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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28. Chapter Twenty Eight

I sat down on my bed and stared out the window. This is why I avoided things. This is why I didn’t like digging. Every time I paid too much attention to something in my past, something would surface that had the potential to change my whole life. I was already struggling to deal with the fact that I might have murdered my entire squad. Now I had to deal with Bucky suspecting my parents were not actually my parents. I didn’t want to believe that, and I couldn’t ask them. He was right about that at least. I knew they would lie if they thought it would keep me safe. I didn’t believe they would have kept something from me maliciously.

Clara was young when I was born. Young enough so that she may not have noticed something weird going on or that she had a sister come out of nowhere. But she might have been old enough to pick up clues. Or maybe I was just looking for an excuse to hear her voice. I needed to know that she was real, and our past was real. She was my sister regardless of blood or anything else. I still had my phone stuffed into my back pocket. So I pulled it out and called her.

“Hi, it’s me,” I told her when she answered. I slouched and sank into my bed. I felt pathetic and miserable. As if I needed my big sister to reassure me that she was really my big sister. But I couldn’t bring it up. If they hadn’t told me, they sure as hell wouldn’t have told her.

“Jo, hi!” she replied with excitement. “What’s going on? Why do you sound so down? You’re not hurt, are you?”

“No, no, no. I’m fine. I just miss you. Kind of trying to get the hang of living without you guys. I was wondering what you were up to.”

“I’ve just been working like crazy since we got back. So has Tony. We’ve hardly had enough time to see each other. Just constant work.” She sounded so normal. Just a woman with a regular job and average parents. Definitely not the kind of woman you’d expect to have a secretly adopted sister who was harboring a wanted assassin in her house. But then again—she was dating Iron Man.

“Oh, I don’t want to bother you if you’re busy.”

“You’re not bothering me at all! I probably can’t talk for long, but I need a few minutes to myself. What’s up? What’s going on? How’s the new job?”

“It’s been great. There isn’t much for me to do actually.”

“How’s your new therapist?”

“She’s nice. You just reminded me that I need to call her. But she’s nice.”

“How are you guys communicating?”

“Um—We talk. A bit. It’s just hard.”

“I understand, but you should really give her a chance. She might be able to help you a lot. And Sam knows her. He trusts her. That should be good, right?”

“Yeah, I suppose so.”

“So—Tony kind of told me you had a guy over.”

“Graham?”

“Don’t play dumb with me. He told me you have two people staying with you. And you asked him not to monitor you this morning. I was there when you called by the way. And you made it pretty clear it was a guy.” I sighed heavily and flopped back onto my mattress. I hadn’t bothered to make the bed, so the blankets and sheets were still twisted.

“It’s just—a guy,” I admitted. “Just a thing.” I wasn’t going to tell her it was Bucky, and I really hoped she couldn’t see right through my life.

“It’s not—him—is it?”

“What? No. Of course not. I came back here to get my life back on track, remember?”

“Yeah but…”

“I promised Sam and Steve I would tell them if I knew anything. I just want to get things back to normal.” I put my hand on my head and bit my lip.

“So what’s he like? Tell me about him,” she said. I almost sighed with relief.

“I really don’t want to talk about him. It’s not anything—uh—huge. Just a thing—you know—for fun.” She was silent for a minute.

“You never struck me as the type to go for ‘things,” she said.

“Yeah, well. I’m recovering still. I’m not interested—in other things.”

“Right. Well still. Tell me about him.”

“There’s nothing to tell. We don’t—talk a whole lot.”

“But he’s been staying with you.” Crap crap crap crap.

“Yeah, well. He’s not staying with me. He just hasn’t left.”

“The last time a guy moved himself into your house, it didn’t end well. He got violent.” She was avoiding saying his name even though she knew it. She also knew that I’d killed that guy just a few weeks before coming to stay with her in Malibu. I appreciated that she didn’t say his name.

“No, no, no. He’s not like that at all. I mean, it’s still new. But he hasn’t moved himself in. I have the weekend off, and I asked him to stay.”

“But you don’t talk.” I was going to have to divert this conversation fast. She wasn’t going to let it go.

“No, we just have a lot of sex, Clara,” I told her.

“Okay then.”

“You asked.”

“And I sincerely regret it.”

“Well, like I said, nothing to worry about.” Then I smacked myself in the face. “So anyway, I was thinking about something weird, and I kind of wanted to ask you about it.”

“Okay, yeah. Sure. What is it?” she asked.

“Do you remember Mom’s brother at all? Like I know she had a brother growing up, but what the hell happened to him?”

“I think he died.”

“When?”

“I don’t know. I can’t remember.”

“Did you ever meet him?”

“I’m sure I did. The only thing I remember about him is that he used to send me dresses for Christmas every year. Then he just stopped. But we must have met at some point, right?”

“Do you think they had a bad relationship? I’ve never even seen pictures.”

“Oh, Grandma has one!”

“Does she?”

“I’m pretty sure. You know how she keeps that old business card holder by her bed?”

“Yeah, I remember it.”

“She puts pictures in it. I found them when we moved her into the nursing home. She has pictures of us, Grandpa, Mom, and some other guy. Probably her son.”

“What was his name?”

“Ivan, I think?”

“Ivan Weisberg?”

“Yeah, something like that. I’m not really sure. I don’t think they got along. Mom never talks about him, and neither does Grandma.” I tapped my fingers against my jeans. “Why the sudden interest?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. I was just telling uh—Graham—the kid who’s staying here—something about how we don’t have any cousins. And he thought that was weird. Hey, do you remember when Mom used to write those coded letters to Dad?”

“What? No.”

“You don’t remember?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“She wrote them while we did homework. She always said they were for Dad.”

“I guess I never paid much attention. That’s kind of cute.”

“I guess so.”

“Well, hey. I’d love to keep talking, but I really have to get this stuff done by tonight. Will you call me again before the weekend is over? Tony and I are going to try and take a day off at some point. Hopefully.”

“Yeah, of course.”

“You promise?”

“Yeah, I promise.”

“This was nice, Jo. I like when you call me unexpectedly.”

“I’ll do it again, I promise.”

“Alright. I’ll talk to you later then.”

“Bye.”

I shut the phone off and dropped my arms over my face. Then I remembered that throwing my phone would probably break it and screaming at the top of my lungs would probably attract more attention than I wanted.

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