1963-09-18 - Demons. Of Two Different Stripes.
Summary: Carol Danvers hopes to stop a ghost from the past from effecting the present - and ends up nearly trading her life for it.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
bucky carol 


It's utter bedlam near Brooklyn. The heroic vigilantes have been working hard to contain the Hellmouth, but minor incursions keep cracking things open. The city's gripped by fear and panic, which— while not precisely what Winter Soldier initially had in mind— is certianly a situation he can exploit.

But of course, a master assassin works in subtle ways. A few blocked roads here and there slow the response time from police and civil services, so while major incursions are sent towards the higher-income areas and dealt with accordingly, comparitively 'smaller' breakouts tend to do more damage in the more impoverished areas as heroes and first responders struggle past all manner of obstructions to help people. It's not precisely their fault, of course, but it's hard to explain to the ghetto's residents why they're always the last ones to get any kind of help.

Crouched on a rooftop, Winter Soldier works efficiently, a rifle laid out next to him and a few weapons strapped to his back atop bandoliers full of ammunition and a duffel bag of dangerous toys. He wires up two detonators and then depresses the plunger, causing a gas main to explode a half a block away. The fire and fury attracts a leaping half-dozen demonic wolves, with bristling black-tipped red fur and slavering jaws, who come barreling up from a 'hellblister', the local nomenclature for an incipient Hellmouth access not quite ready to break open.

Winter doesn't stand around admiring his work— he's off and running to the next location, shoving the detonator into his bag and shouldering it before running off. Wearing a heavy wool jacket and sturdy cargo trousers in olive drab, his face is hidden from view by a sleek, heavy steel mask that conceals his face and mouth behind a respirator grill and heavy red lenses.

*

It was difficult not to feel useless these days. But in the past few weeks - with all of the things that had been happening to her and otherwise - she had been drinking a little less, and going out a little more. No - she didn't have superpowers - no - she didn't even really have contacts anymore. Well.

Contacts she was willing to reach out to. Those same contacts had got her the job at NASA, and she had blown that assignment away. And since leaving that assignment - well, the seizures started, and the nightmares. She had retreated into a bottle of alcohol - one of the few places she found strength and safety anymore.

Well, she meant to change that.

And part of that was tucking her Colt 1911 into the shoulder holster she carried beneath a bomber jacket - combing out her long blonde hair - and setting out for Central Park. The advisories to stay away from such a place, well, while they applied to her - she couldn't stay inside and wallow in misery all of the time. She couldn't.

But she didn't expect this.

"What's /happened/ to the world these days?!" she says. The explosion draws her attention that way. The screaming had started, from civilians and otherwise caught in the area of the damage, but… it was while she was on her way towards that bout of demonic wolves that she spies… something.

It wasn't that she recognized his face, no, nor his hair, or even his build. But like British spotters during WWII could tell - against all reasonable sense - that a plane was either German or British in a dark sky - there was something familiar, and insidious about him. /Him/.

It didn't hurt that he was running across rooftops, too. Taking a moment to judge the distance, Carol picks a building that she knew had an access to the rooftops, that /should/ be in his path if he continues on a straight line. If everything went right, she would burst onto the rooftop moments after he made the switch. If she judged him rightly.

*

Winter vaults two buildings fast, and despite his too-big shoulders and knuckle-dragging arms, he leaps like a gazelle, easily clearing the fifteen-foot gap with big, effortless leaps. He skids on asphalt tiles and recovers his balance, digging in his duffel for the next piece of mayhem. He's clearly been busy for a while— copper wire is already strung up here, too. Winter must have reconnoitered this area long in advance and set up the charges for just this operation, leaving him nothing to do but move quickly and set them off as he goes.

It's at that moment that the rooftop bursts open right under his feet and Winter goes flying in the air, bag skittering across the roof and spilling out a handful of bricks of explosives, loose ammo, and at least two machine guns. He keeps a hand on his rifle, though, and turns the heavy fall into a spectacular flip. He tucks, rolls, and comes up with the rifle barrel swinging back towards the marvelous, leggy blonde who'd just interdicted him.

There's a moment— just a moment— where he pauses. It's impossible for Carol to say there's recognition in his eyes, but there's a moment where those red lenses lock on her face.

Then the selector switch on his M14 flicks over to 'Automatic' and he looses a burst of armor-piercing .308 at the former intelligence officer. Most humans can't control an M14 on full auto, precisely the reason that the Army was selling them as surplus and switching to the newfangled M16.

This fellow is definitely not 'just' human, because he keeps the barrel as stable as if it were locked in a vise.

*

Carol would probably be more easily recognized, anyways. Age, as it was, seemed to flee from her. (Even if just a few weeks before, she had been cursing the lines at the edges of her eyes now - they had vanished). For all intents and purposes she was as she was - except the edge she had back then was gone. It could be seen, perhaps most of all, in the way she kept her hair. Even undercover, she kept her hair straight and with enough product that a single hair never found its way out of place.

No, however, she had her hair tied back into a brisk ponytail - and there were more than a few wayward strands that found their way out of the same.

But such things weren't important right now. Pupils dilate in her clear blue eyes as she looks upon the once (current?) Soviet spy. Recognition ticks a little bit more into her features. But she still didn't… /know/. The M14 barks, but she was already on the move. The door that she was once in front of is slammed into with the strength of that rifle, splintering chunks out of the door. What they were in now, was what looked like an office. Cubicles, and otherwise. Not much strength against the sort of weapons the Winter Soldier brought to bear - but it might hide the other from sight.

Unless that damnable mask of his could see in the dark or something.

In an instant, Carol had the Colt in her hand. There was no quiver to her grasp. Ducking low - she darts - moving with a speed she wasn't sure she still had. What she was hoping, when she pops up at the side of one of those cubicles - in the same sight range - was that her position was novel enough to squeeze off a few well-placed shots, before she ducks back behind the cubicle.

And understanding the poor strength of her cover, move again before those M14 rounds could tick into where she had been. "Is that /you/?" she calls as she repositions, cursing herself briefly for that slip.

*

Winter scatters and rolls, moving fast. Carol's a good shot and the 1911 rewards a powerful grip, flinging wadcutters at him with stout authority. He manages to duck behind a cubicle wall and jukes in a spectacular motion, the bullet affectionally known as 'the flying ashtray' smacking into the cubicles and blowing wood insulation and baffling out in big *pufts* of flying fibers and fabric. He then vanishes from sight, and there's enough of a resounding din to make it difficult for Carol to pick out his footsteps. At least most of his major hardware is still lost in the roof from before he'd fallen through the hole, but if her glance informed her of anything, it's that he's armed to the teeth.

The response to her question is in two parts— a *click* of metal, then the sound of something knobbly, steel, and weighing about a pound hitting the carpet not far away. Carol's probably a bit rusty, but— it's hard to mistake the sound of someone lobbing a fragmentation grenade at her. A burst of gunfire follows, and where the .45 was leaving a few big holes, the .308 bullets blast out huge chunks as Winter ventilates the cubicles to try and keep Carol's head down.

*

That would mesh with what she remembered about him before as well. What she had decided - mostly to get her mind to stop thinking about it and /focus on the gunfight/ was that it didn't matter if it was him or not. Her gut said KGB - and so she should assume that her opponent was as highly trained as he had been.

And no doubt, as frustrating to deal with.

No doubt his pattern of gunfire was to try to keep her away from him. Or perhaps he didn't care about that as much. That thunk of the grenade sent a grim chill down her spine.

Not many options. But he specialized in leaving her with little option, as she recalled. Duck back outside, no doubt getting bullets in the back. Maybe, just maybe, she could crash through the window and onto the fire escape. The brick of the building might be the best shield she had.

Or maybe.

He would no doubt see flickers of her as she was repositioning. She was trying to move towards his position at an oblique angle as best as possible. She was hoping against hope that he positioned the grenade to where he wouldn't be hurt himself. Flopping down unto her behind, she kicks a chair out into an open fire line, hoping that might be distraction enough for her to lay back, almost level with the ground, and get one decent shot - not at him, but at one of the fire sprinklers on the ceiling.

*

He takes the bait— two bullets whip through the chair, and then there's the *chunk* of a magazine hitting the ground as he reloads. It's then that she hits the sprinkler system and water explodes from the building as the failsafes all go off. No modern tech, here— old school sprinklers. If one goes, the overpressure spike makes them ALL go.

The grenade goes off with a deafening explosion and the concussion overturns plants as metal fragments spray out in two dozen directions. Indoors, the concussion is the real threat— it rips drywall from the walls and flips desks over. Water sprays in a hurricane of force, but mercifully none of the fragments hit Carol Danvers.

The gun goes silent and it might leave Carol wondering where Winter is. There's a rattle from across the hall— no doubt him continuing his circling to try and keep Carol pinned down by gunfire, exploiting superior weaponry and tactical superiority.

So when he crashes through the cubicle wall opposite a beat later, hammering at her with knife in one hand and that metal fist at the other end of his arm, it might take her by surprise.

*

Part of the reason why she wanted the sprinklers to go off was for this moment. After she fires the round, she curls up into a ball, no time left to position herself, even if she wanted to place a desk or something between herself and the maybe-place where the grenade had landed, but…

You worked with what you had. That's what she always did.

Mercy or fate or God was watching out for her - but not for the desk she was huddled against - her feet pointed towards where the grenade had landed. It was a bad position, and she was asking for a chunk through her foot - a chunk of shrapnel that never came.

But the impact of the concussive force hits her - and the water, as well. For a moment - just a single moment that seemed to track on for forever - there was silence in her world. And she felt it. The rushing of feeling, of emotion, of thought, from /elsewhere/ that would drive her to a blackout and a seizure.

Not this time. She couldn't. She wouldn't.

She casts those outsider thoughts away from herself, drives them into the back - into a dark part of her mind. But they were still there. Hammering - pushing at her conciousness.

The world comes back into focus with the water coming straight down on her. It felt like a day had passed for her - and she has to readjust - reorient herself to… scrambling to a squat - and just in time for Winter Soldier to burst through the cubicle wall. That metal arm gleamed, drawing her eye before her eyes sweep towards his mask.

A fierceness floods Carol's features.

But it did take her by surprise. Her side was to him. And she was still low to the ground. She wouldn't be able to get her gun up in time - but she straightens up a bit. Perhaps he would stab her in the back - and perhaps she might be able to lift the muzzle of that Colt up to his belly height if she leaned into the knife strike that she suspected was coming. Perhaps that would make it worth it - kill the demons of the past, and the present as well. And trade what she had left of her own life for that.

But maybe he had other plans.

*

The water makes metal gleam both ways— she spots that glint of steel that covers his fist (no, it IS his fist, a glove of metal!) and he spots water flickering over the gleaming blued surface of her 1911. His knife switches course and he aims the tip of the blade for Carol's forearm. Winter Soldier or not, the blow's a brilliant one— he's trying to attack the tendon that drives the trigger finger. It's an ugly, wickedly recurved blade that looks like a tiger claw— a weapon Carol's seen before, up close, and nowhere outside of a Silat school in Indonesia.

Except in the hands of one man.

His metal fist rears up and he aims to slug Carol in the face as he scrambles atop her. The mask makes him inhuman, but the raw brutality of the attack- savage, elemental- makes him frightening. There's no restraint in his motions. He aims to kill Carol, and that bludgenoning fist has enough force behind it to punch through a car door without much effort. Straddling her hip as he is, he's got nothing but leverage unless Carol /does something/.

*

The blade cuts into her forearm instead. Bucky was probably no stranger to the feeling of what it felt like when a blade entered flesh, but her muscle, her tendons - powerful. Thick. But his assisted strength would make short work of it regardless. But Carol twists her hand regardless - and lifts her eyes to that mask - those lenses looking right into her own eyes of blue.

And in that moment, she smiles. And pulls the trigger.

But the weapon doesn't go off - because her hand that was holding it falls slack as the tendons were cut, the system shock of pain that she was meant to feel fighting through waves of epinephrine, training, and a numb, colder feeling that was effusing her.

It was him. And the police here - hell, even the superheroes here - probably held little chance of stopping him. And even she could not. The shock of pain at the slug to her face that causes her to crumple - which makes her mouth and nose fill with blood as her legs give out, as her knees give out. To the ground she goes - already choking on the blood that was falling back into her throat.

Beauty, lost - maybe they had all been right about her. About her ability, about her skills - about how women were not suited for this sort of work. She had traded her life to prove them wrong, and ultimately, she proved them right. It wouldn't take much time for it all to end, if she wanted. The Winter Soldier - the demon of her futility - would provide that release.

But she couldn't. Even at the end, she wouldn't.

Even at the very end. Left fist - for her right was useless at the moment, balls up - and she aims to simply punch the man on the mask. It would no doubt hurt her more than he. And intruding on her thoughts - she gives into that tickling at the back of her mind of the thoughts she had been holding back. It was almost becoming familiar to her now - the splitting pain in her head, the /alien/ way of just thinking that those thoughts brought, like a part of her mind was being rewritten by some demon in her skull. Her brain explodes with sensation, and her eyes roll up into her head.

Drawing her hand back, though, she would yell - gurgle, morelike - through the blood and debris that filled her throat, to hammer a second blow up towards his face.

And it would be a hammer blow beyond what his arm could give him to her. Strength that she should not have had - enough to stop a speeding semi and knock it back a handful of feet. Perhaps it would surprise him.

Perhaps not.

*

The blow hits Winter Soldier hard enough that a mortal man would have been killed. The mask crumples, glass shattering in slow motion as Carol Danvers summons Warbird's strength and puts all of her fury and angst and frustration behind that defiant act. He's sent flying off of her at an improbable angle and smashes into the roof, then bounces down and rebounds off a desk with a *crack* of crunching bones and the stock of a rifle strapped to his chest snapping. A small mercy, but he still hits the ground like a sack of bricks, the stout oak desk absorbing the impact with little more than creaking complaint.

He rolls to a position on hands and knees, struggling to recover. It's amazing that he's still conscious— that he's still /alive/. But haggard, with blood dripping from nose and mouth and his jaw hanging loose from being dislocated, he's somehow still trying to carry the fight. Clumsily he grabs a table to try and lever himself up, shaking off the cobwebs.

*

Needless to say— he's /very/ surprised by Carol's furious retribution.

*

Carol rises - feet just as clumsy as they scurry beneath her, her head woozy - half from the blow, half from her… malady. It was… difficult for her to wrap her head around what was going on - perhaps this was all happening in her head. But the pain in her arm was proof positive that she was still living - and thinking. That pistol, discarded earlier. She holds it in her left hand - her right held close to her belly - the unconcious way wounded people hold themselves.

Her left hand was not her dominant hand - but it shook now, from the strain of keeping her reality together. She lifts the Colt up, pointing it towards the head of the fallen man.

"Winter Soldier," she says, her voice just as shaky as her hand.

And in the next moment, her hand tenses with focus.

She intended to put a bullet in the man's head. But admittedly, it would easy enough to avoid her aim.

*

Winter Soldier reacts to her words with shocking speed. He looks as if he's about to faint, but he explodes off the ground with a shove and a lateral leap that carries him off like a wolf bounding after a rabbit, and away from Carol. He whirls before entering another maze of cubicle walls and fires off a burst of snappy, automatic fire from a machine pistol Carol's likely never seen before— a Czech Skorpion, and so new it's never been seen out of Europe. And in that moment, she gets a clear view of his features. High, wide cheekbones, sunken and broody eyes, a square jaw with a sharp point— but his eyes are dead. Flat. No recognition of her whatsoever.

And then he's gone, bullets smacking into the area around Carol as he scampers back into cover, relying on concealemnt to temporarily disguise his crippled mobility.

*

Carol steps after him with a slow - limping sort of step - so when he whirls around and fires that little snap of fire from that strange automatic pistol - Carol was caught doubly off guard, the bullets striking her, and digging into her flesh - albiet shallowly. Regardless, it was enough impetus for her to fall down in the middle of the destroyed office area - and succumb to the feelings of pain, and the information flooding her mind, the woman coughing up the blood that came from her broken nose, and God-knows-what-else.

And she sinks into the comfort of unconciousness.

But that image of his face would be burned into her memory, as well.

*

There's silence for a moment. Then a footstep shifts behind Carol's position. He's limping and his right arm is barely cooperating, and the left arm is seizing erratically. Whatever she did when she punched him, she clearly badly mangled his bionic interfaces, and his arm isn't cooperating. He can only hold that gun at hip level, and he spots Carol on the ground, proned out and unable to move.

He stalks towards her, and swaps out the Skorpion for a snub-nosed revolver— and steel glints off the steel-core bullets. Enough to wound Carol. Even kill her. The sights level out on her skull. She's an easy target. He can't miss.

His finger tightens on the trigger.

*

…and then he stops. He turns and walks away, limping and struggling to stay upright, and tucking his gear back into holsters and bandoliers. It's a long descent down without the use of his arm, but he crashes into an alleyway and staggers off, pausing only to violently correct his dislocated jaw with a grunt of pain before he moves to his fallback position to stow gear, get a trenchcoat on, and stagger off to God knows where. Leaving Carol Danvers behind. Injured. Unconscious.

But mercifully, alive.

*

Eyelids fluttering - Carol was a horrific sight when he turns the corner towards her, her hands flexing and unflexing - her back arching against her will. She was digging her heels into the floor, literally splintering it as she pushes down. But there was a moment - a little moment in the midst of that fit where her eyes roll back down, that clear blue gaze matching his own. Looking into those dead eyes and the barrel of the gun.

And some part of her seems to relax.

Relax back into the fit - her back straightening into the ground, and her muscles relaxing. Whatever conciousness that was there is gone in the next moment, banished to the dream of the man and the revolver - jaw dislocated - and cold, dead eyes. She didn't expect to wake up again.

So when she awoke in the back of an ambulance later, it was a surprise to her. Why didn't he fire? Why wouldn't he shoot? She would have, if their situations were reversed, she proved that.

Why?

Another aspect of the man to haunt her.

*

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