1964-12-18 - Project Virgo: Buckling Under the Strain
Summary: Rescuing Bucky Barnes means taking matters into unexpected places.
Related: Project Virgo: Waiting for Salvation follows directly after.
Theme Song: None
rogue bucky 

OOC Note: Bucky features by proxy.

He lingered near the doorway, standing unafraid. The ruddy glow of the light filtering through the curtains washed over his silhouette in lurid detail, and the few neon beams offered no evasion from the consequence of his identity.

Diane turned her face to the side. She pushed back against the old chair, her hand curling around the broad wooden arm. An afghan bunched in a rope between her shoulder blades. The forgotten coffee cup balanced perilously above the rug, half on the armchair and almost ready to tip over.

Her voice croaked in the dimness of the living room. "Y-you can't be here."

"I would never come without reason," he told her in Russian.

That was the truth even if she couldn't bring herself to say it. He knew the safehouse she let the past three weeks, and sometimes Diane swore he hovered outside on an adjacent sidewalk or rooftop in the quiet hours of the predawn she dreaded the most. Sleep came rare to her when the cold sweat and scratchy sheets prodded her from nightmares. Always blood. The guards falling. The pain in her side.

The last time they met, his clothes clung from sweat and blood to the lean, lupine lineaments of his frame. He replaced the standard grey sweatpants and t-shirt with dark jeans and a double-breasted peacoat, something so entirely out of the ordinary routine she didn't know what to make of him. He looked normal. Mod. Maybe even cool. Not the troubled, inscrutable man she found tortured in a chamber in the Triskelion, descending on her on a red tide of death.

Volya waited, looking back into the hall from time to time.

Diane hugged the mug to her chest before it stained the floor. Countless stains from previous occupants discoloured the rugs and linoleum but she fought a silent, angry battle against the shabby weekly flat from descending any further into a mess. The lukewarm brown liquid sloshed around. She refused to look up at him.

"What do you expect me to do?"

The floorboards creaked. His shadow sliced over her. "Fix an injury."

Just fix an injury. Patch up a cut. She read their case files and medical files that weren't redacted by SHIELD classified status. Saw for herself the hurts her patient could endure before his vitals fluctuated. Her eyes squeezed shut tighter, mouth a white line drawn at a ragged angle.


A touch to her knee startled her. Crouched in front of her, he looked almost boyish. His hair was longer in the front than she remembered. Clean-shaven, the odd smell of soap differed from the antiseptic bars they distributed to the patients. Almost like Zest, something cheap and common.

Dangerous to think of patients as human, one of those treacherous thugs employed as a guard said. She no longer remembered which one. Volya rarely showed emotion other than distraction. Shadows veiled half his earnest angular face.

"Psychiatry." How could she explain to a boy raised through trauma in God knew what backwater corner of Siberia? She began again to squash the imminent hope flickering to life in his pale eyes. "I heal the mind. Not the body. No help setting broken bones or diagnosing a virus, no better than anyone else."

"No broken bones." Hesitation coloured his words. "Bad breathing."

Blood rushed away from her face. The coffee cup shook in her fingers. Nerves never rested far away, not since that awful night when he escorted her from an abattoir into the fresh air.

She was gasping for clean oxygen, memories of rusted blood and that hot sweat reeking in her nose. At once he went to his feet, rolling back onto his heels and jackknifing into a standing position. Tension exploded across her shoulders when his hand gently rested between them, warm and solid, guiding her to bend forward. Bile stirred in her stomach and threatened to lurch out of her stomach in a wave.

They remained locked in that sorry tableau for long minutes slipping through the acidic clench of her innards and the gasping terror. Another time she might chastise herself for weakness in front of a patient, much less one so effortless in dispatching trained soldiers and agents. Not here.

He waited for her to catch her breath and her pulse to settle slightly. The snatches of a ballad hummed came out rusty, tuneless, one note skiing all over an icy patch without any real direction. Even a trained ear wouldn’t pick out a melody, as Volya struggled to grasp the memory out of dim thoughts.

His hand wrapped around her elbow, lifting the petite psychiatrist easily. “We go.”

“I can’t help,” she croaked out. Ashes and cotton filled her mouth, and her stomach heaved again. He supported her when she doubled over and vomited. Coffee was a terrible choice. Somehow the cup remained on the arm of the chair rather than lying in a puddle at her feet. Shame burned her cheeks a hot red and her knees jellied, dropping her an inch.

Gravity lost its war, the broad arm taking her around the waist for stability anchoring them together. The taller man began walking to the front door, all but lifting her from the ground. Her feet pedaled above the floor in an effort at purchase.

“Shoes, please!” The bleat startled them both. He never moved noisily and she managed to somehow slap at the floor and rustle her pants excessively enough for both.

Waiting was agony, even for the shortest, simple tasks. Every second counted. A lesson drilled in their heads with every shot, the blows across the back, punches to face and groin and stomach. Never stop moving. Never slow down to accommodate the weak. Not a luxury.

Volya went ahead down the stairs, the mousy, frightened woman trailing after him. He bored holes into her shoulder with a glare until she stopped fussing with the door lock, hurrying after him. What am I doing?
Liability. Every program, every partner, had a word for the deadweight. Cut his losses, go. But he couldn’t.

Diane shrank back from the landing, taking the stairs on unsteady feet still. “Where are we going?”

His blank stare forced her into Russian again. In between collapsing and getting sick, she lapsed back. Finding the right syntax never came naturally, not when she thought in French’s dulcet poetry and tried to slot words into blocky ideas. Talking to the patients of Site I so often meant talking to herself, extracting precious few answers louder than a mumble.

Especially with him. The Hunter answered in his own time if at all.

“Volya.” A name, not a title. The shifting Arctic ice narrowed his pupils. Same look when he killed someone, struck a palm into the neck of one of a half-dozen coworkers in their steely, state-of-the-art crèche to reach her. “I need to know where we are going. Good choices. When you tell me what you need, I can help. Do you remember — “

He cut her off with a curt shake of his head. “Him.” Her brows raised, sleep-bruised eyes watery with incomprehension. A sigh breaks through the deep winter daylight, fading into empty contemplation. “Barnes.”

Many privileges existed only for the highest echelons of the agency. But the asset: they all knew about that. Level four access in SHIELD accorded her that much information. The colours blurred in front of her eyes and she stumbled again, as much from missing a step as losing all sense of her shins to her feet.

Volya tightened his grip on her slightly, raising her off the ground. One arm bracketed her waist and pulled her up against his chest. He couldn’t do that. A woman hauled in a fireman carry would bring down the police, even in a miserable Bronx neighbourhood where everyone looked the other way at casual violence or curiosities.

Her struggles registered, if barely. He slid his arm underneath her knees, modifying the carry to a cradle against his chest. Faster to walk, too, his stride unencumbered by Diane’s slight weight. He would not take easily to the rooftops this way, but seeing her might direct any interest away from him. Satisfaction bled around the ice-sharp edges.

She struggled only for a moment and sighed, tucking her head against his shirt. Better. The warm breath came regularly enough, a steady pace that bloomed upon the cotton. Not like the ragged, pained wheeze from the other.

Orel was going to kill them for letting his hero come to harm. Champion of the Motherland. He dies like anyone else.

But was that really true? Could any of them die?

The neighbourhood blurred past in a dark sheen. They kept to the back streets and alleys, hurrying through intersections barely strobed by headlights. Any of the landmarks known in their vague detail to the psychologist evaporated into a depressing forest of sagging facades and graffiti congealed brickwork, long ago betrayed by the powers that be to time’s claws.

“You take me the nicest places.” Diane broke a silence of a half hour. He kept the pace for nearly half an hour, orienting by sight and memory alone, in absence of street signs or prominent awnings.

He stopped and craned his head, the deepened twilight concealing shapes into an amorphous charcoal bleed on the cracked urban canvas. One building then another hemmed him in. Next to him, the woman stiffened in fear. He smelled unease on her, tasted the doubts before she stirred to stand on her own.

She said, “Put me down,” as her feet touched the filthy sidewalk. The sideways dance put them back to back. So little to see in this squalid road between the high tenements.

Licking her cracked lips, she whispered, “You brought him here?”

Bitter irony was not lost on Volya. “Where else?”

His reproving look killed whatever response she offered to disturb the murk. One hand already on the rough brick, he tested the feel. Loose underneath him, not impossible to scale, he decided to see whether the ledge would take his weight.

“You need to take him to the hospital, if he is hurt. I have nothing here to help. No medicine, no light, and it’s not even clean.” A last gasp attempt left Diane clutching herself, hugging her oversized sweater against her chest. The warmth slipped away in a provocative halo, cold sliding between the fibres and leaving her stomach clenched and tight.

He climbed up six feet and edged his way along the thin lip, eyeing the next wall in preparation to spring. A mournful wraith down there refused to follow. He gestured, “Come.”

“Please, listen to me. I want to help. You treat me with such secrecy, it scares me,” she spat out around her chattering teeth. “James Barnes is the Winter Soldier. He is injured. How do you know he will not kill me? I’m an American.”

Plain as that, he said, “I will protect you.” His shoulders blended into the grey concrete morass, and she shrank further into herself watching that dangerous acrobat walk up to another wall. He climbed near vertical surfaces without more than a pair of cheap sneakers and his bare hands.

Her palms pressed deep into the sockets of her eyes, bearing down on the puffy bruises left by the nightmares that would not cease. Was this to be her life, visits in the dark, back alley clinics dispensing futile wisdom and patching up wounds she was barely qualified to assess?

“I’m not a hero,” she whispered to the night. “I can’t do this. I just can’t.”

Avenging angel on high, he gave her a long look.

“Can you for me?”

So many words. They cost him to speak, she remembered that. The training files were scant and the assumptions from their staff underlined his inability as a trained behaviour, not an ingrained response.

Salty tears stung her eyes. She wanted to run, then, sure she might get ten steps before falling again. “What do you really expect me to do, Volya? If he’s shot and bleeding then I am just about as likely to kill him and we’ve got nothing and…”

Babbling. The last refuge of hope.

“Be kind. Help.” Volya jumped down and landed in three-point crouch, leaping up to close on her. He turned short on his heel, and looked over the broad expanse of his shoulder, gesturing.

She didn’t understand what he wanted at first. Aged childhood memories shook out like bats in the belfry while he waited, letting her figure it out the same way she gave her patients time to conclude their own outcomes. Shuffling steps and the awkward loop of her arm around his neck went too tight, cutting off breath.

He reached back to hook her leg over his waist, followed by the other. A short hop bounced her awkwardly higher, riding piggyback, something alien to them both. He saw no other way to get her up, and up was the only way in.

“Quiet,” he said.

Unnecessarily, as it happened, for the brief, awkward jog found them at a wall. She sucked in a frightened breath as he leapt, catching the bricks on the worn toes of his running shoes. Momentum spurred them up at a run, and he bent against her weight, scaling the wall sideways in a skittering rush.

They were lobbed into the maze of brick tangling the city’s forgotten burrows, a true place where a rat might never see light of day. This was the truth of Hell’s Kitchen, and how appropriate the Hunter brought an offering deep inside to the wolves’ den?

The first face to appear nearly made her sob. Hard, cold, remote as the very moon, he emerged out of the shadows with a pistol trained on them. All in black, he bled in and out of the shadows, save for the hard line of his mouth and the gun.

She didn’t know which wolf. They were all the same in the fugue. Breathing and upright, not Barnes.

Volya hauled himself over the edge, Diane clinging to his back, both wretched and exposed to whatever lead might pierce their vulnerable bodies.

“You bring her? Not a doctor. How is this helpful?” Russian, a whisper.

The soldier swept her behind him with his arm, interposing himself. “Adam?” A challenge. She recognized it when she saw it, even if their low murmurs were too hard to hear clearly.

Glares boiled. Anger burst. The pistol lowered, and Evgeniy jerked his head to the side. “Waiting.”

Diane said, “Thank you.” Why, she didn’t know. Through the mouthful of cotton, the words came out.

“Thank us when not dead,” the wolf on the ledge told her. She had not seen him. But here she was blind, attending upon a bloody man.

Volya crouched next to her, shuddering in pangs irrespective of the weather. Balmy, really, and the exertion left him warm rather than cold. Concern dilated her eyes, and he sniffed the air.

“Later. Save him.”


Save him.” Spite and dread and dead loss strangled him in the choking whisper.

Evgeniy turned away on the ledge. “Or we die.”

Volya stared at her, his hands useless at his sides. His reply was empty of emotion. “All we have is him.”

Diane ran for the rooftop aerie where a bloody man clung to his life by a vibranium fingertip.

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