1965-03-13 - Ursa Major: Dubhe
Summary: Hanging by a thread, the SHIELD agents led by Captain America are short on supplies, hope, and faith. Ringed in by their enemies — the 21st Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, Omega-Red, agents of the Red Room — they can't go back unless they want to end their lives in a Soviet gulag. Their only option is forward to reach their quarry and an exfil point. Once they enter the labyrinth of Closed City 53, will they ever return? Natasha and Bucky are coming home…
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steve-rogers rogue bucky 

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1509 hours. Nariman. Volgograd Oblast.

Accursed village on a cursed waterway. Forty kilometers, give or take, separate two men and a woman from their final destination at Old Sarepta on the Volga River. There the network of locks and concrete-rimmed waterways ends, giving way to one of the great inland rivers of northern Eurasia. A direct run straight along the A-153, that hateful two-laned road to hell, sends them curving and arrowing past kettle-ponds widened by forced labour into something navigable by freighters.

If only they had a freighter. The rising, flooding current sweeps chunks of metal downstream and devoured their one boat as it took on water. Other secrets concealed under the tea-black waters suggest death walks freely among the razed fields and beneath the Don's contributions to its greater fluvial master. With the Buran snowmobile totally immobilised by the shot to its engine, they're fast out of easy options. Natasha might be trusted to haul Bucky on it through the rising water, but ahead of them lie a staggered array of concrete buildings and at least one accurate sniper cavorting back there. The rainfall of shots deflected by a vibranium shield or the cracked windscreen of the dead vehicle haven't shown that kind of deadly accuracy.

Run the gauntlet, take to the fields, flee to the water. When you can't go back, sometimes the only choices are the bad ones.

It's just like old times — unfortunately, those old times where one of them was unconscious and had to be hauled around like a sack of grain. With the Winter Soldier slung up over his shoulder in a firearm's carry, Steve presses on and into the rising waters. They may stain lighter clothing, but the suit and boots are doing their job well, keeping the worst at bay considering their durable nature. He's still got that shield up and in front of him, in case any enterprising nearby enemies attempt a shot or two. His are reflexes fast enough to at least deflect bullets, though not with any form of accuracy.

Trudging is hard. Knowing that Bucky bleeds is harder still. Still, the man continues to breathe, a little mercy in the battlefield.

Bleed and sputter awake. A series of wheezing yelps and he realizes where he is - jarred out of the nightmare into the not much more pleasant reality. "Steve?" he says, thickly, bewildered. Snow, water. Then "Steve," as he looks around as best he can.

White snow evaporates into the rising river. The road ahead is glittering black as a deadly sheen takes away even that modest direction, leaving behind a new lake at the expense of many. One of the soldiers crouched in a doorway looks around the frame and hurls something small, wobbly.

Another patter of objects hop and skip like stones flung at a creek, but it's no fun pastime in the quiet backwaters of Queens. Another salvo comes crackling out through the Nazi gunners forced in lane to lane fighting. Only ten, but when your target happens to be a blue man wielding the Champion of the Motherland as a backpack, not very hard to take aim. The others wait, for that path is going to swallow up two inside a morass of buildings. Getting to the other side means entering the maw of the beast, and they've waited twenty years for revenge. What's another five minutes?

"I'm here, Buck," the Captain pants, the words having a careworn familiarity to them despite his ragged panting. He's trying so very hard to keep the jolting to a minimum, but rising waters and now a —

"GRENADE!" It's more of a strangled yelp, but there he goes, throwing himself to one side to best avoid the eventual detonation of the weapon. Poor Bucky. There he goes, victim of the momentum of the dive itself, detached from his status as semi-conscious shoulder-warmer.

This goes wrong. Bucky attempts both nobility and deftness. There's the strobe-flash image of his metal-armed partner reaching FOR the grenade to skim it back…..the explosion, and a conclusive splash. Oh, Steve.

Hearing any string of profanity out of Natasha tends to be a rarity. Her irritation rarely cracks her composure but expending valuable ammunition before even reaching a safehouse apparently guarded by the risen dead of a battlefield is just plain not happening. Her eloquence is largely found in dashing into a diving leap into the canal as shrapnel, dark earth, and the screen of murky floodwaters erupt around her. Cuts are going to be found, but at least she has the river.

And the river has her, same as it has Bucky, yanking them away immediately downstream. Goodbye Nariman, little did we love you.

Steve shakes his head, ears resounding with the ringing silence of the nearby explosion, and immediately looks for — wait, NO.

Scrabbling to his feet is not graceful in the least, hampered by the shield as it cuts into the snow rather than acting as firm crutch, but still. Zoom, there goes the American in blue, limbs churning, as he takes off after both Red Room graduates like a golden retriever after duck decoys. Let's hope the hunters keep missing!

Taken by the water. Driven, indeed. HE's at least keeping afloat, and athe grenade does not seem to have blown the metal hand off. Buck looks like a drowned rat, but he's still awake and trying, trying….

Blood from a dozened pepper wounds, soot and shredded coat: those are not the worst consequences. Hard to say how much would ooze from so many small cuts since the freezing water has a way of washing away crimson veils spilled for the Rodina. A definite mark gouges above the brow, one to go with the underarm damage inflicted by the bullet. The Volga-Don Canal doesn't have the full power of the whole damn Volga River — a blessing, given that feeds the Caspian Sea, and its eponymous master might just have home court advantage.

His will is certainly being felt here, as eddying currents fling the three in constant opposition to one another, pulling Steve down while flinging Bucky past an ice floe. A tongue of churning riptide plunges the redheaded assassin out of sight for far too long, and immense momentum gathers through the gathering rage pushing them on and on.

The question remains: who tries to fight the water or goes with the flow?

If he wasn't absolutely certain that the river contains the kind of refuse that requires a very hard scrubbing, Steve would avoid showering entirely for a week. Water, water, everywhere, and far too much to drink — and accidentally swallow. Topsy-turvy, yanked about like a doll, the super-soldier tries to locate up. Which way is up?! The light is weak beneath the silty cover, but - but - but the bubbles!

Releasing a precious sphere of lost air, he then cranes his neck back to watch it begin to rise towards the surface. Powering as hard as he can, the Captain attempts to reach the surface, fighting the currents with all of his strength.

A floe he's trying to scramble atop, like a seal frightened of prowling orcas. Then he's peering around for Steve. "Volga," he says, with exhausted irritability. "C'mon. IF you're going to kill us, do it. Get it over with. Or if you're just saving us to make it a big spectacle when we get to you, do that, instead."

|ROLL| Rogue +rolls 1d100 for: 27

The water tastes brackish and heavy in sediment, in no way flavourful compared to a proper cuppa prepared by samovar. As far as drinks go, about better than anything served for too much cash in overpriced dive bars around New York, so there's that.

Bucky has roughly thirty seconds before the ice floe disintegrates, broken around the edges, and now the beached, bleeding seal not clubbed enough times for any spy agency's satisfaction goes hurtling down the chute where the reservoir narrows back through locks and rivers. No amount of lifting the gates will stop a body from being flung up against them, over, or in a worse case scenario, pinned at the bottom to drown. Steel eventually warps under unprecedented high-water events. Nariman vanishes in a sweep and Steve gets a fine glimpse of telephone poles and a cavalcade of tanks lined up on the north bank — or is it the south, hard to say being spun around so much — and the distant streak of a narrow-bodied jet sweeping through the grey, imposing skies.

There's no sign of Natasha, but then they're all plunged onwards, past a few farmhouses collapsing on themselves to a set of barren islands choked in snow and dead reeds. The fluvial dance around there is even more desperate, picking up strength and speed, starting to accelerate into white water conditions. Do not taunt Mother Russia.

It's all about staying afloat at this point. He'd try to save Bucky, but if he can't save himself, who's there to save Bucky? Flawless logic, if not a bit skewed in self-importance. Over the surface and through the locks, to Nariman and beyond, the river's completely out of control, let's face it.

Steve reaches out to try and grab at a nearby sparring of wood, tumbling with equal lack of calmness through the growing white-waters.

Bucky is paddling frantically against the water…..but there's no attempt to apologize. He'll just keep fighting. It may exhaust him to drowning all the faster, but if they aren't going to make it, they aren't going to make it. Trying to ride with it.

The ice floe doesn't break apart until meeting a lock, possibly not even then. Lonely little bear on an eroding islet is sent hurtling onwards. Natasha is nowhere to be seen, not an entirely unpredictable prospect, but potentially she ends up dumped in a thicket for Arkady to trot up and collect later. Bucky might as well lash the ocean with a whip or try to boil the river whole, it's a task in futility though he might spin himself about locally or be dumped back into the water. Cold to numb the bones in riverine or aerial form? Take your pick of torture.

For it is torture, being battered, and the canal in flood has the strength of its sister tributaries behind it. Small creeks dump their offerings, taking the southern snowpack as tribute. Steve is banged up, banged down, and they can all but watch an advancing set of upright triangles jar to the horizon grow in size as time rises. That is a bridge, and no mean one at that.

The spar of wood's neighboring length is no friend to Steve; that's one hell of a rude jab in his side that forces a loud cry from him as it collides with ribs. Then comes the inhale, of course on the down-slope into a divot of swirling water, and then up pops Steve again, coughing out what he can and sawing in his next breath. Filling his lungs to capacity, he tries to shout over the roar of the water.

"BUCKY?!" He's seen no sign of Natasha, in her white suit and red hair, and that stings. Ahead, he thinks he spots the struggling Soldier against the churn of white-water and then — the bridge. Oh God, maybe they can cling to it or something?!

"I see it, Steve. The bridge. Try to get out one of the pilings," he says, weakly. "He's going to drown us, otherwise." Personifying the river? He's stubborn about that particular delusion. He should stop taunting them. "All this fucking way. I bet they want you most of all - 's why we're not dead."

Not likely something they can cling to unless they leap like humpback whales from the depths, or may be able somehow to stand like showgirls on waterski shows at Palm Springs. Alas, no such success for them, particularly given the absence of a powerboat and a tow line. After all, freighters pass under that bridge, fully loaded or unloaded completely. Cars could zip from one side to the other, but they might plaster themselves to a piling with any luck. Of course, that means fighting the current, orienting, managing not to be tossed about like leaves in the autumn.

Southwest the canal sweeps on a gentle arc, right through a parade of tiny villages and dotted lakes overlooked by no less than the Cossack Corps.

|ROLL| Steve Rogers +rolls 1d20 for: 17

|ROLL| Bucky +rolls 1d20 for: 5

Over the resounding force of the river, Steve yells back,

"We'll climb up it!" Of course 'we'. Is there any other alignment in their situation, with the boys from Brooklyn? With all the luck of the star-spangled banner on his side, he manages to wrap an arm around one of the pilings and yank — the current immediately tests not only the weave of his suit, but the sturdiness of his shoulder socket. Ow ow ow.

"Bucky?" His shout is barely heard. Where's the flash of a metal arm?!

Sweeping past, unfortunately. Not as good a plan as Buck had hoped. He's still struggling only weakly against the current, a gleam of metal, the flash of a pale face. He doesn't call out to Steve - there's only a pleading look.

Another time, another place. A bridge carved into a mountainside, a glittering descent of ice and snow, and the terrified look as metal gave way. Imperfections and flaws in the cold, let that horrified expression be the lasting mark as friends are torn asunder again, and again, and again.

Anyone who says history doesn't repeat itself is lying or too immature to know better. Cloven in twain, their lives, forever ripped and chased and pieced together, just in time to be hurled apart.

The river cares not. Winter rules the Rodina, and in the end, all her sons come home. The sun's weak glow vanishes in an illumined disk fading beyond the clouds, and unless Steve takes to the water, he'll be potentially searching in the dark for bodies.

Another deep breath and it takes only a millisecond to shift the stars of fate for the Man with the Plan. Right now? He's going back into the water because even if history repeats itself, it can have an alternate ending. That flash of a pale face is hunted as Steve swims with the current, battling exhaustion and feeling his heart jump time and time again as metal turns out to be schrapnel — vehicle — slagged side-paneling that may have once been on a house.

He's trying to wait for Steve. And then they have to find somewhere to haul out. Somewhere to rest. Even a supersoldier's endurance has limits. Cold slowing him, exhausting bearing him down like a weight. It's easier, in spates, to let go.

|ROLL| Rogue +rolls 1d100 for: 57

Who waits by the waterside? There could well be serfs hauling their precious belongings away from the water and roadblocks set up from Ivanovka and Chervlenoye to Chapurniki, sealing off the lanes running down to the waterside fields that will carry the oddest combination of rich soil and poisons, chemicals, and bones. Pistol-shot rapids follow the narrowing in the landscape, hewn by those prisoners' hands, labouring to reshape the grand ambitions of the Tsars and Stalin.

At Solyanoy, the eighth, seventh, and sixth gates link pearly basins and there the greatest risk lies. Bucky floats astray upon those waters, sent roaring past the standing gates abandoned by their keepers, red lights flashing a warning klaxon in the dimming twilight. He slams into one metallic barrier and tears through it, careening in the foaming spume, sent in violent rotations. Steve is slowed behind, dragged back, though he might catch a glimpse of the grey shape spun past him, possibly a body.

Backpaddling as fast as he can, Steve coughs up another mouthful of disgusting water and stares at the incoming obstacles before them with bright whites of eyes on full display.

"BUCK?!" The passing shadow of a body is enough to jar him into borderline panic, half-diving beneath the water's surface like a bobbing duck, reaching blindly after it.

There's a frantic pawing up for air, enough for him to catch a sight of exactly the man (or being) he's been trying to get to. An attempt to touch the link, if there's anything left to feel. And just enough air for a furious shout, as he tries to angle for the shore, "VOLGA!"

What there is, an absence of feet in heavy boots. Numbness in the lungs, lassitude in the veins. Sleep in this state would be death, or certainly close enough to count. Another torpid rest to deprive the world of a hero, another banished into cryosleep by any other name. Won't Arnim Zola be pleased?

Let Steve cry out all the way, no answer waiting for him. He'll be pushed onwards in his own time. Scream his name, no answer comes, not truly. Just enough that they might hear one another over the surge.

The dark-haired man poised on the riverbank does not stand so close to the water to draw attention. To his clarion call does the Don surge wholeheartedly and violently past all interposing barriers, cracking ice and carrying off the early melt away. What little wind churns whips up the curtain of his dark hair, as black as the soil and the starless nights, but for every other intent he matches the nature and appearance of a proud Soviet man. At his shoulder? The Winter Soldier, by any other name, shrouded in a long coat and toting one of those black-barreled rifles capable of slaying vehicles at a time. Frosty eyes regard the whitewashed sorrows of Mother Russia ripping past with near inscrutable, perhaps passive regard. Whatever torn sound sings from the Motherland's champion may reach them, it may not.

When Volga turns, the penance of his judgment is a simple thing, being carried onwards to damnation. Bucky is flung now through further signs of society and settlement, all the outer fringes that mean but one thing.


Over the thunder of crashing wash, Steve hears something faintly in the distance. It's a voice, familiar enough, and it turns into one-half of the most demented game of Marco Polo thus far. "Bucky! BUCKY!" His voice is nearly gone now, flayed by worry and white-water.

His thrashing, half-drowned body is eventually thrown into the Volga River itself, herded on by that unfathomably-terrifying shepherd, and he doesn't even have a chance to acknowledge the existence of the man or the lookalike standing at his side. Nope. It's sink or swim and the Captain isn't intending to drown today.

Washed up. Literally. Buck's delivered to the end of the canal, a sodden bundle of wool and metal and freezing flesh. There's no getting up, not immediately. Nothing to do but lie there and gasp for breath, exhausted. That'd be a hell of an end for the Winter Soldier, freezing to death at the roadside of some park in Volgograd

Volgograd, the great city formerly called Stalingrad, beckons. It's an old settlement, though settlement along the southern curve of the mighty river there to wait for them is comparatively new, founded in the eighteenth century. Germans, naturally, and with Germans come certain beliefs and old, hard feelings from a more recent war. Naturally everything flattened by the enemy at the gates was repaired or, more likely, replaced within the last twenty years.

Low, sandy islands covered in scrub and snow aren't much different from the agricultural fields surrounding the city to the north. The vast bow in the river forms a natural area, swampy terrain locked up only under a thin sheen of ice. Somewhere the records of Arnim Zola in Voronezh led here, and here they are.

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