S Volkami Zhit', Po-Volch'i Vyt'

May 27, 2017:

Bucky, Jane, Steve, Peggy, and Phil, with the unlikely magical consult team of John and Zatanna, travel under cover to Siberia to extract the conditioning machine used to create the Winter Soldier, in the hope it can be reversed to undo whatever leftover triggers exist in his mind.

Lake Baikal, Siberia


NPCs: None.


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Whatever the Soviet Union used to call this place officially, the few people who knew of its existence all called it Koshmar Zavod — the Nightmare Works. Here were created the great monsters of the USSR. Here, the USSR tried to make more. Here, beneath the earth of the Soviet base, Hydra incubated: watchful and all-seeing.

Here, the Winter Soldier was raised and bred and blooded, out of the broken shell of James Buchanan Barnes. He was the first nightmare the Koshmar Zavod forged.

Other things happened here, since the Winter Soldier Project met with success. Other programs were tried. Most failed. Some succeeded. But with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the transfer of the Winter Soldier back to Hydra's predominant care, the place was abandoned for a time, and fell into disrepair. Until recently.

The intel Bucky and Jane had gotten on the place indicated it had been revived for use early in 2016 for undisclosed reasons, and that the Asset Conditioning Machine had been transferred back to this location a few months ago as part of those reasons. Precious little else was set down in the files, however, Hydra — as always — eminently careful with its paper trails.

As such, there's really not much known about the once-called Koshmar Zavod that is not obtainable publicly or through the reach of SHIELD. Its location, miles south of Severobaykalsk, on the shore of Lake Baikal; the fact the base is sparsely but actively staffed; the name of the base commander, Colonel Alexei Aleksandrovich Malakhov, who is incongruously high-ranked to be posted at such a remote location.

The small group that the erstwhile Winter Soldier brought back with him, to the place of his second life's birth, has been here for the better part of a day and a half, and not because the quinjet (flown by Steve, who did not put it down in an iceberg) took that long to get there. The first thing Bucky did, on deciding to finally move in, was ensure everyone was disguised in magical glamours, and then kitted in the Russian Ground Forces gear they'd pulled together, so they wouldn't look immediately out of place if spotted. To avoid notice, he has not given himself the highest rank. That honor goes to Peggy, now a Captain in the Russian Ground Forces, with the other fluent Russian speakers Phil and Bucky rounding things out as respectively her patient senior lieutenant, and their long-suffering starshina.

The rest are kept as carefully nondescript enlisted, especially Steve, who is hidden even further under a helmet he has been enjoined not to remove ever. Jane and Zatanna are helmeted as well, because women aren't that common in the Russian Ground Forces. Bucky had been uncertain about making Peggy the CO, in light of that, but ultimately he figured Peggy's wrath was more frightening and certain than the potential of some Russian asshole giving them the side-eye.

The first day was spent primarily in what Bucky told Zatanna was the real bulk of spy work — sitting and watching and waiting. Hours in the below-zero temperatures, making close observation of the base exterior, recording its obvious external defenses — cameras, gun emplacements, sniper towers — and patterns of its day to day in terms of arrival, departures, and supply shipments: how often, when, and to where. Bucky didn't specifically ask anyone else to do it with him, other than perhaps Peggy and Phil whose own eyes for this kind of surveillance were also sharp, but neither did he enjoin anyone to stay in the jet or anything if they didn't want to.

Which they might not. Jane, set up in the quinjet to do remote surveillance and data analysis, isn't really sunny company.

By day two, enough information has been gathered for a few potential courses of action to take form. There's enough false documentation that's been drawn up and planted about their identities and their reason for being here (transferred in by command of a central Hydra cell, as a team to push forward the facility's unknown project which will ramp up into high gear next month) to try to bluff in through the front door with the military base personnel, of which it is certain that the base commander at the least is HYDRA.

Alternately, there is an unloading bay on the south side of the base which is observed to be dedicated to supply shipments, of which there is only one per week. Today happens to be shipment day. Bucky is not present, because he's scouting closer to the base verifying that, but the rest have been left behind, under the cover of a clump of trees on a hill overlooking the installation, to confer on how to approach.

Seated on the bench, Steve is still wearing his outfit as he looks around from his YET MORE WAITING and asks yet another clarifying question. "But I can take this off when I pee, right?"

This is roughly the 297th question about if/when Steve can take off the helmet.

At the very least, Bucky was very upfront about the realities of spywork - lots of sitting around and keeping communications to a minimum, watching and waiting. To anyone familiar with the raven-haired witch, she is not good with either of these. She spends most of that time quiet and watchful….but also fidgety, though this is due to the inactivity and all of its watching and waiting and the fact that the uniform doesn't particularly look good on her.

They do, however, look amazing on Bucky, Steve and John, especially, so whatever cold is there is banished by the fact that there is plenty of eye candy to go around. That and coupled by the fact that this is also her first spy mission and this feels, largely, like a movie to her and deep down, she can't wait for when the action bits really starts coming alive.

….it's just that it's taking a while to get there.

But she tries to be as professional as she can be, especially with Agent Carter around (and given what she's read and heard, she, too, is starstruck by the glamorous British agent, having also developed a bias towards most things that come from that side of the pond). So she does what she can, even if it's just keeping a keen eye on their surroundings, not making too much noise…and staying out of the way of the professionals. She has her own kit, standard issue with the rest, but the feel of firearms attached to her is heavy and alien; the associated apprehension of using them is there. Not to say that it isn't exciting, but it's scary also in equal measure. While she sticks close to John, her ice-blue eyes fall on Peggy and Captain America, waiting for instructions.

…though she occasionally also side-eyes Phil Coulson. Seriously, who is that guy?

Dressed in perfect Russian military attire, Peggy Carter remains in the jet with her arms crossed in front of her. While a large part of her wants to join the surveillance and help out, she only does this in the very beginning. The rest of the time, she's researching, getting into character and muttering a bit in Russian. Her hair is straightened, but pulled back into two very severe bun at the back of her head, braided almost like Princess Leia buns - a reference she may now get! At first, she's been very helpful with pointing things out to those not used to surveillance and spy work. As soon as the uniform is on, she becomes much more severe in her pointing things out. It's part of getting into character and trying to illicit a bit of unconscious reactions to her presence while in her uniform.

The intel is thought about as for their entry point. "I believe we should enter through the front. If we are truly HYDRA and believe the main commander here is HYDRA, we shouldn't sneak through the back. We should come in as if we own the place. Since, if we are all HYDRA…we do."

Make that a twofer with the mages: John is not a 'hurry up and wait' kind of guy. He's also not a 'sub-zero temperatures' kind of guy, lacking any of the requisite body fat or super-serum necessary to make that bearable, and he's done a valiant job of trying to stifle the endless complaints he wants to make.

It would be a lie to say that there hadn't been a lot of muttering about unnatural temperatures and his bollocks being ice cubes, though. Well-fitted as the uniform may be and as groomed — and clean-shaven! — as he's had to be in order to look even remotely like a military man, he has gradually accumulated extra garments not being used by their modest strike team and by the time Peggy is speculating about their entry methods he is essentially a very grouchy, very British penguin.

It's poor Zatanna who has had to suffer the consequences of his physical discomfort: he has repeatedly shoved his ice-cold, frozen hands into her coat pockets because somehow, she seems to be able to maintain a steady body temperature.

Probably magic.

In through the front, it shall be.

Jane Foster bears no certain reaction or expression toward the game plan. She bears no certain expression at all, really, determinedly carrying on with this strange, cagey quiet that has stolen her since they all boarded the initial flight in.

Dressed in her own uniform, not at all tailored to her abject tininess (the sleeve hems have been rolled under, and the pants drape a bit too-long, common with Russian servicewomen bereft of more flattering cuts), and hidden beneath her own helmet, she assumes her position at flank.

Her dark eyes burn, the look in them as if somewhat unfocused: mind elsewhere and thoughts constant.

The uniform looks neither great nor bad on one member of this team, the Unknown Quantity, to many of them. It just sort of looks like it ought to. The man currently posing as long-suffering senior lieutenant Ruslan Tarasovich Ivanov is an easy man to forget either in the uniform or out of it, however.

He'd been a quiet, patient presence all throughout the travel and information gathering stages, interjecting polite words or even the occasionally gently sassy quip where he thought it might ease a moment of tension or stress, especially in the fidgety mages. But only really to that purpose. He projects a generally kindly, avuncular air, and before making his transformation to Ruslan had introduced himself simply as 'Phil Coulson', to those of the group who didn't already know him. As for side-eye, he's used to it; it produces, in him, a kindly smile, but no answers at all.

And if his Greatest Personal Hero complaining about the need to pee phases him, well, one would never know it today. He doesn't even twitch.

Peggy outlines how she believes things should be approached. He had steadfastly waited to see who would and wouldn't weigh in, to hear from everyone before saying anything at all. Nobody does, really, which makes it easy for him to render his opinion.

"I concur— bluffing is our best bet." he says, in a voice that now carries a heavy Russian accent, even though on the way over he was just a guy from Wisconsin. A boring one, who looked like he ought to be working at the tax assessor's office or something. But now he, too, is totally in character, save for the bits where he's speaking English and not the Russian he'll soon be speaking. He doesn't outline all his reasons for concurring, but the look in those hazel eyes says he has contemplated every last angle of the problem before ultimately coming to this decision.

Bucky reappears presently, slogging up the hill. Despite the barrenness of their environs, he manages to materialize as if from nowhere. His blue eyes move from person to person — the glamours are external and not interpersonal, so outsiders will view them in their disguised form, but between themselves they'll all look normal — absorbing the status of everyone in silence.

In through the front, then. "Let's head down," he says briefly. There's a vehicle for the purpose — a UAZ-469, a seven-seater that offers John some blessedly brief reprieve from the cold.

The front is a standard check-in post leading directly into the base's parade grounds, manned by two really cold-looking armed sentries. This part is not difficult — their Russian identities were planted well and check out easily, as does their cover story that they're a small unit being transferred to the base. The group is asked to disembark their vehicle, and escorted partway across the open parade ground. But then one of the sentries lifts his phone. "The Colonel will want to speak to you," he says. "He talks to everyone that comes through. SOP here."

They don't have long to wait. Soon enough a group of people can be seen coming out to meet them. Colonel Malakhov himself is an older man, tall and spare, somewhere between his late fifties to mid-sixties, with receding hair slicked back, light blue-grey eyes, and a weathered hangdog face that gives him a perpetual done-with-shit look.

"A team is here, I am told," is his greeting. His smile is for show; his pale eyes are heavy-lidded and alert. "We were expecting a team, yes — but not so soon." His gaze moves across the assembled. "Who is the CO of this unit?"

Now they are right on top of the base, there is something… off about the place that John and Zatanna can just barely feel. That it is built over a leyline is obvious — was obvious the moment they got anywhere close — but this other sensation is something else entirely, though it is so faint it might be imagination.

It /is/ magic. Largely because the uniform looks terrible enough on her that any additional clothing will also make her look like a penguin, and she doesn't have John's good looks to also pull that off. But considering the subject matter, chances are she'd be incredibly biased in that anywway, even if he didn't look like a tuxedo bird. She takes all of the British Magus' pocket invasions with good grace, largely because she doesn't mind it, and in some way, it's kind of adorable. In the end, all she does whenever his hands find her pockets again is to remind him that she's tried to give him some padding before this excursion to Siberia in the form of all the pasta known to man. Except it didn't take because of his obnoxious metabolism.

She's definitely not complaining, but she does tease him, if not just because she's jealous that he can basically eat anything he wants and not gain a single pound.

There's a quiet glance to Jane as she stands there, all grim determination under folds of fabric and her expression softens a touch. Her fingers twitch, to reach out and touch the woman's shoulder…

…but Peggy starts speaking and Phil concurs with the plan. The idea of just simply walking through the front door dumps a white-hot bolt of adrenaline into her immediately, a glance towards John at that, her heartbeat ratcheting up a few notches faster than it usually does. But she nods to the rest, signalling her acquiescence. And once they move, into the vehicle, the drive, and later out of it, she will follow, taking up the back, and to the side of the Englishman. Eyes forward, though, in the event that something goes wrong immediately in which she has to throw up a shield.

She is ready for that, but something cuts through her supernatural senses, so fast and so quick that it she does think that she imagines it. Ice-blue eyes find John's profile, to gauge some confirmation, though she doesn't dare touch him now that they are not alone and are being questioned.

As the plan is decided, the folding chair is placed back up and slung over his shoulder. As one can tell, Rogers is really not cut out for spy work: one can refer to his aversion to lying, the fact that he decided dressing up as a grandma was a great plan to sneak past the enemy (which is sad because it worked), or even his unwillingness to let evil stand whenever he finds its. So, as requested, he stays to the back, allows more wise and sage counsel take over as his eyes scan the area, checking the area out for a variety of things, like things he can use as weapon. While he has the firearm at his side, which he will likely use if pressed, he doesn't feel comfortable with it. It's unclear when that dislike for guns came, but it's a feeling he can't shake. Thankfully, his mysterious feelings are kept to him in silence and he follows along, remaining rather quiet which is rather uncommon for Steve.

Steve attempts to take to the rear of the group, but finds that Zatanna has anchored that position, which for some reason makes him uncomfortable. This whole mission seems to make him uncomfortable, again for reasons that currently elude him. Unable to go where he instinctually desired, he moves to stand next to Peggy, as if unconsciously running down a list of preferred tactical positions. Save the occasional glance toward her and his positioning, there seems to be no change to how he treats her as opposed to anyone else on the team. Mission first, after all.

Before they leave the quinjet behind to board the transport John sheds all of conspicuously extraneous garments and permits himself one exaggerated, full-body shiver, because after that — after they board the transport, after they arrive, leave the vehicle and enter hostile territory on foot — he won't have the luxury of looking cold anymore. All of the tremors of his body shivers are condensed down to the center of his core, caged there, invisible.

Homemade pasta, hand-piped cannelloni and the beaches of Tahiti all seem so very, very far away. Impossible, really, in contrast with the tundra.

Zatanna isn't alone in her sudden shot of adrenaline-fuelled nerves. The astral tether between them practically hums with it, and nervousness is not typical of John even in most pressure situations…but the pressure situations he's usually involved in tend to fall within his wheelhouse. This effort, this mission, is so far beyond the realm of what he does that his unease bubbles up through gaps in his confidence. All he can do is trust the people he's with and try not to fuck it up through his own inexperience.

The sudden sensation of magical influence, however faint, arrives almost as a relief…even though it probably bodes generally ill. At least it is familiar. Zee glances sidelong at him and he ticks darker eyes that way to meet hers, and there's a quiet whisper of confirmation on a line that can't be tapped:


That lone, could-have-been touch from Zatanna… Jane does not even notice.

The woman gazes elsewhere, and with dark eyes that look a million miles away. If anything brings her back, and briefly, it's the return of Bucky Barnes. She slips him a glance that seems in itself a rote calculation: a simple addition of his body to bring to a total count. It weighs him as well to make sure he returned unharmed.

Then Jane goes back to her silence, to her solitude, and to her sobering unease. In the truck ride to the base, she sits quietly and stares down at her lap. No sadness alleys her face, no depression; it seems mostly distraction, a mind in so many places that little can be spared to make her talkative, agreeable, interactive — be the Jane Foster she usually is.

Now at the post, she remains mainly at her own prescribed position further in the back. Only a recent study in the Russian language, thanks wholly to Bucky, she parses the spoken words slowly, yet speaks absolutely none of her own. Face shadowed by her helmet, the soldier Jane Foster plays keeps her eyes turned respectfully down from the Colonel. In actuality, she cannot quite trust her own acting skills to any prolonged look at his face.

Ivanov gives a mild snort from his position somewhere behind and to the left of Peggy. His grumbling is somewhat good natured, but it's grumbling for all of that.

«"What, you aren't used to this bullshit by now?"» he says, though with long-suffering good humor. «"At least they didn't reroute us midflight this time. Last time they sent us on schedule was '92, and I honestly think they were just fucking with us."»

He is counterpoint to Peggy's stern presentation, and gives Alexi Aleksandrovich a smile of commiseration. Just an older guy who has been around forever and ever, who is not far from retirement, a true believer in the Cause who nevertheless hasn't let it kill his equinamity, one who has learned to roll with all the annoying parts of his job, including unexpected schedule changes. «"But what can you do?"»

His shrug is the shrug that says 'we endure, and we get the job done, it is what it is, but yeah, I get you on feeling pissy about it.' Nothing but total empathy for this man.

He nods to Peggy. «"She is our CO,"» he adds, almost as if introducing the female commander were a sort of afterthought. Another annoying part of his job, in fact, if one he takes with decent humor because he has to.

The Colonel chews contemplatively on a well-worried cigarette as his eyes move over the assembled. "Pfah," he finally concludes. His eyes look past Peggy and her signs of rank, insolently settling on Coulson instead. Especially when he speaks. "Women in the force now. This team is half women. A sad state of affairs."

There is a slight pause, in which it might be implied: unless you are not really from the Russian Ground Forces. Into that brief silence, Bucky offers a cursory, "Hail Hydra. Ein Hirt und Eine Heerde."

Malakhov considers that a moment, in tandem with Phil's mention of reroutes and '92, and then he sends his attendant men away. "Pretty words," he says, and he is suddenly speaking accented English, "but you are a long way from Germany. How is it you come to be in this freezing shithole of a post? The full route, if you please. I would hate to think your reroutes carried you to the wrong stop. Speak freely."

His half-lidded eyes expect some kind of verification.

There is a pattern carved into the top button of his coat. A few Hebrew letters, which transliterate to the sounds 'lev-yo-sn.'

«Heads up to the others when we get clear?»

Zatanna doesn't try to do anything just yet either, not even to extend whatever supernatural senses she has to try and look for the source of whatever it is, now that John's confirmed that there is something, and not just her imagination. But ice-blue eyes focus towards Steve and Peggy, the latter especially considering she is their commanding officer.

Truth be told, her Russian is a touch rusty, but she manages to glean bits and pieces. She picks up enough of what Phil is saying - at least enough to parse that he is identifying Peggy as their CO - that she's able to school whatever confusion would be there on her features and keep it under wraps. She also tries her best to focus on something else other than the man who has come to meet them, because for some reason, he reminds her of Peter Stormare and she knows she'll stare if she doesn't curb it immediately.

….that falls to the wayside when the colonel says what he does, and those eyes fall immediately on him. The tether thrums with it, the sleeping dragons of her temper, slowly stirring to wakefulness.

But Bucky addresses the Colonel in German and she is instantly reminded that they are there for him and Jane, and so she puts a boot to it and returns her eyes to the back of Peggy's head. Her heart, however, is still pumping a mile a minute, pulse ticking at the side of her neck as quickly as the beat of a hummingbird's wings.

Wordless confirmation bleeds over the link between John and Zatanna. Wordless, because he's focused on the exchange taking place, trying to glean meanings from the microexpressions on people's faces — their team's and those opposite — lacking any familiarity with Russian that might help him parse their situation. His expression is a carefully cultivated neutral, something he hopes appears disciplined and orderly, because truth be told, he lacks any familiarity with either of those things, too.

It's an effort that is tried when Bucky Hails Hydra. As he must have done countless times before, not as himself. Words, he imagines, that must taste like ashes in the man's mouth.

It's sorely tried again when he experiences the sudden slow burn of anger emanating from the raven-haired witch behind him. That, too, is familiar, and in his experience often leads to Very Exciting Consequences. If he were being rendered in some sort of Japanese publication, this is the point at which a comically-oversized sweat droplet would appear above and off to one side of his head, which would probably get some sort of featureless blue gradient over it or — something.

It wanes, though, and just in time for the man — who looks uncannily like Peter Stormare, whom John has always had some kind of inexplicable discomfort about, as if they were once great enemies of some kind, which is ridiculous — to drop into English.

It takes a lot of discipline for him not to snap his eyes back in that direction just because he understands what's being said.

Phil is cursing a lot, but Steve doesn't know Russian so he just continues to stand there and does his best to seem unassuming.


The talk of Hail Hydra causes Steve to do a double take, but thankfully the helmet conceals the surprise which is soon stifled and the War Hero gets back into his appropriate stance. The words in English get Steve's rapt attention, which thankfully is again hidden by the helmet. It's like they /knew/ this was going to happen. Or they knew everyone knows Cap. Kinda a win-win with the helmet.

Even if he can't take it off when he needs to pee.

Ah, Russia. It's like being back in the 1940s again. Luckily, this is something that Peggy is intimately and automatically used to. This is why she allows Coulson to speak for her at first and why she remains in the car at the start. To push her authority so soon speaks of weakness and desire to be shown as 'in power'. To wait to properly introduced? That is proper of a person of her status.

While she can feel the nervousness of the some of the others that are now in her care, she channels it, uses that to prepare her own story. A lot of this relies on her ability to move through these jackasses as if she belongs amongst them. She urged them on this entrance and now it is up to her to make sure that choice was not a mistake.

Stepping imperially out of the transport, she holds herself with military precision and a disdainful look upon everyone both in her employ and surrounding her. There's certainly a reason why Coulson is long-suffering in his position. Her eyes narrow on the pin on his jacket, but she says nothing as of yet to what that might mean to her. She ignores his switch to English, returning to Russian. "«I would think the sad state of affairs is thinking we would not arrive today, if we were indeed who you were expecting. I thought Marshal Yerokhin taught us the value of efficiency."»

Only now does she scan the rest of the base - internally noting a few more pins like those on Malakhov's jacket. "«We are here to inspect the machine. If you truly wish to discuss our flights and our travel, I suggest tea and snacks. If you wish to keep this professional, I suggest we remain on task and you can tell us about what you have managed to accomplish here in this —- freezing shithole, as you call it.»

Jane Foster understands enough of what Malakhov says to — says of — Peggy Carter.

She makes a single mistake; she lifts her eyes. She takes a first and final look at the Colonel's face. The center cannot hold. Something snaps.

"In the future, hold your tongue," comes a low, hollow warning from the tiny woman on the tails of Carter's diplomatic reply. It is Jane Foster's voice, her English, but it does not sound like her. Jane's voice has never before been used in absolute, poisonous contempt.

The woman lifts her chin, for a moment imbued with a presence that makes her look six feet tall. "I am an emissary from Alphard. I can speak one word and have you tomorrow on my table. There are inaccuracies among the most recent reported myeloarchitectonic calibrations. It's unacceptable. There must be a test to improve the deterministic coefficient."

Peggy's answer is a good one. So, in fact, is Jane's; he marks that bit of subterfuge, distantly impressed by her. He hadn't realized she had that in her.

So. All Phil has to do is build on both of them by staying right in character. In his day-to-day life? He is rarely so vulgar (though it happens). But right now he is a soldier, and unless they are Captain America, soldiers are not known for their delicacy.

And thus, Ivanov rolls his eyes skyward behind Peggy's back, and mutters the words, "«"Ballbusters,"» sotto voice. It's clear his CO isn't meant to hear, nor the scientist, but somehow, someway, his head is just right at where it needs to be for Alexi Aleksandrovich to read the word on his lips. But he also caught Cap's flinch, and that's potential trouble.

He jerks his head at Cap adds, in the same tone, wryly: "Genius here has been going on about needing to take a piss since Trine, if that tells you anything." He did spend over a week studying the most likely Hydra bases and routes for this sort of deal, and he figures dropping one destination is enough.

Later he will apologize to Cap SO MUCH, but right now he looks like a Lieutenant saddled with a bitchy commander, a pissy female scientist, and the dumbest support team on the planet. He looks like a man who is just done, and would really appreciate it if the good Colonel would step it up now, if only for the sake of his sanity.

Even without the extension of Zatanna or John's senses, that sense of wrongness can periodically be felt coming and going at the very edges of perception. It's not actually centered in the base, but rather seems to pulse from the heart of the nearby Lake Baikal. There is a pulling, fishline aspect to it, as if something hooked and tethered were being pulled on steadily — kept in place.

Malakhov sure isn't talking about it. The colonel mouths his cigarette placidly, amused eyes cutting back towards Peggy as she wrenches the conversation back around with authority. Some of that amusement evaporates, however, when she mentions Marshal Yerokhin. An old name. A venerable name. Not exactly the kind of name that gets bandied about in just any kind of circles.

His expression flattens out more as she cuts straight to the point — about the machine, about what they have accomplished so far. As Jane weighs in suddenly to speak of Alphard, and of the certain calibrations that must be made ON the machine. As Phil speaks of Trine, a known waystop on the way here from Moscow.

Now he looks briefly uncertain. These are not names it would be reasonable for just anyone to know. Either enemies have tunneled deeper into the heart of HYDRA than they thought, and they are more vulnerable than they know… or these people are who they say they are. There is one line of thinking that a man will always prefer.

That uncertainty passes, lapsing back into his typical jaded indifference. "Very well," he finally says. "If you wish to see what has been accomplished, then see for yourself. It is all made ready. Which of you is the volunteer for the program?"

Bucky, heretofore silent, slaps Steve on the shoulder. "This guy, right here."

The colonel gives Cap a rather skeptical look, but then shrugs. He calls his men back. "Take them downstairs," he instructs, though he cuts his gaze back at the assembled a last time for a parting remark: "Tot sind alle Götter." It is obvious there's supposed to be an answering latter half to the phrase.

Oh shit, was that a burn? Was that a burn from Peggy Carter to Peter Stormare (or Russian Peter Stormare, but really, he plays Russian so well it's hard to remember that he's actually a viking)? Zatanna starts to sweat a little, because for someone with such an expressive face, it's decidedly hard not to be, for all of her experience in theater. Ice-blue eyes remaining on the back of the perpetually poised Agent Carter's head, equal parts admiration and equal parts stone cold fear. Because the colonel might not buy it. Because he might actually be Russian Peter Stormare and kill all of them with a gun, or a giant cow-killing hammer, or everything else he's used to kill fictional personages in his entire badass Hollywood career.

But if she's angry and holds it in, Jane speaks up in English, and that sense of dread grows even more potent - exhilaration too, because she can't help it, as it often comes hand in hand while she's well and truly scared. Out of her element and in the middle of a very real spy operation, she struggles to keep her cool, crossing her fingers internally and hoping it all works out, because oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god.

It's back again, slipping in and out of her senses like an ephemeral thread through her third eye. It does not help her growing discomfiture, though she already makes the decision to check that out as soon as she's able, because it could be important…and dangerous.

«There it is again.»

But she doesn't move. She awaits as Peter Stormare renders his verdict…

…and concedes to let them pass. Her knees shake but she locks them up determinedly, to prevent herself from sagging with relief.

Not that the colonel makes it easy. He fires one last test to the group and she keeps her breath held, eyes frozen on the back of Peggy's skull.

Jane Foster growls.

John's poker face is the stuff of legends under ordinary circumstances, but the bitter chill he hears when she opens her mouth gives the Siberian tundra a run for its money and he can't help the blink and the slant of his eyes that way — not that it helps him. All he can see is the back of her helmeted head, and it's telling him nothing about whatever might be on her face. Because it didn't sound, to John, like part of the act she puts on with her very expensive scientific vocabulary. It sounds like some part of Jane that isn't Jane, but isn't that, either.

His brows knit very faintly to the whisper that glissades over his senses, momentarily detouring his thoughts in search of the sensation he'd missed, that time. The pulling, something off in the distance. Something, what, anchored?

«Bad.» Unnecessary, that. Her senses for this sort of thing are even more acute than his, but it's comforting to commiserate.

His eyes tighten, angled thoughtfully in the direction from whence he feels that emanation, and then everything goes weirdly silent, and he blinks back around, aware that something is pending.

It's a quote. It's a very famous quote from a very famous German with a famously horrible way of looking at everything that John simultaneously sympathizes with and rejects outright, and he knows the end of it because the quote, itself, involves gods. And gods being dead. And of course, that's just the sort of thing that John Constantine is going to know. Occult people love to borrow from the high-minded humanities.

But he doesn't speak German. He speaks dead German dialects and even then only enough to cast the odd bit of magic.

Only, nobody else is saying it. And that guy, SS Stormare or whomever, is giving them the stink-eye.

Well, here's hoping we don't all die.

"Nun wollen were dass dur bloody Oobermentch leeb. Leebah. No points for pronunciation, but look mate, the most depressing thing where I come from is Thatcherism, alright? It was enough."

Bucky's expression remains perfectly sober throughout this occurrence.

The Man with the Star Spangled Plan merely pauses for a moment as Phil talks of his need to pee. Well, it's kinda true, he shoulda gone when people were insisting that you try. But like that kid on the road trip who doesn't understand the Murphy's Law of Bladders, he refused. But well, there are far more concerning things going on that keep Rogers' attention.

Like the fact that he's being volunteered for the program.

Eyes go wide but he doesn't say anything at the clasp on his shoulder, figuring that it's best to keep his mouth closed and let the enemy think him a mute fool than to open his mouth to reveal a horrid spy. For now, the man just walks on when given the chance, still feeling there is a lot he's not getting. But thankfully, there seem to be a lot of other skilled people more than able to pick up the slack.

There's a bit of a glare at Bucky when he says that Steve is the one that will be the test subject. After the quote, she understands exactly why this is happening, but she also does not like the fact that this is putting Steve into the direct eyesight of HYDRA. Though, the actual glare is reserved for John Constantine.

"Who said you should speak?" she tells him in very accented Russian. Then, she turns back to the Marshal and replies in proper German, "«Jetzt wird wir des Übermann zu leben.»" There is a sigh. "«Forgive his piss poor German.»" she mutters. "«The Doctor is our operator,»" she gestures to Jane. "«She is, unfortunately, American. But, she is quite dedicated to the cause and came recommended to me through Herr Schneider. He is part of her contingent. This Brit has been the worst to deal It has taken all my power to not shoot him and leave him for dead out here. I still may, but I have been told by those higher than me that he is necessary.»"

Moving forward, she attempts to take this stall point and just roll forward. "«Let us continue, unless there is more you wish for us to see out here?»"

Her brief warning already spoken, and apparently playing the part of some Hydra mind sent directly from a place named 'Alphard', Jane Foster retreats back into silence.

Only one thing about her remains constant: the single, needly stare she keeps only on Malakhov. Jane Foster's dark eyes are a syringe, taking a slow draw of data to keep for her own.

Then John speaks. Her German is poor, but there's no mistaking the 'bloody' that doesn't belong. Her expression tightens like a turn of a rack before something shows, rhyming rather well with Hydra 'personnel' taking agitation at this abysmal behaviour. But she says nothing more. Communicated through her eyes is only her wrathful impatience.

Phil doesn't twitch. Phil doesn't worry. Though this could be the moment where the shooting starts, he never breaks character. John says what he says, and he lets his mouth twitch; amusement more than annoyance really, because anyone his CO wants to shoot is someone the long-suffering lieutenant actually goes off and plays cards and drinks Vodka with. That's how it works.

He keeps walking, as if he expects that the test has completely been passed, not even looking for a reaction from Malakhov. Because he is just communicating silent confidence and Just Another Day. He is above the bickering of his team.

Which is. Really not unlike 90% of his days spent herding teams at home, when one gets right down to it.

And there's still this sense that really, the quicker they get through this the quicker he can go sneak off to cards and Vodka, where he will spend the better part of the evening telling glorious war stories and being a whole lotta Too Old For This Shit.

Some of the worst German ever comes out of John Constantine's mouth. The colonel turns towards him. So do the colonel's men. All of them have that little etching of Hebrew at their collars. All of them are blinking at John, because that's the first time that traditional greeting has come out quite that way.

Yet there's a ring of authenticity to the crankiness of a man who has just had enough with the traveling, the long hours, the wearying routine of hailing HYDRA, and who is now having to stand on ceremony while his balls are freezing off. And it IS the expected answer, albeit not quite said perfectly — but then, HYDRA recruits worldwide now. It's not exceptionally surprising. Especially when Peggy offers that acidic explanation of how this hodgepodge group was stapled together.

<They're sending them out from just anywhere, now,>" Malakhov grumbles, lapsing back into Russian for that, but he nods at the two men to take the group across the parade grounds and see them into a secured elevator that conveys them down, and down, and down.

There's half a look Bucky exchanges with Steve along the way, a look the latter would be well familiar with. It's a positioning look — he'll take up a spot right behind one of the guards, Steve behind the other. They'll hold those shadowing positions. Just in case.

It's a positioning that will be maintained up until they reach the bottom and step out into an antiseptic hallway. It would be familiar to Jane, to Peggy, to Phil, to anyone who has been in a HYDRA facility. They build for redundancy. One base is much like another. There is a door at the end of the hall, and what looks depressingly like a biometric scanner securing the door's lock.

"Go ahead. Any one of you should be able to unlock it," one of the guards — the one Bucky's standing behind — explains. Neither guard looks like they're going to do it for the group. "All HYDRA personnel DNA patterns should be registered in the central system."

As Bucky gives his cue, Steve doesn't show any sort of response to it, but the fact that he moves in position as well shows that he has clearly understood it. The lack of facial cues makes it hard to tell what Steve is thinking or feeling for the most part, but at least shows who he is by the seamless understanding of what's expected of him, merely glancing toward the rest of the people. While Brute Force is always an option, Cap has the feeling that someone likely has a better idea. There is a host of impressive people with skills in magic and spycraft, after all. And John.

Brute force is always an option, especially when left to two lackeys and no cameras. However, that is always Peggy's last resort. There's a dismissive gesture forward that she gives to Zatanna. She's a CO, she doesn't need to open doors for herself and it's beneath her second in command, too, right? There's a quick moment of thought that she hopes works. She knows of Zatanna's magic through one of their missions together as well her SHIELD briefings, she hopes that the young mage has a bit of magic up her sleeve that can bring them through the door without knocking anyone out.

"«Zha,»" she steps aside to allow the woman to do her work. "«Go.»" Then, she also gives both Bucky and Steve a bit of a look. If this doesn't work, brain the guards. Always good to have a back up.

Bad, yes. But it won't make a lick of a difference if they don't get past this gatekeeper that wears the face of the guy who played an amazing Lucifer opposite Keanu Reeves, playing some kind of action hero exorcist she doesn't recognize.

As much as she doesn't recognize whatever it is that John said.

It's not the statement, though it is also a a famous quote that she doesn't recognize - late nights tend to have her snoozing during Philosophy class, and Nietzche's worldview has never spoken to her own, so it isn't surprising that she wouldn't know the answering address to the test the colonel has posed to them. But she's thinking more of that terrible German pronunciation and for once, she doesn't say anything sassy or teasing. Because oh god they can die.

They're led down to more tests and with guards breathing down their necks, she swallows a little bit when Peggy gestures to her to handle the door. Heart thundering against her sternum, so fast, so loud, so hard it could crack, she moves stiffly (in what she hopes is how military people walk) towards the bioscanner. On the hand by her side, hidden from the rest, fingers move to make a few gestures, her trick to perform a spell silently while her mouth is occupied, or otherwise unable to make a sound.

Emases nepo.

It isn't just the words spoken backwards, as what she had explained to Jane before. It's the will, the way she visualizes things in her head brought to life. So when she lifts her hand to use the scanners, she is picturing her information being called up, her face, her stats, her assumed name and false identity. She is visualizing that everything checks out. She is visualizing that door opening, and letting everyone through.

John does not need to know Russian to understand what Peggy's saying about him, because that particular rant sounds just about the same in every language and he's heard it plenty of times. But as his new friends (???) in SHIELD are likely to learn, John's bizarre luck twists circumstances around such that even the most absurd circumstances somehow, on occasion, bear remarkable fruit.

Perhaps especially the absurd circumstances.

He's silent again as they descend in the elevator, more than anything grateful to be out of the worst of the cold. Entering the hallway below causes a twinge of unpleasant deja vu after his descent into the Hydra facility where he accompanied quite a few of the other people present on a mission to retrieve Bucky and Jane. It is, he thinks to himself dourly, looking at the reproduced lines and angles, the institutional hallway, the paint, The architectural equivalent of Nietzsche.

Zatanna is up to bat next, and in spite of knowing with absolute certainty that she can do this, he still feels that ever-present twinge in the pit of his stomach as he watches her step ahead of the rest and approach the panel beside the door. She's accomplished far more with far less, but the nightmare visions never fail to arrive whenever she's at risk. Never.

If they had any way to communicate solutions to one another, Phil actually would have picked 'teen witch backwards talks the door' as the only one that had a shot, insofar as avoiding violence was concerned. Nevertheless, he is mentally preparing himself for what comes next if she fails; who he'll shoot, and why he'll pick that one, even as the two supersoldiers will no doubt spring into action; how they will need to disable the elevator, at least temporarily, to keep more from coming…all those little contingencies.

Anyone who looked at him would see a really bored dude, though, irritated with the bit of theatre that has Her Highness picking out who gets to open the door.

Nobody dies.

The biometric lock clicks open.

The two men are silent a moment. This last seems the conclusive proof they need, because they are suddenly a lot more deferential. They must be who they say they are — and accordingly, they must be very important. "You're here for the asset conditioning machine?" one of them says, as they lead the group through the door and down the sterile halls. "It does need touch-up. They have to re-calibrate it for the new program. It's still specially tuned for the dog, but since it got off the chain — "

The other makes a quelling noise. Silence descends again, and probably for the best.

The halls are sparsely populated as they proceed through. There are personnel already present, but most seem like researchers, scientists. There are security forces around, mostly military from upstairs who also happen to be HYDRA doing their assigned shifts down below. Nobody pays them much mind. They're busy — most of them over what presumably is happening here. There are rooms they pass that look like operating rooms, with human subjects on the tables; rooms that look like storage rooms, except the items to be stored are more test subjects, and the containers vats or cryogenic chambers.

It's not long before they're taken straight to the machine itself, held in a darkened room. "We'll let you get started," one of them offers, before they both back out.

After all that, it was disturbingly easy. Except for one problem: this deep in the base, John and Zatanna can feel … something interfering with their connection to magic, stifling out their natural talents. It's not like the null fields that enveloped that base at Ozone Park, not precisely — this is something they can source, some kind of interference, a static that tangles up and drags down their capabilities to nothing.

It's the tether they felt earlier. Wherever the anchor for it is, it's close, and they can track it. Not far. Down the hall, into another room.

There is no room for the luxury of a relieved breath when the technology acquiesces to that silent request without kicking up any kind of fuss first, but the twisting coil of tension in John's chest yields along with the door. It's apparently the last piece they needed to demonstrate their legitimacy, because they're quickly whisked through and into —

Some kind of hell.

He can't chance more than the occasional glance to either side of himself — they're supposed to belong here; this is not supposed to be new to him — but the little he sees is already too much. There are people in most of those rooms, or whatever is left of 'people' once Hydra gets their hands on them. Who are they? Where did they come from? It's too much to hope that they were all volunteers, but given what he heard about the two Hydra employees that Zatanna and Red had interacted with all those months ago, when they'd gone to retrieve her soul…even 'volunteering' doesn't seem as though it would absolve anyone.

It needles him in the worst way that they have to leave these people here. Any one of them might have been Bucky in years past. The thought of leaving behind he, or Jane, or Zatanna, or any of the other people John's seen Hydra abuse is unfathomable to him; the anonymity and unfamiliarity of those many individuals does not bring him much comfort. A year ago he wouldn't have known who James Barnes was, either.

These are the thoughts he's fighting with as they're summarily left in the room containing the torture device. And that should be that; they should be able to magic the whole thing away and disappear, just like that, neat as you please. Only they can't.

He glances sidelong at Zatanna. He doesn't know whether or not anyone is listening to what's taking place in the room — his default assumption is 'yes' for the sake of safety — but he doesn't want to take chances.

"We'll — " Meaning himself, and Zatanna, " — go make preparations."

By finding out whatever the fuck it is that's handcuffing the voodoo around here.

If it bothers him, it must be that much worse for Zee. John's soul isn't made of the stuff.

And with that, he starts down the corridor, striving to look as though he belongs where he is.

She tries not to think about it. She is nervous enough, so far out of her element that she is genuinely afraid that if she breathes wrong, the operation will crash down around her and Bucky will be left without any other recourse to repair a fundamental part of him that has been broken. Ice-blue eyes keep away from the rest of it, and for the most part, she keeps herself schooled…but it is difficult and it starts to show around the eyes. John will not be spared it, emanating in waves through their link - distress and guilt, most of all, having not yet grown the calluses necessary to view the world with the kind of cynicism that adult hearts tend to adopt in order to survive and still see something worth saving in the shit of every day life.

When they enter, she stops. Thankfully, the guards are already leaving, otherwise they would have caught the look on her face as she realizes that what they are feeling is interference and it is real and strong in this room. She meets John's eyes from where she's frozen.

Because it makes her skin crawl, not just the remembered instance in Ozone Park, but whatever that something is that's chaining their attempts to make a quick getaway. Cold sweat starts to break out underneath her uniform, but she manages to retrieve the reins of her determination and gives John a firm nod, following to where he leads when it's time to move. Magic, she can do. Magic is something she knows.

But she is fully aware that she may need to curb her usual way of doing things when the situation is so sensitive.

For the most part, Phil is a good man at heart, a man who does what he does for what he hopes are the right reasons— protecting people who just want to live their lives, protecting them from stuff that basically at its very core and nature disrupts and destroys those lives. That part of Phil wishes he could save everyone strapped to a table here, even if they put themselves there.

But he's also a man who lives in a world of hard choices. His face settles into grim lines, however, because he's already mentally calling in the airstrike that will reduce this cancer to flaming rubble, a series of orders that will be silently tapped out on the holographic keyboard at his wrist probably less than an hour after they get their Quinjet clear of this madness. He'd originally wanted intel, but he's got it. He's seen enough. Intel is only good if it leads to action anyway, and the action Nick Fury's right hand man chooses is airstrike.

It will be done softly, in case any of those here would be morally or ethically offended by it, silently in the way only a career spook can do it.

But it is what is going to happen.

He is already thinking on how he can make sure that they use the intel from the St. Petersburg mission to make it look as though Icarus Dynamics chose to make a run on Russia, HYDRA, or both; they are already involved in a 3-way conflict over aerospace technology, and he might as well use it. It will be a nice way to keep the evil corporation busy while SHIELD unravels the rest of that information, too.

For now, though, the spook is silent. The part where he aids this endevour by acting or lying is basically done other than to maintain the character as established; all that remains now is not to blow it while the wizards responsible for teleporting the technology work. He positions himself strategically to help cover them if anything goes wrong. Already the wizards are looking…less than confident. This concerns him, but there is little he can do about it for now, save to wait and see.

Though Peggy keeps her face expressionless, her hands tighten at her sides while Zatanna moves up to try the biometric lock. She's unsure whether magic will work in HYDRA…they being obsessed with the occult they might have guarded against something like this. She's ready to help Steve and Bucky take out the guards should the ploy fail, but the door opens and while she's thankful this worked, she barely gives the other woman another look. That's what she was supposed to do, why should she give more praise?

Then they're inside the room and Peggy let's out a bit of a breath as soon as they're alone. The facade does not drop just yet, though. Instead, she glances over to Jane and then to the Machine. "Can you start?" she asks in her accented Russian, not dropping it just in case. She has no idea that there is anything else wrong with the area - having no magical ability herself.

As John moves down the corridor, she gestures with her head for someone to follow him. Hopefully someone that speaks Russian just in case they run into anyone else.

Let through the biometric-gate, Jane Foster does not show obvious surprise: her implicit trust in Zatanna's magical ability is legion.

That, and her mind and attention are elsewhere. The fact becomes more and more apparent the deeper they venture into the corridors of Hydra's base.

The familiarity of it all is death by a thousand cuts, memories cropping up she'd forgotten for months, images mirrored of scenes seen only in her nightmares. Jane trains her eyes forward and holds it together and in admirable effort, but even as stilled, lab animal bodies on tables pass by her peripheries, the woman is slowly unravelling at the seams. This is the reason for her day of emotionless, dead-eyed focus.

She's been preparing herself to stare down her own hell.

By the time they reach the room with the machine, all Jane can do is reply Peggy with a quiet nod. Her too-long military sleeves help hide the faint tremor of her hands. She doesn't look at the machine, cannot, and instead rounds it to find a nearby terminal, no doubt the access point upon which the torture device is calibrated and operated. Muscle memory helps her type with trembling fingers, and she bites her lip as she begins a quick introduction with how this terrible thing works.

Meanwhile, down the hall, the tether leads the magicians on to a narrow, unimportant room. The door is shut and its handle locked: though that is dealt with effortlessly by application of Bucky Barnes's trusty left arm.

It opens to —

— a tooth.

Twenty feet long, thin and sickle-sharp, it looks a front fang plucked from the jaws of a venomous snake, its base tethered to the high ceiling by silver chain, its hollow tip welling with slow-dripping liquid.

It has the colour and thickness of fresh blood. It drips into a glass funnel, tubed into to an elaborate storage tank that frames one wall in a collecting volume of blood.

Opposite to it, occupying the length of another wall, is a menage of machinery: generators and transducers, plugged in and run with wire that glows with old runes, pulsing and strobe-like to the cyclic hum of electricity fed through their connectors. They twine and plug into what looks like a fishhook, whetted from igneous stone, and as tall as a man.

That storage tank isn't the only thing occupying that wall. The product being manufactured from whatever that fang weeps is apparently made there also. Whatever that ichor is, it's getting blended with other things, distilled and concentrated into injection vials. Many, many injection vials.

Bucky is temporarily struck silent. "They're trying to make serum from this?" he assumes, eventually. "They can't have it working yet, though, or else — " Or else there'd be supersoldiers punching them out right about now.

The fang is the obvious source of the interference, plainly ripped from some sort of monstrous supernatural being. Probably the being HYDRA has on a tether, courtesy of that machine. Probably something they shouldn't have tethered and shouldn't be farming venom from. It at least looks like the machine can be manually destroyed, which would probably release whatever HYDRA has leashed and take care of the interference.

The issue is that while there's nobody around this room at the moment, there's plainly some kind of surveillance on it and access is very heavily restricted, because presently there comes the sound of people approaching very rapidly and very clatteringly. They pass by the wipe-machine room where Jane and Peggy still are, beelining for the tether room.

They're quite heavily armed.

The door's locked handle cannot withstand James Barnes' cybernetic arm. The unpleasant, static-popping sensations of magic being not dampened or suppressed but actively interfered with by something so weighty with magic of its own that it's disrupting the very fabric of everything is so strong, standing outside of that door, that John feels slightly sick.

So he thinks he's ready for whatever it is that they're going to find on the other side of that door. He is not.

The door swings open.

There is a tooth so enormous that the mouth it implies by association must have been truly terrifying, particularly if it contained teeth like these. This, he knows instantly, is where all of the nails-on-chalkboard glitching and stuttering of reality is coming from.

And they are doing things to it.

He doesn't have to know what the hell they're doing to it to know immediately that they shouldn't be doing whatever it is. His life's work consists almost entirely of running around cleaning up messes that result from people doing things they shouldn't be doing with things they shouldn't have, calling into existence Things That Should Not Be.

Swiftly following the stark pulse of surprise that transmits itself to Zatanna comes a sudden tidal wave of frustration that borders on pique.

'They're trying to make serum from this?' asks Bucky, and John just stares at him, wide-eyed, and then throws his arms out to the side, brows daggering down and inward. "WHAT?" It's a whisper. It's a very loud whisper. "THEY'RE WHAT?"

This was not on the program! They were supposed to come to Siberia, extract a horrible thing from a horrible place and leave, quickly, and now there's some sort of leviathan they're milking the venom of for some kind of — and it's — and look at the RUNES, and the BLOOD, and the —

"I think this thing," he opines, with a vague gesture at the console, "Needs a big metal fisting. And then 'tanna and I can take care of disposing of the…" He flicks a glance up at the scythe-like tooth. "…whatever the hell that is."

This is just about the last thing she expects walking down the corridor and through the door that contains the giant twenty-foot tooth.

Ice-blue eyes widen with horror and fascination, that terrible, wonderful imagination getting to work immediately at just how big the mouth must be, of whatever creature this thing was extricated out of. As waves of pique thrum through the argent tether binding her to John, he'd find Zatanna walking towards it with undisguised something written plain on her pale features. Her fingers twitch on one side, barely only restraining the urge to touch it, because she's never seen anything like this before and for a moment, all she can think of is that she wants to see the thing that it came from. And with that comes…

The raven-haired witch turns to John. He would see That Expression. Remember That Expression. It is the one she wore in Sumatra.

With the monkeys.

And when Bucky tells them that they are extracting venom from the poor mythical beast that they've got trapped in the lake, that expression only becomes more poignant. Because not only is the giant snake trapped, they're using it to turn other humans into experiments.

"John," she whispers very lowly. "We can't just….can we?"

Can they????

There's a nod, at the plan to destroy the console. "I can…freeze time around it. Put it in a bubble," she suggests. "If we're worried about security being triggered or something. It…won't hold indefinitely but…it might work as a time delay?"

Making serum out of nasty snake creatures? Yeah. Doubling down on that airstrike idea.

But before Phil can imagine this place going up in a glorious, glorious plume of fire, the armed men start down the hall, triggered by some sort of surveillance. "Security has already been triggered," he comments to Zatanna.

This is why Phil had positioned himself exactly as he had, with the idea that sooner or later, the armed men portion of their show was probably going to start. They've been made.

He pulls his P229 Sig Sauer, a weapon he'd had on him and kept concealed. He had the Russian weapons, but he prefers this one. Using the door to the Tooth Room as cover, he steps out, aims directly between the eyes of the man-on-point, squeezes out two rounds, and then, regardless of whether he hits or not, darts back into cover, smooth and cool as you please.

"Man. I don't think I really ever understood how much this country sucks before," he comments, in a sort of 'oh today I took in a tour of the place and it was not to my liking' sort of a tone. "Now I know."

And knowing is half the battle, say it with him.

Or don't. He's popping back out of cover to try to put another round into another head anyway.

The horrible discovery from the others is met with a grim faced expression. Also the knowledge that more people would be coming shortly. While they have clearance for the machine, some form of insane snake monster is probably not on the roster. Swearing a bit in Russian - somehow still a bit in character.

However, once the guards are on their way, she notices them go right past the wipe room and toward the others, Coulson is first out the door and he gets a bit of a raised eyebrow at his quip. Her own gun is pulled. As soon as Coulson is back behind the door, it's her turn. SHIELD training, after all, came from somewhere and she is well versed in hallway fights. Instead of pulling triggers at the head, though, she aims at legs.

"Is there any credence in letting those trapped in those vaults out now as opposed to on our way out?" she asks. She clearly doesn't know. If they have been brainwashed, it could be a detriment to their escape. If they might revolt, it would help overrun the place. It's clear she means to let them out either way, this is just a matter of timing.

Bucky shrugs helplessly at John's 'WHAT.' He at least looks mildly apologetic. "They're usually up to really horrible bullshit," he says, as if that explains everything, which it sort of does.

Zatanna's trying to salvage the situation, but there's really not much to salvage, as Phil notes. "Your turn to cover me, doll," Bucky says, reaches over and seating Zatanna's pistol firmly in her hands. It's an MP-443, standard issue Russian sidearm: John has one just like it, in his own kit. Bucky starts to move past her afterwards — then hesitates, backs up a step, and flips off the safeties. "Help Peggy and Agent Hardass over there. …don't accidentally shoot each other." And with that, he gets to work just manually pulling the tether-machine apart.

The defenders have an advantage that rapidly becomes obvious: they don't care if they hit the contents of the room. The HYDRA personnel do. Two get taken out by Phil — another two by Peggy, as she arrives as backup. They fire back, but only intermittently, and very carefully. Most of them are just trying to close distance to bring batons and shock prods into play.

The guys with the tear gas grenades? Those are bringing up the rear, but rapidly approaching.

Oh god.

She has a gun.

A gun with the safety helpfully unlatched. Zatanna stares at the heavy black pistol in her hands and feels her fingers tremble. She's never shot anyone before. She's never killed anyone before. The prospect of doing so while covering Bucky drops a jagged shard of ice into the pit of her stomach and it's not as if she can use magic here while the tether machine and the interference to her powers are active.

But she has always been a good student. When a guiding hand takes the time to show her the ropes, she absorbs what she is taught like a sponge. There's nothing else but to swallow, and nod towards Bucky when he asks her to cover him, because she is not about to say no to that, and she moves to take a few steps forward…

….to plant herself right in front of Bucky and the console. She might be taking this covering thing literally, but she has always had the moxie to match her recklessness. The combination is not always conducive to any healthy maintenance of John's blood pressure, but when she decides to do something, she does not hesitate. Feet planted apart, muzzle aimed up just like the Winter Soldier taught her, she grips the butt with a cupping left hand while the index of her right curls over the trigger, slender arm locked in three places.

All that worry, all that pressure finally uncoils from around her stressed-out innards, those fettered dragons suddenly loose. Her lips part to unleash it all because she has to. She's not used to holding back.

But she's also addled and nervous and she's surrounded by professionals, so all the badass one-liners she rehearsed in front of the mirror (ranging from the classics like 'Go ahead, make my day' to 'Fill your hands you sonuvabitch!!') go out the window and what actually comes out is:




…good news is that she has the presence of mind not to hit Phil or Peggy or John. Bad news (?) is that she doesn't hit HYDRA agents, not just because she currently lacks any killing intent, but because she just wants to discourage them from shooting in her direction, and Bucky behind her.


For one moment Phil (aka Agent Hardass) glances over his shoulder, and there's a look on his face that's hard to describe. Brow furrowed, face sort of drawn into a tense smile, he seems like a man who is not entirely sure of what he's seeing. But he can't contemplate it for long. There's Peggy's question, which draws his face into grim lines. She wants to free those people. He…

Very gently, "Agent Carter, there's a good chance those people are all Hydra volunteers."

He steps out and sights again, this time trying to do the harder task of shooting back towards those people with the teargas, less worried about the melee people than he is about those. He steps back seconds after his shot. It's clear he has no more opinion to render on that…he will give his own and let them make the decision. The whole team here is made up of volunteers. He can't just issue orders, no matter how much his instincts scream at him to.

He can only keep plugging away, hoping that they'll be able to get out of here pretty soon.

They're usually up to really horrible bullshit. John reaches up to rub agitatedly at his face.

Mid-rub, he feels Zatanna's eyes on him. Feels something else bleeding through the thing that links them together — something familiar. Dreadfully, horribly familiar.

Between splayed fingers, one starkly blue eye catches her plaintive expression almost simultaneous to her whisper. We can't just…can we?



Of course she wants to save the slavering magical leviathan. Of course she does.

He splays his hands out to either side, cocks a brow, puts on an incredulous look, and he might have even had something to say about it if not for the fact that this is when it becomes clear that they've been made. Footsteps in the hall in a hurry. Barnes, flipping the safeties on the pistol he has, and the one in Zatanna's hands, off. Telling them to cover him — with firearms.

As he presses his back up against the inside of the wall just beside the door through which any incoming Hydra personnel would have to arrive, he draws the pistol and pulls a face that says he really, really doesn't want to use it. "Well, at least this means we don't have to piss about with time," he says dryly, with a glanze at Zatanna, then Barnes and the console, the tooth, the vials it's producing. "I'm thinking 'fire,' actually. How does fire sound?" In his chest his heart pounds like the beat of a drum. Without the ability to cast anything, without any familiar signposts, without expertise to bring to bear on dealing with present threats, he feels incredibly exposed. Stripped down, vulnerable.

John does not do 'vulnerable' very well.

Really, it's probably a mercy when Zee shouts out what she does before pulling the trigger, the combination of the two things shocking enough to make him forget his own fears. The sound of the gunshots in an enclosed space is startling enough, but to top it off with 'Manifest destiny' shouted at the top of her lungs is—

"You wot?"

As they take turns picking off soldiers and Zatanna lays down some suppressive fire, Peggy frowns at the progress they've made as well as the comment made by Coulson. "Not all of them may be," she tells him with a frown. They are certainly in the presence of one who was not. "I'm not willing to consign them all to torture for only the possibility that they were all volunteers." And if they can save someone from torture, she will do it.

While Agent Coulson may be reticent to give orders, she seemingly has none of those qualms. "They're trying to get into close quarters," she tells them, calling out to the others so they might know. They're in a hallway and somewhat narrow fighting quarters. Those gas canisters will be bad news if they are let out in here. "Get close to a room, get ready to shut the doors," she tells Zatanna and Coulson. If those things go off, they'll need to be protected.

A big part of her wants to charge forward to protect the others. But, she doesn't have the kind of armor to protect herself from that sort of thing in her Captain armor at the moment. In about five seconds, she'll do that either way.

Overseeing and administering the precious transfer of data from the terminal to her cabled-in phone, trying to ignore how her hands feel too-cold and her skin too-tight and she keeps itching and itching behind her left ear, Jane — looks back at the distant race of guards toward the others.

That's when, down the hall, not that she is in any vantage to see, the gunfire starts. Jane hunkers down, trying to hide behind the very torture machine they've come to take. Alone with it. It looks so much like the one — and James is out of sight, she was always safe when he was in sight — and she needs to go to them — but the data. Machine may be useless without it. Re-engineering a dead piece of metal.

She has her own gun, but can't draw fire — can't wreck the machine. Machine paramount. More precious than she is at the moment, the only way left in the world he may recover his mind.

All she can do is stay hidden. Watch the data and stay hidden. Each distant report of gunfire makes her eyes squeeze shut, too-tight. Back among the monsters and trapped, and what if, what if —

Jane thinks of that mantra Jessica taught her. She repeats her own version over and over in her head. Alpha Lyrae. Alpha Aquilae. Alpha Cygni.

Meanwhile, the security breach crawls through every hall and corridor of the subterranean base, a silent alarm flickering a strobe-light warning aside every light. Exits go into automatic lockdown, and all can hear — concussively — the metal-and-concrete closing and locking of alternate routes out. They are closing them into a veritable dead end, with one way in and one way out.

Their return fire hits and disables some of the initial Hydra response, but, as always, more heads come to replace the fallen. With the alarm, more will be coming.

There is no way out for anyone unless made through magic.

As Bucky Barnes's left arm makes work on that device, breaking it — severed wires immediately use their runes — the entire base… shifts.

It seethes, every steel foundation absorbing the shock of /something/ moving, distant and unfathomably seismic.

Zatanna's battle cry sets the stage for a short and rather brutal firefight. Phil and Peggy make rather short work of those they fire at, and Zatanna's shots… while not exactly accurate, still cause enough hesitation among the enemy to be worthwhile. Some of them are forced out into awkward positions by it, so they can be picked off by Peggy and Phil.

Phil's quick switch to the men in the back with the tear gas is crucial. Many of them drop before they can get close enough to deploy that gas.

With everyone covering him, it doesn't take Bucky that long to dismantle the machine. A few ripping tears of his left arm have it in sparking pieces. The runes, the blood, the smell of magic… they flare and die as the machine crumbles into wreckage.

In the distance, something howls. A tremor runs through the earth. Water crashes, far away.

The fang crumbles, and starts to fade even as it crumbles, as its owner rouses and tears against its leash. Slowly, John and Zatanna will feel probably the best thing they've felt in several days: the gradual return of their magical powers, as the static starts to fade.

"That should do it. We should get back and get moving on transport — " Bucky looks up and does a silent headcount. Wait a minute — "Where is Jane?"

He surges out into the hall. The hall full of Hydra agents. There's probably not much of a need to worry about him — the sounds out there suggest that it's the Hydra people in distress, not him. Steve, presumably, is doing much the same, albeit from the room at the other end of the hall, where Jane still hunkers down with the wipe machine.

As Phil flashes her that look, Zatanna eyeballs him from where she's standing. "Yeah, that's right, I panicked, badass agent guy. Go ahead. Wash me in your judgment!"

She pops in a few more shots. At John's cry from where he's covered, she exclaims back: "I SAID I PANICKED OKAY?!"


Peggy's instructions has her running in cross purposes, also - she can't move, otherwise she'll be uncovering Bucky when he asked her specifically to do the opposite, so she remains where she is until Bucky is done…

Suddenly, the ephemeral chains are lifted and her senses can breathe. It floods every part of her and puts more speed into her movements.

Ice-blue eyes widen when the metal-armed man hurls himself into the corridor full of HYDRA agents to get at Jane. There's a brief pause when she watches that fang crumble and disappear, but she's moving with the others back to the room with the giant machine. They need to get it and get out.

The captive leviathan roars, somewhere deep within water, but even here, she can sense its wrath. It rings over her supernatural senses and she grits her teeth at 'hearing' it, pausing for a moment to clutch at her ears and nearly dropping her gun, nevermind that it's more mental than anything else. But she shakes her head and keeps running.

They have a portal to open, and a machine to move.

Peggy is one of those people who get people to follow their orders automatically. It's her divine Listen to Peggy Power in action, and Phil responds. The truth is despite judgy faces he still feels about ten years old in the company of James Barnes, Peggy Carter, and Steve Rogers. He will keep shooting at Hydra agents as he falls back to the machine room where Jane huddles; it's the only room that makes sense to fall back to, the room with their objective in it. He has no idea if the wizards have successfully stopped whatever's blocking them or not; move and shoot and fall back is the part he can play at the moment. Zatanna's defensiveness only produces a faint quirk of a slight smile. Peggy's words about the volunteers produces little more than that willingness to follow her orders. His judgment isn't always right, after all, his words have been noted, they're doing something else, and he can live with that…at least as long as nobody puts a bullet in the wrong place.

There is very, very little about what's happening that's funny. Almost nothing, in fact. They're standing in a dismal — beautiful, but still dismal in John's opinion — part of the world where eking out an existence is difficult even for the wildlife; in a drably formed underground base filled with genocidal maniacs bent on the destruction of….actually, John's not sure about that part, maybe he should ask that question at some point, but definitely the destruction of 'his sanity and faith in other human beings,' at the very least; in a laboratory area containing human test subjects being exposed the very worst kind of torture if what they're undergoing is anything like what Barnes and Foster had to undergo, the losing of the Self; in a room containing a dangling tooth from some manner of leviathan thing that does not belong here, not in Siberia, not in Hydra, and not in that god-damned lake, dripping venom into vials and then into the men and women in the other rooms, probably, and that doesn't belong in them, either.

So, yes. It's about as far from funny as things can get.

And John Constantine finds himself struggling not to break into a laugh anyway through the cold sweat of his fear because Zatanna Zatara is a ridiculous human being. The astral link lights up with a single potent shot of deep-seated affection, and then, moments later — as Barnes finishes giving the console the what-for — expansive amounts of relief, because the world is restoring senses to him that he depends on as much as any of the others that he has.

"Thank christ for that," he mutters, shoving the pistol into the holster. Barnes starts for the door, the words 'where is Jane?' probably the most ominous possible battle-cry, and Peggy gives Zee instructions. He, himself, turns his attention to what remains within the room.

He plucks one of the vials from amidst the countless others and drops it into his pocket. The rest, he consigns to a blaze of holy, purifying flame, courtesy of the gifted lighter he keeps in his coat pocket.

He's only just turning to join the others when the world shakes as though it means to tear itself apart. Something strains at the building they're in, creating massive, almost tectonic upheaval, and this is accompanied by the kind of sound that turns blood to ice.

They had better just hope that thing would rather make its escape than turn around and exact well-justified retribution on the Hydra base.

Because otherwise this is going to be SUMATRA ALL OVER AGAIN.

The base on security lock-down forces Jane out of the terminal, but she's certain she's grabbed all she needs. There's no time to check it for sure.

All she knows is she can barely disconnect her phone for how badly her hands are shaking. It's probably shock, some part of her is thinking clinically, with that strange sort of disconnect that is commonly symptomatic of, well, shock. Probably shock, and it's probably why she's feeling like she can multitask the way her body wants to fold over with a heart attack. All she hears are gunshots and distant shouts and the sounds of people dying, and she's not sure /who's/ dying, and her highly imaginative mind is already thinking the worst.

Picturing the worst, with all her friends dead or strapped into machines that tell them BLUE when it's ORANGE, and James back in the chair with his dead eyes that have been promised a world that makes sense again, mask over his face, the mask he'll never again remove, and she's feeling them chip away through her skull behind her left ear to install the device that will never let her feel afraid again —

Jane doesn't feel the tears that are on her face; instead she turns her head toward the closing source of sound, the battle coming too close. She has to keep ricochet from hitting the machine.

That's how the dual front line of Bucky and Steve no doubt find her, arms out, trying to protect that torture device with her own body. She shudders visibly in relief to see James Barnes, still intact, not shot up or carried away.

Not that it's going to stay this lucky way for anyone the more the moments tick on.

Reinforcements are coming, though another wrathful, distant SHAKE of the underground base unbalances Hydra men and women, hitting the walls and staggering to find their feet. Some exchange concerned glances, as in time —

— lancing up through Zatanna's skull again, veining through all her blood, howls the pain and rage and HUNGER of an awakened monster.

The two supersoldiers create a momentary safe path to the wipe-machine's room, with the covering fire of the agents arresting any stray shots that come too close. Time, however, is closing.

A yell signals among the Hydra forces to switch to gas masks, as they aim a fired canister of tear gas toward the enclosed room.

A man is also ducked near one wall, muttering into a communication device wired into his helmet. "Suppressive charge ordered," he says, "quadrants B-7, B-8, B-9 sub C." The floors are metal tiled with fed wire-grating. Every agent wears strangely thick — too thick — rubber boots.

With Bucky and Steve making quick work of the hallway to get to Jane, she follows posthaste, stuffing her gun back into the small of her back in order to free her hands. With the use of her magic singing back in her veins, she suddenly feels invincible again - dangerous, that, a blur of Russian fatigues when she ends up right into the room where Jane is in, in order to make quick work of a portal and the chair. But the rampaging leviathan - mad from its captivity and burning with the need to destroy - makes itself known once again when its roaring shudders through her senses. Creatures made from magic call to one another and the pain of it is excrutiating, bleeding into her silver tether and scrambling her head. It feels like twice its size, and ready to pop like a balloon.

She staggers forward, though she doesn't fall, clutching on either sides of her temples and screwing her eyes shut tightly in an attempt to block it out. It renders her useless - to the tear gas, to the open doors. She would have thrown up better defenses by now, were it not for the screams.

Through the noise, she can only concentrate on one thing at a time, and the first thing she does is point to the empty space past the chair, and open a hole through space and time. The interior of one of Jane's laboratories beckon at them from the other side.

But it's a struggle to keep it open, with the leviathan screaming through her brain.

"Go, Jane!" she cries. The rest will have to handle the machine and keep the rest of HYDRA off them.

Suppressive charge ordered. Rubber boots and metal wire-grating. Phil's mind assembles these details in a second, works out an equation, and comes up with a lot of… "Yeah, that's not good," Phil coughs, even as tear gas fills the room. He looks down at the thick wire grating, trying to figure out some way to stop what is surely coming…a charge that will result in all of them getting captured or killed, here and now. At least the portal is open, but…

The man giving the order.

Phil finds him, sights on him, and tries to blow his head off next. Maybe if he doesn't finish, they won't get fried just a little sooner. His face is set into a grim, determined mask, his eyes are blazing. He's also coughing his face off a few seconds after that. He can't see after a few seconds more. That's the moment he starts to feel a bit Too Old For this Shit. But the gas bomb is going to have to be someone else's problem.

John is swiftly on Zatanna's heels as they rejoin the others in the room containing the chair — close enough that when she staggers because of the distant bellowing of the abused leviathan he half-stumbles into her, arms looped briefly about her as she reels from the spike of feedback it causes. It's far duller for him, but he feels the backwash of it through that link of theirs. It shows in his face, manifest as a grimace that comes and goes. There's no time for pain.

From within the pocket of his uniform he retrieves one of the most basic, staple tools of any magician's kit: a piece of chalk.

He scrawls symbols on the chair that he'd worked out in advance based on specifications Barnes had given him, calculating roughly for weight and dimensions. Close to him Zatanna is covering her ears and focusing on holding open a portal to the laboratory, and his job?

His job is to make it possible for even those mere mortals amongst them to move the chair, because there was always going to be the possibility that the supersoldiers had to defend their position. And, lo and behold…

His hastily muttered whispers ignite the chalk symbols in that golden-silver light familiar to any member of Team Getting Shit Done from his impression of some sort of avatar of destruction. As each flares to life, it assumes some significant portion of the chair's weight, until the whole of the thing becomes infinitely more manageabl

Peggy is quick to follow back into the machine room, covering Zatanna and John with suppressive fire as best that they can while they are each doing what they do best. She sees what this is doing to Jane and she turns to Barnes in this moment. She's expressed her opinion to Coulson before this and she does it again.

"The test subjects," she asks him. "If we release them. Is there a chance they will help fight against them? Or will they assist?" She can't imagine them helping, but then again, they might either volunteers or even tortured into believing HYDRA are their true protectors. There's quite a bit at stake here, but if they can release some of them, that would do well to both help the team and those in the cells they passed. She has to ask.

As Zatanna opens a way back toward a laboratory, she remains - determined to be the last one out to cover the mage and the others on their way through. Coughing, she yells, "Get the machine!" There are others that are physically stronger than she is, she can cover them as best she can. "I've got your backs." As John starts his incantation to shrink the chair, she urges either Barnes or Steve to help pick it up. She can take their place.

As the battle begins to get dire, there is that moment where a switch turns on. Previously, there was the Rogers where he bumbled around, as he let people talk for him, about him, and to him. Because well, Steve is a humble enough man to know when he's out of his element. He's not one for fighting Cold Wars, where secrets are many and true friends are few. He has done and will do it, but it's not his specialization by any stretch. He's not one for lying and cheating his way to a better world, though he knows and trusts many that do. Instead, he's just a kid from New York that was chosen to help save a lot of good people with their backs against the wall with powers he didn't ask for nor deserve.

And now, he'll use them again.

As the tear gas spews its payload into the room, Rogers knows what he needs to do. Finally, the helmet seems useful, because well, he's not coughing at the moment. It also allowed him to move down taking the item in question and throwing it back through any opening he can to get it away from his group and over toward the Hydra people. "You should know I never take gifts from HYDRA!" he bellows out.

Once that is done, Roger doffs the helmet, deciding to endure the last dregs of the horrid chemicals in the air in order to have improved visability and hearing. With the tear gas removed along with the headgear, he moves toward chair and moves it by himself or with Barnes' help. Either way, the suggestion is still offered. "Remember to lift with the knees!" he states as if this was some sort of trip that ended with a U-Haul, a really annoying sleeper sofa up three flights of stairs, and Barnes paying everyone for their help with pizza and soda.

Bucky only needs one look at Jane to immediately rush to her side. He clasps her in a brief, reassuring hug — all he can give with the limited time they have — and then lets her go to ensure everyone else gets into the room with the wipe machine safely.

Zatanna is quick to open the portal they need, and John swiftly gets to work making the chair manageable for just anyone, and not just 'Steve and Bucky.' Peggy's asking something else, to Coulson, not to him, but he has stuff to say anyway because of course he does —

"Carter," Bucky says, and that alone says how much strain he is under, because usually it's just Peggy, "We're in a tiny room penned in and right now my priority is none of us DYING — "

He starts moving the machine, once John is done with the incantations. Phil's snapped-off shot, at the least, gets that man giving the order before he can finish it, buying them all time, and Steve's quick reflexes get the tear gas right back out the door. But there's still the matter of moving the machine.

Bucky gets on one side of it. Steve on the other. It's probably serious overkill now having two supersoldiers on it after John's efforts, but then again it is an unwieldly damn machine. It's quickly moved with the two of them hefting it, taken through the portal to the safety of the designated drop point.

This leaves the rest to continue to hold off the Hydra forces until they can also retreat through the portal.

Steve gets rid of the gas grenade and Coulson recovers a little, wiping his eyes and coughing some more. He lays down a little more suppression fire while the two super-soldiers do their Brooklyn Mover's Routine. Bucky gives the answer he would have given. He backs up a few more steps towards the portal, but he doesn't go through. With Jane, the supersoldiers, and the machines through, there's the two wizards and Peggy. He has a responsibility to be the last.

"Go, go, go," he tells them, waving them through with one hand. "I'll cover you all! Agent Carter, I'm sorry."

They're not going to make it to those people. If they all survive, it will be a miracle. But if anyone's going to die here, it's going to be him…not the legend, not the civilians, especially not the 19-year-old. It will be him, the man who has lived most of his life already.

She stares at Judgey Agent from where she stands.

"Are you kidding me, I have to be the one who has to— " Another shriek from the Leviathan has her gritting her teeth. "Keep the portal open!!! Now get your asses in there so I can jump in with the rest of you!!"

The monster's cries rattle at her skull and the corners of the portal start to waver. Zatanna keeps her palm out though, her fingers trembling.

"Oh god, it's so mad, it's so mad…" she whispers. Visions fill her brain of a giant snake-monster uncoiling from the depths of the lake, promising doom and destruction over the facility.

It comes a brief embrace, but even that momentary contact from James Barnes both grounds and centers Jane Foster. It is a temporary salve that pulls her back from the worst of her thoughts, and she loosens her white-knuckled grasp off her phone to as her eyes glide a head count of everyone assembled.

Everyone here. Everyone accounted for. This is going to work.

"I have the data," is all Jane has time to declare to Bucky, before Zatanna summons back enough power to split spacetime to glimpse somewhere familiar.

Familiar, amidst all this hell. The oddest Einstein-Rosen Bridge of Jane's life yet.

Urged to go first by Zatanna, the scientist only lingers momentarily: she doesn't want to leave anyone behind, even for a moment, and especially Bucky. But knowing this is already a tax on the young magician, whose face is already contorted in pain —

No time. Jane looks back, trusts Bucky safe with Steve and Peggy beside him, sets her jaw, and jumps through.

The Leviathan screams ancient rage through Zatanna's blood, through the magic conduits of her very soul. The base shudders dangerously. It is AWAKE, it is EMPTY, and it is HUNGRY.

"Yes, I get it, Barnes," Peggy snaps to James. "But, you know what would be helpful right now? An insurrection upstairs. Might take a bit of the pressure off? Since, as you've said, we're penned in a tiny room." It will also give those upstairs a chance to make a run for it should they be able to. It's the middle of nowhere Russia, but there's a chance. It's a crap situation and she doesn't like the fact that they're possibly being selfish in their motives and leaving others that may be exactly like Barnes here without even an attempt at a chance. However, she knows odds when she sees them. It doesn't mean she has to like them.

"Don't be maudlin, Agent Coulson." That sentiment is given a bit of A Look. One that sounds like an order, which is only underlined by Zatanna's own frustration. "And I'm your CO, I outrank you, go through the goddamn portal. Go." She doesn't physically shove him, but it is verbal one, particularly with a swear in front of Steve. That doesn't generally happen. She's determined to be the last one through the portal with Zatanna and Phil's apology is not going to stop that determination.

The woman remains right by Zatanna's side, giving John a bit of a look. She is almost certain the wizard will want to remain by the other woman's side. If that's the case they're going to be linking arms and doing a Wizard of Oz sort of leap through the portal and down the yellow brick road. Keeping her gun up, she keeps firing, attempting to ensure that the HYDRA agents can't pin them down to easily.

There is a whole lot of alarming activity taking place outside of the doors to this tiny room, and John Constantine has attention for none of it. If the supersoldiers and the literal spies can't handle it, then he and Zatanna may be able to make a last ditch effort to assist…but that kind of effort could very well result in the entire floor being slagged, and he does not, it should be said, fancy their chances when that very angry magical beastie rounds on the base and finally has its revenge.

Once the chair is through it no longer benefits from his muttered incantation, so he's free to turn and focus his support on Zatanna. Nauseating waves of crippling discomfort radiate out of her, sinking teeth and claws into the fabric of him. He's trying to push back against that, flood the open channel with reassurance or comfort, something, anything to keep her focused on the monumental effort of creating a corridor through space…

And the agents are bickering.


I have the data, Jane says. "Go," he tells her, giving her a push to get her through the portal. "Right behind you."

He refocuses his concentration back on the machine. His gaze remains fixed on it even through Peggy's angry rejoinder. "It'd be helpful, and I know what you MEAN," he snaps back, because he knows any one of them upstairs could possibly be him, or Jane, and he doesn't like it either, "but unless you see a way clear through THAT — " a point at the exit crowded with Hydra personnel, "to get upstairs, I just don't think we can, and we don't have time for another way — "

Then he hears Coulson saying something like 'I'm sorry,' and the last shred of his temper snaps. "Coulson get your ASS through that hole, I need it to cover MY ass about this shit!!" he says, even as he lugs the machine through the portal.

John, in the background, expresses his feelings on the matter in loud agreement with Bucky's own current mood.

It is imperative everyone actually get through the portal, however, because the sounds of some heavier ordnance being brought to bear are getting starkly obvious.

He was apologizing, as it happens, to Peggy, that they would not be able to get the people upstairs. And maybe for that air strike he's still calling in. But people read it as 'he's going to die,' and suddenly both Howling Commandos are howling that one Phillip Coulson should get his arse through the portal. And one teen witch. And one very angry British Magus.

His face takes on a look of bemusement, he ducks as bullets fly and…there is one Phil Coulson, no longer Judgy Agent but Sheepish Agent, stumbling into Jane's lab and breathing a bit heavily because he still has lungfuls of gas to contend with. He says nothing more, just sort of seems like a vaguely apologetic ten-year old, even as he stares worriedly after the others.

As everyone goes through, Steve waits until Buck is ready to lower before he does so. After all, breaking the machine after doing all this would be rather horrible. Once that is done, the American Hero looks back. He's heard the exchange and just sighs. Perhaps out of empathy for the Little Guy, Rogers moves past the other heroes. "You have a good heart, Agent Coulson. Just remember to do what you can to keep yourself alive. America can't afford to lose you quite yet." And with a pat on the shoulder of the whizzling Phil, Steve moves back to where he once was with the MircoPep Talk given as he adds to everyone gathered: "Great work, as expected."

There's a lot of things going on in the room. There are shots being fired by Peggy after ordering Coulson through the portal. There's certainly a lot of yelling going on right now. It's possible that it's because of the loud sound of chambers being expelled from guns, but more likely due to the adrenaline and high energy they are all feeling.

James is given another glance as he ensures Jane makes it through the portal. She opens her mouth to yell back about 'hacking', that's a thing! She knows it's a thing that can be done. She's learned some stuff from Agent Simmons and there are machines and computers around them. However, there is no time. She knows there is no time and from the expression James gives her, she knows just what his stance on this matter is as well. There's a narrowing of her eyes and then just a nod. The mission first, of course.

John's outburst is met first with a glare. It's entirely possibly she is thinking of bodily picking him up and tossing him through the portal before her. However, after a moment, there's something akin to amusement there. It's possibly all the interjected 'bloody's, it's also possible that she'd have to let go of her gun to do that. That flicker is gone in a second. Once Steve, Bucky, Jane and Coulson are through, she starts to quickly back up through the portal.

"Alright! Everyone's through! Let's go!" She's into the portal even as she watches to make sure that Zatanna and Constantine are going to make it through, gun raised to shoot at any HYDRA agents won't be able to make any pot shots at them.

Peggy's right about one thing, at least: John is not thrilled about going through the portal before Zee does. However, he has no choice — and neither does she.

He glances over his shoulder at Zee as he breaks from cover to make for rent in the fabric of everything, and his touch to the agent's arm in passing is gentle, even if he has to raise his voice to be heard over the noise. "C'mon luv, she can't come through until we're out, so move your perky arse!"

And she will have to move it if she wants to exact any kind of retribution on him for applying adjectives to it, because with one last twist of anxiety he, himself, passes through it and into the comparative silence and peace of the laboratory beyond.

Once Jane, Phil, Bucky and Steve are through with the chair, she takes a few running steps herself, eager to get away from the screaming feedback loop in her brain. The portal is already sputtering around the edges, though John's reassurances through the tether bolster her there. She fights through the pain, the interference, the roadblocks to getting a task that is usually so simple for her done.

Finally through the haze, she sees John fling himself through and all the tension unspools from deep within her. Anything can happen now that he was safe.

And with that, Zatanna then leaps through her own portal, probably with Peggy, stumbling right through Jane's lab. Once she gets there, she drops on her knees, her head tucked low and her fingers cradling her own head.

The portal blinks out, just like that, leaving blessed silence and the feedback loop from the slavering leviathan gone. Her body sags like a limp noodle on the floor, lowering her hands and looking up.

They did it.

"Oh, thank God," she breathes, scrubbing her hands over her face.

The tear in spacetime tunnels them through, near instantaneously, from that dead, subterranean hell in the depths of Siberia —

— all the way to the jump-point that is Jane Foster's lab, SHIELD-contracted, forged out of the inside of a warehouse on the ports of Coney Island.

The gunfire and shouts and shaking of some far-away and reawakened THING all melt away to the distant traffic of New York City mid-morning, the sun through the ceiling windows, and all of Dr. Foster's computers and strange, star-charting devices.

And Jane, in the midst of it, turned around and taking a headcount. Everyone accounted for. Machine in one piece.

It's Zatanna she goes for when the young woman collapses, kneeing down and laying a supporting hand on her shoulder, her fingers imparting a quiet squeeze of /thank you./

"Thank you," she says aloud, and this is to everyone, glancing up with her raw, still-teary eyes. "So much."

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