From Darkness

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When did we lose our way?
Consumed by the shadows
Swallowed whole by the darkness
Does this darkness have a name?
Is it your name?

-Disclaimer: This story is a sequel. Summary quote from One Tree Hill.

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8. Chapter Eight

When Bucky led me back down the stairs, the older woman was already in the kitchen setting dishes down on the table in the corner of the room. She immediately turned to us and said something to Bucky that sounded an awful lot like an order. He responded and then looked down at me.

“She wants me to help,” he said.

“I don’t even know her name,” I told him.

“Neither do I.”

“Did you ask?”

“Of course. She asked me to call her Babulia.” I nodded.

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing. Go check on him.” I didn’t believe him for a second, but I wanted an excuse to leave anyway.

“Let me know if you need any help.” I knew he wasn’t going to ask, but I thought it would be polite to say anyway. He got to work helping the woman finish dinner and I cut through the kitchen to the bedroom on the other side.

It was dark when I limped into the room. Dana was nowhere to be seen, and Russell was lying on the bed on his side. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, so I could see where she’d attempted to bandage the exit wound on his back. He still looked pale and sickly. I could see his ribs through his skin and I had no doubt that he was in the same condition as me. I walked around the bed so I could see his face. He was asleep and his hands were limp on the mattress. I touched the back of his hand. He didn’t wake up, but he was breathing. He looked peaceful and I hadn’t heard him at all since we went upstairs. They must have given him something to ease the pain.

There was a chair under the window just like in the room upstairs. So I pulled it to the bed and curled up again. I didn’t want to have to think about anything. Or worry about anything. My head still ached, but not nearly as much. And whenever I started to think too much, the guilt and pain would overwhelm me. I knew I’d have to deal with it eventually, but Bucky did say I needed to recover. My mind needed to recover too. So I shut my eyes and rested my chin on my knees. I hoped I wouldn’t cry until I was really good and alone. When I got away, and I no longer doubted my own thoughts, I would let it go.

I could hear Bucky and the woman talking in the kitchen. I couldn’t understand the language, but Bucky spoke it fluently. Every so often she’d laugh at something he’d said. He fit right in. It wasn’t how I remembered him at all. In my house, he’d always been cautious and alert. Even when the two of us were alone. There was always tension. I wondered if he’d just molded himself to my house and that situation. Had any of it been real? Or had it all been some attempt to blend in?

When I closed my eyes, I saw the man they wanted me to remember. Not the one making jokes in the kitchen just to make an old woman laugh, but standing over my sister’s body. Blood on his hands. He always saved her for last so he could draw out the suffering. So they could give me a chance to save her by killing him first.

That wasn’t him. Just what they wanted me to see so that I’d attack without question. When I was caught in that place between darkness and reality. And in that state, I’d shot the man who’d spent the last thirty years of his life doing everything in his power to protect me.

But I was angry at him too. For every moment of my life I spent suffering and living in fear. It all could have been avoided if they hadn’t been so selfish. But I remembered what he said to me that day when they came for me. Who would have been there for Bucky if not me?

It didn’t matter. Because I was the one and it was too late to change anything. Pointless to scold him for being selfish when I was responsible for the bullet that tore through his body. How could I hate Beata? The woman who sacrificed her own life just to give me a chance to live mine. I had a good childhood. A good family. That’s all they’d ever wanted for me.

There was a knock on the door sometime later. I thought it was Bucky until the door popped open and spilled in the light and warmth from the kitchen. The older woman looked in at me. Her face crinkled with wrinkles when she smiled at me.

“Dziaucyna,” she said. “Eat.” I stood to do what she asked, but she stayed in the doorway. She glanced at Russell and then back at me. Then she reached out to pat my cheek. “Good girl,” she said. She took my hand and pulled me into the kitchen, keeping the door cracked so we could hear Russell.

Bucky was setting the table when we entered. He looked up, gave me a quick once-over, and returned to his job. His expression felt like reassurance. He was letting me know that everything was okay. Once again, the way a person would approach a scared child or injured animal.

Dana was by the stove, transferring food from pots into serving dishes. As soon as I approached, she stuck a bowl full of potatoes into my arms.

“She thinks he did this to you,” she whispered as she returned to her work. I shook my head and struggled to hold up the hot bowl.

“Who?”

“Your husband.” It took me a few seconds to remember she was talking about Bucky.

“No. No, he didn’t.” The older woman took my hand and peeled it away from the bowl, forcing me to try and balance it in one thin, weak arm. My fingers were skeletal as she examined them. When she pulled my sleeve up, my wrist was just as thin and boney. The crook of my elbow was bruised and pocked with obvious needle marks. “It wasn’t him. I promise. He didn’t hurt either of us.”

“You have scars on your shoulders,” Dana remarked with a nod.

“I was in the military. I got shot.”

She didn’t look convinced. She looked at me like I was nuts for defending him and went back to scooping food into another bowl. Bucky was too far away for a normal person to overhear, but he’d always been able to tell what Graham was up to when we were upstairs in my room. I was sure he could hear every word. But since I was supposed to be playing a role, I figured I could get away with what I was going to say next. I put my hand over my heart and whispered as low as I could, just hoping he couldn’t make it out from across the kitchen and the noise of scraping pots.

“I love him,” I whispered. The older woman seemed to understand these words. Her daughter didn’t translate, but she smiled and then said something to her daughter.

“She wants to know why you don’t have rings,” Dana translated. She finally looked at me and I got the impression that she didn’t like me very much. Considering how we met, I couldn’t say I blamed her. I shook my head as I tried to come up with another lie. I didn’t know what I was supposed to tell them. None of us had planned any stories in advance. I didn’t even know if they knew his name.

“A lot has happened,” is all I could manage. The older woman gave me another pat on the cheek and motioned toward the table. Bucky had finished setting the dishes but was now fiddling around with them, clearly desperate for something to focus his attention on.

The table was tiny. They were likely the only two people who ever used it. And while Bucky was good at hiding and slipping away unnoticed, he wasn’t small in any regard. Once you got him out of the shadows and put him at a dinner table, it was suddenly three petite women trying to have dinner with a grizzly bear. There was no way for me to sit beside him without being so close that we were touching.

As soon as the older woman headed over, the two of them slipped right into a conversation. Dana didn’t seem to want to join in as she carried the dishes and took the potatoes from me. Her light brown hair was falling out of its bun. She had dark circles under her eyes. And she didn’t look very pleased about having us in her house.

So I turned to look at Bucky again. His knee against mine was warm and comforting. He usually looked like he was trying to take up as little room as possible until he wanted to come off as intimidating. So it wasn’t like him to have his legs spread out so wide that he was touching people. I was pretty sure he did this on purpose. For me. Because he probably knew that I needed the steady presence of him.

I watched him talking to the older woman, sounding as fluent as she did. He tucked that stray strand of dark hair behind his ear and exposed the purpling bruise on the side of his face. I hadn’t even noticed the scrape on his chin that was hidden beneath growing facial hair.

Guilt washed over me. This kindly old woman was worried that he’d hurt me, but it was the other way around. I put bruises on him. Beat him over the head with a branch. Not to save him or to get away. But out of anger, fear, and violence. I wondered what she’d think of me if she knew how badly I’d wanted to hurt him.

I reached out to touch the bruise. If it stung, he didn’t show it. But he felt me and paused in the middle of his sentence to look at me. His expression softened and I realized I was right about what he was doing. Acting comfortable and polite. There was tension in his eyes. I could see it lift away when he put his hand over mine and pressed my palm flat against his cheek.

I wanted to apologize again, but I didn’t want them to overhear. And I didn’t think it would be enough. Bucky was strong enough to heal from physical wounds. The bruises and cuts would heal. But the words would stick with him. It was a wound I’d never be able to fix. And I hated myself for doing it.

They’d tried to show me the horrors of what he’d done. They even made me look at Beata’s autopsy pictures. Just so I could blame him for what had happened to the woman who birthed me. They forced me to watch him do unspeakable horrors. But it was never him. It was them. And now my mind was flooded with thoughts of all the times he’d shown me he was sweet and kind.

My eyes watered and he leaned in close, pressing his cheek against mine so that I could feel the hairs of his beard scratch against my face. He was real and I wasn’t afraid anymore. They spent weeks filling my head with images of chaos and violence. But now that he was there, real, solid, and warm, I couldn’t let him go.

“Are you going to be okay?” he asked because he already knew that I wasn’t.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, even though it wasn’t enough.

“It’s okay. I’m fine.”

“I know you’re fine physically. I still regret it. I’m sorry for what I said.”

“We’ll talk about it later.” He moved his hand over the back of my head and I nodded and pulled back. I didn’t want anyone to see me upset and blame it on him again. He sat back and gave me a concerned smile. The tension was back.

“I’m fine,” I assured him.

“Is everything okay?” Dana asked from the other side of the table. Both women had their matching gray eyes on us. I nodded.

“I’m fine,” I told her. “Still rattled is all.” The older woman motioned for us to serve ourselves. Bucky reached across the table for a slice of bread and slid his other hand onto my lap. He laced his fingers in mine, proving once again that he knew I just needed to feel him.

“Johanna, where did you grow up?” Dana asked as Bucky transferred the bread to my plate.

“Ohio.”

“I don’t know where that is.”

“Nowhere special. What about you? You’re from Sokovia?” She nodded.

“I grew up there.”

“How did you meet Russell—I mean Ivan?” She glanced at her mother, who was watching us attentively but didn’t seem to be following along. Their faces were very similar, despite the age difference. They both had the same wide gray eyes. Innocent eyes, as my mother would say.

“We met when he was working with Sokovian Intelligence.”

“What did you do?” She went quiet and I watched Bucky lift a small dish. He made a face like he was caught between curious and concerned and then lifted it for me to see inside. I shrugged because I had no idea what it was. I’d been raised on a steady American diet of hamburgers and casseroles. He returned the shrug and scooped it onto our plates anyway.

“I didn’t do anything,” Dana finally told me. “I was training to be a hairstylist.”

“Oh—I see.”

I glanced at Bucky because the conversation made me a bit uncomfortable. He acted like he wasn’t paying attention. He’d finally let go of my hand so he could try and scrape butter onto his bread. We’d never actually sat down to a meal like this before. At least not something that wasn’t pizza and waffles. I didn’t know how long it had been since he’d eaten something of substance.

“What about you, Johanna? What do you do?” I really didn’t know what I was supposed to say. They seemed like nice people and Russell trusted them, but I didn’t know the first thing about them. Hell, I didn’t even know the older woman’s name. Thankfully, Bucky sensed my hesitation and jumped in for me. He leaned back and casually moved his arm over the back of my chair.

“She’s a doctor,” he said, wrapping his free hand around a glass of water. “Amazing. Did surgery on me once and you’d never know it now.” Then he took a sip and assessed Dana over the rim of his glass. He wasn’t bothering to pretend to be comfortable now. It was obvious he didn’t trust her and wanted her to know that.

I was never actually a legal doctor, but I wasn’t going to correct him. The surgery I’d done on him was on my living room couch and only because he’d shown up at my house full of shrapnel and broken glass. And I was pretty sure his lack of scarring had more to do with his impeccable healing factor than my own skills. But then again, we also weren’t married, so it was just one more lie to add to a growing pile.

Dana had an obvious reaction to this anyway. Her eyebrows rose just a fraction and she looked slightly less annoyed by our presence. She turned to her mother and told her something. There was a moment of rapid-fire conversation. I looked at Bucky for a translation, but he didn’t say anything. He was watching them. Reading their reactions and probably forming more hunches. Or testing them. I didn’t want to be rude by prying into a conversation I wasn’t part of. So I twisted my fingers in my lap until the older woman gasped and turned to me. Then she smiled warmly.

“Doctor,” she said as if this was the best word she’d ever learned.

Then she stood out of her chair and took my face in both her hands. I was a bit startled by the sudden contact and my hand jerked out and gripped Bucky’s leg. He moved his hand to my shoulder as if he’d have to stop me from lunging at her. I wouldn’t, but I wasn’t accustomed to people kissing my cheeks and looking at me like they couldn’t have been more proud of an accomplishment I’d never actually achieved. She sat back down and lifted a stray strand of hair out of my face. Her eyes were glassy and I had no idea what was happening or how I should even react.

So I turned back to Dana since she was the only one who could give me a straight answer.

“Okay,” I said once Bucky’s hand relaxed and I released my grip on his leg. “What the hell is going on?” She slowly took a sip of her drink and stared at me over her glass. Her eyes were wide but lined with age and exhaustion.

“You look like her,” she said as she sipped. “I can see a lot of Ivan in your features, but I see her in your eyes. And your mouth.” She took another sip and then stood up, making it clear she didn’t want to talk anymore.

“You mean Beata?” I asked as I watched her squeeze her way into the cramped kitchen. “You knew her?”

“Beata was my sister, Johanna,” she said. Then she disappeared into Russell’s room and shut the door.

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