[Bucky Barnes; R] Uncivil War: Chapter 18 Character/Series: Bucky Barnes; Marvel Cinematic Universe Rating: R Notes: I know, there's more they need to say. This series isn't over, they have time to spit it all out. Title: Uncivil War- Chapter 18: Can You Really See Through Me Now? Author:yuuo Word Count: 5011 Summary:Peppermint tea might've been better or soothing Bucky's knotted up stomach, but hot cocoa tasted better, and he was more interested in mental comfort than physical.
just tonight i will stay and we'll throw it all away when the light hits your eyes it's telling me i'm right and if i- i am through well it's all because of you just tonight -The Pretty Reckless
Peppermint tea might've been better for soothing Bucky's knotted up stomach, but hot cocoa tasted better, and he was more interested in mental comfort than physical. His stomach could just deal.
He'd left the lights off in the cafeteria when he came in, the gleam of the kitchen light through the serving window the only thing illuminating the room. Around him, silence hung heavy, barely cut by the irregular tapping his of his metal index finger on his warm mug. He took a drink before it got too cold, hoping it'd thaw out his insides a bit.
The Soldier didn't want to go. And quite frankly, Bucky wasn't sure he was willing to let him go. But Hydra's ghost hung as surely over his head as Steve's, like an executioner's axe. Bucky just wasn't sure how to get around it, and his unsettling nightmare didn't tell him anything helpful.
Maybe the images would stop bouncing around his head and form words he could give to Steve. Maybe whatever came out of his head, if it was anything worth thinking about, would stop the fighting, would stop the lies and the hate and let things go back to the way they were. Make them partners again.
Bucky took another sip of his cocoa, the cup making a thump too loud in the silence of the cafeteria when he set it back down.
Just off to his side and in front of him sat the table with Kitty's picture, the table pressed against the wall and the recorder propped up in front of the picture. It was a good picture; Steve was getting good with those charcoals, and the likeness of the little girl was strong. Bucky hoped that Kitty wouldn't be insulted if there were any flaws. Steve didn't tend to make those, but lately, Steve was doing a lot of things he'd never tended to do.
He stared at the recorder, straining his hearing as if he might hear what that thing picked up- if anything -without its help.
No, wait, there were footsteps down the hall. Coming closer to the cafeteria.
His first thought was Maria, checking on him, but the footsteps were too heavy for her. And neither Sharon nor Bruce were big enough to make those footsteps. Which left Steve.
Bucky made a point of staring at his cocoa as one of the light double doors into the cafeteria swung open softly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Steve in the doorway, wearing his pajamas- normal black sweatpants that had to be hot for the weather, and a dark blue t-shirt with the image of his shield splayed proudly across the front. A piece of merchandise that Bucky had gotten him as a gag gift one Christmas. They had a game of giving each other at least one piece of merchandise every Christmas, just to amuse each other. This last Christmas they didn't, but there'd been other times they'd gifted each other silly things, sometimes just for no reason at all.
Jesus Christ, they really were an old married couple. Facing divorce if things didn't change quickly, but maybe their respective girlfriends actually should be worried about competition. They were a ridiculous pair.
One that used to work.
Too close. Too familiar. Bucky wanted to tell him that he didn't have rights to that name anymore, but for the moment, he just felt too run down to really will that temptation past an idle thought. That was genuine concern, that was something in Steve's tone that held none of the animosity that'd leeched into both of them like a poison.
That was his partner. And Bucky missed his partner enough that he wanted to cry.
He hid that behind another swallow of his drink.
"What do you want, Steve?" he asked, setting down the cup. He didn't have the energy for hostility. He sounded as tired as he felt.
He needed more sleep. Uninterrupted sleep, but whatever the Soldier was trying to tell him, whatever that part of his brain was thinking and trying to force out of the unconscious part of his mind, wasn't likely to stop just because Bucky went back to bed. Sleep wasn't happening until he had settled his thoughts.
It occurred to him that he could've just taken his Ativan, that might've worked.
But he hadn't, and there he was, in the cafeteria with a cooling cup of cocoa and Steve in the doorway, saying his name like a partner there to chase away the darkness.
"Maria said you got up and left," Steve said, not moving closer, waiting for an invitation.
Bucky made a rude noise. "So she told you to come fix things? She told me she'd try to play liaison, not send me into the wolf's den."
Steve finally decided to enter the room, invitation or not, the swinging door shutting silently behind him. "Maybe she thought that she wasn't the best one to handle whatever's in your head," he said. "Is it okay if I sit down?"
Bucky waved idly at the table. "I don't care." He went back to staring at his mug. Maybe the tea would've been better. His stomach was starting to twist tighter.
"You do, but thank you," Steve said, walking over. He paused at the seat next to Bucky's right, then apparently changed his mind and walked behind Bucky to get to the seat that put Bucky on his right side.
Bucky quickly downed the last of his drink to keep from choking. Steve remembered. Maybe that was all he remembered, but he remembered.
Nothing was said at first, Bucky regaining his composure and Steve waiting with more patience than he'd been displaying lately for Bucky to say whatever it was he was expecting him to.
Bucky slid the cup across the table, back and forth between his hands, listening to the sound of the friction between the table and the mug that never quite made up its mind if it wanted to roll or drag across the surface. It was a distracting sound, but not distracting enough to make Steve go away. Steve sat stubbornly in that seat, waiting.
If Steve wasn't going to go away, Bucky might as well try saying something.
"What did Maria tell you?"
"That you hadn't been sleeping well and left instead of just taking your medicine," Steve said. "We both knew that something was bothering you if you didn't just try to go back to sleep."
"So she sent you to talk to me. Because we've got a great track record with it."
Steve folded his arms on the table. "I know," he said. "But she didn't exactly send me. She just told me and said it's up to me what I do with it. I thought of leaving you alone, but I guess I couldn't bring myself to let you brood by yourself."
Bucky frowned. "I'm not brooding. I'm just thinking."
"If you could be in a high place outside instead of stuck in here, would you be?"
Bucky gave him no answer but to look at him, expression carefully controlled. He didn't want Steve to know he was right, because that would just lead to conversation that Bucky didn't want.
Steve picked up on his answer anyway. "Then you're brooding."
A frustrated and sharp sigh accompanied a growl in his throat. "What do you want, Steve?"
"To ask what's bothering you." He then added quickly "besides me."
"It's always you," Bucky snapped, then dropped his fist on the table. "I don't want to talk about this with someone I don't trust," he said, then looked at Steve. "And you haven't given me reason to think I can anymore."
Steve flinched, his whole body wilting. "I know," he said. "Neither of us really have. That sketchbook was hidden."
"So were the Winter Soldier files. So who gets to explain first?"
"You," Steve said, and Bucky came very close to getting angry before Steve saved his own ass by explaining "because my answer to those sketches relate to the files."
"Fucking figures," Bucky muttered without any real heat. He looked at his empty mug. "I think you know why. I wanted to see where you were with remembering because you never told me or showed me. And they weren't exactly well-hidden. There was an empty one in there too." He stood. "And you can 'brood' on your own answer while I get some tea."
"I thought you didn't like tea," Steve said, watching him.
Bucky got halfway to the kitchen before he stopped and actually answered that question. "Bruce says peppermint's easy on the stomach."
"Of this conversation," Bucky said, walking into the kitchen. He put the kettle on the stove and cleaned out his mug. Through the serving window, he saw that Steve hadn't moved, had simply rested his head on his folded arms.
Okay, so he wasn't going away. Then this was a conversation that had to happen. Bucky knew it had to eventually, but shaking off a nightmare hadn't been something he wanted to be in the middle of doing when that talk decided to happen.
But the more he let his mind wander over things while the water boiled, the more he started to understand where that nightmare had come from, and the more apparent it was that he needed this conversation now as much as Steve did.
"Do you want something to drink?" he asked, voice slightly raised to be heard across the room.
Steve sat up and turned in his seat, draping one arm over the back of the chair. "Water? Please?"
Bucky nodded once in acknowledgement, then went about getting Steve's water and preparing his now clean mug for the tea.
He went back out to the table a few minutes later, a glass of ice water in one hand and his tea in the other. He set Steve's water down next to him.
Steve mumbled a thanks and took a drink. He looked like he wished it was something stronger than water that he was drinking. "My turn, then."
"Your turn, and it'd better be good," Bucky said. "I hid those files because I knew there was nothing in there that'd help you. You needed time to remember first."
Steve's brows knitted downward a bit, staring at his glass. "I thought the opposite. You'd said that they used that drug on you, I thought maybe learning about what it was might help me figure out how to get my memories back quicker. I knew they gave you more doses and used that chair, but... I just thought maybe there'd be something about the drug itself in there that might help."
Bucky looked back down at his mug, swallowing tightly and wishing that the tea would steep faster. "And instead you found Hydra's version of the Soldier and never bothered to listen to me when I said it wasn't the same anymore."
"If it's not the same, why is he still there?" Steve asked, and there was a strain under his voice, like he was trying to not let things blow up into another pointless screaming match.
Bucky wasn't any more interested in another fight than Steve obviously was, but this question was getting old. "You know, when I or the others act like the Soldier's a different person, it's not because he is. It's just an easier way to tell the difference between how I think and act off mission and on mission. The Soldier's the weapon, he's the one that goes out and follows orders. He's the one that fights. I'm the one that comes back after missions and makes sure you're all right and returns things to normal. But it's still me, with or without the mask."
He tested his tea. Nope, still needed steeping. "It's no different than saying things were before or after I died, when I never died when I fell off that train. It's just a marker. That's all."
Steve stayed quiet, and Bucky hoped he was actually absorbing all of that instead of trying to find ways to shut it down. "Then why was it Hydra's Soldier I saw in that lab?" Steve finally asked.
"It wasn't," Bucky said. "That was me. That was me seeing Hydra trying to make you into their next Winter Soldier. I panicked. So the Soldier did exactly what I wanted to do- made sure they couldn't do that."
There it was. That was the thought the dream had stirred up in the back of his mind. He sighed, hesitant to give it voice.
"There's more, isn't there?"
Damnit, why did Steve always have to be right?
Bucky sat, silent, watching his tea steep, looking for the right words. "There's two parts of me, Bucky and the Soldier. Bucky's supposed to make things okay. But the Soldier... that part of me, I'm afraid of being replaced."
He looked over at Steve. "You know what you do with a broken weapon? You throw it away. Even though I knew damn well that Hydra was using me, that there was something in the back of my head that was important that they were hiding from me, I refused to stop being useful. Because an abandoned weapon is a dead weapon. The Soldier taught me a lot of survival skills."
Then he frowned, looking back at his tea. "But when you try to make me just Hydra's Soldier again, you're throwing him away. And Hydra was set to replace him with you anyway. So what place does he have here? How is he supposed to protect you when you want him gone?"
Bucky shook his head, shoving aside the half-steeped mug of tea. "I know none of that makes sense, I'm not good with words. I just spit shit out until something sticks. But you've taken away the Soldier's place, the one and only thing he could still do. And I can't get rid of him, Steve. I don't know what you expected, that I'd be able to be completely normal after that project, but you should know better."
Steve took in a deep breath, then scrubbed his thumb and index finger over his eyes. "I can only see the lab, that's all my memories give me of him. Every night. And gets worse every night. What I saw, what I remember, that wasn't you, that's not the Bucky I remember, and not just from before the war. I don't remember ever seeing that in recent times, and I'm remembering a lot more than I've been letting on."
"I know you have," Bucky said. "But what you saw in that lab was the Soldier being something he almost never was. He was afraid, Steve. He knew what those drugs did, he knew what those doctors did, I remember every goddamn thing they did and even if the Soldier and I were different people, you genuinely don't think that the Soldier would ever want there to be another him? Especially when the one Hydra chose for their new Winter Soldier was the only person that cared enough to push through their brainwashing? The only person to give him a chance to be a person again?"
Bucky's throat felt tight as his eyes got wet from hurt and anger and frustration and the fear that he wasn't being heard or understood. "I was scared, Steve." He looked at his tea. There were more words desperate to get out, words he actually had, but he wasn't sure if he could get them to actually push past his throat.
He was scared that Steve was seeing so much of Hydra that Bucky wasn't worth keeping around anymore. That was the core of his own anger every time the fights started. Something he should've been saying before things got bad, before yelling took over.
Those were words he should've said weeks ago. Or even a few years ago. He should've said it back in DC. But he'd always been too afraid to.
Steve sighed, sitting back. "I know you've been trying to tell me this," he said, taking Bucky's mind away from that thought. "And I know it's because I'm scared of what happened to me that the nightmares keep showing him. But I've never been afraid like this. Not the way that drug did. I don't know what all was in that drug, but it won't go away."
Bucky wasn't the only one with that thought, it sounded like. Bucky almost said something, almost walked over whatever Steve was starting to say next to put that thought out, to put it in the light to be seen and banished.
But he let Steve finish instead.
"And one of the first things I remembered was the Soldier and the blood," Steve continued, unaware of how easy it'd be to put all this into that simple phrase. 'I'm afraid there's too much Hydra to be saved.' It'd be so easy to clear everything up with that phrase.
But it was one that neither would say, not yet. So Bucky left it.
"And then I read those files," Steve was saying, still talking, from somewhere far away. "And I saw what made you into that. It hurt, Bucky. It killed me that someone would do that to you, that you'd do these things because of them. No, I didn't want you to have done what you did in that lab. That's not an acceptable cost to me."
"It is to me, and that's not your choice to make," Bucky said softly, wondering, maybe hoping that the conversation would turn to where he could put out the fear that he understood now they both had. "You don't have to like the choices I make to protect you, but you don't get to make them for me." He slowly reached out and pulled his mug back to him, giving it a test taste. Yup, that was peppermint.
Now it was Steve's turn to answer, and Bucky wasn't gonna let him get away with silence or more lies this time. "Why am I not in that sketchbook?"
Please say the words, Steve. They won't come out.
The ice in Steve's glass clinked, the slow melt pushing them into different positions. "Because I know you're right," he finally said."Because I know the Soldier's in there, and I don't want him to be. You're right, I don't have to like the choices you make. And I wasn't ready to accept that. Still not sure I am."
Steve took a page from Bucky's book and tapped his glass with his finger a couple times, then his brow furrowed. "You're not in there because I knew he would be too. I don't have clear memories of seeing him, but I felt like I always knew, from the minute we started freelancing, that he'd never go away. I just never counted on how much."
He looked towards the windows again. "I didn't want to accept that it was my fault. I knew it was. I feel there had to have been a better way to help you get out. And I feel like all I did was kept you in there."
Bucky wanted to answer that, wanted to hug Steve and tell him how wrong he was, how that idea of Steve's was exactly what Bucky needed, but he could tell Steve had more to say, so he kept quiet and let him speak.
He shouldn't. He should say it.
But the words died in his throat.
Steve took a drink, then set his glass down and looked at Bucky. His expression was far blander than the anger Bucky saw in his eyes. "The Soldier called me a controller. I don't control you, Bucky. You make your own choices, even the ones I don't like. I thought we were partners, and all this time, we've been going out on the job and you've been pulling him out and thinking of me as some sort of controller."
Bucky all but dropped his mug on the table and covered his face with his hands, all other thoughts gone. "Oh god, Steve, that- no, that word doesn't mean what you think it means. It's just Hydra's word that I'm used to when I go out in uniform. We're partners, but haven't you noticed- don't you remember -that you always made the final call on a strategy? I don't know how to function out there without someone saying 'we're doing this'."
Please don't see too much of Hydra to remember this.
"You honestly don't remember that? You don't know that while I come up with ideas sometimes, you're the one that says 'let's do it' and I follow along, even if I don't like the plan? That's what happened in Palestine. I tried to talk you out of that idea more than once, and every time you said we were going through with it, I just modified the idea to accommodate your orders. You're a commanding officer, the person that says 'here's the mission.' That's all that means."
Then he dropped his hands and pointed one finger sternly at Steve. "And don't act that isn't exactly how it was with the Howling Commandos. You always had the final say. Just because it's a deeper programming in my brain now doesn't mean it's not the same."
Don't see too much of them to not remember. Someone say it, please.
Steve didn't seem to like that reminder, pushing Bucky's hand away and turning his head stare out the back window instead of meeting Bucky's gaze. "So who gave you the mission to take over here?"
Steve whipped his head back around. "I did not."
The sharp sound of an electrical spark interrupted the words that were finally on the tip of Bucky's tongue, the words that needed saying the most, and they both jumped to their feet, looking in the direction of the noise.
A giant pulse of electricity crackled and blackened a trail in the wall behind it, crawled its way from the light sconce on one side of the dining room door to the other, sparks flying but never setting anything ablaze, down the wall, until it disappeared behind the picture of Kitty. A nanosecond passed before the picture and recorder went flying, the electric charge exploding out of the wall before disappearing.
They both ducked under the table for cover; lightning shot across the walls for a few seconds longer before all signs of the activity stopped, the only source of light once again coming from the kitchen behind them.
Neither spoke nor moved except to peek over the table, examining the walls and the lights and the floor around them carefully. The damage to the wall was already fixed, as if nothing had happened. They both decided it was safe to emerge from behind their makeshift blockade.
"I'm getting a little tired of this," Steve said, getting to his feet and walking with Bucky around the table to examine the damage. The picture Steve drew was burned out in the middle, but the rest of the paper was completely intact. "I know you think that this is your mission somehow, and fine, it is, whatever, but are you really sure we should stay here when she keeps doing things like this?" He waved the ruined picture pointedly.
Bucky spared it a glance as he walked farther across the room, rescuing the recorder that was in two pieces on the ground. "I'm tired of it too," he said, then crouched down and held up the recorder pieces for Steve to see. "But I don't think that was meant to be dangerous. She controls the wires, if she wanted to hurt us, she would've. I think this was just an eight year old child throwing a temper tantrum because the adults were talking over her." He stood, trying to fit the recorder's pieces back together. "I should've gone to the lounge, but I didn't think I'd get company. She must've been trying to say something and all we would've heard tomorrow was our bitching at each other."
Steve walked over to him, crumpling the ruined picture in his hands. "Think you can fix it?"
"Maybe," Bucky said. "I'll try in the morning. If I can, I'll erase tonight's play back so we have a fresh start and we can try again. Just no more going into where we have this and talking over her." He looked upwards. "Hear that, kid? I'm sorry. We won't do that again. But no more tricks like that."
There was no response; Bucky didn't expect one, but at least there was no more sign of her tantrum.
Bucky set the broken recorder back on the table. "We should go back to bed. Unless you had something else to say."
"Yeah." Steve didn't continue until Bucky looked back at him. "I'm sorry. For a lot of things."
Bucky couldn't help the way one corner of his lips quirked upwards a bit. "Yeah. Me too." He gave the recorder one more look. "But I'm going back to bed. Got a lot to think about, but I need sleep first, and Maria's gonna get worried."
"When're you going to come home?" Steve asked, barely above a whisper, a calm look on his face belying what his voice hinted at.
"I don't know," Bucky answered with as much honesty as he could. "Trust takes time to build back up. Tell me, if something attacked right now, would you trust your back to the Soldier? Because that's the part of me that'd be fighting next to you." He gave Steve a second to answer, and with none forthcoming, Bucky just shook his head. "You wouldn't. Not yet. So I'm still staying with Maria."
Steve's answer to that was to stare down at his feet. "I don't like sleeping alone," he said. "I thought I'd still be used to it from the Tower, and I'm really not."
"I know," Bucky said. "But it won't be forever. Hell, if we keep it up at this rate, it might accidentally be soon. But not yet."
"What about the couches?"
The couches. That hadn't occurred to Bucky, and hearing Steve request it shook up that big brother instinct again, and this time, he wasn't sure he could ignore it, or if ignoring it would even be a good idea. Maybe they couldn't handle the closeness of having to share a bed that claimed to be a queen bed but really wasn't for two broad shouldered super soldiers, but maybe the couches. A step in the right direction.
Maria was probably still awake, he could explain. She'd be okay on her own, she wasn't the one that need to have someone nearby to sleep.
"The couches," Bucky agreed. "But just tonight. Just for now. We'll figure out other stuff before we do this again. At that point, it might be okay for me to move back in."
"Fair enough," Steve said, sounding at once relieved and disappointed. "I've missed my partner."
Bucky gave him a faint smile that wanted to wobble. "I have too. But just tonight."
With that agreement, they made their way up to their respective rooms.
To Bucky's complete lack of surprise, Maria wasn't asleep, sitting up in bed with her lamp on her nightstand on, reading. She looked up at his entrance. "Was I right to send him down?"
Bucky shut the door behind him. "It was a dirty trick, but it might've worked. We're sleeping on the couches in the lounge tonight."
Maria smiled, setting down her book. "Are you planning on moving back in with him, then?"
Bucky shook his head, grabbing his pillow. "No, not yet. But he needs tonight."
"So do you."
Bucky paused and looked at her. "The fact that you understand me that well is frightening," he said.
She merely smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow."
He leaned over and gave her a kiss. "I'll be here," he said, then got up and headed back out. He didn't see any signs that Steve had left or not. Well, if he changed his mind about the couches, Bucky could always come back up and tell Maria it was a bust and things would go back to that new normal that nobody liked. He headed down the stairs, down the hallway, and up to the lounge.
Steve wasn't there yet. He couldn't be far behind, could he? There was a sinking sensation in Bucky's stomach, and he very suddenly wanted to go back to the cafeteria and get that tea, or maybe just go back to Maria's dorm and go back to bed there. He could hose his brain down with enough Ativan to force him to sleep.
Bucky dropped his pillow on one end of one of the couches and sat down, his finger tapping on his thigh from nerves. Where was Steve? Was that whole stupid conversation of garbled nonsense just part of a dream and here he was, waiting for someone that was sound asleep in bed?
He was ready to get up and go back to Maria's dorm when Steve finally entered, two blankets bundled up under one arm, his other occupied with his pillow. He tossed his pillow on the other couch without a word, then separated the two blankets. The comforter from their room was in one hand, and he tossed it onto his couch. The other hand held a warm fleece blanket that Bucky recognized when Steve held it up for him.
"I know you get cold easy," Steve said. "If this one's not warm enough, we can switch." He handed the blanket over. "I remember Tony got it for you after Kiev."
Bucky stood and took the blanket from him, looking at it. It was warm fleece, dark blue with that too-familiar design of Steve's shield and Bucky's shoulder merged together in a round emblem. It was a warm blanket, Bucky had to admit that. But the design was Tony's subtle reminder to Bucky to rely on Steve and not shut him out. Steve probably hadn't picked up on that, had probably just seen another piece of merchandise that his smartass friend had given them.
Message received, Tony.
"Yeah," Bucky said, then draped it over his couch. "He thought he was being funny." No need to tell Steve anything different. "It'll be warm enough." The he pointed at Steve's couch. "Sleep."
Steve rolled his eyes. "Yes, sir. Anything else, sir?"
"Yeah, shut up."
The couches weren't as close to each other in the lounge as the two in their apartment at the Tower were, but there was still the sound of another person, and a closeness that Steve had been lacking that Bucky was actually glad to give him, at least a little. Blankets were kicked around and pillows adjusted noisily until it sounded like they were both ready to sleep.
"If you still need to think of protecting us as a mission, I'll make sure nobody argues with you over it. I'll beat the others into submission if they get tired of your bossiness."
Bucky snorted. Oh Steve. It wasn't a subject Bucky had wanted brought up right before sleep, but that was such a wonderfully Steve thing to hear that it might just put him into a more peaceful sleep. And he suspected he heard an 'including myself' in that last part, and that was fantastic to hear. "Good. Because I'm going to be bossy. Now sleep, Steve."