Gift giving is not, as a rule, supposed to be a competition. Normal humans give gifts to people they care about to make them happy. Most people, if asked, probably wouldn’t think you could even turn gift giving into a competition, but most people don’t know Clint and Bucky. It wasn’t that they set out to out-gift each other, it was just that their friendship started with a friendly contest on the range and grew to competing over anything they possibly could. For the most part, the competition amused their teammates, who, for their part, started a pool on how long it would take the two snipers to race each other to bed. No one said the Avengers were normal, well-adjusted humans.
This, though, was something else. While it was no secret that their relationship had moved from a stupidly competitive friendship to… a stupidly competitive friendship with benefits, it seemed that everyone but the two of them had figured out that their relationship had evolved into something more. As Christmas got closer, they got weird and flustered, much to the amusement of their friends. Watching two assassins try to spy on each other was comedy gold. The absolutely unsubtle way they grilled teammates for information on the other proved better entertainment than the current season of The Bachelor.
Inspiration hit Clint two days before Christmas, while eating breakfast. Sam was leaving later that day to spend the holiday with his family and decided his gift to the team would be a big, if early, holiday breakfast. He had gone all out and had to have woken up before the cock crowed in order to get a head start on the massive spread. There were all types of breakfast meats, bowls full of different fresh fruits, thick slices of French toast, and Clint’s personal favorite: Sam’s famous chocolate chip banana pancakes. Truly, Sam was a breakfast wizard, making the lightest, fluffiest pancakes the world had ever seen, and Clint shared that opinion with Bucky as they tucked into their hearty breakfast. Clint watched intently as Bucky took his first bite but had no idea what to make of the look on Bucky’s face.
“Um,” Bucky started, before swallowing his mouthful of food, “they’re good.”
“Damn straight they’re good!” Sam called from the kitchen.
“Uh, Buck? You, uh, OK?” Clint ask tentatively.
Steve, who had watched this unfold put his fork down and looked at his friend. “Not the same? That it?”
Bucky nodded, while Clint and Sam shot confused looks at each other.
“Bananas used to taste different. It isn’t bad, but they aren’t even close to what they used to be,” Steve explained.
“Oh! I know this!” Tony chimed in. “The bananas you guys grew up with, Gros Michel bananas, were all wiped out by an invasive fungus. There wasn’t enough genetic variation in the plants, so there was no immunity and fungus spread rapidly. These are a completely different type of banana. Cavendish, I think.”
“Nothing goes with breakfast like a history lesson,” Sam muttered. “If you don’t like them, set them aside, someone will eat them.”
Breakfast went on with the usual banter and consumption of, frankly, alarming quantities of food, but Clint missed most of it, lost to his own thoughts. Well, until a sharp elbow to the ribs jolted him back to reality.
“You are an idiot,” Natasha provided helpfully, “and your food is getting cold. You ok?”
“Yeah. I think I just figured something out.”
A couple of hours later Clint found himself bellied up to the kitchen counter in his apartment, staring at two cakepans that appeared to be full of pockmarked asphalt. With a sigh, he grabbed one of the pans to dump the contents in the trash, and immediately burned himself. It was going to be a long day.
Entirely too many hours later, well after the sun had gone down and started to come back up, Clint pulled the two cakepans out of the oven for the howevermanyith time – wearing oven mitts this time, thank you very much – and looked down at two dark brown, slightly domed, fluffy looking chocolate cakes. He had done it! Well, he got them to look right, they still might taste terrible, but this was farther than he had gotten in any of his previous attempts. He knew from the many Youtube tutorials he had watched that he had to let the cakes cool before trying to take them out of the pan, but he couldn’t seem to leave them be, so he decided to distract himself by cleaning up the mess he had made.
Cleanup was surprisingly quick, and as soon as he pushed the start button on the dishwasher he was back in front of the cake pans, staring at them like they were going to explode. Very, very carefully, he followed the instructions of the impossibly chipper lady in the How to Cake It videos he found and popped one of the cakes out of its pan. Thrilling slightly at his success so far, he pulled his phone out and snapped a picture. If it tasted terrible, at least he had proof that he was able to make a pretty cake. While he was at it, he texted the picture to Natasha, knowing that the promise of cake would bring her around shortly to try it. For something so petite, she could eat her weight in sweets in a manner not unlike a starving lioness going after a slow gazelle.
There was nothing left to do, so before he could talk himself out of it, he grabbed a fork, dug out a chunk, and shoved it in his mouth. It was…good. It was really, really good. So good it tasted like another bite, but before he could dig his fork back in he’d been shoved to the side by a whirl of red hair and elbows.
“This looks lovely. This smells amazing. Who made this?” Natasha demanded.
“Me, Tash, but thank you for the vote of confidence, my best friend in the whole world.”
Nat just quirked an eyebrow at him and grabbed the fork out of his hand before digging in.
“Clint,” Natasha nearly moaned, “this is amazing. I’ve never had anything like this. It’s so fluffy and rich and not too sweet. What is this? Why are you making cakes I’ve never had before?”
“Again, best friend in the entire world, thank you so much for the vote of confidence.” Clint was deflecting but blushed at the praise.
“You’re welcome. Why did you make a cake?”
“You know, it is impressive how you can snark at me and moan, all while scarfing down my cake. Truly, you are a woman of unknown talents. I am glad it passes muster. Now I need to get Steve to taste it and see if I did it right.”
The look she leveled at him let him know that she had a pretty good idea of what was going on, and that she was entirely sick of his shit.
“Fine,” Clint said. He watched Nat pull her phone out of her pocket and started typing, maintaining her glare at him all the while. “It is called a ‘wacky cake’ and it is a depression era recipe. It doesn’t have butter or eggs or milk, but it has vinegar to make it fluffy? Or something? And coffee instead of water to make up for the fact that there isn’t much cocoa powder in it? I just wanted to see if I could pull it off.”
“And you need Steve to taste it to see if your antique cake recipe is authentic?”
“Tash, please. Cut me some slack here.”
“Fine, but only because you’re going to give me one of the cakes. Steve will be here shortly, cut him an actual piece of cake and then make the rest look presentable for me. You are an idiot and I love you.”
“You love me because I am feeding you cake for breakfast,” Clint mumbled, but did as he was told. He dusted what was left of the cake with a little bit of powdered sugar before plating up slices for Steve and himself. Nat could figure herself out.
“Steve is here now, and he wouldn’t mind some cake for-“ Steve had let himself into Clint’s apartment and made it halfway to the kitchen counter before he stopped dead in his tracks, eyes wide and mouth open.
“Uh, Steve,” Clint said, worried. “You OK? I know I am a dumpster fire, but I don’t think my apartment is enough to leave the great Captain America,” he added a little nervous laugh.
Steve shook his head a little and took a deep breath before finishing his walk to the kitchen. “No, no. I’m fine, I was just. I, uh. What is that smell? It, um, is amazing.”
“Clint made a cake and needs to know if it passes muster. Apparently my opinion doesn’t count because I like any sweet that isn’t trying to kill me.”
Clint snorted at that. “Natasha, I have seen you eat poisoned cupcakes. You knew they were poisoned.”
“They were hardly poisoned, and besides, the almond complimented the cherry frosting.” Natasha huffed before picking up Steve’s plate and handing it to him.
Steve just looked from the cake to Natasha to Clint before a small wry smile played across his lips and he took the offered plate. “Knowing you will eat poisoned cake isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.”
Natasha laughed, but Clint shoved his hands in his back pocket to keep himself from twitching. He had no idea why this fucking cake made him so nervous. He was also prone to lying to himself, but that was a separate issue.
“Well, nothing ventured nothing gained, I guess,” Steve said, which seemed odd to Clint, but he had other things to worry about. He just watched as his friend took a bite of the wacky cake of insanity.
Nothing happened for a few seconds, or an eternity, Clint wasn’t sure because it felt like Steve put a forkful of cake in his face and the world stopped. Soon enough, though, Steve swallowed and turned to look at him.
“Clint, this is,” Steve started, but his voice sounded different. He took a deep breath to center himself and continued, “Clint, this is incredible. I am not sure what you think you made, but it tastes just like the crazy cakes Mrs. Barnes would make for very special occasions. I haven’t had anything like this in years, since the last family dinner before Bucky shipped out.”
If Steve swiped at his eyes, no one said a word about it.
“I, uh, thanks? I didn’t know what to get Bucky for Christmas and got the idea for this, well, food from his childhood, after the banana pancake thing at breakfast. Do. Um. Do you think this is ok? That Bucky will like it?”
“Yeah, Clint,” Steve said with a slow smile, “I think he will like it. This is perfect.”