From Darkness

2503111
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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13. Chapter Thirteen

I woke in the morning with a jolt. I half expected to be back in my cell again. And for a moment, I thought I was. But I was lying in a comfortable bed, warm under thick blankets. Sunlight filtered in through the curtains in beams of gold light. I could hear something far off. A noise that sounded unfamiliar and strange and broke me out of the haze of darkness. It was the sound of chickens clucking.

The memories came back piece-by-piece. The last thing I remembered was finishing tea with Bucky. We hadn’t spoken much, but the silence and the closeness to him was comfortable. He took the mugs back to the kitchen and I crawled into bed. I was there when he came back and I tried to convince him that I couldn’t go back to sleep. He told me to try anyway and promised to stay with me just in case. I fell asleep reluctantly. To the feel of his body beside mine. There were no dreams and no nightmares. Just the silent darkness, watching and waiting for its chance to escape.

The morning had become noisy with the sounds of animals out in the yard. I crawled out of the bed and found Bucky’s sweater still left abandoned on the chair. It was big and cozy and warm and the feel of it around me made me feel just a little bit safer.

When I got downstairs, he was still nowhere to be seen. The old woman, whose name I still didn’t know, was kneading dough at the kitchen counter. She smiled at me when I stepped off the staircase.

“Dziaucyna,” she said. “Eat.”

She motioned toward the table. I tried to offer her help, but she either refused or didn’t understand. She pushed me toward the table and I sat down, pulling Bucky’s sweater closer. She flitted around the kitchen to make me a plate. Dana left Russell’s room as she made herself busy. She was dressed in jeans now, looking like she was ready to start a day caring for livestock and gardens instead of a man with a gunshot wound.

“Oh good, you’re awake,” she said, spotting me. Then she walked over, still looking like she didn’t particularly like me. She avoided my face as she ran her fingers through her graying hair to braid it. “I have to run into town to find something for Ivan’s pain. I don’t want to keep giving him things that make him hallucinate. Will you be able to watch him for me?” I was a little offended that she was even asking. It was all I’d planned to do all day anyway.

“Of course,” I replied.

“Your husband is outside. He’ll be helping my mother with chores today.” I nodded.

“I still don’t know her name.”

“Babulia. Don’t worry. She’s making him call her that too. She won’t have it any other way and it would offend her if you tried.”

“What does that mean exactly?”

“I think you know what it means. Let her have what she wants. She’s waited a long time.” She secured the braid and I watched her.

“And the name she calls me? What does that mean?” She finally looked at me.

“Girl. Took her forty years to stop calling me that. She means it positively, I promise.”

“Right.”

“I don’t have a phone, but I should be back in an hour or two.”

“I’m a doctor, remember? I’m sure we’ll both be fine.” She gave me a curt nod before walking away.

Her mother passed her in the kitchen to bring me a plate. She’d gone all out for breakfast, piling my plate high with things I could identify and some I couldn’t. But she didn’t stick around long enough for me to thank her. She rushed back into the kitchen and got me tea.

I picked at the food at first, sticking with things I knew until the real hunger set in. Bucky said it might take a while for me to get used to eating regularly again. And I wasn’t able to get much down the day before. Then it hit suddenly. My body reminded me that I’d been starved nearly to the brink of death. All for an experiment to see how much my body could handle. Even when I had eaten, it had been for basic nutritional needs. Just so I could replenish the blood they were taking from me on a regular basis.

I devoured the whole plate. She checked on me once or twice, and then she was scooping more food onto my plate and hurrying back to the kitchen for more. When she brought me another plate, I was too stuffed to keep eating, but she lifted my boney wrist from the table and shook it to make a point.

“Small,” she said. I was pretty sure I knew what she was getting at. So I thanked her and ate every last bit.

But then I was so stuffed I was afraid I’d puke. So I hurried to get the plate back into the kitchen before she could bring me anything else. I tried to clean the dishes, but she smacked my hand and scolded me before pushing me toward Russell’s door. I decided to obey and shut the door behind me.

He was already awake. Groaning as he tried to move onto his back. I immediately went to his side.

“What do you need? What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I need morphine,” he replied with his teeth clenched again.

“What did she give you before?”

“I don’t know, but she refused to give it to me again. Said I shouldn’t be seeing manticores. I was only joking about the manticore, you know?”

“Is there anything I can get you in the meantime?”

“Water.” Dana left a glass on the bedside table, so I brought it to his hands so he wouldn’t have to strain.

“You should have called for me,” I told him.

“You needed to eat something real. I wasn’t going to make you stop.” I sat down beside him and watched him chug the water.

“You haven’t eaten much either,” I reminded him. He held the glass out so I set it back down on the table and got to work making him comfortable on the pillows.

“I ate better than you did,” he said. “And they weren’t poking me full of holes or starving me just to see what would happen.” I sighed.

“Do you always need to have the last word?” He shut his eyes and smiled, but his jaw was still clenched from pain.

“Only with you. Because you always fuss over everyone else before yourself. You need to rest. You need to eat. I was just thirsty and uncomfortable. It wasn’t a big deal. Don’t worry about me.”

“I shot you. Of course I’m worried. Your needs are a little more urgent than mine.”

“It wasn’t a damn heart attack. I just wanted water. And stop beating yourself up over it. Accidents happen. You didn’t know what you were doing. Honestly, it could have gone a lot worse. You managed to miss all the important bits. For a minute there, I really thought you were gonna blow his brains out.” I chewed on my lip.

“For a minute there so did I. And that doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty.” He sighed again, but this time it was clearly irritation and not pain.

“See? That’s exactly what I mean. Now look who has to have the last word.” I moved off of the bed to sit in the chair. Dana had moved it closer so I didn’t have to be too far from him. It also forced me to face him. I decided to ignore the last comment entirely.

“How are you feeling? Aside from the pain? Cold? Hot? Sick? Dizzy?” I questioned.

“Just pain,” he told me.

“That’s a good sign.”

“Mm.”

“It’s not sterile here. I don’t know how much damage was done internally. And you should be on your side. The exit is the worst and it’s more likely to get infected there.”

“Well, I was uncomfortable on my side and we’re safe here.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

“That I had family in Belarus. That’s a good place to start.” His eyes opened and he gazed at the ceiling. The room was dark enough so that he could sleep unbothered, but there was still enough light to keep it airy.

“Didn’t exactly get the chance,” he explained.

“I thought she didn’t have any family left,” I reminded him.

“I knew they were going to get their hands on you, Jo. I couldn’t tell you anything that might get back to them.”

“Because you didn’t trust me.”

“Because I know they have ways of getting into a person’s head. If you knew you had family here, they would have found out and come after Beata’s family. They would have done anything to get to her. So we had to make them believe she was alone. She sent them back to Belarus long before you were even a twinkle in my eye.”

“They were in just as much danger as I was. It was specific to her DNA.” He nodded.

“No,” he said. “Close. But no dice. They are compatible with a strain that Beata had separated. But they weren’t carriers. They just had the potential to be. But they still would have been useful. Hydra would have done anything to get her to comply and we needed her on the inside. The only way we could get her to agree was to protect her parents and her sister first.”

“In Sokovia?”

“I worked with Sokovian Intelligence. It’s where my parents are from. I blended in easily.” He winced as he adjusted his position. He had more color in his cheeks now. He didn’t look as sickly and weak.

“Beata didn’t create it, Jo. I don't even think she discovered it. She just knew it better than anyone else. She'd spent more time studying it. She couldn’t get it to survive without a human host. Hydra wanted to manufacture it on a global scale. But make it controllable. She had to start small. So she used her own DNA to make her body a perfect vessel. To carry it. Maybe learn to control it. She did it to ensure her own safety and the safety of anyone else. If she was the only one, then she’d be invaluable to them. And they wouldn’t be able to use it on anyone else. If they knew she had a sister and parents in Belarus, they would have gone after them too.”

“What would they have done to me if they'd gotten then?”

“Exactly what they did. Only far worse. The pathogen that makes your body a perfect host is unique to her DNA. Her family were potential vessels. But they weren't confirmed carriers. You were. You were already a genetically perfect vessel. As well as young. Healthy. Easier to manipulate and control.”

“Right. So maybe now you can tell me what it is exactly.”

“I don’t know exactly.”

“Don’t bullshit me, Russell. I’m tired of being coddled.”

“It’s Ivan. Please just call me Ivan.”

“Habit.”

“I know. And I’m not bullshitting you. I’m not Beata. Her mind worked on a completely different frequency than mine. I don’t know how it works or what it does. Just that it was discovered. It was alive. And it couldn’t survive out of containment without a host body. And it has a tendency to kill every host. So Beata’s job was to create the perfect host. But it was still in the testing phase.”

“What do you mean?”

“It would have taken years of testing to perfect. Generations of subjects to know exactly how to make it work. Before even getting to human testing. She tried to cover all the bases just in case. She didn’t just teach me how to complete phase three, which is what activated it, but to prevent them from being able to use it on anyone else.

“She knew they’d come after you as soon as they found out you existed. They’d turn you into the perfect weapon. Raised from birth, not dragged off a battlefield. You’d have been something they could harvest and study long term. They could have trained you to be the perfect, compliant weapon. She figured the best thing she could do for you was to keep you hidden, give you a chance to grow up and develop a sense of morals and values.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The thing in your blood. Hydra wanted to use it to be harvested and duplicated. A walking biological weapon. You stick that into a random citizen and send them into an airport and could get them anywhere. No one would ever know. They intended to harvest as much from you as possible to duplicate it for wider use. But they couldn't get it to survive outside of your blood. So given that and the fact that you have such a close connection to the Avengers, you became invaluable. You’re patient zero. They get you close enough to the Avengers. Boom. Their biggest threat is down in one go. And you’d probably go with them.”

“But that’s not how it works.”

“No. Because it’s alive. And it’s spent the last thirty years lying dormant in your blood.”

“So am I a danger then or not?”

“I wish I could say no. I did my best to ensure it couldn’t be used outside of the host body. But it was experimental and I had no way of knowing how it would react when it activated. And I didn’t expect….”

“Expect what?”

“It’s not just alive, Jo. It thinks,” he said. Then he finally turned to look at me again. His dark eyes were no longer pinched with pain, but they were deeply concerned. I shook my head without a word. I didn’t know how to ask him to elaborate.

“They wanted to control it. Find a way to make it go off whenever they wanted. Maybe trigger words like with Barnes. Something that they could activate any time, any place. But it had its own ideas. It didn’t—wouldn’t respond. No matter what they did. That’s why they starved you. That’s why they tortured you. To make it do something. Anything. And then it did.”

“What did I do?”

“You did nothing. It did. Its main goal is always to protect its host. If you die, it dies. And it just wants to live. When they finally pushed your body to its limit, it protected you. And killed half the facility. Myself excluded.”

“Why not you?”

“Because I wasn’t a threat to you.”

“So it’s capable of making that choice.”

“Yes—but I don’t know how it thinks or how well it can make that choice, Jo. It may have a different idea of what a threat is, you understand? There was no one in that truck with you when it wiped out the fleet.” I nodded slowly.

“What did they do to me? To make me a perfect host?”

“You already were,” he explained. “Beata knew the pathogen would need a perfect host. Perfect also in health and stamina. Whatever she did to herself—it made her different. Not as susceptible to illnesses or normal bodily breakdown. Whatever it was—it wasn’t significant enough to be noticed.”

“Like what they did to Steve and Bucky?”

“No. Not nearly the same lengths. But that's where she got the idea. She worked with him, you know? That’s how she found out who he was. They had her take samples. Wanted her to replicate it. Whatever she used on herself must have come from what she’d learned from him. But it wasn’t nearly as excessive. Just enough that she could contain it. Enough to not be normal. But not enough to classify her as enhanced.”

“And she passed it onto me?” He shrugged.

“Not sure. You didn’t really show a lot of signs. Didn’t get sick much as a kid. But you got hurt the same way as everyone else. Bones and muscles took the same length of time to repair themselves. There were still lasting effects from your bullet wounds. But you weren’t normal either. Why do you think my sister and my brother-in-law kept you from getting into sports? You were too quick. Too sharp. People start to pay attention if the word ‘prodigy’ gets thrown around. If they start looking too closely, they’ll notice things like fake birth certificates.”

“I thought my dad was just extra hard on me for not being a son.” He smiled and shook his head.

“He was trying to protect you. He loves you. I’ll always be grateful to him for stepping up to be your dad when I couldn’t.”

“That’s a relief. A little bit.”

“The point is—it wasn’t something we were too worried about. You weren’t that different. Slightly above average in some aspects, easy to get training to stick, you took to the military like a fucking duck on water. We just didn’t know if it would get worse as the years went on. If it would manifest differently once Hydra activated the—Chaos.”

“So my parents know?”

“Of course. I told them everything.” I nodded and chewed on my lip.

“I fell off a balcony. I was in bad shape.” He nodded.

“I know. The parasite—whatever it is—it will do whatever it can to keep you alive. I didn’t see it happen. Just that—you had no feeling in your feet when we went in. You were barely responsive. And then a week later—you were you again.”

I looked down at my feet. I hadn’t kept the bandages on and I hadn’t even noticed the pain since the night before. I fiddled with my fingers, refusing to lift my palms and see what I could already feel. The slices on my hands didn’t hurt anymore either.

“If she had the power to alter her own physiology, my physiology, then why didn’t she sell that? She could have saved lives.”

“Could have destroyed lives too.” I turned away, looking at the hazy window again.

“You said they had to push me to my limits to get it to work—what did they do?” He took another deep breath and let it go in one long sigh.

“They started with the girl. They’d have her mess with your head and nothing would happen. They cut you open and nothing would happen. So they hooked you up to this machine that would make your brain think you were in pain. It was the only way they could inflict serious pain without causing serious damage to the host body. So all they had to do was turn a dial to torture you. They made me watch through a monitoring system. You screamed until your voice gave out. They kept it going maybe thirty minutes. Pushing the dial higher and higher until you just—shut down. You weren’t—unconscious, I don’t think. I don’t know if you can even remember. But you just lay there like it wasn’t even bothering you anymore. Staring at the ceiling until your nose started gushing blood like a goddamn fire hose.”

I could remember the feel of the sticky tabs on my face. I remember screaming and feeling like my entire body was on fire. I didn’t remember anything else. The memory didn’t even feel real. Not as real as this moment did.

“I remember the machine, but I don’t remember what happened,” I explained. He stared at the wall, squinting as he sifted through memories.

“I could see it happening. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. Just watching your face. Worrying. I thought I was watching you die. Thought they’d pushed you too hard and made your brain melt. Your eye. The left one—popped a blood vessel. Looked like your eye turned black. I can still see it now. In the ring around your iris.”

“What happened?”

“There were only two technicians in the room with you. Watching monitors, manning the dial. They were wearing hazmat suits, just in case. But they both went down anyway. Simultaneously. They were dead in minutes.

“They had the entire facility put on quarantine. Went in there with suits to sedate you but you were already unresponsive. They took you somewhere else. I don’t know. Quarantine. Your cell. I didn’t see. It didn’t matter because within an hour—every single person who’d been in that lab with me was dead. Everyone but me.”

“How did they die?” He shrugged.

“Don’t know. They didn’t tell me. Just that the blood was dark until the thing—whatever it was—pathogen, virus, parasite—died out. It only survives about ten minutes outside the host body. Then it just—evaporates without a trace.” I gulped and nodded.

“Dark like the color black?”

“Yeah.”

“I did it more than once?”

“You did. They got it to work a few more times. Easier after that, I think. The darkness—Chaos, that’s what Beata called it—seemed to distrust them after that. Wouldn’t let them get too close with anything mildly threatening before they’d be dead. But they were up to something in that base. Had bigger plans. Had those twins. Maybe others. They were planning something separate from you. And you were a danger to it. So they planned to transfer us to a different facility to study you where you couldn’t jeopardize their other projects. I overheard the plan from the twins. I’m pretty sure they let it slip on purpose. They want Stark for themselves. And I knew they wouldn’t get what they wanted if you got to him first. So I sent out a code. I knew Barnes would be listening.”

“So when we were being transferred—how did it happen?”

“Don’t know. They had us separated. We had a whole fleet of trucks. Guards. Scientists. Everyone involved with the project who was still alive. I don’t remember how long we were there for, but something must have spooked you enough to make you feel threatened. Trucks started moving erratically and then we weren’t moving at all. I yelled until Barnes got me out. I thought he’d done it at first, until I saw the bodies. But once again—you got everyone but me.”

“Until I shot you.”

“Every time it happened, it knocked you out cold. It has impacts your body almost the same way it does theirs. You bleed from the face and then you go down. The more people you hit, the harder it is on you. The longer it takes to recover. There were at least thirty of them. We found you face down in a puddle of your own blood. It was amazing you could even stand, let alone think. I know you didn’t mean to do it.”

“What do you think I should do? Should I go back to the states and hope that Stark or Banner can figure it out?” He shook his head.

“The decision is yours. I just know that—that’s where they wanted you to be.”

“But we left—and they didn’t get control over it—which means I’m probably not a threat to the Avengers now.”

“I have no idea how they intended to unleash it, Kid. Whatever you choose to do, both you and Stark need to understand that you can’t be within proximity to all of them at once, or even most of them, at any given moment. I don’t know what they put into your head. I don’t know if they can set it off when they know you’re within reach or if you’ll do it on your own. You’re going to need to learn how to control it yourself. And I don’t suggest you figure it out within reach of Clara and the entirety of Manhattan. Remember, the higher the number of targets, the harder it is on your body. If it goes nuclear, you’ll probably go with it.”

“Bucky thinks we should run. Disappear.” He nodded.

“I think that would be best.”

“You’ll come with us?” He laughed, but it was cut short by a grunt of pain. I waited for him to get passed it.

“I’m not going anywhere, Jo. I’m safe where I am. If you’re with him—then I know you’ll be safe too.”

“If it gets worse? If you end up with an infection? He turned his head back to me.

“Then I’ll go to Stark and say I escaped. You run.”

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When fiction finds its way into real life?

Bullshit.

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