this is our temporary home
it's not where we belong
windows and rooms
that we're passing through
this is just a stop
on the way to where we're going
They'd been banished like lepers.
Bucky knew why, it was his own assessment of how Hydra might've affected Steve, how he knew Hydra had affected the Soldier and Bucky's control over him that got them there. Hydra had dug its claws in deep with Steve, haunted him from the second that drug was in him, and his sketches of his nightmares proved it. And Bucky knew where they were in his own dreams.
But knowing why didn't mean he had to like it.
The school Tony exiled them to looked like it was a mansion that had been converted into a school and was now a secret headquarters.
Bucky studied the grounds map that Junior had produced, a basic picture of the building and the grounds from up top of it. The central part looked like a hub, with two wings shooting off its rear areas like bug legs, little halls that popped up into three story buildings in their own rights, and another set of wings that curled around the front entrance like scorpion claws.
The hub itself looked to be three stories high, a pointed roof with windows surrounding its sides. It made him think of a watch tower. Below that were two more areas that 'bubbled' off between the central part and the back bug legs wings. There was a square room with windows for a ceiling in front of the tower. The back of the building looked to be another open room, ceilinged entirely in glass and rolling out over a large room of undetermined use.
In the far back was a flat and rectangular building with no windows, in sharp contrast to the main building, which piqued Bucky's curiosity. After things were as put away as possible, he would go check that out.
To the east of the building was another rectangular building, small, with windows. He'd investigate that one, too.
There were six paths leading away from the main building. One to the back building, one to the east building, one disappearing into a small forest to the west, and then three that branched off at angles out front. He had no idea where any of those went.
Maria hadn't been flying fast enough, nor was she coming to a stop too quickly for him to need to be seated and buckled in, so he remained at the computer station, going over the map over and over again. He'd wait until Maria had them on the ground to start asking Junior questions. And he'd have to be fast about them, they had fresh food on board that needed into a fridge and soon.
Then they had their own suitcases, packed for a week long stay, though it would likely be only a few days they'd have to live out of those before the rest of their belongings caught up to them.
As the quinjet's engines powered down, the others joined him at the station. He gave them all a mental stink eye for crowding him. If it wasn't Steve, it was Maria, and now it was both them, plus Sharon and Bruce that were hanging over his shoulder.
"So what've we got?" Steve asked, getting down close over Bucky's shoulder.
Stop that. "A big building," he retorted. "Junior, how much knowledge of this place were you programmed with?"
"Relatively little," she replied. "The back two wings are the dorms, boys in the west, girls in the east. The path to the west leads to where the quinjet will be hiding. The path to the west of the front courtyard leads to the building that houses the arc reactor. It was a stable house before, but it's been repurposed. The path straight ahead of the building leads to the road, and the path off to the east of the entrance goes to the garages, where there is a BMW X5 waiting."
"That's a nice piece of machinery," Sharon said.
"You won't stand out," Junior assured her. "This is one of the richest counties in New York."
"What're those other two buildings?" Bucky asked.
"The one to the east houses equipment to care for the grounds, and has room for a groundskeeper to live comfortably," she replied. "The building out back is not programmed into my memory, so I'm not sure."
Bucky blew out a huff of frustration. "Naturally. What else do you know about the building itself, besides the dorms?"
"Nothing," was Junior's reply.
"Nothing?" Steve looked down at Bucky. "Is Tony normally that bad at leaving out information?"
Bucky frowned. "More like he's that good at keeping secrets when he wants to be. After we get the food put away and pick our rooms, I'll come back out and call him. Think you can wait out here long enough, Junior?"
"I shouldn't," she said. "But you know where I'll be to call him after you've had a chance to compile a list of other things the building lacks. Doctor Banner might have medical supplies he'd like to have brought in, for example."
"Probably," Bruce said. "Including medicines I forgot."
Bucky lifted his head to look directly up at Bruce. "You? You forgot medicines?"
Bruce gave him a weak shrug. "I was up later than the rest of you. Once I packed my own things, Tony had me help close up the Avengers lab. I didn't get time or rest enough to remember to check the medlab and everyone's charts." Then he gave Bucky a stern doctor look. "You remembered your Ativan, right?"
Bucky sighed. He wasn't fond of the others knowing he was officially on an anti-anxiety medicine, but there it was, out in the open. "Yes, Doctor Banner, and yes, Doctor Banner, I remembered my Ritalin-C, and yes, Doctor Banner, I remembered Steve's bottle of that stuff too. Will that be all, Doctor Banner?"
Steve gave him a light whack upside the head ."Be nice to your doctor."
Bucky growled at him, but didn't say anything. "Okay, so no idea where the kitchen is, huh?"
"As useful as that knowledge would've been, no," Junior admitted. "Looking at the map, however, I'd guess it's towards the back. There doesn't seem to be anywhere in specific in the middle it could be, and if the back wings are dorms, I'd guess the front wings to be the classrooms."
"Smart UI," Bucky said, patting the console. "We'll head towards the back first, then. Stick around until we're all unloaded. We'll make a laundry list to send back to Tony."
"I already have JARVIS standing by," Junior replied, her voice practically purring from the compliment.
Tony, you make weird programs.
The others took that as their orders to start gathering grocery bags, things packed on Junior along with their suitcases only an hour or so before. It didn't take a quinjet long to go from the Tower to upstate New York, and much of that food had been brought up from the kitchen used for formal functions in the Tower while they were loading up their things, so it was as fresh as possible. The few frozen things had been put into Bruce's blood cooler, and he was in charge of those.
Arms full of bags with yet more to come back for, Bucky led the group inside, past an atrium with windows on the roof- good lord, with all the windows, this place should be impossible to keep warm or cool, and speaking of temperature, it was stiflingly hot in there. That was draining on Bucky's already exhausted nerves.
But there was food to put away, and suitcases to unpack and a building (two, actually) to explore and a list of supplies they might be short on. All within the next day or so, although most of that would be that day. It was still relatively early in the morning, only about nine thirty or so, which left them plenty of time to explore once their chores were done.
"Hey, Bucky," Steve said from just off of Bucky's left flank. "Looks like this place comes with a pet for you."
Bucky had to pause mid-step, disrupting the fluid formation of the group, to see what Steve was talking about. Taking a nap on a couch near where the front west wing slid off, was a grey kitten. "Great, another mouth to feed."
"Make that two," Sharon said from further back, just behind Steve.
By that time, they'd all stopped and started looking around, and there were at least two other cats, besides the ones pointed out by Steve and Sharon.
"Did a cat colony move in?" Bruce asked.
"No idea," Bucky said, starting to walk again, but slower, looking for signs of more cats. He wasn't disappointed- they seemed to be everywhere. "Let's get food put away before they start raiding it. When we find the damn kitchen, I'll start unloading, you guys go get what's left. And try to take a tally of how many furballs there are around here."
"I've already counted six," Maria said, and Bucky glanced in her direction, off to his right flank, to notice stairs heading up to what he guessed was the eastern windowed room on the second floor. There were two more there, one headed up, the other sitting on the bottom stair with a zen look on its face. It had no fucks to give about the invasion of five humans.
"Weird," Sharon said. "How long have they been here? My allergies aren't reacting to them. This many cats, even if they just got here, I should be sneezing by now."
Bucky almost stopped mid-step again. That was strange. "We'll have Bruce take a look at you later," he said.
"I'll give her an exam," Bruce said. "But it could be that she's simply outgrown the allergies. That happens sometimes."
Junior had been right about the kitchen, sorta. The back area with the curved window ceiling was a dining area, once a cafeteria but any bench tables that had been there were replaced with three proper dining tables with comfortable looking chairs. The kitchen was off to the west of the room, and while a quick inspection of it showed it certainly wasn't as good as the Tower's kitchen, it was sizable, and Bucky declared it 'good enough.'
Bags were set down and Bucky went to work putting things away before it went bad or a cat got into it.
Speaking of cats, in strolled a calico that looked a pound too heavy for her frame while Bucky was digging around the bottom of a bag that he'd almost had unloaded. He eyed her. "Don't think any of this is yours, sweetheart," he said, at once charmed by the way she sauntered about and still harboring irritation that he was there at all to be charmed by her.
She curled around his legs, then stepped back, hopped up on a counter, and sat down like a statue of Bastet, her tail curled around her.
He paused in unpacking, the fridge door standing open. "Just remember, you can watch, but don't touch anything."
She behaved herself, seeming happy to watch and not interfere as he put away food enough for a week with three normal humans and two super soldiers with high metabolisms.
"I see you've already made friends," Maria said upon reentering the kitchen, another two heavy paper bags in hand.
"She's behaving," Bucky said, digging into the last bag from the first trip. "How much more's left?"
Sharon hefted one of her bags up onto the serving counter, opposite from where the calico was sitting. "This is the last of it. Steve grabbed your suitcases and is heading to the boys dorm to check out the room situations."
Bruce set down one last bag. "We're hoping that there's a set of teacher dorms on one of those floors, maybe something bigger than a student's dorm."
"Preferably with private bathrooms," Maria said. "Sharing shower space between the genders might be uncomfortable for some."
He flashed her a look, wanting so badly to make a joke at her, but they were all too tired for it, with a long day ahead of them. There'd be days of utter boredom to follow, plenty of time for him to flirt mercilessly with her, but for now, he decided to just agree with her. "Having a place to set out your toiletries the way you like it isn't a bad thing either," he said.
He straightened from digging into one of the new bags. "Okay everyone, go get your stuff, make sure you have your comms. Did Ste- nevermind, he doesn't need to grab one." Bucky frowned, and turned on his comm. "Steve?" No reply. Fear bubbled at the back of his mind. "Steve?" Oh god please answer, don't do this to me, Rogers. "Steve?"
Bucky was forced to take a deep breath to kill the rising panic. This was not like Palestine. Hydra scientists wouldn't have gotten ahold of him here. "And he doesn't have his turned on. If any of you see him on your way past, tell him to turn it on. I need to be kept up to date while I unload the food and start investigating the building."
"You're not going to come check out the dorms first?" Sharon asked.
Bucky shook his head. "I will after I've made a go around the place. I trust Steve to pick a room for me to toss my suitcase into." He didn't mention the fact that unless bedding didn't allow it, he planned on sharing a room with Steve. He had a feeling he didn't have to.
"We'll help," Bruce said. "We can just pick rooms and drop our suitcases. I have to find a place to set up as a medical center for us." He glanced over his shoulder. "I thought I saw a room marked 'doctor's office' on the way by, but I didn't get to investigate."
"I'll leave that room for you then," Bucky said. Then he waved them all away. "Go on, go get your stuff. This room's handled."
They didn't question that order that wasn't phrased like an order. In some weird way, this whole thing was still part of the mission to Palestine, the results and fallout of it, and Bucky remained the one in charge, a position he no longer wanted to be in.
But the others seemed to want to continue to listen to him, so he may as well accept it.
Bucky continued to put food away, pausing once to pet the calico, who'd been perfectly behaved that whole time. "Hey, little Cali," he said, automatically naming her in his mind. "What's the story with you and your friends?"
She did little in answer but to purr and press up into his hand.
"Thought so," he said, then finished off the last bag.
"We're in, Bucky," Maria's voice said. "That's the last of our things out of the quinjet, Junior's flying off to her landing area now."
"Go find out what Steve's found," Bucky replied, folding up all the bags to store for later use. "I'm almost done."
Just as he was putting the last of the food away and was starting to investigate the 'non-perishables' for expired food, he heard Maria tell Steve to turn on his comm. From Maria's side of the conversation, it sounded like Steve didn't remember the chip, which meant he probably didn't know how to use it.
Tuna Helper. Really, Tony? Expired, too. The cupboards were a mess. As soon as they could, they'd have to go into town to get some staples that weren't in the fridge. A look through the other cupboards showed a dismaying lack of spices.
Bruce stepped in with Steve, explaining how the chips worked and that Bucky already had his own and was waiting for a response. A bit more fussing on Bruce's end and then Steve's voice came loud and clear into the comm. "Bucky?"
"I'm here, Steve," Bucky said, feeling more relief than he'd let on. "Tony doesn't know what a spice is, there's hardly anything in here. Any idea how we can get to a grocery store so I can buy shit for this place without us being recognized?"
"Already taken care of," Sharon said. "After we get an idea of the place and I can get unpacked, we'll get on that. It'll be a couple days before I can actually go, though."
Bucky paused, arm outstretched to throw away a can of pre-cooked chicken. "That's vague."
"You'll see," Sharon said. "So what's upstairs in the dorms, Steve?"
"The first floor looks like it's for the younger crowd. The second floor might've been the high school-aged kids. Top floor I think must be the teacher's floor. There's four bigger dorms. Queen beds, private bathrooms. Closets are a bit small, and so are the dressers, but if the girls' side is the same, we can bring over furniture from there."
"Should we check out the girls' dorms before we settle, Bucky?" Maria asked.
Bucky grit his teeth. He didn't want to be the one making the decisions anymore. But Steve was out of commission temporarily and none of the others were leaders. "No, we'll stick with the boys' dorms. No eastern sun to wake us and the trees will minimize heat and the sunset."
"Works for me," Steve said. "I left our bags in the hall on the first floor. We'll go pick rooms and put our suitcases down. I got yours."
"Thank you." Bucky finished emptying the cupboards of almost everything that was supposedly non-perishable and grabbed the trash bag, hauling it to the kitchen's entrance. "Hey, Junior, where does trash go?"
"There's a dumpster out by the street entrance. Mister Stark bought out the trash company in town and told them there was regular maintenance being done to the place, so trash would be common for awhile. They come by every Monday."
It was Thursday, so they still had time to throw out as much as they needed before it was all picked up. Good.
"Thanks, Junior," Bucky said, deciding to check out the place before taking the bag out. "Bruce, once you're done unpacking or dropping your suitcase or whatever, mind checking out that doctor's office? Everyone else, spread out, start investigating areas. Report in what you find."
Still with the orders. And this time it was his own damn fault. Sigh.
He looked at the calico. "Care to join me outside, Cali?"
"You've already named her?" Sharon asked in disbelief.
Bucky frowned, heading out of the kitchen. Cali jumped down off the counter and followed him. "She's a calico, what else am I supposed to call her? I can't call her 'cat' or 'kitty', there's a million other cats around here."
He unbolted the dining room door and headed out, and Cali actually followed him out into the hot summer sun. At least it wasn't stifling like it inside.
"Hey, someone find the thermostat and turn on the AC in there," he said.
"Already looking," Sharon said. "It's like an oven in here."
"Astute observation," Bruce said without a trace of sarcasm. "I'm heading to the medical office now to start making a list of things I need. Sharon, do you have your Percocet?"
"I'm set for now," she said. "I'll need more next month."
"I'll put that on the list. I need to be able to get everyone's medicines on a regular basis."
Bucky glanced down at Cali, who was trotting right along side him as if she'd known him her whole life. Weird.
He wanted to ask what Sharon was on Percocet for, but he decided not to. That was her business between her and Bruce, despite it being announced over their comms. He might ask her in private later if his curiosity was still strong.
The building out back, he found, was locked up tight and the only way to get in was through an electronic lock. He played around with the keypad until he found the right combo and it popped open a handprint scanner.
He closed the scanner, letting loose a few pleasant comments.
"Bucky found something he didn't like," Steve commented in his ear. "What'd you find out there?"
"The place is locked up with an electronic lock," he said, leaving the building for now to go around to the grounds maintenance building. "Code and handprint scanner. For the left hand."
"We'll add that to the list of things for Tony to help us with," Maria said. "Okay, I'm ready to go explore. Steve, want to take the two front wings with me?"
"Sounds good," Steve said. "Bucky, you're still checking around outside?"
"Yeah," Bucky said. "There's the building with the grounds keeping stuff still. I wanna see how it locks and what kind of equipment we have to work with for taking care of this place. After that, I'll come in."
Sharon piped in. "I'll take the second floor of the central part of the building," she said. "There's at least three rooms up there, and that third floor watch tower."
"I might join you for that, depending on what kind of lock I find out here," Bucky said. He glanced down at Cali. "Me and the cat both. She's still following me."
"She likes you," Steve said. "Most cats do."
"I think my mother dunked me in cat pheromones when I was a baby," Bucky said. "They attach themselves to me like I'm the greatest thing ever."
"Says the man who adopts every one he comes across," Steve said.
"Not every one," Bucky protested. "I have owned one cat. I took care of neighborhood strays as a kid, but the only cat I ever owned personally was Kitty."
Maria answered that, her voice at once confused and amused. "You had a cat named Kitty?"
"My niece named him for me."
"How old was she?"
"Five, I think. Maybe four. I don't remember, I adopted that cat when I got back from college. But every cat I had before were neighborhood strays, so don't anyone act like I adopt animals at random. I think this one just adopted me." He looked down at Cali who was trotting along beside him like she was a dog that didn't need a leash. "And you are of no help, cat," he said. "Speaking of cats, though, what's the tally so far?"
There were a few various reports about how many were seen where, some were confirmed to be the same cat that moved to different rooms, and all together they came up with twenty, counting Cali.
"The weird thing is," Sharon said, "is that there's twenty cats, no smells of cats, no sign of what they eat, they're all inside and the place was locked up, and my allergies still aren't going off."
"I'll take a look at you," Bruce assured her.
"Thank you," Sharon said. "But I noticed something stranger than my allergies not bothering me. Has anyone smelled any sign of cat urine or feces? Or any smell of cats in general?"
Bucky paused, glancing back at the school. "I didn't," he said. The others indicated the same. "Weird." Then he shrugged, an action that added nothing to a conversation held over a computer communication system. "Well, something to worry for later. It's weird, but whatever."
Having made his decision on the matter and dismissed it from further thought, Bucky stopped at the door to the grounds maintenance building. It had windows on either side, and a regular lock on the door. He glanced in the windows. "So we get to decide who gets what chores out here," he said. "I see two lawnmowers, a riding model and a push model, and a riding model snowblower and a few snow shovels."
"If there's multiple tools for the snow, we'll all pitch in on that," Maria said, taking a decision out of his hands and thank god. "The mowing we'll have to take rotations on. I imagine that push mower is for the smaller areas the riding one can't get into. Are there any signs of gardening tools? Or any signs of gardens out there?"
Bucky stepped back and looked around. "I don't see any flower beds, not even hedges. Pretty plain yard for a place like this."
"Fewer bees," Sharon said. "If a student were stung and had an allergic reaction, the school would be paying out the nose in medical fees and potentially legal fees. Plain grass doesn't get a lot of attention from a lot of bugs in general."
"Oh believe me, there are still bugs out here," Bucky complained, heading back for the back door of the main building.
"I'm sure there are," Sharon said. "Report, the eastern second floor room seems to be a lounge of some sort. I don't know if it was a student lounge or something else before, but it's set up a lot like the penthouse now."
"Good, we're not stuck making the dining room the center of the universe," Bucky said. "What about the room across from that?"
"Locked," Sharon said. "Same with the door to the watch tower. The front room on this floor looks like Tony set it up as a work room."
"I'll probably take over it," Bucky said. "Maria, Steve, what's up in those wings?"
"East wing is classrooms both levels," Steve said.
"Same with the west," Maria added. "Just classrooms. Have we checked the basement yet?"
Bucky pulled open the back door, pausing to let Cali in. "I was just heading there," he said. The air wasn't cool, but it was cooler than it had been. The vents hummed with the AC running. Hallelujah. "Bruce, I can only assume from your silence that the doctor's office is what it was advertised to be."
"It is," Bruce said, sounding distracted ."I'm taking inventory of what it has and making a list of what I want that it doesn't."
"Fascinating, Doctor," Bucky said. He got to that central hub about the time Sharon was coming down the stairs. He looked at her. "So those two doors were locked, huh? With keys or what?"
"The upstairs looks like the kind of lock you probably saw on that building out back," she said. Interesting. "Not sure what's up there, but the other one was a keypad lock. I don't have the equipment I had in SHIELD to crack that."
"Make a list," Bucky said. "Watch tower lock, other random room lock, outside building lock. We need ways into all of those buildings and Tony can sit and spin if he thinks we don't. I don't want to have inaccessible rooms where I'm living."
"Neither do I," Sharon said. "Makes the bodyguard in me on edge."
"I think it'd put any Avenger on edge," Bucky said, watching towards the front of the building when he heard footsteps.
Steve was the first to emerge into the atrium and join them. "Absolutely nothing of interest in those classrooms," he said. He tapped the chip behind his ear. "And this is weird. You're already used to it?"
Bucky shook his head. "Not really, I only remember it's there because I'm not wearing an ear piece when I otherwise would be."
"It's convenient," Steve said, dropping his hand. He looked over as Maria joined them. "Same as over there? Lotta boring?"
She nodded. "Nothing over there but empty classrooms."
"Thirteen grades," Sharon reminded them. "Lotta kids to provide classrooms for." She looked around. "I see one more door to check out."
"I got it," Bucky said. "Everyone, go unpack. Steve, grab my tablet and pick out something for me to cook. Something with few spices, there's not much to speak of in the cupboards in there. And someone take out the trash for me, I got caught up in investigating the place."
"So we're meeting you in the dining room?"
Bucky nodded. "Yeah. I'm just checking out this room or whatever. And Bruce?"
Bruce barely acknowledged him, but he managed a "hm?"
"Go unpack. We have all day to get to those lists, I want us settled to make sure we're hitting everything before we start worrying about what we're missing."
"Hm? Okay." He sighed. "I think I heard mention of food, and that would probably be better before making those lists as well."
"Kinda my thought," Bucky said, stepping over to the door. Cali walked next to him, having never left his side. He glanced down at her. "You know, at some point, you're gonna have to stop following me. Why don't you go check out the room Steve is sticking me in for me?" She stubbornly sat down next to him, watching him and waiting for him to open the door." He sighed. "Fine." He pointed at the others sternly. "No laughing. Go unpack."
His order of no laughing was mostly ignored, but at least they left to go unpack (and hopefully take out that trash for him). He waited until he saw Bruce leave the doctor's office further down the hall to join them, then turned to the door and yanked it open.
It led downstairs, probably to where the furnace and the hot water heater were all stored. Good, he could check what filter they needed for later. The fusebox was probably also down there, and it'd be a good thing to check out.
The place wasn't exactly a labyrinth, but it had a couple halls. One side revealed much nicer rooms painted in the same sunshine yellow paint on the hallway walls. They were empty, but there were outlets and wall sconce lights like what were in the dining room that made him suspect that while groundskeepers slept in that building outside, the maintenance people lived down there.
Down the central area was a small hallway leading to an obvious laundry facility, with a number of washers and dryers. Carrying laundry that far to wash it would be a pain in the ass, but at least they wouldn't have to go out to a laundromat to do it.
The other hallway branch led to, as Bucky expected, the inner workings of the building, the hot water heater, which took up a room by itself- good, they'd never go without hot water -and the furnace. He checked the filter on it and committed its type and size to memory.
Overhead on that side of the basement and down to the laundry area were pipes and cables, exposed for easy repairs, rather than covered for some semblance of comfort on the residential side.
The last room on the right side of the wall was the circuit breaker room, with the fuse boxes. It had that same yellow paint that the rest of the basement had, and Bucky was already sick of looking at it. Having a lighter color in the basement to make it seem brighter under the lights made sense, but that shade of yellow was annoying.
He took a walk around the room, checking the fuse boxes. There was one on each wall except the one shared with the hallway. The one that shared a wall with the furnace room had an odd distortion in the paint next to it.
Worried that it was shorting out or otherwise doing something to melt the paint, Bucky walked over and poked at the paint. It looked like it'd just gotten overheated. Not a good thing in a room with fuse boxes, but a peek past one of the peeling parts showed that there was a darker color under it.
Must've just been another paint under there that the yellow paint wasn't sticking to. Maybe some graffiti they'd tried to paint over.
Satisfied that the building wasn't going to go without hot water or lack basic repair tools, Bucky turned off the light and headed back upstairs.