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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29. Chapter Twenty Nine

I laid on my bed for a long time after I finished talking to Clara. I was trying not to think about Bucky’s suspicion. Instead, I was thinking about Russell and what I knew about him. My first memory of him was the day of my hearing. When he’d come to my defense and I didn’t know why. Until he cornered me later when I was packing my bags and offered me a place on his team. I didn’t know why he wanted me on his team, but he made the offer and left me there to think it over.

I accepted. And not because it would get me out of the shitstorm I was facing, or because I was even interested in continuing my military career. But because I just couldn’t fail. I couldn’t go home and tell my parents, especially my dad, that I failed. Russell promised to give me a purpose, and that’s all I’d ever wanted.

I couldn’t remember most of my training with him. I couldn’t pinpoint specific memories of that time. I could remember my squad, but I couldn’t remember meeting them. My memories were hazy. They were just part of my life suddenly. One moment they weren’t there at all, and the next thing I knew they were my family. I just couldn’t remember why I felt that way about them.

I tried to remember the last time I’d seen Russell too. I was certain it was when he gave me the book. We went to a funeral. Some mutual connection we’d made while I was on his team. But that wasn’t where he gave me the book. We were indoors. I couldn’t remember anything other than the feel of the canvas cover as he slid it into my hands and made me promise to read it. I thought it was nothing but a small token. A reminder that we were friends once. Or that we were all that was left of the team that we both loved so much.

I didn’t think he’d put anything in the book. Not a code or a key or anything else. I read a lot when we worked together. He must have assumed I still did. Which meant he must have already known my memories were messed up and something was missing. I wondered if he suspected SHIELD was behind it. We needed to find him. Bucky was right about that too.

I didn’t want to talk about his suspicions, but I didn’t want to be alone anymore either. I wanted to lie on my bed and feel Bucky beside me and not say a single thing. Just like we did in the morning when we laid there for so long before getting out of bed. Nothing felt “time sensitive.” Or at least, nothing seemed more important at that moment.

I climbed off of the bed and headed toward the door. I popped it open and found him in the hallway sitting on the floor. He had his back to the wall beside Graham’s door. His knee was raised, and he looked comfortable. He never even tried to go back down the stairs. Graham had been down there alone the entire time.

He lifted his head when I opened the door. He must have overheard me talking to Clara. I hoped he didn’t take what I said seriously, but I figured he would understand that I couldn’t tell her how I really felt. And if he heard me talking then he must have heard the hitch in my voice or the few times I’d sniffed and forced myself not to cry after we hung up. I didn’t want him to hear me cry.

He didn’t speak, and I didn’t speak. I stepped forward, moved his knee aside, and sat down between his legs. I rested my body against the stitch-free side of his chest. His arm came around my shoulder, and he held me just like I wanted.

“I didn’t mean what I said,” I told him. “To my sister. I just didn’t want her to get suspicious.”

“I know,” he replied.

“She’s pregnant. That’s why I had to leave Malibu.”

“What?”

“Clara. I don’t know why she hasn’t told me yet. Maybe she’s not going to keep it. I don’t know. But I figured it out.”

“How?”

“I was medically trained for most of my adult life, Bucky.”

“You were a combat medic.”

“They do send women into combat now, you know? I mean I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on women’s health, but it happens from time to time. I had to learn how to pick up the signs.”

“So you left?” I nodded.

“I decided to come back here. Put enough space between us so that she could have her normal life. Aside from the fact that her boyfriend builds metal suits and flies, she’s so normal. She has a steady life and a plan. I was just a strain on her life and her relationship. I figured if I came back here—she’d have less to worry about. She could have a family with Stark. If that’s what she wanted.”

“You shouldn’t have to hide anyway,” he said.

“You said that’s what you wanted me to do.” He didn’t answer right away. But then he shook his head.

“You were right. You would have been miserable. You’re not meant to hide behind others.”

“What other option is there?”

“Just live your life the way you want to. I’ll do what I can.”

“What makes you think this is how I want to live my life?”

“You came back here.”

“I couldn’t put my sister in danger. I didn’t have any other option. This was the only other place I knew I could go.” He took a deep breath and let it go. I felt the force of it as I rested against his chest.

“You deserve to have a life that you chose for yourself. You won’t have that if they take you. And you won’t have that with me.”

“So you’re going to leave again.”

“You left to protect someone. I have to do the same. I don’t have any other option either.”

“I wish I could just go with you.”

“I wouldn’t be able to keep you safe. I can’t even protect you from me.”

“My safety isn’t a huge concern for me.”

“It is for me.” I sat up and put my hand on his chest. He moved his head to look at me again.

“Just do me a favor this time, will you?” He didn’t answer. “Don’t say goodbye.”

“Goodbye would be best, Jo.”

“I know, but—the last time you were here, you said you wanted to make memories that were strong enough to help you get through it if they came back for you. And the fact that you’re here now, like this, makes me think it might have worked. If they come for me—I still want to be able to hold onto that—hope.” He was quiet as he looked over my face, but then he nodded once.

“No goodbye,” he promised.

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