sam_storyteller: (Alternate Universe)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2013-05-09 11:57 am

Avengers: Feed The Body, Nourish The Soul

Title: Feed The Body, Nourish The Soul
Rating: PG (language)
Summary: Steve Rogers just wanted to sell good, nourishing, cheap food from his food truck. Now the crazy fusion chefs from TOBRU are calling him a hipster, the avant garde restaurant "Shield" across the street has declared war on chains, and...well, then there's Thor, who thinks Steve's habit of licking food is weird.
Warnings: None.
Notes: This was inspired by a post on tumblr, so I can't take credit for the idea. I'm not a chef, I've just read a lot of books about food, so my apologies for any inaccuracies. Also I wanted to say, at the outset, that I have nothing against the Food Network, chain restaurants, or seasoned fries. I actually love seasoned fries.

Also available at AO3.

Blackglass has done a lovely podfic of this fic, and Reena Jenkins has also done a wonderful podfic version!

Other stories in the "foodieverse" have been added to the end of this post, and are also available at AO3, linked from the version above.

***

TOBRU and War On Hunger are usually located next to each other. Not always, because War On Hunger is on wheels, but usually. TOBRU is one of the only restaurants in Manhattan that hasn't run the War On Hunger food truck out of its territory, and Steve in his gratitude usually leaves them some chickpea chocolate cake or a plate of locally-made pasta to eat after closing time. Steve's presence in the kitchen, sneaking in to stash food in the fridge, has become a regular occurrence.

The first time Steve fed Tony, Tony looked at him and said "Why are you such a fucking hipster?"

"Beg pardon?" Steve asked. He isn't a hipster. Yes, he owns a food truck and wears suspenders, but that's because he likes food trucks and suspenders.

"Why are you running a food truck? Come work for me. We'll find something for you to do. How did you learn to cook like this?"

"Oh," Steve said sheepishly. "Well. I'm classically trained."

"How classically?"

"Michelin-star classically," Steve said.

"Fuck, you're that Steve Rogers, the freak who quit his star chef job to make bran for the poor."

"I don't make bran," Steve said, somewhat offended. "I make healthy meals for an affordable price."

"Whatever. Come work for me."

"No, thank you, Mr. Stark," Steve said politely.

"Then come park in our parking lot. I can guarantee you a crowd of people who don't eat enough at our restaurant."

"You could serve bigger portions."

"You offend my mission statement. Call me Tony."

Steve smiled. "Whatever you say, Tony."

There was a crash from inside and the sound of someone yelling in French at the top of his lungs.

"That's just Bruce," Tony said dismissively. "He's probably having trouble with the hydrogen canisters again."

"Should I keep my distance?"

"No! He's really nice, you'll like him. Except when he's cooking. You wouldn't like him when he's cooking."

"Duly noted."

"Come again tomorrow, send me your menu, we'll work out something that coordinates. I'll tell people to bring you their stub from TOBRU and you can add ten percent to the price of everything they buy."

Steve watched Tony go with a mixture of amusement and confusion.

"And if I find you cheating with those Shield bastards, I'll beat the Michelin Star out of you!" Tony added over his shoulder as he disappeared into the kitchen.

Steve isn't worried. Shield is nice, but a little creepy. He's heard of places where you eat in the dark, but apparently their head chef, Nick Fury, makes everyone cook in the dark too. That can't be healthy.

Which is not to say that Shield is all bad. Yes, Clint and Natasha (saute chef and butcher respectively) are weirdos, but they're nice weirdos, and they always stop by War On Hunger on their way to work to get a sandwich or a granola bar. And they overpay, so Steve has that much more leeway in handing out snacks to the people who can't pay at all.

"Have you met Thor yet?" Clint asks him, about a week before everything hits the fan.

"No, but I had one of those crunchy crab things," Steve answers. The crunchy crab things at Mjolnir are famous. They have no name, as far as Steve can tell; they're just crunchy and crabby and you get them if you order one of three specific drinks or two specific meals on the menu. Steve didn't know this when he ordered a Swedish-sounding beer there after a really long day in the truck.

Mjolnir is the new brewpub down the block, about whom Tony has ceaselessly whined because Thor is apparently large and friendly and very difficult to hate (Tony will still try, Steve has learned, if only to be perverse; he's jealous he hasn't been able to replicate the crunchy crab things). He's heard that Thor is like the nordic Mario Batali. Mario Batali has apparently not been polled about this, but Thor is not reported to mind.

"Coulson ran over to ask him to stop by Shield sometime and have a bite," Clint continues, chewing on the rhubarb-pie-on-a-stick Steve has invented. It's very popular with bike messengers. "He's like two of Coulson in every direction and he's kind of a hugger."

Steve considers this. Coulson is a small, tidy pastry chef who likes precision and seems overly impressed by how neatly arranged Steve's truck is. Nobody knows much about him except for how once he beat a would-be mugger unconscious with a pie tin. No professional chef has much of a life outside of their work, especially the ones still establishing themselves, but Phil Coulson's off-hours hobby appears to be badassery.

"Did anyone die?" Steve asks carefully.

"No, but it was an interesting moment in my life," Clint continues thoughtfully. "Anyway, you should go introduce yourself, he's interested in that tall fellow in the truck who gives free food to vagrants and students."

"I'll stop by once I close down the truck for the night."

"I'll let Tasha know you have the pie onna stick today," Clint says with a wink, and wanders off towards Shield, where people are already lining up for a shot at a table. In the dark.

Steve shakes his head. He loves cooking, but the line between genius and madness is especially thin when it comes to the restaurant business.

From inside the kitchen of TOBRU, there's an explosion and a puff of smoke. Steve used to worry when this happened.

"IT'S FINE, I HAVE IT UNDER CONTROL," he hears Tony yell. "IT'S JUST THE CHIPOTLE LATKES."

Steve considers that chipotle latkes don't sound half-bad, really. Then he realises there must be more to them than that, if they're exploding.

***

The way things are situated is like this: Mjolnir is on the corner, then there's some boutique shops, then the tiny parking lot for TOBRU which is now taken up with the War On Hunger food truck at least three evenings a week once Steve gets done with his lunch rounds. Then TOBRU, and across from TOBRU is Shield, and there's an empty lot next to Shield.

This area of Manhattan is still, as it were, gentrifying. Bruce gently explains to Steve one day over some leftover mini eggrolls that this is why TOBRU is so popular, because you have to go somewhere kind of excitingly dangerous to get there. But with the arrival of Mjolnir, the third classy joint on one street, Steve knows this will be the up and coming new neighborhood sooner rather than later.

When he pulls the truck up one afternoon, he catches sight of Nick Fury standing on the roof of Shield, looking down into the empty lot next door. The lot itself has been fenced off with chicken wire and opaque plastic. Bruce is standing next to him, looking pensive.

"What's going on?" Steve asks, flipping up the service window on the truck.

"What's going on is I want a damn bowl of your raw milk macaroni and cheese, is this too much to ask?" Tony replies, hefting himself up so that he's propped on the counter, looking Steve in the eye. "I've been waiting for you since three, where were you?"

"Are you always this demanding?" Steve asks.

"Did my manners get TOBRU where it is?" Tony retorts.

"I think we both know the answer to that. I was dishing up soup in the park."

"Why are you so....you?"

"Born this way. Get off my counter unless you know why Bruce is conferring with the weirdos," Steve replies, pointing at where Bruce and Fury are now pitching pebbles down into the lot.

"Did you know Thor has a brother?" Tony asks.

"Mjolnir Thor?"

"No, Thor Johnson who delivers the linens, how many Thors do you think I know? Mjolnir Thor has a brother who's some kind of real estate speculator, he bought the lot on the corner. Bruce is trying to find out if Fury knows what he's doing with it because Loki The Brother Of Mjolnir Thor For God's Sake is trying to steal Clint from Fury."

"Then it is likely," Steve says, in his driest tone, "he's building a restaurant."

"Gee, I see why you got that Michelin star. What kind of restaurant, hipsterface."

"Who cares? You already got two other places on this street and most nights three isn't even enough, or I wouldn't sell out when people can't get a table at Shield or Mjolnir or TOBRU."

"I care! Everyone cares. Haven't you spoken to Thor?"

"Never met the man."

"Ugh." Tony seats himself on Steve's counter, and then yelps when Steve shoves him off and cleans it with an antibiotic wipe.

"People are served food here," Steve scolds.

"Gimme my macaroni then."

"It's illegal to serve raw milk foodstuffs," Steve informs him, passing over a small tinfoil tray of what is definitely not his special secret raw-milk macaroni and cheese that he only serves to regulars who don't pay for it but tip him extraordinarily well.

"You're a decent man," Tony replies, yanking off the cardboard top and digging in. "As I was saying, apparently Thor and Loki trained in their dad's kitchen, some little back-of-nowhere diner called Asgard Grill. Loki got Thor kicked out, then got kicked out himself and went into real estate. That's why Thor's here being a pain in my ass with his bold whatthefuckever nordic fusion stuff. I've never seen so much cured fish in one place."

"I like gravlax."

"You would. Anyway, I'm telling you, that little fucker's up to no good."

"Well, we'll see," Steve says complacently. After all, it's not like he can't drive away if he wants to.

He really doesn't want to, though.

"Tony!" a voice yells, and Steve waves at Pepper, his maitre'd, who is brandishing a menu like she's fully prepared to beat Tony with it. "Get your ass and Bruce back in here, we should have started up the grill ten minutes ago."

"Exothermic chemistry!" Tony yells back. "We're cooking at the table tonight! Actually we're making other people cook at the table," he adds to Steve. Steve has the vague sense that Tony is sometimes trying to impress him, which is baffling. "You serve the meat and two chemicals and the patron mixes the chemicals together over the meat and boom. If nobody sets their tie on fire by the end of the night I'll be very surprised."

"Fire is nothing to play with."

"Whatever, all the waiters are standing by with fire extinguishers."

Steve rubs his face. "Go, make your powdered cake and glow-in-the-dark mushrooms and stuff. If anyone wants a slider cooked on a real grill with no chemical additives you know where to send them."

***

The building, whatever it will be, goes up fast. Steve watches its progress for weeks, while Fury gets crankier and Tony becomes increasingly nervous. As much as he enjoys his evenings outside TOBRU, he's seriously considering the fact that if the tension keeps up, he may have to move. He had enough stress in his last job.

He's considering it on a Monday morning, which is the start of his weekend proper, at least in the summer. The real weekend, people are out in the park or walking around shopping and they want good food cheap from his truck, so he usually takes Monday off since everyone's broke on Monday anyway or something. Steve has learned the rhythms of how people buy food on the street, but he doesn't claim to understand them.

Monday morning he gives War On Hunger an extra-good scrubdown on the inside and then on the outside, soaping and polishing the bright blue truck until it gleams, paying extra attention to the big white stars on the sides and back. He might not be a gourmet chef at a high-tone restaurant anymore, but he will always be proud of the fact that he earned his first (probably his only) Michelin star before turning thirty. Erskine, his first chef, trained him well, and he still misses him.

Enough of that; he has to get the truck clean, and he's just finishing hosing off the tires and drying the windshield when someone says, "It's a crying shame, watching a chef like you do that."

He turns, startled, to see Nick Fury standing there watching him work. Most chefs wear white in the kitchen; Fury wears black, just to make it harder to see him in the dark, Steve supposes.

"I enjoy it," he replies.

"We have a problem," Fury announces.

"Yeah, you're watchin' me work," Steve says. "Slightly creepy, chef."

"Get past it," Fury advises him. "Come to Shield after closing tonight. We're having a summit meeting about this Loki character."

"You too, huh?"

"Not all of us cook on wheels. But you're there often enough this is your issue too."

Steve studies him. "How'd you find me?"

"Stark stalked you."

"Figures."

"Be there tonight."

"Why?"

Fury gives him an eyeballing, which is interesting given he only has one eye. Steve's heard rumors about how he lost the other one; his favorite is that someone hit him in the face with a geoduck.

"Thor's making the crab things," he says.

"I will be there," Steve replies.

***

When Steve was fifteen, he had a fight with his best friend Bucky about food. Steve was still weedy and almost underfed, and Bucky was yelling at him to eat his salad for Christ's sake, and Steve retorted that he didn't like the taste of the lettuce.

"It's iceberg lettuce!" Bucky said. "It has no taste!"

"It does to me," Steve replied sullenly, and a hand fell on his shoulder, and he looked up into what seemed like miles and miles of starched white chef's coat.

"Come with me," Chef Erskine said.

Erskine was the one who worked out that Steve was a supertaster, and the reason he'd lived on bread and potatoes and cheese for years was that he couldn't tolerate a lot of other food, at least at first. Erskine recruited him as a line cook and began teaching him to ignore whether the food was pleasurable to him and instead concentrate on the complexities of the flavor, the way texture and temperature played a role. In six months with Chef Erskine, Steve shot up six inches and put on twenty badly-needed pounds and started eating things like broccoli and cinnamon and lamb. In another six months he was sent to France to study under the masters there, and he never really looked back until he found himself standing in the kitchen of his $200-a-plate restaurant on the Upper East Side, talking to Sandra Lee, who was pitching him for a Food Network show. And he realized that he'd come full circle. He hated food again.

So he quit, and now he runs a food truck with healthy, delicious, simple local fare that helps to fund his habit of giving away sandwiches to people who don't have five bucks to buy one. And he's happy, mostly.

But he will never not be a supertaster, so he tends to treat food differently from other people.

When he walks into the dining room at Shield, he can't help but notice how eerie it is to see it lit up, even if the lights are dim fluorescents. The walls and floor are painted black, with little bits of glow-tape stuck here and there, and there's no decoration; even the chairs are sleek, ergonomic, and ugly, because nobody's going to see them.

Laid out on a central table are a platter of the crispy crab things (which Steve genuinely does like because they're mostly crab and texture) and a basket of green cookies, which he's seen sometimes at TOBRU but never eaten. There's also a large plate of grey objects, presumably Shield leftovers. He's glad he brought a tupperware tub of homemade cheddar crackers to add to the feast.

So he sets down the crackers and picks up a crab thing, inhales the smell and licks the outside and then eats it in very small, tidy bites, occasionally licking again to test the flavor. And he's just reaching for a glass to fill with water (wine tastes like nothing but vinegary alcohol to him, always has) when a giant man looms out of nowhere and demands, "Why did you do that?"

"Mary mother of Christ," Steve manages, startling backwards. "Don't surprise a fellow when he's swallowing!"

"Sorry!" the man replies, looking aghast. "I didn't mean to startle you!"

"It's fine," Steve says, calming down. "You must be Thor," he adds, because he's giant and blond.

"I am indeed. I own Mjolnir. And you are Steve Rogers," Thor replies, offering his hand. Steve shakes it, intrigued by how gentle his grip is. "The man who runs the food truck."

"That's right. War On Hunger," Steve says.

"My staff like your coffee."

"Well, tell 'em thanks," Steve replies. "Everyone likes these things," he adds, picking up another crab thing just as Clint arrives and steals the plate. Natasha is right behind him; she takes one of Steve's crackers and nibbles on it, settling in next to Clint. Steve gives them an awkward wave.

"They are a tradition of my people," Thor intones.

"At...Mjolnir?" Steve asks.

"I brought the recipe from Asgard, my father's place."

"The one he never shuts up about," Tony adds, entering the room. Bruce is behind him, Fury and Coulson trailing them; Tony and Bruce beeline for the open bottle of wine, while Fury takes up a position where he can see everyone. Coulson slaps Clint in the back of the head, relocating the crab things back to the table before giving Steve an awkward smile and taking some of his crackers.

"I still would like to know," Thor continues, "Why you licked the food before eating it."

"It's just a thing I do," Steve replies, a little defiant.

"Well, I'm so glad we got that out of the way," Fury says, crossing his arms. "Now, I got bad news and I got stupid news. Which do you want first?"

"Is there such a thing as objectively stupid news?" Bruce asks.

"There is when it's this stupid," Fury replies.

"Then bad news first, I need a buzz before I deal with any more stupid tonight," Tony answers, settling in at the table. Steve hastily, belatedly, takes a seat. In a kitchen or a market or a truck he's fine; put him with a crowd of his peers at a social event and he's never quite sure what to do. He's so much happier when there's a metal wall between him and the rest of the world.

Everyone is watching him now, waiting for him to lick something else. He picks up a cookie and carefully does not lick it before biting into it. It tastes faintly of rosemary.

And pop rocks, he discovers, as one of them explodes in his mouth. He shoots a betrayed look at Bruce, who is hiding his amusement by sipping some wine.

"We've managed to determine what Loki is building next to Shield," Fury says, giving Steve a scowl. "It's a chain."

Steve frowns, putting the perilous cookie to one side. "What kind?" he asks. "Chain" can mean anything from a McDonalds to the second branch of a high-class downtown establishment.

"Chili's," Fury announces.

The reactions are immediate and diverse. Tony and Bruce groan dramatically. Thor and Clint look guilty, though Steve suspects for different reasons. Natasha maintains her poker face. Coulson looks like he's trying to mask his disgust.

"Well, that's not so bad," Steve reasons. "I mean, it isn't great food, but it's decent and edible for a good price."

"It's a Chili's," Tony says.

"Don't be a snob," Steve answers.

"Don't give me that, I've heard you talk about how chain restaurants are destroying the planet," Tony retorts. Bruce is growing more livid by the second, Steve can see. "We've all read The Omnivore's Dilemma, Steve, and everyone knows your thoughts on corn-fed beef."

"Was it Chili's or Applebee's that served a Kahlua mudslide to a three-year-old?" Natasha wonders aloud.

Steve is torn between not wanting to appear like an upper-class elitist asshole, the way Tony and Bruce look right now, and not wanting a damn Chili's to move in next to Shield. A little voice inside him is willing to admit, however reluctantly, that he understands their dismay. A place like that will lower the tone.

"We haven't gotten to the stupid yet," Nick reminds them.

"Oh my god," Tony groans.

"He's convinced the zoning commission that the....new restaurant," Fury says, as if he can't bring himself to say Chili's again, "will draw middle-class dollars and middle-class attention to the area. He's been quietly making offers to our landlords."

This is more serious than a chain restaurant. Steve can see Bruce and Tony exchange a glance.

"It's possible at this time next year there may be an open-air shopping center where we are now sitting," Fury says.

"Open air shopping center," Steve repeats.

"He means a strip mall," Natasha says, startling everyone. "A gentrified strip mall."

The horrified silence that follows is complete.

"How did you find all this out?" Tony asks, giving Fury a suspicious look. Fury looks to Clint, who looks at the floor.

"Loki's offered me head chef," he says softly.

"Of, and I can't stress this enough, a Chili's," Tony remarks. "A Chili's, Clint."

"You're not seriously considering it, are you?" Steve hears himself ask.

"See? Even Steve Of The People agrees with me," Tony points at Steve.

"Steve's a hipster, of course he thinks chain restaurants are evil," Clint retorts.

"I'm not a hipster!" Steve protests. Again.

He's not. Liking fedoras isn't a crime.

"Of course he isn't taking the job," Natasha says, and Steve watches with interest as a silent communication passes between the two. He can tell Clint was considering it up until this moment. Natasha saying it just so, like it was already decided -- well, Steve would have put up his hackles and protested, but Clint accepts it calmly. Maybe he just needed someone to tell him before he'd really believe he didn't have to take the job.

Steve can see now why they work in the dark. They don't need to see each other anymore. They just know.

"I have a plan, if anyone's interested in doing something other than slagging on baby back ribs and seasoned fries," Fury drawls.

"Crime against potatoes," Bruce mutters.

"A cookoff," Fury says. Natasha tilts her head. Tony looks perplexed. Thor, who has been quiet this whole time, grunts thoughtfully. "Retail development is expensive and risky. If we prove we're a better investment, we can swing this our way. Easiest way to prove that is a very public, very visible cookoff with whatever ringer Loki wants to bring in."

"A cookoff. Like Iron Chef," Tony says. He was on Iron Chef once, Steve recalls. He beat Morimoto, which is not easy to do.

"More flair. More publicity. Local attention," Fury says. "We plaster Manhattan with the challenge. Shield, TOBRU, and Mjolnir against Loki's team. Winner gets the street. Loser moves on."

"Could work," Bruce says.

"I like it," Thor adds, baring his teeth.

"We're in," Clint murmurs. Coulson nods once, curtly.

"Look, no offense," Steve says, because he can't hold it in any longer, "but you guys are sort of...avant garde."

Everyone looks at him.

"It's good food," he hastens to add. "But you know, it's...weird. If you want to win a cookoff, you have to serve food people want to eat without being too weird about it. Like, you can't set up a booth with blackout curtains and make people eat in it."

"Excuse you?" Fury asks.

"And you can't make, I don't know, floating mashed potatoes," Steve continues, determined. "Or base what you feed people on what beer they want. If we're going to do a cookoff, all together, we have to do it right. On the street. Grills and hot plates. I know this because I did the fancy no-prices-on-the-menus thing and people like me a lot more when I just give them a sandwich and a smile."

"We?" Tony asks.

"It's my street too," Steve says. "I park there."

"So, what, you want to be team captain?" Fury asks.

"I'm the best qualified for the job," Steve shoots back. "Show of hands, who here has ever actually worked a street food fair or participated in a cookoff that wasn't sponsored by Food Network?"

He puts up his hand. So does Natasha. Everyone else looks mildly sheepish.

"You want to run this?" he asks Natasha.

"Jesus, no," she says. "I think it's all going to end in tears."

"Then why....?" Bruce looks at her. She shrugs.

"Seems like it'll be fun in the meantime," she replies.

"Well, all right, Captain," Fury drawls. "You got a battle plan?"

***

Steve formulates one.

Their second meeting at Shield sees Thor bringing juniper-basted venison kebabs.

"Go ahead," he says, crossing his arms and grinning. "Lick one."

Bruce and Tony have brought slices of rice-flour bread which steam when you dip them in oil. Steve has fried cheese curds. He is, admittedly, gratified by how many of them everyone eats.

He puts Bruce on crowd control, mainly because Bruce is terrifying when he cooks and they only want to scare people into eating, not while they're eating. Bruce considers this, then nods.

"I'll do prep too," he says.

"Then you'll be working with Natasha. You're on the grill," he adds to her. "Get Bruce to do the weird grilled fruits and stuff."

"I'm all right with that," she agrees.

"Tony, you're on sides. Nothing that flies or explodes and limit the amount of gratuitous chemicals you use."

Tony sulks.

"You can shatter things if you want," Steve adds graciously.

"I do like shattering things."

"Coulson, dessert."

Coulson nods, but looks pleased.

"Fury, menu," Steve says. "You've got a good patter. Sell people on this."

"And you're head chef?" Fury asks, the others looking expectant.

"No," Steve says. "Clint is. He's got the best eye."

Everyone looks startled, nobody more so than Clint.

"You're either all in or all out," Steve tells him. Clint rubs his face.

"In," he agrees.

"Good man. I'll be roundsman, and cover pantry. Thor's on beverages. We want your local brews only and maybe one or two cocktails."

"I have heard from my brother," Thor says, "that his chefs will be magnificent. Should we be concerned?"

"No," Steve says. "We're going to avenge our honor here. Desperation gives us an edge."

"How magnificent are we talking?" Tony asks.

"Bobby Flay," Thor replies.

Tony dissolves into laughter. So do Clint and Natasha. Bruce and Fury look more worried. Flay might be kind of a dick and more than kind of a hack, but Steve's with them -- he also knows how to make food people really want to eat.

"Jesus, was Emeril Lagasse busy?" Tony bursts out.

Steve sighs.

***

It takes a while, of course, to pull together a foodie event, even one as simple as a cookoff. They have to get all kinds of permits. And Loki starts slinking around or sending one of his millions of more-or-less identical waitstaff to spy on them, which puts Bruce in a positive state.

Steve's network of bicycle messenger customers, however, are avid publicists. They take flyers to every office building in Manhattan and probably to every rave, so there should be a good turnout and a nice mix of people. Some of the food trucks who caravan with Steve promise to show up outside the cookoff, in solidarity and because they know some people will wander over to buy their wares as well.

And finally the day has come. The tables and cookware are set up outside, the barriers blocking traffic from the street are in place (Bruce takes his job on crowd control seriously), the food and beer tickets are laid out, and Bobby Flay has rolled up with a camera crew.

"Son of a bitch," Tony says, sounding almost admiring. "Look at the cojones on this one."

Steve, who feels naked without his truck and exposed in the blue chef's uniform he hasn't worn in two years, nods. "We'll beat him, though."

"You sure about that?"

"Well, if we don't, I'll buy you dinner at Chili's," Steve says, patting his shoulder.

"I hate you so much," Tony replies.

Flay bobs his way across the street, from Loki's cook-tables to theirs, and offers his hand. Tony looks at him.

"Do you seriously think I'm doing that?" he asks.

"Hey man, I'm just making a tv show," Flay answers. Steve gently nudges Tony out of the way and shakes Flay's hand, because after all, he's a gentleman.

"May the best chef win," Steve says, squeezing hard.

"Sure thing," Flay replies, and walks away, covertly rubbing his hand.

"You think he knows Paula Deen?" Steve asks, just to annoy Tony. "Hey, where's Bruce, anyway?"

Tony flaps a hand. "He'll be here."

"Where is he now?"

"I don't know, but he'll be here, trust me."

"Well, I'm taking his station until he is," Steve declares, stepping up next to Natasha, who is doing something obscene with a ceramic knife in one hand and a chicken in the other.

"Tony sure has a hate-on for anything normal people might like, huh?" Steve asks.

Natasha looks up at him, a faint smile on her face. She's still working on the chicken.

"Do you know what Tony did before TOBRU?" she asks.

"No, I thought that was part of his mystique."

"Hardly. He was head chef at the test kitchen for Big Star Pizza."

"The delivery chain?" Steve asks, stunned.

"His father owned it. Tony was expected to take over the business. He studied chemistry at MIT, but he'd already been training under his father in the kitchen, before he died. Eventually he realized he didn't like the business; he didn't like the way they treated their employees, the fact that the food had little nutritional value. He signed the company over to his father's partner, and with the buyout money, he founded TOBRU. So yes," she says, spatchcocking the chicken with a loud crack, "he has some issues with chain restaurants."

"I didn't know."

"When I came to this country, I had nothing," she continues, taking another chicken out of the cooler where five or six are awaiting the knife. "I had no diploma, I had no Cordon Bleu, I had no formal training. I knew how to cook, but that was all. Clint and Coulson found me catering weddings without a license. They took a chance on me. Clint says he saw himself in me, back when he was cook for a traveling circus. Why do you cook?" she asks, seemingly out of nowhere.

"I..." Steve bites his lip. "I hated food because I didn't understand it. Once I did, I didn't see how I could do anything else."

She sets down the knife, turning to him.

"We all believe food should nourish the soul, not just the body," she says. "I don't have any grudge against the chains. Sometimes a hot meal you didn't have to cook, that's all you need to feed the soul. That's fine. But I don't believe food should be an excuse for some land developer to line his pocketbook."

Steve nods. "Let's get those chickens on the grill."

"As you say, Captain," she answers with a grin. "You learn how to baste in that fancy restaurant you used to have?"

"I do all right," he replies.

***

Once the public is allowed past the barriers, once the cameras are rolling on Bobby Flay, there isn't much time to think. Steve plates food madly, grilled chicken and sous-vide ribs, Tony's "spherified" french fries with Clint's special Arrow Dipping Sauce ("shoots your tastebuds in the face!"). Thor is passing out shots of his beer like this might be his only chance ever to do so, and madly frying as many crispy crab things as will fry in a ten-gallon vat of oil at once.

Bruce shows up five minutes late and elbows Steve out of the way with a curse, while yelling at Tony that his lemon-infused foam is not foamy enough and demanding to know where Clint got these ribs, were they from starving horses?

Steve is grateful it's mostly in French.

Across the street, Loki's team of ringers and his celebrity chef are luring people in with good old-fashioned hamburgers, fried chicken strips, monte cristo sandwiches and endless seasoned fries.

"You have to admit," Steve says, hipchecking Tony out of the way so he can put some real muscle into the foaming canister that Bruce keeps complaining loudly about in French, "they know comfort food. And by the way, this looks really creepy. I thought we talked about no creepy food."

"But it tastes amazing," Tony replies.

"We're going to get slaughtered if nobody wants to try it."

Tony, who has been watching the crowds just as hard as Steve has, clearly knows this is true.

"Okay," he says. "Cover me. I'm going kamikaze."

"You're going wh -- Tony what are you -- "

Tony ducks under the table, pops up on the other side, grabs all the chicken he can lay his hands on, and hefts the foaming canister under one arm.

"Be back in a minute," he says, and dives into the crowd.

All action at their side of the street stops as they watch Tony wend his way through the crowd. He's brandishing the canister like a weapon, yelling lemon chicken like it's a battle cry. But even as Steve peers through his fingers at the undoubted humiliation Tony is about to suffer, the crowd starts to turn. People accept food from Tony because it's nearly impossible not to accept food from Tony, and after a second Clint dives for the perfectly spherical "fries" and grabs a jar of Arrow sauce, following him.

"The job is to convince people we're worth more," Bruce says, laying a hand on Steve's arm when he starts to move to stop them, because this isn't strictly fair. "The job is to make sure they know we're here for the long run, we'll bring in just as many people as a mall would. Not all chefs are salesmen." He nods at Tony. "He is. Let him work."

"They're going to say we cheated."

"What do you think marketing is?" Bruce asks, grinning at him. Fury is out there now too, without food but with menus and business cards, resplendent in his all-black chef's uniform.

Steve is watching the judges of this cook-off -- their landlords, the head of the zoning commission, a couple of food critic bloggers -- and they see what he sees as soon as it happens.

The crowd turns. It's like a dinner rush, when suddenly everyone seems to decide they want a meal at the same time. Clint is lobbing fries into peoples' mouths and Tony is serving up foam-laden chicken to the judges and everyone wants their food.

"We're going to win," he says.

"Course we are," Natasha replies, shoving him out of the way. "Get me some more goddamn chickens, stop standing there like a head waiter."

***

Later -- after the foodies and hipsters and bike messengers and critics have all departed, after they've broken down the tables and cookware and packed everything away, Tony sits down on the bumper of War On Hunger, wipes the sweat off his face with a dishtowel, and says, "Is that shawarma van still around?"

"I anticipated this," Thor answers, appearing from nowhere with his arms full of food sacks. "Come and eat."

They settle around the back of the van, sitting on the bumper or on fruit crates pulled up to it, eating in hungry silence. Fury is off somewhere doing B-roll for the television show, crowing about their win, no doubt. Thor seems subdued, but not as subdued as Loki, who left when the zoning board told him they were reconsidering his restaurant license.

Bruce looks like he's about to fall asleep. Being angry in French really takes it out of you, Steve supposes.

"Where'd you get this?" Tony asks, tapping the brim of Steve's new hat. It's a newsboy cap in blue suede, and Steve thinks it makes him look dapper.

"One of the foodies gave it to me as a prize," he says proudly.

"You are such a hipster," Tony informs him. "How are you even real?"

Steve delicately picks the cucumbers and tomatoes out of his shawarma and offers them to Tony. "Just lucky, I guess."

"Are you certain you don't want to give up the truck?" Thor asks, passing Natasha a beer. "Mjolnir always has an opening for imaginative cooks."

"TOBRU has dibs," Bruce insists.

"Shield threw this all together, we should get first refusal," Natasha adds.

"I like my truck," Steve says stubbornly. "It's hybrid, you know. It runs on electricity and biodiesel."

Tony goes off into uncontrollable laughter.

***

After the television episode with the cookoff airs, things get a little crazy. TOBRU is now the hottest place in town to eat, and Mjolnir's policy of not taking reservations means that most nights the line is out the door for smoked herring and crispy crab things and something called "Deconstructed Smörgåstårta" which thrills and horrifies Steve in equal parts. Shield, which does take reservations, is booked six months out and has expanded into the unoccupied former Chili's next door.

Steve is happy for his friends, honestly, but he's a little dismayed. Because they all got good press on the food blogs and in the tv show, but he doesn't take reservations and he doesn't even have tables.

It's good for business; War On Hunger is mobbed wherever it goes, and sometimes cars follow him down the street just to see where he'll park. He's expanded his unofficial soup-kitchen activities to include a program where people can buy sandwiches for the hungry when they buy sandwiches for themselves. There's a food pantry that wants to partner with him.

The problem is that some denizen of the internet somewhere nicknamed him the Hot Foodie, and the name stuck, and now he's some kind of terrible food truck sex symbol. A network wanted to do a reality show about his life as Manhattan's Most Attractive Hipster or something, and when he said no, some actual hipsters got wind of it and made an unofficial one using their camera phones and put it on YouTube. It's mortifying.

But sometimes he stays in the TOBRU lot until closing, and Thor comes down the street with a couple of growlers of beer, and the Shield crew bring over a big cobb salad and a glazed strawberry tart, and they all crowd into the TOBRU dining room where Tony and Bruce set ice cream on fire for their amusement while they eat the sliders left over from War On Hunger's business day.

And Steve wouldn't trade this life for anything.




Title: The Hot Hipster Chef Documentary
Rating: PG
Summary: Someone made a documentary about Steve without his permission. Or Tony's.

When the War On Hunger food truck pulled into the TOBRU parking lot on a quiet Thursday night, after a very noisy rest-of-his-Thursday, Steve heaved a sigh of relief. Thursday night diners at TOBRU tended to be rich, elderly couples who would want a snack after leaving the restaurant and would be good customers. Maybe not big tippers, but polite patrons, which Steve could use after today.

He loved his job, and he liked people on the whole, but sometimes he encountered what he wouldn’t call the best of humanity. Catcalling jerks Steve had to chase off from the benches in the public park, rude, entitled businessmen trying to edge bike messengers out of the sandwich line, and the odd pigeon-kicker. Today he’d had the hat-trick of all three, so settling in for a low-maintenance evening outside TOBRU, maybe ending in a late dinner and a beer with Tony and Bruce, was just what he wanted.

Then Tony came running out of the TOBRU kitchen like he was on fire (this had happened, though only briefly and usually it was his own fault) and began banging on the closed service hatch. Steve startled out of his seat and fell to the floor of the truck, half-crawling between the chiller and cold-service on one side and the stove and warming boxes on the other. He opened the back door and slithered out, confronted by a breathless Tony and now also a disheveled-looking Bruce.



“Steve!” Tony said, and he looked…really upset.

“What?” Steve asked. “What’s going on, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“We just saw the video,” Bruce said.

“The video?” Steve asked.

There was a long pause.

“The video. About you. That went viral. Which I texted you about when I should have been prepping the tuna steaks,” Tony said. Bruce cuffed the back of his head. “They’re done! They’re done, I swear, I had the new kid do them.”

“I turned my phone off,” Steve admitted. “The battery was low this morning, so I just tweeted where I was gonna be and switched it off.”

“So you…have not been on the internet,” Tony said.

“No.”

“And nobody told you about the video?” Bruce asked.

“What video?” Steve roared, exasperated.

Tony held out his phone. “I swear, we didn’t know they were recording. I have access to lawyers, we could sue. You say the word, you can have your pick of brutal, flesh-eating fiftysomething litigation attorneys. A lot of them eat here.”

Steve barely heard him over the video, which was a very well-edited, reasonably interesting, nicely shot documentary.

About Steve Rogers, the chef, owner, and cashier of the War On Hunger food truck in Manhattan.

The title card read WAR ON HUNGER: QUEST FOR THE HOT HIPSTER CHEF.

***

After the cookout and Loki Odinson’s defeat at the hands of a plucky team of independent restauranteurs, Steve got a lot of local attention. Good Morning America asked him to come on, but he thought it would be better if he just did a quick segment from his truck. Someone from one of the networks, it was never quite clear who or which network, wanted to do a reality show about him; Steve politely declined. Street fairs started contacting him to see if he was coming, instead of waiting for him to find them. That was actually very helpful.

But he’d definitely said no to most of the media coverage, and the reality shows in particular; he’d left formal work in a fixed kitchen because he was feeling too commodified.

He would have remembered participating in a youtube documentary made by an aspiring indy filmmaker.

The opening of the movie was just a bunch of people saying “The hot hipster chef.” "Oh, the hot hipster chef?“ "War On Hunger, sure, with the hot hipster chef.” “Hey, he’s the hot hipster chef!”

“It’s an ongoing theme in the work,” Bruce said, as Steve watched the little video on Tony’s phone in dire horror. “That you are hot, a hipster, and a chef.”

“I really need you to understand we didn’t know we were being filmed,” Tony said, just as the video flashed Tony’s face on the screen, and little-phone-screen Tony said “Yeah, they call him the hot hipster chef. He hates that.”

“It’s okay, Tony, that’s not even in my top ten reasons this annoys me,” Steve said, handing him the phone back before the seventy minute (seventy minutes!) documentary really got rolling. Tony silenced it and Steve slumped onto the back step of his truck, rubbing his head.

“It explains why I had a big lunch crowd today, I guess,” he said finally.

“You should maybe watch it all – ” Bruce began, and Tony jammed an elbow into his ribs. Bruce growled something in French, and Tony edged away slowly. Steve gave them a dry smile.

“This thing is blowing up, though,” Tony said, casting a nervous look at Bruce. “You’re going to be the next 24 hours of the news cycle. You should beef up your website’s servers.”

“I just used SquareSpace,” Steve said.

“Hipster,” Tony snorted. “Charge your phone in my office if you want, you need to be spinning this tonight. Even if you don’t want any publicity, this could do a lot for your free sandwiches program and anyway you need to manage what’s already happened. whether or not you want to harness its awesome power for your own.”

“What do I say?” Steve asked haplessly.

Tony and Bruce exchanged glances.

***

War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * June 15
I’ve been selling sandwiches and disdaining mainstream culture all day so I haven’t seen @hothipsterchefquest ’s work yet.



War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * June 15
I will internet-rate it in fresh, organic tomatoes when I do.



War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * June 15
But if you think I’m hot, you should try my sweet chili chicken wings.



***

“Tony, I told you not to touch my phone,” Steve said, staring down in horror at the activity on his twitter profile. None of which he’d set up himself.

“I did you a favor. Chicken wings are super cheap right now, you can pick up like a hundred pounds of them tonight and fry as you go tomorrow.”

“That’s not what this is about and you know it!”

Tony, tucking into the last of the kitchen leftovers at the little back table at TOBRU, shrugged unrepentantly. “If you really didn’t want me tweeting you shouldn’t have made your password ‘ihatetwitter’.”

Steve stared at him, open-mouthed.

“It is a terrible, drastically overrated platform, I agree,” Tony continued, as Thor poured Steve another beer. “But we work with the world as it is, not as we wish it would be.”

There was a beep, and Steve looked down at his phone.

***

War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * June 15
And announcing my Documentary Special tomorrow: if you DON’T tell me you think I’m hot, you get a free chicken wing!



***

“How are you doing this?” Steve demanded.

“I set up staggered posts on your Hootsuite.”

“That isn’t such a bad idea,” Thor pointed out, reading the newest post over his shoulder. “Should save you a lot of grief. If not a lot of chicken wings.”

“Just give them the duds and the tiny ones. Everyone’ll want to buy a drink and tip you anyway,” Tony said.

“You are overinvested in my success,” Steve told him.

“Considering if you went bankrupt I’d probably get you as a sous-chef on the cheap, you’re damn right I’m overinvested. I’m just a giving person,” Tony said. “Seriously, though, you should take one of our staff with you tomorrow. You’re gonna be mobbed, you can’t handle that level of service alone.”

“He could take the new guy, Peter,” Bruce suggested.

“No, Parker needs to learn how to kick the pasta station just right to make the burners go on,” Tony said. He beamed at Steve. “I’ll come with you.”

Steve downed the rest of his beer and shot Thor a grateful look as he refilled his glass.

“Sure,” he said wildly, because he was about to be a media darling again, and Tony had just volunteered to spend the whole day in his food truck with him, and he had the odd feeling that this might be a dream. “Ride along tomorrow, why not.”

“See?” Tony said. “Was that so difficult? This’ll be great.”

***

War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * June 16
On our way to early lunch service outside Central Park Zoo. Special guest star in the truck today.



War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * June 16
Everyone say hi to Tony Stark of TOBRU, playing prep chef for War On Hunger today!



War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * June 16
The “free wingmobile” is on its way to late lunch at NYU. SE corner of Washington Square Park.



War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * June 16
Steve IS signing autographs, is NOT signing body parts! (He’s shy!)



War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * June 16
Heard there was a guerilla evening screening of the documentary. If you can find the screening you’ll find us!



***

Steve hadn’t planned to actually watch the screening that a couple of ingenious tech-heads had set up illegally in the corner of some tiny park in Soho. He was just going to park the truck, open the hatch, and sell the last of the chicken wings, along with some rosemary-parmesan popcorn, to hungry passers-by. But once the film started playing, business died off sharply, and he found himself sitting on the back of the truck, Tony munching on popcorn next to him, watching himself on film.

It was a cleverly shot documentary. They’d even interviewed him without him noticing them filming. He’d just thought they were two particularly chatty bike messengers with a GoPro.

And they did pretty well by him. They talked about his focus on cheap, healthy food and providing free food to people who needed it; they talked about his truck, which was nice, nobody ever talked about how much work went into maintaining a full kitchen inside a truck. And they talked about Tobru and SHIELD and Mjolnir, so that his friends all got some publicity too.

Tony was distracted by his phone, probably cracking more of Steve’s password to make him some kind of Tumblr star or something, when Tony’s face appeared on the screen. Steve sat up, watching as the interviewers approached Tony while he was taking a break in the TOBRU alley. In the background of the film he could see himself slipping a stack of soup containers to one of the homeless kids who normally hung out a few blocks from Mjolnir.

Steve had to admit the people who’d made the sneak documentary were really good at getting people to talk – not that Tony ever needed much encouragement.

“No, we like having him here,” Tony said, on the screen. Tony next to him hadn’t yet looked up from his phone.

“Not hard on the eyes,” one of the casual-interviewers said.

“It’s a beautiful truck. I mean it’s no sports car but he keeps it clean and for a biodiesel hybrid it runs like a dream,” Tony said. Steve covered his mouth with one hand, grinning.

“A lot of people think the guy who drives it runs like a dream too,” the other said.

Tony on the screen laughed. “Yeah? Good for him. I mean that part I thought everyone knew, what do they call him? The hot hipster chef.”

“DO they?”

“Yeah, they call him the hot hipster chef. He hates that.”

“Why?”

“He claims he can’t be a hipster, he doesn’t like things ironically.”

“Does he?”

“As far as I can tell, everything Steve likes, he likes in earnest,” Tony said, and his face turned fond. “It’s endearing. You don’t meet many people so genuine in their passions. If Steve loves something he loves it full-on. And if he doesn’t like something, God help anyone who gets in his way. He is frustratingly idealistic. It can make you very crazy.”

Steve glanced at Tony, who looked up at him finally. “What? What’s – ”

Steve pointed at the screen, where one of the interviewers asked, “So you know him pretty well, huh?”

“I think so.”

“Are you guys like, together?”

Tony, next to him, stiffened.

“What are you, People Magazine?” the Tony on screen asked, amused. “Nah. I mean, I’m married to the kitchen, and he’s the hot hipster chef, he’s probably getting tons of ass. Not in the truck,” on-screen Tony added thoughtfully. “That’s probably illegal. Definitely unhygienic. But I assume he doesn’t live in it. He smells too good to be someone who lives in their food truck.”

Tony, next to him, spasmed.

“I forgot that part was in it,” he whispered to Steve.

“Do you think I smell good?” Steve whispered back.

“Are you telling me you don’t even smell that good on purpose?” Tony hissed.

“Did you just admit you like how I smell in a viral video on the internet?” Steve demanded.

“It seemed less incriminating when I was watching it alone on my phone!”

“Do you – do you really think I’m sexy?”

“Steve. Everyone who thinks of men as sexual creatures thinks you’re sexy. I speak for the masses,” Tony replied. “In a totally objective way and definitely not related to my desire to savage you sexually somewhere that wouldn’t cause any health violations.”

“Savage me?” Steve asked, torn between awe and terror.

“Teeth and fingernails would almost definitely get involved. I mean as long as you’d be into that,” Tony said carefully. “I can…be…gentle.”

Steve watched as Tony got the “well that was inappropriate, what I just said” face. He liked that face; it was one of those things that proved Tony was human and not some kind of culinary science machine fueled by coffee and ego.

“Are you going to be pissed if I pull a PR error and leave this movie right now?” Steve asked.

Tony nodded, standing. “You wanna blow, I’ll make your excuses – ”

“…with you, Tony, I want to ditch the movie with you, because you are absolutely right, making out in the truck isn’t hygienic,” Steve said.

Tony froze, eyes wide and dark. “So…”

“Yeah, Tony.”

“All the time we spent in the truck together today, like, bumping into each other and shoving each other out of the way and stuff – ”

“It was really fun and I like touching you,” Steve blurted.

“ – I could have been grabbing your ass that whole time?”

Steve covered his face with one hand. “Yes, Tony, that is also true.”

“I will make you breakfast. You’ve never had one of my breakfasts,” Tony said, climbing past him into the truck, deftly locking down most of the cabinets. He handed the last few bags of popcorn to Steve, who carried them over to the staff who were running the projector, and by the time Steve was back, the truck’s service hatch was closed, the back door was locked, and Tony was in the passenger’s seat.

“As I was saying, my breakfasts are amazing,” Tony said, and Steve leaned across the gearshift and kissed him.

“Would you like to come home with me?” he asked.

“So, so much,” Tony said fervently.

“Okay, well, the rules are, you do have to make me breakfast, and you aren’t allowed to laugh at my vintage poster collection or my vinyl,” Steve said, firing up the van and pulling out into traffic.

“Your vinyl what?” Tony asked. Steve blinked at him.

“Records. Vinyl records,” Steve said, and Tony laughed so hard Steve almost ran a red light trying to get him to control himself.




Title: Pairing
Rating: PG
Summary: Steve is having some doubts about Tony. Tony's, well, not.

Thor Odinson didn’t actually come to New York to make friends; he mostly came to New York because he wasn’t sure where else to go. Having been ejected from the family business, he had few options. He’d managed to find backing from the venture capital firm Selvig Foster Lewis, who fortunately knew a good investment when they saw one, but they’d also gently insisted he open in a specific neighborhood and Lewis had made a few minor demands when it came to the brewpub. Nothing he couldn’t do, of course; he was very good at beer.

But he had come here to make beer and cook food, not to socialize, at least not at first. It had been a surprise, a delightful surprise, to find that the fellow in the food truck was as good as a brother and more loyal than some he could name; that the frankly strange people who cooked in the dark at SHIELD down the street were also sly and funny; and that the madmen at TOBRU appreciated gastropub fare. He’d been worried, secretly, that they’d turn up their nose at his crab crisps and the things he did with herring. People could be snobs about herring.

“Steve!” he called, at the end of a relatively quiet Sunday night, when he saw Steve walk into the pub. Steve waved, gave him a somewhat unenthusiastic smile, and settled at the corner of the bar where even the hipsters who’d seen his recent documentary wouldn’t bother him. Thor ambled over and asked, “Crab crisps or baconost crackers?”

“Just a beer,” Steve said. “Whatever’s on tap.”

Thor raised an eyebrow. Steve was as picky about drinking as he was about eating; he could taste a lot in a single sip of beer and normally he was very specific about what he wanted.

“Something troubles you, my friend,” he said, deciding that Steve definitely needed baconost crackers and teriyaki venison skewers to raise his spirits. He poured out an IPA and a shot of Akvavit, flashed them at the sous chef, got a nod in return, and brought them over to Steve. Steve did brighten a little when he saw the IPA.

“Just a long day,” Steve said. Thor held out the shot glass and Steve shot it back, which gave him just enough time to slip the plate of baconost crackers onto the bar without Steve being able to stop him.

“Venison skewers are coming,” Thor informed him.

“Honest, Thor – “

“When our friends are distressed, we feed them. This is the way of chefs,” Thor pointed out. “Would you thwart my need to provide comfort?”

“No, just – “

“Eat a cracker,” Thor ordered, holding up the thin, buttery crisp with a dollop of bacon and cheese on top. Steve sighed and popped it in his mouth. “Is that not better?”

“All right, so it’s better,” Steve admitted.

“Now, tell your bartender what troubles you.”

Steve shot him an amused look. “You really love playing this role, don’t you?”

“I’m in earnest. It hurts that you doubt my desire to hear your woes,” Thor told him, clutching his chest.

“I just thought Tony and I had a date for tonight after TOBRU’s dinner rush, but the Parker kid got them in the weeds – “

“Surely not, he’s so quick! Like a little spider.”

“Well, I don’t know the details, but the point is, Tony’s still in the kitchen, he barely had a minute to tell me he’d be late if he manages to show up at all, and I don’t even know…” Steve shrugged. Thor handed him another cracker. “I don’t have relationships a lot.”

“Who has the time? If Jane Foster weren’t an investor in Mjolnir, we’d never see each other,” Thor said.

“I doubt that,” Steve replied slyly. “It’s just – I don’t know how to read any of the signs, and Tony’s got all this experience, and I’m just a guy in a food truck.”

“Not just. He takes great delight in you!”

“Maybe. Sometimes I wonder if he’s blowing me off. I know we’re all married to our kitchens, but I don’t know how to tell when the kitchen is an excuse.” Steve looked up at him. “Am I needy?”

Thor gaped. “Did he say such a thing? He’s not too famous for a thrashing!”

“No! Just. I don’t know if I am! I don’t know if he’s serious or if I’m just, you know, convenient because I’m always around.“

Thor gave this due consideration. “Life in this city is very different, you know, to where I came from. Asgard Grill is large, but the people are less formal, less concerned with niceties. Sometimes I too have trouble understanding certain signs and signals. But I think Tony and Bruce are blunt men as well. Surely if he wished to be rid of you he’d just feed you more kale.”

Steve, whose dislike of greens was well-known in their little circle, made a face.

“You see, my friend? He entices you. His new tasting menu is nearly all food I know you have licked and enjoyed.”

“Oh my god, you’ll never let the licking thing go, will you?” Steve asked, as one of the waitstaff dropped a place of venison skewers on the bar. Thor took one and handed the other one to Steve, who gnawed on the crispy edges of the meat with delicate bites.

“Well, if you are so fearful, you may as well ask. The worst that will happen is he’ll end it then and there,” Thor said pragmatically.

“That’s horrible!” Steve exclaimed.

“Yes, but over quickly.”

Steve sulked over his venison. “Maybe I should grow a mustache. Keep things interesting.”

“That will not help your reputation as a hipster, my friend. Though you will recall I have many times advised you to embrace it. The right hipsters have money to spend on grass-fed beef,” Thor reminded him, gesturing around the pub, where more than a few of the remaining diners were wearing obscure band t-shirts and had full-sleeve tattoos.

Steve gnawed on his skewer. “It’s probably nothing.”

Thor glanced over Steve’s shoulder as the door opened, and then turned to Steve with a grin. “I suspect you’re right. I’ll bring you a porter.”

“A port – what – “ Steve followed his gaze. Tony was standing in the doorway, looking around, and his face lit with a grin when he landed on Steve. Thor strategically retreated, pulling a pint for Tony and plating the last of the night’s crab crisps, Tony’s particular favorite, while Tony kissed Steve (also Tony’s particular favorite, and everyone in the world could see that except perhaps Steve) hello.

“Oh my God, I know your day was long but I win, that was hellish,” he heard Tony say as he sat on the stool next to Steve. Steve leaned his chin on a fist and watched him talk, the most besotted young man Thor had seen since their butcher at Asgard Grill, Volstagg, was courting. “The promise of this is literally the only thing that kept me from choking half my staff and all of my patrons with exploding jello shots.”

“Can you truly make jello shots explode?” Thor asked, as he brought Tony’s drink and snack over. Tony stuffed two crab crisps into his mouth and washed them down with the beer.

“I’m going to find out,” he said. “Thor, you are a bosom pal. Now shoo, I’m wooing.”

Thor gave Steve a pointed look. Steve rolled his eyes and nodded.

“Anyway, seriously, you can ask Bruce, by ten I was just muttering date with Steve, date with Steve. I’m really sorry I’m late.”

“That’s okay,” Steve said, as Thor wandered off to give them some privacy.

“So, how was your evening?” Tony pressed. “Did you sell a lot of organic things?”

Thor sat just out of earshot, so that he could bask in his friends being happy without invading their privacy. He kept one eye on Steve’s gradually widening smile as he worked on some new food pairings for a beer tasting flight he was going to introduce. He was determined to make New Yorkers appreciate Smörgåstårta if he had to invent a whole new kind of beer to do it.

By the time he’d worked out the pairings, Steve and Tony were sitting close, Tony talking fast and urgent as usual, Steve relaxed and cheerful now that he’d apparently been reassured.

Clint and Natasha, crossing the street from SHIELD, greeted Bruce outside Mjolnir, waving take-out boxes; Thor gestured them to come in, and left Tony and Steve to their canoodling so he could get first crack at whatever food they’d brought along.




Title: Hot Potato
Rating: G
Summary: Potato Rescue is the hottest new food truck nobody knows about. Steve is determined to make Sam Wilson king of all potatoes.

"Eat this," Bucky said, and shoved a foil package the size of a tennis ball in Steve's face.

"No," Steve said, but he took the foil package and began prying it open.

Ever since they'd met at the age of six, Bucky had been forcing food on him, until Steve's automatic reaction to every suggestion he eat something was no. It had become a joke after Steve had started cooking under Chef Erskine, and anyway he hadn't done it in years, so Steve was understandably suspicious.

"Eat it, it's amazing," Bucky insisted, putting a fork in his hand.

Steve tugged the foil open finally, and a waft of buttery steam hit him in the face. He looked down into a gooey heap of cheese, bacon, and what looked like pulled pork, heaped on a baked potato.

"Is this a prank?" he asked, lifting the pulled pork with the tines of the fork.

"Eat it, oh my God," Bucky said, so Steve loaded up the fork and, with one final narrow-eyed look, bit into it.

"Oh Jesus," he said, mouth full.

"I know!"

"Jesus, who did this, where did you find it? Was it a wizard?" Steve asked, swallowing and going in for another huge mouthful.

"Potato Rescue," Bucky said.

"What's Potato Rescue?"

"It's a new truck. It's not on your route. It's the best thing ever and I'm going to eat nothing but potatoes from now on," Bucky informed him.

"This is a food truck baked potato?" Steve asked. "How did he keep the bacon crispy? My bacon never stays crispy."

"That's what you care about?"

"I care about this entire baked potato," Steve said gravely. "I care deeply. We need to find the man who made it before Tony does."

"...what? Why before Tony does?"

"Because he'll offer him a job and nobody who makes potatoes this good should work in a kitchen where things explode, also he might ask him to marry him and I have dibs," Steve said.

"Everyone knows you have dibs on Tony."

"No, I have Dibs on Potato Guy," Steve said, ducking into the truck and closing the service window. "Throw your bike on the rack and get in, you have to take me to him."

***

War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * August 31
Change in location, we're now at Roosevelt Park by the New Museum.

War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * August 31
Caravaning with Potato Rescue. Show us your potato and get a discount on our wings!

***

Sam Wilson was entirely unprepared for a sparkling blue food truck to pull past him with its horn going and sneak into the spot in front of him at Roosevelt Park. It wasn't the most popular place to park and sell during the lunch rush, and it wasn't like trucks were normally hustling to get here.

"All right if we park here?" a blond guy yelled out the window, and Sam shrugged and gestured to the empty spot. It took him a second to realize who the guy was, and then he had to run from the service hatch to the front of the truck to be sure --

WAR ON HUNGER read the delicate painted lettering across the back of the truck.

"Oh, shit," he said, right as Steve Rogers put his head through the service hatch.

"Hiya!" he called, and Sam whirled, startled. "I'm -- "

"The Hot Hipster Chef!" Sam said, and Steve sighed.

"Yeah," he said, a wry smile crossing his face.

"War on Hunger!" Sam managed, pointing at the truck.

"Yep, that's me."

"What the hell are you doing here, man?" Sam asked. "Don't you have like a million people waiting for you somewhere significantly more crowded than here?"

"Probably," Steve shrugged. "I want..." he leaned back and consulted the chalkboard menu. "Oh, wow, I want some hummus mashed potatoes with beef chili."

"You...do," Sam said uncertainly.

"This is Bucky," Steve added, pointing behind him. Sam remembered Bike Messenger Bucky vaguely; he'd bought a baked potato about an hour ago, then come back for a second one before pedaling off like Satan was chasing him. "He gave me your pulled pork baked potato."

Sam wasn't sure what was happening, but a line was already forming behind Steve.

"O...kay," Sam said, reaching for a tray and spooning some of the mashed potatoes into it. "You said with the beef chili?"

"Yes. Also I may have tweeted a thing," Steve said. "If people buy a potato from you they get a discount on my wings. I hope that's okay."

Sam looked from Steve to the line and back again. "Yeah, man, that's...that's fine."

"Great!" Steve said, with a sunny look that promised so much trouble for Sam's future. "Thank you! Here -- "

"Nah, on the house," Sam said, waving off Steve's money.

"Oh, thank you! I'll come back after the lunch rush. Yell if you need change or anything!" Steve called, and hurried back to War on Hunger.

Sam looked at the line that was now snaking down the block.

"I might not have made enough potatoes," he said, but he pasted on a smile and started taking orders.

***

"See, I think potatoes are a viable business plan," Sam said, sitting on the back of the War on Hunger food truck. Steve and Bucky were eating the last of the pierogies (the latkes, sweet potato balls, and twice-baked potatoes had long since sold) and Sam had a shrimp-burger slider prepared by Steve Rogers' own hand, in a sweet pineapple roll, and was trying not to make "yum" noises. (Bucky wasn't even bothering trying not to, which was flattering.)

"I don't see why not," Steve said. "It's good comfort food."

"Yeah, and Millennials like them," Sam said. "Hipsters love a custom-topped baked potato."

Steve nodded over his pierogie, dipping it in chili sauce. "So what's the problem?"

"Breaking into the scene is hard, I guess," Sam said. "I kinda figured a food truck would be my foot in the door, but getting my foot in the food truck door...it's not easy."

"So it's just a question of business placement? Because this food is great, you should be getting more word of mouth," Steve said.

"I keep getting shut out of the festivals." Sam shrugged. "I think word got around that I'm black."

Steve mugged a shocked face. "You're black? I feel lied to," he said to Bucky.

"Yeah, it's funny if you're not me," Sam said sourly. "I know my food is good but they don't, and I'm not selling fried chicken or soul food, so..."

"Seriously?" Steve said.

"That blows," Bucky added.

"I'm aware," Sam replied.

"So where are you going, after food trucks?" Steve said. "Catering? Your own place?"

"You're gonna laugh," Sam said. "You especially, I saw your documentary."

Steve rolled his eyes. "I didn't approve that."

"That's why you'll laugh."

"Come on, Sam. I'm eating the best pierogie I've ever had outside a Jewish deli. I won't laugh."

Sam fiddled with the last of his shrimp slider. "I wanna do a cooking show."

"Really?" Steve asked, and then with a tinge of horror, "Why?"

"No, not like...I don't want to do a Lagasse and sell spice mix or anything like that, like, I'm not in it for fame and millions. I just..." Sam shrugged. "A lot of people I meet grew up not knowing how to cook. People ask me all the time how to make a baked potato. It's not cool that nobody knows how to do this really basic thing. I feel like there's a generation who thinks you get granola in a paper bag from Whole Foods."

"Yes! I was just telling Bucky -- wasn't I just saying that?" Steve said. Bucky sighed and nodded.

"Well, I think people should know how to cook if they want to. I think someone should teach them, you know, without judgement, just...lay it all out. Say it's okay if you're makin' cookies and you only have cheap all-purpose flour. I want to teach people to make good food and not pay a million dollars for it." Sam gave Steve a shy look. "Like your food. Only you know, cooler, 'cause it's me," he added, much less shyly.

Steve beamed. "That's great! I wouldn't laugh at that."

"Well, I know it wasn't what you wanted."

"That's because they wanted to sell me. I didn't want to sell me, you don't either. You want to sell the food. Totally different. Hey, do you have a youtube or a podcast or anything?"

"I have a youtube. Nobody watches it." Sam pointed to the URL painted on the front of his truck.

"Well," Steve said. "This all seems very easy to fix."

"It does?" Sam asked.

"It does?" Bucky echoed.

"Sure. You'll caravan with me."

"I don't -- "

"I won't take no for an answer. It means I can stop making fries, too. Jesus, I hate making fries," Steve said.

"He hates frying food," Bucky said. "It's abnormal."

"But you park at TOBRU," Sam said. "They're not gonna like a second truck showing up."

"I'm dating half of TOBRU," Steve said. "They can put up with it or they can sleep on the couch."

"Why would you do that?" Sam asked. "You barely know me."

"Well, I'll watch your youtube tonight," Steve said. "People have done nicer things with less, Sam. Just one condition."

Sam's face shuttered briefly. "Yeah?" he asked warily.

"You gotta save like, a pint of your mashed brown sugar sweet potatoes tomorrow, I'm gonna bribe Tony."

Sam blinked, startled, and then laughed. "Sure. Okay," he said. He offered his hand, and Steve shook it. "You got a deal."

***

War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * September 2
Potato Rescue ( @friesonthefly ) is parked with War On Hunger again today, outside Tobru from 4pm - 8pm.

War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * September 2
RT @friesonthefly Sam Wilson Teaches You How To Make Potato Salad If You’re Broke https://youtu.be/I4Sno4zeF9g

***

"You have to, Steve," Sam said, six months later. "You did all this, you have to come on the show."

Steve crossed his arms. "You don't need me on your cooking show, Sam."

"My hits doubled when you did that cameo on my youtube channel!"

"And they stayed double, which was all you. Besides, this is Netflix," Steve said. He leaned back, full of latke and brisket, and passed the last of his latke to Bucky, who was still plowing through Potato Rescue's leftovers. "Netflix, Sam! You're their first original cooking show, everyone's gonna be watching."

"But I need an assistant. You know I need someone to play off, I need a straight man."

Steve raised an eyebrow.

"You know what I mean. You'd be so good at it. Come on, just once, then I'll find someone else to do the rest."

"Sam, you know how I feel about doing cooking shows. Even good ones like yours. I know food trucks was a way in for you and I respect that but for me, you know, food trucks...is what I want." Steve furrowed his brow. "We must know someone who would do it."

"Bruce," Bucky suggested, mouth full. "Or Tony."

"Tony Stark on my cooking show," Sam said skeptically.

"You'd be lucky to get a word in edgewise," Bucky said.

"It'd put paid to the rumors I stole Steve from him."

"Aw don't do that, I started those," Bucky said with a grin.

Steve looked back and forth between them. Both of them turned to look at him.

"You know, I taught Bucky to cook," Steve said.

"Oh, no," Bucky said.

"He's great with a knife. He's an ideal sous chef."

"You can't put a face like this on television," Bucky said, pointing to his face.

"You can't be a bike messenger forever," Steve said.

"Yes I can."

"We do have chemistry," Sam said.

"I failed chemistry in high school," Bucky said.

"I'll make you poutine," Sam said.

Bucky opened his mouth, then hesitated. "With deep fried cheese curds?"

Sam nodded.

"Okay," Bucky said.

"That's it?" Sam said. "You sold out for fried cheese curds?"

"I negotiated for fried cheese curds," Bucky said smugly.

"I think you two will be Netflix super stars," Steve said, a proud glimmer in his eyes.

***

War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * May 14
Couldn't be prouder of #BrokeAndHungry breaking viewing records and getting a second season on #netflix @FriesOnTheFly @EatForABucky

War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * May 14
So happy to pass my Hot Hipster Chef crown to Sam Wilson, too

I Didn't Want A Twitter * @eatforabucky * May 14
Yes I will be back for S2 of #brokeandhungry ! Sam promised me potato soup if I came back

War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * May 14
@FriesOnTheFly is broke so it's a good thing @EatForABucky is cheap RT @eatforabucky Yes I will be back for S2 of #brokeandhungry ! Sam promised me potato soup

I Didn't Want A Twitter * @eatforabucky * May 14
Sam Wilson is twice the hot hipster chef @onestarsteve will ever be

War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * May 14
That wouldn't be hard I AM NOT A HIPSTER RT @EatForABucky Sam Wilson is twice the hot hipster chef @onestarsteve will ever be

Cookin' Up Education * @FriesOnTheFly * May 14
@OneStarSteve @EatForABucky I swear to god if you two don't settle down I'm gonna turn this food truck around and take us straight home.

War On Hunger * @onestarsteve * May 14
@FriesOnTheFly We'll be good.

I Didn't Want A Twitter * @eatforabucky * May 14
But we want twice-baked potatoes with bacon. RT @onestarsteve @FriesOnTheFly We'll be good.

END

scifigrl47: Potato canon, Sam. POTATO CANON. I'm writing fanfic of your fanfic where Tony shows up to get a potato for his potato canon
scifigrl47: and Sam is like
scifigrl47: No
scifigrl47: These are EATING POTATOES you asshole
scifigrl47: Not weapon potatoes
copperbadge: Tony wants to make a MASHED potato cannon
dbvictoria: a charity benefit thing, build the better food weapon
scifigrl47: Baked potatoes would be like the fireworks of potato canon amunition.
scifigrl47: explode in midair
scifigrl47: poof
R_is_R: 21 potato gun salute
copperbadge: Sci, I encourage you to write this.

Sci did actually write the Potato Cannon story; you can find it here.

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