says from the floor.

Which can't really be true, or else why would she be laughing so hard.

"We should've tested the thermometer beforehand, so you wouldn't be surprised," Rogers says.

It seems obvious in retrospect.

Barnes shrugs with the wrong shoulder and hisses in discomfort. Rogers and Esther both reach for him, with identical expressions of distress. Only Esther is within arm's reach.

"Now, you landed on that shoulder, didn't you?"

Nod.

"That's well past enough excitement for you. Sit," she says, propelling him to the sofa. "You're on football duty with Ollie."

"But dinner isn't ready."

"Steve, Lidia, and I will take care of it."

Except he is co-hosting, and it's rude to put guests to work.

"Don't argue with me, Jimmy. Do as you're told."

Pain levels moderate. Social discomfort high.

He does as he's told. For the moment.

 

Barnes eats more snacks. According to the internet, olives have a high fat and fiber content, which is probably why eating them is soothing.

"I think you're probably good for me, Jimmy," Ollie says during an advertisement.

Barnes stares at him.

"All this flinging me around on a regular basis really gets the old heart pumping. Clears out any cobwebs in my arteries."

Human bodies don't work that way, Ollie.

Barnes gives him a cracker and cheese.

 

Steve and the women have a quieter time in the kitchen without his presence, which is definitely not in any way totally unfair. Lidia makes the salad, and Esther makes the Brussels sprouts.

"Who found this recipe? I've never made them like this before."

"This is all Bucky," Steve says.

"Hmph. Smells delicious."

Steve gets a highly contradictory lesson from the two women in the fine art of gravy making. Barnes wants to implode on himself that he's missing out. Gravy is so important.

Then the Detroit Lions win (excellent), the rolls and potatoes come out of the oven with a scent that makes everyone say "ooo," and Thanksgiving is ready.

They jockey around the table. Everyone seems to want to sit next to Barnes. Why.

"Hush up, Ollie, you've been sitting together on the sofa for half an hour. Let someone else have a turn," Esther says.

"I suppose I can find it in myself to be the token adult in the room," Lidia says.

Which is how he ends up sitting between Esther and Rogers.

"When do we say the things," he says.

And they stare at him.

Do these people not actually know how to do Thanksgiving correctly. Has he ended up with a crowd of the holiday-deficient.

"The things we're thankful for," he says.

"People do that?" Steve asks.

"Oh!" Ollie says, "I haven't done that since I was a kid. We used to make it like saying grace, before we ate, and hold hands."

So they do that, even though Rogers tries to hold his elbow before he gets his arm out of the sling. Rogers's hand is approximately the temperature of a furnace. It's funny to see Ollie's little wrinkled hand swallowed up by Steve's other palm.

"Your house, Steve, you have to go first," Ollie says.

Rogers turns bright red and clears his throat twice.

"Uh. I'm really thankful for. This," he says, staring around the table at them all, and almost, almost making the sunrise smile. "Everything and everyone here. Just. This."

His voice sounds a little hoarse, and he gives Barnes's hand a small shake.

"The defeat of rat bastard landlords!" Ollie shouts, and they laugh. "A cozy Turkey Day, and the hope that the Lions will lose next week."

"That Steve hosted so I didn't have to sell any first editions, and the fact that we didn't blow up," Lidia says.

She winks at Barnes's glare.

"Oh, my, this has been a big year," Esther says. "Last year it was just the three of us and one scrawny little bird -"

"Remember when Eleanor jumped on the table and ran off with an entire wing?" Lidia laughs.

"Why do you think she isn't here?"

She squeezes Barnes's metal fingers.

"This is better. I agree with Steve. I'm thankful for this."

And then they're all staring at him.

This was your idea, Barnes. Suck it up.

"I have a list," he says, "of good things. Didn't really remember about good things, at first. The first thing on the list was a mocha."

They laugh. Good.

"Hot baths, grilled cheese. Things that are good no matter what, even when the mission's hard or bad stuff happens. Got a list of good things and a list of people to tell them to. That's what I'm thankful for."

And then everybody sniffs a little bit, and Rogers hugs him around the shoulders (ouch), but in the moment, it's not too bad.

Not with that scare earlier as a direct comparison, anyhow.

 

Despite all the obstacles, Foolproof Thanksgiving turns out to be an excellent guide for dinner preparation by two morons who have no idea what they're doing and only 3 hands. Everything is delicious.

They eat until everyone groans (even Rogers), then crowd around the television to watch yet another cat team (Panthers) demolish a non-cat team (Cowboys), as is appropriate. Barnes and Lidia put their feet up on the coffee table and stretch out. Esther sends Rogers across the street to fetch her coffee maker so they can all have a hot drink with their cheesecake. By the third quarter of the game, Esther and Ollie are sound asleep.

"Do you have a blanket for him, Steven?" Lidia asks. "Poor Ollie is cold all the time, at home."

Steve covers both him and Esther, and the rest of them watch football very quietly.

"I have no idea what's going on," Barnes says – not that he doesn't enjoy it. The field is very green.

"This game is unfathomable," Lidia says, "starting with the fact that it's called 'football' and they're hardly ever allowed to use their feet."

"Exhibit A why baseball is better," Rogers says.

"Deny," Barnes says.

It's funny to watch Rogers be outraged while trying not to awaken sleeping old people.

 

They pack up containers for the Olds and walk them home in the dark. Ollie had gotten pink-cheeked and smiling during the day at Steve's apartment. It's distressing to see how quickly he goes silent and shivers when they get inside the dumpy building. Barnes and Rogers have made many repairs, but the building is intrinsically drafty.

It's a puzzle to work out.

Despite the satisfaction of a non-ruined holiday and cat teams winning games, Barnes's brain rebels against the stressors of the day by showing him images in his sleep: explosions, bodies going to pieces, confusion and noise that he cannot escape.

"Bucky!"

Barnes opens his eyes in time to watch Steve vault down from the sleeping loft like a frantic gymnast.

It's a damn good thing the gym is on the first floor, or the sound of his landing would give the neighbors a heart attack.

Rogers stands over him, breathing a little heavy, eyebrows drawn together.

"I'm awake," Barnes says.

"Bad dream, buddy?"

"Yeah."

"Midnight snack?"

It's actually 0214, but.

"Yes."

They make tiny sandwiches of leftovers, piled on the excellent dinner rolls that they made themselves with their impressive food-preparation skills.

Two more things to add to the good list: Thanksgiving leftovers piled on one sandwich, and immediate assistance to make bad dreams go away.

Pretty good first holiday.