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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14. Chapter Fourteen

Russell couldn’t stay awake for very long, and even when he could, I didn’t want to bother him. He needed to rest and it was easier to not talk about these things anyway. He told me what he knew and I stayed there in the silence until he drifted off. Then I stood up and went to stand by the window. I leaned against the wall and looked out of the curtains and onto the small farm. Bucky was out there with his hair tied out of his face. He had his shirt sleeves rolled up and didn’t seem too worried about his arm being exposed. There were no other houses that I could see. Just trees on every side of us. The fact that he had his arm out meant he was comfortable.

I watched him work for a while. He raked up leaves and debris. A few animals followed him around. It started with a goat, a couple of excited dogs, and some chickens. By the time he finished, he had a whole entourage of farm animals. Every so often, he would stop, reach into the pocket of his jeans, and hold something out on his hand. The goats or dogs would nibble at his fingers and the chickens would peck at the leftovers on the ground. He was hiding treats in his pockets.

I couldn’t help but smile as I watched him. He looked so human and natural. Walking around with a whole herd of animals, giving them treats and pats on the head as they nipped at his legs. He was careful of his footsteps so none of them got stepped on. It was cute.

“You love him?” Russell asked. I didn’t even realize he was awake. I turned to look at him, knowing he caught me smiling. Then I turned back to the window to hide my embarrassment.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “It’s different now.”

“Not really.” I shook my head.

“You know what they made me see. I’ll never get those images out of my head.”

“You change how you feel based on what they did to you and you let them win. You’re capable of separating the man from the illusion. You’re not looking at him like he murdered your family.”

“Yeah, but—some of it was real. Tran, Carlson, Jimenez. I remember it better now. I watched him kill them.” He made a reach for the water on the table, but he winced so I went to hand it to him. He took it but didn’t drink.

“You know the day I met Beata,” he said, “walked into her lab in Sokovia. Full of crazy equipment. She didn’t have the same stuff we had in the states. It was this beautiful mess of expensive machines, ancient equipment, and stuff she’d put together with her bare hands. Held together with paperclips and rubber bands. Most of her partners and friends had already disappeared. She was all that was left. A lone rebel scientist.”

I sat down in the chair so I could listen to him talk. I didn’t really want to hear about Beata, but it was obvious he wanted me to hear it. He kept the glass on his chest but fiddled with his fingers instead of drinking.

“I thought she was a little weird,” he admitted. “Not that I didn’t think she was brilliant. But she had a very—mad scientist kind of thing going on. Dana wanted to be a hairdresser. Gave her this awful perm, but she didn’t seem to care anyway. Hair was fried. Hadn’t been brushed in a few days. Wore safety goggles on top of her head. Big huge ones to fit over her glasses. Looked exhausted all the time. Tiny woman in a lab coat three sizes too big. Plus the accent. She was practically a cartoon character. Or a Bond love interest.” I smiled.

“It was hard not to fall in love with her,” he continued. “It was like everything fell into place for the first time in my life. I’d been in love before. Had flings. But—suddenly it was like everything I’d done and every choice I’d ever made led me right to her. We weren’t supposed to see each other. She was doing dangerous work. Our inside woman. Manufacturing biological weapons. I was just a soldier. Lieutenant then. We broke every rule in the book just to spend some time together. The result was—well you.” I nodded slowly.

“The point is that—in the grand scheme of things, I didn’t know her very long. Maybe it’s just genetic. Maybe you’re like me. Spend your whole life thinking you’re not cut out for love and meaningful relationships, until someone comes along and challenges that. Maybe we fall in love quickly and against the odds. I don’t know. I just knew early on that I didn’t want to be without her. And the only way we could be together was to get married.

“We moved to the states, hoping they’d let her go. But—Hydra has ways, don’t they? They kept her under control, working for an independent research company that specialized in genetic experiments. They wanted her to create that perfect host. Next thing we knew—we had a new objective and less than nine months to figure it all out. She was my whole world and it happened so fast that it was over in a blink.”

“Maybe it is genetic,” I agreed, leaning on the arm of the chair. “Maybe it’s not just that we fall in love quickly or think we’re not cut out for it. Maybe we just fall in love with the wrong people at the wrong time.”

“Definitely the wrong time, but not the wrong people. I wasn’t trying to dissuade you. If I could go back and change one thing, it would be that I made the best of the time we had. All of those missions I went on where I didn’t see her for weeks at a time. Or those times we told ourselves that it wasn’t real because it was too soon and so dangerous. I wish I could take back all those wasted seconds and use them differently.

“This wasn’t meant to be a cautionary tale, Johanna. I’m telling you to spend your time wisely. Because it’s been almost thirty years and I never found another love like that. I mean—I wasn’t exactly looking either. But my point is that it can be over in an instant. You may regret a lot of things. But don’t regret wasted seconds.” I leaned on my knuckles and forced myself to smile. But it felt like the ones I saw when Bucky was trying to mask his pain.

“Never took you for a romantic, Captain,” I remarked. He laughed shortly and shook his head.

“Beata would have given you a much sappier romance, I’m sure. She always believed the best in people. A real dreamer. It’s been difficult to follow in her footsteps. She had big shoes to fill.”

“I wish I could have met her.” His expression fell as he stared at the window behind me.

“Me too. And I’m sorry that—I didn’t tell you sooner. I wanted to. Wrote you a hundred letters telling you every single thing. But then I’d get these letters from my sister. I’d hear about you getting into trouble at baseball games. Sneaking out to go drinking in cornfields. Being a kid. Living your life. I couldn’t take that away from you. I couldn’t even get myself to come see you. I feel like I should have at least pretended to be a loving uncle if anything.” He smiled. “I should have, at least, shown you her picture. I’m sorry you had to see her like that. I know what they showed you and I wish it wasn’t how you remember her.”

“Me too.” We were both silent for a long moment before I reached into my back pocket and pulled out the silver case. I held it up for him to see. “Dana gave this to me. I don’t know if she meant for me to keep it or not.” He smiled again.

“It’s yours,” he told me.

“Grandma has one just like this. She keeps pictures in it.” He nodded.

“That’s where I got the idea. My dad gave it to her before he shipped out. Put their pictures in it so she’d have him with her while he was away. When they were older, she kept it on the nightstand in their bedroom. Put pictures of me and my sister in it too. Then you and Clara.”

“Does she know that I’m yours? Grandma, I mean?”

“She always knew.”

“She still has the case. I’ve looked through the pictures a few times. Never even realized it was you.”

“I was too young in that picture for you to recognize me, I think. Probably the last person you would have expected anyway.”

“I admit I didn’t really spend a lot of time looking at you. How old are you in these ones?” I held up the case and he thought about it for a minute.

“Don’t know. Late twenties maybe. Gave it to her before we got married. Must have been about your age. Give or take a few years.”

“How did Dana get it?”

“I sent it to her after you were born. Sent her most of Beata’s things. I knew I’d be on the move a lot and I couldn’t have anything that might link us together. She and Dana were always close. Dana never forgave me for taking her away. I don’t blame her, but I asked her to hold onto it for you anyway.” I tapped the case against my knee and he watched me. “You haven’t opened it yet, have you?” I shook my head.

“I’m afraid,” I admitted.

“Why?”

“Dana says I look like her. In the pictures they showed me—she didn’t even look like a person anymore. I’m afraid that if I see her, and I see myself in her—that it’ll make it more real.”

“And you won’t be numb anymore. You’ll have to mourn her.” I nodded and chewed on my lip again.

“You don’t have to look at the pictures now, Jo. You have a lot to deal with as it is. If you feel overwhelmed—you can wait until you’re ready.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t worry about it, Kid.”

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