1965-03-16 - Project Ursa: Polaris Alpha
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?
Related: Project Ursa: Polaris
Theme Song: None
bucky rogue steve-rogers 

0445 hours. Medveditsa. Closed City 53.
Every impression speaks to the calculated hunt, being followed behind and traced through means hard for a man to disguise. Ursine sense of smell is something near legendary, after all. Minefields threaten underfoot and the risk of electrified fences can be scaled at a run, a punishing leap and painstaking fall ending just short of disaster. The two super soldiers have the cover of the forest and a perilous gauntlet to run once past the fence. Another checkpoint manned by armed guards wraps around the perimeter of Closed City 53, one guarded by explosives, spikes, and flashing lights. Patrols come and go. A dead sprint at 400 meters might put them through to the first of the low-rises. The charming murals of an assembly line full of smiling, happy people sharing a bucolic professional life are even visible around the angled concrete buildings.

Between the Devil and the deep blue sea. Steve may have used the shield on the fence, but they've still got to deal with the no man's land beyond it - timing the run to get to the cover of the building before dogs or guards spot them, or the bear comes up on them. He outlines the plan for the dash in a few curt words; it'll need some choreography. "Ready?" he asks Steve. "On my mark?"

"It's just like running wind sprints back in the Army," Steve whispers back, having retreated from the fence line to return to Bucky's side. He has the shield back in its holster on his back. Leg muscles tense and relax, sore but functional, as he nods silently, as if completely readying himself for this mad-cap fool's dash.

Perchance that might be exactly like wind sprints. No man in an iron suit hovers nearby and whatever defenses Closed City 53 boasts, they do not include rooftops bristling with anti-aircraft guns. Those might be flak towers studded around the perimeter, the tallest of the apartments a few storeys higher than their cousins and the narrow in the fashion of Teutonic armaments.

Calls rise and subside, Russian instructions to watch the way and follow up on whether the kids need to get to school early in the morning. Of course the flooding is terrible here in the Volga riverlands. A bit of talk about sandbags. It's all so arrestingly normal, except for that one statue of Lenin on a plinth some distance off. He holds out his hand in welcome to the square, and the mural opposite him depicts the content workers in the factory and field beaming up at the sun.

Two men running straight at the fence they aren't prepared for. Bad for them. Good for the bear, of course, who simply lumbers out from the woods and charges. Lay your odds.


Perhaps it's sheer exhaustion, or the gnawing hunger that's been plaguing him this long while. But Buck is nothing like his usual fleet-footed self, as he makes for the gap in the fence. Uneven, almost limping, stumbling like a zombie unleashed for the shelter of the buildings beyond.

It falls upon Steve to attempt to hustle his friend along. He risks reaching for the underside of Bucky's bicep and nearly drags him towards the fenceline. The sudden rumbling of approaching weight makes him look over his shoulder and adrenaline serves as a rude kick in the ass. Wind sprints are nothing compared to attempting to outrun a charging bear!

The elongated skull and vast, lumbering body prove remarkably svelte as the brown bear builds up speed. Deep, ruddy fur almost black in places forms need points, akin to a coat of spikes donned by a carnivore on the prowl. Those huge paws, tipped in vicious claws, relentlessly pound a drumbeat into the ground, thunder following after them. The guards whirl to the noise and crackling radios light up, calling on better aid. Makarov pistols come up, and a few semi-automatic guns to boot, none of them trained on the wild animal so much as the men.

Bears are among the most prized trophies in Soviet Russia, whereas the recreational hunting of Americans rather less so. No warnings are shouted; threnodies of gunfire pop and spit. In a ZATO, anyone unknown gets the shoot first, ask their ghost questions later policy.

Next comes the sirens and the searchlights, the tracer rounds and the dogs. Nightmaresof old days in the POW camp, bad enough before the day he was handed over to the little man with the round glasses. He's all but dragged by Steve, even that engineered body faltering. No stopping to fight. «Shoot the bear!» he rages. «I'm the CHampion, you idiots.» Like that's going to cut any ice.

Skepticism among the guards, whose calibre of training goes straight back to their mandarin in the Politburo's dustiest corner, tells. Firing forms a rhythm between the four at the checkpoint. Searchlights might be excessive but alarms squalling at frequencies only heard by the hounds do bring them at speed, galloping paws and freed leashes. Six dogs, two teams of three, converge from the southeast and the north.

The resounding gunfire is certainly enough to bring attention, if the shouting and belling of the dogs don't. Steve realizes that his speed is enough to spare himself, but not Bucky — and at the very least, his friend knows where the hell to go in this madness.

Thus, the Captain attempts to give Bucky a swing-out, not too unlike the critical Lindyhop pause, and wing him towards the opening in the fence. "GO!!!" He shouts, shield already on his arm, and he readies himself even as he continues backpedaling towards the fence. "RUN, BUCK!"


The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. So weak. They might not even need to shoot him, things keep progressing this way. His trainers would be disappointed, but then, Buck has a survival instinct, if a truncated one, in contrast to Winter himself. He hits the gap in the fence, badly.

The only opening in the fence would be the checkpoint. One passel of dogs builds up into a lope when they should be snapping and snarling at the bear, but no, they go straight for the nearest man not in khaki or specially treated leather boots. No barking, they manage only to bay in low growls sanctifying the sacred grounds those interlopers want to violate.

The bear barrels for the Captain, given he seems willing to stand his ground while the other, yammering in Russian, is about to be swarmed by the southern pack. Those for the north are still closing in, and the guards aiming on Steve release a salvo that might hit the shield, might hit him. Huge jaws open and the ursine roar splits the night, a far deeper basso rumble poured out from the gates of hell to summon every spirit of the ancient Rodina.

Steve owes these first few seconds to his enhanced reflexes alone. The shield turns towards the fired bullets — maybe the greater of the two evils, considering the swiftness of their arrival and lethality — and then shifts towards the incoming bear. If the vibranium buckler comes up in time to jam up the bear's nose, all the better. Otherwise, it seems that the next answer is to duck and dive off to one side, aiming diagonally as to beat any attempt at a swat.

HE hates having to hurt dogs. They can only do what they're trained to do. But needs must, even if Lucian isn't driving, Crouched and ready to try and grab one by the throat, use it as a shield against its companions. Buck's expression has gone blank with concentration.

The ursine moves terribly fast for something of its mass, and shows an intellect beyond low cunning to survive having a shield bisecting its skull. It rears back and up, standing not merely eight feet tall but something closer than eleven where a casual swipe of a paw very likely takes out telephone poles, rail cars, and the odd ore-laden freighter. A shuffling side dance ruins any future ursine performances, because it walks with none of the humorous waddling of its mocked circus kin. Yes, it's going for a bloody fence pole, an electrified fence pole at that, pulling up several yards of metal, and hurling that like a net on a javelin at Steve. At least that makes a nice hole in the fence.

It may also confirm that Zola's meddling has gone a step or two too fur.

Okay, now Steve might be beginning to believe in witchcraft; and that's if someone has time to explain to him that this is Zola, not some twiddly fingers. The whites of his eyes show even as he's drawing up from his rolling dodge and frankly, he gets to scrambling as fast as his booted feet can carry him.

Still, it appears that luck is hardly on his side. The pole itself slams square into the upheld shield and punches Steve back a good number of yards.

The guards stand completely still when that happens. At least one has his jaw somewhere around Iran.

And Bucky, meanwhile, has a fistful of Caucasiuan Shepherd - he's slinging the poor beast around, using him as a shield against his packmates. The other hand has a knife, and there's blood and fur flying, the whimpers of dogs. «Call them off!» he snarls. There are tears on his cheeks, ludicrous but undeniable. Pity, cheek by jowl with battle-fury.

«What do you mean, call them off?» That would not be the guard lacking any verbal skils whatsoever, but his boon companion wielding an impressive Makarov and steady stance. His companions are still holding to their training, but neither are they engaging with a goddamned bear.

He probably can't quite believe it. The second guard hisses, «That's a Lenin-cursed bear

«Put down Samson!» snaps the dog-handler responsible for the hounds, shouting at the other yapping pups being flattened and laid waste. Two cannot stand against an actual soldier, and the other trio aren't likely to enter the fray without taking a few injuries of their own. Simmering shock pours through the sundered onion skin defenses, those responsible for guarding the gates against the enemies very clearly there having a definitive crisis of resolve.

Having taken the blow, the shield nullifies the majority of frontal damage. It's the tumbling that's rough, despite the spongey ground. Steve makes his way to his feet, gasping and searching out the sound of Bucky's voice — his friend sounds desperate!

Steeling himself, the Captain then begins to charge at the bear itself, apparently very ready to sack the thing right back.

Moments like that are the reasons for Buck's mostly concealed awe of his friend. There's only a beat of hesitation, as he watches Steve wade in on his friend. He doesn't let go of the dog. ….instead he's advancing on the soldiers, trying to get within the critical distance where firearms aren't reliably fast enough to stop a melee fighter.

The dog in the soldier's grip is whimpering and mostly limp, clearly bludgeoned in a few places. The other pair lay on the ground, and the baying retort from one of the very normal animals in the other trio melts behind the hngha-hngha grunt escaping in puffs of cool air.

Steve rushes the bear and that brute of nature curves down, guarding its midsection, claws glinting too bright in the strafing spotlight swept across the grounds from another high point. Flak tower may be confirmed. Every sense and combat-honed instinct screams run. The bear plants its hind paws into the black soil of the Rodina, far from intimidated, but then why would it be? It's a bear. A very damn smart bear.

A bear in a closed city, which by definition means a centre of military, technological, nuclear or scientific developments. Or possibly the stronghold of an immortal sorcerer toying with his guests. Two guards turn, and run back inside.

Despite the bear guarding its thickly-furred torso, Steve continues that mad approach, his legs a blur across the mucky turf. Very good that it plants its hind feet; that leaves it head open for a target. From out behind the uplifted shield, a mere second before potential impact against front limbs wider than decade-old aspens, Steve's fist appears and he attempts to cold-clock the bear — right in the jaw.

It's a bear that's about to get a knife in it, somewhere. He doesn't dare throw the knife - that hide has to be vastly too tough. But if Steve is distracting it, Buck can come up and help. He flings the dog from him as hard as he can, trying to come up on the beast's undefended back.

Undefended? The fur in question is, indeed, rather thorny. The spiky clumps of hair are more than just for show, but an entire disreputable coat to deflect casual hugs. A teddy Ursa is not, and Steve trying to jump the ten or so feet to reach the bear's head is… different. That punch probably hurts, given the snarling growl, but have more concern what an ursine of that size — a near cave bear, really — can do in return. Claws meet shield without ability to slip through the vibranium, but they do peel off the paint in a most alarming way, and the sound is terrible, metal screeching on metal. Bear claws should not make that noise, like a traffic accident on a mountain highway. Collision courses are what they are, it's not much concerned about Bucky trying to climb its back.

Be a tad more concerned it wouldn't have any issue throwing a bus, because what bloody bear does a somersault like, you know, half the Red Room when encountering an opponent? This bear.

That is a godawful sound, worse than the shearing scream of colliding battle vehicles. The vibranium takes the brunt of the damage again and there goes Steve, batted away with all the ease that the humped shoulder muscles can manage in a bear this size.

He's out of the way of the sudden diving roll of the creature, but also slower to get up this time, definitely with a stagger to his motion. Okay, so…punch was mildly effective, but more annoying. How about throwing the shield? Yes, brilliant. It starts with a short-distance sprint, here comes the wind-up, and….there goes the shield, a blur of scratched and silvery discus, aimed right at the bear's head.

Buck tumbles free before the weight of the monster can roll over him, turning, metal arm up to defend, knife in the other hand. Only a shade of that usual, lethal grace. «I know you,» he hisses at the beast. «You're no real bear, Comrade.» Holding its attention, like a matador trying to keep the bull's focus.


Call it a moment of chance, or choice, those infinitely minute fluctuations in fate where things shift. No one has tried talking to the bear directly and when Bucky does — in Russian, no less — it briefly shifts focus to him. No immediate roar there, though using a knife and a dog as his primary weapons lose the champion of the Motherland a few points. «And you are dea—»

A flung discus in the way intercepts whatever it would grunt out through vocal chords alarmingly capable of making Russian noises, coherent enough to be called words. Choice, swat or duck. It swats, getting a paw up to blunt the very worst of the toss, but force is force.

On the heels of that flung shield is the owner himself, doing his best approximation of an American terrier in simply not standing down. No doubt, somewhere, someone at SHIELD has a sudden nosebleed in sympathy to this mad bravery, absolutely aptly termed 'suicidal'.

Steve scoops up the shield and rolls low, his movement gracefully shifting into a slide into Bucky's immediate vicinity. "A headlock would probably annoy it," he says loudly, risking a quick glance over at his friend. Oh well. He knows better than to linger; bears don't have eyes in the back of their heads, after all. He disappears behind the bear if given a chance and that is an attempt to slam the shield into one of its kneecaps from the side.

It's a hobbled, tired version of the old deadly pas de deux, perfected in the streets of French villages and the grand houses of Berlin. «You won't kill me, Vinnie Pukh,» Bucky sneers at it. «Better monsters than you have tried and failed.» Trying to slash its hindleg from the other side - if they can hamstring him, it'll be that much easier to take him down permanently.


The bear lumbers back a step or two. No, the bear does not have eyes in the back of its head. But it doesn't need to, rotating with a surprising fluidity as snow and earth go flying under its claws, caroming for the woods where trees make serious inhibitors to straight lines. The knife breaks metal tines and slows, lashing into the heavy pelt, coming away with plenty of scratches and blood. Wet, yes, a roaring amount, but what distracts the two soldiers from the bear is a reasonable sacrifice for the Rodina.

A figure springs off a rooftop from within Closed City 53, passing through a strobing spotlight that flashes hard upon the men in combat. Not to highlight them, but the puddling circle reveals the ground. The soldier garbed in red and blue descends out of that high arc and, arms crossed in front of him. Steve might see the hammer, the sickle. Bucky knows what they mean. The landing in the snow is rather too light to be someone flung off a roof.


Having dodged the sudden retreat of the bear, Steve halts in bringing back his arm for another shield-throw. Instead, the scratched buckler returns to resting-center, about his mid-torso, and he looks over at Bucky in concern.

"It ran." Good job, Captain Obvious. As to what caused it to do so? The sudden arrival of another combatant, this one looking far more humanoid than the last, wields the symbolic weaponry of the Motherland herself. Another look of silent import towards his friend and he straightens in place only the slightest, still keyed up. «The time to leave is now,» he says to the newcomer. «You won't win.»

«Vanguard.» Bucky's voice is flat, unenthused. «I should've known they'd have the rest of the circus here.» He shakes his himself, like a bird settling feathers. «Steve, he's got some power - something to do with kinetic energy. Might mess with the shield. Be careful.»

«You're not welcome here.» Vanguard by appearances is hale, hearty, a tall enough figure with an impressive crop of ginger hair and a beard neatly trimmed rather than approaching 'woodsman' in a way that will get popular in a decade or less. He stands in the path to the city, the hole in the fence much wider than him. «Though not required of me, I am offering to let you go.» He nudges his head to the woods. «Leave. These people have done nothing to draw your mark. There are women here, and children. Their blood won't be on your hands.»

«We aren't here for your women and children.» Steve isn't stupid enough to bring his shield down from the ready position or to move. He'd rather suss up this potential enemy before engaging. «We are here for those captured against their will. Give them back and we won't go through you.» His blue eyes glint despite the fatigue haunting his body, having been batted about by that bear so recently.

Vanguard's attempt at gallantry makes Bucky's face twist in rage, a snarl that wouldn't be out of place on an actual wolf's face. «Oh, please,» he spits. « Women and children. What about the children dying in the woods near Voronezh to be made into food for monsters? Where are MY children? Where is my girl? I bet you anything Zola's torturing them right now, if Volga hasn't killed them. You want me to go away? Help me find my girl, my sons. We'll take them and go. I don't want to hurt anyone here, but I won't leave without them. Get out of my way, Vanguard.» There's a sense of feral presence, momentarily banishing the exhaustion. Wounded, weary…..and still capable of that icy ferocity.

How much of the dreaded program overseen by Zola known outside certain walls, echoed down the chambers of power? It's never clear, not in the compartmentalized world of the Soviet Union. No doubt Nick Fury appreciates their siloing of information, so one side doesn't know what the other is, let alone does.

Vanguard holds the hammer and the sickle in his gloved hands, and the former may not compare to a maul or Mjolnir, but it still holds plenty of weaponized intent. In an odd way, he might resemble a pharaoh of old, albeit in the wrong colours, in the wrong landscape. «You proved willing to cut down anything in your way to get here,» he replies, almost sombre, tight with anger. In the CCCP, he is the hero, his brethren treated much in the same light as the Avengers — respected, honoured, upright. Truthful a reputation or not, he might be trying to live up to that. «I can't let you in to a sanctuary city. I will stand against you with my last breath to keep them safe.» A gesture to Steve. Does he know the shield's meaning? Do men breathe air? «Who are your children, these supposed captives? No Americans here. They would never be permitted inside.»

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