1965-02-26 - Project Virgo: Any Port in a Storm
Summary: The path less taken to save Steve Rogers is never without a price.
Related: If there are no related logs, put 'None', — please don't leave blank!
Theme Song: None
steve-rogers rogue bucky 

Much as it tears him to see her suffer… it's Steve he needs. Steve will be able to help. So that's the direction he launches himself in, using all his speed, reaching for reserves he's not sure he still has. Bucky hurls himself north, for the chamber where Steve dreams suspended. Half-blind from tears, teeth bared in anger, metal fist cocked to batter down the side of the chamber.


Through the doorway runs the Winter Soldier, once, the hero of America's youth, once, just a kid from Brooklyn dumped in the soul-shredding crucible. What comes out the other side?

His boots squelch through the puddles. Up to the faceted crystal holding Steve Rogers in check, his dark garments scored and torn, no semblance of consciousness answering the fist smashed against the thick wall. Chips fly and land in concentric ripples, sinking to the ground.

Knells. Let them be remembered as the clamour of tolling bells, the clap of great wings.

The door slams shut behind him, an echo booming through the narrow, rough hallway studded in those faint crystals, crystals all of which hold a certain charge it should be said. Streaked veins of ore, spiderwebbed piping buried through the bedrock, and of course the unspeakably abundant groundwater leaching from the mighty steppe river into the tunnels serve their purposes.

Ozone spikes and the lights in the cryochamber wink out, pulled down. Oh, the luminous turquoise waters remain a calm, lasting presence in each of those profane, self-contained cylinders, the subjects perfectly safe. But how much untold voltage streams through the matrix to supercharge a single halo, to land upon a single body locked in a metal vise to a steel altar? Is it even possible to withstand that?

Let it be remembered Volga Svyatoslavovich first commanded power over the very air and its wrath at the moment of his birth, 'ere he ever demonstrated facility to command all animals, speak all tongues, and transfigure himself as pleased him. Perhaps an ancient epic rooted in misty human memory, or proven utterly by the histrionic shrieks starting at the highest decibels and burning up through that sealed portal.

Another strike, another fracture, hairline cracks spreading out. Too slow. Too slow by half.

In the back of his awareness, some part of Bucky's mind burns out. White noise crackles reach a crescendo, piercing the fugue, the chaos point of instability slewing out of check, the molten bubbling in total meltdown, and that rarest pinprick of all in the snowy cold crystallizing in one glimpse of snow, rifle pointed at a foxhole, and chattering rage on the linked bond. The wolves of the Volga howl for their sister.

It's like his own old days riding the lightning, white fire a lance from temple to temple, conscious thought drowned. He's still hammering on the tank with that metal fist, to the whine of overstressed joints and servos, threatening a lock. His whole posture's distorted by it. "Steve!" It's a yell gone ragged, to the edge of a scream. "Steve, wake up!" As if he were just napping, and the pounding of the alloy fist were too soft to be heard.

The impact vibrations are felt first. After all, they travel so well through the near-liquid medium of his coccoon. A curl of toes first, perhaps not caught in the chaos. Then the subtle turn of head, neck muscles engaging for the first time since he was engulfed.

Someone…someone's calling him. Neurons begin to sparkle through his brain and there's a deeper inhale on Steve's part. Still…so very sleepy and warm.

Fractures form in the crystal, but whatever milky, irregular substance forms the wall imprisoning the fetal-curled soldier is thick. No mere plate of quartzite separates Bucky's fist, something infinitely more resilient to the abuse settled upon it. Chipped bits splinter and might slide into the lamellar plating, powder dusting the groove. Progress radiates along that three meter front, absorbed into the surrounding stone, for all that the forming spiderwebs frost out the irregular milk translucency. The more he beats on it, the less visible the figure within the bath of turquoise, sediment-rich waters becomes.

A subtle cruelty, one defined twist of fate.

Along the link the boiling white-fire agony spikes as the scent of ozone builds, a redoubling over the heady petrichor charge mixing with water. Long enough spent submerged, filthy from the river and mold seeping into dark clothes, might have wiped out the fluvial fragrance but it strengthens now. Weaker pulses fill the hole where some unknown presence existed, like the sporadic clenching of muscles that aren't there, fingers long ago severed in ice and snow by battlefield surgery under the most peculiar circumstances.

So, so distant clamours thunder against shaking walls, retreat marched through sucking tides among floating bodies and spilled debris, spinning around in a whirlpool. Deprived of everything, is Bucky Barnes to be the Man Suffering?

IF need be. He doesn't cease his efforts - it's long since passed the border into mania. The bulldog's refusal to loosen his grip on his foe's throat, even as he's torn. Throwing his strength into it, even as it refuses to yield….and trying to pour some down the link. What use has he ever been to the rest of the pack? And now he's brought them here.

He certainly looks like the maddened animal they had, lost in that resurrected and redesigned body. His other hand is splayed over the crystalline surface.

The vibrations continue, jarring into his system. Skin receptors tell of minute movements in his oozed surroundings and more movements jerk at lines embedded in his forearms. Steve's head lolls forwards heavily, absolute proof of life beyond statis and…when he raises his face, the crystal might not be fogged enough to block out the flutter of eyelids.

A harder exhale fogs up the mask keeping him from inhaling the clear goo surrounding him. He's slow still to immediately respond; light bends in phenominally-weird ways through the medium of gel and his hindbrain is gamely combating his forebrain's attempt to understand that he's not in-utero after all. Ouch — that's a pinch of a needle at his forearm and even as the pounding continues from forewards directionals, he's dragging his palm down his arm. The other line resists him, pufting a smear of crimson into the gel and then he places a palm against the craquelure of the crystal. Who said his name? The idea of removing the mask is put aside when his brain reminds him that the surroundings appear to be liquid; must not inhale this. Who said his name?!

A sharp impact jars up the long-bones of his arm and then…Steve slams back. Hard.

More cracks form on the crystal, splintering in solid lines, another layer buckling into the water-filled realm behind glass. Curtains fall behind those battered facets, hard, rough edges that split skin, in the captive soldier, in the free asset on the other side. Their mutual efforts to break through are decidedly separating them, filling the watery sanctuary in ceaseless vibrations.

Sloshing through the wreckage slowly filling the storage area, not even the silent one can avoid all noise. The loping stalk takes him past contained universes, unremarked upon. Blood and unmentionable fluids spatters the black pants and vest, gore trailing down gloves, knife drawn a fell, pitiless scythe for the fallen angel of vengeance. The rifle lies crosswise from shoulder to hip, face a hollow, frozen mask.

Emerging around the tanks, he resembles the spectre who in one shot slew three SHIELD agents from Danford and took out two vehicles, put Clint Barton in his place, and single-handedly took down an unknown agent peppering Barnes and kin with bullets. Volya is too late, too late by half, but revenge never gave one whit about time.

«Dead.» One word, prophesy from the mouth of the Firebird.

Buck is screaming. No longer a name, no pleas for his friend, the wordless venting of torment unbearable. How many times did he reduce himself to mute wheezes, in the Russians' hands? It's down the link, too, a flood of white noise, animal anguish.

Still hurling all his force against the crystal, as cracks craze their way through the layers. Hysterical strength, the serum burning energy at a rate that'd've had an unmodified human passing out.

Oh god — oh god. Steve's efforts double in both fists pounding back. He knows that inhuman cry of agony. It once echoed upon itself in a snowy canyon when heights and ill-luck took his heart-brother from him. It echoes in his nightmares, when his consciousness takes him back to remind him of failures.

"BUCKY!" Mask and mulled gel blocks out the shout, the surface of his anti-drowning defense fogging up more yet again. If only the consistency of his embryotic tube was thinner; he's hitting the separation between them as hard as he can, but what is it earning him but welts upon his own knuckles?!

Cracks break and form, the slow whittling down. Water may eventually start to leak through the chaotic breakdown of the resilient crystal. The thickness provides the most leverage, the most protection. Soon enough the few lights there wink out, leaving an even worse situation, almost total darkness except for the vanishing tranquility seeping out through the twilit room. Death of electricity means a few things beyond the loss of the lights. It means the end of oxygen turnover freshly plugged into the mesh on plastic mask wrapped around Steve's face.

It means complete cover, the deafening claxon of danger. It means the crushing pressure of atmospheres and terror known to the victims of the Titanic, the Wilhelm Gustloff, the Thresher in their final moments.


Minutes to cleave through, and face the floodwaters. Blood spread in sacrifice, desperation in the accelerating heartbeats, loss in every turn. Questions of loyalty and mad sacrifice, and whether a man lifts a knife to slit a neck bulging with tendons and veins. Something brushes Bucky's leg, solid, as the water trickles past, filling the void in its wake.

When the crystal gives way, Steve might be asphyxiated, possibly not, who knows? But one crack covers them both in that tincture in blue, vaguely warm and still and thick, rushing past enough that a hand can be thrust through the broken gap.

Now there's an opening. Fluid can leave, air rush in. He can get a grip, rather than resort to blunt impact. Buck apparently intends to disassemble the thing by hand, if need be. Cracking Steve out like a mother bird helping her chick pip the egg. The contours of straining muscle are stark, the lines of metal woven in under the skin grotesquely obvious.

Even as his clenched fists slam into the crackle-hazed crystal, the room goes dark. Steve can feel the gentle flow of cooler air suddenly slow and then…cease entirely. Betting against knowledge of his own state, he punches out at the darkness and collides with a surface that finally gives.

The outrush of the warming fluid can be felt, dragging at the fine hairs of his skin and clothing, but…not fast enough. Foreign touching brushes against his groping hand and then the stars begin to twinkle in his vision, phantom lights meaning the incipient fight against taking a breath is a losing battle. His lungs burn and he can't waste a single sigh on calling out his friend's name. The first tremor of a repressed cough and resulting inhale, drawing in what little oxygen remains trapped in the mask, marks the beginning of the end. Still, he pulls at what edges he can feel, yanking brittle crystal into his precious space.

Not enough, just….not enough! He can't find the surface he's reaching for beyond the barrier and reaching up proves only a hand's worth of space. Steve inhales. Bubbles and disjointed rictus follow as he claws for the emptied capturing of air at the top of the tube. Nails scratch against cruel metal above, snarl on lines no longer embedded…and then a limp hand drifts past Bucky's knuckles from within.

|ROLL| Rogue +rolls 1d100 for: 12

Only a villain of the lowest calibre deigns to announce himself and project his plans in a moment of absolute weakness. Pathetic, those blubbering their victories when victories may be seized, conquests turned at the fatal hour into a rout. You never know whom undermines the castle wall, sappers tapping at the bedrock.

Crystal cracks to permit the ophidian figure to slide forth upon amniotic tides into bloodied hands, wrenched through a fissure insufficient for a man of Steve Rogers' breadth. Rough edges gouge wounds into his pale skin that raise incarnadine welts, particoloured wounds for an unstrung jester come to entertain a foreign potentate who plays by no conceivable rules in the gentleman's game.

War isn't for gentlemen. Ideology cares nothing for a framework or apparatus designed by lily-livered bureaucrats in their wool suits by Lake Geneva.

The Hunter moves in as that wall disgorges its prize and cocks a fist, knife blade prepared to sever vein and artery in equal stead. Nearness gives little indication exactly where he is in relation, but one good leap off the wall might due severe — if not outright fatal — damage. The waters keep flowing, feeding through the cracks in the stonework, dissolving their underpinnings once and for all.

The floor gives out.

Invoke the Devil's name, be assured a wrathful Old Testament Lord above all ensures the tainted tumble straight to Hell.

|ROLL| Steve Rogers +rolls 1d20 for: 7

|ROLL| Bucky +rolls 1d20 for: 1

|ROLL| Rogue +rolls 1d100 for: 11

|ROLL| Rogue +rolls 1d20 for: 15

…..the wheel turns, and certain things come 'round again. As if they were destined to re-enact this over and over and over, mortal puppets on strings spun by fate.

Again, he's torn from Steve, hand outstretched, and falling into cold water.

The splash of impact, and then darkness.

Hail Hydra.

The air of the outside world, dark as it is, will be cold when Steve comes to. His is an abrupt departure from the land of the living, for the immediate fall of a floor giving under pressure and consequential impact to subterranean water's surface is shocking.

At least enough to trigger a flailing response in dulled limbs that propels him above to the sweetness of a quarter-breath of air. His diaphragm immediately disapproves of the state of his lungs. Up it comes, an explosive amount of homeostatic ooze, followed by a ragged breath of air before he slips under again. Still, this old dog won't lie down without some convincing.

A whooping gasp as he appears again, blond hair slicked flat, and he weakly paddles at the surface. "Buck — " Pfft, there goes spittle and another gagging urp of liquid his body wants nothing to do with. "Buck!" he pants, treading water. He reaches around himself blindly for something, anything familiar: floating board, ragged cloth, the ungiving chill of silvery metal.

In that collapse, the broken crystal makes a suitable handhold. Something to catch onto and with reflexes born from the worst sorts of experience, Volya slams the knife into the fissure whilst clinging for life. His boots glide off wet stone in search of purchase, a futile effort; ask anyone ever trying to ascend the glass panes of a skyscraper. This, organically shaped, lends little improvement over the initial traverse. Deterioration of the situation leaves him hanging there, hoisting himself up, pressing himself into the ragged cleavage. And there he waits for the inevitable.

Silence, thus. Water pours over the broken hole, a steady trickle making for a dull waterfall.

|ROLL| Steve Rogers +rolls 1d20 for: 9

The downside of that arm is that while swimming isn't too much of an effort while conscious….he sinks like a dead weight. Steve's foot connects with something that isn't falling stone - passive enough to yield to that unintended kick.

Oh, was that…?! Inhaling past a raw throat, Steve immediately dives beneath the surface and reaches out blindly. The first broad swipe of his hand leaves him with nothing but empty water. He crawls down another few feet and tries again…and connects with something far more giving than descending chunks of non-supportive stone.

Thrashing madly with his feet, he swims for what he thinks is the surface. Luck — dead stupid luck brings him there again, in the entombment of darkness. A gasp announces him as alive to whomever waits above and then comes the pained grunt of bringing his prize up alongside himself. Treading water now occurs at double time, but at least there's the rapid breakdown of lactic acid in his corner. Where's a wall? Is there a wall?

Hoisting up the bundle of limp body as best he can, feeling wet hair brush along his jawline, he reaches out yet again into the blackness. Who cares if he jams fingers against solidity? It means the possibility of a ledge, if Lady Luck has them in her sights.

Walls can be measured within a distance of eight to ten feet across, measured by touch and so many strokes. The irregular channel weaves and twists on a path forward, curving off into the void. Down here, any absence of light renders the place cave-black, a nightmarish scenario of gurgling water and current tugging 'south' proverbially, such as any compass rose possibly applies.

How many men have died entombed in a tunnel, deprived of oxygen, slowly drained of heat and energy until they scarce had the ability to hold up their heads above the rippling surface?

The rough-hewn surfaces are mortared smooth higher up, somewhat rougher further down. No ledges to speak of, only the antechambers buried underneath for a body to end up sucked under and curled up, the favourite hiding place for any cephalopod or Ancient One biding its time in the starless murk, dreaming dread visions that must never be vexed from twenty aeons of sleep…

Steve shall have to feel around more if he's to find any kind of handhold, or sacrifice that idea and practice the well-honed art of Barnes-raising.

That absurd hair, an idiosyncrasy in deference to Scarlett's tastes and his own determination to be distinguishable at a distance from the rest of the pack - it's a grip, if need be.

Buck's still dead weight. Might literally be. Is he breathing? There's a moment where it might be in doubt, though he's coughing weakly in seconds. Not awake, yet…..any probing touches will encounter the spongy softness of some kind of headwound.

Coughing — Steve's never heard a more beautiful sound.

"I got you, Buck," he manages to rasp, continuing to swim in the direction he initially chose. The slow current tugs at his clothing, telling him that it continues on behind him. The wall's got to be somewhere nearby. "Stay with me," he adds after he too coughs, flipping up droplets. More strokes in a pattern forced into being and his fingertips then brush against cold stone. A gutteral sound of frightened success and then he turns, looking blindly into empty, terrifying space in the direction of the river's flow.

It takes a careful effort on his part to shift the living weight of Bucky between his aching arms, but then he endeavors to move farther down the tunnel. The flow of the water is subtle, but even the tiniest bit of bouyancy offered is taken in turn. The First Avenger tries desperately to keep Bucky's head above the surface as too tries to keep his touch upon the wall of the river's channel.

"Buck." He repeats the man's name, a frailty of desperation present. "Remember the time when we went swimming in winter? You were…" He takes a moment to gasp for air, flicking hair out of his face. "You wanted to impress that one girl, Lanie. You said you were more rugged than a polar bear and that I was too. Remember?" He presses onwards. "We both got a cold; Ma was so mad at you, but we made it. We got better. Buck." A period of silence where he fights for words. "You gotta get better."

What's around the river bend, waiting around the narrow course? No shore greet them through that cascading waterway buried in Mother Russia's breast. Smooth their route is not, though every small rivulet feeding through the unseen heights and tunnels strengthen their mother. Sister tributaries pour their offerings that pushes along Steve and Bucky. Bodies hold up somewhat well but the undercurrent shunts them past a point of smooth chambers, where no convenient handhold allows a place to gas.

The brothers bound by ties thinner than blood and older than kin are set forth on that unforgiving, bruised journey in the endless dark. One breath provides an inadequate gauge to move time by. Is it a lifetime of wracked shudders? Of course not.

But by the time they end up banged through the fluvial slots, the rumbling course rough past tongues of rounded rock jarring them out of complacence, the first paling of the utter black comes as a lightning slap. The river rises to spit them out through a treed alleyway carved from the native karst, the ancient mountains bowing to the Volga's mighty outpouring flow.

Dusk fell at some point, leaving them in the flooded terrain choked by ice and snow, a morass of entrapped branches and logs, the autumn's leaf-fall, and who can say what else?

There's finally some stirring in the body he's holding, beyond mere breath and coughing. Steve can feel resistance come in, muscle tension - a little unsteady flailing. And finally the whispery fragment of a voice, "Steve?"

Other than that, though, he's content to be held. Not even trying to swim. Something is still wrong.

Never has Steve Rogers even been more relieved to see light. The gloam of the recently-fallen sun is more than fair trade for the uncountable minutes — hours? — of knocking off stealthy mounds of mountain rock and being so very certain, more than once, that he held a dead man in his arms. The shore, however stony and debris-ridden as it is, is found and the Captain drags himself as well as his now-coherent compatriot up out of the main flow of the Volga.

"Buck?" His voice is thready as well, his limbs a-buzz with excessive effort and adrenaline's hobbling effects against the cold. "Buck, you there?" He has to ask — he has to be certain. Breathing is all well and good, but…that looks like an awful amount of blood snarled into the darkened hair. Touching at it carefully brings back reddened fingertips and Steve looks down on his oldest friend in silent anguish.

Shuddering lamentations may wait for the risk of being in icy waters, partly frozen, at subarctic temperatures. The grip of winter on Voronezh Oblast, though southerly for the U.S.S.R., tends to measure an average of twenty degrees Fahrenheit or so, and in the current state, it's closer to fifteen at best. Add the frosty chill of declining darkness that plunges the mercury back towards its snug ball and the risk of hypothermia even for men well accustomed to operating in harsh environments blossoms as a very real risk to life and limb.

The other one comes when the torpid water shudders, submerged threats come forth in choppy rivulets and wavelets, a groaning shudder of cracking limbs and grinding plates. They've time to scramble into the uneven morass choking the banks, wound among the lonely pines, diving into snowbanks six and seven feet high in places where winds blow churned flakes meant for the broad steppe.

Quaking grows, strength redoubled, and stones crash into the churning waterways as the point of their exit weakens to the strain of some reckless, insatiable call. Gravity so rarely proves welcome in the sleeping season, but the earth churns while the stand collapses, at least reorienting the outflow a bit so they're not washed away. Alas, some poor village or farmer's field a half mile away might question why they're now a swamp.

All good, in the long term.

There's that little smile, the ghost of the old one. Buck rolls onto his side, coughs up more river water in a few choking spasms, then he's trying to rise. "I can't see right," he laments, head swinging a little. "My eyes are all blurry." Anyone else, and he'd be blind - definitely scarlet strands in the dark hair. Then he shivers. "Riverbank? WE gotta find shelter or we'll freeze." A bleared look around. "We were driven," he says, softly. "If he wanted us dead, he'd've killed us back there. We're in his realm, still."

It's upon Steve to recognize the sudden upheaval of their surroundings. He may not know precisely what an earthquake is, or what shifting tectonic plates entail, but he knows well enough to drag Bucky up and beyond reach of anything attempting to further splash or turn the flow of the Volga upon them. If they end up half in a snowbank, so be it. It's immediate safety vs a chill. The Captain is no stranger to such things.

Once things appear to settle down, he stops staring at the possessed nature around him and looks back to Bucky. "Still?" His echo is stressed. Another quick look-about finds no other immediate threats to their person in the fading light. "You hit your head, we've got to get you to a medic. Hospital. Something," and then he's kneeling, trying to stabilize Bucky into a sit at the very least. "I don't recognize where we are," he admits quietly, concern etched deeply into his face as he stares downriver briefly.

The cold forest falls back into relative peace, one broken by no bird and certainly no furtive small creature bestirred from its slumber to locate a snug den elsewhere. Frantic rustling in the undergrowth corresponds to a fleeing hare, perhaps, or a dusty little fox chased off in the disquieted movements from the subterranean chambers that stitch together the nation of republics. Flight into the shadowy dimness may be a foolish thing.

On the other hand, they are not so far out of a Soviet city of considerable size and means, nor the canals and tracks that stitch it to the other great cities of a hostile power to the United States.

Moskva calling to the stripped soldiers,
Horror and despair, and nightfall come down,
The nightmare is coming, the ice closing in,
Meltdown expected, hope an' patience are thin,
Better start running, boys, you ought to fear,
'Cause Volga is watching and you, you live by the river…

|ROLL| Bucky +rolls 1d100 for: 14

They have to find somewhere to recover. Even supersoldiers can die of exposure, and where better to do so than the wastes of Russia. "All of Russia is his, Steve," he says, matter of factly, before turning into the forest.

He's nothing like his usual sure-footed, stealthy self. The head injury's left him dizzy and weary and uncertain. Perception's not to be trusted, and at one point he nearly knocks Steve over because he thinks the outline of a tree stump is a man. Nothing like the Howling Commandos' premiere sniper of ages past.

They do find a path, though, obviously cut by human feet, rather than paws or hooves. "We'll find a woodcutter's hut," Buck says, confidently, scuffing along it with the utter weariness of a recently resurrected zombie. What is this, Grimm's fairytales?

Actually, it's Afanasyev's.

After a little, they can hear human voices. Voices raised in song, which has Bucky pause, swaying. "D'you hear that? It sounds like a party."

Steve shambles alongside his grimed and bloodied friend, his own state not much more presentable in the end. Maybe the local wildlife would accept them as is, bleeding and bedraggled, but society? The Captain's dark clothing, torn in more places than when he initially slept in the warm embrace of the crystal tube, is more the victim now. So to is his skin, though it attempts to knit even as time passes; still, rusty stains betray damage even if reddened lines do not.

He hates hearing that the land is owned. It's a freaky concept, beyond the normalcy of fists and firearms. Can one really own a continent, down to the streams and tree-growth? Thank god for Bucky's weaving, in the end. It keeps his friend from musing his way into quiet panic.

He glances over and replies to Bucky, "A woodcutter's hut, huh? You've been reading fairy tales lately?" That explains everything, surely. Steve does hear the voices too and he leans a hip against Bucky, keeping the head-wounded man from further harm with an arm around his waist and his grip about the wrist slung about his neck firm.

"It does. Maybe they can help." Oh Steve, ye of faith in everyone and everything. He's the first to urge them on, legs wearied and frost gathered on the tips of his hair. "At least bandage up your head. A first aid kit would be even better."

Never forget that little scratch, the suspension in aqueous torpor.

They get an hour before the first of the hunger pangs roll through their body, if that much grace. 'Tis a thing akin to going without adequate rations in the heat of battle, and the inevitable comedown afterwards that slinks through the shriveled belly and takes up a home somewhere deep in the entrails. A quiver in the gut becomes a low, persistent protest, one that establishes a dutiful wail and hammering fists on the colon wall, in the blood, upon the brain's pleasure centers and deeper among those neural files bleating about appetite.

Scarf a loaf of black bread. No satisfaction. Drink a liter of black tea. No reprieve. Gnaw on hard sausage, and the relief is but temporary, not even banished before screaming right back around the end of chewing.

Voices raised in song and celebration, a hymn of triumph despite whatever hammer and sickle replaced the double eagle of the Romanovs. Certain things, regardless of ruler or regime, endure. Revenge is older than thrones, more enduring than courts. Afanasyev's stories collect the universal wisdom. The land remembers, and the land never, ever forgets. Do svidaniya, Winter Soldier.

Buck's a thing to frighten children with, gaunt, hollow-eyed, bedraggled and bleeding. Accursed. "I'm hungry," he says, as he's helped along. Then he turns that haunted stare on Steve. "Steve, the kids…me…there's a hunger that turns to madness in us. You have to be careful of us." Because of course Steve the incorruptible can't have been touched.

And then they're at the gate, then the door. A house among several, only one brightly lit. The voices rise from there. And without hesitation, Buck raps on the door with his metal fist. Lightly, not that 'I am here to serve a warrant' knock, as all within fall silent. A few beats of it, and then a voice calls, «Who is there?» Without missing a beat, Bucky retorts, «Grandfather Frost and Snegurochka.» Sort of true, isn't it?

Slogging along as he is, Steve doesn't complain. Buck remains aright in an armyman's rescue hold, each of his own dragging steps echoed by another beside him.

"I'll keep an eye on you, don't worry," the man replies to the Soldier's spoken concerns. Then they're arriving at the house full of song and cheer. Steve looks over at Bucky after a moment, bemusement bringing some life to his own tired expression.

«Did you just call me a snow maiden?» He asks in nearly-flawless Russian, his voice pitched low enough that those inside won't hear.

The humblest of places, the kolkhoz bears little wealth other than a good turnover of barley and other grains. Here on the very outermost edge of the black earth quadrant, the abundant fertility permits a modest standard of living for the humble farmers enslaved in Communist neo-serfdom. Orthodox Christmas may be one of those things the other members of the collective turn a blind eye to, as blind Baba Vikya gums her black bread and mutters about how Lenin abolished the carols and the adoration of an icon. She can't see the icon and therefore cannot report upon the lopsided Madonna and child.

The kolkhozniks are uneasy in the gloaming, gathered around their heater that spits out not nearly enough warmth for the extended family of twelve. Weathered faces, babushkas, and double-layered sweaters a size or two too small mark being bundled up as they pass around extra sweets — vzvar — and cups of kutya, husbanded against the long season from stores.

They have nothing to say about the knock on the door at first, the children moaning in fear as their elders shuffle them to the side of the large room. Just two bedrooms, one for each family, so very cramped and small. Things aren't much different now from 1887, and life is hard on the Voronezh steppe. Fraught tension, faces drawn. The icon is hidden away under a blanket, hustled off into the only spot of substance, under a floorboard.

«We do not expect guests?»

«Please let us in. We're lost travellers.» Buck looks around for an outbuilding, mutters to Steve, "We may have to den up in a barn, or something. Christmas spirit may not be enough." For some reason, he can't bring himself to just punch the door in. Enough destruction for an evening. He's shivering against Steve, exhausted, half-hanging off the super soldier.

Swallowing and licking at chapping lips, Steve nods, looking around the property as well. The nightfall is quickly sapping warmth around them, what little there was to even start with. He adjusts Bucky's weight against his side before adding his own plead to the person beyond the door.

«Please, my friend in injured, we need first aid — or at least shelter,» he says.

«Who travels today, Papa?» Cue skeptical 15-year-old boy muttering through the corner of his mouth, staring at his father and then back at the door. Theirs isn't a portal capable of withholding much other than the wind and the occasional sneeze from the sky. The family pulls together around their low farm table.

«Just answer the damn door. If it's Lenin's ghost you can be sure I'll giving him a right welcome and a piece of my mind about '32 and '38.» Baba waves her liver-spotted hand, mouth curled up like a leather hat collapsing on itself. Well, given she survived tsars and problems, they aren't going to argue with her.


The door ought to open. A bit. Not far, it's dark and dangerous out there. Papa has to be cautious. «What happened to your wife? No proper husband would haul her out in the cold.»

That helps so much. Buck takes a cue from that innocent question, lets his head hang, the hair veil his face. It won't last long, until they really get a look at the breadth of shoulder and his build, small only in contrast to Mr. Strapping and Heroic there. «We were on the road out of Voronezh, a bridge collapsed, dumped us in the river.» A whisper, but he doesn't try to force the door. Not intending to make this a fight.

His friend was always the quick one and this turn of events leaves Steve momentarily staring at Bucky with wide eyes before dire need kicks aside his common sense. If they must fool the homesteaders, he supposes…

He looks back to the darkened crack in the door and tries a lop-sided smile. «Yes, bad nails in the wood. We were…on vacation,» he stumbles. «On our way to our grandmother's house in the woods. We were washed down-river. Please.» The beginnings of teeth-chattering isn't feigned.

«Is that Lenin's ghost?» Baba Vikya wants to know, her voice thin and pitched, threading a noisy wheedle. «Tell him he's a jackass.»

«Baba!» hisses her grandson, perfectly scandalized. «Comrade Lenin would never—»

«Take a wain on that garbage road, he'd have taken a sleigh like a proper hoity-toity Leningradnik. Get me my schnapps.»

Her daughter-in-law sighs. «We have no schnapps, Baba.»

«Then vodka. And shut the door!» Baba Vikya makes the sign of the cross messily in front of her.

The weathered serf clearly has a bit of an apologetic look, like swallowing a hedgehog really wasn't the best of ideas drunk, and now he has an ermine hissing at him from his favourite boot. His only boot. «You know how it goes.» He slams the door in Steve's face as they can hear an arch shrill behind the man's shoulder.

Baba Vikya's tone is implacable: «Piss off, ghost!»

«Please, let us in. Or let us warm up - food, firewood. It's Christmas,» Buck tries one more time. «We're not thieves.» Broadly true. Steve is not a thief. He gives Steve a look. They're going to have to rob the other houses. OR find somewhere to warm up and heal.


A narrow piece of metal splinters through the flimsy wood. It's not exactly known for its quality.

Who the heck had an ice pick?

Or a sickle?

Or a death-sickle?

Steve returns that look before glowering back at the rickety house. That maligned sense of goodwill is turning cranky.

«That's right, it is Christmas. Be charita — » He flinches backwards, dragging Bucky with him a step or two as the point of the sharp object-weapon-projectile-thingie bursts through the door and throws one or two small splinters in their direction. Another moment of silence and he sighs, his breath fogging silvery. "I don't think they're going to let us in, Buck," he mutters, eyes downcast.

There's that wolfish gleam in his eyes, as he looks at Steve. He's already half crazed, and it doesn't bode well. The knockout in the river was enough to reboot him from Soldier mode, at least. «We have to eat, Steve. And then we have to go back. The kids are still there. Scarlett is still there. And that bastard killed my daughter.» ……is he proposing eating the kolkhozniks? What *is* he suggesting?

Whatever he is suggesting, the kolkhozniks resume their uneasy measured silence, hovering around the main room of their humble abode. They all glare meaningfully at their grandmother, but she hardly seems to care, an immune matriarch glaring at nothing. Resuming a normal meal is impossible. Prayers are muttered at the icon under the floorboard, apologies ever given.

There are other houses, further about, darker. The collectives here are smaller than some.

Steve looks up and around again, brow deeply furrowed. His teeth bare for a second as he inhales and then shakes his head, glancing back at the haunted face beside him.

"We're not stealing or breaking and entering," he replies in English. "They don't have much as is. Let's try the next house. Food and then we'll go back for everyone. Your girl is tough, you've told me this enough times. She'll make it." Squinting at the horizon, he picks out the next house and turns them towards it to begin yet another shivering slog. "We have to believe they're all alive," he adds, stubbornly the optimist and attempting to keep hope's frail fire alight.

"They're all gonna have been there," he says, sounding almost peevish. But beyond that, he doesn't protest. His stride is uneven, increasingly almost drunken. "I felt her die," he says, softly. "That girl. Gone. I could feel them, for a while. What if I wasn't the first? What if I was always theirs?" Doubts come bubbling to the fore, insane fears. "How could….what are we? What…." he trails off.

Snow lies heavy upon the ground, thick over the perimeters of the cleared little square for the houses. The roads here are barely passable things, forged not so much by time as natural contours headed for that drowning deep river, a deadly conduit between the basin of southern Russia. In their present state, slogging on is a run against death in the cold; or going for one of the nearer houses still keeps them in the modest village, but gives the danger of being found out. Either way, there are buildings and a track to follow, rough as that may be, darkness descending upon them.

For Bucky, the privacy of his mind is his own.

Steve continues to lead the way towards one of the nearer houses. If they get found, at least they'll be alive to face it head-on rather than stiffened mounds beneath brutally-unfeeling snow. The fighting chance is his favorite chance, after all. He keeps Bucky up and moving, everything about his body beginning to quietly complain.

"Right now, we're stuck somewhere in Russia and we're going to eat. We're going to rest. And then we're going after them. I'm doing the best that I can, Buck. I can't answer half of those questions. I don't remember anything after the earth caved in." He swallows down his own irrational spike of fear with effort. "You're my friend, Buck. You're nothing else but you."

Fever of a kind. SLipping sanity - riding the edge of obsession for so very, very long cuts deep. He's increasingly conscious of the scent of his friend - not river water and sweat and earth, but the sweet warmth of blood, of living flesh. "Steve," he says, and his voice is soft. But there are no more questions. "Try the house at the edge of the village. If we're lucky, they'll all sleep at that main one tonight."

|ROLL| Steve Rogers +rolls 1d20 for: 20

Walk on a little further, breaking ground through the ice-coated drifts. Each step drags, each moment exposed to the bracing cold outside the comfort of the hearth or the shelter of the trees spells an impending death. Even for a man imprisoned in the ice and another buried in winter's heart, a limit must be found. The slow, creeping death stalks among crackling fringes of the gloaming pulled down, a heavy sack, the sort of stifling feeling that hitches breaths and causes a low-level burning enflamed along the extremities, the lining seared for every dragging breath.

Maybe the eyes are beary and the battering underground makes an unlikely situation, but is that not a dacha in the distance? Some kind of snug shape calls them out, flickering light in polished windows.

"Alright, the one on the edge," he echoes, turning their path towards it. The snow is high in places, meaning double the effort for Steve, but he trudges onwards. Gotta get to the next place. Gotta get inside. Gotta get out of the cold. Gotta help Bucky. Bucky always helped him — in the back of his mind, Steve wonders if he even owes Bucky his life. That's a discussion for another time, when the brunet isn't looking more and more glassy-eyed by the passing minute.

"Look, Buck." Steve is panting now as he adjusts his friend's arm again. "A house, with lights. Come on," and his is the fist knocking on the door this time, strength pulled as to not accidentally dent it. The shaking doesn't help.

They've passed that obligation back and forth like kids playing ball on the stoops of Brooklyn. How many times in the war? How many times as children? A flash of memory, of Bucky sitting by Steve's bed as the coughs rattle through him, shaking him like a terrier with a rat, fever unrelieved by however many cool cloths he can put on that brow. Though the balance tilts more and more in Steve's favor, that shield one of the wards between himself and Buck's own knife.

HE does raise his head at that urging, trying to bring enough strength to bear to stumble along with Steve. Standing, swaying, on his own two feet.

Passing through the thin scraggle of bush and trees leads some cover, protection against the piling shadows that collectively leach the heat from living bodies and slumbering black loess. Sloped rooflines stand apart from the humble houses of the collective, less a farmer's snug or a hunter's blind than a cottage. A pleasant one, all the same, the inviting glow of the windows caught beneath the very heavy overhang shielding them. Curls of smoke rise out of a chimney placed centrally. Pretty detail carved into the shutters and eaves imply a certain kind of mute elegance, care weathering all the years. A neat door faces them, and for all there's a fire, no footprints or chopped wood attest to activity. Salvation in the dark.

Steve knocks again, this time putting more effort into it. The slight dent is ignored.

«Excuse me? We need help. Is anyone home?» His voice is beginning to hold a quaver and his arm around Bucky's waist tightens. To keep him from falling? Or to keep a source of heat against himself, failing as both of them are? "Come on, Bucky, stay with me," he grunts, shifting the faltering man's weight again nearly entirely onto himself.

The door opens to a touch, if pressed. Smooth wood gives as proof of fine maintenance, oiled hinges uttering nary a note. A few snowflakes might dance around, but that's about it. No response at the door, otherwise.

«Please. Let us in,» His voice is hoarse, but there's no attempt to pass for Steve's retiring wife. Then the door swings open. Aware, and without that utter desperation, he'd be more careful. But now….no. Buck's stumbling in, heading for the fire, should it be visible. "Thank-," he cuts himself off. Lucifer's half a world away, but that ingrained delicacy asserts itself, absurd. Warmth draws him like sunlight draws a plant.

The hearth is hard to miss, complete with smooth black pot set on a much used frame. A samovar stands apart, the famed contours of a Russian teapot practically impossible to miss. Any number of hooks glint along an area set aside as a roughly traditional kitchen, from which pots and pans of various size and composition offer promise of whipping up a meal. Supplies are tinned up, some in bags and others in round cylinders stamped by invariably timeworn, board-approved companies.

Russian stoves and hearths are odd, by design, as the focal point for any house. The sleeping area is actually above them in the oldest of homes, a long, thick plateau of stone or brick upon which mattresses and thick quilts are inevitably laid to provide a snug repast, and it's no different here. A broom sits crookedly to the side, bowls and cups of no particular pretty pattern stocked in an open-faced cabinet rimmed in dowels to keep them from sliding out. All in all, somewhere humble, possibly built by a carpenter, given how snug it is. Toasty. Welcome.

The heat is as attractive as the moon to the moth. Steve stumbles inside and kicks the door shut via a shove at its base before he moves over to the stove. Carefully releasing Bucky to stand — or collapse beside the hearth, given their respective energy levels, he then stands before it, palms facing outwards. Blue eyes travel about the place for a bit before he sighs heavily, shoulders slumped.

"Warm up and I'll open something to eat," he mumbles, eyeing the canned goods and sacks. Cooking? …we'll see if luck is on their side with Steve's abilities. Time alone as an older teenager was a brutal teacher. Unfortunately, there's no dime-store shelves or corner hot dog stand in this part of Russia.

He's not too proud in the least, collapsing down by the mouth of the stove. Resisting the temptation to crawl into it. "Steve," he says, in a rough whisper. "Steve, I know this place. We should go…." But he's fading out even as he speaks, in sheer exhaustion, and ravening hunger. The wolf in him is drifting up to the surface, something long submerged loose.

Go. Go from the warmth and promise of heavy quilts scented in the last of the summer flowers, crumbled and dried? All manner of familiar herbs lend their drowsy fragrance. Thick floorboards under occasional thrown rugs of no particular design cushion the noise of footsteps. All in all, what is there to fear from a house?

Even a malevolent genius loci known to amble across the depths of Siberia, kicking over postal delivery trucks and stamping through barbed wire fencing maliciously?

"Go?" Is there an echo in here? Nope, only a concerned Steve, absolutely befuddled that his friend wants to leave this perfect shelter. "Buck, we were just out in frigid weather and you're still bleeding," he points out literally, a finger extended briefly before both return to being warmed by the hearth. His shivering is lessening slowly. "And how do you know this place? You didn't let me know about it. I think you hit your head harder than I thought." It's a sad little attempt at humor, accompanied by a weak smile.

He's passed out. Asleep. Something, draped over the edge of the hearth, steaming gently in the warmth. Just utterly worn out. It's one of his words, in fact. Pyech, incorrectly rendered as 'furnace'.

The bone-melting warmth of the hearth takes away all cares. Slumber gathers on as the darkness settles in. Whatever clothes they need to shed are not likely to be replaced, but there is a shawl one could drape, or some twine to use to hang yourself belt the quilt into a fetching toga, as children so like to do during their festive sleepovers and imaginative wars.

Steve has his own opportunity to delve into simple food among the staples, largely confined to bread, nuts, and oats or barley. Porridge is a simple thing to throw together, a handful of dried berries added in there. And so shall the night weigh on, darkness dwelling, as the hut of Baba Yaga smugly lurks in the forest, enveloped in snow.

It is a good day to be the most stealthy of predators. Especially the lazy Ural stalker-hut.

After making sure that Bucky is still breathing, Steve gets to making that basic and mostly-bland porridge. As it finishes cooking, he puts one of the blankets across Bucky's lap after moving him a bit farther from the hearth. No need for singed eyebrows. He settles down beside his friend, nearly touching him in his criss-crossed sit, and soaks in the heat emitting from the hearth. The spoon dips into the bowl and the first bite is nearly ambrosia. His stomach cranks hard for a second, literally growls, and then settles into the practice of digestion. He burns his tongue, unfortunately, but hey, it's food.

By the time the bowl is nearly done, the motions are automatic. Scoop, bring to mouth, chew a little, swallow. Scoop…scoop…the spoon scrapes as his head droops. Scoop…

Steve's chin touches his chest and he too is weary enough to rest his eyes. But only resting!

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License