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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25. Chapter Twenty Five

Later, I was lying on Bucky’s chest in my bed. We hadn’t spoken for a while. I laid down on his chest and listened to the sound of his heart beating until it returned to a normal pace. Then we stayed there, only occasionally moving to run our fingers over each other’s skin. I wasn’t sure how long it would be before Graham came back, but I wanted to take advantage of every second we had completely alone.

“Buck?” I asked after a long time.

“Mm?” he replied, running his fingers down my spine.

“How did you know there was something more going on?” I lifted my head so that I could look at him. His brown hair was even messier than before, mostly my fault, but his blue eyes were bright and lazy. He moved his hand to my face, gently dragging his knuckles across my cheek and into my equally messy hair.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Everyone seems to think that they want me to use against you. But not you.”

“If I’d stayed with them I never would have known about you. But they had no use for me anymore. Except to bring you in. To hurt you.”

“What do you mean?”

“They were going to execute me. They kept me alive for you. When they sent me after you, they didn’t tell me what they wanted you for. Just that you were important. They called you a vessel. I knew it was likely going to be my last mission. They told me not to let you speak, and if you did, not to listen. They said you’d try to manipulate me. You had powerful friends. I didn’t question it.”

“But something clicked.”

“I—attacked you—because I wanted to keep you from speaking. Stark blocked you, and something happened. Familiarity. I don’t know. It didn’t feel right. You used my name like you knew who I was.” He shook his head. “I think I always started to remember. I was becoming more and more reckless and harder to contain. I was no longer useful to them. Unless I could bring you in. And when you recognized me, I realized they were just using you to hurt me. Which meant you must have been important to me.”

“And you left?”

“I never went back.”

“You started asking questions.” He nodded.

“I started by trying to figure out how you knew me. Things became clearer the longer I spent away from them. I didn’t know anything for certain until I came back here. Everything feels familiar here. And then I saw you. It was obvious I was important to you too.” I rested my head on his chest again and traced my fingers over his skin as he spoke. His arm wrapped around me, and I felt safe and content. “There are so many holes in your past. So many missing pieces. So many memories. I don’t know which ones are real.”

“And what makes you think they still want me? Even if they can’t use us against each other.”

“The woman. The scientist who jumped off a bridge. She was using an alias. But I have reason to believe her real name was Beata Weisberg. There are too many similarities between the two of you. Too many connections. They were after her because she took something from them. They needed her alive. She had no connection to me. It was beyond me. I can’t get enough information about her to figure it out. Her past is—as difficult to access as yours. Only worse, because she doesn’t have military records.”

“What’s your theory?”

“I think you were connected to her. She left something behind. Something only you can access. If Russell was her husband, then it’s likely he was the one tampering with your records to throw them off your trail. He recruited you. And if what you’re saying is true, that you killed them, and he shot you? Then he might know exactly what they want you for. He’s been keeping them away. I turned the spotlight on you. I made them figure it out.”

“They had me once, though,” I reminded him. “I worked for SHIELD.”

“I don’t think they were looking for you yet. They didn’t know you were the one they wanted. Not until I brought their attention to you.”

“What kind of similarities do I share with her?” I asked. He moved his hand back down my spine, moving his fingers up and down several times before answering.

“It took me a long time to find her real name. I think you know why it’s significant,” he said.

“Say it.”

“Weisberg is your mother’s maiden name.”

“And what else?”

“She died the day before you were born. In Ohio.”

I pulled away from him and sat on the edge of the bed. I could feel the mattress shift behind me. He moved to my side and rested his head on the pillow next to me. He touched my back with the back of his hand and pressed his lips against my bare thigh. Not quite kissing me, but comfortable and intimate enough so that he might as well have been.

“I know what you’re thinking,” I said.

“It’s not for me to speculate,” he decided.

I took a deep breath and let it go. Then I stood up and turned around to face him. I still wasn’t wearing any clothes, but I really didn’t care. For probably the first time in my life, I didn’t mind that I was completely naked in front of someone else. I’d been with people a lot longer than I’d even known him, and I’d never been this comfortable. But I don’t think I’d ever opened myself up to anyone the way I had with him. Emotionally. And to be fair, he was naked too. Only he was lying under my tangled and twisted sheets.

“I’m hungry. Are you hungry?” I asked him. He leaned against his hand and looked slightly irritated again.

“Not really,” he replied. The flat tone reappeared. I turned around to find my clothes.

“I need—coffee.”

“Johanna.”

“Maybe some waffles.”

“Jo.”

“I think there’s still a can of whipped cream in the fridge. I’ll have to check.” I yanked my sweatpants back on and reached for my shirt. I was halfway to the door when he spoke again.

“You can’t avoid it forever, you know?”

“We’ll see,” I decided. Then I stepped out into the hall as I pulled the shirt down over my head.

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