[Bucky Barnes; R] Uncivil War: Chapter 16 Character/Series: Bucky Barnes; Marvel Cinematic Universe Rating: R Notes: Aaawkward. Title: Uncivil War- Chapter 16: Lovin' The Ghost In Front Of Me Author:yuuo Word Count: 4759 Summary:Sharon had taken Bucky's advice and request to heart and planted herself on Steve's right side, putting at least herself between the two men.
i wrote a couple of notes one in love, one in anger they're lying there dying in the dresser drawer lived louder than my voice struggled through a stranger he loved me 'til i loved you even more. it's a bittersweet victory, knowin' someone else wanted me. -Sugarland
Sharon had taken Bucky's advice and request to heart and planted herself on Steve's right side, putting at least herself between the two men. Bucky only briefly paused when entering the cafeteria with the fixed EMF detector to note that and where Bruce was sitting. Bruce must've taken advice from Sharon as well, because he'd made himself at home on Steve's left side, also blocking off that contact, when he usually was on the opposite side of the table from Steve.
If Steve noticed this, he didn't say anything. Bucky was sure he did, he'd be stupid not to, and despite Steve's actions lately, he still wasn't stupid. Just stubborn and hurting.
That hurting that Bucky could feel radiating off of Steve, could see clearly in his eyes when he glanced back at Bucky's entrance, almost made Bucky tell both Sharon and Bruce to get lost and let him sit by his brother.
No, they needed time apart. Bucky had two ghosts to deal with before he could help Steve with his. They both needed Bucky at his best, which he wasn't. Maybe after this, he would be, or at least have Kitty taken care of. The Soldier might be another matter.
So he set the EMF on the nearest table to their usual and sat next to Sharon. He was glad for the insulation between himself and Steve, but it still felt unnatural to not be right next to Steve's right side. At least he was still on Steve's right, a layer of human insulation aside.
"All fixed?" Bruce asked, sipping a cup of what smelled like peppermint tea. Or some sort of mint.
"All fixed," Bucky replied, leaning to the right slightly to watch Maria in the kitchen through the serving window. "Did she say anything in warning to any offers of help?"
Bruce raised an eyebrow over his mug. "You have to ask? She said for everyone to keep their butts planted."
Sharon looked at him. "She said that I got the part, you and Bruce are the scientists who have to set everything up, and Steve drew the portrait for the recorder, that means she gets dinner and the kitchen."
Steve. Act casual, don't bring the white elephant up, it needs to remain quiet for awhile. But, Steve was mentioned, as was that picture that Bucky had asked for, and acting like Steve wasn't there or mentioned would be just making that elephant tap dance some more.
So in the interest of avoiding hearing Riverdance in the cafeteria, he looked around, leaning back and looking back at the table nearest the door. Steve's easel was set up with a picture of Kitty in what looked like charcoals. Steve was getting better at those, too.
"Oh yeah," he said, studying the picture a moment, then turned back to Sharon. "Maria had a good idea." Okay, compliment Steve or not? Would it make it worse to talk to him like nothing happened, or to avoid it entirely? Now, is that to be mentioned, or not? He had probably taken too much time to study the picture, so probably say something. Maybe.
Divorce was complicated.
He decided on complimenting. Just because the others knew about the temporary split didn't mean he had to make it worse for them by putting them in the middle of the silent treatment.
"Good job. Getting better at charcoals."
There. Safe. Not invested, not not invested. The lack of eye contact helped.
Steve didn't look back at the picture, just focused his eyes- blue, but a bit bloodshot, how long had he been crying? Jesus, that just makes this harder -on Bucky. "Thanks. Didn't have a lot of time for color, but I figured Maria's idea would work better with something more than a pencil sketch."
So much for the lack of eye contact. That look put a bowling ball in Bucky's stomach.
"Good ideas, both of you," Bucky said, trying his best to remain neutral. Being anything but warm or cold to Steve was hard. There'd never been an in between with them, not even when Bucky still was not out of Hydra's grip.
Stick with what you're doing. It's the only thing that's going to work. At least on his end. What Steve did might change that.
Steve, don't be stupid.
He leaned over again to watch Maria. "How long ago did she start dinner?"
He saw Bruce glance just beside him to Sharon; out of the corner of his eye, Bucky could see Steve staring down at his folded hands on the table, and Sharon looking between them before settling on Bruce.
Bucky idly wondered if Steve was praying, or just trying to keep his hands still.
"Not long," Bruce said, interrupting that thought. "Hungry or eager to get to work?"
"Both?" Bucky shrugged. "My eating habits lately haven't exactly been that great. Too focused on work." In mission mindset. But that was one of those words nobody wanted to hear, especially not Steve, so he refrained from doing more than vaguely referencing his habits.
"You never did like eating when you were working on something," Steve said softly, still looking at his hands.
Shit. Steve, don't.
"At least after you came home, back in DC."
Steve, don't. Damnit, don't.
"You remember that?" Bucky decided to keep avoiding the word mission and just- despite the sudden stillness in both Bruce and Sharon's body languages -keep going with this with a light touch. As long as neither he nor Steve turned this into a yelling match, encouraging returning memories was something that had to be done, the status of their friendship irrelevant.
"Just a bit," Steve said. If there was more in his head that he wanted to say, he didn't give it voice, let it lie there.
Just a bit, he says. Bucky could smell that lie a mile away. Steve remembered far more than he was admitting.
"You'll get there," Bruce said, coming to everyone's rescue. "Amnesia takes awhile to work through, physical or psychological. Or otherwise." He eyed his mug like it was committing a crime. "I'll be right back. I need more tea, and Maria said hot dish is best served at the table so everyone can get the portion they want. I may as well get plates and forks while I'm up."
Ooh, an escape. Bucky wanted that. "Want some help?"
Bruce almost seemed to hesitate, but Bucky wasn't quite sure if that's what he read in Bruce's body language or not. He was getting bad at reading people these days. He placed the blame for that on Steve's new erratic behavior. "Wouldn't hurt to get some help with drinks," Bruce said, then smiled wryly. "My super power is knocking buildings down, not growing extra arms and hands."
"Consider it done," Bucky said, getting up. He followed Bruce around the table, walking around behind Steve. It avoided eye contact, avoided seeing anything in expression that might make someone on either end say something stupid. Enough stupid had been said.
Maria didn't look surprised when Bruce and Bucky walked in. "I wondered when you two would show up," she said, voice low and probably inaudible to Sharon and Steve from across the main part of the room.
Bucky decided not to read into that question just yet, digging into a cupboard to find the glasses. "You expected us?"
Bruce put the kettle on one of the stove's many burners. "It was discussed."
Bucky set a stack of glasses down, looking over at them. "If this is about Steve, just shut up." He wasn't in the mood for this conversation.
Bruce glanced out the serving window. Bucky followed his gaze; Steve had his head in his hands like a heavy weight was on his shoulders, and Sharon was rubbing one arm, saying something far too quiet to be heard in the kitchen.
"And here it seemed you were handling it better than him."
Bucky came perilously close to grabbing a glass and throwing it at Bruce for that statement, but that would only end in everyone's death more than likely, and Bucky's temper tantrums weren't worth that. "You really thought that? I'm just a better liar. Believe me, this isn't easy on me, either."
Bruce got down a stack of plates, using the closeness as an excuse to put his hand on Bucky's shoulder. Not a safe move, and Bucky was forced to roll his shoulder away. Bruce took it with grace. "I didn't really think that," he said. "You know I wouldn't."
A glass cracked under Bucky's grip. "Then why did you say it?"
Bruce, brave and stupid man that he was, put his hand back on Bucky's shoulder. "To remind you that you are a better liar. Don't let those lies step on progress just because you want to spare our feelings. We'll handle ourselves and play referee if we have to."
To spare their feelings? That was an arrogant assumption. That was only one part of it. If Bucky didn't keep up that brave facade, he'd break into a million pieces. He missed his brother. It was mostly selfish.
Deep breath. Breathe. Bucky set aside the cracked glass and counted out how many were left in the stack. "I didn't do badly before." he said, pushing away everything he couldn't deal with just then. "You gonna need a glass, or are you having tea?"
"Tea," Bruce said. "And no, you didn't. But I also know that you're on a mission right now, and we all know what that means, even Steve. You start tromping around when you're on a mission."
"He's right," Maria said, pulling a casserole dish out of the oven, followed by another, smaller one. Both smelled good, topped with tater tots that had cooked to a golden brown. Under it was layers of Midwestern goodness that Maria had been smart enough to get the recipe for to take back to New York.
Instead of acknowledging that, he leaned towards the food, peering around Bruce. Both Bruce and Maria noticed. Maria shook her head with an affectionate smile. "You can have some when the table's set."
"At least you have an appetite right now," Bruce said. "I wasn't sure if your bad eating habits were going to continue or not. Like Steve said, you don't eat very well when you have something on your mind."
Back to Steve. Stop that, both of you.
Bucky shrugged. "If I didn't have a higher metabolism that I've been ignoring lately, I still wouldn't want to eat. But it's kinda caught up to me." Then he looked around Bruce again at the hot dish. "And the Hill family hot dish is fantastic."
"Official endorsement, Maria," Bruce said. "I suspect we'll all be satisfied with it."
"You'd better," Maria said. "Now go on, go set the table. Bucky, waters please?"
While Bruce took the plates out, with five forks stacked on top of them, Bucky filled the glasses with water- it'd have to be good enough, anyone who wanted something else could come get it themselves -and after pausing to wash his hands, he grabbed the glasses, one in his metal hand and the other three held together by the lips with his fingers in the water, then headed out after Bruce.
"Don't like water, tough tits," he said, setting down the glass in his metal hand by Steve, then freed one glass in his right hand to set down by Sharon.
Steve looked a bit more braced for Bucky's presence than he had when Bucky first showed up. "You could've carried two in each hand, you know. Would've been easier."
Bucky set his and Maria's glasses down, then waggled his metal fingers at Steve. "Glasses would've slipped out." Stop forgetting about that, Steve. Stop trying to push it out of your mind. Even with the amnesia, this shouldn't be new to you anymore.
"Mm. Didn't think of that." Steve studied his water glass, and Bucky had two thoughts that battled for first place- A) Steve was internally glowing that he got the special glass held by a hand Bucky shared with very few people, and B) that Steve was trying to decide if that hand had left germs behind. A won for first spot, the instinct that spawned it strong in Bucky's brain, but B, as petty as it was, overpowered it, and droped A back into second place.
If the Soldier were actually petty, Bucky would blame that part of his mind for that, but the Soldier wasn't petty. He sometimes assumed the worst, but only in self-preservation. There was no self-preservation to be had in that sort of thought, so Bucky had to own up to it on his own.
Damnit. That wasn't helping.
He elected to push that whole line of thinking away by getting where he could leave Steve and Steve's interest in that glass. He went back to the kitchen. "I saw you had two dishes to carry out," he said to Maria, carefully side-stepping as she almost walked into him.
She adjusted her grip on the larger dish, hot pads between her hands and the heated edges of the dish. "I do. Grab a serving spoon too, will you?"
"Yes, ma'am." He grabbed two extra hot pads while he was at it, and hurried out after her.
Bruce took the extra hot pads from him once he was out there and set them down for the casserole dishes to be set out on. Steve and Sharon both asked what was in the hot dish, Sharon hesitant and Steve merely nosy.
"Nothing spicy, Sharon," Maria assured her. "Just veggies, hamburger, onion, and a can of cheese soup and one of celery soup." She gave Bucky the evil eye. "He doesn't approve, but my family has always used Campbell's for those soups and I always will now that I have the recipe."
Bucky held up his hands in defense while the larger dish worked its way around the table towards him. "I think it's good the way it is. I just wonder if it could be improved with homemade soups."
"Don't try to 'improve' my mother's recipe," Maria snapped.
Whoops, bad territory. Bucky backed down fast enough to give himself whiplash.
Maria looked at Sharon. "There's a few seasonings, but again, I promise, nothing spicy. Just some variations that made Mom's recipe unique."
Sharon smiled. "Good. We have work to do tonight, I really can't chance an upset stomach."
"About that." Bucky looked back at the EMF detector on the other table, almost missing the last of the bigger dish being shoved in his direction, followed quickly by the smaller dish.
"I thought it was fixed," Steve said, not looking away from his food.
"It is," Bucky said, dishing up his plate so he could push the casserole dishes aside. "At least, it damn well better be. I dismantled the power source, so I couldn't test it, but unless I'm that out of practice, it'll work."
"Then what's the problem?"
"Not really a problem," Bucky said. "But thinking about it, I'm not sure how much activity we'll pick up on that we can attribute to Kitty." He took a bite of his food before continuing. "If she lives in the wires, unless she wants to be known right away, it's not like she can't hide. A free floater might not get away from us, but that thing's not gonna notice anything odd about electricity going through the wiring in the place."
Sharon looked at him. "How sure of that are you?"
"No idea," Bucky admitted. "I'm not a professional ghost hunter. We only built that thing because we said 'ghost' and immediately went for whatever thing we could remember. But most ghosts don't live in the electrical systems of their haunts, to my knowledge."
Bucky eyed the handful of cats gathered, then over at the door when he heard Cali's distinct meow, followed by her walking in through the door like there was nothing weird about a cat going through a wall. It'd ceased being weird after the third or fourth time she'd done it, obvious that she was just showing off, but in an active talk about ghosts, it suddenly seemed weird again.
"Those, on the other hand, we can test," he said, pointing at Cali with his fork. "Hello, princess. Yes, I'll share, then you get to help me test something I made. Deal?"
Cali took her place on the floor next to his chair, tail curled around her legs as she waited.
Sharon leaned over to look at the cat. "What if the detector spikes with them?"
"Then we have more evidence that they're something not natural," Bucky said. "Better than just a vague hypothesis. If we get anything on Kitty that points to her existing at all, which we're not even a hundred percent sure on, it'd strengthen the idea of a link between her and the furballs."
Bruce tapped his plate with his fork. "We really have been making some assumptions that we probably should have, haven't we?"
Bucky shrugged. "None of us have encountered a ghost that we had to try to track down and potentially live with," he said. "And we're resorting to what you and I would've considered to be junk science." He took a bite before continuing. "Although that reminds me, you're setting up the IR camera downstairs, right?"
"Remember not to get touchy feely with whatever you're pointing it at."
"I won't," Bruce said. "I figured on setting it up downstairs, pointed at those wires. We'll see the heat pretty well, but if there's a surge, we'll catch it."
When Steve made a confused noise behind a bite of food that he was too polite to talk around, Bruce came to his rescue. "Infrared is going to pick up on heat," he said. "It doesn't pick up on visible light. Heat isn't as transient as visible light, either, so if I were to touch whatever I wanted to study with the camera, we might see a ghostly hand for part of the recording before the surface I touched cooled off."
Steve made a noise around his food, then swallowed and looked between Bruce and Bucky. "So what's the plan?"
Bucky had to chew on his tongue to keep from issuing an order like he was in charge of this mission. Maria had taken over handling the Soldier directly, but everyone- including Maria -had placed this specific job on his and Bruce's hands. Instead of stepping on toes and potentially causing an explosion, he decided to give Bruce a chance to say something first.
Bruce had looked to Bucky, then must've realized that Bucky was throwing that little overheated potato to him. "Well, I have to take the camera downstairs to the basement. I want to set it up in front of that exposed wiring. Like I said, if there's any surges in the electricity, the IR will pick up on the heat. Bucky can wander around with the EMF detector. Steve, if you wanna set up the recorder in front of that picture, push that table with it as close to a wall as you can, that'd work. The girls can go with Bucky."
"Neither of those are going to take long," Steve pointed out. "Do we spread out after that?"
"How? We have only one detector," Bruce pointed out. "We can meet up with the girls and Bucky, see what they've gotten." Bruce looked at the pretty much decimated casserole dishes and the mostly empty plates. "First order of business is to feed the leftovers to the cats to try to get them all in one bunch. We can see if they spike the detector at all. It'd be unusual for a physical creature to create quite what we're hoping to find. There's anomalies to account for, but I think if we get a strong reading, we can safely assume they're tied to whatever's in the wires, whether it's Kitty or something else entirely."
Bucky took a piece of hamburger off his plate. "You heard him, Cali. It's leftover's time. Here's your treat." He set the meat down for her. She was clearly in charge, as whenever Bucky gave her a treat, the other cats stayed backed off. "She doesn't usually mingle with the others. I'll check her out after I get the group. She may actually be our primary source of consternation here."
"That doesn't explain the image over the mower," Steve said.
Bucky shook his head. "Not entirely, you're right. Unless Cali is Kitty's physical manifestation." He looked up at Steve, the previous awkwardness set aside for mission time. "We're dealing with a lot of unknowns here, and we don't even know if this 'science' actually detects ghosts. I'm sure it does sometimes, but the biggest question is if those detections can be chalked up to chance or not. Maybe they can, maybe it's really a ghost."
Steve frowned. "Obviously something's going on."
"Which is why I'm more confident in what we might find than if we were just investigating a so-called haunted house or something," Bucky said with exaggerated patience. Jesus, Steve, now you're just being argumentative for the sake of it. "We're just gathering more evidence so our speculations are based on more than just discussion."
Bucky had to hold onto his expressions with the strength of the Soldier to keep from retorting. Being polite was one thing, trying to act like the friendship was still in one piece was a right Steve didn't have, not anymore. At least for now.
Maria saved the day, bless her heart. "We have two science nerds who both know better what they're doing than we do. I say we follow Bruce's plan. First, we'll give these leftovers to the cats. Bucky, be ready with that detector of yours. Once we see what happens with them, we'll split up. When Steve and Bruce are done setting up their devices, they can track us down and find us. I recommend nobody use their comms, that might give us false positives where we don't want."
Shut up, Soldier, you're not wanted on this mission.
Bucky gave his plate to Cali, who proved herself a lady and was polite about accepting it. As usual, the other cats hung back from her.
"Okay," he said, walking over to the other table and grabbing his freshly repaired EMF detector. "Unleash the hoard."
The other four grabbed plates and the casserole dishes and cautiously approached what looked to be all of the other nineteen cats meowing hungrily, some weaving through the group like a long snake that occasionally stopped to stand one cat up on its hind feet.
"Ready?" Bruce said, starting to crouch down.
"Ready," Bucky confirmed.
The others hesitated just another moment before plates and dishes were all but dropped into the middle of that group and they just barely got out of the way before the herd of hungry cats started gnawing on them to get to the food.
Bucky inched around them to the other side from the others- all of whom had backed away from the impending massacre -and slowly leaned towards the cats, the EMF detector held out in his right hand.
He registered the spike caused by the proximity to the cats just seconds before every cat in that group turned to him and started giving him warning hisses and growls and a tenseness of the group's body language that if he didn't back the fuck up, he was about to be attacked by nineteen unhappy cats.
Bucky decided to heed their warning with a "shit shit okay settle down!" and got back around the table. Cali was over there and swiped at his ankles, causing him to jump and take a few more steps back. "Okay, okay, all you furballs calm down, I'm not taking the food."
He eyed Cali. Her acting hostile, even when it came to someone being around her food, was odd. It seemed more likely with the others that getting too close to their food had set them off, but the detector had spiked when Cali swatted at him, too.
"What'd we get, Bucky?" Maria asked from far away from the table, she and the others on the opposite side from him.
"Nineteen food aggressive cats," he said, looking at the cracked voltmeter.
"What about Cali?" Sharon asked. "We've never seen her make a hostile move towards you. She's practically in love with you."
"I told you, my mother dunked me in cat pheromones when I was a baby," he said, tone testy. "But the group buried the needle, so somehow, a mass of cats that can go through walls generates a helluva big electromagnetic field." He leaned ever so carefully towards Cali, who hissed at him as the detector got close.
Bucky decided to back up. "Her too."
"Maybe the cats didn't like the detector?" Sharon suggested. "We've never tried to get positive proof from them of what they are beyond cats that can walk through walls."
"And play with ball lightning," Bruce added.
Maria swung around the table to stand next to Bucky. "Is it possible they're the only source of our electric anomalies?" she said. "That doesn't explain Kitty's image in that St. Elmo's Fire that you and Steve saw, but it's pretty obvious they generate a lot of energy."
"Possible," Bucky said. "Let's set up the camera and recorder first, see if we get anything from those when we look in the morning. We can look for other potential problem areas, make sure it's not just the cats." He looked at Bruce, hoping Bruce would pick up on Bucky needing someone to confirm that order rather than leaving him holding the ball.
Bruce, smart man that he was, did seem to pick up on it, as his next words were "yeah, let's follow the plan. Steve, set up the recorder. I'm going to take the camera down to the basement. Girls, stay with Bucky. It occurs to me that if we're harassing something that doesn't want us to harass it, and it has this much control over EMFs, it might be able to disable his arm. Someone should be with him."
"I'll go," Steve said. "Sharon can set up a recorder, it's not hard."
Bucky slowly turned his head to stare at Steve. Steve had jumped in on that way too fast. Faster than he should've for someone he was actively lying to and potentially hating, if he'd start seeing the Soldier and Bucky as the same person.
That sounded like Steve from before Palestine. That sounded like Bucky's best friend who didn't like Bucky going into dangerous situations without him, anymore than vice versa.
The other three looked between them, as if trying to decide if it was a good idea to put Steve that close to Bucky with only Maria between them to calm any fights, but Steve had sounded very firm, sounded like he was issuing his own order and was expecting to be deferred to.
Maria was the first to react beyond that, taking in a deep breath. "All right," she said. "Steve, you're with Bucky and I. Sharon, Bruce, catch up." She looked at Bucky. "I say we start with the classrooms, try to find ones Kitty might've been in where she might've been bullied the most."
Sharon and Bruce still didn't look like they liked the idea of Steve and Bucky only having Maria between them, but they were going along with it. "K through second are on the first floor of the west wing," Sharon said. "After that, we should probably investigate the girls wing of the dorms, down on the first floor."
"Let's hit the dorms first," Steve said, once again acting like he was taking over the mission and that made the Soldier rankle inside Bucky's brain.
Easy, Soldier. Maria's going to agree with him, you know that. He's not saying anything that she wouldn't. Just listen to her. He's not mission-head. Relax.
The Soldier stood down a bit.
"Good idea," Maria said, confirming Bucky's thought that she'd agree. "We'll investigate the dorms, it's closer to where you two are going to catch up to."
See? It was a smart idea, and Maria issued the final command on it. Relax.
"We'll meet up with you at the dorms then," Bruce said.