Zhivy Budem, ne Pomryom

June 04, 2017:

Literally, "If we will be alive, we will not die." A Russian saying meaning, "It will be okay." As James Barnes waits for someone to come up with his 1 million dollar bail, four Red Room graduates stationed at the Raft decide to visit vengeance upon the spectre who trained them.

The Raft

It may be a special prison, but it's still a prison.

Characters

NPCs: Four Red Room Graduates, emitted by Phil Coulson

Mentions: Matt Murdock, Tony Stark

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The arraignment and bail hearing represents, in many ways, the first legal triumph of Matthew Murdock vs. US Attorney Archer. He got bail at all…a legal victory that might well have been shocking given the circumstances. But…now someone has to come up with the one million dollar bail for a known assassin. There's not a bail bondsman in town that wants to touch an amount that high. There's not a bail bondsman in town who thinks their bounty hunters can chase him. This is going to take some creative financing. Possibly from Tony Stark.

Either way, Tony's been locked in his lab for days and getting ahold of him isn't easy. That means Bucky has to go back to the Raft until the money is found.

There is no "outdoor" time here, but the US Constitution still holds, and the prisoners still have to get time outside of their cells. There is on this facility one great big room that is reminiscent of a heavily guarded high school gym. It's got the shiny floors, it's got the basketball court and the ropes. It's got weights. Everyone gets one hour of exercise every day, each clad in their orange jumpsuits and whatever measures have been taken to suppress, subdue, or block their powers.

No guards are in here. They're all stationed around the upper perimeter, with high-power, blue glowing, heavy duty ICER rifles meant to take down anyone who gets too far out of hand. But Bucky has already been here long enough to know…they are like any prison guards, SHIELD or not.

They've been known to "miss things" when it suits them.

—-

There's plenty sitting around for people to get exercise on. Bucky Barnes touches none of it.

He hasn't really done much of anything with his allotted time out of his cell. Mostly, for him, it was a chance to see something that wasn't the stark four walls of his confinement. He occupies a corner of the room, sitting by himself at a table with a terrible awareness of how much he must stand out now that his hair has been cut. It makes him look a lot more like the man he used to be, and he's not gotten accustomed to that again yet.

But there was a way you were supposed to look in federal court, before a judge, and the way he looked before with his long, disguising hair wasn't it.

There are doubtless others in the room, but they don't seem to exist to Bucky. He faces away from the main area, keeping to himself, an old soldier come to a shameful end.

By the time you get to a prison like this, you're in a situation where you have little hope of returning to the life you once had. Lately, James Barnes is wondering if that's about to be his fate, and whether this might or might not be for the best. Whether there is any true life for him to which to return, or just a holding pattern, in which he creates danger for those who make the mistake of associating with him.

—-

He won't be allowed to sit alone for long. Four long shadows fall across him as four men approach. One sort of crouches in a set of bleachers that some of the prisoners are using to run stair steps on, to his left. Two come directly in front of Bucky. A fourth turns from a weight bench to the old soldier's right.

The one above speaks. "Kak sil'nyye upali, Zimniy Soldat." How the mighty have fallen.

The one to the right smirks, and spits. Not to the side. But at Bucky. «"The Winter Soldier. An American. That's the finest joke I've ever heard. Isn't that the finest joke you've ever heard, Ozu?"

«"It's the finest joke I've ever heard,"» comes the soft-spoken voice of one of the two in front, the largest of them.

Once, James' handlers had referred to him as a 'Dog.' These Red Room graduates each got their own animal names, during a phase when the Russians had chosen animals to designate their various assets. Each of these men once quaked before Zimniy Soldat, small boys who would learn, or know pain. Cheruyak. Vorona. Ozu. Zmeya. Worm, Crow, Ram, Gorilla. Each one had grown into a deadly killer. They were highly valued, for they were natural mutants. It took no serum to make them special. Of course, none of their abilities work here, now, but they didn't really need them. Not after The Winter Soldier finished molding them into some of the most dangerous men on earth.

Now they're in here.

With him.

They don't look happy to see him. Or rather…

They look altogether too happy to see him.

—-

He hears them long before they actually approach him. Well-honed senses take in the angles at which they're setting up around him, with the experience of an old campaigner.

Bucky Barnes does not react in any way to suggest that he is aware of them or that he plans to respond. Even the derisive spit that lands just short of him garners little reaction.

How the mighty have fallen, one quips. At this, the former Winter Soldier finally reacts, though with little more than the shift of his left arm where it braces on the table. The erstwhile red star on its shoulder is now a stark white.

They spit on me from both my homelands, he ruminates, briefly and passingly amused in a bleak sort of way.

"Ya ne v nastroyenii, rebyata," he rasps eventually. He's not in the mood, children. His tone carries the wolfish, growling warning tone each man would remember well from their childhood — the tone that preceded one of their bones likely being broken in punishment for some overstep.

—-

Cheruyak's heart beats a little faster. Old, remembered fear. Ozu swallows hard. A little sweat.

Vorona starts to cackle. He was always a little crazy.

Zmeya? Steady. "Deti bol'she net." Children no longer. "My to, chto vy nam sdelali." We are what you have made us. "Pozhinat' to, chto vy poseyali."

But despite the ominous words, the gorilla is not the one that moves first. That's Cheruyak, all wirey strength and fury. Angry, because Zimniy Soldat has made him afraid with just a few softly spoken words. Tired of being afraid.

Ready to banish his fear with his fists. He comes in with an attempt at a hard kidney strike, followed by an attempt at a leg sweep.

Ozu, from the bench, picks up one of the 15 pound weights with ease and tries to swing it towards Bucky's head.

From above, Crazy Vorona leaps, trying to get his legs about the Soldat's neck, happy to try to snap his neck then and there.

Zmeya waits, arms folded, solid and steady, dead eyes watching. But Bucky knows this about him. He does wait. He is content to let others expend their energy. He waits for opportunity. He will strike when Bucky is otherwise distracted. There's a good chance that if any of them have managed to create or secret a weapon away, it is him. He is the one most likely to make the kill.

—-

Fear sweats into the air. The Winter Soldier can smell it. Hear it, in the sound of quickened heartbeats and shallowed breaths. He doesn't move, his head doesn't turn, but his blue eyes turn. His gaze lifts, moving between the four men. It is transparent from the look in his eyes that he still sees them for the young boys they were.

Contempt gleams in his regard, even as they insist they are no longer children. They are what he has made them.

They come at him. Bucky is already standing, his chair kicked back, turning towards Cheruyak because he knows Cheruyak will strike first — Cheruyak, who was always afraid, and turned that fear into impetuous rage. His metal arm might be harder to move than usual, and lacking in its usual strength, but there's still a supersoldier under all the glamour and power of that prosthetic, and his rapid reaction time has him parrying the first strike, then sidestepping the second. The sidestep carries him simultaneously out of the way of the swung weight (Ozu next. He was a parrot. Never did a thing that he didn't see Cheruyak do first).

Vorona third. Vorona relied on his unpredictable nature. It's why alone of the three he's able to get purchase, get that leg-lock he wants, though his reward for that boldness is the Winter Soldier hammering his steel left arm hard towards his exposed knees, with intent to smash the heavy metal prosthetic into the joints from the side, where they're weakest and most likely to break.

And he is certainly TRYING to break them. Much as he did when he was teaching them, he is holding nothing back.

"«You were miserable little children,»" he says, his voice cool. He is wearing the Winter Soldier. He hasn't in a long time. The cold mantle does not go back on comfortably, but it goes on like a glove. "«You have become miserable adults.»"

"«If you are what I made you, how have you all already long since wound up here, despite all I taught you? You are an INSULT to my instruction!»"

—-

Vorona screams as his knee shatters, but he keeps his grip. Not trying to squeeze— he can't…but Bucky taught them to fight on through intense pain. He attempts to grab the side of Bucky's skull, attempts to drive his thumb directly through the Winter Soldier's eye. He's panting and whimpering in his pain, but he fights on.

Cheruyak takes the parry with that metal arm with a grunt; his skin bruising hard, his bone bruising, but not breaking. He grabs up the abandoned chair and attempts to slam it into Bucky's gut as hard as he possibly can, roaring, "YOU ARE IN HERE TOO, YOU POMPOUS SON OF BITCH," in English.

Ozu is still holding on to that weight. He dances around behind Bucky, tries to bring it down hard on his back.

Zmeya merely smiles. His smile is placid. Unthreatened. Unruffled. Unafraid. For all of his breath, for all of his heartbeat, he could be having tea. He glances upward.

The guards are all watching. There's a strange prison economy. Sometimes the prisoners can get some control of it.

He turns his gaze back to the mentor he feared and admired. Hated, and loved.

He seems to be drinking down the violence, feeding on it. And in a way he is. The man is a literal psychic vampire…and while they can suppress that nonsense…they can't kill it entirely. Sadly it's not doing anything but giving him a brief hit, like a cocaine addict getting a cup of coffee. He's not getting any strength off of it.

But he likes it.

—-

Back in the days of Department X, everyone knew the Winter Soldier was not just another operative. He might have been a soldier once, but by the time he came to Red Room he was a product, a thing created by the State, a monster made in the forges of that place no one spoke of on the shore of Lake Baikal.

And there is a moment where it becomes clear the difference between men with powers, and men who are power in and of themselves. Whatever collars or chips or injections they have that can turn off a mutant's genetic abilities, there is not yet any sort of collar or concoction that can divorce the blood of James Buchanan Barnes from the serum running through it. That can undo the changes already wrought on him down to the cellular level.

That moment is right about when Ozu hits him square in the back with a fifteen-pound weight, and far from being crippled or incapacitated… the Winter Soldier just seems to get mad about it, if the sudden backwards kick he fires backwards towards the man's midsection is any indication.

Vorona seizes the side of his head, trying to claw out his eye. The Winter Soldier's right hand catches at his wrist before he can be blinded. There's only one possible end to letting oneself get caught by Zimniy Soldat, this much all the men would know intimately. It won't be a surprise to any of them when the Winter Soldier tries to break Vorona's arm in two places with a wrench of his grip, and then pulls hard to try to sling the man off him and break his grip around his neck.

Cheruyak slams the chair into his midsection with all his force, doubling his erstwhile mentor over it. You're in here too! he howls.

"I am," the Soldier admits. "Maybe I'm here to teach you all a last lesson."

A steel grip closes on the chair, wrenching it aside with a strength still beyond human. He straightens up, taking up in the men around him, glancing briefly up at the guards. Disgust and contempt war in his eyes. "Zmeya," he says, without looking, with the apparent omniscience characteristic of all teachers. "I know you're getting off back there, you little shit. Don't think I don't."

—-

Ozu flies right into the wall with a grunt, and he doubles over, falling to his knees. He spits a little blood, eyes narrowing, eyes bright with fury. But it will take him a moment to recover.

Vorona gets his arm broken in two places. He howls and hits the bleachers, falling to the floor. With a shattered knee and a shattered arm he is out of the fight entirely.

Cheruyak spares the fallen Crow a look of sneering contempt as he loses the chair.

But giving up is not in their make-up. He surges forward with a flurry of punches and kicks, leading with a front kick, spinning to a side kick towards the throat, following up with a spinning backfist towards the temple, and finishing with a stomp-kick towards Bucky's knee.

Bucky calls Zmeya out, and now he moves, revealing the gleaming shiv that he'd concealed in his fist. As soon as Cheruyak finishes his assault he is moving. He comes in high with the shiv, attempting to stab it down into the soft place where collarbone meets neck, but doesn't stop there; he attempts to slash at Bucky's throat; the gleaming edge comes snapping towards Bucky's gut. His other hand is not idle. Between these strikes come the snap of a meaty fist, moving towards Bucky's solar plexus, aimed once, twice, three, four times; he doesn't bother with hits to the face. He goes for points that can steal breath, that can be lethal when hit hard enough. Cheruyak and Zmeya have always worked well together too; the Worm as the dangerous and potentially deadly distraction, the Gorilla as the truer, more dangerous killer.

—-

Frankly, the Winter Soldier would have been even more disgusted with the lot of them if they gave up so easily. That was not how he taught them.

Such it is that he is prepared when Cheruyak and Zmeya attack — as was their habit — as one unit. That they have not changed their habits substantially since their days learning at the Winter Soldier's proverbial knee is, now, to their detriment. Their teacher knows everything about how they operate and how they prefer to fight.

Yet knowing is not quite the same thing as executing, and the fact remains that he is accustomed to dealing with these men in the fullness of his strength and not with his left arm hampered. More of his concentration is necessary to handle Cheruyak's diversionary blows than usual, meaning Zmeya's knife is en route long before James can free up an arm to guard. It's not his left arm, unfortunately, which would be preferable for its metal impenentrability. It's his right arm, and the blade opens a shallow gash.

The pressure point strikes afterwards hit hard, but do not have as powerful an effect on such a constitution as the Soldier as might be expected. Loss of breath means little when a supersoldier can do without for ten minutes. Nonetheless, the Soldier knows it is Zmeya that is the larger threat, and that it will only take a minor adjustment of those hits to account for his greater resilience.

So when he brings his left arm snapping around, driven with punishing snakestrike speed and all its steel weight, it's aimed dead for the center of the shiv-wielding man's ribcage, in a blow intended to break ribs.

—-

Same tactics…longer practice.

The Winter Soldier takes Zmeya in the ribs. He staggers back as they crack and break.

He drops the shiv, but the Worm is there. He drops to one knee and catches it smoothly. He twists his body and stabs the shiv towards Bucky's femoral artery, his face splitting into a twisted smile. He can taste it, the moment where he finds the fatal blow. He can taste it, the moment where he gets his revenge for days of pain, nights cuffed to a bed. The lowliest named will bring the highest down.

He can taste it.

Zmeya, with his ribs cracked, lets out a painful and wheezing breath. He slams a backfist towards Bucky's face, hoping to buy skinny, angry Cheruyak a little more time to land the blow.

Above, the guards finally get around to taking safeties off the ICER rifles. It's not clear who they even intend to shoot.

—-

Cheruyak, lowliest and weakest, always last and always reviled, knows his moment has finally come. The moment where he will be avenged for his life taken from him, his childhood spent in fear and pain. The moment where a worm finally brings down the Soviet Union's most unparalleled monster. Especially as the Winter Soldier is currently occupied in letting Zmeya break his fist on his metal arm.

The tip of his blade gets within centimeters.

Then a familiar sound rips the air. The sound of metal whirring, gears shrieking. The arm's power source may be deactivated, but its mechanical components still work fine off the power source of the Winter Soldier's strong heart. Something slams down on his wrist and stamps it dead to the floor, the tip of his blade ripping harmlessly down cloth instead of sinking into flesh. A moment later, the presence mantling over him pivots, and a harsh knee rams into the back of his neck and pins him to the floor.

Familiar. Too familiar.

"«You are still trying to prove something, Cheruyak,»" a voice says overhead, as it has a thousand times before. "«Fighting for that reason is why you lose. After this many years, there is nothing left to prove.»"

His expression is blank. "«Department X fucked all of us like whores, in different ways.»"

—-

Zmeya takes a knee, cradling his hand, panting in pain.

But neither he, nor Ozu, nor Vorona could exist in this moment.

Cheryuak's— Pavel's— eyes are green. They're as green as a pair of emeralds. Now they stare at the floor. When he was brought to the Red Room at the age of 3 they had been as big as saucers. Now they sit in a face lined and scarred. They glare furiously as he listens to the voice of a soldier of two centuries, two countries, two worlds.

Tormentor and mentor. Feared and loved.

The knee at the back of his throat. The furious gasps sing a song, speak a language between assassins and warriors, a song that sings: 'finish it. Free me from this god damned Hell that I can't escape.'

Who would he have been? A teacher? A poet? A police officer? Maybe just someone normal. A guy who laid bricks. A fellow who worked in a power plant. Or a shop.

Department X fucked all of us like whores, in different ways.

The tension flows out of his body. His head drops. He doesn't hear his abuser anymore. He doesn't hear the voice of the nightmare. He doesn't hear filthy American scum. He hears someone else. He hears a man. He hears a fellow prisoner. A brother in whoredom. A brother standing with his feet bleeding on the same field of broken glass.

Rifles aim at Bucky. He will be blamed for this. Brought to solitary. The story will leak to the press. It will hurt his case.

But there are certain economies, in prison. Sometimes, the guards are in control. Sometimes it is the prisoners.

Sometimes, it might surprise a person to find out precisely which prisoner has placed his hands upon the reins. "They did," he says softly, in his heavily accented English.

And then he raises his voice and says, "It is done."

That's it. It is done.

Ozu staggers to his feet. Helps Vorona. They go limping to the exit, to find a hospital. Zmeya rises with dignity. He turns. He leaves.

It is done.

Safeties click on above.

Pavel Stepanaovich waits. To be freed from the floor, or to be freed from this life, it matters not.

—-

The Winter Soldier was there the day Pavel Stepanovich Petrov was brought in, one of a group of children being brought as a batch into the fold. He was barely coordinated enough to walk unaided, at that age, but no one helped him. The Red Room was not a place where succor would ever be offered, and its denizens were acclimated to that idea early.

Pavel might have a faint memory of the man from that day: a stern remote figure in military uniform, standing over them all with nothing but weighing judgment in those cold blue eyes. James Buchanan Barnes doesn't look more than a few days older, in the here and now, than he did in that faint memory. Except in the eyes — the eyes are decades older, tired and weighed down by too many long years.

His voice is decades older, too. When it finally concedes enough, to the anger of the young men he trained, to offer that one remark on what unifies them all. That one remark that implies all of their stolen potential. Bucky Barnes had a life waiting for him too, one he never got to live.

It works. Because the funny thing about being raised a child killer is, sometimes your teacher-tormentor is the only father figure you have.

Presently, James Barnes lets go and stands up. The Winter Soldier and his anger are shed. There remains only a man who now sees clearly, and sees only suffering.

"Zhivy budem, ne pomryom," he says, and turns away.

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