1965-01-16 - Project Virgo: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold
Summary: With time running out, Bucky turns to his staunchest allies for deliverance to the USSR. Deep in Voronezh Oblast, he brings his kindred and Captain America to the brink… of madness, truth, and lies.
Related: Project Virgo
Theme Song: None
rogue steve-rogers bucky 

0100 hours. Rooftop Garden. Greenwich Village.
For the work demanded of her, the only choice is within the rooftop garden improbably situated atop their apartment. Stars flicker between scudding argent streamers ripped into nebulous veils by the moaning, skirling winds. If an omen, a dolorous one, that airy chorus almost a passionate sonata in one moment, the next a lamentation. Make of that what they will.

Everyone but Bucky was asked stay downstairs until the signal. Simple enough signal, really: look for the emerald energy-pool under Scarlett's floating silhouette. With great reward, great risk runs parallel and tearing open the Pandora's box of her psyche can unleash prohibitively dangerous troubles. She floats in a triple circle warded in salt, silver, and Asgardian glyphs, meditation pursued for a full hour before she dares to reach.

Genetics vibrate with great evil and great good. When the powers trigger, aurorae in plasma dance around the circle, contained mostly within as a mental focus. Don't ask why her skin is ashen tilted silver, ears faintly pointed, eyes brilliant as stars. The door bent in space awaits with no rescue ops at Checkpoint Charlie required. They haven't long to transition.

Orthodox Christmas. 51'44'N. 39'34'E. Voronezh Oblast. USSR.
Transition from bustling New York to silent Russian forest likely comes as a shock. Barely any sound disrupts trees rooted in the margins between vast plains and fertile riverland. Day replaces night, sunshine trickling through bare birch limbs and pine boughs knit together in permanent dusk. Walk lightly, for the ground is pockmarked by countless hazards known at least to James Barnes and his motley crew of thunderbolts.

The dacha lives in the middle of a clearing, though no one makes any effort to keep up the weedy front or stop the woods from encroaching too close. A few hacked branches and bushes mark either target practice for the landscaper, no doubt some poor guard pressed into multiple service, or bad luck. The perimeter is wide enough to allow sight lines upon the old hunting lodge. It's not fair to call the building a manor, too grandiose in its miserable disrepair. At this angle, few hints of light emerge from slitted windows meant to withstand the cold. No indication of the train pulled up, either. A month and some days ago, the last delivery came.


Thunderbolts, if only. It's a hell of a little crowd that's showed up there. The Star Spangled Man with the Plan, the Winter Soldier, Rogue, and a gaggle of Winterlings, including one so ill and wounded he has to be carried through on a stretcher by a couple of his brothers.

IT should be surprise enough, their appearing that way, since the train's the only physical route in and out. But then, it wasn't meant to be a surprise attack, beyond that. No stealth. Not with a wounded man. Buck's got a rifle with him, and his usual array of knives, but he doesn't bother to unsling the former as he marches right for the door of the dacha. They'll know he's here.

Steve Rogers follows Bucky a step behind, close enough that he could interpose himself with his partner at a moment's notice if emergency called for it. He's wearing the less intensely colorful winterized version of his tactical costume, shield slung on his back. When they arrive at the door Steve steps past Bucky and knocks. He doesn't expect them to answer, necessarily, but it's a bit of a point of honor with him; he always gives people a chance to come peacefully.

One and all, they resemble their father, kin, brother, whatever James Barnes happens to be. Variations on the template naturally apply, and the wounded one wrapped up under blankets and bandages looks the least like Bucky for simply having gone through hell and back. Adam's semi-lucid state requires at least two to monitor him, and younger, grey-eyed Kyr bares his teeth at anyone remotely trying to dislodge him from monitoring the injured pup best he can. The rest of them make a disturbing motley, capable of vanishing into the Russian woods such that Steve and Bucky might wonder if they're being followed at all. Here their native training and experience come to the fore almost unconsciously.

Scarlett herself surrenders a little of the murderous intentions by lingering behind for well over two minutes, staring into the morning Christmas light as though practically scalded by its dim radiance. Not much the hood pulled up over her head can do about that. The distance to the Americans isn't hard for her to close exactly, but she forsakes walking to float an inch above the ground to speed things along.

Call it a blessing of shared experience. Sagging buildings in the forest rarely go without some kind of risk: uneven ground, hidden walls to trip over, fox holes. Or, you know, claymore mines and tripwires, scattered deadfalls into pits. Bucky knows of them, Steve may not but instincts play hard. They manage not to run directly into one of those buried devices just short of the double doors up a flight of stairs. Rotting floorboards — weakened purposefully or not — lie atop a delicate strand of wire that, in turns, is probably connected to something very nasty. The door is knocked on. And no one answers.

Steve interposing himself gets a look. But then….they really did gopher their way through their war, though Steve was generally the point man, considering he could waltz through a storm of bullets with that shield like Gene Kelly through the rain.

Buck glances wryly down at the wire, edges back from it. "We were expected," he says, drily. "My guess is they're bunkered up downstairs, under this pile, waiting for us to come find 'em. There's some version of Zola here." He motions Steve back, looks to the kids. "Any of you know this facility?"

Steve Rogers does expect to lead the way (as in Captain America Leads the Way!) but he stands back a moment, glancing around with that casual alertness of his, deferring to Bucky's experience with this specific facility.

Well, the Bucky-collective's, at least.

Shared looks and scowls among the visible trio spill a degree of answers. Matvei woefully shakes his head; Nikita and Evgeniy are pale, brittle ghosts held in check only by the thinnest tethers, the latter given to total reticent silence again. Nika scrapes nails along his collarbone, up to his jaw, red lines interwoven against paler skin. "«As now? Nyet. But them…?»"

A different story for the two tense-sprung men in the hacked greenery, not wanting to be much in sight. Getting them to come so close is an act of prodding, trust, and miserable loyalty. Orel twists around the cloth and the other younger variation of Bucky, one who can't be past twenty-one, reflexively shoves down on the barely lucid charge he guards violently. The missing duo isn't worth asking about; they may well be killing everything from dormitories on the second floor to the basement.

Scarlett's zigzag path at least resembles walking, but the floorboards don't hold her weight and as such, she might almost seem to be tall as Steve. Almost.

His lips are forming an obscenity….which h bites back, out of deference to Saint Steven. Buck just looks aggrieved. "I found my way in before, through a ventilation shaft. Wasn't a surprise, though. They basically let me in." That glance back proves two of the crowd are missing. "Scarlett," he asks, quietly. "How high can you go? Tell me if you see anything we should know." He doesn't like being out here in the open….but now that he's back with all the kids in tow, all bets are off. He's disposable, they've clearly mastered the art of replicating him. Steve, on the other hand.

"We'd be better off just inside, in case there are patrols or surveillance we might've missed. Shorter sightlines," Steve points out. Not for Bucky's sake, he could've communicated that to Buck with a tilt of his head, but for the others'.

"Space." Let's call a spade a spade, and keep facts simple. No telling who might be listening. Scarlett still has that faint indigo cast to her skin, most evident in the violently sculpted height of her cheekbones and knife-edged ears betraying a borrowed legacy from Svartalfheim. Nothing like seeing one's girl as part dark elf, right? Though in the Russian folktale tradition, she has as much in common with drowning rusalkas and forest maidens luring men to certain doom. "Holes in the roof and inadequate cover going airborne, but that's never been a problem." Quickly tucking in the cloak limits how hard it might snap when she moves because that ascent rivals a rocket rather than a gentle feather lifting. Suits may be rustled in the process.

Those soldiers scattered out can't exactly gain greater concealment under the dacha's covered porch. There is simply nowhere to hide, and that clearly bothers the elder trio. Readiness tightens their shoulders, a fraying sense of patience around them — even for the calmest, Matvei. He stares at the back of Steve's shield blankly.

«In we go, gentlemen,» Bucky says, with a calm that's surely feigned. But…if that's what his men need, it's the best he can give. He can't shove Adam down the ventilation system - this'd be hard enough with eight whole and hale little replicas. Let alone one wounded and another half-mad with concern. Rogue soars up, and Buck asides to Steve, "That's my girl, can you believe it?"

"Honestly I always figured you for someone like Judy Jones, from that malt shop on 18th street," Steve replies airily, sliding through the door nimbly and sweeping the room beyond in a practiced motion.

January in New York and the dried out Christmas trees already appear in dumpsters, a few late packages fluttering torn wrapping paper from mailboxes. Lands under the Orthodox banner are quite different in celebrating among the holiest days of the year. In Soviet Russia, it's nothing special.

Called to task, the wolves enter in a fanned position, one covering the next. No easy march inside here. They have guns in easy reach and, in Evgeniy's case, a pair of brass knuckles. Kyr hisses a sound more feral than not, the younger man hunching over Adam and clinging to the stretcher. He swats at Orel, and by swat levels a punch that could knock the average person off their feet with a ruptured spleen. That sends the hawkish teen bounding up the stairs to the porch, following nearly step for step the route Bucky himself took.

There's no subtlety to enter. The front doors are locked, the metal deadbolt bashed out of its housing to splintered wood. Within lies a rather expansive entrance. Elegant, weathered staircases weave down from the west and east wings, converging on worn floorboards that have been waxed at some point in the last month. Dark wood, sagging archways, crooked doors all bear the weight of slow decline from the aristocratic heyday plainly. No lights welcome them. Windows here are thin and small, functional instead of decorative. The chilly weather — as evidenced by snow outside — makes glass a stupid choice, an unnecessary luxury. They hear nothing.

It's like a horror movie, that sure knowledge you're being watched by malign eyes. That malevolent presences are waiting for you to set your foot into the prepared trap. Up they go, for now, up the ruins of those grand steps once swept by the hems of aristocrat's dresses.

Buck's with Steve, all but shoulder to shoulder. That comment about that girl makes him snort. "I did have it bad for her when I was fifteen. Guess that's where I got the thing for redheads."

Steve Rogers turns to the right after checking the immediate surroundings, advancing along the wall to investigate the east wing. He keeps his head on a swivel for ambushes and traps- more likely traps, considering how lonely and abandoned the place feels. But then, Hydra bases often can lay sleeping for decades and still be deadly

Steve Rogers turns to the right after checking the immediate surroundings, advancing along the wall to investigate the east wing. He keeps his head on a swivel for ambushes and traps- more likely traps, considering how lonely and abandoned the place feels. But then, Hydra bases often can lay sleeping for decades and still be deadly viper pits.

Patchy holes in the ceiling might indicate damp or the imperfect patching of the heavy shingles. No young woman falls through screaming in a tumble of wood and rotten ice, at least.

Four soldiers, now, slink through the gloom in Bucky's wake, four imperfect duplicates distinguished mostly by choice of weapon and dark clothing. None of those grey cotton SHIELD uniforms, sweats and t-shirts. This is far closer to their native territory. Orel, so terribly young, the fresh-faced icon of a young man running to war in his jaunty olives and tilted cap, could be the closest thing to idealism run rampant on a poster. Here, his eyes flick back and forth, restless, where the others are high strung in different ways. Teeth bared, he shudders a little. "«What are you doing?»" His Russian whisper is scoured, shot at Bucky.

«Clearing the building,» Bucky says, firmly. «I know you want to hurry. But there will be no traps at our back if I can help it. Hold your horses.» He's following Steve. Of course he is….the pack instinct is very strong, especially after this spring. And Steve has always been the alpha.

Turning to the right brings a rather shortened corridor of cracked panels and well-trod boards given the wear patterns. Beyond the staircase is another of those open landings, a square sealed off by a solid door and steel plates behind plaster and sagging polished walnut or whatever happened to be immediately available. The intake point for the train lies beyond that way, whether via a honeycombed array of cells or stairs headed underground. Memory won't spur much for Bucky considering he observed it externally from the carriage house with its collection of hypertech snowblowers and rail-line clearing equipment.

Steve Rogers sweeps the lower floor quickly but methodically. He doesn't want to overlook any hidden passages or clues. He indicates the stairs when he finishes with that level. "There are enough of us to split up here."

It's hard to miss, once one gets near enough. The west wing is dilapidated more than some, the remnants of finery chopped away methodically over the years. A selection of rooms scattered therein contain furniture draped in sheets; and emptiness, places that have been stripped down to nearly nothing and treated by acerbic cleaners stinging the nose. Few windows give very little light. Against the curve of the dramatic staircase headed upwards — to the chamber where Zola and Volga last interrogated Bucky — the shape of a child hanging from a noose is terribly easy to miss. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Which is when Bucky's poise and sense slip from him like a coat being shed. Conscious thought *knows* it's a trap. Instinct can't abide the sight….he's hurrying for a point where he can get that poor little body supported. No plea for help - he's trusting Steve to follow, to assisst him.

Sure as sin, the wolves notice certain aspects. Nikita and Evgeniy naturally triangulate off one another, and Matvei has a much less frightened air about him than the frighteningly impulsive pup in the background. Orel hisses and bolts into action, careless of his boots sliding off the ground thanks to that layer of wax. He can compensate by twisting around hard, reaching for Bucky's jacket. "Nyet! «Tainted, you can't touch!»"

Steve Rogers gasps- he still has the purity to be shocked by such a thing, no matter how often he's seen it. It doesn't take him aback for more than an instant, though, he advances with grim worry to help Bucky and intercept whatever the youngster may have been hung up to draw them into.

Buck puts out his hand in turn to stop Steve. "Hold on," he tells Cap, even as he's all but shivering in eagerness. «What do you mean?» he demands of Orel, voice cracking like a teenager's with the strain of holding himself together. «Tainted?»

Rope tangles around a thin neck, anchored to some kind of metal hook. Another loop twines around the bannister. The thin body is hard to decipher as male or female in the slanting shadows, the thin shift covering it altogether too familiar for Bucky's memory. Another child wore a similar bedtime gown, long sleeves and loose hem brushing against bare… foot?

That darkness, at closer sight, runs up the skin in a discloloured blotch that would possibly detract from the contorted face marred by the bulging bloodshot eyes and bloated tongue brought on by this particular form of death. So too there are imperfections otherwise hinted; arms don't /bend/ like that, partly because they have bones in them.

Diamond formation for them, cutting the quadrants. Nikita has a gun trained on the second floor, Matvei hunkered lower in a defensive posture to the outside wall, Evgeniy holding the back end in case anyone storms through the entrance hall. Centrifugal forces rotate them as necessary, the muted presence of their training together coming to the fore. Bucky and Cap have years together, too, but this…



Orel jerks his hand back from Bucky, chin lifting up. «Failed. Get away-get-awaygetaway.» The chattering succession of words in warning follows him backing off as though expecting someone to hit him with a cattle prod.

Steve Rogers unlimbers his shield and grabs Bucky by the elbow to swing him behind himself, so that Steve can back away while guarding Bucky with both his body and the impenetrable proto-admmantine disc.

There's a little animal noise of pain - not at Steve's grip, but the sight. «What?» he demands of Orel. «Tainted how? Is the body poisoned?» There's that cold rage in him. Steve knows the look, the way he holds himself. Steve wasn't always the impulsive one in that partnership.

Orel shakes his head, close precision throwing his hair into gold-shocked disarray. The humming vibrato growl out of him is as close to an answer and he's willing to give, his hands clenched into fists and veins throbbing along muscles bunched by an adrenaline rush. One second away from cracking, two, a blazing rush of rage seeping through the veins. They all ought to recognize it. It's like staring in the face of the Winter Soldier all over again.

Matvei cocks his head, listening, and he trains the pistol he carries up at the rooftop where one faint scrape surrenders evidence of something up there. Someone.

«Failure» appears on the dust on the floor. Strokes in Cyrillic, blown into being.

"Don't let them draw you, Buck," Steve warns, sniffing the air. If there's a poison or explosive he might be able to catch it with his super-keen senses.

He gives Steve one of those wild-eyed looks. But he doesn't break….and it hardens into that icy resolve. Winter, indeed. «We go on,» he says, flatly. Then he's moving to put a hand on Orel. No one gets to go off half-cocked if he doesn't.

Another tap to the rooftop, the hiss-swish of no raven coming home to roost, no jackdaw singing its lonely song on the rafters.

Orel shudders beneath the touch, going stock still. Frozen glares would otherwise burn holes in the gloomy old house forgotten by its tsarist tenants ages ago. No smell of explosives here, but what there is to reach Steve's nose is unpleasantly biological, the trace of suppuration and chemicals, the thick slurry of sweet rot and deconstructed tissues.

Something's happened to Bucky. For he's stopped in his tracks, expression going blank, confused, hand still on Orel. Just a beat. «Steve,» he says, in a hissing whisper. «Use the words on me now. Do it.» If he's already activated and under Steve's control, that mission can't be superceded.

"You know I don't like…" Steve realizes the urgency, and Bucky's fear, overrides his own moral reluctancy to make use of Bucky's programming, even for his own sake. He gives Bucky's shoulder a reassuring squeeze and leans close to whisper to him, just in case any of the phrase might affect the others. "«Longing, rusted, furnace, daybreak, seventeen, benign, nine, homecoming, one, freight car. Stay with me.»"

Russian starts the procession. Orel has barely recovered his equilibrium, and the signal ricochets through four men who move in unison. The first of them is Matvei, he of the benign aspect and gentle bearing. Rotating, he hisses, «Cover your ears!» as his hands slam to his ears, pistol stock shoved to his temples. The stuttering of a second, less, follows the trio reacting. Evgeniy's eyes widen in blanked horror with his palms to his skull, the droning hum of Debussy on Nikita's lips. They're already moving back, following the lockstep march of their brother running for them. Orel doesn't hold the line, he bolts for the front doors where explosions wait, and beyond, Kyr hidden with his fallen partner. Presumably.

Shouting is a lost cause here, the staccato cadence collapsing a house of cards. Staccato gunfire cuts off abruptly from somewhere outside. Shit, fan.

HE's got his order: stay with Steve. But there's autonomy enough left to have him turning, hauling Captain America with him, as if they were Hansel and Gretel in the wood. The gunfire outside draws him like a magnet, his rifle coming up to the ready. «Come,» he says to Steve….but there's that insulating cold, that steady state, to hold him. Ready to answer.

Steve Rogers sticks with Bucky, since that satisfies the order as well as the other way around, and Buck does know this place, this whole country and its spirit and moods, its people and their ways, better than he ever could. He advances with him as one, in a smooth confident unison.

Advancing back is the safest way to go forward short of kicking open the wall under the hung child in a stage of unnatural tainted decay, or trying to find a window or handhold to the roof. And moving 'round from the front means chasing the tails of the four who have totally and utterly abandoned the Americans. Make of that truth whatever one will.

Tails between their legs, though, the Soviet soldiers do not have. At a dead run they're dangerous, and screw tripwires, arrows, or branches. One deadfall patch opens under Nikita and he twists midair, wrenched out of the hole by literally being grabbed by Evgeniy. Forget any kind of concealment, not with the command words spat into the air and their own rebellion shattering compliance briefly. Oh so briefly, but it counts.

In the southern woods near the entrance, Kyr and Adam are missing, stretcher kicked aside. Bad sign.

The gunshots came from the north, swinging around the back of the building to face the dormitories. Dangerous woods to navigate, Bucky will remember, and without a sign of where that redheaded girl is, curious indeed. Three unaccounted for, two missing, the odds aren't forever in Cap's favour. But no secondary rattle emerges. If they rush, they might see the struggle — at the cost, potentially, of their own necks. The place is riddled with traps. If they don't, they might see nothing but the smooth grass…

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