Hell Bound

Start by pulling him out of the fire and
hoping that he will forget the smell.
He was supposed to be an angel but they took him
from that light and turned him into something hungry,
something that forgets what his hands are for when they
aren’t shaking.

When is a monster not a monster?
Oh, when you love it.

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35. Chapter Thirty Five

When I returned home, I found Graham attempting to bake something. I wasn’t entirely sure why he was baking so early in the morning, but he could have just been wearing oven mitts and a mysterious apron for fashion. Who was I to judge?

“Hey, where’d you go?” he asked as I located him in the hallway.

“Um—I just had a meeting. Where’s Bucky?” I asked.

“I think he’s in the shower. Mostly because he came down here and got the plastic wrap and then disappeared again. At least I hope that’s what he meant to use the plastic wrap for.” I laughed and rolled my eyes. Then I headed up the stairs to find him.

Graham’s assumption was corrected. I heard the shower going when I reached the top floor, so I followed the sound of it to the bathroom. I put my hand on the doorknob and wondered if I should go in and let him know I was there. Instead, I went back to my bedroom. I kicked my shoes off and faceplanted onto my bed.

I didn’t know what to do. There was still a possibility that it wasn’t real. My mind could just be processing things. Maybe I actually was just working through all of the stuff that was going on and my own guilt. But it felt so real. Just as real as the dreams about killing my friends. I didn’t know what to think anymore. I didn’t want it to be real. I didn’t want to have to deal with what it would mean. Bucky probably wouldn’t take it very well, but I felt like I had to say something. If he remembered without my help, he would probably panic and leave. Maybe he could just tell me it wasn’t real at all, and I’d be able to know whether or not my mind was playing tricks on me.

But then again, he could also tell me that it was real.

I heard the shower shut off, and I groaned. I didn’t want to talk about it. I could easily avoid it again, but I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea anymore. Like she said, honestly. It could lead toward a resolution. I just didn’t want it to push him away.

I sat up and pulled a pillow onto my lap. Then I stayed there waiting for him to come back to my room. He’d left his backpack full of notebooks on the floor. I knew he wouldn’t start the day downstairs without them. So I waited until I heard the bathroom door open and he returned.

“Jo,” he said softly when he opened the door and stepped into my room.

He was dressed, but his hair was still wet. He shut the door and then climbed onto the bed to sit in front of me. He didn’t look anything like the man in my dream. His eyes were light and warm. His expression was concerned. I moved my hand out to push a strand of wet hair out of his face. His expression softened, but he still seemed concerned.

“What did you see?” he asked. I shook my head and dropped my hand back onto my lap.

“You know, the usual,” I replied. Then I reached out to wrap my arms around him. I dropped my head onto his shoulder, and he gripped me. He smelled like my soap and shampoo. But his body was warm, even with the metal I could feel under his shirt. The dream wasn’t really Bucky. Even if it did happen. It wasn’t him. I sighed deeply and shut my eyes.

“What did you see?” he repeated.

“You were digging up information on me before you knew who I was, right?” I asked him. I felt him nod. “So you know I was almost discharged?”

“I saw something.”

“Do you know what I did?”

“Assault. With a knife.”

“It didn’t say why?”

“No.”

“Of course not.”

“I figured he deserved it.” I took another deep breath. His chest was warm, and his shirt was damp. I could feel his heart beating against me. I didn’t feel afraid even though I knew I should. I just felt safe. “What did he do, Johanna?”

“I was a woman in the army, James.” His body stiffened, and I moved my head into the crook of his neck. “I was cleaning the floor,” I told him. “He held my head in the bucket of mop water. I can still taste it sometimes. Dirt. Soap. Blood.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I fought back.” He was still, but I could feel his heart beating steadily. “I stabbed him in the leg.”

“I’m glad to hear that.”

“I would have gotten away with it if I’d just stopped there. I didn’t. Once I got him down, I tied him to an exposed pipe, and I cut him open. Everywhere. I tortured him, Bucky. I wanted him to know what it felt like to be afraid.” His other hand moved over my back and gripped my shoulder. The metal was gentle. He was making sure not to apply too much pressure. He didn’t want to hurt me. “It was a fear that never went away.”

“What was?”

“The fear of drowning.”

“Is that what you saw?” he asked.

“It was just a dream,” I whispered.

“What kind of dream?”

“I saw you. Holding my head underwater.” He didn’t say anything for a long moment. His body had relaxed, but he still wasn’t moving.

“Why?” he asked me after a while.

“They wanted to know about Russell.”

“They never used me for that. Not for questioning.”

“I know. It was just a dream.” I didn’t sound convinced, and I was sure he wasn’t either. He slid his arms back around and gently moved me forward to put space between us. He kept his hands on my shoulders, and his eyes were narrowed as he examined my face for doubt.

“What did they ask you about him? Do you know who it was?” he asked.

“I didn’t see his face. The light was behind him. First, he wanted Russell’s name. His real name. Then he said I had to tell him everything I knew about him or…”

“Or what?”

“Or he’d rip off my wings. He called me a butterfly.”

“A butterfly,” he repeated.

“Does that mean anything to you?”

“No.” He let go of my shoulders and moved off of the bed. “But I should leave.”

“And go where?”

“I don’t know. I just—I need to leave. I need to think.”

“Please don’t go?” He paused with his backpack in his hand and his eyes met mine again.

“What if it’s real?”

“It was a dream.”

“So where the others.” I looked down at the pillow in my lap and twisted my fingers. “Maybe those aren’t real either.”

“It was a very specific dream, Jo. Very detailed.”

“So maybe the rest of it was real. It doesn’t mean it was you. It’s not the first time I’ve dreamt about you.” His lips were pinched in a straight line. He hadn’t shaved since he’d been there, so hair was growing all over his chin and jaw. He looked scruffy and tired.

“You were quick to believe you’d murdered your squad, but not that I could have hurt you. Only one of those things is probable.”

“So what if it was real, Bucky?” Then his eyebrows rose in disbelief.

“Then it means I hurt you.”

“It wasn’t you.”

“Yes, it was.” I sighed heavily. “I just find it—amazing—that you can even look me in the eye after that.”

“Because I didn’t see you. I saw them.”

“You’re not afraid of me,” he stated. I shook my head and looked back at him.

“Do you want me to be afraid of you?”

“It would make a lot more sense to me, honestly. Especially if you’re having dreams about me holding your head under water. After you admitted that was your deepest fear.”

“That’s not my deepest fear. I’m more afraid of losing the people I love. Which is why I don’t,” I lifted my hand and gestured toward him, “blame you.” I looked back at the sheets we’d messed up. I didn’t want to see how he reacted to me saying that. It was getting so much easier to read his expressions now. I picked at the pillowcase.

“Even if you knew what you were doing,” I said. “You were following orders. That’s what I saw. And I was scared of you, yes. I could feel that. But—looking at you now.” I looked back at him. “You don’t look anything like him. I can see that you’re not the same.”

“You know someday it’s all going to come out. I’ve destroyed so many lives. Innocent lives, Johanna. You’re going to have to see their names, and you’ll know it was me.”

“But it wasn’t. And I’ll defend you as long as I can.” He dropped his backpack to the floor and turned his back on me. He shook his head as if he couldn’t believe that I was still defending him.

“I don’t know what I did to deserve that,” he muttered. “From you, of all people.” He turned back around and reached for the backpack. But I slid to the edge of the bed and reached out to stop him. I wrapped my hand around his metal wrist and looked up at him. I was never any good with words, and I didn’t know how to make him believe that he deserved anything I was offering. But I had to say something.

“No one gets to decide that but me,” I told him. “You deserve to have people who care about you and want to protect you. Even if you don’t think that you do. You deserve freedom and forgiveness for all of the things they forced you to do. I didn’t kill my squad. They did. You didn’t hurt me. They did.” His other hand came out, and he pressed the pad of his thumb against my chin.

“I don’t deserve you, Johanna.”

“That’s not for you to decide either. You have me. Whether you think you deserve it or not.” I held onto his hand, and he laid his palm against my cheek. “Don’t go?” I repeated. He opened his mouth to speak but nodded once instead. “Don’t go downstairs either?” He smiled and shook his head again. “Just stay with me for a while, please?”

“You know he’s making breakfast, right?” I pulled him to me, and he dropped the backpack again. He moved back onto the bed and pushed my legs apart to rest between them.

“He can wait a while.” I pulled him down onto me, and he leaned against his metal arm. The other hand moved my hair out of my face. He pressed his forehead against mine and closed his eyes. Then he sighed.

“It’s not going to last,” he said. I shook my head.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned from this whole ordeal, it’s that you have to take advantage of what you have while it’s in front of you.”

“Mm,” he agreed. “You’re right. The kid can wait.” Then his lips found mine, and he didn’t speak again.

 

 

So... I just realized something that makes me feel like a complete idiot. Jo's (not) birthday is August 13th. Which is... Sebastian Stan's... actual birthday...

I did not know this until this morning, when it was pointed out to me. I think I must have read that it was his birthday at some point, and just like internalized that date without anything to associate it with. So when it was coming time to make Jo's birthday I was like "August 13th sounds good." *facepalm*

This is hilarious to me. Because last night I was literally thinking "Huh, Jo's a Leo. So's Sebastian." But nothing... fucking... clicked...

I could have easily brushed that off as totally intentional. But then I would be seated on a throne of LIES. Totally not intentional. Just a fucking doofus.

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