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Them Apples

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He’s not sure why he starts cooking. Maybe it’s just because nothing tastes the way he remembers.

And, granted, it was either the Depression or the war and everything was a) boiled and b) rationed, but…

“You look like that apple has a worm in it.”

Steve glances up at Lieutenant Hill, who’s just poured herself a cup of coffee from the pot that sits eternally bubbling in the safehouse kitchen. “No, the apple’s fine. It just…doesn’t taste right. Kind of…bland.”

She looks at the apple. “It’s an apple.”

Steve’s never quite sure why he offers her the apple. But he does.

If he thought about it, he’d say it was uncharacteristic of her to take up the invitation. Yet she leans across and sets her teeth into the crisp flesh, carefully biting off a small chunk. Steve watches her face, noting the way her lashes flutter as she considers the taste of the apple with as much intensity as she considers mission parameters or an agent who’s made a suggestion for revision.

All his impressions of Lieutenant Hill so far suggest that this is not a woman who does things lightly.

“Tastes usual to me.”

Steve exhales and doesn’t realise how loud it sounds until her eyes fix on him. “Sorry, it just… It doesn’t taste…quite right.”

“A lot of things have changed since you went into the ice,” she reminds him as she goes back to her coffee cup. As though he needs the reminder.

“But surely not apples?”

She takes a moment to answer, her hands curled around the coffee mug. “Have you been to a farmer’s market yet?”

“I’ve barely been to the supermarket yet,” he admits. It’s just so…foreign. Bright and cold and impersonal, with a thousand choices, all of them as bright and cold and impersonal as their surroundings. About as far from the general stores of his childhood as can be imagined.

Hill snorts. “They’re nothing alike. Try a farmer’s market, Rogers. I can’t promise you’ll find your apples, but you might find something else to your tastes.”

--

She’s right. Steve doesn’t find the apples of his childhood, but he does find some that are a bit closer in taste. It’s not much, but it’s something in the midst of all the newness and confusion.

He starts with fruit to begin with, then moves on to fresh vegetables. From there, it’s a quick hop to meat and bread and milk and...

Supersoldiers cannot live on apples alone, but they can live on home cooking. And it’s not hard – he’s done for himself plenty of times before, both before and after his mom died. Then again, most of the time it was brutally simple stuff – something to fill the belly as far as it would go, not to stimulate the senses.

His appetite’s rather larger now.

He has time, thanks to the ice and the downtime between missions. He has equipment, thanks to S.H.I.E.L.D supplying him with an apartment – including a fully equipped kitchen. He even has money, thanks to Lilian in Accounting who gets his finances into order – seventy years of backpay and interest. It may not be Stark’s billions, but it’s more than enough to keep him going.

And there’s a whole world of food available.

And so Steve learns to cook – starting with simple things like omelettes and soups, and then expanding out into baking and roasts, before going ‘wild’ on stir-fries and curries.

“Jesus, Rogers,” says Rumlow when Steve brings his lunch on the mission flight out. “Are we back at kindy again?”

“It’s chicken curry. I made it.”

“So you’re Alton Brown now?”

Natasha samples it, nipping a chunk of meat out of the sauce with a familiarity that both comforts and irks. She pops it in her mouth. Chews. Swallows. And smiles at Rumlow: a sleek smile, without teeth. “Not bad. You should try it.”

“Think I’ll pass. No offence, Cap.”

“None taken,” says Steve.

--

Natasha’s verdict gets him thinking and the next time he has leftovers, he packages them up in a Tupperware container (really handy things) and drops by Lieutenant Hill’s office.

She stares at the box. “What’s this?”

“Lunch. Beef noodle salad.”

Long lashes lift to look him in the eye. “And if I don’t like Thai?”

“Well, it’s Vietnamese,” Steve corrects. “And if you don’t like it, then I won’t offer it to you again.”

Hill leans back in her chair. “Why?”

“Why beef noodle salad?”

“Why give me this?”

“Because you suggested the farmer’s markets. I figure you should see what I’m making of it.”

Her mouth twitches, the faintest softening of her expression. “Okay.” But she doesn’t touch the box, either to open it or pull it closer.

“So? Do you eat Vietnamese?”

“Not usually,” she says. “But yes, I’ll try your...beef noodle salad.”

His hand is on the door when she calls his name. He turns.

Hill meets his gaze. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Steve leaves her with the container and heads off to his meeting with Fury. But two days later, when checking his pigeonhole, he finds the Tupperware returned to him – washed, dried, and sealed in a ziploc plastic bag.

He doesn’t quite grin as he fits it into his pack, but all the ride home he thinks that feeding Lieutenant Hill could easily become A Thing.

At first, it’s mostly mains. Crisp and tasty salads in the stinking heat of a DC summer. Heavier soups and sauces when autumn chills the air. And thick, hearty meals when the snow blankets the ground and riding to and from the Triskelion is inadvisable – not that the weather stops him.

He delivers meals to Hill, or to her pigeonhole, and once to the cockpit of the Quinjet where she was co-piloting.

Maybe that was a mistake, because the co-pilot turned and gave him a look before Hill turned and gave the man a look and Steve backed away, not quite regretting having possibly fed the grapevine, although nobody ever mentioned it again.

They don’t eat together or discuss the meals.

She never makes any requests, he doesn’t ask her what she wants. But he leaves her food, and she returns him the cleaned and empty container.

It’s not a friendship, per se, but Steve enjoys the cooking, enjoys making the food for himself, enjoys thinking of Hill eating the same food he’s eating – a shared meal, even if not in shared company.

Occasionally, Steve wonders what she’d do if he invited her over. A proper meal, from start to finish – to watch her concentrate on the food, to see her eating what he’s cooked for her, to engage her in conversation over dinner the way normal people do.

Then Natasha turns up with too much free time on her hands and sets herself to finding Steve a date.

And Steve politely and firmly declines, declines, declines.

Even if a part of him wonders: if he managed to persuade Hill to have dinner with him, would that count as a date?

“Lieutenant?”

“Mr. Wilson.”

“Am I gonna regret asking why dinner is amusing?”

She blinks twice at Sam’s question, and the smile deepens. “I don’t know, Mr. Wilson. Are you going to regret asking why dinner is amusing?”

Sam glances at Steve and pauses.

Steve hastily drops the smile that was hovering on his mouth, but it’s too late. Sudden comprehension dawns on Sam’s face. “Right,” he says, briskly. “I’ll just take my foot outta my mouth, then.”

When Steve looks to Hill, she meets his gaze and her mouth twists, even as she shrugs.

Is it reassuring or depressing that in the midst of a crisis, with the question of Bucky weighing heavy on his heart, Steve can still find it in him to wish that their first meal together had been under different circumstances?

There’s not much time for cooking while on the lam.

Half their time is spent working out where Bucky is now, while the other half is spent dodging HYDRA agents hunting for them.

Still, here and there, Steve finds himself pausing in the middle of a good meal and thinking of Hill— Maria . And sometimes when he’s cooking something up – a quick beef noodle soup, or a chicken roast – he thinks about turning up at the Tower, or wherever it is that Stark has her working, with a Tupperware box in hand.

It’s some five months after the fall of HYDRA when they’re on their way in to New York City, and Sam remarks, “So, you gonna do that dinner you’ve been planning for Hill?”

Steve turns to look at his buddy. “I never said—” The look Sam’s giving him silences him immediately. Has he really been that transparent?

She’s in town,” Sam says with a brief grin. “I can get you her address if you want.”

Don’t they call that stalking?”

They might. I call it good intel.”

Steve thinks about it. Seriously thinks about it for nearly a minute. Then asks, “How much do you have riding on it?”

Sam bursts out laughing. “I told Romanoff there’d be no getting past you. But seriously. I may not be Barton, but I got eyes.”

She’s probably busy. Working. I shouldn’t draw attention to her.”

Excuses, excuses.” Sam shrugs. “If you don’t want to, that’s fair. But you’ve been thinking about it for months. Don’t chicken out now.”

Trying to shame me into it?”

Whatever works, buddy.”

Thirty minutes later, Steve is on his way through the doors of Avengers Tower, under the authorisation of Tony Stark (via JARVIS), and the aegis of Pepper Potts, who meets him in the foyer with a smile that brims with amusement.

Captain Rogers.”

Ms. Potts. Thanks for coming to meet me.”

Oh, no. Thank you for getting Maria out.” She presses the elevator button and gestures him in as the doors open. Steve doesn’t wince as he steps in, although he feels his neck itch at what he still thinks of as rudeness. “I’ve been trying to persuade her to take a break for months now – not that this is unusual for her, but I’d feel happier about her focus if there was only someone to take her mind off work. Tony and Bruce try, but, well, they’re such workaholics, it’s pretty much the blind leading the blind.”

The elevator dings at their floor and the doors open on Maria standing in the elevator lobby, fishing through her bag for something.

Maria?”

Pepper, I’m going—Steve.” She pauses and stares at him, frowning slightly, before her expression sharpens. “Wilson?”

Has gone clubbing with old friends. Apparently, towing me along cramps his style.” Steve makes the words light, but his heart is pounding in his chest. “I figured I’d come see how you were doing. Ms. Potts said you don’t have work tonight, and I thought...we could...”

Dinner.” She says it very firmly before turning to Pepper, who doesn’t bother to hide her smile. “That restaurant we were at—?”

Uh,” Steve catches her attention. “I’m cooking. At your place.”

She looks at him. She looks at Pepper, whose smile grows faintly wicked as she says, “Be good.”

I hate you.” But Maria says the words without any heat, and simply steps past Pepper into the elevator.

They’re halfway to the parking garage level when Maria says, “This feels like an ambush.”

Ms. Potts says you need a break.”

And you’re it?”

I called to check your availability with her, and she organised it.”

Maria nods to herself. “Ambush.”

If you want me to leave you alone, I can. I just...” Steve hesitates, wondering if ‘I wanted to see you’ is a bit forward, given how little they’ve really interacted.

Still, he figures sometimes you don’t have to know someone very long to get a good idea of who they are. He picked the Howling Commandos after one mission. He chose Sam as a refuge after one meeting. And he trusted Bucky from the day Bucky flung himself down on the stair next to Steve and offered him a boiled sweet from the corner shop. My family calls me James, but I prefer ‘Bucky’.

He looks over at Maria. “I’d like to cook you a meal and actually get to eat it with you for once.”

She tilts her head so she’s looking up at him. “Just once?”

How about we start with the first time and work it out from there?”

They get out at the parking garage, she crosses over to the dark grey SUV that looks like a thousand other SUVs on the road, and indicates the passenger seat to Steve.

They climb in, belt in, she turns on the engine.

And turns to Steve with a bright gleam in her eye. “So should I be shaking down Wilson or Natasha for their winnings?”

Steve laughs.