|Behind Door Number 2|
|What: Bucky Barnes, Peggy Carter, Natasha Romanov and Dum-Dum Dugan have infiltrated the company known as 'Dhary Adoptions' in Washington DC, only to find something dark and sinister below. In a testing facility for infants they come upon more questions than answers, and this: One of them will not be walking out again...|
There is a lot of grey in this room. Even the stark, ivory floors and ceiling do not alleviate the drabness of this complex, buried deep beneath the Dhary Adoptions Agency in central Washington DC. The pictures of eartagged children on the walls make it worse, as though every image were in complete mockery of something that should be beautiful.
In fact, the damage left by Barnes' grenade is the most colour this room has seen in decades.
Only a handful of HYDRA agents remain in the messhall; a few emerge from the adjoining kitchen-area, and what must be the restrooms (even HYDRA agents have to pee sometimes, one must assume). They swarm toward Barnes, Romanov and Carter, armed with an assortment of combat knives, batons and sidearms.
There is a loud thudding from the ceiling, followed by an awful crash as Dum-Dum Dugan smashes his way through the duct and concrete to land on top of a HYDRA gunman in the restrooms.
Immediately after the crash... a toilet flushes.
At the ladies' quips Bucky smirks just faintly, though it's a cold nasty sort of thing compared to his normal. "Sure, as long as you don't mind hole-in-the-wall places. Or hole in the floor, if you wanna get technical." he replies, even as he flips a mess table on its side and slams it into a knot of rallying HYDRA troops with a kick. He jumps on the table without missing a beat and shoots to kill when the gunmen hit the ground, stepping right over on the way to whoever might be next.
Natasha Romanov moves forward and past Peggy in a sort of daze, although there's nothing dazed about her movements. Her gun is up, spitting bullets at the HYDRA goons pouring out to meet them. She charges, catching one unfortunate soul wielding a stun baton with a quick pistol whip to the nose, followed by a definite stab into the throat. She pulls her combat knife out of the man, leaving him to gurgle his last breath as she continues of, cold and efficient.
While Peggy is slightly concerned with the attacks coming their direction, and being careful to keep some cover behind the corner of the wall, she's far more concerned about if Natasha is going to fade out on them or not. They didn't call it PTSD back in her day, but any good soldier knew the symptoms. But then the redhead is moving forward and Peggy releases the breath she was holding. Her gun comes around just in time to cough out two more shots at a HYDRA soldier's chest.
She's not shooting to disable, she's shooting to kill.
Unfortunately, so are they, and two bullets find their own course to Peggy before the man drops from her gunshots. She coughs, knocked back violently into the wall. She hits like a lead anvil. But it also gets the remaining HYDRA operatives to look away -- clearly she was dead, right? Meanwhile, Peggy just waits to line up her next shot. She plays both possum and guard of her people, using the fact HYDRA is now ignoring her to help better defend those HYDRA is attacking.
Dugan emerges from the restrooms toting his shotgun and grinning. His right leg is sopping wet right up to his calf. The moment he spots Carter lying (presumably) dead on the ground, his expression turns completely ashen and he charges the nearest HYDRA agent standing over her.
The agent turns just in time to have the muzzle of a shotgun thrust up into his abdomen... and the trigger pulled. The agent's body 'ragdolls' back into the hallway, spraying Dugan's clothes with blood -- while Dugan elbows another agent in the throat, dropping him to the ground.
In moments, the combined efforts of the little intrusion team are sufficient to leave the area without a single HYDRA thug standing. The last target hit with Barnes' gunfire tumbles back into the kitchen, hitting the refrigerator. It leaves a bloody smear down the side of the once-pristine surface. Natasha's last assailant fall atop the bodies of two others, twitching fitfully.
It is just about ov --
Dugan turns to see a HYDRA gunman flop to the ground, a smoking hole in his chest... and a gun in his hand. The agent had been lining up a shot, but it was not his gun that fired.
It was Peggy's.
And suddenly, the loudest sound in the room is the collective breathing of the four friends, victorious. For now. "Damnit!" says a familiar feminine voice over the comms. Bridget. Then the mic abruptly shuts off.
Bucky stalks into the kitchen after the shot man slides down the fridge, quickly checking any blind spots or pantries to make sure the area really is clear. He shoots out any cameras he spots for good measure there and in the main room, rejoining his friends. All that is basically standard op for his own time with HYDRA-- but when he looks over the others and adds, "Everyone okay?" that's his own.
"I'm good." Natasha says, curtly. It's a detached tone of voice -- her Widow-mode, as it's called in SHIELD. Where she becomes cold and effective, but also ruthless. It doesn't happen as much as it did when she first joined SHIELD, but it still unnerves most. She tears a bit of cloth off the dead HYDRA at her feet, to wipe her combat knife off. She quickly checks her ammunition. "What next?" Waiting for an order.
Peg sees the shot readying, Dugan almost lost in his own fury, possibly because she was on the ground, and she cannot let it happen. Her gun swings around and it chokes out one last bullet, straight to the chest of the man who has threatened her friend. Then it is quiet, so quiet, save the ragged pull of their mutual breaths. She now slowly sits up, pulling one bullet out of her top, flattened slug from her vest. She'd be black, blue, purple and green tomorrow, but she wasn't dying, much less bleeding. "Fine. Vest caught it. We should call in back up, we'll need to get this whole building cleared, eventually." She pulls herself up to her feet, only slightly wincing against the ache as she looks up to the others, scanning them quickly, making certain no one was bleeding.
Dugan steps over a dead body to reach Peg, looking both shocked and relieved at the same time. "Fer a second there, Peg..." is all he manages to say before getting himself under control. His clothes are torn all over from the drop through the actual ceiling, but he spends more time fussing over his soaked right leg.
"Hmph," he grumbles. "Trod in the head." He looks up again at the rest of their team. "That's a lotta guards fer... whatever th' hell this place is." He motions to the others and trudges out toward the hallway -- it's the only exit from the messhall (not counting the kitchen and restrooms), and peers down it as if expecting more HYDRA goons to come charging up from the far end.
"Where to now?"
As if in reply, the comm-system crackles.
"Attention all shoppers," says Bridget's icy voice over the comms. "Due to recent cutbacks we regret to inform you that our doors in all sublevels will be closing permanently -- effective immediately. We, the staff, of Dhary Adoptions would like to THANK you for your patronage, and hope you enjoy your stay. Good-bye."
The comm falls silent.
The elevator's mechanisms cease.
And one by one...
The lights go out.
"Well, shit," says Dugan.
For Bucky's part, he'd only just seen Peggy was hit when she replied the vest took the shot. The threatening tension relaxes, and he nods. "Okay. Let's -- ," and the comm flares back to life, heralding the drop in the lights. Bucky spits a curse almost in tandem with Dugan.
For the second time, Bucky finds an alternate use for the electric charge in his hand, only this time the area being lit by jumping crackling electricity is cluttered with dead bodies, ghostly children's pictures and the skeleton of a facility of unknown purpose. "..There's... another way out in the back." he sub vocalizes over their radios. "Come on."
Bucky picks his way along the hall, gun still readied in his right hand as he takes point. The first doors on the right are preceded by some long glass windows, with more windowed rooms on the far side. It's difficult to make much out yet, but the nearest room seems to have more than a few defunct tented incubators.
"These bolt-holds never have just one exit." Natasha muses, almost to herself. She's still got that odd look to her, and she doesn't jump or curse as the lights fall. She simply falls in step behind Bucky, sweeping with her eyes even as she keeps her weapons at the ready. Her eyes don't linger much on the incubators - mostly. Even in her current state, there's a look of almost nausea on her face. Her breath sticks in her throat.
As Natasha takes a better look in the gloom, her face becomes ashen, and she just - stops. And slowly sinks to the floor, losing control of her legs as some horrible realization strikes her completely numb and speechless.
As Dugan steps over to her, Peggy gives him a half smile, reaching her free hand up to squeeze his arm just a heartbeat or two, "Not that easy to put me down, Dum-Dum. It's fine." She reassures him, and that is the last they will speak of that, because saying more would be far too many emotions for this point in time and they needed to carry on. Then the place starts going dark, "...Crikey..." She breathes out.
Dark eyes turn into the now barely glowing room, watching Bucky's motions. "Bucky, I've never been so glad for your latent memories as I am right now. Bloody Nora..." Peggy breathes out as the lights fall around them and Bucky just seems to KNOW the way out, even if there is no light in the room. She follows along with him closely, watching the corridors sharply as they move, quite ready for another HYDRA agent to jump out of any doorway or closet. But it's not HYDRA she sees -- it's those little tubes. And then Natasha is going down. "...Christ..." She whispers, "Barnes, on Natasha. Dugan, with me..." She's not walking out with possible children here. Babies. Were those babies? She double times it into the room (as long as Bucky is actually checking on Nat), leaning over the incubators, trying to see the children inside. She breathes out, "...Nothing. They must have taken them... Grab the charts and lets go."
Illumined by flashlights, the 'nursery' -- if one could call it that -- looks far less like a place of rest and recovery after the miracle of birth, and more like a scene from the set of a horror/thriller.
It is of little consolation that the nursery -- and the lab behind it -- are empty.
Giving Natasha a worried look, Dum-Dum trots after Carter, in the dark, to the lab. The atmosphere of this place all but screams into the silence and the dark. Every surgical tool, every chart, every tile shrieks the same message in unforgiving icy whiteness:
WE SHOULD NOT BE!
"That's torn it," he mutters as he emerges from the lab carrying a pile of charts and files in white folders in his arms. He has the shotgun slung over his shoulder. "I really don' like it here." As he legs it back to Bucky and Natasha, in his haste the big man trips on a cord connecting several incubators.
He falls -- flashlight flying, pulling three incubators with him. Some of the files fly open, and pages end up spread all over the floor at Bucky's and Natasha's feet. Several of the pages land face-up, and upon many of them is a photo. One photo per file.
The same photo.
"Hey, don't thank me too soon, Carter, remember it's me and my screwy memories that got us in this mess.." Bucky answers, a note of frustration in his voice. "I didn't... I didn't remember all these kids. I thought there was something..important to remember down here, but it sure as hell wasn't this." he murmurs in response to Peggy.
And then Natasha drops. Bucky startles, but he has a feeling he knows all too well what's bothering her.. Damn. "On it." he answers, crouching beside her. "Hey, I need you here right now. Yeah?" he scans the hall once more before risking killing the electric flare of his left hand, so he can scoop up Natasha's with it to give a reassuring squeeze. She seemed to focus on it in times prior when her memories were jumbled, perhaps it will help. "Come on, we need to -- " be breaks off though when Dugan takes a spill right in front of them, flashlight and papers scattering every which way.
And Bucky doesn't say anything else.
The squeeze seems to rouse Natasha slightly, but she's clear she's still trying to get to the surface, so to speak. "Uchitel?" She blinks, shaking her head forcefully. "James." She takes a deep breath, and then another, eyes firmly focused on the metal hand grasping her flesh and blood. "What? Ugh... this place..." She can barely see the files in the light, but she picks one up - and stares.
"Dugan!" Peggy yelps out, the moment he goes down. But she's smart enough NOT to rush and try to catch the falling bulk of a man she probably couldn't have carried before Howard turned him into a robot. She just winces at the crash, reaching down to grab her own pen light. It's not the heavy duty flash light some others carry, but she's almost never without one. She's learned well over the years. "Are you alright, Dum-Dum? God, sometimes I don't think you got your name from ammo..." She mutters, but it's a loving, worried teasing.
Then Peggy is looking up to Natasha and Bucky, worry in her eyes, "Is she alright?" At least with Natasha speaking again, she can let a touch of relief out in her breath. She knees, flash light between her teeth, trying to gather up the spilled files. That... Door. It sends a chill through her veins. She shoves files back together, but that door keeps appearing.
"Bucky...don't you... do you remember this door?"
"...tarnation! Of all th' -- Swell. Just swell. Hey! Don't knock th' moniker! It's sacred..."
By the time Dugan has climbed to his feet again, he has missed Natasha's melt-down, and Bucky's attempts to console her. In fact, he finds himself standing apart from the rest of the group, struggling to organise the folders and files in his arms.
The macabre nursery takes up the majority of the hallway on the one side, with windows looking in for those passing by. With the lights off, the flashlights cast shadows EVERYWHERE, and more than once it looks like something or someone is watching the team, just out the corner of one's eye.
The hallway divides up past the nursery, to left and right.
Finally retrieving his mini-flashlight, he looks around the room and then skips ahead of the group to cast a beam of light down the hallway where it splits. "Hey, I reckon there's another way up, over here. To the left. Y'all can feel that breeze? Emergency elevator or somethin'. Jeepers, this place gives me the creeps."
"Door? What door?"
Bucky lets go of Natasha to slowly pick up one of the many photos of the door.
There's notes on the back of most of them; ID numbers, dates, a messy scrawl of notes too difficult to make out easily in the current light. Some of them are paper-clipped to small photos of older children.
"I've seen this thing." Bucky says after a couple beats. Perhaps he'd say more, but he shakes his head fiercely -- this isn't the time for this. "Stairwell." he replies in response to Dugan. "Comes out on another block." though it's not visible by flashlight at the intersection, it is indeed the origin of the draft Dugan feels.
To the right... to the right is a vault door.
Without Bucky holding her, Natasha seems like she might slip back into whatever horrible memories are threatening to consume her. She stands up, almost listless, the file still in her hand. "This place... I know this place..." she murmurs. With the halting steps one might associate with a bad zombie actor in a B-movie she moves past Bucky, and head towards that vault door.
As Bucky is no longer touching Natasha, Peggy's fingertips slip out and rest a tender, reassuring squeeze against her arm. She just wanted to help keep the woman grounded, but the more Natasha looked at that vault, the less likely it seemed. Peggy gently tried to pull her back, "Natasha, come on, you need to stay with us. We've got files and we know the location. We can send a bigger team in later, but we need to get out of here." Peg states flatly, all command coming back into her voice now. Others zone out when dealing with memories or things that bother them. Some might check the safety on their gun. Peggy? She just gets more militant. Practical and bossy. "We're getting out of here. Dugan, Bucky, if you can get that door open, get it open, grab anything important, and get out. If it's stuck, leave it. Better to let a bigger team deal with the clean out. I'm getting her out of here. Bucky, point me the way." She trusts his half memories. And, with that, Peggy begins to physically guide Natasha from the room. Nat will actually have to fight her back and put her down, otherwise Peggy is giving her no choice but to pull out of there and leave.
Dugan returns from scouting up the hall with Bucky toward the stairwell -- and hopeful escape from this place -- and stops by Carter and Romanov. He gives Natasha a worried glance, but doesn't say anything. To Peggy he gives a nod, and heads at a jog -- with Bucky -- down the corridor to the vault.
"This place is horrible," he mutters to the other man. "Get Natasha outta here!" He says that last part a bit louder, calling over his shoulder to Carter as he grips the vault door in his powerful hands.
The groan of metal, accompanied by the rumble of cracking concrete fills the air until the groan becomes a shriek as the vault doors comes off at the hinges.
"Woah! Jeepers!...ahhh," says the burly man as he walks the door backward (with Barnes' help) and stands it against the wall. No sooner have they done that, than a horrible stench wafts out from the vault itself and into the corridor where Peggy is helping Natasha.
It smells stale. Old rubber and cleaning fluids mixed with sweat and blood... and decay. This room has not been opened for a very long time. Dugan nods to Bucky and steps inside...
When an alarm klaxon goes off, and four lasers -- fired diagonally from the floor and the ceiling -- shoot through his chest and back, all at the same time...
"Gosh...darnit," Dugan manages just as he drops to his knees, and falls sideways. "Didn't see that comin'..."
The fact that Bucky froze up again may be what saved his life. He's been fighting to keep control since they came down here. He knew it would be a tough run..it's part of why this once he asked for help. But whatever he saw in the next room by Dugan's flashlight struck him pale, and while Dugan was striding forward Bucky was backing up.
At least until -- KRZZZ! "Dum-dum!!" It's Bucky's turn to shout in shock as Dugan -- slices of Dugan clatter apart to the floor.
Bucky may have been the one cool and collected when they delved down into Howard Stark's basement, but no. No. Even he has just flat out hit his limit now. He falls to one knee, his own stomach twisting as there's what looks like blood mixed in with the metal and pistons. But he reaches out -- Dugan was still talking when he fell, and Bucky starts hauling out the central section remaining, refusing to believe their newly found friend is destroyed. "Peggy GO I've got him!" he snaps, knowing one or both of them must have heard that. He has no idea if that's true. But he isn't in a state to accept anything to the contrary right now.
Natasha Romanov turns, slowly, numbly as Peggy starts tugging her. She's not really resisting, so it's kind of like dragging a toddler who is just captivated by something shiny. Dugan rips open the door, a stunt so impressive Natasha seems a bit roused from her catatonic stupor. It's got her eyebrow quirking at least. And then the lasers hit, and Dugan goes to pieces. Literally. Natasha screams, falling to her knees and retching, but nothing comes up. She starts babbling in Russian, collapsed on the ground. It was all too much for the poor woman, it seems.
The only sign that Peggy isn't alright is the fact that for a handful of seconds, she stops breathing. She's still holding Natasha tightly, helping guide her to the start of the stairs, but then Dugan is falling apart and her whole world goes black for a moment. Numbness slams into her like a Mac Truck. "...Timothy..." She exhales, the ache of the world behind those words. Her eyes are shining. She wants to scream. She wants to cry, to go back and grab what's left of him. But Natasha's getting sick at her feet, and Bucky is yelling at them to run, and there simply isn't time to mourn.
There was never time to mourn.
So, a heartbeat later, she takes a shuddering breath in and calls back to Bucky. "Barnes. Just... get his tags. Please." It's neither an order nor a request, and yet both. Then she's reaching down and she just slides arms beneath Natasha's legs and shoulders, scooping her into a cradle carry. At least it was more dignified and gentler on her stomach than being tossed over Peggy's shoulder. She keeps a gun in one hand, pointing forward, and begins the quick scaling of the stairs to get them out of this damned place. Tears streak down her face as she runs, but she runs, carrying her friend to safety.
TO BE CONTINUED...