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» [IP] DON'T PUNISH YOURSELF, PUNISH YOURSELF [INVITES]
Posted: Jun 7 2017, 12:41 AM
steve is Offline
For the first time in ages, Steve felt hope.
What shape did this hope take? A faint glimmer in the night; a drop of water in the desert. A place, as of yet unreachable, but perceivable, where things might return to some vague semblance of peace. Happiness. Comfort. Somewhere where when Steve laid his head down, there would be a hand behind it, supporting it… a place where he could let spill forth all the things he had thus far kept buried deep inside him. Where tears might fall, and no one would question his strength, or his determination because of them.
Hope is a dangerous thing. It doesn’t listen to logic, or reason, and it sure as hell tries to exist in spite of every attempt to extinguish it. It’s the last memory, the final token of a life-once-lived left, gripped in a sweaty palm during our darkest hours. It flourishes in pain and anguish, and arrives even when the doorstep to our souls is comprised of soot and ash. When all else fails, one may look to hope. Sometimes that’s enough.
Steve wasn’t sure whether his hope had existed all along, but laid dormant, or whether he had cultivated a cast-off seedling into new life. He didn’t remember feeling like this. The days before Ash’s return had been full of a hollow darkness—the outside shone, vibrant for the sake of others, but the inside was carved out and left empty, full of cobwebs and dust. He had never really figured out how to transcribe that pain into something anyone could understand, and to be honest, he hadn’t wanted to.
But today, each day… since Ash’s return… he awoke with a spark. Just a spark. A fledgling of a chance, just a mere possibility, that maybe, just maybe… today might be better than yesterday.
Ash wanted to stay.
Ash wanted to stay, with him, here.
Steve had to remind himself constantly that just because the man he was caring for wanted to stick around didn’t mean he was rekindling feelings for him, or recalling the past they had built together. Perhaps it was ultimately wise that this was a concept Steve refused to touch, mostly because he wasn’t ignorant of the fact that by being a constant companion and a caregiver and a gatekeeper, he was becoming a focal point of dependency. Or, worse, a captor. Sure, a captor with good intentions… but Stockholm Syndrome and cruelty aren’t obligate symbioses. One can be perfectly well-intentioned and still find their relationship has developed out of a need for one another, a reliance driven by survival… not a want, or a wish.
That’s why he began to bring others in.
Friends, mostly. Yes, people Ash used to know, but he thought that that might work in their favor better than strangers. These people would know the man Ash once was; would understand why it was important to be patient and understanding with the man he was now. Or so Steve hoped. He could only ask them to help; he could not direct them on how to act or, really, what to expect, when confronted with this specter that spoke, smelled, and moved like Ash… but wasn’t.
There was Pietro, the friend who bore immense guilt… and was one of the two who had reconnected Ash with Steve before it all went critical. There was Bruce, the soft-spoken, yet sage acquaintance… who had exchanged shame with Ash once upon a time, and who nonetheless had not judged him for the atrocities he, too, bore in turn. There was Sam, his friend, who had the expertise to deal with someone like Ash… but who also, Steve knew, was incredibly wary of the man that had beaten him and destroyed his wings like he meant nothing. And there was Tyson, the once-lover… who bore a deep ache and hunger for any sort of connection he didn’t know he was failing to conceal. All of them had their merits. All of them had their crutches. But they had volunteered, and Steve couldn’t deny the help he knew he needed. Couldn’t deny that Ash needed them.
This wasn’t about bringing Ash back to who he once was. It was about opening all the doors, and paving all the roadways, so that Ash could choose from any future ahead of him and know happiness. Maybe he would fall in love, or in lust (or in both) with Tyson again. Maybe he would realize Bruce had the better words and the better reasons to forgive oneself, and could say them far more aptly than Steve could ever explain. Maybe Sam could teach him that he didn’t really need Steve… that he could be self-reliant. It didn’t matter what happened so long as Ash could find where he fit into the collective story.
In all this, Steve strove to ignore himself. Strove to work solely backstage. But his hope, even as small as it was, was hardy and tenacious. Every glance, every memory, every touch was a drop of water to questing roots, or a glint of sunshine to unfurling leaves, feeding a thirst he wasn’t entirely aware of. He tried to blanket it. To recognize, again, that he was the only consistent thing in Ash’s life, and it would not be doing right by him to interpret more than the face value whenever Ash reached out to him. This was a man tortured, isolated, and beaten. He wasn’t hungering for Steve... just the human connection.
Sure. Smiles, though fleeting, still made their debut. But that was it. Until Ash was self-sufficient, until he knew what it meant to be independent (of thought, of body, of dreams, of everything), Steve kept his distance. He did not confide in him. He did not show weakness around him (not intentionally anyway). He was a rock. A stabilizer. An inanimate object that provided objective stability unfettered by feelings.
Sure, that was utter bullshit, too. But it was all he could do.
The second visit to Tony’s lab went far better than the first. This time, Steve was prepared, with book in hand, and water and snacks for patient and doctor-slash-technician. He set a water bottle by Ash’s side, by Tony’s, and perched on a stool just inches from Ash’s knees with everything else tucked in pockets, or his large hands. Last time, he had gone up against his own convictions, and told Ash stories from the “once-life” he had formerly lived just to keep him his distracted. This time, knowing it calmed Ash, he chose a safer bet. A novel. A work of science fiction, like they were, but so removed from the cold, serrated edge of reality that they could still enjoy its meaning. It was from this he read the entire time, glancing up then and again to gauge Ash’s reaction.
More than once, he caught Tony staring at him, head-cocked, and lips pressed thin. Whatever bugged him, he didn’t say; Steve was in no mood to question.
The smell of hot metal and of foreign, mechanical substances clogged their noses after a while, and all three began sniffling. Tony went away, returning with cloth masks like the kind one sees in construction. But when he offered them out to the pair he was tending to, he was met with refusal. Ash’s vehement head-shake no was soon followed by a polite and soft, yet distracted “no, thank you” from Steve. Faraway blue eyes refocused on the task at hand, but the words swam a little in front of him.
The blonde ex-medic’s hand had gone to his face at some point, touching the spot where his cheekbone had been broken. A fist had done that. But memory demanded he consult a different moment: Ash propelled forth to slam them both into a fire door, a black mask on Steve’s own visage cracking with the impact. The same mask, ultimately, that Steve had torn from the face of the man before him. A mask that had meant a muzzle, and a muzzle that had silenced a future.
It was but a moment. Just an instant. But Steve had to shrug himself out of it, and in the few seconds that it took to for him to locate his place in the chapter, he realized both Ash and Tony were staring at him. He smiled warmly at them both—smiled a lie with the utmost conviction.
“Sorry. Lost my place. That’s what I get for daydreaming.”
Steve didn’t mean to stay so late. Granted, sometimes exhaustion took over, but what with it being nearly three in the morning… he had slept far, far too long. On the couch, no less. In another time, the position he had kept would have left him sore and creaking, but these days… well, when he stood, he pressed on his left hip as though half-expecting it to ache, and then let his hands fall when he realized it didn’t.
He glanced towards the bathroom door, which was shut tight, and then to the kitchen. Dinner plates still sat on the table, so he set about washing them. A sink full of hot water and soap, his sleeves rolled up, a mindless task he could invest in… it lured him back into that state of half-consciousness that threatened dreamland. But hands passed from plastic plates, tupperware, and glasses to the sink again and again, shifting the pile towards clean with an ever-growing efficiency.
In a moment like this, he could almost pretend.
It had been a week or two since the last time he had pined for what was, and he would be lying if he didn’t sometimes think it would be a relief if he could see Ash only for who he was, and not who he should have been. If he could move on from the grief, finally, knowing that the Ash-That-Was would never return. That wasn’t to say he wanted to date, or, really, partake in intimacy even. He was too wounded for that even if you did take away the part of the reason that had entirely to do with the man (most likely) asleep in the bathroom. But to be able to wake up not yearning for solace only an Ash who loved him could bring. It would be a relief to be free of that. If only it were that easy. If only it could happen.
Sarah Rogers had always told Steve he felt too much, too often for this crazy world that we live in. That one day, his sentimentality, and his empathy, might do him personally more damage than good. Steve had thought it meant he might run into a final sort of trouble one of the times he picked a fight he could by no means finish. Or that he might remain poor forever because he was always giving away his earnings. What he had failed to understand was that Sarah had known how her son hurt. Even for others, it ran deep, shattering bone and severing sinew, striking him at his very core and leaving a mark that was indelible. She had known just how much Steve could endure, that he did have a limit, even though most would see his energy as endless. And she had known, right up to the moment of her last breath, that what stung Steve deepest was an inability to heal those he needed most to mend.
This was the key to endless heartache. He could not heal his mother, and he could not heal Ashley. So many more, despite his best efforts, had slipped free of the mortal coil forever. And when he now looked at Ash, who somehow, somehow was alive… those marks—red-hot streaks of lightening—never let him forget how, for a year, Steve had failed him. He could not fix him. He could only wait, and hope, and pray, that maybe, one day… he might find out why all this had happened. What he had done to deserve such suffering. What Ash had done to deserve being unwritten.
On a base level, he knew there were at least a dozen answers. But once upon a time, they had both been good people, hadn’t they? They were just trying to do their best. To make a difference. Where had the path gone wrong? Where had the timeline soured and withered? All he had ever wanted was a home, and someone he loved to share it with. Surely they deserved better, even with all their sins?
The dishes were done. Pale hands gripped the stainless steel sink so tightly he knew he could rip it free if he wanted, with absolute minimal effort. But he didn’t. Because Steve wasn’t here to be Steve. He was a means to an end. He could not be the victim. Ash deserved better than that. Ash deserved his devotion… until the day came wherein goodbyes would be passed, and doors forever closed behind them.
Do not lie to yourself, Steven. You love him.
But hope is a poison.
And you don’t wanna hurt yourself, hurt yourself
YOU CAN'T WAKE UP, THIS IS NOT A DREAM
YOU'RE PART OF THE MACHINE
YOU ARE NOT A HUMAN BEING
Posted: Jun 24 2017, 10:30 PM
Ash is Offline
Being real was exhausting.
Even now, with only something akin to a half-life, Ash didn’t know how real people did it. How did they think so much? How did they react and exist and still manage to breath deep enough to not pass out. Every waking moment was a million different things that could go wrong—that he could do wrong—that would destroy everything. The asset didn’t worry, but he wasn’t the asset anymore. His programming didn’t mean shit when confronted with a never ending list of scenarios he hadn’t been trained for.
Division had no use for small talk or yoga or cooking.
Not that he missed his barren cell, but life certainly was simpler as an object.
But it was mostly impossible to think of himself that way, now. He had seen the pictures, the videos, of himself as a real man. He had seen himself before all this; whole and young and unburdened by the world...and as strong as the disconnect was between his trainwreck of body and that unblemished boy, there was little point in denying that the base was the same; a burned tree still had the roots of its healthy self. Was this what it was like to regrow from the ashes? Had all this been a controlled burn so he could start fresh?
Maybe that would make it easier...if everyone could just let go who he used to be.
Not that Steve was a problem, quite the opposite, on most days he was the only reason Ash managed to get out of the tub in the morning...but Steve wasn’t the only one who remembered him. Whoever Ashley Winters was had made enemies. He had killed and wounded and left a lasting legacy that even now, a year later, wasn’t forgiven. It didn’t matter that he didn’t remember. It didn’t matter that he had done so much worse as Division’s asset...all that mattered was The Sanctuary and The Compound. Fuck if he even knew where those places were, let alone what he had done before he’d been told.
Heaving his guts out had never felt so fitting; hand shaking, skin pale, reliving every bullet spent as everything he was surrendered itself to the porcelain throne. He was a murderer even before he was unmade. How could he live with that? How could he believe he was still the good man Steve thought he was with so much goddamned blood on his hands? It was one thing to say that it hadn’t been him as the asset, but this...this was him, wasn’t it? He hadn’t been wiped or frozen or tortured. He had followed orders like they were going out of style; giving it everything he had consequences be damned. Shouldn’t he have known? Shouldn’t Ash--if he was as good as Steve said--refused to be a good soldier when it meant innocent lives would be lost?
Had Steve ever known him at all?
The ghost of Ashley J. Winters paced, to and fro, his fingers itching for something he couldn’t quite name. His hand seemed to move of its own volition, reaching for his pocket as if it knew something he didn’t. Tap. Tap. Tap. Open the pack. Warmth on your fingers and a deep breath in. The man stared at his mismatched hands for a beat, as if waiting for the memory to crystallize in his palms.Without a word, he closed the distance between himself and the bathroom door, all but flinging it open as he stalked over the threshold. “Steve...I…?” The words were like sand on his tongue, gritty and too dry to swallow. His hands moved again, the right seemingly pulling something from his pocket, the left held open to tap whatever the right retrieved.
With a rough sigh, he shook his head and returned to the bathroom.
The next morning, a strange scent seemed to seep through the crack beneath the bathroom door. It was heady but soothing, somehow, clicking somewhere deep inside Ash’s chest. Like a predator sniffing out prey, the werewolf’s nose crossed the threshold first; flared nostrils sent that smell singing straight to his core. A single pack of Marlboro Reds was sitting on the kitchen counter, smelling like a lifetime of memories locked up behind the wall in his head. His head swiveled left and then right, spotting Steve pretending to read on the couch, his stiff shoulders giving away just how much he was attuned to what was going on behind him.
Ashley reached out, his hand pausing for a millisecond before meeting the thin plastic wrapper. Steve hadn’t done anything to hurt him yet...and even if it was poison it wouldn’t keep him down for long. Peeling back the the thin red line—unwrapping the cellophane—felt like coming home. Something in his chest that had been clenched tightly, released ever so slightly as he tapped the the pack against his left hand. Without conscious thought, he flipped the first cigarette in the pack tobacco side up before retrieving another loosened one with his lips. A single match, clearly left for this and this alone, lit the tip.
The smoke curled into into his mouth like it belonged there, cooling for a few moments before being inhaled into his lungs. Bruce was always preaching the importance of breathing...did this count? The nicotine rush wouldn’t mean much, but the act itself was certainly relaxing; the tightness in his brows and body eased ever so slightly at the feeling. As the smoke streamed out his nose, Ash smiled. Hope was a brittle thing, but feeling the echo of himself doing this a thousand times before made it all a little more real.
Made him feel a little more real.
Just knowing his muscles remembered something besides killing was like a balm to his soul. It didn’t make him any less guilty or any more of a man, but at least the proof was there. His roots couldn’t be damaged beyond repair if echos like this remained, right? If this was still there...maybe more was too. Who was to say this wasn’t just the tip of the iceberg? It might seem small, insignificant even, but after being gutted so thoroughly, having an honest to Christ habit felt like a godsend. It didn’t take long for the bathroom—and the man—to start smelling like an ashtray, but even that inconvenience felt like a little victory.
Division never would have let their asset carry such a remarkable scent.
Steve, as much as he tried to be a steady spot of sunshine, wasn’t a difficult nut to crack. At least not for what remained of Ash Winters. He could still read him like a book, better than a book considering actually processing the written word was still nigh impossible for him. So when said nut showed up with his panties in a twist, it was obvious. His phone was a constant point of interest, pulling his eyebrows down and causing his fingers to clench tight into a fist. Something was wrong; wrong enough that even someone with significant brain damage (i.e. one Ashley J. Winters) couldn’t not notice.
The werewolf plopped down on the couch a little closer than he usually would, his hands shoved in his hoodie pockets and his movements marginally louder than usual so as not to startle the other man. “Something up?” He asked, after a long moment, voice rough with disuse and breath heavy with the aroma of his Reds. “And...don’t just pretend. it isn’t. I’m brain damaged not stupid.” The words could have come off as harsh, but the clear undercurrent of worry cut their sharpness.
Steve sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose as if the weight of the world were growing heavier by the moment. It almost made Ash wish he hadn’t asked...but not knowing what was eating at the Captain clearly wasn’t getting him anywhere. When he finally answered, "I'm just arguing with that woman you met the other day." there was a heavy dose of resignation in his tone, his entire being seemingly swiveling to gauge Ashley’s reaction even though he barely moved. It took a moment, but former weapon nodded, his gaze zeroing in on the phone briefly before skipping away.
“About the baby?” He asked, shifting slightly closer, as if he wanted to offer a comforting arm but couldn’t bring himself to actually cross the entire distance. “You didn’t mention. But she said...It. Doesn’t really...compute? For me.” Ash paused, rubbing an anxious hand through his hair, “Maybe I’m wrong, but...you wouldn’t want a baby without ya know...more? A relationship.” His shoulders shrugged and his eyes slide to the ground and stuck there. Maybe he was wrong, but everything he knew about Steve made this situation stick in his brain like a splinter, irritating everything as it invaded just below the surface.
And that wasn’t even considering the implications of Steve having a baby on the way; what it would mean for him...what place, if any he could even begin to have in any life that involved a helpless child? For all he knew, that was exactly what the fight was about. Carrie had met him now—had witnessed the mess he was—even if it was through the proxy of the internet. Was he already starting to cause Steve problems?
God...he hoped not, but honestly, very little else added up.
i remember falling
i remember marching
like a one man army
through the blaze
i know i'm coughing
i believe in something
i don't want to remember
falling for their lies
undress your soul
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