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Bucky had been the head pastry chef at Moscow’s Red Room Hotel for a number of years now. The owner, Alexander Pierce, had plucked him out of a bakery he’d been working at for a few weeks while backpacking through Europe. Pierce sent him to the best pastry school in Paris, with the agreement that Bucky work exclusively for Red Room for five years at least.

It had been seven, and Bucky was growing tired of Pierce’s you were nothing before me, I made you, show some appreciation diatribes and Executive Chef Zola’s nit-picky micromanagement. Sure, Pierce had a point when he said that Bucky was a nobody. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t become somebody.  

Natasha Romanoff was one of the Red Room’s most esteemed guests, and someone Bucky had grown to consider a good friend over the years. She had a habit of sneaking down to the kitchen for a snack in the early hours of the morning while Bucky was getting the pastries ready for breakfast. When she called to offer him a chance to work with a famous American chef at a Gala event, he accepted.

He’d grin and bear dealing with a celebrity chef if it got him a change of scenery and the opportunity to work with someone besides the ever-unpleasant Zola. The Red Room Hotel had played host to a number of famous chefs over the years, some with television shows filming, some not, but they were all the same: all talk and ego, and no substance. 

But that was okay, Bucky was used to temperamental chefs. And he hadn’t been home to New York in a while, and thought it would be nice to catch up with the food scene somewhere that wasn’t the pretentious gilded halls of a hallowed Russian institute.

Maybe he’d be able to go to a few of those restaurants he’d read about online and eat something that wasn’t gourmet European fare. Sure, Bucky one hundred percent believed in his classical training, but damn if he wouldn’t give his left arm sometimes for a Brooklyn dirty water hot dog or literally anything from a food truck.

One thing that Bucky missed most, being tucked away in the frosted northern wilds, was food. Not cuisine, not the next big thing, just simple food that real people ate.

He couldn’t remember the last time that he ate something and felt simple happiness. Bucky wasn’t interested in whatever wild new ‘culinary fusion’ this Rogers guy was probably into. He’d find time during this trip to go find some real food, he’d make sure of it. 

---

When he got his start, celebrity chef Steve Rogers was just a scrawny young adult working double shifts as a grunt, trying to make ends meet after his Ma died. There were extra ingredients one night, and instead of throwing them out and washing up the dishes like he was supposed to, Steve, in the quiet solitude of a tired kitchen, decided not to throw away perfectly good food.

Executive Chef Erskine had forgotten his keys and came back for them, only to see his underage dishwasher cooking up a simple stew. He asked to try some and was blown away. 

“So, you want to be a chef? Run your own kitchen, bark out orders, be in charge?”

Steve had shaken his head and responded, “Life’s rough. Sometimes it’s not so rough with a little bit of something delicious. Sometimes that little bit of delicious gives you the strength to keep on going.”

Chef Erskine sent him off to culinary school, all expenses paid, the very next week.

These days, Steve Rogers was a busy guy. 

He had eight published cookbooks with a ninth on the way, four cooking shows of his own and two that he regularly judged, speaking engagements, interviews, the whole public relations gambit. He sometimes felt that he didn’t have enough time to get back to basics, to just be a chef.

Which is why when his friend Natasha called, asking if he would cater her Memorial Day Gala, he said yes.

Buttoning up his chef whites and doing nothing but creating a spectacular menu and working in a kitchen with only his competent, trained staff under him and no cameras sounded like exactly what he needed.

That is, until she told him she was bringing in her own pastry chef to collaborate on the menu. Steve was annoyed at that; she knew that he worked almost exclusively with Sam. But this other guy - James something or other - was being flown in from Europe and was apparently classically trained in Paris.

Steve hoped the guy wasn’t overly pretentious or looked down on American cuisine. That was, after all, Steve’s specialty. He wasn’t known for being avant-garde, or over the top. He was known for high-quality, easily-approachable comfort food. That’s not to say he couldn’t fancy things up every now and then, but pushing the boundaries between food and architecture had never been his thing. 

He just wanted people to eat and feel at home.

For Natasha, he’d grin and bear it with the probably-pompous snob. He just hoped the guy wouldn’t have too many outlandish suggestions for the menu. Steve believed in his flavor profiles, and he had no problem fighting anyone that said otherwise. After all, those flavor profiles made him an internationally-known culinary powerhouse. 

What did some hoity-toity, old-school European pastry chef know about American flavors, anyway?

---

Once he told Becca that he was coming home for a week, and who he would be working with, she shrieked in his ear. That did not inspire Bucky’s confidence. She apparently ran down to the nearest bookstore and express shipped this guy’s latest cookbook to him so he could do some homework.  

He waited until he was at the airport to read the cookbook. He had to admit, as he cracked the cover of Easy Americana, the burger on the front did look pretty good. He flipped through the pages with a hypercritical eye, just waiting for some ‘twist on a classic’ or ‘contemporary take’ to jump out at him.

There was no way this burger was just a burger.

--- 

Steve had been over the details with Natasha a dozen times. He had the attendance count, the dietary restrictions, everything. He had two primary menu choices (though one clear favorite) and three backups. His contingency menus ranged from Asian fusion to traditional Western European cuisine, although he wouldn’t use any of them. They were there as a negotiating tactic.

It was T-minus one day until the battle commenced. They’d be meeting at Bistro Americana, so he had home field advantage. His staff was prepared and had his back, and he was ready.

Steve Rogers would get his primary menu. And he’d get complimentary desserts or die trying.

--- 

Walking into Bistro Americana felt a little bit like walking into battle.

This was Steve Rogers’ latest pet project, so Becca had said. It was the trendy new restaurant that the critics were raving about. It was also the place where they were scheduled to meet in half an hour to discuss the menu for the gala, much to Bucky’s dread. He was going to have to sit down with some dick who probably didn’t care about Bucky’s portion of the event and would try to steamroll his ideas into oblivion, knowing celebrity chefs.

Definitely not Bucky’s idea of a fun afternoon. 

Although as he walked through the doors, he found himself a little surprised at the atmosphere of the restaurant. It wasn’t that it was stuffy or uncomfortable; it was actually quite a cozy place, with a familiar kind of vibe that made him feel at ease. Bucky had no doubt that the atmosphere was carefully curated. 

No, it was a perfectly nice place. But it was still enemy territory. 

It felt a little unnerving to Bucky, and he found himself looking around for a familiar face. There weren't any, of course; he only knew a handful of New Yorkers anymore, and the odds that there were any in this restaurant during the afternoon slump was incredibly slim. There were no familiar faces but there were some friendly ones, however. A young girl in a standard server's uniform was placing silverware on tables and shot him a shy smile. There was also a man who looked to be about Bucky's age in a plain white tee shirt and jeans tucked into a booth in the far corner, nursing a cup of coffee and stifling a yawn and looking positively adorable.

Bucky couldn't help but be drawn to him. He looked so much like Bucky felt: tired but determined, trying to push through and do what needed to be done. He had papers spread out on the table before him, each one meticulously arranged parallel to the one next to it. Every so often he scribbled something out on one and wrote in something new, only to scribble that part out and underline the original again. He must be a manager of some sort, rearranging the wait staff's schedules or planning some sort of supply order, based on the look of concentration he wore as he scratched and scribbled his way across the papers.

He was so focused on his work that he was oblivious to Bucky's presence, or to anything going on in the room, and Bucky was almost reluctant to break his concentration with an approach.

Almost.

He walked over and cleared his throat as he stepped up to the edge of the booth. He leaned his elbow on the back of the opposite bench seat and said, "Sorry to interrupt, but you look like you work here. Maybe you could help me?"

The man looked up in confusion at the sound of Bucky's voice, but one glance at his face had the stranger softening and smiling up at him. "Uh, yeah, I do," he said, perplexed. "What can I do for you?" 

"First of all, you can tell me whether the coffee's any good here," Bucky said, jerking his chin toward the man's mug. "I could use some, but I spotted a cafe around the corner if I need to run out for something consumable. Now's your chance to warn me if that's secretly toxic sludge or something."

The man grinned, then shrugged one broad shoulder. He had bright blue eyes that were very amused now, flitting over Bucky's outfit and face in what was probably an attempt to place him and his reason for being here. 

"It's alright," he answered, "As far as bulk-brewed coffee goes. It's no craft roast, but it'll get you through a deadline, anyways."

"Well, that's the ultimate test, isn't it?" Bucky fired right back, slipping into the opposite side of the stranger's booth as easily as if he'd been invited to kick his shoes off and stay a while.

He was hoping to get some sort of a reaction, and boy, did he get one. The man's eyebrows raised, and his posture changed from relaxed to to a forward lean as he took a new interest in Bucky. It could almost be construed as kind of an aggressive pose, if it hadn't been for the easy smile still curving his lips. Bucky had his attention now.

"That's the be-all, end-all of things, is it? As long as you finish that's good enough? Come on, you can aim higher than that, surely."

His voice was so laden with amused innuendo that Bucky felt his cheeks flush a little bit - something they never did, and suddenly he was glad he hadn't brought along any of his team. They'd be enjoying this entirely too much.

"I dunno about that," he said slyly. "New York’s all about getting things done fast, isn’t it? Nobody ever said anything about quality."

He was about to get a hell of a reply, if the mischievous sparkle in the man's eyes was anything to go by. But just then they were interrupted by a young man in a cook's uniform bustling up to the table with a small plate of french fries in his hands.

"The Cajun seasoning for you to try," he said to Bucky's companion.

The blond man chose a fry and shot Bucky a slightly sheepish smile. "Excuse me, I'm sorry," he said, then sampled the offering. "Mm, not quite enough cayenne. The flavors are excellent, but it just needs a little bit more of a kick to be able to call them ‘Cajun’ and not just ‘seasoned’ fries." The cook nodded and whisked the plate away, but not before he was gently caught by the elbow as he began to walk back to the kitchens. “Oh,” the man across the table said, and gave Bucky a meaningful wink, "Would you mind having someone run another cup of coffee out to me when you have a second? Thank you."

"Yes Chef, right away."

Bucky was halfway to purring some flirtation back at the man when the cook's words caught up to him. He'd called him Chef, the capital C practically audible. Something that a member of the kitchen staff might say to - oh, ballpark guess - Steve Rogers, head chef and owner of Bistro Americana.

Whoops. 

Mouth only hanging slightly ajar, Bucky pointed a finger in his companion's direction. "Chef Rogers," he stated, a little numbly. It technically wasn't a question, but the stranger - Chef Rogers - nodded anyways. Bucky turned the finger in the direction of his own blushing face. "Bucky Barnes."

He was at least a little comforted to see that the chef was apparently as embarrassed as he was by their brief case of mistaken identity.

"Oh, shit," Rogers swore, dropping his face into his hands. "So much for making good first impressions. You're early, I was going to change and have some appetizers waiting...I'm sorry, ignore me," he sighed after a minute, removing his hands from his red face so he could offer one to Bucky to shake. "Steve Rogers, nice to meet you. Call me Steve, please."

"Bucky Barnes," Bucky answered, cringing when he realized he'd literally just said that already.

He took Steve's offered hand and shook it, admiring despite himself the warm strength of the man's grip. So unlike the European aristocrats he was used to. So very American. "Sorry for uh, questioning the quality of your restaurant's coffee."  

Sorry for trying to flirt the pants off of you when we're supposed to be hobbling together a professional cooperative effort, he added in his own mind.

Steve seemed to be having the same sort of thought, but he hid it well with a charming smile full of dazzling white teeth. "Sorry for subjecting you to it," Steve fired back. It was perfect timing, since just then the cook returned with another mug of coffee that he placed in front of Steve without a word before turning and hurrying back into the kitchen. Steve pushed the mug across to Bucky. "I've been thinking about hiring a coffee guy, but I'm not sure if we sell enough to make it worth the hassle. So it's uh, just Starbucks’ Sumatra blend for right now."

"Nothing wrong with the classics." Bucky felt himself relax as Steve did, which was a little bizarre. He'd anticipated spending this entire trip in a state of stress, having to deal with this guy, not to be sitting there having a laugh with him. "Is that the menu?" he asked, gesturing to the papers on the table, suddenly curious now that he knew Steve was the man he'd come to meet. He raised his eyebrows at Steve's nod. "That's… very thorough. My plans are normally scribbled on a piece of parchment paper or the back of a napkin. I'm impressed," he added when Steve looked abashed.

"I'm a man who likes to have a plan," Steve mumbled, then cocked his head at Bucky. "Would you like to have a look? Share your thoughts?"

"Yeah, give it here," Bucky said at once, holding out one hand for the papers and picking up his mug with the other. "I'm curious." 

He inspected the menu and found himself pleasantly surprised at the simple, yet sophisticated, offerings.

“Neapolitan milkshake shots?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Why not? Everyone always does savory canapés, why not have a sweet one, too? I was thinking they could be gelato-based, if you were familiar with it and up to the task.”

Bucky shot him a look that said bitch, please. “I’m not some amateur, Steve. Of course I know how to make gelato.”

“I kind of figured, fine European pastry chef like yourself.”

Bucky huffed in amusement and looked over the entrees. “This is classic food. I think we should have some classic desserts to go with them.”

Steve’s eyes brightened. “Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Like maybe some tartlets? I’ve got a recipe for plum-thyme that would go great with this herbed chicken. And St. Louis ribs...that’s the kind with a dry spice rub, right?” Steve nodded. “Needs something sharp but rich. Maybe a chocolate pomegranate cupcake. And these pork chops...need something simple after all that flavor of honey-garlic sauce." 

Bucky paused, mulling his options over, and Steve took the opportunity to offer a suggestion.

“I was thinking something with pastry cream could balance out the sauce, end on a light note after the chops, but still have enough substance to hold up to them.”

"Why, Steve," Bucky said in surprise, blinking across the table at the man. "Have you been holding back on me? I could have sworn you were a paragon of American cuisine, but you've got the mouth of a baker on you." 

"I actually worked in a bakery as a teenager," Steve grinned, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "I wasn't involved in the actual making of the goods very often, mostly prep and tidying up, but I picked up a few things here and there." 

"Ah, that must be where you got your recipe for your spiced sticky buns. You've got a baking background. I knew that citrus peel wasn't coming from a civilian." Bucky leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms smugly.

Steve, however, looked just as pleased. "That was in Easy Americana. You read my cookbook," he stated with obvious pleasure, eyeing Bucky with new interest. "Just the desserts section, I presume?"

Bucky snorted. "You presume incorrectly. Just because I'm a baker doesn't mean I exist on an IV drip of sugar glaze or something. I do eat actual food sometimes, you know. And yes," he added with a roll of his eyes, "I read your cookbook. Well, I'm reading it. One recipe at a time."

"And what do you think?" Steve asked, leaning in towards Bucky. His face was open and curious, maybe even a touch nervous, like he was afraid Bucky would tell him that it sucked and he should find a new career.

But Bucky hated to lie, so he told the truth instead. "You've got good recipes," he said plainly, shrugging his shoulders. "Haven't come across one yet that I haven't liked. They make for a good collection. The dishes all work together very well so you could pick two or three and make a whole meal of it, then mix it around next time and make a different meal from the same entrée. I like that."

"Yes, that's exactly what I was going for!" Steve said excitedly, his hand thumping on the table for emphasis. "It's meant to be a foundation for someone's whole household menu. Really good basics you can build on and rearrange."

"Well then, you hit your mark." Bucky's words made Steve smirk like the cat that ate the canary, and if Steve had known Bucky better he might have known that Bucky would see that as a challenge. "Although, it could stand a few improvements.”

“Oh?” Steve’s eyes widened in curiosity, his smile dropping just a fraction. “I’m all ears.”

Bucky shrugged one shoulder and leveled a steady gaze across the table. “Your butterscotch custard needs salt." 

Whatever Bucky had been expecting to get as a reaction, it hadn’t been the distress that flashed across Steve’s face as his words sunk in. Steve groaned and hit the tabletop with his palm in frustration. "I knew it was missing something, it’s too flat," he lamented. "I tried everything and couldn't get it right. Salt! So simple. I should have thought of that."

He looked as though the news was actually a devastation for him, which made Bucky have to fight a smile. “And to think, there are millions of people out there reading your book and getting their butterscotch all wrong,” Bucky said gravely. “You’ve probably thrown their entire palette off.”

“I can fix it on the reprint,” Steve murmured. “Eventually they’ll do a second edition, right? And I can have them fix it.”

“I don’t know, that might not be soon enough. This is serious,” Bucky deadpanned. “We might need to consider a recall of the first edition. Go door-to-door and search houses, make sure there’s no copies of your false gospel still floating around out there. Think of the children, Steve.”

It was somewhere around that point that Steve must have caught on that Bucky was needling him, because his furrow of concern was wiped from his face in order to make room for a scowl. “Are you making fun of me?” he asked suspiciously.

“No. Yes. Maybe a little,” Bucky smirked. “It really does need salt. And a splash of actual scotch. But I highly doubt whether anyone without a professionally trained palette would notice. Your cookbook is fine and so are the children of America. Even if the butterscotch custard isn’t perfect, the burger more than makes up for it, holy shit.”

The compliment made Steve return to full brightness immediately, sitting up straighter and smiling at Bucky again. “You liked it?”

“Oh, hell yeah,” Bucky crowed, omitting that as soon as he read it he went down to Natasha’s fully-stocked kitchen and made some. “It’s got such incredible complexity. All of those different flavors and textures...it’s like an experience. And I tasted that Irish whiskey sauce and almost came in my pants. Takes a lot to make me feel that good, Steve, you do good work.”

It was probably - definitely - wildly unprofessional to be continuing to make that kind of comment now that Bucky knew who Steve was, knew they were going to be working together for this event as professionals. But how could he resist when it made Steve blush like that?

Steve pinkened, opened and closed his mouth a few times, then apparently opted out of whatever he had been considering saying and hid his face behind one of his papers instead. “We should, uh, probably decide on that third dessert,” Steve’s voice said weakly from beyond the flimsy barrier. “I’m leaning towards cannoli or cream puffs, what about you?”

Bucky was not, after all, a cruel person. He wiped the smirk from his face and snatched the paper out of Steve’s hands to write his choice in under the desserts column. “Nah, Boston cream doughnuts. They’re iconic, everybody loves them, and the simple flavors will be refreshing after the complexity of the chops.”

Steve’s eyes turned wistful. “Boston cream...yeah, we definitely gotta do that.” The blush was still on the tips of his ears but fading fast. “Well, that was-- surprisingly painless. I thought I was going to have to fight you about the menu. 

“What’s there to fight about? It’s good food and a good cause, let’s make it happen.” Bucky shrugged and looked at Steve warmly. “Will we be preparing the food here, do you know?”

“No, the venue has an event kitchen that we’ll be using,” Steve informed him, reaching into one of his folders on the table and pulling out a list of specs to hand to Bucky. “I imagine that it has everything you’ll need, but if not, let me know. Chances are I’ve got a chef on speed dial who has one in their kitchen and will loan it out for a good cause." 

Bucky hummed distractedly as he scanned the list. “Not a bad setup, for an event kitchen,” he said, impressed. “Sounds like a pretty nice place." 

“We could go see it tomorrow, if you’re free,” Steve offered with a curious tilt of his head. “If you’re anything like me, seeing the location before you get cooking is important. I need to be able to visualize everything beforehand, to get myself ready.”

“I’m not a fan of walking into a kitchen for the first time right before I do an event, no,” Bucky admitted, a small smile on his lips. “What if I need a whisk in an emergency or something? What, like I’m supposed to stop in the middle of my pastry cream to search the kitchen?”

“A cream emergency?” Steve asked seriously, eyes betraying him with a little crinkle of mirth. “I haven’t had one of those since middle school.” He barreled right on like Bucky wasn’t choking on his coffee at that. “Alright then, let’s meet at the venue tomorrow and have a look together. How’s three? Shouldn’t take more than an hour or so, which would give me time to get back here before the dinner rush.”

It was probably not supposed to give Bucky an excited thrill, the idea of getting to meet with Steve again tomorrow. He’d spent the last week psyching himself up just to get through this meeting with the hope that it would be the only he’d have to suffer through. Bucky was pleasantly surprised to realize that he really, genuinely enjoyed the chef’s company. He could probably spend an hour with Steve doing just about anything and enjoy himself, but spending it in a kitchen talking shop with the man? Definitely not a hardship. 

Well, maybe not a hardship for his brain. His dick was another story.

“Three it is,” he said with a grin, tipping back the last of the contents of his mug and placing it next to Steve’s own empty one. “I’ll see you around, Steve,” he added as he rose from the table and headed for the door without a handshake or even a proper goodbye. “And by the way, I lied. Your coffee does suck.”

He didn’t look back to watch as Steve burst into laughter, but Bucky imagined it was a pretty delicious sight.

--- 

Well, that had been a hell of a meeting.

Whatever kind of buttoned-up, better-than-thou jerk Steve had been expecting of James - Bucky, he’d called himself - it hadn’t been the man he’d met. Bucky had strolled into his restaurant, taken a critical look around, then walked right over to Steve’s table and plopped himself down across from him like he belonged there. He’d flirted with Steve, made Steve blush, made him flirt back, and then turned out to be the one person Steve had been hoping to appear competent and professional in front of.

Excellent. 

It had taken an embarrassingly long time for Steve to put together the pieces and realize that this was the hoity-toity baker he was frantically preparing for a meeting with. Not some snob with his head so far up his ass that he wouldn’t be able to look Steve in the eye, but a very handsome man that looked to be around Steve’s age, with pale blue eyes and long dark hair pulled back into a bun. He hadn’t been dressed like what Steve expected for a fancy European pastry chef, certainly, in skintight jeans and a blue button down shirt that made his eyes look even brighter. He looked like he belonged on a runway, not slaving over a hot oven. 

If he’d had any doubts about Bucky’s competence, however, they were gone as soon as talk had turned to the menu. He was professional, knowledgeable, and insightful. Steve would be lying if he said that he hadn’t gotten a little weak in the knees when Bucky had revealed himself as a fan of one of Steve’s books, or that his dick hadn’t given a little twitch hello when Bucky planted the mental image of himself moaning at the taste of a recipe Steve created. He was funny and had a sharp mind, and an ability to see the big picture for the event that Steve hadn’t dared to hope for in his impromptu teammate.

Yeah, Steve was gonna get along with this guy.

He would also be lying if he said that he didn't primp and pamper himself a little the next day as he got ready to go view the event kitchen with Bucky. Hey, just because he was a professional didn't mean he couldn't also appreciate that Bucky was 6 feet of gorgeous, right? If Steve wanted to put on his favorite motorcycle jacket that he knew made his biceps look huge and take extra care to look in his bike’s mirror and make sure his hair wasn't made too crazy by his helmet, no one could fault him for that.

He saw Bucky first thing when he walked in the door, leaned up against the doorway to the dining area just as casual as can be, his body one long, straight line that made his legs look like they went on for miles. Steve definitely wasn't looking at that as he approached. 

"Hey, how are ya?" he said to Bucky, giving an awkward little wave. 

Bucky mimicked his wave, an amused little smirk letting Steve know that his dorkiness had been noticed and catalogued. “Hey, not bad, you?”

“I'm good, I'm good. Have you gotten a chance to take a look around yet?”

“Just in here,” Bucky answered. “It's a nice place, I bet it'll look really good once the decorators come in and jazz it up in red white and blue. I didn't venture into the kitchen yet, though. Figured I'd save myself for you.” Long dark eyelashes concealed one mischievous steel blue eye for a moment as Bucky gave him a wink.

“Well by all means, I'd hate to have a man left wanting on my behalf,” Steve answered after only the slightest moment of stunned silence. Bucky's grin grew wider. “Come on, let's head on back. I have a couple of my staff members from Americana already here, making sure everything is stocked up and easily accessible so we're not scrambling in the kitchen tomorrow.”

Bucky just hummed his assent and followed Steve through the dining area and into the kitchen. It could hardly even be called that-- it was more like a culinary complex, as massive as the space was. Everything was top of the line, all shiny stainless steel and gleaming countertops, and Bucky's low whistle told Steve that he was exactly as impressed as Steve had been the first time he’d entered this room.

“I know, right?” he asked now, throwing his arms wide to gesture at the entirety of the space. “Kind of makes me want to close up shop and just be an event chef, if you get perks like this out of it.”

“It is pretty nice,” Bucky admits, running his fingertips across a pristine prep table. “If this is the kind of thing that comes out of the American drive to be bigger and better, I'm not mad about it.”

“It's Natasha, nothing but the best will do,” Steve told him with a happy shrug. “Where is my staff?” he asked then, louder now, stepping further into the vast space and casting his eyes around. “Hey! Thor! You in here?”

“Yes, Chef! Hang on a minute, we’re coming.” Thor’s deep voice was coming from the pantry area, and Steve took a few steps around the corner and could see his three most trusted employees bringing in some materials through a back door to the loading dock.

Thor was in the lead as usual, two enormous sacks of flour balanced on each arm as if they were bags of marshmallows instead of fifty pounds each. Bruce was panting slightly under the weight of whatever was in the big cardboard box he was toting. Tony was playing on his phone as he trailed after them, a single grocery bag slipped over his wrist. Sounded about right.

“Hey guys. Come on out here when you put your stuff away,” Steve said easily, jerking his head back towards the rest of the kitchen. He received another assent from all three of them, and a moment later were lined up shoulder to shoulder like they were soldiers instead of cooks, which to survive in any kitchen run by Steve Rogers you damn near had to be. Steve warmed a little with pride at the sight of them. 

Thor, his sous chef, had been with Steve for years now, long before Bistro Americana had come to fruition. He was a natural leader, big and bulky like an athlete but with the right kind of head for coordinating a large team of people, and there was no other person on the planet that Steve would trust to be in charge of his kitchen when Steve couldn’t be there himself.

Bruce was a quiet guy, preferring to keep to the grill most of the time where he wouldn’t be in danger of getting caught underfoot in the chaos of the kitchen or swept up in the stress of the big picture. He had a genius knack for thermodynamics, which meant that everything that came off of his grill, meat or otherwise, was as juicy and flavorful as Steve could ever dream.

Then there was Tony, his saucier, a chaotic little ball of energy who almost constantly gave Steve a headache with his aversion to order and planning. Luckily for his job security, he was even more frequently impressing Steve with his ability to improvise a sauce and give a dish some new twist of flavor to take it up to the next level.

They were the absolute best of the best at what they did and fiercely loyal to Steve and Americana, and Steve would rather lose a limb than one of them.

Currently, however, they were all giving Bucky expressions just shy of openly hostile, and Steve felt an embarrassed pang of guilt as he realized that was probably his fault. He’d spent the last 3 weeks complaining about having to work with this guy, talking about how he was positive that he'd be some unbearable asshole, griping about not knowing whether he'd be able to stomach spending even a few hours working alongside him in the kitchen to make this event happen. His faithful team had nodded and spouted agreements when necessary, and had come into this weekend just as ready to hate James Barnes as Steve had been.

In retrospect, maybe he should have called them and let them know that Bucky wasn't a dick before he brought them in for a meeting.

It was too late to say so now, however, so Steve just tried to communicate with his body language and his smile that no really, he's nice, let's be friendly to him.  

“Bucky, these are my best guys. Thor is my sous chef, Tony is my saucier, and Bruce is my grill wizard. Everyone, this is James Barnes, the pastry chef we’ll be working with this weekend.” He said this as if he hasn't been grumbling that name around the kitchen like profanity for days now. Judging by the looks on his team's faces, they hadn't forgotten that, either. “We met up yesterday to talk about the menu and he's got some really great ideas about how we can make this event amazing, so let's do whatever we can to make sure he's got everything he needs, okay?” he added pointedly, raising his eyebrows at them as if daring them to dissent.

Bucky cleared his throat, looking a little uncomfortable on the receiving end of all that glaring but uncowed by the wrath of Steve's fiercely devoted assistants. "Hey guys, looking forward to working with you." 

Tony actually rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to say something that probably would have offended Bucky and mortified Steve if he'd been allowed to finish it, but Steve interjected before Tony has the chance. “Hey, Bucky, why don't you uh, scope out the ovens and see what you're working with? Get the lay of the land. I gotta talk to my guys for a second, see where we are with the supplies.” 

“Sure,” Bucky said easily, though he didn't look entirely fooled by the distraction tactic. If he had caught on to Steve real motivations, though, he didn't call him out on them, just meandered away towards the other end of the kitchen that would be his domain tomorrow. 

Steve waited until he was sure Bucky was occupied by his inspection of the appliances and dragged his trio into the pantry with some stilted babble about checking dry storage.

“Geez, guys, could you be any less welcoming?” he hissed once he was sure they were out of earshot. “You could at least smile at him or something.”

“Smile at him?” Tony asked in wonder, eyes wide as saucers as he searches Steve's face for signs of a joke that Steve isn't making. “Why should we smile at him, he's a dick!”

“Shhhh,” Steve admonished, throwing a guilty look over his shoulder and ducking his head closer to his team. “No, he isn't, he's actually a great guy,” he informed them in a whisper. “I was wrong, okay? He knows what he's talking about, and we’re lucky to have him working with us on this event. If we don’t scare him off and have him running back to Moscow before we can even get cooking,” he finished with a pointed look in Tony’s direction. “So no being incendiary, okay, please? He’s nice and he’s cute and he’s a really great baker so we ought to try to show him a little hospitality while he’s... Tony, why the hell are you making that noise?”

The noise in question was somehow a hybrid between a laugh and a catcall, as disturbing to Steve’s focus as the jubilant look on Tony’s face was. The saucier nudged him with an elbow.

“Oh, so you think he’s cute, Chef?”

“What?” Steve felt his face blush instantly. “No, I don’t!” 

“You just said that he was nice and cute and good at his job,” Thor commented unhelpfully. He wasn’t as openly gleeful as Tony, but there was definitely an amused tilt to the corner of his mouth.

“No, I said he was... I said... Bruce?” Steve asked hopefully. 

“You definitely said he was cute,” Bruce confirmed, smiling gently up at Steve. “Honestly, it’s a bit of relief, I was worried there for a minute. You never change your mind about things you feel strongly about.”

“Not unless you have a very good reason,” Thor nodded. 

“Like meeting some hottie with kitchen smarts and realizing you wanna pop him up on the prep table and butter his hot little biscuit.” Tony said serenely.

“You’re all fired, effective immediately,” Steve groaned, turning his back on them to exit the pantry in search of a less mortifying location. “I never want to see any of you in my kitchen ever again.” 

“Yes, you do,” Thor informed him evenly, and Steve swore he heard the slap of a high five behind his back as he walked away.

---

Bucky really didn’t need to be stressed right then.

Everything about the next day’s event - that day’s event, Bucky realized as he looked at the clock on the guest room nightstand and saw that it was just after one in the morning - had been carefully planned and prepared for.

In three hours, the staff would start pouring into the venue’s kitchen to begin prep according to Steve’s carefully coordinated schedule. Every tiny detail had been accounted for, to the point where Bucky wondered if anyone was allowed to scratch their nose without checking with the chef first. So there was no need for Bucky to be up at one in the morning wondering if they were going to have enough time for the gelato custards to cool before they went into the ice cream machine. 

Steve had planned plenty of time for all three flavors to be made. He had planned it, and timed it, and Bucky’s team even had wiggle room. The custards would cool and then churn and then they’d turn them into the best damn milkshakes these people had ever had. There was plenty of time.

And yet, there he was, stressing over his Neapolitan gelato custards.

It was just pre-event nerves getting to him and Bucky knew that, but it didn’t stop him from laying in bed silently stressing about it for the next half hour. Eventually, he sighed and got up to put on some clothes. He wasn’t going to be able to relax until he knew all three custards were cooling, or even churned and sitting happy in the freezer.  

He might as well get up and get them done and maybe catch a nap in the coat closet later. He left Natasha’s apartment building and stepped out into the night, surprised to find that there were still a good number of people milling around despite the late hour. Then again, this was the city that never slept. 

The venue was only a couple of blocks away from Natasha’s, so it didn’t take him very long to reach it on foot. Bucky frowned as he considered for the first time how he was going to get in. There hadn’t been any events there the previous night so there was unlikely to be anyone still lingering in the darkened building. He’d have to find a security guard or else try to shimmy in through a window somewhere. He wasn’t above breaking and entering if it meant ensuring the success of his gelato.

Luckily, he didn’t have to break any laws to get in. To his surprise, he found the door leading into the kitchen from the loading dock unlatched and propped open with a crate of onions. Maybe someone had forgotten to lock up the night before. Or maybe, Bucky thought as he stepped through into the building and heard a faint clattering from around the corner in the kitchen, some other crazy son of a bitch was here in the middle of the night, too.

Steve was sitting on a stool at one of the prep tables, surrounded by mountains of utensils. He appeared to be wrapping them in the bright red cloth napkins that would be used at the event, then tying lengths of blue ribbon around the middles in neat little bows. Bucky was one thousand percent sure that didn’t fall under the umbrella of the executive chef’s responsibilities.

Either his entrance was spectacularly quiet or Steve was just spectacularly focused, because it wasn’t until Bucky cleared his throat that Steve’s head jerked up from the ribbon he was tieing to look at Bucky with a startled expression.

“Oh! Bucky, it’s you.”

“What are you doing here?” Bucky asked, amused. “Thinking of a career change to event planning?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” confessed Steve, looking a little abashed. “I kept thinking, ‘what if the kitchen doesn’t have any spatulas?’ So I went to Americana and got all of mine to bring here.” He looked a little wryly at a pile of the tools on the table next to him. “There was already an entire drawer of them, of course. It’s a fully stocked kitchen, why wouldn’t there be spatulas?” He sighed heavily, looking exasperated with himself.

“Well, better safe than sorry,” Bucky said diplomatically. He disappeared into the pantry for a minute to grab the dry ingredients for his custards. He then took them to the table next to Steve’s before moving to rummage in the refrigerator for the rest. “Not like I can judge you for late night compulsions to check up on things, since my ass is in here making gelato bases at two in the morning because I wasn’t going to sleep if I didn’t.”

Steve frowned, pulling a copy of the day’s kitchen itinerary out of the back pocket of his jeans to look it over. “You don’t have to do that, I have it covered right here. Pietro is going to take care of it at seven--”

“Yeah, well, what if it curdles, or breaks, and we don’t have enough time to make more?” Bucky interrupted, rolling his eyes. “Just shut up and tie your bows, Mr. Man-With-A-Plan. Let me worry about my gelatos.”

It earned him a laugh, and Steve apparently decided to let Bucky be, since he paired up another set of silverware and wrapped them precisely in the napkin without further commentary.

After a moment, Bucky pondered aloud, “I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised to see you here.” He met Steve’s curious gaze for a moment and then looked back at his work, sugar and cream coming together in the giant pot. “You put everything you have into your work, it makes sense that you’d give up sleep to make sure it gets done right.” 

Steve considered that for a moment, twirling a piece of ribbon between his thumb and middle finger. “That’s because it’s not work for me, it’s passion. It’s easy to give everything for something you’re passionate about.”

And that Bucky understood very well. How much free time had he given up over the years sitting around trying to figure out the perfect ingredient to go in this or that new pastry? And yet none of it had ever felt like work. It was exciting and adventurous and he felt an almost unbearable sense of pride when he was finally able to bite into that creation and taste that he’d gotten it just right. Baking had always been that way for him. Now that he’d gotten to know Steve a little bit, he could tell his work was the same for him. 

He felt a little churning of guilt in his stomach suddenly that made his hand jerk so hard that he sloshed a little custard out of the pot and onto the cooktop. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to stand you,” he found himself suddenly confessing. “I figured, big-shot celebrity chef with his own restaurants and TV shows and cookbooks, he’s probably so out of touch with what actually happens in the kitchen that he won’t be able to find the door to it. I didn’t realize you’d be-- you know, you.

Bucky very carefully didn’t look up from his whisking for a long minute, knowing that Steve was probably highly offended by Bucky’s assumptions and could be glaring daggers at him at that very moment. When he finally worked up the nerve, however, he glanced up to see Steve grinning at him.

“I thought you were going to be a pretentious snob,” Steve said with a little huff of laughter. “Coming over here from Europe with your classical training and your fancy ideas about food. I just knew that you were going to look down on me for not training internationally, and think that my food was too basic to be anything worth eating. I didn’t know you’d be you, either,” he finished with a pink tint to his ears.

“Well,” Bucky said after a moment, his insides suddenly all warm and buzzy, “I guess we were both wrong, then.”

They traded grins and worked in silence for a while after that, the tower of silverware bundles beside Steve growing steadily. Bucky added the egg mixture to his pot and whisked until the contents were smooth and bubbly. There was a ring of set custard around the inside of the pot, and Bucky looked around for a moment before reaching over to snag one of the spatulas off of Steve’s table to scrape the sides down. 

“Hey!” Steve yelped in protest, though he didn’t try to snatch it back. He was grinning despite his petulant tone. “That’s mine!”

“Oh, relax, I’ll give it back,” Bucky snorted. “In fact, I’ll even give it back with some custard on it so you can have a taste. You should feel very honored,” he informed Steve with a sideways smirk. “It’s not just any man that I let get his mouth on my goodies.”

He watched Steve’s breathing hitch, his pupils dilate, but the man kept his expression controlled into one of unimpressed disdain. “No thanks, you can keep it,” Steve said haughtily. “I saw you put eggs in there and I don’t need a case of salmonella in my life.”

Bucky gasped dramatically. “What, like I’m using some kind of nasty grocery store eggs in my gelato? These are farm fresh works of magic, I’ll have you know. You’re more likely to get contaminated with something by touching a handrail on the subway than you are eating off this spatula. Besides, this custard is done, the eggs are cooked.”

“I just don’t know that it’s worth the risk,” Steve solemnly replied.

“Oh, come on,” Bucky crooned, taking a few steps over to where Steve is sitting. “Don’t you trust me? I promise, you’re gonna wanna try this recipe.”

Steve took a good, hard look at Bucky, his pupils blown wide, then reached out to wrap one of those big hands around Bucky’s on the handle of the spatula. He darted his tongue out to lick a path through the custard on the utensil, then pulled back with a bored expression as he swallowed it down. “Meh.”

Bucky’s mouth dropped open in affront. “‘Meh’? That gelato base has a mixture of Tahitian and Mexican vanilla beans, which are the best in the world. I’ll give you meh!”

He reached back to his own table and grabbed a pinch of powdered sugar from an open bag, flinging it at Steve without mercy. His windup gave Steve enough time to turn his head at the last second, meaning the powder hit him on the cheek and the corner of his mouth rather than full in the face. It still made Steve stumble back off his stool with a burst of startled laughter. “What the hell was that for?!” he demanded, his hands raised before him defensively even as he smiled broadly.

“You insulted my vanilla custard! It’s probably the least boring vanilla thing you’ll ever have in your life!

“I didn’t know it was going to be a life-threatening syllable,” Steve laughed. “What if that had gone up my nose or something? You could have killed me, Buck!”

“Oh, please, I’ve been baking since I was two. Like I haven’t accidentally snorted more white powders than a stock broker in the 80’s,” Bucky answered with a roll of his eyes. “You’ll be fine. And yes, I take my custards very seriously, especially ones that aren’t even to their end-stage! You take back what you said, or else!” 

“Or else what?” Steve asked impishly, one eyebrow raised.

Bucky grabbed another big pinch of powdered sugar and stalked towards Steve, the trail of powder he’d left in his wake and the smile that tugged at his lips both probably ruining the scary, dangerous effect he was going for. “Or else I don’t miss this time, that’s what.”

He expected Steve to laugh, or maybe to retreat, or even to grab some sugar and attempt to retaliate. He expected pretty much anything except for what Steve did, which was to reach out very slowly and take Bucky’s wrist, dragging the hand with the sugar in it closer, and ducking his head in so he could suck Bucky’s fingers into his mouth.

Steve’s tongue slid smooth and wet across the pads of Bucky’s fingertips, dissolving the sweet powder that Bucky had taken up as a weapon against him. He had his thumb pressed against the inside of Bucky’s wrist and could probably feel how Bucky’s pulse was suddenly pounding as he sucked on Bucky’s digits. Bucky’s fingers relaxed without him ever intending to relax them, his nerve endings suddenly fired like crazy as his brain attempted to process the sensation of Steve’s tongue, teeth, and lips sliding over Bucky’s skin, carefully cleaning him of the sugar he’d once wielded.

It went on for a solid five or ten years, Bucky was certain, before Steve pulled back and placed a tiny, delicate, obscene kiss to Bucky’s fingertips.

“Delicious,” Steve rumbled, voice low and hoarse and wow was there a moment of dizziness as blood started to rush south from Bucky’s head to his dick at the sound of that.

Bucky heard himself whimper, just a little, but didn’t have the brain space to be embarrassed about it. He was too busy trying to process the feeling of Steve’s strong hand trapping his wrist, of his lips on Bucky’s skin, of the way his eyes were boring into Bucky’s with so much want it made his knees feel unsteady. It was a lot to handle, and Bucky inhaled a deep breath and just took a moment to clear his head.

He made it about five seconds before he was crushing his mouth against Steve’s.

Steve tasted sweet as Bucky sucked Steve’s bottom lip into his mouth, his tongue like sugar where it glided across Bucky’s a moment later. Bucky heard Steve groan and felt him wrap his arms around Bucky’s waist, and he responded in kind by gripping Steve’s arms for dear life.

Steve sighed into the kiss, pushing him backwards in the effort to get more of his body pressed up against Steve’s. Steve didn’t seem too bothered by the manhandling, since he just fisted his hands in Bucky’s shirt and let the momentum knock them against the prep table where Steve had been working. Bucky heard something get knocked over by Steve’s bulk with a riotous clatter.

He didn’t mean to grind against Steve, really, but Steve was an inch or so taller than him and if he had to surge up to properly kiss him every time their footing shifted, it wasn’t Bucky’s fault.

“Fuck,” Steve swore, voice cracking and breath uneven as the clutched Bucky closer to him.

He rucked up the fabric of Bucky’s shirt, exposing the skin of Bucky’s stomach inch by inch.

“Yeah, fuck,” Bucky mumbled in echo, but he really couldn’t care less about the mess they were making. He was more concerned with sitting himself on the table, regardless of the pile of spatulas he noisily dislodged in doing so. Steve slotted himself between Bucky’s legs, gripping his hips and pulling him close so they were pressed together from their lips down to their thighs with sweet, tantalizing warmth.

Steve’s hands were under Bucky’s shirt now, one finger circling a nipple. Bucky’s hands were gripping Steve’s shoulders and the back of his neck so he could guide Steve to suck a lovebite into his throat while he was catching his own breath. 

It was wildly unsanitary, to be making out on the prep table like this, but Bucky cared even less about that than he did about the spatulas on the floor. That’s what quaternary sanitizer was for, anyway.

Bucky’s rational thought stuttered as Steve managed to find that one hyper-sensitive spot below his ear and sucked on it. He grabbed Steve by the ass in a crushing grip and pulled him closer so that he could feel how hard Steve was. Steve’s hips jerked and he moaned, low and quiet and absolutely fucking dirty. Bucky wanted to hear that sound again and again-

“Chef? I got your text, brought some spatulas over-- oh, shit!”  

Steve pulled away from Bucky’s neck immediately, and they both turned their heads to see Thor walk in the room clutching a fistful of spatulas before Steve could beat a hasty retreat. Thor was frozen in the entryway, taking in the sight of Bucky sitting on the prep table, legs open wantonly with Steve wedged between them as tightly as possible, with faces flushed and lips swollen from their enthusiastic kissing. 

In other words, the odds of them convincing Thor that it was anything other than exactly what it looked like were virtually zero.

“Turns out the kitchen already has plenty of spatulas,” Bucky supplied helpfully into the silence.

The look on Thor’s face was frozen in shock, eyes flicking from Bucky to Steve and back again a few times. Steve peeled himself away from Bucky and started to pick up debris from the floor.

“We were just...I mean, well, obviously we were...well, that got a little carried away, clearly,” he mumbled as he worked, face as red as Bucky had ever seen it. Bucky retained his seat on the edge of the table, since he’d much rather watch Steve try to artfully conceal his fading hard-on with a bouquet of silverware bundles than actually do anything useful.

Thor’s expression had morphed from confusion to something slightly disturbed, and Bucky felt his hackles rising. He’d seen that look before, when walking down the street with a man or politely informing a stranger that no, he didn’t have a wife waiting for him at home, since he’d far rather have a husband. That look of aversion, that face that says something is wrong here.

“You got a problem with something you saw, buddy?” Bucky asked a little sharply.

“I just never thought I’d see the day,” Thor said in amazement, looking around the tattered kitchen rather than at Steve or Bucky. “My boss, Chef Steven G. Rogers, in a messy kitchen. I didn’t know he was even capable of dropping something without immediately picking it up and washing it. Must have been one hell of a kiss.”

Bucky felt the defensiveness leave him in a rush and threw his head back in a laugh.

Steve, on the other hand, was still red-faced and unamused. “You’re fired,” he informed his sous chef. “Really, this time, you’re so fucking fired.”

“No, I’m not,” Thor replied easily, a smile finally cracking his face. “But I am going to get the hell out of here before I see anything else I won’t be able to forget, and I’m taking my spatulas with me.”

“Yes, please, by all means go,” Steve groaned, waving Thor towards the door. “Go get some more sleep, I don’t need you until 5:30. Goodnight, Thor.”

“Goodnight, Chef,” Thor said obediently, backing towards the exit. “And hey, look on the bright side, this could have been way worse. You could have texted Tony about the spatulas instead of me!”

“Goodnight, Thor.” Steve didn’t uncover his face from where it’s buried in the palm of one hand until after the door slammed shut behind his sous chef. “I’m so sorry, Bucky.”

“No worries, who hasn’t been walked in on in a compromising position by an employee at some point?”

“No, I meant...” Steve gestured to Bucky’s position on the table as the epicenter of the chaos surrounding them. “That was inappropriate. I’m normally much more professional than that.”

And like hell was Bucky going to allow Steve to feel guilty about making out with him when they were both grown men. And technically Bucky had been the one to start it anyways. He shot Steve a wink instead.

“Unprofessional? Well, you kissed me like it was your job, so that ought to count, right?”

Steve sighed heavily, unimpressed by Bucky’s logic. “I should clean this up,” he said, but the words turned into a yawn at the end, and he didn’t look particularly enthused about the task. 

Bucky looked at the clock- it was 2:30 now, which would still give Steve a few more solid hours before he really needed to be here. “Let me clean up,” he offered. “I’m on baker’s hours, so I’d be up soon anyways. Plus, I’ve gotta finish these other two custards.”

“Are you sure?” Steve asked, looking like he wanted to argue, but his dissent was interrupted by another timely yawn. “I don’t mind, usually I’m compulsive about cleaning up my messes.”

“Go sleep, Chef,” Bucky said fondly, sliding off of the table. He gave Steve a chaste kiss on the cheek and a not-so-chaste slap on the ass, and took the now-dirty utensils and dropped them in the dish line to be rewashed and sanitized. “Don’t worry, you’ll see me again soon enough." 

--- 

The gala, of course, was a rousing success. Steve’s mini Americana burgers went like wildfire, and Bucky heard more than one person moaning as they bit into the Boston cream doughnuts. Bucky personally took to restocking the dessert table, taking the opportunity to listen to any scraps of commentary about the food that he might overhear and gobble up with satisfaction. 

One or two people had figured out that he wasn’t just a line cook and was partially responsible for the fare, and had come up to congratulate him personally. One such admirer was a dapper looking gentleman in his forties who slid up to Bucky and immediately handed him a business card that identified him as Phil Coulson, Restaurateur.

“Chef Barnes, I must say I’m very impressed with the menu this evening,” Coulson said as he shook Bucky’s hand. “The flavors were superb in every dish, and the whole menu was so cohesive. Very rare for such a big event. You never would have known that there were two head chefs coordinating here.”

“Oh, well, thank you,” Bucky said modestly, “But it was really all Chef Rogers’ handiwork. My contributions were just the icing on the cake, so to speak.”

Coulson chuckled at Bucky’s terrible joke, which gave Bucky’s ego an extra boost it probably didn’t need. “It’s funny you say that,” he told Bucky after a moment, “Because I just got through talking to Chef Rogers and he just said the same about his portion of the menu.”

Now Bucky definitely felt warm inside, and it wasn’t just from the glass or two of champagne he’d swiped after the desserts were finished. “We both had a lot to bring to the table,” he replied carefully.

(And yeah, he was thinking of the prep table in the kitchen when he said it. So sue him.)

“Oh, I’m very aware of everything you have to offer,” Coulson said quickly, oblivious to the direction of Bucky’s thoughts. “I’ve done a lot of research on you, Chef Barnes, and I’d like to make you an offer.”

“An offer?” Bucky echoed in surprise.

“I’m opening a bakery in Manhattan in a few months and I’m recruiting the best and the brightest to staff it. We still need head pastry chef. I know it’s a long way from home for you, but, I’d be a fool if I didn’t at least offer you the position after what I tasted tonight.” Coulson’s eyes were bright and interested. “You could come on full-time, part-time, seasonal. Whatever you’d be willing to give us, Pâtisserie Bouclier would graciously accept.”

A refusal had been on Bucky’s tongue since the man started his spiel, but quickly faded. It was indeed a long way from Moscow, but New York would always be home. Not to mention that this wasn’t a restaurant, and he wouldn’t have to deal with any cuisine chefs.

“A pâtisserie? Really?”

Coulson nodded. “You’d be in complete control of the menu, the staff, the operations. Whatever you want, we’ll make it happen.”

Bucky eyed Coulson warily. “Carte blanche, just like that? That’s an awful lot of trust to put in one person.”

Coulson gave him a magnanimous smile. “I have faith in you and your skills, that’s all.”

“I’ll put some thought into it,” he promised, and tucked the card into his pocket. “I’ll be in touch with you soon.” The man accepted this non-answer with an expression of hope, shaking his hand once more before disappearing once more into the crowd.

Bucky retreated to the kitchen and grabbed one of the mini Americana burgers they had hoarded for the staff. It was a good thing they'd held some in reserve, too, because Bucky personally would have eaten the lot in the first five minutes. They were so good.

Before he could swallow, he was approached by someone else, though not a stranger this time. Natasha Romanoff sauntered towards him in a navy blue ball gown that perfectly complemented the fiery red of her hair, and also looked completely out of place in the kitchen.

“Well done, Chef,” she said simply, always a woman of few words. She leaned up and gave Bucky a sweet kiss on the cheek.

“Thank you, but it was mostly Chef Rogers’ doing,” Bucky repeated as he had all night. “I actually enjoyed working with him. I owe you one for the opportunity.”

“I was hoping you would,” Natasha said serenely. “But then again, I had a feeling you'd enjoy working with him. And under him. And on top of him, and a few other ways besides.”

Bucky’s brain was unable to process the words coming out of her mouth. “W-what? What are you talking about?”

“James, please,” Nat scoffed, rolling her eyes. “You seriously thought I invited you to a different continent to work with a smoking hot, sweet, talented chef - who is exactly your type -  and didn't know you'd hit it off? You have no faith in me.”

She sashayed away and left Bucky feeling like a truck had run right over him. (Although that was not an unfamiliar feeling for people who know Natasha Romanoff.)

Bucky had the sudden and undeniable compulsion to comb the event until he found Steve, which is exactly what he did. It took a solid half hour, and even then he probably only spotted the chef because the party was starting to wind down and there were fewer bodies to push through in his quest. He found Steve sitting at a table in a back corner, sipping on a glass of flat champagne and digging hungrily into a Boston cream doughnut. He smiled at Bucky when he approached, tired but genuine.

“Looks like things were a real hit, eh?” Steve asked around a mouthful, washing it down with a swig of champagne that made Bucky wince because that is definitely not how he intended the doughnuts to be enjoyed. “There’s a woman out there looking to marry whoever made the chocolate pomegranate cupcakes, by the way. If you were looking to take home a souvenir from your trip to New York, you might be able to swing an engagement ring.”

“Tempting,” Bucky laughed dryly, “But she doesn’t really sound like my type.”

He eyed Steve hungrily as he said it, but instead of getting Steve all blushy like he’d hoped, the words just seemed to make Steve’s eyes get a little sad. “Speaking of home, when do you go back?” he asked Bucky, pushing a forkful of pastry cream around his plate. He was clearly aiming for a casual tone, and just as clearly missing.

Bucky snatched the fork from him and added a bit of doughnut and chocolate glaze to the blob of filling, for balance. “Don’t eat it wrong in front of the chef, that’s just rude,” he grumbled. “Tomorrow morning,” he added, much quieter.

Steve leaned forward obediently and took the bite Bucky offered him, then reclaimed his fork with a sad little smile. “So soon. That’s a shame. I’ll miss you. I mean...I’ll miss cooking with you,” he corrected himself lamely.

Bucky had a feeling that Steve was a damn liar in that moment.

I’ll miss you too, Bucky wanted to assure him, but he felt the same compulsion to check the words that Steve must have. It had been less than a week, and you couldn’t miss someone after knowing them for just a few days, right? So Bucky wasn’t going to say that, he was going to say that Steve was a great chef and that he’d enjoyed working with him and hoped they got to collaborate again soon.

He opened his mouth to say just that.

“I got a job offer tonight,” his mouth said instead, the words rushing out in an undignified heap. “A new pâtisserie opening in the city. They need a head pastry chef. Said I could work part-time or seasonally if I wanted to, which would give me a chance to feel out how I like being in a bakery. You know, instead of only curating dessert menus for restaurants.”

“Oh?” Steve said, and there was suddenly light back in his eyes. “That’s fantastic, Bucky! Are you… you think you might actually…?”

He looked so hopeful that Bucky could melt into a puddle right there in his chair. “Well, I’m certainly thinking about it,” he conceded softly, a smile on his lips. “New York has some things that might convince a man to cross an ocean or two, maybe.”

Steve turned pink like Bucky knew he would, but schooled his face into a more serious expression just a moment later. “Well, if there’s a transcontinental decision to be made, you ought to taste the best New York has to offer before you make it,” he told Bucky solemnly.

And oh, if that wasn’t an innuendo that’s too good to pass up… 

“Why, Steven,” Bucky purred, “Are you offering to let me taste you?”

Steve had to swallow hard and take a steadying breath. Bucky could see his answer in Steve’s suddenly dark eyes - yes, god yes, anytime, how does right fucking now sound? - but of course Steve didn’t say that out loud where anyone could hear. That knowledge was for Bucky alone.

“Actually,” Steve said rather breathlessly after another moment, “I was talking about the best damn taco you’ll ever have in your life. There’s a food truck that roams the city at night, and I swear, they’re life-changing.”

He was so earnest that Bucky couldn’t do anything but grin. “Better than those mini burgers I had six of? Because honestly, you’ve set the bar pretty high to impress me tonight.”

“I know how to admit defeat when it knocks on my door,” Steve said seriously. “If it makes you want to come back to New York this summer- I mean,” he hurried to correct himself, “If it helps you decide whether you want to...”

Bucky was feeling very, radiantly happy at that moment, so he decided to step in and save Steve from himself. “Come on,” he said, rising to his feet and holding out a hand for Steve to take. “Let’s go get a midnight snack. We’ve sure as hell earned it. I’m starving, and tacos sound amazing.”

“Yeah,” Steve agreed happily, and allowed Bucky to draw him from his chair and towards the nearest exit. “And maybe a little something sweet, after.” 

Yeah, Bucky thought as he looked over at Steve, he could definitely get on board with that.

--- 

Steve intended to give Bucky that something sweet, too. It had been a very long week of Bucky constantly in his space, and it was distracting as hell to see those strong, confident hands quickly dispatching of every task they were set to.

Just watching Bucky work had been a damn near sexual thing, seeing all that focus and skill in the kitchen. Steve had been mesmerized watching Bucky deftly slice the plums for his tartlets, and was both impressed and aroused that a pastry chef had such masterful knife skills.

It also gave Steve the opportunity to truly appreciate the complexity of baking for the first time (though he’d never admit that to Sam). Steve worked in a land of controlled chaos, where improvisation and last-second changes were not only commonplace, but sometimes necessary. Cooking required skill and intuition, sure, but it had a hell of a lot more wiggle room than baking.

As such, he also knew that most pastry chefs had a prerequisite compulsion for precision, but seeing the dizzying speed with which Bucky worked to create his perfect little treats gave Steve a whole new appreciation for the demanding skill sets required of a world-class talent like Bucky.

It left Steve wondering whether Bucky might appreciate that same level of diligence and skill in the bedroom...which reminded Steve of that kiss and those few fleeting touches. It was just enough to make Steve want Bucky from his head to his toes but not enough for him to feel like he actually had him.

In other words, it had been near a week of torture. But, Steve thought hopefully as they took a cab to where the food truck was currently set up, hopefully that torture would be over soon.

They got their tacos: beautiful, gloriously greasy things that had little trails of chipotle-flavored juices running down their wrists. It was a constant battle to hurriedly mop them up before the sleeves of their uniforms were stained.

“Christ, you could have warned a guy that this was a dangerous mission,” Bucky laughed, making sure to hold the last of his taco well in front of him. “Maybe we should have changed out of our whites before we left.”

“Maybe,” admitted Steve, tonguing at a dollop of sour cream threatening to escape from his tortilla. “Except if we’d done that, we would have had to go back into the kitchen to get our street clothes, which would have meant getting roped into staying for another two hours because there’d be a million things that needed our attention.”

“There is that,” Bucky sighed. “Ah well, that’s what bleach is for.”

“If the chef instructors at Le Cordon Bleu could see you now, they’d- oh! Watch out, you’re dripping!” Steve leaned in without thinking and swept the flat of his tongue across the back of Bucky’s hand, lapping up the little line of flavorful juice trying to escape into his sleeve. “Got it,” he said with satisfaction.

Bucky blinked at him a few times before attempting speech. “You have an oral fixation,” he declared fiercely, gesturing accusatorial with his taco remnants. “You, with the constant spatula licking and finger sucking and goddamn tongues on people’s hands when they’re trying to hold a conversation!”

“It… wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused,” Steve grinned. “Although really, I think you’re to blame here. Stop putting food on your body and I’ll stop putting my mouth on it.”

“Is that so?” Bucky shoved the last bite of taco in his mouth and balled up its accompanying tinfoil. He tossed it in a successful free throw into the nearby trash can. “I’ve gotta admit, that’s disappointing to hear. I was kind of hoping we were heading in a direction that would lead to more of your mouth on me, not less.”

Steve’s own final bite of food suddenly went down the wrong pipe, and he had to cough violently around it for a second before he managed to swallow it down and take in some actual air.

“You mean you- well if- are you...? My apartment is just around the corner,” he finally managed to say as a semi-coherent sentence. “If you really wanna, you know.”

“After having been awake and on my feet for the last seventeen hours, working an extremely complex event in an unfamiliar kitchen?”

“Ah, right, of course not,” Steve said, equal parts disappointed and embarrassed. “No, obviously you didn’t mean tonight-”

“Yes, Steve, I want to,” Bucky snorted, rolling his eyes at Steve’s backtracking. “I’m teasing you, you goof. I don’t care how long I’ve been on my feet, I’m not going to give up the opportunity to get off of them and under you.”

Which of course lit a fire in Steve’s belly that had him all but dragging Bucky the few blocks between the truck’s location and home, with only a few quick stops to kiss him up against a convenient storefront and a telephone pole. It was intoxicating, kissing Bucky, something Steve could happily get lost in forever. Something he could get used to.

Not that he should get used to it, of course, since the very next morning Bucky would be getting on a plane back to Moscow and not return to New York for months, if at all. There’d been that job offer, sure. But hell, at this point - with Bucky whimpering into his mouth - Steve would open up another restaurant himself and offer it to Bucky to run if he thought it would make him stay.

But a job offer wasn’t a guarantee that Bucky would come back. Or any indication that Steve would have anything other than this one night to convince him it might be worth it.

Their kisses were desperate by the time they reached Steve’s stoop, and he kept Bucky pinned between his chest and the front door while he fished for his keys and unlocked the deadbolts. Eventually the door swung open to allow them to stumble in.

“Bedroom?” Bucky asked, blindly backing his way into the dark space.

“This way,” Steve said. He let go of all but Bucky’s hand, moving in front of him so he could properly lead Bucky along a path that wouldn’t have him stumbling over a coffee table and breaking his neck before Steve could get the chance to mark it up.

Bucky allowed himself to be tugged easily through the hallway and into the suddenly harsh light of Steve’s bedroom. He looked around for a second to get the lay of the land, then turned his focus back on Steve flicked at the collar of Steve’s uniform coat.

“This need to come off, immediately,” he demanded between kisses.

“What, don’t you like it? And here Nat went through the trouble of having them made for us,” Steve faked disappointment, but he was already unbuttoning the crisp new uniform.

They really were very nice. The shoulder of his was embroidered with Steve’s name and the star in concentric circles that was the Bistro Americana signature in a beautiful dark blue thread. It was a color-inverted replica of the coat Steve wore at the restaurant.

Bucky’s sported only Pastry Chef Barnes. The Red Room Hotel’s symbol was conspicuously missing. Steve felt a rush of emotion as he imagined Americana’s logo or even that of the pâtisserie that wanted Bucky to stay, just like Steve did; anything that might tie him here where Steve could kiss him like this forever instead of only for a night.

The top of Steve’s uniform fell away, and he couldn’t help but wrinkle his nose at the smell of sweat and old stress and who knew what else that wafted up to him. Ah, the aroma of fifteen hours' hard work in a hot, humid kitchen.

Bucky, whose shirt was coming off not far behind his, seemed similarly unimpressed by his own scent. “Ugh, we’re so gross,” he choked, laughing at Steve’s expression when he saw it matched his own.”That is- not sexy at all.”

‘Not sexy’ was the exact opposite of where Steve wanted this to go, so he scrambled to improvise. “How about we shower first? Once we’re clean we can focus on… everything else.”

“An excellent suggestion,” Bucky nodded with relief. “You want first shot, or me?”

“Or we could go in together,” countered Steve, pulling Bucky closer by the waist, smell or no.

Bucky’s eyes darkened a little. “We could,” he conceded, “But I’ll be honest with you. If we get in that shower together I’m going to wind up on my knees sucking your soul out through your dick.”

Just the mental image cost Steve a few brain cells, the idea of Bucky on his knees short-circuiting his brain as Bucky continued. “And we really ought to be focusing on getting clean. Like,” he lifted one arm and sniffed his pit pointedly, “Really focusing.”

Steve was still struggling to pay attention but managed to nod once or twice like a normal human being. “Follow-up offer: there’s another shower down the hall in the guest bathroom, so we could both take separate showers at the same time?”

“Ready to roll in the hay in half the time,” Bucky concluded with approval. “I like the way you think, Rogers. Alright, divide and conquer! Which way to the guest room?”

“Down the hall, first door on your left, shampoo and soap in the basket under the sink, clean linens on the towel rack,” Steve fired off, already pulling his tee shirt off and stumbling for the master bath. He heard a hum of acknowledgement and footsteps hurrying down the hall behind his back.

It felt like heaven under the shower spray, the hot water and the smell of Old Spice body wash cutting through the grime on Steve’s skin. The heat and water washed away not only the physical remains of the day, but the psychological ones as well. The low-key underlying stresses from managing so many details rinsed away with the suds, leaving Steve focused not on what the day had been, but what the night promised.

He took special care washing his bits, half-hard cock already thickening with anticipation of what was to come. He made sure that he was clean and ready to go no matter what kind of adventures were in store for him. And of course, once that train of thought had started in his head, Steve had to turn the water to cold and let it sap all the enthusiasm from his dick so he wouldn’t combust as soon as he made skin contact with Bucky.

His shower took a few minutes longer than Steve had planned, but it still didn’t take long for him to climb out and towel off feeling much cleaner - and calmer - than he had before he’d stepped into the stall. There was still water dripping off of him, but Steve couldn’t be bothered to chase down every little drop. Not when Bucky might have already finished his own shower and could be waiting in Steve’s bed at this very moment. Steve swung the door open and hurried back into the bedroom.

And Bucky was waiting for him in his bed, stark naked and sprawled out on his stomach atop the duvet. His hair was wavy and waterlogged and there were still droplets on his skin too, like he’d only just hopped out of the spray and hurried to Steve. Every decadent curve of his spine, waist, ass, and his beautiful thick thighs were on display. Steve couldn’t help sucking in a little gasp of breath in admiration. Bucky was a sight for sore eyes, a feast laid out just for him.

He was also fast asleep.

It took Steve a moment to realize it with how busy he was admiring Bucky’s body. When his eyes did find their way to Bucky’s face where it was half-pressed into a pillow, he saw that Bucky’s eyes were closed and his mouth was hanging open with the beginnings of a drool puddle forming beneath his lips. Then he heard the soft little snore. If Bucky had finished his shower and hurried to Steve’s bed as quickly as Steve suspected, he must have been asleep just about as soon as he hit the mattress.

Steve had a strong feeling that Bucky wouldn’t be mad if Steve woke him up. He’d been eager all night - perhaps all week - and would probably be more irritated at missing this opportunity than he would be at having his nap interrupted.

Still, Steve couldn’t do it. There were little bags under Bucky’s eyes from a hard few days of work, and he had relaxed so quickly that Steve knew he must really need the sleep. Steve could feel that same exhaustion in his own bones, since that the frenzy of anticipation started to fade. It beckoned him to just lie down and let his body take the rest it needed.

He’d been hoping to show Bucky the best time of his life and give him a reason to stay. But at least he’d have this sweet sight to keep him warm when Bucky was gone.

Moving quietly, Steve made his way to the closet and pulled a spare blanket to drape over Bucky’s naked form. Bucky sighed in his sleep, and Steve couldn’t resist leaning down to give his temple a kiss before he moved to his side of the bed. Or at least, what part of it he had access to considering that Bucky had passed out rather towards the middle.

With Bucky on top of the comforter and Steve beneath it, he wound up more or less half-slotted under Bucky’s warmth, the reassuring weight of him pressed against Steve’s side. It probably shouldn’t have been nearly as comfortable as it was.

It was mere seconds after Steve closed his eyes that he started to feel the pull of sleep, dragging him away from that sweet moment and into even sweeter dreams.

---

Bucky awoke to the feeling of being halfway wrapped around a furnace, which was pretty unnerving considering he didn’t remember having gone to sleep at all. Last thing Bucky was aware of, he’d been carefully arranging himself on Steve’s bed. When the man finally got out of the shower - which was taking forever, Christ - and came back into the bedroom, the first thing he’d see was Bucky’s ass, hard-won with many squats and curved prettily on the bedspread like an invitation.

Apparently he’d fallen asleep and stayed exactly like that. Bucky opened his eyes and found himself in the same position as before, except for the man snoring beside him. Steve was tucked in close to him, the comforter a barrier between them, and that more than anything was what irritated Bucky. He’d spent more than enough time this week with fabric separating him from all the many parts of Steve he wanted to be touching, and he’d have no more of it, thank you.

It took a minute of sleepy maneuvering before Bucky managed to get himself under the covers, but the effort was definitely worth it. Steve was naked under the blankets, sprawled on his back so that Bucky was free to snuggle in close and curl himself around Steve’s side. He pillowed his head on Steve’s chest - how could all that muscle be so damn comfortable? - and felt Steve’s bulky arm wrap around his shoulders as the man started to stir from sleep himself.

“Hey,” Steve rasped, his thumb stroking the bare skin of Bucky’s shoulder. “G’morning.”

Bucky wasn’t looking at Steve’s face, but he could hear the smile that’s present anyways. “I fell asleep on you,” he murmured apologetically. “Sorry about that. It wasn’t lack of interest, I promise.”

Steve’s chest moved a little as he huffed out a laugh. “No, I know. It’s okay. We both needed the sleep. How are you feeling?”

“Better, I think,” Bucky answered honestly, stretching his limbs a little to test the truth of his statement. There was a little of the usual stiff- and soreness of his hips, legs, and lower back that came from a long day in the kitchen followed by a hard sleep. But overall, he felt rested and clean and comfortable. “Happy,” he confirmed.

“Me too,” murmured Steve, and he used his free hand to tilt Bucky’s chin up for a sweet kiss. Neither one of them had brushed their teeth in about 24 hours, but Bucky couldn’t be bothered. “When is your flight?”

“Ugh, let’s not talk about my flight, please,” Bucky grumbled, hiding his face in Steve’s shoulder. “I’d almost forgotten about that for a whole thirty seconds.”

Another little shake of near-silent laughter. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.” Steve sounded like he meant it. He trailed his fingertips lightly up and down Bucky’s arm, making him shiver. “I was just wondering how much time I had, so I would know what kind of a ‘good morning’ I can give you.”

And boy, if that wasn’t one way to get his blood pumping in the morning. “You’ve got plenty of time,” Bucky assured him quickly. “Take as much time as you’d like.”

“You don’t even know what time it is,” Steve accused.

He was right, but Bucky still rolled his eyes as he lifted his head up to look at the clock. Steve nuzzled at his throat as he did so, which made thinking about math much more challenging. It was only seven, which gave him a solid two hours and some change before he had to meet Becca so she could accompany him to the airport. “More than a pot roast, less than a sixteen-pound turkey,” he reported.

“I can work with that,” Steve assented, and kissed Bucky for real.

It turned heated surprisingly quickly considering how gentle and chaste their touches had been so far that morning. But then again, not so surprising given that they were already tangled naked in bed.

Bucky shifted himself to kneel over Steve and kiss him harder, and dropped his hips down to grind against Steve’s. Their cocks both hardened at the contact, clumsy and dry though it was, and Bucky groaned at the long-awaited sensation. Steve had his hands running all over Bucky’s body, steady palms mapping out thighs and back and arms and chest, whatever he could reach.

“Steve,” Bucky murmured into their kiss, waiting until he heard Steve hum his acknowledgement before he continued. “I don’t want to go back without knowing how you feel inside of me. Do you wanna--?”

“Oh hell yes,” Steve said breathily.

He rolled them both over until Bucky was on his back, and leaned over to the bedside table to retrieve a bottle of lube and a condom from the drawer. Steve did it all so fast that Bucky’s instinct prompted him to tease Steve for his eagerness. (His desire to get fucked sooner rather than later prompted him to keep his mouth shut.) Steve returned to Bucky with more dirty kisses and teasing little sucks and nibbling teeth that trailed down Bucky’s neck and onto his chest.

Steve stopped to take one of Bucky’s nipples into his mouth. Bucky had never been one to fall apart from nipple play, but damn if Steve’s mouth didn’t feel good there. A little suckling kiss, a little scrape of teeth and a nibble, immediately followed by Steve soothing his tongue around and around the spot and making goosebumps erupt on Bucky’s flesh.

“Oral fixation,” Bucky accused once again, but he was too breathless to sound disgruntled. “Serious fucking oral fixation.”

If he was expecting some sort of denial, he didn’t get one. Steve just laughed a little breath against Bucky’s chest and trailed lower still, drawing a long, firm lick up the underside of Bucky’s cock. Bucky gasped, heard the snick of the lube cap being flicked open, and felt a slippery finger teasing at his hole just a moment later. Steve ran his fingers all around it, making sure to coat the entire area before slowly and carefully pushing in.

Bucky hardly noticed the intrusion, so distracted was he by the other sensations Steve was lavishing on him. He had his mouth on Bucky’s cock - no surprise there - but he wasn't sucking, just running his lips and his tongue everywhere. A little lap at his balls, a kiss to the slit at the very tip, an ever-so-delicate lovebite in the crease of Bucky’s thigh.

Another finger was added, and then another, and Steve’s mouth was everywhere and Bucky didn’t think much about it until Steve curled his fingers up into Bucky’s prostate and made his hips jerk and his cock bump into Steve’s cheekbone in a very undignified manner.

“Alright, alright, that’s enough,” Bucky panted, pushing at Steve’s hand until he obligingly removed his fingers. “Just fuck me already.”

“Now, Bucky,” Steve said very sternly, and it was his tone more than anything that made Bucky freeze and look at him. “You and I both know how important it is to be diligent with your prep work.”

There was a brief moment where Bucky stared at Steve in confusion, uncomprehending, until finally Steve started to grin and the awful reality of Steve’s comment finally dawned on Bucky.

“Are you fucking serious? Oh my god, stop making goddamn kitchen puns and put your dick in me, will you?”

Steve burst out laughing and leaned back to open the condom and quickly roll it onto his length. “Yes, Chef,” he murmured, then lined himself up and pushed inside of Bucky.

He was by no means small and Bucky probably should have been tensing up at the sensation of being stretched around Steve’s cock, but he just relaxed into it. It felt good, it felt right, and Bucky crossed his ankles behind Steve in satisfaction as he bottomed out.

Steve moved slowly inside of Bucky, giving him time to adjust, only picking up his pace a little once he felt Bucky ease around him. Steve’s hands were planted on either side of Bucky’s head, and Bucky turned to press a kiss one wrist before wrapping his hands around Steve’s forearms as Steve started snapping his hips with more purpose.

It had been a hell of a weekend, spending all those hours with Steve in the kitchen and just watching him work. He had such a commanding presence, and an uncanny ability to know what was going on in each little corner of the kitchen at all times. He garnered respect from his staff, his orders were followed in an instant, and rightfully so. Everything he did was intentional and exacting, perfectly executed plans. He was so capable and so self-assured, and it had been an ordeal for Bucky to observe that confidence and not be able to drag Steve off to the pantry to have his way with him.

Steve was exactly that precise and focused here, each thrust sliding home in a way that had Bucky struggling not to wriggle and arch and mess up Steve’s carefully constructed angle. Steve’s hips kept colliding with the meat of Bucky’s backside in a way that he knew was going to smart later. It was an exquisite kind of burn, to be stretched wide around Steve and rocked into again and again, enough to make each of Bucky’s gasping breaths a genuine challenge to draw in.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to bottom for you right before getting on a plane,” Bucky somehow found the air to remark, and dropped one hand to his trembling stomach. “Should have known you’d be trying to make my 9-hour flight as miserable as possible.”

Far from being offended at the accusation, Steve seemed to take Bucky’s words as encouragement, leaning back a little and breaking the grip Bucky’s legs had around his waist.

“Are you saying it isn’t worth it?” he asked impishly, draping Bucky’s left leg over his shoulder.

Bucky didn’t get a chance to respond back, because Steve was pushing into him again and the new angle had fireworks going off behind Bucky’s eyes. He groaned from somewhere deep in his chest and grabbed for his cock to start stroking at it. Steve found the bottle of lube once more and helpfully drizzled a little on Bucky’s length to help make things more comfortable, but otherwise didn’t comment, content to grip Bucky’s thighs hungrily and pound into him faster than before.

“Oh, god, that’s perfect,” Bucky moaned, gasping for air.

Steve released his grip on Bucky’s right leg so he could reach down and roll Bucky’s balls in the palm of his hand, clearly relishing the noise in brought out of Bucky.

“Y’feel incredible,” Steve slurred, eyes fluttering and cheeks pink. “Look s’good like this-- always look good, but now you- and I’m-”

“Shut up,” Bucky laughed, breathy and high. “Always talking some shit. Just- right there, oh fuck, are you close? I’m almost there, shit.”

“Yeah, fuck yes,” Steve gasped. “Please. Come on, Buck, let me see you. Let me see you lose it for me.”

And Bucky did, his back arched and his leg fell from its perch on Steve’s shoulder as his cock twitched in hand as he made a warm, sticky mess of his stomach and chest. Steve took the unexpected change in position in stride, leaning forward into Bucky once more and capturing his mouth in another bruising kiss.

Another few thrusts of his hips and Steve was coming too, motion stopped as he spilled his release, still inside of Bucky. They stay pushed together like that for a moment, muscles tensed and breath held, and then they were sighing in unison as their sensations faded into pleasant waves of aftershocks.

Steve recovered the ability to speak first, though his vocabulary seemed limited. “Good? Okay?”

“Yeah, good. Fuck,” Bucky answered, apparently having lost all eloquence.

He could feel his arms and legs trembling by the time Steve pulled out. Bucky collapsed like a limp noodle as he watched Steve remove the condom and stumble to the bathroom with it. He returned a moment later with a wet washcloth in hand, flopping gracelessly into the bed beside Bucky. His hands were gentle and sure as he guided the warm cloth over Bucky’s chest and stomach and softening cock, then very gently down between his thighs. Bucky watched Steve’s face rather than his hands as he did so, drinking in the concentration and gentleness in his expression.

It was a little too much to handle. He nudged Steve with his knee, a playful smile on his lips. “I’m surprised you didn’t just lick it up, you dirty fucker,” he teased.

Steve grinned, as Bucky had hoped he would. It covered up some of that painful tenderness. “Maybe after round two,” he conceded.

The washcloth was balled up and thrown expertly into a nearby hamper, and Bucky stretched his limbs experimentally. “Not that I don’t appreciate the effort, but I’m going to need more than a wipe down. There’s no way I’m sitting on a plane for nine hours with lube dripping out of my ass. I need a shower.”

“You’re welcome to it,” Steve offered, laying on his side to watch Bucky’s face. “Use my shower, it’s got one of those waterfall shower heads.”

“Ooh, fancy,” Bucky hummed, pleased. “Another shower for me, then, and maybe some breakfast. Think you can handle that without an assistant?”

Steve beamed, eyes crinkling at that corners. “I’ll see what I can do.”

---

The plane back to Moscow fucking sucked.

Bucky’s ass (and his legs, and a few other parts of him) were sore as hell, but nothing that Bucky couldn’t handle. He kind of liked the reminder, the little ache inside that said that Steve had been there, inside of Bucky, and had put his everything into making Bucky howl in pleasure. It was a good kind of hurt.

The bad part was remembering that morning with Steve also meant remembering all the many things that had made it agony to walk away: the sweetness of their kisses, the affection in Steve’s eyes. He’d made Bucky a breakfast burger while he was showering, a twist on his Americana Burger that Bucky loved so much, and had placed the plate before Bucky with a look of hope in his eyes.

That alone very nearly had Bucky saying fuck it all to stay as long as Steve wanted him there.

He’d even gone so far as to dress Bucky in his own clothes before sending him off. It was under the excuse that Bucky had just showered and it made no sense for him to put his dirty uniform from the day before back on. Steve had rummaged around in his dresser drawers until he found a pair of sweats and a tee shirt that would fit, and offered them to Bucky to wear.

Bucky had been dubious. “You’re sure? You really want to loan these to me? You know they’re going to wind up all the way in Russia with me?”

“Yeah, I know. I’ve got other pairs of sweatpants. It’s alright,” Steve had shrugged.

“Well thanks, then,” Bucky had said with a little smile. “Guess I owe you a pair.”

“Come back to me,” Steve had answered seriously. “And then you won’t owe me a thing.”

Bucky thumbed at the soft cotton on his thighs as the plane descended. He could have changed into his own clothes once he got back to his room to gather his suitcase. He probably could have left the clothes with Natasha too, so that they could find their way back to Steve. But he didn’t. He wanted to keep Steve close for as long as possible and it felt nice to have a piece of the chef to take back to Moscow with him.

It was late when Bucky finally got back to his near-empty apartment; late enough that there was almost no point in going to sleep before he had to get up and report to his kitchen to start laminating dough for the morning pastries.

His sleeping schedule was entirely fucked. He was wide awake, naturally, so Bucky took the opportunity to unpack, getting everything out of his luggage so it didn’t sit half-full on his armchair for the next two months. Not that he had a whole lot to unpack: as it was, the entirety of Bucky’s life in Moscow could fit into two suitcases. It was a fact that weighed on him heavily as he sorted through the dirty clothes from his trip.

He was in the closet putting away his shoes when his eyes caught on the blood red chef’s coat hanging front and center. Bucky’s name and title were emblazoned on the breast along with the crest for the Red Room Hotel, and the sight of it made his stomach churn strangely. He turned away from it, shut off the lights, and tucked himself into bed for a few hours of rest.

The morning came, as it always did for bakers, far too early. Bucky blearily stumbled into some clothes and across the few streets to the hotel, feeling like it had been six months since he’d last entered its kitchen instead of six short days.

The lights came on, activated by Bucky’s motion, and he took a minute to stare around at the familiar scene. It was the kitchen where he’d worked for seven years, where he’d had all of his greatest successes. He could remember stepping into this room for the first time and feeling his chest swell with pride and excitement. Now all he felt was… disappointment.

There was a clatter and a shuffle behind him, and Bucky turned to see Zola entering behind him. It was peculiarly early for the executive chef to be in the kitchen, but Bucky was too tired to care. 

“Good morning, James,” the man said, a pleased smile on his face. “Glad to have you back. How was your trip?”

Bucky looked at him, then looked back at the kitchen, and then back at Zola again. And suddenly, the burden of playing nice with this rodent of a man, of forcing himself to smile through Pierce’s ubiquitous and unnecessary critiques of his work, of abiding by the ridiculous and abitrary rules Zola had set for the kitchen, of having his ideas dismissed as too American, of being treated as no more than a tool to impress aristocrats and not as an actual artisan, became overwhelmingly too much to bear.

“I quit.”

“You- what?” Zola stared at him, slack-jawed. “You can’t quit!”

“Look, I’m grateful for everything that you and Pierce and the hotel have done for me over the years, but it’s time for me to move on,” Bucky told him, the words flowing surprisingly easily now that he’d gotten those first two crucial ones out. “I quit. There’s a whole wide world of opportunities out there for me, and it’s time I got to work exploring them.”

“You can’t just leave,” Zola insisted again, face getting redder than Bucky had ever seen it, redder than the time some rookie chef had over-salted his signature piroshkies on the night the president had been in attendance. “You would have nothing if not for this place! The Red Room owns you!”

“No one owns me, not for the last two years.” Bucky informed him cooly, dropping his uniform coat onto the prep table on his way out the door.

He was on the phone with Phil Coulson an hour and a half later, while he threw items of clothing haphazardly into both of his suitcases. The restaurateur picked up after a few rings, sounding confused. “This is Phil Coulson?”

“Hey, this is Bucky Barnes, I’ve been thinking about that job you offered me.”

“Oh, Chef Barnes! I’m glad to hear from you. I was wondering who’d be calling at this hour.”

Bucky glanced at the clock, confused, then winced. It was early in the morning here, which made it very late at night in New York. “Geez, sorry, I didn’t even think about the time difference. I just got off the plane a little while ago, so my understanding of what continent I’m on is still a little shaky.”

“That’s perfectly alright! You said you’d been thinking about my offer, have you… come to any decisions?”

“I’m thinking it’s time for a change,” Bucky informed him, feeling the lightness in his chest that the words brought. “I’m interested, but there are stipulations. I want creative control of the menu. I wanna do seasonal stuff and maybe weekly creations, who knows. Something new and exciting, whenever I felt like it. Limited-edition candies and such, maybe. I want a say in my staff. And I want a twenty percent raise over my Red Room Hotel salary.”

He knew he was asking a lot, but the morning’s events had made him bold.

“I have a counter offer,” Coulson said when he was finished, and Bucky steeled himself. “Complete creative control over the menu, vendors, and production schedule. Absolute approval or absolute veto power with hiring staff, as well as involvement in the selection process. And a forty percent raise over your Red Room salary.”

Bucky was stunned into silence. “You don’t even know what they paid me.”

“Whatever it is, it’s not enough.”

“That’s a very generous offer.”

“It is,” Coulson agreed. “I’m also hoping it’s one you can’t refuse. Like I said at the gala, my group believes in your talent and skill. We’re willing to pay for it. Question is, are you up for reaching your full potential?"

“Fuck yeah, I am,” Bucky breathed.

Coulson laughed. “Welcome to Pâtisserie Bouclier.”

---

Twelve hours later came another fucking flight, ten more hours of Bucky stuck on a plane. Although this time there was hope in his heart and peace in his mind, knowing he was bringing his life back to New York.

He shut the window next to his seat and slept most of the way, waking only to the sound of the pilot’s voice announcing their evening descent into New York. He felt reasonably well rested, all things considered.

It struck Bucky suddenly that despite the fact that he’d lived in Europe for almost a decade, it was this flight back to New York that felt most like going home.

If Natasha was surprised to get a call from Bucky saying he was back in the US less than 48 hours after he departed, asking to borrow one of her guest rooms for a little while longer until he found his own place, she didn’t show it. She just batted her long eyelashes at him and said that the Shield Group and Pâtisserie Bouclier was excited to have him. (Because of course she was a member, why wouldn’t she be?)

She also said that if he hoped to catch Steve before bed he’d better let her driver take him.

Which was how Bucky wound up standing on Steve’s stoop at sunset clutching nothing but a neatly folded square of sweat pants and a tee shirt, knocking on the door with sweaty hands.

Bucky heard a clatter inside, and a curse, and then Steve’s angry voice simmering on the other side of the door. “Thor, I told you, it’s a sick day. I’m sick,” came the muffled tirade. “I don’t care how many times you ask me to ‘talk about it’ or how many black and white cookies you bring me. It’s a cold, pastries can’t cure--”

The door swung wide and Steve was suddenly standing face to face with Bucky, looking drawn and sad but otherwise fine. His expression quickly shifted from irritation to wonder. “Bucky?

“Are you really sick?” was all Bucky could think to say for a moment. “Because if you are, I’ve got the recipe for a lemon and honey cure-all onion paste that all the babushkas swear by.”

And then Steve was on him, pulling him into a kiss, wrapping his arms around him like he had to keep a tight grip or Bucky might drift away. “Faked sick,” he confesses into Bucky’s mouth. “Didn’t feel like going into work when I was too busy missing you.”

“The next time I’m about to leave the country, maybe don’t fuck my brains out right before,” Bucky told him sternly, pulling back just a bit so he can get his eyes on Steve. “I should have known better than to get on that plane in the first place. Could have saved myself 20 hours in economy class.”

“But why?” Steve asked, eyes still wide and excited. “Your whole life is in Russia but you turned around and came right back. Why?”

“My whole life wasn’t in Russia, my job was. My life is, and has always been, in New York. And I wasn’t happy there,” Bucky said gently, his hands clutching at the sides of Steve’s shirt, fighting off the urge to protect this vulnerable truth. “I haven’t been happy there in a long time. But this weekend, with you, and with New York, I felt excited again for the first time in… I don’t know, forever. It made me remember why I wanted to be a pastry chef. It made me realize that everything I want, and I mean everything,” he said with a significant look at Steve, “Is right here. So I moved home.”

Steve’s face crumpled with emotion and Bucky took his hand and lead them inside Steve’s brownstone. Once the door was closed, Steve tucked his face into Bucky’s neck and they held each other close for several long minutes.

“I don’t know why I feel this strongly about it,” Steve said eventually. “But I do.”

Bucky stroked Steve’s back and kissed the top of his head. “It’s okay. I feel it, too.”

Steve stood up at that, eyes sparkling, “You do?”

Bucky cupped his face and kissed him slowly, pulling away just enough to whisper against Steve’s lips. “Of course. You’re you; how could I not?”

And then Steve was clutching Bucky’s back and they were kissing sensual and deep, lazily making their way down the hall to the bedroom as they did so. They continued their slow kisses as they undressed, taking the time to savor and cherish each inch of skin like they hadn’t had the time to do before.

Steve ended up underneath Bucky this time, and fuck if he didn’t look like a damn work of art laid out for Bucky like that, naked and wanting and flushed so, so beautifully.

---

Bucky felt so good on top of Steve, and Steve had never felt someone above him feel so right. Bucky felt it too, he’d said. He’d gone to Russia and turned right back around, and now he was there to stay and Steve could have him for real and the knowledge might have been overwhelming if Steve wasn’t desperate for more of him.

“Bucky...please…” he asked, unsure how to say just what he wanted from the gorgeous man atop him.

“It’s okay, I got you,” Bucky assured him and then spread Steve’s legs and oh, yes, that was exactly what he wanted and of course Bucky got him enough to understand what Steve couldn’t put to words.

They went through the same foreplay process as the previous morning; kisses and tongues everywhere as bodies slowly yielded to fingers, plenty of moans and kisses, only this time the roles were reversed. Steve loved every second of it, and when Bucky got revenge and crooked his fingers right into Steve's prostate, he felt glitter in his blood and arched up, begging.

“Please, Bucky, I need-”

And Bucky swallowed that with a kiss, slipping a condom on and making sure Steve was comfortable before pushing into him.

Steve didn’t normally bottom, but he wanted Bucky every way he could have him. At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to be surrounded and filled with the man, a constant and steady physical reminder that Bucky was here and real and with Steve.

The first roll of Bucky’s hips reminded Steve just how good getting fucked felt, and he resolved to do it more often. The second roll wiped all thoughts from his mind except for the all-consuming presence of Bucky.

Bucky kept his pace slow, sliding in and out of Steve with deliciously long drags. He lowered himself to his elbows and hovered over Steve, kissing his mouth and cheeks and marking up his throat and god did Steve want that, wanted to be marked by Bucky everywhere.

“Couldn’t stop thinkin’ about you,” Bucky moaned against his skin. “Knew as soon as that plane took off I shoulda stayed.”

“You came back,” Steve answered. His breath hitched with a particularly good thrust.

“Yeah, baby, I did,” Bucky said, right before sucking another mark against Steve’s throat. “Roll over for me.”

And Steve did. He laid flat against the bed and Bucky nudged his knees apart and draped himself along Steve’s back, getting as much skin-to-skin contact as possible. When he slipped back inside of him, Steve breathed a sigh of relief into the pillow, and rolled his hips back to get as much of Bucky inside of him as he could.

Bucky continued the slow, sensual rolling of his hips, whispering things to Steve that set his skin on fire. The pleasure built in a leisurely crescendo, and as the waves of their orgasms crashed over them, Steve reached back to catch Bucky’s hair in a grip and turned so he could kiss him deeply. They gasped their pleasures into the kiss, breaking it, and Steve had never felt more alive.

---

“So, Steve,” the interviewer was saying. “You’re invited to nearly every restaurant grand opening in the city. Why’d you choose to come to this one?”

“Well first off, this isn’t a restaurant, it’s a pâtisserie,” he corrected. “And secondly, the executive pastry chef is my boyfriend, and I’m here supporting him.”

The interviewer for the prominent food channel on YouTube gaped at him before collecting herself. “So you’re gay?”

“Well, I’m bisexual, but thanks for making generalized assumptions about me,” Steve said easily, taking pleasure in the embarrassed blush it earned him. “And it’s not really anyone’s business, to be candid. I’m not trying to make waves, I’m just trying to be honest. Bucky Barnes is one of the most talented pastry chefs in the world, and I knew that before we started dating. That I happen to love him and want to support him is, at this moment in time, only one of the reasons I’m here.”

“What are the others?”

He gave her a crooked grin. “That display of Boston cream doughnuts over there? That’s the rest of them.”

The interviewer laughed.

---

Chefs Rogers and Barnes have quickly become one of the most sought-after catering teams in the country. Their work is so exquisite, their menus so harmonious that they are now the gold standard quality that catering companies strive to achieve.

This in itself is impressive, considering they have only collaborated on a handful of events. Their professional teamwork is so rare and exclusive that it’s seen as a gift to those hosts and hostesses who manage to secure their catering contracts. So far, it’s been limited to charitable events hosted by Natasha Romanoff, Reed Richards, and Hank Pym.

Rogers and Barnes, real-life power couple and husbands of three years, say that their compatibility in the kitchen isn’t hard-won; it’s what brought them together in the first place. This is completely evident by their offerings, which if served by anyone else might seem boring or tired. To this team, though? Solid classics reign supreme.

“The thing about the basics, the classics, is that they’re those things for a reason. If you have truly good ingredients, and a little bit of patience, that’s all it takes. Gourmet doesn’t have to mean deconstructed to a molecular level, or pushed so far into the unknown that it’s not food anymore. The best food of your life could be sitting right in your cupboard,” Chef Rogers states.

Chef Barnes, for his part, is all about the technique. “Basics are harder to master,” he says with the shrug of a shoulder. “I learned a perfect brûlée technique in three days. All in the wrist. How to feel if a pie crust is going to be flaky before you even roll it out? That takes years to master. But all good things take time and effort, don’t they? And it’s always worth it in the end.”