Today is the day when Steve is returning, at least temporarily, and after the destruction of property incident from the night prior and the way he was sick over Thor's boots, the Soldier has decided that everyone would be best served if he did not leave the room until Steve arrives, sustenance be damned. But his thoughts drift to the refrigerator and while he is not sorry for breaking it, he imagines Steve would want him to be, so he decides to take a closer look at the damage and see what can be salvaged. The metal will be dented from striking the god's head repeatedly, but perhaps it can be hammered out.
When he arrives in the kitchen, however, the refrigerator is in one piece, looking so exactly as it did that he begins, not for the first time, to question his perception of reality. The Soldier reaches out with the human arm, gingerly opening the door just to make sure it is fully attached.
"Stark flew a replacement in," Natasha explains, refilling her coffee mug. "Thought if he took care of it fast enough, Potts wouldn't find out. Of course, she knew before he even left – Hill picked up the fight on the security sensors and then JARVIS filled her in on the details."
The Soldier nods as though he knows who either of those people are. Natasha is still speaking, something about how Potts isn't angry with him but he isn't listening, partially because he doesn't care and also because the contents of the new refrigerator have caught his eye.
"What is Silk?" he asks. In his memory silk is a fabric, not a carton of presumably edible liquid.
Natasha sighs. "Soy milk. Or in this case, almond. And you're not allowed to complain – Clint already pitched a fit, but that's all we could find yesterday."
His mind begins to calculate the statistical improbability of there being no milk in New York City, but the Soldier cuts that off because milk is the one thing in the world he is currently absolutely certain about, and he's certain her words make no sense. "Milk comes from animals."
"Not necessarily." Natasha carries on as if she hasn't just shattered his perception of reality. "You should try it – Clint's sure as hell not having any and I don't think Stark drinks anything that isn't at least 180 proof. Besides, there's no lactose."
"лактоза," she tries. It isn't familiar that way either, but if lactose, whatever it is, is the thing that made him ill yesterday, then avoiding it in the future would be preferable.
A moment later and there is a glass of the not-milk in his hand. The Soldier stares at it hesitantly.
"All right, look," Natasha says, slipping her mug into the dishwasher. "You're a perfect shot and you're terrifying in combat, but if you're afraid of almond milk, your intimidation factor is gone."
Is that an insult? Her insults are not as harsh as HYDRA's if it is. He drinks. It tastes vaguely of vanilla and while it isn't bad, it is different and he's not sure how to respond to it.
He remembers suddenly a different, much smaller kitchen in a different, far off time. He can remember Steve, but Steve is so much younger, so, so much smaller, and this vision of his friend makes him tense, feeling the urge to protect the child even though it's only a memory. They are in someone's kitchen – Steve's mother or Barnes's? – and they have dared each other to drink straight buttermilk because they are – he does not know whose words he is remembering – "stupid punks."
They both drink, then gag, and Barnes is concerned Steve will be sick, that this will trigger an asthma attack or an allergic reaction or any of the dozen things likely to go wrong with Steve at any time. But then Steve is laughing and Barnes is laughing, and outside of the memory the Soldier feels his mouth shape the configuration called a smile.
Natasha raises an eyebrow. "Like it?"
The Soldier shrugs.
It is then that Steve enters, panting and sweaty, and the Soldier feels that Barnes would have hugged him. He does not, because his mind is half in the past and he worries he would break the man. Even with the serum flowing through Steve's body, the Soldier has nearly killed him before. He has just decided to linger back when Steve is hugging him anyway and the Soldier hugs back, hard. "Good to see you, Bucky. Natasha."
"Go for a run?" Natasha asks.
"Traffic was at a standstill," Steve explains, and he looks tired. Nothing tires Steve, so the Soldier assumes that he ran all the way from DC. "I left the cab early. Needed time to clear my head anyway." He is taking the glass from the Soldier's hand – "Hey, buddy, mind if I –" and drinking before the Soldier can tell him what it is.
Steve doesn't gag, but his utterly confused look and the surprised sound he gives at the unexpected flavor, combined with the recently recovered memory, snaps something inside the Soldier and he is suddenly shaking, emitting a sound that he does not recognize as laughter until his ribs are aching and tears are starting in his eyes.
It isn't until he is gasping for breath and straightening up that he sees Stark holding out a phone, recording.
"Here's the sixty-four million dollar question," Stark says, sliding the phone into his pocket. "Should I put that whole thing online, or choose the best seven seconds for a Vine?"
Steve's eyes meet the Soldier's, and somehow the asset knows without being told that the ensuing chase around the floor for Stark and his phone is not true combat, but more of a spar, a play. He manages to tackle Stark in the lab, pieces of armor coming through the air and bouncing off of him as they try to affix to the other man's body. Steve is not far behind, reaching for Stark's pockets while the Soldier keeps the captive contained through an attack that he somehow knows is called tickling.
Behind him, he hears Bruce's voice – "Two against one's not fair, guys," before he can feel the doctor's hands spidering over his body the way his are moving on Stark's. He jerks, but he realizes there is no threat and does not attack, involuntarily laughing again as Thor, Barton, and last of all, Natasha join in.
He decides afterward, panting, realizing he has been smiling throughout as he watches Steve retrieve the phone, that this is what Stark meant by "well."
A/N: Lactose isn't actually what makes people sick when they try drinking a gallon of milk at one time. What causes that sickness is stomach capacity combined with the stomach breaking down the proteins slowly and thus keeping it all in the stomach longer.
I hope you enjoyed this silliness! I would not be adverse to writing further adventures of Winter and his babysitters, I'm just not sure what I'd write.