Demon Bear: Shadow of an Eclipse

November 12, 2017:

Bucky, Constantine, JJ and several others go hunting a Bear to find Jane Foster.


NPCs: None.


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…


That's the name of the game.

For the technologically inclined the GPS blips have been few and far between, at least in the beginning. Now, however, with so many days having passed those points begin to build something akin to a map.

For the magically inclined, it's likewise similar.

The presence of Jane Foster pops up here and there, but never for long. Seconds, most of the time, sometimes a minute, or two and then she's gone.

Like the technological means a map begins to form. Connect all of those dots and both parties come up with a similar place -

A large swath of land somewhere around Westchester County. Specifically where the trees, plants, dirt and animals rule and where the encroachment of civilization can't always be seen, or found.

With the beginning of the journey the typical noises of the forest are heard quite easily. A chirp here, a rustle of small vermin there, and the occasional crackle of twig and fallen leaves from the movements of the abundant deer population. It's only as the sun begins to set and those within the forest (wherever they may be) draw deeper within that the sounds begin to fade away. A heaviness is now at hand and beneath that weighted silence something more can be found - magic.

Subtle power that thrums through the air, within the trees and bushes, and dirt. It speaks of strange things, of demons, darkness. Of anger and fear. Of rage.

Even for those that aren't sensitive it might perhaps prickle along the skin. Or raise the hairs along a person's arms and neck. It's an unease that waits to pounce on the unsuspecting.

And whether the group is fully here, or currently scattered, the eventual trail leads to a small circular clearing.

It won't be much longer - they're perhaps a half a mile from the end.

The communications from Bucky have been sporadic, but semi-regular. Replies to information and inquiries that come his way… responses, in terms of new coordinates and suspected locations based on his triangulations. He didn't immediately ask anyone to come to his aid — in the early days, before he had any inkling where she was, it was premature, and he wanted to be alone. But as the location narrowed down, and the end of the line emerged on his map, he finally picked up his phone.

Early in the day, a text went out to the small group of people he's trusted to confer with about Jane's disappearance. I think I'll have a location by end of day. It feels bad. Come if you can.

The location in question follows, in a subsequent message.

It's hard for a man like him to request help, but from all he's seen so far… this might be beyond him, outside his field of expertise, and he is not willing to gamble Jane Foster's life on his pride.

Now, as the day folds away and the moon starts to rise, the Winter Soldier can be found standing pensively at the edge of the forest clearing. He is heavily armed, bearing all his largest caliber weaponry. Literally loaded for bear. He doesn't have the senses to truly pick up on the power scribed through the air tonight, but he can feel something prickling the back of his neck.

At some point someone began texting through the chain about a bear. A shadowy bear. As weirdly magical as that may have sounded, it gave John some understandable pause: magic is his wheelhouse, right enough, but a bear? What the hell is John Constantine supposed to do about a bear?

Still. With the investigation into the condition of Emily Montrose pending scheduling, he found himself with time to help, and even if all he'd be able to do is cover more ground in an outdoor search, that's something he's willing to offer James and Jane, who once went literally to hell and back to retrieve he and Zatanna from an unfortunate fate indeed.

On arriving, all of that changes. John's better-acquainted with the nature of infernal things than most mortals can claim, and he knows demonic energy when he feels it, even if its presence makes no sense to him. His life has brought him into contact with stranger things than demonic bears, if that's what they're dealing with. They once journeyed to Switzerland via a portal located in the rectum of a gigantic skinless demon girl, so 'demon bear' doesn't even rate close to the top of the 'seriously though, what the hell?' list.

He, too, is standing at the clearing's edge, with no desire to step into it. As at-odds with the woods as he is — and he is; the man is an urban creature down to his bones — he dislikes the wide-open lack of cover even more.

Jessica Jones may have been one of the people to journey to Switzerland through that portal. The one who, in fact, may never live down her particular method of 'solving' that problem.

But it's safe to say 'demon bear' still rates pretty highly on her personal WTF list. It's still a growing list. She's as urban as John is, as it is, and seeing a video feed with a bear zipping in and out of reality in the heart of New York City was still a bit strange to her.

Once Bucky sent word that there was something she could actually do about said bear she made it her business to be out in short order. She'll always drop everything to have her friend's backs unless it is physically impossible for her to do so.

But she arrives at the location as well, drawing to a stop next to John and Bucky.

She is armed only with herself, but usually that's proven to be enough. She grimaces at the feeling in the air. She doesn't like it. But she peers into the clearing all the same.

With as many assembled as can be it's now time for the last leg of their journey.

They just need to go a bit further.

Into the actual clearing.

While the moon has risen the shadows within the clearing cling resolutely to everything. Only the slim fingerlings of moonlight allow monochrome glimpses of the ground and withered grass ahead.

Whether they move quickly across the clearing, or slowly, mid-way through several things change.

One: The clearing isn't actually a straight-shot across. It slopes downward.

Two: At the end of that slope is a silhouette of something.

Three: That bad feeling only increases as they move across said clearing.

While the weather is chilly it's nowhere near freezing temperatures. That doesn't seem to stop the water vapor, unseen by the naked eye, from suddenly showing itself. In the form of snow. Those crystalized flakes form upon the air and begin to drift gently and silently downward.

While the snow falls semi-rapidly it's not hard enough to obliterate sight, only add an extra hazard to the leaves upon the ground. A slickness that could possibly catch someone unprepared.

An alert signals from the GPS of Jane Foster's phone: here again, back in this world, and suddenly very close.

Snow falls silently.

It falls on the forest loam. It falls all the way down that steep incline, the straight-shot into the heart of the clearing.

It falls on Jane's body, stretched along the leafy ground, whether left there in meticulous arrangement, or forgotten there to die.

Dried blood darkens her torn clothing, and standing against it, her skin is bone-white, bleached with hypothermic cold. Her dark hair spreads along the ground, tangled with the snapped ends of twigs and bird's feathers, almost as if she were dragged.

Silent and unmoving, not even her shut eyes stir to the way frost dusts unmeltingly on her face. Snowflakes catch on her unmoving lashes.

Bucky hasn't said a single word since he was joined by John and Jessica. The brief look he gave them was so desolate that there's probably no question why he is not much for speaking.

Eventually, however, something grows strong enough to give him back speech. "Thanks for coming," the Soldier says. "It's this way."

He starts to walk. Every instinct in his body screams about walking across a clearing in the open, but he doesn't care. He must be wearing at least half his own weight in weaponry, but he moves as unhindered as if he were completely unburdened.

Especially when they reach the heart of the clearing, and they see —

The Winter Soldier, typically so careful, so measured, so reasoned, bolts with all his unnnatural speed. He tries to go straight for Jane, discarded there on the forest floor.

The hour is late, the canopy cover is still thick in spite of the lateness of the season, and every scrap of shadow seems like something through which any menace at all might come barreling, bear-sized or otherwise. The patchwork of light and dark thrown by moonlight passing through leaves and branches makes it almost impossible to tell if something is a stone, a pile of debris, or the collapsed form of a wounded Jane Foster, slowly perishing of exposure.

John says nothing to Barnes, even in the wake of his verbal appreciation. Pale blue eyes meet that offering with serious focus, then sweep away into their surrounds again. He and the Winter Soldier are not the same man, in so many ways — but there are ways enough in which they're of a like mind, and he understands enough of the moment to know what the presence of anyone else here at all must feel like, necessary or not.

He doesn't lead them off across the field. He lets Bucky do that, and not just because he wants to stay out of Barnes' way: he lets him because he's durable where John is technically not. So he's not the first to see Jane there, collapsed low at the bottom of a hill, immediately in their path. Left behind after seemingly being dragged through autumn refuse. And even if he could stop Barnes from racing that way — he can't; the man is too fast — he wouldn't, though he's immediately scanning the far treeline with a look of utmost suspicion. Like it's too good to be true. Like it's a trap.

In John's experience? It's always a trap.

Bucky thanks them for coming, and Jessica just gives him a quick, worried smile. She catches enough of the mood not to say anything much either.

Then? Bucky makes a move that is wholly natural, normal, and even expected; he races for Jane's prone form the moment he sees her.

There is no direct way for Jones to help with that; she has no first aid skills, and he can certainly scoop Jane up without help. Besides, the PI's gut impulse says this is a trap just as Constantine's does, along with all the goosebumpy, hackle-raising things she's feeling. She doesn't believe for one moment they just get to pluck Jane out of a clearing, warm her up, get her to a hospital and everything will be fine.

She glances at Constantine; then she executes one of her power leaps. She picks a tree branch at the edge of the clearing, crouching down, ready to leap in another direction at any moment. 'Jess from Above' might offer them an element of surprise when something goes wrong, or this bear shows up. She stays near Constantine as she does, but makes sure she has a straight shot to Bucky and Jane as well, if she needs one.

Fast as the Winter Soldier may be, it's not fast enough.

Not when the shadows seem to breathe with a life of their own.

Uncurling from the ground around her those threads of darkness reach up to the fallen form of Jane Foster. Then they wrap around her and pull her down into their blackness.

What's left in return is a dozen of crows upon the yellowed grass of the ground.

And yes, it's always a trap. Always.

Black and glossy, with red-eyes the birds turn as one, their attention split between Bucky, Constantine and Jessica Jones.

Then (again) as one, the murder of crows take flight with a communal, "CAW!".

With Bucky the closest four immediately arrow for the Winter Soldier's face. Jessica Jones may have landed safely within that tree of hers, but that doesn't seem to stop four birds from initiating an attack at her either.

Likewise to John Constantine. The four birds arc high for a brief moment, before they angle low, to try and gouge at his face - specifically his eyes, though any skin is fair game.

For all, beaks and claws are ready to jab, slash, peck and scratch.

And while the birds attack is quite ferocious, in reality it's nothing more than a feint. Something to distract the group as the shadows begin to draw sharply together.

Already a rumble of a growl echoes throughout the clearing - a harbinger of what's about to come.

Elsewhere, perhaps a mile out, another comes from a direction opposite of the current group. Danielle Moonstar. She's tracking the bear via the bond that exists between the two of them. It's slow, but it still leads her true. As such, when that growl bounces from clearing to trees and beyond, Danielle is close enough to catch the echo of it. That's enough to cause the Cheyenne to quicken her steps and pull forth an arrow for her bow. It's loosely nocked as the woman navigates the shadowed lands.

If anyone would survive a direct hit from whatever trap is assuredly laid over Jane's prone form, it's probably Bucky.


Thus it is that he dives in first, readying his weapon as he goes. Though he expects Jane to vanish, that doesn't make it any easier to bear when she does; with a snarl of frustration he yanks up his rifle and fires at the crows as they plunge for his face. They're small targets, but he's a deadeye shot… and if the gunfire doesn't work, he's ready with his left arm to block and bat the creatures away.

He doesn't want those things touching anything of his but bare metal.

He'll help the others with their respective assaults if he has time, but from the sounds of that growl… likely not.

Recently, with a crying Jane Foster in his apartment, John had said that he hates being right. It's arguable depending on context, but in at least one sense it's absolutely true. It was true then, and it's true now. Because a lot of the things he's forced to hypothesize about are awful, and he expects the worst, every single time, and he's almost always right.

It's not great.

What he's significantly less prepared for is the nature of the trap that gets sprung. Demons, sure. Flayed girls with portals to scandinavian countries in their nethers — well, he wasn't prepared for that the first time it happened, but now? Yeah, okay. Familiar territory, as sad as that is.

Being attacked by crows is so far beyond his metropolitan experience that he takes several steps backward and manages to catch his heel in a knoll, spilling onto the ground and then turning over. That trench coat of his is equipped with Non-Standard Features, and he activates one of them now: a few muttered words cause a sigil embroidered into the lighting to fire, a burst of energy released from stored magic in reprisal against whatever's unwise enough to make hostile contact with him after he triggers it.

Because there's no time to thrash around with birds.


"Son of a bitch!"

Jessica Jones hated the story of The Birds, when she read it in high school. Hated. It. It used to give her nightmares, and for all that she's outgrown those it's certainly unpleasant to have all these great cawing things diving towards her. She starts trying to backhand them, not sparing any of her strength at all since she's sure they're some sort of awful demon birds, gritting her teeth. She also topples and falls out of the tree and into the snow, even as she tries to fend them off. It doesn't hurt her in particular; she rolls from her back to her feet in fairly short order, ready for round two, but there are certainly scratches and pecks and the like appearing on her face and hands.

Her leather jacket, at least, provides some protection against pecks and scratches and the like. There may not be time to thrash around with birds, but Jessica finds that's pretty much what she's gotta do for the nonce.

The birds that Bucky hits, whether with bullet, or hand, die as readily as the normal ones. With a sharp caw and a crack, as the hollow bones crunch from the force of impact.

For Constantine, the spell activated within his trenchcoat offers a bit more than just a crunch and crackle. Instead, when the birds touch the fallen man's coat they literally explode in a puff of broken feathers, bones and black slug-like maggots. A terrible stench erupts from their burnt and broken bodies and the maggots themselves rain downward; withering for several seconds before they eventually succumb to death.

For Jessica Jones, her world possibly alters the most. Not when she backhands the birds away, or even falls to the ground, it's when the beaks and claws touch her bare skin. Specifically when they cut and scratch it. With some of those scratches a burning is felt, which isn't unusual, all wounds burn, but what is unusual is the wriggling seconds later. Wriggling beneath her skin.

That wriggling lasts seconds, before it morphs into movement beneath her skin.

But in the end, because there always is one, the birds don't really matter. Not when the roiling shadows grow and stretch up and up again. Larger than any of the heroes here. Almost as tall as some of the oldest trees that can be found nearby.

White light suddenly shines within the clearing as the Bear's eyes open. That light helpfully illuminates the area around the trio, but it likewise shows exactly what they're fighting.

Crows that are more corpses than not, and a Bear that's primarily made of shadows. It's only the head, the four legs and the paws of the bear that hold any real substance. The torso of the bear is made completely of shadows. Those shadows shift and twist and with that movement vague images might be seen appearing and disappearing within -

A flock of crows, a hobbled horse, a hooded eagle, a man and finally, Jane's face, all appear within the fluidity of its torso.

While the bear stands upon two-legs, like a man, that doesn't stop it from roaring like the bear it resembles. With that roar demon magic flares around it and the bear's own shadow rapidly stretches outward toward the trio -

Bitter cold emanates from its shadow and from within hands appear and rise upward, intending to lock upon the limbs of Bucky, Constantine and Jessica Jones.

Intending to pull all three within their dark and frozen depths.

"No, I fucking — " Bucky's response is intercut with the report of his rifle, as he hits the first three birds and shatters the last with a backhand of his metal arm. " — she vanished before I could get there!" Trap, indeed. Would anything truly have worked?

He's handily distracted a moment later, however, when their opposition finally appears. A bear, just as they thought, but so unnatural and twisted as to not resemble the animal at all. It's a horrible, twisted, demonic creature, rather… one made of shadow and darkness and freezing cold, and —

Bucky sees something that makes him go cold.

He lunges towards the bear, because that makes any kind of fucking sense. He's dropped his weapon, because what if firing on it harms Jane somehow? Better to get ahold of it, to rip it open with his hands.

The creature has its own ideas, however, and the grasping hands that spawn from within its black shadows hamper him in his forward rush. He snarls audibly, his left arm whirring with a shriek of metal as he tries to rip himself free with all his strength.

If there is anything on the mad god's green earth that John Constantine is prepared for assaults against, it's demons.

Not only is his coat a veritable archive of defenses against infernal magic, he's a walking archive of the same.

To look at him, one would never be able to guess at the rapid-fire hammering of his heart in his chest, looking at the bizarre cross between two things he's familiar with, but only one of which he understands — and of course, this being John, it's the bear that contains all of the mystery. The rest?

He reaches into his pocket for the engraved silver lighter Zatanna gifted him a year ago when he arrived in New York. The delicate etchings there have many purposes, not all of which he's discovered yet. What he wants it for is the first one, the first and primary function it offers, apart from lighting his cloves, at any rate.

Anything the flame touches becomes purified. Holy.

The whispering spell he begins accumulates a small kernel of force, a pearl of it that spools to life in front of his lips. Into it are sucked flakes of falling snow, early for the season but a blessing in disguise: within that small sphere they spin and whirl, a tiny self-contained snow-globe.

He can feel tendrils of that darkness attempting to get a toe-hold on him. No coat and no suite of tattoos stitched into his skin could possibly protect him from every kind of demonic magic, and he cannot afford to trust that they will — and he can see Barnes rushing in, trying to fist fight a demonic bear, which, Christ Almighty, never a dull moment with that guy — but he maintains his focus long enough to bring the lighter to the little vortex he's created, flicking the flame to life and applying it beneath, instantly generating a little swirling sphere of holy water.

The sharp, percussive word that follows the metallic clink of his lighter closing disperses the lot of it, a theatrical outward fanning of holy mist.

Jessica Jones has survived a lot over the course of her thirty-one years on this planet. Car accident. Coma. Expirimentation. Kilgrave. A bunch of shit in this last year, from cultist attacks to a trip to Limbo. An unwanted overdose of various drugs, just last night.

You'd think. All that. Would prepare her for just about anything.

You'd think that.

Maggots erupting and writhing beneath her skin? That she's one hundred and fifty percent not prepared for. One hundred. And fifty. Percent.

In her face. In her hands. Yeah. Not having fun.

She claws at her face with hands she also wants to claw at, almost trying to dig them out of her skin in a mindless fashion. There is no room to do anything intelligent about this, no room to be cool and calm about it, she's not tough enough to just ignore it or take it in stride. It's just nothing in all of her girding that she ever thought she'd have to prepare for. It would be great to say she's too tough to shriek in response, it really, really would, but…she's shrieking. Rather quite a lot. Not even swear words, or John's name, though she knows distantly he's probably the one to beg for help with this problem. Just crazed shrieks.

Then there are hands, trying to drag her down; shadow hands. The last time shadow hands tried to trap her and drag her somewhere she ended up in a nightmare realm, dodging different iterations of Kilgrave again and again and again, reliving new permutations of her past. It's not an experience she wants to repeat, but it's not like there's conscious thought. It's just another adrenaline-fueled stimulus-response moment.

The detective's defense is thus as mindless as her attempts to claw these disgusting creatures out of her skin. She just tries to rip her body free with all of her considerable strength, flinging herself to the side in another powerful leap, even if she has to fall and roll at the end of said leap. It's nothing but a crazed, wild attempt at survival while her mind struggles with this latest horror.

For Constantine, his coat wards the birds away and even the shadows to some extent, but not for long. Not when the Bear fully manifests upon the physical realm. With that manifestation, its shadow ignores the sting and snap of the coat and continues to reach for Constantine. They pull at his coat, at his legs, trying to draw him downward. That grip harsher than the snow which falls around the three. And while the hands might manage a light grasp upon the man, that handhold is soon lost, as the holy water flares outward and onto it.

When the spray of sanctified water touches it the shadows near Constantine react as if alive. They jerk backward and away, an almost hiss of displeasure heard within those movements of it. For a few moments they continue to retreat away folding the damaged parts into itself, giving the man a small window to breathe.

Jessica Jones finds slapping those slugs do stop their progression - though perhaps later she might wonder what will happen with the dead maggots beneath her skin - but for now, when she hits those patches of skins the slugs do cease their incessant wriggling. The burn lessens to a quiet ache, something that can be ignored while in the heat of battle, even as she momentarily dodges the grasping shadows.

As for the moment - it's not great. Not when Bucky drops his gun and then runs straight for the Bear, and while his metallic arm strains and heaves, valiantly attempting to break free, it can't quite succeed. He's simply too close to the heart of the Bear's shadow and so, inch, by inch, the man descends within the blackness, until he goes completely under and disappears.

The addition of Bucky's soul seems to do something for the Bear. A second burst of power can be felt and from that the Bear's shadow reasserts itself. It goes even larger than before, larger than the actual Bear itself and it rolls outward like a giant tsunami wave crashing towards the shore. It moves to engulf everything and everyone in its path. No more hands, or tendrils, just the full force of the Bear's considerable soul-enriched might lashing out.

For Bucky, his world is full of darkness, blackness, bleakness. Bitter cold as well. The kind that should cause frostbite, but likely won't. Not with his durability. His awareness brings a sense of falling, steadily moving downward, almost like he's in water, although air fills his lungs just fine. That sense of free-fall lasts for several more seconds, until finally his feet hit something solid. The leaf covered ground is beneath his feet, while all around him is the moonlit clearing.

It's easy to see that Constantine and Jessica Jones are no where in sight. Nor the Bear.

It's only him and the softly falling snow.


For now.

For James Barnes — there was a time long ago when he fell in winter. Fell and fell until the snow took him — shattered him forever on its ice, took him apart, to let him be remade in its cold.

This plummet is so very much the same — and so very much not — a plummet with no final hit to destroy.

Just a world writing itself out of that stygian chill, the same moon and forest with its night-birdsong and falling snow. And —

"James?" begs at his back. Jane's voice. Jane, with him, standing there in the dark, in her bloody clothes, a look on her face like she's terrified to hope.

The snow covers her, dusting her hair, as she shivers from the cold.

Caught, unable to tear himself free, the last thing he does is turn to see that John and Jessica have not been taken down.

Then darkness smoothes over his senses. Cold assaults him. But for someone who spent decades in ice, it isn't anything new.

He is silent, up until he feels himself stop. A much kinder landing than the one that ended his last forever fall. The world resolves around him, exactly the same as it was before — except he is alone.

Nothing. No John. No Jessica. Perhaps, he thinks, this is for the best. He should not have asked them here to begin with: if there is something to face, he should do so alone. John will know what to do to keep himself and Jessica safe, and —


He turns. "I'm here," he replies, and he goes straight to her shivering form. "Now to get you out of here." But the silence of the falling snow, as it starts to fleck his hair and shoulders, muffles even those encouraging words.

The reprieve for John is brief at best. The magic works, but it's slow, unwieldy. He'd hoped that the mist would spread enough to saturate the thing, dissolve it possibly, stop it in some significant way, but it does little more than put a dent in its momentum — and Barnes is shortly lost to his sight anyway, disappearing within the pitch of something that shouldn't exist.

He and Jessica are next.

There'll be no dispersing that massive wave, and even if he had time to do the next thing that occurs to him, setting a purified fire to some portion of the woods, who knows what might happen to Barnes and Foster, trapped within it? They might be lost forever.

"JONES! Get over h-"


No time.

He turns away from it, throws his arms up in an effort to protect himself that even John understands is nonsensically human, and though he doesn't pray — he and the Big Guy upstairs don't get along in the least bit — he hopes, fervently, that wherever they're about to wind up, he'll be able to find the two people he came here to help, and that Jones is able to somehow escape.

In the dark that rolls up and over him, he sends a single pulse of feeling outward across a silvery astral thread, one that links he and Zatanna at the soul. It's a languageless transmission but the sentiment translates readily enough into words:

Well, shit.

The maggots stop moving, and Jessica calms down, though there are tears in her eyes as she does so, rolling onto her side, covered in snow. There is a greater-than-zero chance that she might burn or cut into her own skin later to get those dead maggots out of there while letting her goddamn healing factor sort out the rest. It's only a little greater-than-zero cause there are probably smarter John or Zee based options.

For now, she looks up, gasping for breath in time to see the bear swallow Bucky, to see this shadow blasting out towards her and John alike.

John bellows for her to get over to him, and she starts to scramble up, only to realize, just as he does, that it's too late.

So she does the only things she can do. She braces herself, and she raises her arms in what is probably futile self-defense, her expressive face twisted into an expression that says 'this is gonna suck' as plainly as words might.

Bucky turns to Jane. He offers what words he can. Encouragement that's needed in situations like these. Where the outcome is a great unknown.

Only his words won't do much.

Not when the Bear appears within Jane and Bucky's clearing. It's arrival is silent and behind him, just a growing smudge of darkness which eventually resolves into the giant form of the Bear. And while it could roar its challenge, or its triumph, it doesn't. Instead the Bear snaps a great paw toward the Soldier - intending to stab the man through the back - trying to pierce through skin and bone, heart and lung.

For Jessica and Constantine the wave rolls up and over, crashing into them and pulling them downward into that blackness. Like Bucky the two fall into the darkness and the bleakness and that cold. Their descent is longer, however, as they both drift downward, until perhaps their sense of reality is loss or blurred.

It's only after they stop falling that their awareness begins to return.

For John, the darkness slowly fades away to something lighter. The feeling is like awakening after a very long sleep and when that awareness returns to him, he'll find his sense of smell the first to awaken. The faint tang of antiseptic lingers in the air. It might remind a person of a hospital -

Only this isn't a hospital. It's something much worse.

Something he's quite familiar with and when his eyes regain sight a certain room greets his vision. The room he occupied in a familiar place. That place known as Ravenscar.

For Jessica Jones, her fall is similar. Coldness, terrible coldness, along with blackness and darkness. It continues for some time, washing away the senses, her awareness and only as she begins to 'awaken' does she find herself within a familiar setting. Alias Investigation. She's near her couch, the television playing some reality show. From the door a knocking can be heard -

Three sharp taps.

The sound of James's voice seems to shatter her.

As he goes to her, Jane takes off running, her tiny body darting through the heavy fall of snow, not even daring to stop until his body does it for her — until she slams into him, fierce and clinging, shivering either from the cold or something else.

She feels like ice to the touch. The blood on her clothes smells fresh, still damp, its spreading stains reminiscent of something plunged through the center of her back —

And straight out through her heart.

"James," she tries to say again, but this time her voice fails her, gutting out with the sobs that are welling up. Jane looks up, her brown eyes pleading, and sucks in air to blurt, "Don't —"

Blood pours from her lips to stop what she tries to tell him. She pulls apart, scattered like shadow, gone.

But the Winter Soldier is not alone —

Bucky doesn't at first seem alert for any danger. His entire focus rests on Jane, on brushing the snow from her hair and shoulders, on kissing her cold forehead and pulling her close. She's freezing. Has she been out in this snow the entire time? "It's okay now," he tells her, his voice low, his right arm looped about her. "I'm here."

But she isn't. Not really. She fades like shadow in his arm, leaving him behind with what she tried to warn him about.

The attack would have taken any normal human. Speared them through like a fish. But James Barnes didn't suffer seventy years of experimentation and pain for nothing, and if there's one thing he feels he bought fair and square with all that agony, it's to become something beyond a normal human. Something that can hear and react even to a sound so slight and fine as air separating before sharp claws.

Something that is also deeply, seethingly enraged.

Those claws arc in, and find themselves caught. With a ringing screech of metal and a shower of sparks, the Soldier pivots in the snow and stops those descending talons inches from his chest. His eyes burn as blue and stark as the heart of a fire. He twists, funnels the Bear's downward momentum towards the forest floor on the guide of his left arm, then pulls it loose to drive its steel and titanium fist straight up in a blow aimed for the underside of the Bear's jaw.

"You're solid enough to hit here, suka khuilo," he says. His voice isn't Bucky's voice. Someone else is at the forefront, someone who speaks English with the short emotionless precision of a man picking his way through a foreign tongue. No surprise, then, when he forgets the language entirely in the next moment, the Soldier come perilously close back to the surface to look out through those blue eyes and speak in harsh stabbing syllables. "Poprobuyte srazit'sya s kem-to, kto budet soprotivlyat'sya — "

It takes them so quickly that John can't be sure he managed to get that message to Zatanna, something to let her know he's still alive, still in one piece. The numbing cold and endless dark fold him in like a slow-rolling wave of frozen molasses, and his final fleeting hope as he loses what amounts to consciousness is that he regains it again. Not just soon, but ever.

He'll regret that in a moment. Given what's waiting for him on the other side, it might almost be better if he stayed down.

John doesn't like hospitals for obvious reasons, and even the smell is enough to start his heart racing before his mind has enough clarity to process the whys: a visceral, physical reaction to a thing that long ago slid beneath all of his formidable intellectual barriers, buried itself like shrapnel in the deeper reptilian parts of himself where he has no defenses against it, no ability to keep it at an aloof remove. His ability to distance himself from the things that hurt him is his frontline defense against further traumas: it was on fine display recently, in fact, when he tore into a beleaguered, grieving, exhausted Jane Foster until she seemed sufficiently harrowed with doubts for his purposes. He didn't like it, but he has no regrets.

No such luck here. His body is primed with adrenaline and thrust into fight-or-flight a full minute before he has enough wits to comprehend what's happening, sheerly because of the smell. Because it remembers that smell from the lucid moments that always prefaced a sudden shot of lightning through his skull, electrified claws sunk deep into his grey matter to scramble up all of the contents. Because they believed he'd killed a little girl. Because he knew he had, but not the way they were thinking; not because he'd dragged her away from her father and abused her and then buried her somewhere but because of his hubris, his belief that he was infallible, better than magic, stronger than Hell, and Astra was down there shrieking for an eternity in the fires of a damnation she didn't deserve and-

He tries to struggle, but his arms are wrapped up in the straitjacket he spent nearly four years wearing, in a padded, isolated room, lightless save for the bolt that pierced the small slot in the top of a reinforced metal door.

Alone. Endlessly alone, losing what little was left of his sanity, but better alone and going mad than the moments when the orderlies arrive, orderlies with children, who believe he's a sick pervert, a child murderer, who deserves everything they-

How did you get here John? He can't remember. It's a nightmare. It's not real. He's been out for years, for — for five years, now. Five?

Remembering is a struggle.

Claws catch against the Soldier's metallic arm. The accompanying screech and fall of sparks do little to spook the bear. About the only reaction that might be seen is within its eyes - the madness that can be found there burns brighter.


Its claws continue that downward slope, as its momentum (for the moment) works against it, but that doesn't stop the bear from crinkling back its muzzle, exposing blighted ivory teeth. It had intended to roar in response to Bucky's spoken words, but before any type of sound can leave its maw the Winter Soldier lashes outward with his metallic hand again. His fist connects to the underside of the Bear's jaw and the force behind that punch is enough to cause the Bear's head to fling upward and back. In fact, it's enough to cause a familiar sound to be heard. The cracking of bones breaking; both jaw and neck.

Incapacitating injures in the real world, but where they are now, this spirit place, it doesn't follow the same rules. Nature's law is ignored.

As such, within seconds the sickening crunch of bone shifting can be heard again, before the Bear's neck and jaw rights itself, and Bucky finds the Bear's face right back in his own.

Then quick as a snake, the Bear attacks.

It snaps its teeth forward, for a bite, and while there is real threat from that move it's mostly a feint, as the Bear likewise swipes its claws at Bucky's legs. Intending to sweep his feet out from under him - both attacks have a blur to the edges, with the inhuman speed the creature moves with.

Has it been five years? Five years since he escaped the horrors of that terrible mental institute? Or was that really a dream? It could be a dream. Something a fractured mind cobbled together to try and save itself from splintering further. A false world where freedom was found and friendship and more.

"Nothing but a dream. Nothing but a dream." Comes the whispered words upon the air, the voice soft enough to mask whether it's male or female.

As he struggles to remember, to answer that internal question of his, the door to his room, cell, opens with a clack of locks and keys. Into the room comes two men. Large hulking bruits dressed in familiar scrubs and one pushes an empty wheelchair along. Orderlies. It's the one on the left that addresses Constantine, "You know what time it is."

And while 'time' could mean anything here (medication, visitation, or possibly leaving solitary confinement), in this instance it's none of those seemingly innocuous things.

No, instead it's likely going to be some type of 'treatment'. Perhaps electroshock therapy? It's about time for a round of that, isn't it?

Time. A funny word when a person finds it difficult to keep a hold on.

Bone breaks. He can feel it; a sensation well known to him, even if it's ursine bone shattering and not the much more familiar crackle of fragile human bone. It should be a killing blow, by any metric, though the Winter Soldier isn't strictly surprised when the demonic creature just swivels its head back into place and cracks its jaw into alignment. Even if such rings wholly unnatural by any rules of anatomy or physics.

The kind of fury that has gripped him is the kind that takes a man beyond any other kind of thought or emotion. The smell of Jane's blood is still sharp in his senses. She's still, somehow, a prisoner of this thing. It might be getting John and Jessica too, this very moment.

Nothing else matters. Even when the Bear pushes its face down full into his, madness whorling in its eyes.

It lunges, faster than even the Soldier can react, its bite sinking blight-ridden fangs into his right shoulder, the jaws of the thing encapsulating his right arm. Teeth pierce him, holding him still for a critical moment, as the Bear makes its move to claw his feet out from under him. Presumably hoping to put him on his back for the impaling kill.

With the creative agility he taught to generations of Widows, he… leaves the ground. His breath escapes between his teeth in a hiss of pain as he temporarily hangs all his weight from the teeth buried in his shoulder, jerks his feet up from the ground over that swipe, and plants them firmly against the front of the Bear's chest. His body hangs, horizontal, temporarily supported only by the Bear's jaws clamped down on his upper right torso.

Up until his left arm thrusts in, between the monster's fangs, and searches for a grip on another anchor point: the creature's tongue.

"V pizdu," he grits.

He has full intent to rip it clean out of the beast's face.

Was it a dream?

It wouldn't have been the first time. Locked up and forgotten, barely bathed, hair wild, appetite absent, subject to every kind of abuse, he only ever suffered delusions of escape or fantasies of some other existence at the very end of his time in Ravenscar. In fact, he didn't even resent the orderlies their misapprehensions about what he'd done, because what he'd done had been so much worse than what they believed he was responsible for.

All he'd really ever resented them for — in the moments when he was lucid enough to cobble together a sentiment as complex as resentment — was that they never beat him hard enough to finish the job.

But something isn't right, anyway. Something is different than it was then. He can't remember. He can't remember.

Something in him. Something else. Something that hadn't been there before.

He's still trying to assemble the jigsaw of his cognition as he's grasped beneath the arms.

Teeth sink in. A normal bear would likely take this moment to give its prey a hard shake. A bone-rattling shake. Something to knock it senseless, but this Bear has other plans.

Its teeth stay clamped down like a steel trap. Its paw continues on its way for that swipe, intending as the Soldier thought - to knock him down and bury its claws into his chest, or gut.

Before it can knock the Soldier's feet out from under him, however, the man moves. For a moment there's confusion from the Bear, he's not used to fighting someone trained such as he, an assassin, and for that second it shows.

It shows in the reaction of the Bear when Bucky plants his feet upon his chest. The creature rears upward into a two-legged stance, likely so it could grab the man by its front paws. Before it can grab the soldier, Bucky pushes his hand in-between those terrible teeth. He finds the Bear's tongue easily enough and with a harsh pull and rip, the tongue comes free.

While this world doesn't follow the rules of nature, there are some attacks that are still shocking, and this is one of them. It's enough to cause the Bear to open its mouth in surprise, not pain, just shock. But, this is its realm, its shadow, if it doesn't want to feel pain, it won't. If it doesn't want to bleed, it can't.

Still, that surprise of the Bear allows the Winter Soldier to fall from its clutches. It's only a few feet back down to the ground, but as he falls the tongue within his grasp begins to twist and twitch. A look at it reveals he no longer holds a tongue, but instead a viper which now moves to wrap around his hand and wrist. That snake also opens its mouth wide to reveal poison-laden fangs before its coiled energy strikes upward at his face.

As for the Bear, a ripple goes through its form and within its mouth a tongue reforms. That's enough to cause the beast to finally roar - expression it's frustration and rage at what the Soldier did to it. It's enough that whether the snake was effective, or not, a paw swings sharply downward. Intending to slap the man down, smash him to the ground and pin him there.

As for John -

It's the Orderly who spoke first that picks Constantine up and roughly pushes him into the wheelchair. "There ya go." The man says, "All /safe/ and sound, ain't ya." A look is given to the Second Orderly and it's enough that he begins to push the wheelchair out of the room.

Both men are silent for several seconds, until the first one speaks again, his tone conversational. "So, Jimmy here is new - aren't ya, Jimmy?" And when Jimmy gives a faint nod, the First Orderly continues, "Why don't we tell him why you're locked up here, hmm?" Comes the next question, obviously rhetorical, because the Orderly is going to tell whether Constantine answers in the negative, the affirmative, or simply remains silent. "He killed a girl. Mm-hmm. Cold blood. What was her name again?" The Orderly says, voice turning cruel and spiteful, "Let me think, it was an odd name. Something that sounded made up -" And he'll let that question stretch out for a few more seconds, before, "Oh right. I remember /now/. Zatanna. Ain't that an odd name. Crazy hippies."

Of all the things the Soldier was expecting, he wasn't quite expecting that. He could have anticipated, perhaps, the lack of arterial spray, but the sudden transformation into a serpent takes him by surprise. Dropped harshly back to the forest floor on his back, the air driven out of him by the impact, he only has enough presence of mind to whip his left arm to the side as the venomous creature tries to strike at him.

His intention is simply to bodily smash the serpent against the ground, breaking whatever might pass for its bones. At the least, it'll get it away from his face.

The time he needs to do that, however, is time he does not have to escape when the Bear comes crashing back down paw-first, pinning him into the loam. His left arm automatically snaps up, seizing into the creature's fur, but there's no strength of his now that can move that heavy claw.

The snow still falls. The delicate flakes catch on his lashes, on his hair, and do not melt.

The Winter Soldier pulls his last weapon. A heavy-caliber pistol fires up, with great futility and defiance, into the creature's snarling face.

He can feel it, the thing he can't remember. It's a solid presence down in the depths of him, something more than symbolic — like a knot. The drugs make it difficult to think. The drugs? Were there drugs? He's slung into the wheelchair and lets the headrest catch his head — a necessary piece of equipment after any day that he rides the lightning, because he's never able to keep his head up himself — so that his squinting, lightsore eyes are angled slightly upward, watching the pressboard ceiling squares and rectangles of fluorescents scroll past. He's heard this story a thousand times and thought his way through it ten times that thousand. The grooves of every word and detail have been worn down into his fractured psyche like etchings.

When they deviate, he remembers.

Not Zatanna. Zatanna isn't dead. Zatanna's alive. He knows she's alive because he can feel her, even here: the resonance of her soul echoes across the silver cord, the astral thread, that sprang into confounding existence of its own accord. That's the thing in him — the knot.

Once he has a hold on that, he remembers everything. It's an anchor not just to Zatanna but to the reality that makes her significant.

Out of the depths of a despair he still nurtures in the deepest, darkest, most broken parts of who he is comes a white-hot torrent of wrath so overpowering and explosive that even in the firehose torrent of it, he has the sense to be afraid of it. What power belongs to him, wrested out of the hands of the universe through weird machinations of fate, he turns to bear on the facade within which he's trapped: a mystical muscle in him, taut as a steel cable and twice as strong, flexes. Energy whipcoils through him and then bursts out of the shell of him like the innards of a collapsing star, his only thought the utter annihilation of this false reality and everything within it, roaring currents of magic spewing outward, hostile and hungry.

He doesn't remember Barnes and Foster yet.

Hopefully soon, though.

Whether the snake lives or dies is a moot point, especially as the Bear's claws pin Bucky to the ground.

In point of fact the snake never lived, it was just a figment of altered reality and when no longer needed it faded away.

Pinned successfully so, the Bear leans its great head downward, its expression twisted into that snarl. A snarl that presents an easy target for the Winter Soldier. A bullseye that's neatly hit and while a hole appears within the creature's face and upon the back of its head, the Bear still lives.

Slowly the edges of 'flesh' stitch themselves together until the face (and head) are whole again. Once healed the Bear brings its face close to Bucky, its warm fetid breath a contrast to the snow and ice around the two. "Silver-Armed Man." Comes a rusty voice, a man's voice, though that voice isn't coming directly from the Bear, but all around it, "You shouldn't have come." And with those words said the claws that have Bucky imprisoned move. The weight of the Bear presses him further into the ground, threatening the integrity of the Soldier's ribcage, but that won't matter for long. Not when those sharpened ivories shift slightly and begin to dig their points into the reinforced leather of his costume.

Unlike Jane, however, the Bear doesn't punch its claws quickly through his body. Instead the Bear takes its time - just so the man with the silver arm suffers for those minutes before the claws cut completely through skin, bone, heart and lungs. The cut of each layer felt for some seconds before the Bear moved onward.

The energy that Constantine releases reaches out to the false reality that sits around him. It melts away the orderlies first, then the wheelchair, the hallway they traversed down and the building as a whole. It lashes at the shadows that now whirls around the man, fighting with both the cold and the darkness - literally depicting the battle between light and dark. Good and evil. Right and wrong.

And in this instance the light wins.

The darkness burns, it recoils, it retreats and withdrawals away from the man. With that retreat Constantine finds himself also being moved, pushed even, shoved. Away from the shadows and its dark world, away from the bleakness the Bear's reality portrayed.

In fact, all those not part of the Bear finds themselves pushed and shoved along, summarily expelled back to the vacant clearing within the forest.

The Bear stares down into his face. It tells him, in a voice that is no voice, that he shouldn't have come.

"You made it inevitable," he answers, "when you took her."

The claws slide home.

To a man who has lived seventy years of torture, pain is an old friend, a familiar thing. He shudders, every sliding inch those claws dig into him; he shakes, blood frothing from between his teeth as his chest is torn slowly apart, rent to shreds by great talons and greater pressure. But he doesn't scream. He learned seven decades ago that screaming never made the pain stop.

It is the cold that frightens him more, the seeping cold that freezes slowly through every cell of his body. It's the cold that makes him lose his mind.

He's back in the chair, and he's being taken apart. His mind is being parceled out and wiped clean. His body is being purged clean and prepared for preservation by freezing chemicals. Through the druggy haze of cold sedative, he knows what is happening, and where he is. They're putting him back in freeze, and he is awake and aware enough this time to wonder: will they ever take him back out?

The darkness closes on him.

But minutes later, John Constantine beats it back.

The empty clearing they all left, what seems mere moments ago, resolves again in all its cold, snowfall silence. One by one, people find themselves again, pushed back into stark reality.

There is a slight rustling, at the edge of the clearing. With staggering steps, James comes walking out of the shadows between the trees, leaving blood in every deep track he makes. In his arms, he bears the equally bloodied small figure of Jane Foster. Snow dusts them both; lingering clumps of fur whisk off James' shoulders in the intermittent wind.

"Here she is," he says, and falls quiet.

The ground surrounding John's body is steaming. John's body, in fact, is steaming. The expenditure of magic has left the frozen earth soggy, and flakes of snow that flitter weightlessly downward turn into droplets of water as they near, pattering his coat and his face like the smallest of raindrops.

He snaps back into himself and sits up, amber light leeching out of his gaze. The price of what he's just done weighs on him, leaves him feeling ragged as he presses his hands downward to get to his feet, mud smeared on dark trouses. A bright spike of silvery pain lances through his forehead. He'll be paying for that, without a doubt. Soon, probably. It's more than just the magic he'll pay for, though: that hallucination ripped at scabs and scar tissue he depends on. Mental barriers against the thing he used to be. Standing there in the clearing, not all of his shaking has to do with the outrageous amount of magic he used to free himself.

That's to worry about later. It occurs to him, finally, to wonder what might have happened to Jane, James, and Jessica in the wake of his violent opposition, and he's only just beginning to gather his wits to find out when he hears a rustling. One mud-spattered hand is already rising, palm outward, to defend himself-

But it's Bucky. Bucky and Jane. He sags with an exhale.

Cold fingers fumble with uncharacteristic gracelessness for the smartphone in his pocket. "Let's get her to 'tanna."

And just like that the rag-tag group reassembles.

The shadow of the Bear no longer in sight.

Only the snow continues to fall whisper-quiet among all those returned.

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