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Operation Cupcake. Sitrep: Ingredients Acquired

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Danny rolled over, looked at the clock--and groaned. 6:07

This was one of the downsides to shacking up with a Super SEAL. Steve was usually up by 5:30, so he could swim, or run, or do otherwise absurd amounts of physical exercise at a time when no normal, sane person should be awake.

Of course, that meant Danny now found it harder and harder to sleep in late. He got up, went to the bathroom, took care of business, and padded down the stairs.

There was coffee already made, so Danny grabbed a cup--and noticed Steve’s keys were missing. He went over, grabbed his phone from where it was charging.

6:24. No messages.

What the--?

He took a long swallow of coffee, checked the time again.


Danny considered his options. He could call Steve, but that meant finding out Steve was picking up another illegal rocket launcher from an ‘old friend’, or invading one of the Koreas again, or making a malasada run.

And the last time they sent Steve for pastries, he’d come back with two boxes of explosives.

He took another swallow of coffee, still debating what to do--and heard Steve’s truck pulled up outside. Danny took an even bigger swallow, bracing himself for the inevitable.

Steve walked in, carrying a couple of bags.

”Oh, good. You were just buying groceries at an ungodly hour.” He finished his coffee. “Let me guess, this was an emergency run to, I don’t know, buy bleach and ammonia to make mustard gas?”

“Chloramine.” Steve grabbed a disinfectant wipe, began wiping the entire counter along one side of the kitchen with long, careful strokes. “Bleach and ammonia make chloramine gas, not mustard gas.”

“Thank you, I will drop that in my file of ‘things I never needed or wanted to know’.” Danny poured himself another cup of coffee, and watched Steve take stuff out of the bags.

Steve usually tossed groceries into the fridge or the cupboards with very little care--unless it was beer or eggs. Today, he was taking things out of bags and placing each item very precisely on the counter. The same kind of precision Steve usually only reserved for very important tasks--like breaking down and cleaning his guns.

Danny drifted over. Cake mix. Carton of eggs. Measuring spoons.

OK, so.

Steve was, apparently, baking.

At 6:38am.

“What exactly are we doing here, babe?”

“I’m learning to make red velvet cupcakes.” Steve set out three new muffin pans, then pulled a folded sheet of paper from one of the pockets of his cargo pants. “Josie gave me the recipe. She said it’s bullet-proof.”

Danny’s heart did a weird little lurch. Grace had called him two days ago in tears, because Rachel had forgotten to make cupcakes for her class party. Danny had done his best to calm her down, and made a mental note to send reminders to Rachel when the next party came up, because she was juggling being pregnant and her job.

This? Was a much better plan.

And Chin’s aunt made the best red velvet cupcakes.

“No, we are learning to make red velvet cupcakes.” Danny corrected him, “What can I do to help?”

Steve was still hyper-focused on arranging ingredients on the counter, but the tension in his shoulders eased at Danny’s words. He handed over a box. “Here. Open that.”

Danny looked at it, confused. “We already have a hand mixer.”

“Josie said the high speed on that one is better.” Steve unfolded the piece of paper, smoothed it out. It was a printed recipe and he had cribbed a lot of notes in the margins.

Danny unboxed the mixer, rinsed the beaters, and inserted them. “OK, better mixer is ready to go.”

“Put rack in middle of oven. Heat oven to 350 degrees.” Steve read the instructions out loud, laid the paper down, reached for a smaller box.

Danny moved the rack, turned the oven on.

“Check temperature in ten minutes.” Steve opened the box, handed him a shiny new metal thermometer with a hook at the top.

“I guess this hangs on the rack?” Danny had to twist the hook to make it work.

“Yeah. Josie said most ovens run hot.”

“Ten minutes.” Danny pulled up the stopwatch on his phone. “Got it. What’s next?”

Steve picked the paper back up. “Put papers in muffin tins. Makes 30.”

Danny started to reach for the container of cupcake papers, but stopped, puzzled. Steve was rummaging in one of his pockets. He pulled out a half-used roll of duct tape, tore off two pieces, and taped the recipe to a cabinet door.

Of course.

That made total sense.

And it said a lot about Danny’s life that Steve duct-taping a recipe for cupcakes to a kitchen cabinet didn’t even come close to making the list of the top twenty weirdest things Steve had ever done.

He handed Steve some of the cupcake papers, and together they lined two muffin pans, and half of a third.

Danny’s phone beeped. He opened the oven door. “Wow. Josie was right. This oven’s 25 degrees too hot.”

He lowered the temperature, turned around--and got handed the mixing bowl.

Steve grabbed the box of cake mix. He pulled out his pocket knife, ran a disinfectant wipe over the blade, and slit open the bag inside. “One box, German chocolate cake mix.”

Danny looked at the perfectly good chef knives in the knife block for a moment, then he took the bag and dumped it in the bowl. “Box of cake mix.”

“One cup of sour cream.” Steve checked the recipe, handed over sour cream and a new set of measuring cups.

“Sour cream.” Danny rinsed the measuring cup off, measured and dumped the sour cream in.

“Make sure to use a liquid measuring cup.” Steve had bought one of those too. “One fourth cup of vegetable oil and one half cup of water.”

“Oil, water.” Danny dumped both ingredients in. “I feel like there could be a possible metaphor here.”

Steve stopped for a moment, looked at him.

Danny smiled back. “Yes, Steven?”

Steve’s mouth quirked up. He looked back at the recipe, reached for the carton of eggs, cracked three into the bowl. “Three eggs. One teaspoon of vanilla.”

Danny opened the vanilla, measured and poured it in. “And?”

“One ounce of red food coloring.” Steve opened the bottle, dumped it in.

They both eyed the bowl for a long second.

Danny spoke first, “That’s a lot of red.”

”Yeah.” Steve plugged in the mixer, reached for the brand new spatula. “Stir on low, one minute. Scrape the sides, making a constant figure eight.”

“One minute?” Danny reached for his phone, pulled the stopwatch app back up. “All right, go.”

The stopwatch beeped a minute later, and Steve glanced at the paper. “Mix on high, two minutes.”

“It needs to be stirred that much?”

Steve shrugged. “I guess so?”

Two minutes later, they peered into the bowl.

“It looks the same. So, we fill the pans now?”

“Fill each cup three-fourth full.” Steve unplugged the mixer, took the mixing bowl from him, and began pouring the batter into the cups.

Danny took a step to the left, read the rest of the recipe. “Bake for 12 minutes. Rotate pan, bake for another 12 to 14 minutes. Test with a toothpick. Toothpick should be clean.” There was a handwritten note, and he read that, too. “Cool for two hours, then put frosting on cupcakes.”

Danny glanced at the three cans of cream cheese frosting. “Um, did you buy enough frosting?”

Steve slid the two full muffin pans in the oven, glanced at Danny expectantly.

“Right. First twelve minutes starts--now.” He set the phone down on the counter. “Now we wait for twenty-four to twenty-six minutes.”

“Yeah.” Steve walked over, leaned into him, his lips brushing over Danny’s mouth. “One can of frosting should be enough for 24 to 30 cupcakes.”

“But,” Danny grabbed Steve’s shirt, pulling him closer. He let his tongue trail over Steve’s lips, “You got three cans.”

Because I was thinking,” Steve kissed him--then kissed him a second time, “we’ve never done it in the kitchen.”

Danny thought about licking cream cheese frosting off of Steve, and he was instantly, achingly, hard.

“That’s not in the instructions.” He mumbled, as he claimed a third kiss.

Steve pulled away with a low groan. “Damn. Twenty-four minutes is a long time to wait.”

Danny laughed--and stole one more kiss.