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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30. Chapter Thirty

Bucky spent the rest of the day going through the book. He didn’t bring up what we talked about earlier, probably because he was afraid I’d just hide out in my bedroom again. Or maybe he just thought I wasn’t handling it well. Which wasn’t entirely untrue. While they were sitting there with their books, I sat on the couch thinking about Russell.

I had a distinct memory of my first real mission. I remembered him trying to cheer me up and assure me that everything would be okay. I remembered thinking that his smile reminded me of my mom’s. I didn’t think I meant it literally. Just that it was comforting and genuine. But now I couldn’t be so sure that’s what it was at all. Maybe it really was my mom’s smile.

His eyes were like hers too. Such a dark shade of brown that they were almost black, unless you saw them in sunlight. I always thought I had her eyes. Slightly different in shape. Hers were narrower, and mine were wide. “Innocent eyes” is what she called them. But they were the same color. I looked enough like her that I never questioned it. But now I wasn’t so sure. Because Russell definitely had those eyes, if I remembered correctly. Narrow. Dark. Almost black. Except in direct sunlight.

My dad’s eyes weren’t wide or “innocent” either. I never thought much about it before. But now it bothered me. I wanted to see what this Beata woman looked like. I wanted to look at her face to prove that I wasn’t her daughter. But I didn’t know how to go about that. If her history was as full of holes as mine was, it was possible there weren’t pictures of her anywhere.

I tried to watch TV to keep my mind off of it, but I couldn’t focus. I’d been sitting there for most of the day, staring silently at the screen. And my attention didn’t really come back to the present until I saw Bucky look at me from the corner of my eye.

“Maybe you should get out of the house for a while,” he suggested. “So you can think.” I shook my head. Thinking was the last thing I wanted to do.

“No, I just need to keep my hands busy,” I told him. “Sitting here while you guys read isn’t exactly helping.”

Then I got up to find something to do. My house was never very clean, but it was never dirty either. It got cleaned as I went and I usually didn’t have guests. But I didn’t have anything better to do. So I decided to get to work and do something productive.

Graham came into the kitchen once or twice to offer his help, but I kicked him out every time. I told him to go back to his books and the silence since both of those things seemed to bring him comfort. After a while, he stopped asking.

The only problem is that I cleaned too quickly. I finished the kitchen in record time and then sat down at the table to meticulously clean the silverware my grandma sent me when she moved into a nursing home. I’d never had a use for them, and they probably would have fared better with Clara. But it kept me busy and kept my mind occupied.

I heard Bucky before I saw him this time. His steps were still quiet and almost unnoticeable. But I heard him touch the wall to keep himself upright. The sound of his fingers against the wood made a hollow noise that was metallic and unnatural. He appeared in the entryway a moment later.

“Hey, are you hungry?” I asked as I scrubbed away at a silver spoon. “It’s a little too early for dinner, but we never had lunch. I could probably try to make something. But there’s nothing good anyway. I could order something from that sandwich shop that’s a couple of blocks over. How does that sound?”

“Jo,” he said softly as he leaned against the back of a chair. I looked up.

“Hmm?” He pulled the chair out and took a seat. He had his back to the entry, and I figured he was putting a lot of effort into trusting Graham not to come racing in with a knife.

“I know what you’re doing,” he told me.

“I’m polishing my grandma’s silver,” I pointed out.

“You’re trying not to think about it.”

“That too.”

I went back to the spoon. It was shiny and polished enough, and I’d probably never open the box again, but I kept going anyway. I didn’t even like silverware. I thought it was a waste of silver. But they were important to my grandma and she’d given them to me. That was the only reason I kept them.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” he said. I shook my head.

“I’m not upset.”

“You were earlier. You were angry.”

“I wasn’t mad. Not with you. It’s just—a lot to put on someone all of the sudden. It’s a very serious accusation. But I’m not upset anymore.”

“You are. If you keep polishing that spoon, there won’t be anything left of it.” I dropped it into the box a little more forcefully than I meant. His eyebrow rose. Just the one. It was so much easier to read his expressions now. This one clearly said, “I told you so.” I picked up another spoon.

“If I keep thinking about it, it’ll overwhelm me. And I’m doing everything I can to hold it together right now.”

“I won’t force you to deal with it, but I’ve noticed that you have a habit of ignoring your problems until it becomes life threatening.”

“What else am I supposed to do, Bucky?” I asked as I waved the spoon around in my hand. “Even if what you’re saying is true, what is that going to do for me? I can’t find him. I can’t ask my parents. I’m pretty sure Clara doesn’t know. And if she or Stark even began to suspect you were here, they’d haul my ass off to New York and lock me up in that goddamn tower.”

“It might help us figure out what they want you for.”

“It won’t matter if we don’t find him.”

“I’ll start looking as soon as I can move without pain.” I shook my head and went back to the spoon.

“It won’t work. You can’t find people who don’t want to be found. Trust me. You know the last time I saw you? In Malibu? I was hell bent on tracking you down myself. I even went to Sam. And look where that got me. It got me nothing. I didn’t see you until you wanted me to. And only because you were bleeding to death.”

“I’ve tracked him before. I can do it again. If I can remember the patterns.”

“I honestly don’t even care what they want me for. I don’t care if what you think is true or not. I don’t care if they show up tomorrow or the next week or never at all. I just—don’t care.” I put the spoon back down on the table, hard enough to shake the legs and rattle the box of silver.

“What do you care about?” he asked. I pushed my chair out and sighed.

“You,” I admitted. “The kid, my family, Stark, Steve, Sam. The fucking raccoon in the attic. That’s pretty much it.” I stood and carried the box of silverware back to the cupboard where it would likely hide in the dark for another five years. I hadn’t even finished polishing them, but I was already bored with that task.

“You said you wanted something to hold onto. Why do you want something to hold onto if you don’t care whether or not you make it out alive?”

“Because I know what it’s like to be tortured. If you have something to hold onto, then you can keep them from getting what they want. I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of breaking me.” I knelt down on the floor and shoved the box into the cupboard.

“How do you know what it’s like to be tortured, Jo?” he asked. I paused with my hand on the cabinet door. Then I sat down and turned around to face him.

“Dreams,” I admitted. He was still sitting at the table, but his spine was straight, and he looked ready to jump out of the seat at a moment’s notice. “I see things I can’t make sense of. Nothing coherent. Just—pain. And fear. I think I’m losing it.”

“Losing what?”

“My mind.” He stood up slowly and came to my side. He knelt down beside me and hardly winced from the pain, though I was sure I’d seen a flash of it.

“You’re not losing it,” he told me.

“Then what’s wrong with me? I keep seeing things in my dreams. It used to be every once in a while and now it’s every time I’m asleep. How can I have spent five years believing something that wasn’t true?” His lips were pinched together and his eyebrows furrowed in that usual dark look he took on when he was deep in thought. He pressed his metal hand against the cupboard to balance himself.

“I don’t know why they kept you alive, but I have suspicions about why they made you forget,” he explained.

“Why?” He took a long time to answer. His jaw was clenched like he was trying not to grind his teeth. His eyes were focused on the cupboard, and his fingers seemed to be digging into his knee.

“You said that I told you I saw something familiar in you,” he started. “When I came here before. A darkness is what you called it.”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think I went to you first because I recognized a soldier or a killer or a familiar darkness. I think I knew you. I came to you because you were familiar.”

“That’s not possible.” His eyes moved to mine again.

“Given everything that’s happening to you, is it really impossible?” I slumped against the cupboard and wrapped my arms around my knees.

“How, though? What they did to you—it wouldn’t have worked on me.”

“There could be other ways. You used to work for SHIELD. Your therapist worked for HYDRA. She was in your head. She could have made you believe whatever she wanted. These dreams—these new memories—they began after SHIELD fell. Because there was no one in your head anymore, telling you what to remember.”

“Why would they bother with all that?” I repeated.

“I don’t know. Your files from that time are almost non-existent. Which means Russell likely kept it secret. But some things have to be put into print. Attacks, battles, death records, medical records.”

“So what are you saying?”

“There was a period of three days between the deaths of your squad and your surgery. They wouldn’t have waited three days to remove a bullet unless they had a good reason.”

“They could have locked me up. Especially if I was killing people.”

“There’s no record of you killing anyone. There’s no record of you being taken into custody. There aren’t even records of you being in medical care until three days later. Even if they had you in custody, they wouldn’t have let you suffer and bleed for three days. If my suspicions about Russell are correct, he would have gotten that bullet out immediately.”

“So what’s your hunch?”

“The memories come in flashes, don’t they? Not just dreams. Just—a general knowledge of something that happened. You know something is true, but you don’t know how you know.” I nodded slowly. “I think they had you. I don’t know why or what for or why they didn’t just kill you when they were done with you. But you saw something they didn’t want you to see, and they had to make sure it didn’t get out.”

“You think I saw…”

“Me.”

 

 

Suspense! Doom doom doom.

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