Pancake Sundays

by Tenshi

Sunday was pancake day. Every Sunday morning Steve would get out his mother's chipped blue mixing bowl and the old frying pan, and he would make a foot-high stack of flapjacks to split with Bucky before they both left for church (Steve with his mother to First Methodist, Bucky with his ma to St. Peter's). On the rare occasion that Bucky hadn't slept over the Saturday night before, he'd be there on the doorstep on Sunday, hair combed into submission and collar starched and his shoes polished to blinding, for breakfast. Pancakes made for a cheap meal, but even so, Bucky would always slip a quarter into the Lance Snacks jar in the pantry to help cover the cost of flour and eggs. It was no secret his family was marginally better off, even in the depths of the depression, when Steve and his mother eked by on his father's pension and her meager salary. There was maple syrup during the good times, blackstrap molasses in the leaner ones, but always enough. Steve's mother had been a great believer in enough, and her sickly son always ate more when Bucky was around. So she turned her dresses twice rather than buying new ones, and kept the pantry as full as she could manage. Even after their mothers were gone, and Bucky started to feel he was too worldly for church services, he was always there for pancakes on Sunday morning, and there was always a quarter--and sometimes a dollar--in the Lance jar.

Steve might have been delicate in constitution, constantly nursing a cold and ninety pounds soaking wet, but he had a deft hand. His skillet flips were the subject of much admiration from Bucky (he'd tried once and the stains had never quite come out of the ceiling), but Steve's pancakes were the real star. His mother didn't have much patience for cooking, too busy working herself into an early grave, but Steve had a knack for it. Bucky, himself, was content to mind the percolator while Steve dolled batter into the pan, sometimes making ones with little Mickey-mouse ears if he was feeling cheerful. Bucky always said Steve could have any girl he wanted if he could get her to try his pancakes. Steve always answered that his odds of getting one to stay for breakfast were pretty slim when they wouldn't even go out to dinner with him in the first place, Bucky would say "more for us, then," and that was the way things went until the war came.

Breakfast then was rations of oatmeal and gritty coffee from a tin cup, sometimes with powered egg on really good days, or nothing at all on the bad ones. Sundays were marked only as an ideal day to travel undetected on the roads. But on one Sunday, when Steve and his team were buried deep behind enemy lines, Steve proved that he hadn't forgotten the other thing Sundays were good for.

An abandoned farmhouse was their base for the night; the occupants had fled before the advancing Nazi troops, leaving almost everything behind. Dum Dum declared his intentions to kill and roast one of the neglected chickens, and the rest of the starving team agreed. But Steve reminded them that they were only guests in the house, and that meant no killing the livestock. He sent Dum Dum after some eggs instead, and found a barrel of flour and a cast-iron skillet in the farmhouse kitchen. Everyone except Bucky looked on in confusion as Captain America put aside his shield and helmet in exchange for a bowl and a wooden spoon. When he aced the first flip, Steve met Bucky's eyes over the stove, and winked.

"I guess it still counts as Sunday," he said.

"Nearer to Monday," Bucky argued, with a smile that had grown rarer as the war had grown longer, and went rooting around in the pantry while the rest of the team admired one more of their Captain's unexpected talents. When Gabe suggested that the soldier-serum had made Steve good at everything, Bucky corrected him: Steve was always good at this.

There was no syrup, and all the butter had gone rancid. But Bucky found a jar of sour cherry preserves, the homemade kind popular in the countryside of Eastern Europe, full of tart little fruits with the pits still in. Montgomery confessed he had a few packets of tea stashed in his jacket pockets for a special occasion. Jim said the fact that they were all still alive was special enough, and they sat around the stove with their rifles across their knees and ate the pancakes as fast as their Captain could get them out of the skillet.

They were miles from safety, the war was going badly, and every one of them was suffering from some injury or another, but for the moment, everything was all right. It was the last time it would be that way; Bucky would fall from an icy train track less than a month later. And for almost seventy years after, he would take no notice of Sundays.

He woke up suddenly, fully alert and aware, without the grogginess most men would have. Too many years of fighting had cured him of that indulgence. But there was no immediate danger, not in the half-light of Steve's bedroom. The blinds were drawn, birds chattered over the distant sound of a lawnmower. The banal sounds of ordinary life rang false to a man whose existence had been nothing but striated bands of methodical murder and frozen darkness, who had been forced to forget, innumerable times, that he had ever been Bucky Barnes.

He was remembering, but it came slowly. Something had been shifting around in his dreams, some memory that sidled out of sight the moment he tried to examine it. He scanned the bedroom, but there was only a rumpled pillow and a warm dent in the mattress where Steve had been before. Bucky could hear the sounds of movement in the kitchen, a clatter of pan against utensil, the gurgle of a coffee maker, a snatch of Steve's unconscious whistling of some tune Bucky knew he should know.

And then the smell hit him in a warm wave, and hundreds of Sundays bloomed in the hollow places of his mind. He was on his feet before the recollection had fully subsided, his eyes stinging.

Steve was in mid-flip when he saw Bucky in the doorway, and he caught the errant pancake without looking. For a moment they just stared at each other, Steve with the cautious hope that he never let get further than his eyes, Bucky with his brows drawn down in confusion.

"Is it... Sunday?" Bucky asked at last, when his memories had slotted into the proper order. He remembered a glass jar full of quarters, a dim oily kitchen in a back corner of Brooklyn, and a much smaller Steve manning the pan. He remembered the way cherry preserves had made his jaw ache, and eating with one finger still on the trigger.

Steve's expression unfurled like a flag over a hard-fought battlefield, and he nodded. "It's Sunday," he said.

Bucky eased into the kitchen and fetched up against the counter, picking up the cup of coffee sitting waiting for him. "Can you still make them with the Mickey-mouse ears?" he asked, and Steve, laughing, reached for the bowl of batter and proved that he still could.


b i s h o n e n i n k