"I keep going to the river to pray
'Cause I need something that can wash out the pain
And at most I'm sleeping all these demons away
But your ghost, the ghost of you
It keeps me awake"
-Ghost by Ella Henderson
"Ellie said you did some work for the government a few years back," Adam said casually. "Not to brag, or anything, but I did a stint in the treasury department."
"Wow…" I trailed off lazily. I hand my chin in my hand, elbow propped up on the table. "Fascinating." I tacked on at the end, using the tip of my finger to spin the ice in my drink.
A friend of mine, Ellie, had convinced me to go out on this boring date. She'd told me that my 'it's just too soon' excuse had lost its value several years ago. Every few months she'd wear me down, I'd cave, and go out on the date with the stiff she'd found for me. Adam began droning on about the treasury department, and I stared at my drink, still spinning my ice.
Jeez, this guy is on a date with you and he's talkin' about gettin' coffee for a guy who watches a bunch'a stacks of green paper all day? Does he know what you used to do? I don't know if I should laugh or feel bad for the guy!
I smiled a little; just a little twitch of the corner of my lips.
I could almost hear his laugh.
"That's an odd chain." Adam pointed out, reaching across the table for the ball chain around my neck. My hand shot out and grabbed his wrist just as his fingers pinched the chain off my skin. I stared wordlessly at Adam with a look Howard used to interpret as 'Go ahead, I dare you'. Adam slowly let the chain go, and I dropped his wrist.
He chuckled. "Ellie said you picked up a few tricks."
I gave him a little shrug, and protective hand over the dog tags under my shirt. "I picked up more than a few." I said honestly. Adam gave that smug chuckle again, and waved a waiter over to get more liquor. The last thing this man needed was more liquor.
When he was turned away from me, I soundlessly got up from the table. I heard Adam call for me as I reached the doors to the restaurant, but I didn't even turn around.
If I wanted to be that bored, I would have stayed in Russia to finish the rest of the files in the Kremlin. At least I could talk to Kára there.
I breathed in a lungful of cool evening air before starting down the streets of New York City. No matter where I went, where my work took me, where I paid taxes, where I bought homes or where my biggest bank account was; New York City was my home. To be more specific, my apartment in Brooklyn was my home. I moved in there three days after I got back stateside from the war. It may not be my fanciest home, or my biggest, most expensive, extravagant, or party-worthy, but it was where I kept all my prized possessions. It was home.
A light drizzle started to fall from the sky. I sighed and stopped to look at my reflection in a store window.
I'd taken to using a flat iron on my hair every morning, erasing my curls and replacing them with a thick, slightly wavy mane of honey blonde hair. When Peggy first saw it, she didn't recognize me. She never really got used to it. Howard had thrown a full-out grown-up hissy fit about it. But that was years ago.
I almost didn't recognize myself with curls anymore; my hair was straight all the time now. But rain; rain would make my straight hair curl and frizz up faster than a UZRGM hand grenade. They say the fuses are 2.5 seconds; they are wrong, it's a .5 second fuse at the longest. TJ got an earful from me in the middle of a Serbian militant camp for that little piece of misinformation.
I ducked into a small bar I was passing to avoid my hair becoming an explosion of curls, and took the opportunity to call Ellie to tell her she must not know me very well if Adam is who she sets me up with.
"Adam Clark is a perfectly pleasant man!" Ellie said loudly when I told her how my partial date went.
"Yeah, but if I wanted to be agonizingly tortured with boredom like that, I-"
"-would have stayed in Russia." Ellie finished for me. She sighed; exasperated. "You said you wanted normal, Anna."
"Normal for me! Not normal for Junie R. Homemaker!" I snapped irritably, reaching to the back of my head where some of the straightened strands were starting to curl.
"You have no normal, Anna." Ellie reminded me.
"Are you going to go see him?" She asked after a brief pause.
I paused, my eyes falling shut. After all this time, just the mention of him made my breathing stutter.
I leaned forward until my forehead was pressed against the window of the bar. The cool glass contrasted with the heating screen of the cell phone I had pressed to my cheek. It was the newest model; Tony Stark had submitted it to S.H.I.E.L.D. a few weeks ago in return for them looking the other way when he hooked his AI up to the facial recognition and DNA database.
"Don't I always after a crappy date?" I asked, opening my eyes to stare at my shoes scuffing the floor.
"When do you ever have a crappy date?"
"All my dates are crappy."
"Didn't you once have a date with an East European diplomat who flew you to Japan just because you said you liked the cherry blossoms?"
"He grabbed my ass," I said defensively. "I was having a grand old time looking at the trees in the emperor's garden and the guy got handsy."
"You fractured his clavicle." Ellie reminded me.
I paused. "I have high standards."
"You have impossible standards."
"They're not impossible...Someone surpassed them before."
There was a muffled, frustrated and anxious groan on the other side of the phone.
I could picture Ellie now; yanking on her long dark braid with her glasses falling down her nose. She worried about me a lot. Ellie just worried a lot in general; about everything.
"Didn't...Didn't he tell you to be happy and find someone?" Ellie asked me.
"I can either find someone or be happy. Not both."
"It...It's been a long time, Anna." Ellie said quietly.
"I've lived 66 years, 4 months, 20 days without him." I rattled off automatically. I rubbed my eyes with the heel of my hand, not caring if I messed up my makeup.
"I'll text you when I'm back in Brooklyn," I said before hanging up.
I jammed my phone in the back pocket of my jeans, flipped the hood of my jacket up, stuffed my hair inside it and headed for Grand Central Station.
"Hey," I said softly, my hands sheepishly in the pockets of my jacket as I approached the grave stone. I slowly sat in the thick green grass in front of it, and let my eyes trail over the familiar words carved into the stone. I had Frank, the night guard, turn on a few more lights when I jumped the fence.
"I...I'm sorry its been so long...I've been in Russia," I said with a slight smile. It'd been almost six months since I've been here to see him. "You...You know that I volunteer to take the dozen probies there. It-It reminds me of when I helped train those first few lab assistants before leaving Camp Leigh...They're all so happy and proud to be doing what they're doing...It's only a matter of time before they realize they're not happy anymore."
I reached forward and trailed my fingers over the J of his first name before pulling it back quickly.
They wouldn't let me put Bucky on the stone.
"Ellie made me go on another date tonight." I said, beginning to pull and pick at the thick grass in front of my crossed legs.
I scoffed lightly. "I-I know we never really went out...but I'm pretty sure it's not supposed to be that boring."
I took a shaky breath and looked back up at the grave stone.
It was a little worn now; after almost seven decades that was to be expected. The dark letters carved into it stood out against the pale stone; James Buchanan Barnes. His date of birth and death were listed under it, and a simple cross above it all. Howard had asked me if I wanted anything else on the stone; he was more than willing to pull the necessary strings to make it happen.
I decided against it; Bucky wouldn't want anything special. He never did.
I didn't get a say in what was on Steve's stone. It was unanimous that Bucky and Steve would be buried next to each other, but that was all they got right.
Peggy and I made a real stink about having a cross on Steve's stone, like he, a good Irish Catholic boy, would have wanted. Even with Howard giving our voice some pull, we couldn't do anything.
On the grave next to me, Steven Grant Rogers, like Bucky's, his date of birth and his date of death were under his name. A carving of the iconic shield was above his name; where the cross should be.
"I was in London a few weeks ago, on my way back from Moscow...Saw the old place; the bunker." The more I spoke, the more my voice started to shake. "It's not a little shop anymore, it's a dinner...No idea what's under it all."
"They-They make a real nice fish and chips." I wiped my hand under my eyes.
Over the years, I've lost Howard and Maria, Ian, Peter, Rebecca and her husband, all of the Commandos, Peggy was gone in almost every sense but the literal now. I had so few people I could talk to about him. I couldn't let him leave me too.
There was a very short list of people I trusted with my life, and even with them, there was a list of things I just didn't do in front of people anymore; crying was at the top of the list.
Bucky was the only person I could cry in front of anymore.
I sniffed and frowned when my phone vibrated in my back pocket. I pulled it out, and rolled my eyes as I hit ignore.
TJ could wait.
"I miss you," I said, my voice quiet. "So...so much." I inhaled sharply, and put a hand over my mouth and nose as I choked in a soft cry.
"Now and then I think I'm getting over you...That-That the pain is going away." I said to the gravestone. "I'll wake up in the morning and my heart won't hurt. I'll eat my breakfast, watch the news and my heart won't hurt. I-I think I'll be able to go through the day without wanting to come here and cry all day."
"But then I go outside...Walk around Prospect Park or something, and I'll see happy couples." I paused and looked away from the stone. "With their arms around each other...Hands linked together...The girl smiling when the boy whispers sweet things in her ear..." I trailed off. "I think I'm starting to get over you - starting to heal - and then I see them."
I peeked up at the stone. "I see how happy we could have been, and it like I'm back on the kitchen floor in London in 1946."
I was quiet for a few minutes after that, playing with the grass.
I tried to tell Bucky happy things. Things that would have made his eyes sparkle and his face grin. Things like this...they would have made him sad; worried.
"I think that I'm-I'm starting to forget you," I whispered. "It-It used to be so vivid...The way it felt when you held me...How your eyes would sparkle if-if the light hit them just right...What patterns you use to trace on my skin...How your breath felt on my neck when you were mumbling sweet things in my ear when I was half asleep...The feeling in the pit of my stomach when I'd catch you looking at me when I was getting ready in the morning." I cut myself off in a hiccup.
"You're fading away." I managed to get out, my hand reaching out to trace his name again. The other grabbed my vibrating phone and threw it somewhere to my right.
"I still remember things; how it sounded when you called me Glow, what it felt like to wake up in your arms-" I paused and tried to take a deep breath and stop the tears, but they just kept coming.
"I remember how you used to smooth my hair back before you kissed me," I said in a soft whisper, my fingers lingering on the J of his first name. "I remember how your shirts smelled when I wore them to bed when you were gone. I remember how it felt when you had your hand on the small of my back when we danced. I remember how you would mumble Angel Eyes to me when I couldn't sleep."
I sobbed once.
"I remember you!" I said forcefully. I pounded a frustrated fist on the top of the grave stone. "I remember you! I remember you!" With each word, I pounded a fist on the gravestone.
"I-I remember you!" I half-yelled half-sobbed.
"It's not fair!" I ground out. If I didn't watch myself, I'd end up screaming. "I-I tried so hard to remember all the little things about you. So hard. You-You got ripped away from me and the world couldn't let me keep the pathetic little scraps of memory I have left of you!"
I stood up, unable to look at the stone any more. That happened now and then. I was angry now; I didn't want him to see me so angry. He'd never seen me like that, and he won't.
I clutched the tags around my neck desperately as wiped my nose on my sleeve. I turned back towards the stone and kneeled back down.
"I remember you," I said shakily, but just as forceful. I had both hands on the stone, gripping the sides. I leaned forward and pressed my forehead to the cool marble over his name.
"So why are you slipping away?"
I could hear my phone vibrating from where I threw it, but I continued to ignore it. TJ could wait. I turned so my back was against the stone, the corners digging into my back somewhat painfully as I looked up at the sky.
"I'm trying to make you proud." I said softly, staring blankly up. "I think about what you would say if you saw what I was doin'..."
One corner of my mouth quirked up. "You'd hate it. You'd scream and yell at me until you're blue in the face and out of breath...I'm...I'm doin' things you'd never in a million years want me to be doin'...
"It keeps me goin,' though. I'm-I'm doin' good, Bucky," I whispered, slouching down the stone, getting grass stains on the butt of my jeans. I didn't care though; I had plenty more of them.
I just sat for a while longer, playing with his dog tags and letting the corner of the grave dig into my back. The edges of the sun were just peeking up over the horizon when I jumped the fence again and headed for the train station.
I'd snagged my phone on the way out; I had dozens of missed calls from TJ and Phil, one from a blocked number that just had to be Director Fury, and upwards of 40 texts; mostly from Ellie and how worried she was that I didn't call her, and a few from TJ.
I lazily made my way to my apartment in Brooklyn; the sun was finally up when I was unlocking the large, industrial door that led to a dim hallway. I grabbed my mail from TJ; he had an apartment on the first floor. He tried to talk to me, he was babbling when he handed me my mail. Mid-sentance, I grabbed his door and shut it before going to my own apartment on the eighth floor.
A similar industrial door to the one into the building separated my apartment from the dim hallway. I threw my mail onto the table next to the door, shed my jacket and unceremoniously threw it towards the hooks in the brick; towards, not on. I heard it hit the floor.
As I made my way to the kitchen, I paused to balance on one foot to yank my shoe off. I took one more step then yanked off the other. I left them on the hardwood floor, like my jacket.
I opened my fridge, leaned one hand on the door the other on the wall next to me. I stared at the brightly lit, stark white fridge and sighed; contemplating that I should eat, but nothing sounded good.
If I didn't get my appetite back, I'd find go find a burger or something somewhere. Chicago, maybe. Or Denver. Maybe Natasha would want to skip up to a pub in Vancouver we found a few years back. Terrible service, terrible food, amazing beer.
I grabbed a bottle of water from the bottom shelf and headed to the area next to the kitchen; a large sectional sofa around an entertainment system which included a radio, TV with VCR, DVD and Blu-Ray players, a record player, and a small black box that allowed me to connect to the secure S.H.I.E.L.D. network and my laptop, and several sets of Russian nesting dolls. I had a rule; only things 15-years-old or newer in my common areas. Everything older was in my bedroom or in one of my warehouses.
Accept for his picture. I had one 8.5x11 picture of Bucky hanging on my wall. He was my guardian angel now. Up there in Heaven, watching over me and shaking his head at all my close calls.
Everything I did, I did for him. I wanted him to be proud of the world I was living in; I wanted him to look down on me and think that the world I created would be the world our kids would have been lucky to grow up in.
But at the same time, he might be up there in Heaven crying because of what I've done to make this world something he'd be proud of. He's my angel up in heaven, with wings, a halo and the all consuming good about him. And me?
There are times when I don't think I'm worthy of an angel like him.
When S.H.I.E.L.D. was founded back in the late 40s, I got the nickname America's Angel. I'm fairly certain Howard and Kára started it all, but it stuck. It's my nickname in the intelligence community.
In the US Navy, I'm Dream Girl; I'm either your best dream or your worst nightmare.
I'm Gracie, as in 'Saving Grace,' to the Air Force; I kept a few hundred pilots from flying into a trap in Korea.
The KGB knew me as Солдат Света, or 'Soldier of Light.'
In Interpol, I'm the Thief of Thieves; this is the only real interesting one. In the late 60s, I got into a burglary kick. I tracked down art stolen by the Nazis, and stole it from the current owners and returned them to the original owners. I was never charged though; I always gave Interpol three terrorists for every piece of art I stole.
I have nicknames in almost every army, navy, intelligence agency, government, militant and terrorist group in the world. Granted, most of them think I'm just a legend, but they know me. And if they're not on our side, they fear me.
Angels aren't feared.
Bucky may be an angel, but I, as sure as the day is long, am not one. Not anymore, anyway.
I had just cracked the cap off the bottle when I heard a knock at my door. Three strong taps echoed through the metal and paired with a muffled voice that called my name. I groaned and ignored it; I was in no mood to talk to anybody.
I had just sat down when three more knocks echoed through the lofted ceilings. I groaned, tipped my head back and closed my eyes.
Just ignore it, darlin'. You'll be back to your own little world soon...
I smiled a little, my eyes still closed. When it was late at night, and I was alone in my quiet apartment, I swear I could feel him next to me; the little breeze that would move my hair just the slightest, or the heavy feeling on my shoulder late at night. I knew it was him. He was my guardian angel, because before I met him I sure as hell didn't have one, and he was always watching over me.
When the three knocks came again, harder this time, I groaned and stood up.
"When's your birthday?" I called through the door as I opened the drawer of the small sideboard next to the door.
I put a round in the chamber. "When's your birthday?" I yelled again. Clint said I got in a 'mood' sometimes, where I didn't want to talk too, look at, or be around people born after 1965.
People started to loose class after 1965.
"When is your goddamn birthday!" I yelled, only a few inches from the door.
There were a few seconds of silence before I got an exasperated sounding reply. "July fourth 1917!"
My breath hitched and my heart took off in a sprint. I slowly flipped the metal tab over the peephole and stood up on my tiptoes to look through it. The hallway was dark, aside from some light filtering in through the window on the far right.
The person in front of my door was clearly male, six feet tall minimum, broad shouldered and strong jawed. I tried to see more of their face, but the shadows were keeping me from getting a good look. But I didn't need a good look.
"No," I breathed, my eyes widening.
I slowly slid the door open just a few inches, and reached my hand through the crack. I used my index finger to give the man's firm abdomen a hard poke.
I quickly retracted my hand and slammed the door shut again, jamming the industrial lock down.
"No...No no no..." I whimpered, slowly sliding down the cold metal door. The gun slipped from my fingers. "This isn't real. This can't be real." I had my hands weaving through the hair at the top of my head, grabbing onto it tight and pulling slightly.
Three more knocks.
"Annie? Annie, are you alright in there?"
"You're dead. You're dead. You're dead." I told myself over and over again like I had a few times before.
"Annabelle Jane Brightman, right?" They asked. "Born in Manhattan in 1919. April third, right?"
I slowly turned to face the door and stood up. I fixed my hair a little and slowly unlocked the door. I slid it open just enough to cast some light on the person's face. One side of his mouth quirked up.
"I...I don't know what to say..." He trailed off, one hand jammed in his pocket, the other rubbing the back of his neck.
I hadn't breathed in at least 90 seconds, so I was a little light headed, which made me believe what I was seeing even less.
"Oh, uh," he trailed mumbled and reached into his front pocket. "They, uh, they gave me this."
A hand was held towards me, and I pushed the door open completely.
The hand was holding a medal out to me; fingers pinching a blue ribbon trimmed with red and white, and a gold cross hung from it. An eagle, wings spread, was in the center. I slowly reached forward and took it, feeling the cold metal against my fingers. I slowly flipped it over, and if I hadn't cried so much at Bucky's grave I would have cried again.
There was an engraving on the back of the medal;
The man in front of my door had his hands jammed in his pockets, looking down at me with apprehensive blue eyes.
I held the medal close to my chest as I looked up.
Steve had a small, wry smile on his face. "Hi." He said simply. Clearly, he was teasing me; this was the first time I'd looked him in the eye. "You, uh...You look nice, Annie."
I briefly glanced down at my 'date wear,' which consisted of a pair of slim fitting jeans and a silk ivory colored blouse with swirls of black stitching on the cuffs and collar. A small smile flickered over my lips; I missed being given an honest compliment when I opened the door.
I wordlessly grabbed the front of Steve's shirt, yanked him into my apartment, stepped on the quick release for the door, making it slam shut and lock as I threw my arms around his middle and sobbed.
Steve, like he always had, automatically hugged me back tightly. He rubbed my back soothingly as I shook. I think my nails were digging into his biceps hard enough to leave bruises, but he didn't say anything. I tried to get a hold of myself, sucking in quick breaths as I pulled away from Steve. I didn't go far though. I still had a grip on the beige jacket he wore; I felt like if I let go, he'd disappear like he always did. I'd lost count, starting just six months after they died, of how many times I had dreamed situations like this. I usually woke up screaming or crying.
I wordlessly stared up at him, trying to form words.
"I, uh," Steve finally spoke, scratching the back of his neck again. "I guess we gotta few things to talk about, huh?"
I just blinked at him, nodding ever so slightly. "Yeah...Yeah, we do." I breathed, smiling ever so slightly at the end. "Where do you wanna start?"
Steve smiled a little as well, and looked down, reaching up to scratch the back of his neck. "At the beginning, I guess."
I managed to laugh a little.
"Give up the ghost
No more haunting baby"
Ah, at long last, the sequel to the oh-so-very-well-received Beyond Repair is up!
I just could wait! I tried, but clearly that didn't go very well. I still have exams coming up, and I still have a lot to do, so until the middle of June, updates may not be as regular as they typically are. Sorry.
I will try to have chapter two up by Friday, though.
Remember; first dozen or so chapters are going along the Avengers plot!
PS~ You know all those stereotypical people that give America a crappy reputation? My itsy-bitsy town is full of them. Anybody want to be my new internet buddy?