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Getting Baked

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Chaotic Neutral logo by Tumblr user Monobuu.

“How does he always know these things first?” Steve asked Sam, when he saw Nick Fury, owner of SHIELD, storming down the street with a bakery box under one arm. It was tied with jaunty pink string. “The bakery’s not supposed to open for another three weeks.”

“Fury’s older than sand and has spent like, the entire history of mankind networking in the Manhattan food scene,” Sam replied, calling Steve’s bet in their informal pre-opening poker game. “I bet he’s had grilled woolly mammoth.”

“Ugh, so gamey,” Steve replied, and Sam grinned, shoving the pennies at Steve as Fury arrived. He took in the pile of pennies in front of Steve, Steve’s losing hand, and Sam’s shit-eating grin.

“How does this work?” he asked.

“Pennies are the worst,” Steve said. “Loser has to roll them.”

“Huh.” Fury nodded, and then a knife appeared in his hand without warning. Steve was about to startle backwards when he flicked it through the pink string on the bakery box and then tucked it back into thin air again, holding the box out to them.

“Is Coulson experimenting with doughnuts again?” Steve asked. “Because I’m allergic to fish in pastry.”

“That’s a damn lie, I saw you eat that tuna danish Tony made,” Sam said, helping himself to an orange muffin. He sniffed it. “Carrot, mm.”

“I had to eat it, Tony’s my boyfriend, and if I never ate anything I didn’t like I’d basically never eat,” Steve replied, studying the box carefully before taking a profiterole from a pile in a white paper wrapper. He licked it daintily and then bit it in half.

“This is really good,” Sam said. “It’s moist but it doesn’t fall the fuck apart like muffins usually do.”

“How’s the profiterole?” Fury asked Steve.

“Lickable,” Steve replied, around a mouthful of pastry and cream. “New bakery’s a credit to the neighborhood. What’s it called?”

Fury held out a business card.

CHAOTIC NEUTRAL CONFECTIONS it read, and under that, KITTY PRYDE, OWNER.

“Guy I spoke to is the head baker, name of Logan,” Fury said. “I invited them and their apprentices to dinner after closing tonight at SHIELD. Bring something that won’t embarrass me in front of the new kids.”

“Shady, like I ever make anything that would embarrass anyone,” Sam snorted.

“How’s that potato-based pie crust coming?” Fury asked.

“Don’t even start on me, vodka is made with potatoes, it should work,” Sam said stubbornly.

“Like half of Thor’s staff is stopping at my truck for the crackers and cheese special, I’ll let them know,” Steve said, mostly to break up what promised to be the tenth round in the Potato Pie Crust Debate.

“I’m gonna run into TOBRU and blow Bruce Banner’s mind,” Fury replied. He opened his leather duster to reveal a loaf of sourdough in a large inner pocket.

“There goes one freaky chef,” Sam said, as Fury ducked inside.

“Chaotic Neutral,” Steve said again, frowning at the business card. “I’m sure I’ve heard that phrase somewhere before. I feel like it’s something Tony said.”

“Probably nerdy?” Sam asked.

“I don’t know, I’m not really a Star Wars guy,” Steve replied.

***

The staff of Chaotic Neutral turned out to be a tiny, powerful-looking woman in a flour-dusted apron (presumably Kitty Pryde), the hairiest man Steve had ever encountered, and two kids who couldn’t be much older than he’d been when he’d apprenticed to Chef Erskine. The young woman was dark-skinned and looked shy; she was half-hiding behind a tall, pale boy with a shock of pink hair, wearing a clearly home-made shirt that read THAT’S HOW I ROLL with a drawing of a pan of bread rolls below it.

The guy with Kitty Pryde was in the SHIELD kitchen, a knife in either hand, demonstrating a method for cutting butter into flour while Coulson looked on thoughtfully. He was wicked fast and looked like the butter had done him a personal wrong.

“Now, I’m the best at what I do, but what I do ain’t actually pie crust,” the man was saying to Coulson, spearing a scrap of butter on the tip of the knife and flicking the butter with eerie accuracy at the pink-haired boy, who looked like he’d been about to steal a raw steak. The butter smacked him in the shaved side of his head. “Quire!”

“Ow, what the hell, chef,” the kid complained, wiping the butter off his head with the tail of his shirt.

“You are a walking disaster,” the tiny woman told him.

“I don’t have to be here, you know. I had an internship at Monsanto.”

Steve shuddered, which drew the attention of the bakery crew, as well as Coulson.

“Steve! This is Chaotic Neutral Confections,” Coulson said, gesturing around the room. “Kitty Pryde, James Logan, that’s Idie Okonkwo, and the upwardly-mobile GMO specialist is Quentin Quire.”

“Hi,” Idie said, holding up a hand briefly.

“Hey, you’ve been to the trucks before, right?” Steve asked. “I thought I saw you buying cheesytots from Sam earlier.”

“Yeah,” she said, looking pleased. “I like your turkey pita pockets.”

“Thanks.”

“Your pitas could use work, though,” she added, and then not only looked horrified but barely dodged an elbow from Quire.

“I know, I haven’t got the hang of making them myself. You guys don’t do pitas, do you?”

“We could,” Kitty said, as Logan went back to talking butter with Coulson. “We’re still sort of working out where our focus will be.”

“Well, I’m always looking for local artisan sandwich breads,” Steve said.

“Oh my God, you precious hipster child,” Tony announced, breezing past him into the kitchen. “It’s a good thing you’re pretty,” he added, squeezing Steve’s ass subtly as he passed. Steve closed his eyes briefly.

“Hey, who makes the sourdough?” Bruce added, joining them. So, Bruce had just seen Tony grab Steve’s ass, that was a thing.

“Pink-hair over there is our yeast guy,” Kitty said, looking amused.

“Can we not call me ‘our yeast guy’?” Quentin whined. Bruce put an arm around his shoulders in what looked like a friendly gesture but, Steve knew from observation, was more like a headlock than a hug, and led Quentin towards the pantry at the far end.

“So are you on flat-breads, or is that just a hobby?” Steve asked Idie with a smile.

“I do the muffins and some of the sweet dough prep,” she said. Steve would have said something kind and encouraging, because she looked like she felt a little out of place, but Bucky arrived, announced he was here to mooch food, and immediately started sampling the huge pile of doughnut holes that, presumably, Chaotic Neutral had brought.

“I’ve been spying on you,” Tony said, while Steve glared, appalled, at Bucky, who had a double-handful of glazed pastry. “Pryde, right? Your industrial mixer is outstanding.”

“We spent enough on it,” she said, a little ruefully.

“I bet I can improve it,” Tony continued, and Steve saw where this was going, but he couldn’t stop watching. “Mostly torque, I mean, speed’s not really an issue, but for a really tough dough…”

“I’m pretty sure that voids some kind of warranty,” Pryde said.

“Voiding things is something I do very well,” Tony informed her gravely.

“Oh, that doesn’t mean I won’t let you do it, just that I have to be there and watch while you do so I can fix it if you fuck it up,” she said.

Tony’s eyes widened. “Oh, I’m gonna like you,” he said.

“So what’s the hook?” she asked.

“Was that a pun?”

“Yes. Don’t deflect, what would I owe you for pepping up my mixer?”

Tony gave her his best grin. “Sooooo many doughnuts.”

“Doughnuts? Really? That’s all?”

“You say that’s all like your doughnuts aren’t something that deserves to be used as a form of currency,” Tony said. “By the way, Steve, if she offers me butter tarts I might dump you for her.”

“I’d say I’m willing to share, but truth be told, I don’t think I would share those doughnuts,” Steve said.

“I leave you all alone for five damn minutes,” Fury announced, stalking into his kitchen, followed by Clint and Natasha. “Stop monopolizing the newbies, Stark.”

“It’s called negotiating,” Tony answered.

There was a muffled boom from the other end of the kitchen, and Bruce appeared in the pantry doorway, covered in flour.

“QUENTIN!” Idie yelled, scoldingly.

“NOT MY FAULT!” Quire yelled back.

Tony looked at Kitty, who had her hand over her mouth.

“Yeah, you’re gonna fit in just fine on this block,” Tony told her.