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.


32. Chapter Thirty Two

I was already exhausted. It was probably the combination of constant cleaning and everything else that happened during the day. I just wanted to shut down. So after dinner, Graham went back to his book and Bucky went back to his quest to decode Russell’s book. But he set it on the arm of the couch and when he noticed me looking sleepy he motioned for me to lie down. I rested my head on his lap and shut my eyes.

“You should go to bed,” he said since I didn’t appear to be any closer to sleep.

“I would if I could shut my mind off,” I explained. But then I sat up and rubbed my eyes. “I think I’m just going to take another shower or something. You can join me if you want.”

“Gross,” Graham muttered.

“Oh shut up.” Bucky glanced between the two of us.

“I’ll be up in a few minutes,” he decided.

“Do you need help up the stairs?”

“I think I can manage.” I stood up and headed toward the stairs.

“Should I get the MP3 player?” Graham muttered. I shot him a glare.

“Probably,” I told him. Then I headed up.

“Disgusting,” he whispered after me.

I’d already taken a shower that morning, but I didn’t want to just sit there and watch TV. I was too exhausted to keep cleaning. There was nothing else for me to do. Maybe I just wanted a few minutes alone. So I turned the water on and climbed in. But then I sat down on the shower floor and wrapped my arms around my knees.

I had to remember something.

Three days, Bucky said. Three days between the day I killed my squad and the day they operated on my shoulder. The surgery was the sharpest memory. I remember waking up. Russell was with me. He told me no one else from our team made it back. We were lucky to be alive. I didn’t even know they were dead, let alone that I’d killed them.

My memories were still hazy. I could recall the memories I had before the new ones started, but not with the same clarity. I remembered seeing Jimenez take a bullet as he ran for me. Initially, I saw the bullet strike him from the side. I saw his head snap in that direction. I saw blood splatter against the wall as he hit the dirt.

But now I remembered it differently. I still saw him running for me. But this time, the bullet came from the front and hit him in the forehead. He fell forward from the momentum of his run. I didn’t want that one to be real. If the bullet came from the front, it meant it was mine. But Bucky said there was no record of me killing anyone. No record that I’d ever been taken into custody.

And what about the rest of the team? I could only remember killing three of them. But I was still convinced I killed the others too. I just couldn’t remember how or when. And I couldn’t remember anything passed the memory of shooting Jimenez.

I rested my head against my knees. The water hit me in the back, but it dripped over my face and made it difficult to breathe. My instinct was to jerk back up, get away from the water and spare my lungs. But it felt so familiar. And not the one memory. Not the one I knew for certain was real. But something else. Something connected to the memory of killing all my friends.

I remembered water in my lungs. Fear. The pain in my shoulder. Fingers gripping the hair at the back of my head.

Someone knocked on the door, and I jolted. My heart jumped, and I sat up but kept my arms around my knees. I breathed in sharply as I told myself it wasn’t real. I was okay. I was safe. No one was holding my head under water.

“You can come in,” I said after a moment. I knew it was Bucky anyway. The door opened, but I couldn’t see him behind the curtain.

“Are you sure you want me to join you?” he asked. The sound of his voice eased my anxiety. I wanted his arms around me again.

“Yeah, it’s fine.”

The door shut, and a moment later the curtain moved back. But he was still wearing his clothes. He looked down at me on the bottom of the shower.

“Are you okay?” he asked. I shook my head.

“I’m fine. But you can’t get your stitches wet. I forgot.”

“I didn’t bring the plastic wrap.” I laughed at the thought of him covered in plastic wrap and shook my head.

“It’s fine. I’ll be done in a minute. I just needed some time to think.” He didn’t look like he wanted to leave me there on the bottom of the shower, but he probably didn’t want to go back downstairs for the plastic wrap either.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked.

“I’m fine. I’m just—trying to remember.” He nodded slowly again. This time, it seemed to click. Understanding anyway.

“I’ll wait in your room.”

“Okay.” He hesitated, but then shut the curtain and left the bathroom. I dropped my head again and pinched my eyes shut.

Nothing else came, and I was almost thankful for it. So after a few minutes, I turned the water off and climbed out. The mirror was foggy, but I hadn’t been in there long enough for it to become completely opaque. I caught a glimpse of myself and then I leaned against the counter on my hands.

My reflection usually didn’t bother me. I knew I didn’t look that great as of late. My eyes were always tired. Not innocent, like my mom said. Warn. Exhausted. My hair was always messy. I was skinnier than I’d been in years. I used to train a lot when I worked for SHIELD. Now my arms were thin. I could see my own ribs. Scars consumed both of my shoulders. One that showed a clear entry mark and surgical line. And the other one, that looked like I’d been shredded.

“Whoever dug the bullet out either didn’t know what the hell they were doing or they were trying to make you suffer,” that’s what Bucky said.

Russell was there when I woke up from surgery. Three days after I’d been shot in the first place. The surgery wasn’t to remove the bullet, I realized. It was to repair the damage. From being shredded. From being tortured.

I could still feel those fingers at the back of my head. Digging into my hair as they gripped me and forced my head still. So they could hold me under water that tasted metallic like blood.

Now I understood why Bucky broke my mirror. If I could guarantee that I’d shatter the mirror instead of my own hand, I probably would have done the same. I didn’t want to look at myself anymore. I quickly dried off, wrapped myself in a towel, and then headed down the hall to my bedroom.

Bucky was sitting on the edge of my bed writing in his notebook. He lifted his head when I came in and watched me shut the door.

“Are you okay?” he repeated. I shook my head and went to the other side of the bed. I thought about finding another clean pair of sweats to wear. But instead, I just sat on the mattress. I felt him shift behind me. “I shouldn’t have come back here,” he said.

“Don’t say that,” I told him. “I’m glad you’re here. Even if it means I can’t—avoid things anymore.”

“Was it easier for you? When you could?”

“No.” I took a deep breath and stared out the window. The neighbor’s porch light wasn’t on. So I couldn’t see any shadowy branches. “I always thought there was something wrong with me. When I got home, I believed I had no reason to feel the way that I did. I thought I was selfish for wanting to die. So many other people had it worse. But now I think I must have known something was missing. Whatever I saw there and whatever they made me forget. I could feel the hole it left behind. I also think that maybe the reason I have trouble remembering is just because I don’t want to remember.”

“And you want to remember now?” I looked down at my hands and examined my fingers. I could still feel the memory of metal cuffs around my wrists, locking them behind my back so that I couldn’t fight whoever was holding me by my hair.

“I don’t want to remember, but I think I have to. I think I owe them that much. I went to their funerals. I watched them get put in the ground. I talked to their parents and their spouses and their children. I looked them in the eyes, and I didn’t even know I was the reason they’d lost the people they loved. If I can remember what I did to them. Or why…”

“The guilt will overwhelm you, Jo,” he told me. “I know that better than anyone.” I shook my head again.

“I know that. But maybe I deserve it.”

I felt him shift again. He moved across the bed to my side. I felt his hand on my back, and I turned my head so I could face him, but I couldn’t look at him.

“You don’t deserve that,” he said.

“If I can remember, maybe I can find a way to fix it. To find—justice for them.”

“Guilt can cloud your objective. Justice won’t set you free.” I finally looked into his eyes.

“Is that why you’re here? Because you feel guilty?” I questioned. “You know you put yourself at risk by coming here.”

“I’m here because I didn’t know where else to go. But I want to help you and find out what they want you for because I feel guilty. I’ll never be able to make up for all the things I’ve done or the damage I’ve caused. But if I can do one good thing. If I can fix one mistake. Then maybe I can…” He didn’t finish his sentence. I didn’t think he knew what it would get him if he managed to help me. Because it was like he said. Justice wouldn’t set him free. Helping me wouldn’t absolve him of his guilt.

“Do you think it was a mistake to come here?” I asked him. He didn’t answer right away. But the look on his face told me the answer. It was a mistake. “It’s okay,” I assured him. Then I moved back around and put my head in my hands. I didn’t want to seem emotional, but the entire day had been too much. I didn’t want to cry, but I wanted to scream. Or throw something. I did neither.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” he spoke. “Because I’m here, and your life gets more and more complicated every day. I can’t change that.” I sat up and turned to face him again.

“It does matter what you think. Your thoughts and your opinions matter. And it matters to me.”

He studied me, sensing that I was upset. His eyebrows were furrowed again, and his eyes were wide. I could see what my mother meant by “innocent eyes.” It looked to me like it never occurred to him that his opinion mattered. Despite everything we’d gone through or talked about, and how much of himself he was regaining. It was still hard for him to understand that someone cared to know what he thought. I wanted his opinion, regardless of whether or not I agreed with it.

“I don’t think it was a mistake to come here,” he finally said. “Either time. Choosing to know you is one of the few good choices I’ve made in my life.” He shook his head and looked away. “I wouldn’t change it. But this is the first chance I’ve had to fix something that I’ve done. I hurt you. Even if I didn’t mean to. I have to make it up to you.” I sighed again and moved forward to wrap my arms around his shoulders. I buried my face in his neck and shut my eyes as his arm came back around me.

“You didn’t hurt me,” I insisted. “You just made me see what was already there.”

“I still have to fix it.”

“Then we fix what we’ve done together.” He dropped his head on my shoulder, and I felt the metal arm wrap around me too. He held me tightly, but he didn’t say another word.

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