The first time it happened, he didn’t think much of it. It’s part of his routine now - mornings he spent getting his ass kicked by Captain America on their morning runs, then he got his ass kicked by various Avengers in turn in the gym as they lifted weights and sparred. It was good for him - kept him humble. At least, that’s what he told himself when that little voice inside that said (screamed) things like “HOW IS THIS MY LIFE?!” and “MAKE GOOD CHOICES!” got too loud to ignore.
And if he took a little extra satisfaction on leg days when he could handle more weight than Clint, there was nothing wrong a little well-deserved pride.
So mornings he spent on personal training and tactics, his own personal brand of crazy meshing nicely with this team he’s somehow landed in, while three afternoons a week are spent on his favorite guilty pleasure. It took him back to when he was small, barely tall enough to see over the counter, his momma’s larger hand guiding his as they stirred the dough together.
Baking is the farthest thing he can think of from the battlefield.
The first thing he did after moving to New York was contact the local VA so he could continue the work he had done in DC. It was more of a calling than a job at this point, and it was a goddamned shame how many soldiers sacrificed years and limbs and sanity itself only to come home and slip right through the cracks into homelessness, addiction, or worse.
So three days a week he went home and baked three dozen cookies before heading over to the VA for his group meetings, because he will be damned before any meeting he leads has those preservative-filled plastic nightmares that pass themselves off as cookies at the grocery store. He liked to mix it up, a different variety every time. That recipe book his momma gave him before she passed, full of taped in clippings and handwritten annotations and notecards that fluttered free if he wasn't careful, deserved to be used properly. Momma would be proud.
Sometimes he got requests to make a certain kind again, or to make someone’s particular favorite. Back in DC he went a little wild around the holidays, two dozen different types of cookies in ribbon-adorned gift bags. He even personalized them for his regulars, making sure they’d get extra of the cookies they liked and none of the ones they didn’t.
If he hadn’t been run near to death by Steve with his smug damn “on your lefts,” he probably would have ended up buried under an avalanche of cookies and cats. Might have bought a doily or two even. While he didn’t miss being a soldier, especially taking orders from people he didn’t trust to do things that sometimes just felt wrong, he did miss the rush of adrenaline and the freedom of the air.
Civilian life was better when it included occasionally being thrown off flying aircraft carriers that were controlled by actual goddamned Nazis because Captain Fucking America showed up at your door and asked for your help.
So the first time it happened he didn’t really think much of it. He was making one of his favorite recipes, a soft and dense cinnamon chocolate cookie that he had developed himself, tweaking the amounts of this and that until it was absolutely perfect. When one went missing he shrugged it off, because it wouldn’t be the first time he ate one of these without thinking about it, even though VA cookies were supposed to be sacrosanct. Sometimes, a man had needs.
Two days later when it happened again, he wasn’t quite so sanguine. The same spot as last time even, the bottom right corner of the right-hand tray, one perfectly crosshatched peanut butter chocolate chip cookie was gone.
Now, there were many things in this world that Sam Wilson was capable of handling and he was well-practiced in the art of letting harsh words and annoyances roll right off his back, but a Phantom Cookie Thief was beyond the pale. Eyes narrowed, he made plans.
On Friday, he had his mission face on as he mixed melted chocolate into his batter, then gently folded in the crushed walnuts. Crushed by hand no less, because Momma Wilson had standards . One by one he dropped the spoonfuls of dough onto the greased sheet while the oven warmed. He had the timing for preheating down to an art at this point, and sure enough the oven timer went off just as he dropped the last of the dough onto the final sheet.
He slid them into the oven and prepared to wait. “Once more unto the breach, eh?” he said with a laugh. How was this even his life?
While the cookies cooled, he set his plans into motion, puttering around the apartment as usual. Unlike usual, however, he kept a close eye on the trays so he’d be prepared when the Phantom Cookie Thief made his appearance. After an hour, though, he was forced to conclude that the thief wasn’t coming. So he whipped up the chocolate buttercream frosting, generously iced the cooled cookies, and sprinkled them with just a touch of the lemon sugar he had left over from last week’s lemon crinkles.
When he left the kitchen for five goddamned seconds to grab his wallet, the thief struck. Right-hand tray, bottom right corner, no fucking cookie . Thirty-five cookies where previously there had been thirty-six. He scanned the room, dropping low, but there wasn’t even a breath of air to indicate that someone might have been there. He checked the windows and doors - locked. Every single goddamned one of them.
For the first time, Sam Wilson found himself wondering if his Phantom Cookie Thief might not be an actual phantom.
He had the weekend to calm down and reconsider, and concluded that he had bigger damn things to worry about than one damn cookie. Like how he was going to get back at Stark for calling him “American Airlines” and somehow programming the phones of every single person he knew so that they played an old airline jingle every time he called. And of course it couldn’t be changed, that would make it too damn easy.
“‘Wherever freedom flies’ my ass,” he muttered as he pulled out the spices for today’s cookies. The iced chocolate jumbos on Friday had gone over well, so he thought he’d reward his dedicated attendees by making another iced cookie that had always disappeared fast in DC. Ground ginger, cloves, some cinnamon and a little nutmeg - the dough wasn’t even finished yet and already his kitchen was smelling amazing.
He didn’t even bother trying to watch the trays when he pulled them out to cool - if one went missing, at least the thief wasn’t going to be singing horrifying Michael Bolton advertising lyrics at him. The icing for these was even simpler than last week, just powdered sugar and vanilla extract (from scratch dammit and not that imitation shit), with just enough water to give it the proper texture. A dollop on each cookie, and it was just a matter of waiting for it to smooth out and dry - no spreading required.
Unsurprisingly, the cookie he’d been privately thinking of as the Chosen One was gone when he went back to the kitchen to box things up. What was a surprise was that there was a note left where the cookie used to be. Which made it less likely that his Phantom Cookie Thief was a ghost, since extensive pop culture experience had taught him that those were much more likely to leave notes in blood than on little yellow stickies.
Can you make crumb cookies next time?
Sam blinked, read the note a second time, and then blinked again. And then read it again for a third time, because no he goddamned did not!
But apparently he had, and Sam had to admire the nerve of someone not only skilled enough to break into his apartment past some fairly sophisticated security without letting anyone even catch a glimpse of him just to steal a single damn cookie, but then had the unmitigated gall to make a fucking request.
He grabbed the closest cookie off the tray and bit into it savagely. The dense texture of the cookie was spot-on, and the sweet icing was the perfect counterpoint to the heat of the ginger and other spices. He tried not to eat his VA cookies ordinarily, but today? Today was definitely an exception.
Wednesday’s trip to the store yielded some of the ripest, sweetest strawberries he’d ever laid his eyes on, and he couldn’t resist. He sang to himself as he mixed the dough, feeling uncommonly pleased with himself and maybe the tiniest bit smug. The bright pink cookies he pulled out of the oven (dotted with milk chocolate chips, because that’s a thing that had to happen) couldn’t possibly be mistaken for crumb cookies even from a hundred paces. And while his apartment may be damn spacious, especially for New York, it’s not quite that big.
Just like always, the Chosen One was gone when he went back to pack the cookies, but Sam kinda felt that the empty space looked sadder than usual. Like a spot without a cookie isn’t already sad enough.
Once at the VA he slipped right back into his usual routine, setting up the chairs and heading to the back of the room to put the cookies down and start the (horrifyingly bad) coffee. He sat up near the front where he could watch the door out of the corner of his eye and settled in, greeting a couple people as they filed in.
The new guy would have caught his eye regardless. His face was hidden deep in the hoodie he wore like armor, but the kid looked rough regardless, like sleepless nights and nowhere to call home and memories that made keeping food down almost impossible. It was familiar, far too much so, and his first quick impression was that this kid needed a friend, a hug, and a homemade meal - not necessarily in that order. Kids like this were why he started baking. He got up, prepared to welcome the kid and offer him a cookie when he saw it.
Clutched in his right hand. Bright pink, dotted with milk chocolate, cannot possibly be mistaken for anything else . Sam was good, damn good, on the spatial awareness front. You kind of have to be when you’re dumb enough to strap experimental damn wings to your back and leap out of a plane. So it didn’t take him long to calculate that if this kid’s just coming in the door, and the cookies are across the damn room , then there’s no way that cookie in his hand could possibly have come from that plate.
The kid noticed the second that Sam catches on, of course. He was so keyed up and hypervigilant that he’d notice even if he wasn’t who he was. How was this his life?!
Only one way to handle this. “Hey man, good to see you.” And if there was ever the slightest bit of extra emphasis on ‘see’, who could blame him? “You’re welcome to come in and have a seat. We’re going to get started soon. And you know, you don’t have to talk, but if you come back on Friday? I’m thinking about making crumb cookies.”
Deep in the shadow of his stained hoodie, Bucky smiled.
(Mrs Wilson’s Cook Book, 1920)
1 cup of molasses
1/2 cup of brown sugar
6 tablespoons of shortening
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ginger
1/2 teaspoon of allspice
5 tablespoons of sour milk
2 1/2 cups of coarse bread crumbs
Place molasses, brown sugar, shortening, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, egg, and sour milk in a bowl. Beat to mix and then add bread crumbs and sufficient flour to make a very stiff mixture.
Drop by the spoonful on well-greased baking sheet, three inches apart. Bake in a moderate oven for ten minutes.