Tony checks his stride. “Uh, hi?” he offers as he steps more warily into the kitchen.
“Hello,” Steve bites back, not even bothering to turn his head and look at Tony. Instead, Steve glares at the oven, the inside light revealing a baking pan. The counter, streaked with flour and cocoa powder around dirty bowls and pots reveals a lot more.
Tony walks in just as far as he needs to be able to reach the cupboard with his granola bars. Maybe if he’s quick enough, then…too late. Steve turns, leveling Tony with the glare that had been previously leveled on the oven.
Tony backs away, granola bars in hand. There are times where he holds his ground in the face of Captain America’s disapproval - such as the battlefield - but Tony Stark doesn’t have any issues with a strategic retreat when necessary.
“You look like you’re having oodles of fun. I’d hate to interrupt, so I’ll just go…” Tony tries, slinking further back.
Tony freezes. Steve’s tone has a hint of the Captain America Is Ordering You, but it’s the Steve Roger’s Whine that makes him stop.
“Steve,” Tony returns, a bit of whine himself. This is what he gets for wanting a snack. This is not positive reinforcement for feeding himself properly. Tony sighs and gives in. “So how is your baking adventure going?”
Tony rips the wrapper off his granola bar and bites into it with sullen resentment. Steve’s face crumples, and Tony hurriedly swallows. The oats scrape down his throat and he coughs out, “uh, I mean, wrong question, I know, I meant -”
“It’s terrible,” Steve interrupts, scrubbing at his face.
Tony finally swallows the last of his bite. “Really? Because it looks…” Tony takes another look around at the spilled ingredients, the sink piled high with dishes with several more still on the counter, “great,” Tony finishes.
“Nothing tastes right,” Steve says, crossing his arms and directing his glare, fortunately for Tony, back at the oven. “The one thing Bucky asked for for his birthday, and I can’t do it!”
“Oh,” Tony sighs, because this is a problem that he can fix. “I mean, I know homemade is great, and everything, and from the heart, but like if you want an edible cake then I’m sure I can find someone happy to throw one together for us, even on short notice. JARVIS, can you start a list -”
Steve huffs and redirects his glare back at Tony again - and no, really, that’s not cool, Tony is helping .
“No, Tony. That isn’t going to work,” Steve sighs.
Tony bites back his comment on how Steve really isn’t that fantastic of a baker and Tony would like to eat cake on Bucky’s birthday, too. “A backup cake, then,” Tony comments coolly, still feeling a bit of a sting from a rejected plan that really is quite nice. Bucky can coo over Steve’s homemade-with-love cake but also it would be nice for Bucky to be able to eat one, Tony thinks. “It doesn’t have to be the same, or anything, what did he ask for, chocolate? Red velvet? We can go completely different, an ice cream cake, I bet he’s never had one of those before, wouldn’t know to ask for that -”
Steve’s face flushes a bright, angry red for a moment before he takes a breath and calms down. Tony blinks, a bit in shock, because he’s seen Steve worked up, of course he has, but he wouldn’t have guessed that Steve Rogers would fall apart over a cake.
“Yes, okay. That’s a good idea. A backup cake. I think Bucky might really like an ice cream cake, can you do that?” Steve says, his voice calm and collected.
Tony finishes the rest of his granola bar, filling his mouth so that he can be sure to think over what he’s going to say at least twice.
“Alright, Steve-O. Times up, cards on the table. What kind of cake is defeating our All American Captain?”
Steve sighs, rubs his face. Tony hops up onto the counter to sit, in the flour and sugar and cocoa powder spill and everything, and raises his eyebrows at Steve.
“It’s just chocolate,” Steve finally admits. “Nothing that hard.”
Tony pointedly ignores the scattered dishes and ingredients all over the kitchen. He didn’t even know he had all these things for baking stuff.
“It’s just…” Steve continues. He waves a hand. “It’s just that Bucky asked for his Ma’s cake. The way she used to make it.”
Tony sighs and realizes why the ice cream cake isn’t the same. Bucky remembers some things, but not everything. Tony doesn’t know how much of it is Hydra’s doing (a lot, definitely) verses some of it down to simply age as Bucky didn’t have an eidetic memory before the serum, but Tony does know that they both (and Steve especially) cherishes every memory Bucky has from before the war. And even though a Depression-era cake doesn’t sound all that appetizing… it’s not something Tony can call down to the nearest bakery for and order up.
Steve sighs again. “It’s not a big deal. It’s just, none of the recipes I’ve found have gotten it quite right, and even with JARVIS’ help I’m not sure how to fix it.”
Tony mentally reorders his day, makes space where there was none. He slides off the counter, dusting off his hands from where they’d already gathered flour.
“Alright, where patriotism and good intentions have failed, science will prevail! Here we go. J, break down the test versions of the cakes that Steve has made so far and chart out the ingredients. We’ll tweak this 1940s chocolate cake into submission, modifying the variables, one at a time if we have to.”
“We’re going to science-up a cake, Steve. But JARVIS, order us an ice cream cake as backup, yeah?”
They have to go to the store for more ingredients as well as more bowls and pans and measuring cups (Tony had no plans to wash any dishes, and even Steve’s disapproval of the excess didn’t stop Tony this time).
Then, they begin their baking adventure. JARVIS displays previous failed attempts, and given Steve’s feedback they adjust the sugar (less, and Tony winces because it’s cake ), they adjust the cocoa powder, the baking soda, the salt, the flour, everything.
Tony mostly stands back and hands Steve ingredients, but overall it’s not terrible teamwork. Steve pulls out two more attempts out of the oven (they should be getting closer, by Tony’s estimation), and though they’re both failures at least Steve isn’t shouldering the misery alone.
There’s another round of failures and then another. Finally, Tony spits out the mouthful of cake that he’d eaten. 1940s depression chocolate cake is not, really, his choice. (JARVIS confirmed the order of the ice cream cake, at least).
“Oh don’t do that, it’s not that bad,” Steve says, scowling as he forces another bite into his mouth.
“I think I’ve figured it out,” Tony says after he guzzles down a bunch of water to wash out the taste. Not enough sugar, cocoa powder, anything . Just… no. Tony points at Steve. “Bucky’s Ma was a terrible cook.”
“Shut your mouth,” Steve says, without any heat. He puts down his fork rather than taking another bite, though.
Tony shrugs. “Okay, then option b: your memory is absolutely terrible and you don’t even know what cake is supposed to taste like.”
Steve rolls his eyes. “I’m tellin’ you, something is still not right. It was… fluffier? Not sweeter, I think we’re right on that, but better flavor… I don’t know.”
“Yes, I think we’ve concluded that much at least,” Tony mutters under his breath as he tosses more pans in the sink. He’s still not washing those, but Steve had forbidden him from throwing them out.
Steve sighs. “I think we have enough stuff for one more shot. I’m telling you, if we added more baking powder -”
“That would completely unbalance the pH of the batter!” Tony argues, but he hands one of the few remaining clean bowls over to Steve.
They argue over the exact amount of ingredients the entire time, and Tony bats Steve’s hand away when he tries to shake in additional baking powder after he’d already added Tony’s alloted teaspoon. Steve tries to make Tony take a turn in mixing because of it, but Tony gets away with simply handing ingredients over so that ‘they don’t introduce another variable.’
It goes in the oven, and even though JARVIS starts a timer, Tony finds he can’t quite walk away just yet, even though he has flour and sugar and salt and everything all over himself and is in desperate need of a shower. Steve is in a similar state, even though they didn’t intentionally have a food fight. Baking alone was treacherous enough.
Steve starts half-heartedly washing dishes. They banter over the baking powder amount, Tony pulling up sources while Steve tries to cite his taste buds as they keep a hovering eye on the cake in the oven.
Finally, finally the timer goes off and Steve slides the cake out. It looks, rather disappointingly, like all their previous attempts that have been scraped into the trash.
“Well?” Tony prompts.
“We should let it cool a bit. If it’s too hot, we won’t be able to tell,” Steve says, like they haven’t done this several times already. Still, Steve hovers over the cake.
“Then go back to your dishwashing. JARVIS will let you know when it’s cooled the exact same length of time as the others,” Tony snipes. He chows down on a granola bar, hoping to reset his taste buds. Spitting out the cake has only made him hungrier, though he couldn’t bear to swallow. He might need to order Steve and himself a cake to eat now , to make sure they (Steve) had an actual reference of what cake tasted like.
Finally the cake is cool enough.
“Go ahead,” Steve says.
Tony narrows his eyes. “You first.”
“You claim to be the cake expert,” Steve reminds him.
Tony sniffs. “I know more than you, at the very least, as I’ve clearly demonstrated.”
“Then take a bite,” Steve dares.
Tony scowls. He digs in his fork and them moves to take a bite, glaring at Steve the whole time. Tony only has the piece in his mouth for a moment before he spits it back out.
“Oh come on!” Steve complains.
Tony gestures at Steve to try the cake as he gulps down water.
Even Steve spits the cake back out. “What happened? This isn’t like before!” Steve says as he coughs.
“Did you grab the salt instead of the sugar?” Tony asks.
“Did I…? You handed it to me!”
“I did not!”
“What has you two holed up here all afternoon?”
Tony startles, whirling.
“Bucky!” Steve greets, guilty, hunching his shoulders. “Uh, nothing, really, just some… baking?”
“I can see that,” Bucky drawls as he eyes the still disaster of the kitchen. Steve hadn’t gotten very far with the cleanup. If they’d gone with Tony’s idea of simply tossing it (and really, were they ever going to baking stuff again in his kitchen?), the evidence would already be gone. “Oh, is this Ma’s cake?” Bucky asks happily. “I don’t remember it causing such a mess,” he teases.
Then a knife is in Bucky’s hand, one he’d pulled from somewhere on his body, and he’s cutting himself a corner of cake.
“Wait,” Steve tries, reaching to stop him, but it’s too late.
Bucky shovels the piece into his mouth.
“Mmm,” Bucky hums as he chews, swallows. Tony eyes Bucky’s face, but there’s nothing there until Bucky finally grins. “This is great. Thanks, Stevie. Ma’s cake. Didn’t think I’d ever taste anything like it again.”
Tony blinks. Steve’s jaw drops.
“Is that cake I smell?” Clint asks as he appears suddenly.
“Where did you ooze from?” Tony asks. “This is my penthouse, not the communal floor!”
“Yeah, Steve left a mess down there too. Sam’s cleaning it up, but I figured the goods had to be somewhere,” Clint explains as he eyes the cake. “Figured you needed a taster, yeah?”
“We did. Still do, actually,” Tony says, trying very hard to rein back his glee. “Want a fork?”
Clint eyes Tony suspiciously, but when Steve is the one who reaches into the drawer and hands over the fork, Clint accepts. Clint reaches over to dig into the cake, taking a huge bite right from the center.
“Aack!” Clint spits out the entire mouthful into the trash can. “You two are banned from baking anything, ever, for the rest of eternity! What is that?”
“Bucky’s Ma’s cake,” Tony says. “Don’t be insulting.” He watches as Bucky’s neck flushes, as Bucky locks his jaw.
Tony looks at Steve, who is still staring at Bucky. Tony bursts out laughing. “Neither of you have any memory of what her cake tasted like, do you?”
“I do too!” Steve claims at the same time that Bucky admits, “I really don’t.”
Steve’s jaw drops again as he turns to Bucky. “What? But you said…!”
Bucky shrugs, the blush climbing higher up his face. “I mean, I remember she made some kind of cake, yeah. But what did it taste like? No clue. Figured you might though.”
And that the idea of Bucky remembering something would make Steve happy, Tony doesn’t doesn’t mention. “Now we know you can eat anything at this point,” Tony teases as he pushes the cake pan at Clint. “Come on, Clint, eat up like a good lab rat.”
“Blow one, Stark,” Clint says as he throws his fork into the sink with perfect aim. “I’m not taking another bite of that or anything either of you make ever again.”
“It’s the worst one yet,” Steve sighs. He dumps the entire pan into the trash, and Tony couldn’t be happier. “Tony mixed up the ingredients.”
“Excuse me!” Tony protests. “That one was entirely your fault. And if you had just listened to me about the baking powder -”
“Aaaaaand,” Clint interrupts, pulling at Bucky’s sleeve, “we should go somewhere with more edible food. Pizza?”
“Burgers,” Bucky contradicts.
“Pizza! Your birthday isn’t until tomorrow, we don’t have to listen to you yet,” Clint argues.
“We always get pizza because you always pick pizza. Today we get burgers,” Bucky says as he lets himself be dragged to the elevator. He does turn back to Steve, once, and wave. “Uh, thanks for the cake?”
Steve waves them out, shaking his head.
Tony turns to Steve. “Burgers?” he asks, because the granola bars are barely anything compared to a delicious cheeseburger.
Steve looks at the dishes piled in the sink, at the flour covering the counter. He sighs. “I should stay and clean up…”
Tony waves a hand. “Whatever, it’s fine, don’t worry about it. Do you know how often I use the my kitchen, because I don’t, so it can’t really be that often. It certainly won’t be soon, given my baking quota has been exceeded by like, a lot, so burgers, Steve.”
Steve snorts. “We should at least clean ourselves up.”
Tony rolls his eyes. “Ugh, fine. JARVIS, see if you can corral the sniper fest in the Tower until we’re finished. And send out an alert - not an urgent one, just take a roll call and see who wants to come. And give Ray’s a heads up that we have two super soldiers headed his way, yeah?”
“I’ve also taken the liberty of placing an order for multiple cakes for tomorrow, Sir,” JARVIS replies.
“Thank you, JARVIS,” Steve says, grinning at ceiling.
“Aw, you aren’t going to bake one now? That’s so sad, Steve. I’m sure Bucky would appreciate anything you made, especially if he was willing to choke down that other one -
Steve shoves Tony’s shoulder. “Shut up and go get clean so we can get burgers.”
“Oh my God, what is this?!”
“Ice cream cake!” Tony defends, cradling his piece closer as Bucky winces in swallowing his. “You were willing to eat that monstrosity yesterday, but ice cream cake is where you draw the line? What did Hydra do to your taste buds?”
“Why is it cold?” Bucky whines.
Steve is laughing, curling up into himself. As if he could try to hide his shoulders shaking, large as they are. Tony throws a plastic fork at Steve on principle.