The Shadows are Gloating a Little

February 01, 2017:

Takes place directly after The Club. Bucky Barnes decides Jane Foster needs a little company and invites Jessica Jones in over her protests.

Brooklyn, NY

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, Spider-Man, Trish Walker, John Constantine, Red Robin, Captain America

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Bucky had a vague idea that visitors would be good for Jane. He understood her reclusiveness, her desire not to be talked at, her want to be left alone— he shared many of those sentiments— but at a point he felt that some company would be more helpful than hours of silence. Besides, what was good for the gander was good for the goose too. If she was going to nag him about reaching out to those who had come to save them both, then he could bloody well bring someone to visit.

He's brought Jessica right up to the door before he remembers that maybe, just maybe, he should make sure Jane is presentable, because he's essentially springing a houseguest on her.

With an awkward request for her to wait a few minutes, he enters first to locate Jane and rouse her if need be, telling her that someone has come to call. One of the friends who came to pull them both out. He gives Jane Jessica's name, a brief background. His eyes are tellingly sad as he mentions the times he has faced Jessica down, nearly killed her, and yet she stood solidly and refused to give up on helping him.

In deference to Jessica's privacy, he doesn't get into the whys of that.

He mentions Jessica as a friend of Zatanna's, also. A friend who has been wanting to meet her. And, he adds— she read your paper.

That's the last thing he leaves Jane with before he returns to fetch Jessica in, making the quiet introductions between the women before— his social abilities completely drained by the entire interactions— retreating into the recesses of the apartment.

Curled up on the couch where he left her that many minutes ago, Jane rouses only to the gentle call of Bucky's voice.

After a few, requisite moments of fog, her sleep intermittent and light like her mind is avoiding dreams, she sits up and takes in words. Listening on, the drowse thins off Jane's face like a lifting fog, clarity shining through in the transparent way she cringes, really, body tightening up, eyes averting like she wants to tell him no. Not now. She's not ready.

Jane Foster, who proudly proclaims that she's usually right (or always right), is not the best at taking her own advice.

She doesn't say no, but her body language is as tight as a lock, shoulders drawn, a hand clasped over her opposite wrist, but as Bucky goes on, talks about his sparse and sad background with a woman named Jessica Jones— a friend of Zatanna— Jane relents, opening up bit by bit. He earns her eyes, drawn to his sadness, and though she still frowns, she hears him out.

She read her paper. Jane exhales roughly in amusement, her humour tired and a little sad. All right, she concedes, her gentle heart turned. She still isn't ready for this, but she doesn't want to leave anyone out in the cold.

When he goes to the door, she stays on the couch, both hands gripping the cushion. Jane takes a deep breath in, summoning strength she's not even sure she has. She tries to ignore the nagging, gut-twisting thought of: whoever she is, she was there, she was there and saw you like that. Please don't let there be pity. Please no pity.

The door opens to a rather unremarkable Brooklyn brownstone, her apartment cramped and small and sort of an organized madness, like a woman well-aware of her tunnel vision and with enough self-consciousness not to see her life lost in too much disarray. It's cleaner now than it usually is, thanks to Jane's compulsion to keep her traumatized mind occupied, opening up into little more than a galley kitchen and main room— offset with a large, expansive window — and a corner down to where her bedroom would be.

It's the den of a consummate scientist, lacking things like a television but armed instead with electronic equipment, most of it in forgotten pieces, as well as portable drives and catalogued servers, as well as a cache of books from anything to quantum theory to demonology, studded with a deep stack of star charts. In better days, this mess would be everywhere. Now, it's stacked neatly in one corner of the living room, yet untouched.

The light inside is wan and dim, beaming off a couple lamps. The only personal touches are a few photographs, and in most of them are Jane Foster smiling, grinning, laughing—

—and not really looking like the pale, wan thing that creeps out of the dark, not really dressed for company, in tights and an old nightshirt and hiding in a thick cardigan. The first thing about Jane Foster is that she's absolutely tiny. The second is that she tries to smile like nothing is amiss. Her eyes track Bucky's path across the room, and she looks back on Jessica with an awkward, "Hi. I'm sorry for all… uh. I'm Jane. Coffee?"

"I'd love coffee," Jessica says, and whatever else she's showing, it's not pity. What's in her eyes is something else. A flicker of…recognition. Like looking into a mirror as she watches Jane. This is familiar. This is closer to what she recognizes as similar to her own reaction to the aftermath of her own experiences, less than a year ago, still, in fact, months before she ever met Zatanna Zatara.

She offers a smile, but is taking in details. The books. The state of the apartment. Jane herself.

She takes off her scarf, now that she's in, and finds a place to neatly fold it. She sets it down on a chair, and strips off her gloves. It's warmer in here, after all. She unzips her jacket.

She's wearing a white t-shirt beneath. On the front is a little red cartoon person with spiky hair and an evil grin. The caption reads 'Little Miss Scary', and it is indeed Miss Scary from the Mr. Man show. Her half-ass superhero outfit, in all its glory, with the closest she could find to the ridiculous Scary Lady moniker Spider-Man had given her.

With Bucky, she'd bluntly told him why she was there, because Bucky would have just left if she'd tried to come out it another way. Here, she eases in from a different direction…pretty much the opposite of the one she used on Bucky…starting with light, with normal, with engaging Jane's brain.

She follows Jane into the kitchen, but she keeps her distance, offering space. She doesn't ask if Jane is 'okay.' She doesn't say 'I came to check on you.' Instead she says, "I've heard so much about you, from several of our mutual friends. You pretty much impress everyone you meet, Dr. Foster. I thought, 'well, I'll read her paper and get to know her.'" She offers a smirk. "You beat up my brain, kicked it through a wall, and let it tumble through the floor, but…I came up with some questions nevertheless. Probably silly ones. I graduated high school through the skin off my teeth. Is it okay to ask them?"

Recognition. A mirror.

Jane Foster certainly looks like one of those steps no different than Jessica, not so long ago. Still in shock, still in that empty, almost soothing place where nothing still seems real, that it's still so unreal, so dream-like, that it's strangely simple to put it out of your head, forget it a little while, and continue like all is normal. But it keeps creeping in, like snakebite venom through a hastily-applied tourniquet, slipping past that knotted point of pressure and seeping down the veins. The mind cannot hold back forever, and she's fighting it, trying to distract it into a million other things, trying to hold back entropy in a last, feeble Alamo's stand.

It leaves the petite woman looking a little harried, and a lot more awkward. She tries her damndest to put on a poker face, a smile like she nor James Barnes weren't found in the clutches of monsters, though the crease to her eyes can't hide it all. Can't hide much of it, really.

Jane Foster is just a poor liar.

Her lips tilt up, briefly, at first sight of Jessica's t-shirt. Hands shoved in the pockets of her cardigan, she hugs onto its sweater-y warmth, looking small, friendly, but just a bit awkward. Shy probably like a woman of her type would be expected, the kind that's always a little stiff at first encounters with new people, but with a natural warmth that yields her with a genuine, welcoming air. A wince loosens at the corners of her mouth when Jessica, introduced, does not ask any of the questions Jane was fearing. No pity. No 'are you all right? how are you after the whole we found you shaking and sobbing locked into a mind-rewriting machine', no wide berths and sympathetic frowns for the lab rat.

Something else — something decidedly halfway normal.

Leading Jessica to her equally-tiny kitchen, Jane checks her pot of coffee with the backs of her fingers. Deeming the glass hot enough, she fumbles through her cabinets and digs for some mugs. Three, because even though Bucky is too polite to cut in and speak up, he's getting a cup anyway. She has nerdy mugs. Two of them are Star Wars, one Blade Runner.

"Impress?" Jane asks, with a healthy sense of curiosity and self-deprecation. "Me? And call me Jane." But she listens, somewhat mildly, a little flattered, and a lot more shy, as Jessica talks about her paper, the Foster Theory, and how she's heard about her through mutual friends. Heard as in some great mind, and not a victim of some terrorist organization. She looks up, a ghost of a smile on her mouth, relayed about her science giving a good ass-beating to Jones's brain.

"There's no such thing as a silly question," she says immediately, sounding a little overwhelmed, because all of this isn't what she was expecting. It's nice — surprising, but nice. Jane keeps up. "Questions are seriously my favourite thing. It's absolutely OK. How do you want your coffee?"

"Black as my soul," Jessica says instantly, glad to have brought a smile out of Jane. She knows they won't keep it at bay forever, but they don't have to. "And thank you."

She launches in and says, "Okay. So…in your paper you spoke of mapping these bridges, almost as if they ran along reliable lines, like train tracks, almost. Does that mean you couldn't build a bridge everywhere? I remember reading Hawking's wormholes for dummies - I forget the actual name of the book - and he made it sound like there were wormholes literally everywhere."

That's one thing people don't really know about Jessica. She reads, a lot. She downloads books to her laptop whenever she doesn't have a case, and reads them voriferously. In part because broadening her knowledge helps her notice and understand things that come up on her cases, things she'd have missed if she'd been content not to do so. In part because she has a good, active mind and likes to keep it sharp; she has a need for puzzles and challenges. She'd done it a lot more when she was wandering around dressed as sandwiches or working in customer service. But she did it even now. Whenever she wasn't drinking or working, she would read…it wasn't all PTSD and workaholism. Or maybe it was still workaholism, just taking a different form in the absence of any real work. She watched a lot of Netflix too; the computer was good for both. She just kind of picked up whatever took her interest, and at one point she'd said 'hey, let me read this Hawking guy.'

After all, in a different world, she might have gone to Columbia.

"And you also were talking a huge scope…space, planet to planet, universe to universe even. But…would it be possible to build smaller, stable ones to link local places? New York to Gotham, say?"

"And then, finally…can you build one without having someone on both sides, both destinations? Or I guess, stabilize one. Because you said they tend to collapse in nature, right? Never staying stabilized long enough to travel through them? So if you stablize point A, do you have to have someone on the other side, to stabilize point B?"

These were actually all in the notes she'd taken while doggedly color coding Jane's paper into an orange mess; she mentally pulls them out now.

The Winter Soldier is nothing if not silent as a wraith, a ghost killer, a knife in the dark. He can move without detection, even by those with the sharpest of senses; he can lay in wait for prey for hours without movement.

The Blade Runner cup of coffee is gone before either woman would ever know he was there. It was the mug whose appearance attracted him the most.

He's not sticking around for the astrophysics.

"Here is your withered soul," Jane replies, tickled, offering Jessica her coveted Han Solo mug. The other two get a bit of cream but no sugar. She distracts herself by returning the pot of coffee, turns back reaches for one of the other two mugs, no doubt to ship a personal delivery over for Bucky — only for the ex-assassin to have disappeared one already.

She frowns in bemusement. Then, as if getting it — Bucky has struck — Jane gentles with a wan, apologetic smile, taking her own Millennium Falcon mug in hand. Glancing around, hastily moving around to seem the gracious, prepared hostess, she considers pulling out her cheap-as-shit IKEA stools, but just, with a crook of her head, offers them both to her couch. Some place far more comfortable to sit. They'll need to sit, because it seems Jessica Jones has come armed — come armed with questions.

It's the sheer volume of them that surprise Jane Foster, not expecting this at all. For one, this theory was the last coffin nail in her career, all professional credibility lost to the pariah who believes in science fiction wormholes. For two, wasn't Jessica Jones part of the rescue party? Part of the actual heroic intervention that came in and saved hers and Bucky's lives? But she wants to talk about the Foster Theory instead?

Not that Jane minds. Not that this particularly frustrates or annoys her. It's — it's welcoming. Even though she's studiously avoiding work, and for reasons she's also avoiding, she still does her damndest to answer. She sits, a shine in her eyes that's an implicit invitation for Jessica to join her. Double-taking, noticing the wrinkled blanket left behind — Jane has been a couch-surfer these past few days, unable to deal with the cramped darkness of her bedroom — and awkwardly shoves it over the arm of the couch, over and out of sight. She clears her throat.

"Well, yes and no. I guess, on the first question. Yes, that we can build them anywhere, but they'd involve an extraordinary amount of energy to do so. We're talking, like, take all the energy of present civilization and go to the fifteenth power. You're probably asking about curvatures in spacetime? It's, I guess, say you're running a length of train track the difference between the time and energy of wanting to run a length of track that you're building by hand, clearing land, putting down the nails, running the frame, and everything else. Or finding a track that's always been there, a bit dusty, but works perfectly well. And then getting into other realms — you heard of membranic universe theory? As opposed to string — you really read my paper?"

Jane interrupts herself. It's not an interrogation. It's a sincere question. Someone actually read it? Out of sheer interest to?

"Definitely possible," she answers, either way, with the single-minded impetus of someone who absolutely believes in her assertions. Not a trace of doubt. "Probably in that case, stable as not so much like — like a train station. But individually. Like imagine people being able to curve local spacetime to their whim. If that makes sense."

And more questions. Jane's smile tugs up, because she's flattered, flattered so much by this, flattered in ways that compliments cannot even reach her. It's someone who took the time to digest her thoughts and actually has an opinion on it. "And that actually connects to the stabilization question of yours. That's really clever of you to catch that. That's something I'm not even sure of myself, something I won't be sure until I… well, if I ever get to build one. It's taking into account that someone is waiting on the other side. I mean, that's the hope, really. If not, it's to make, well, the traveler occupy both states. Travelling through the bridge, anyone will briefly exist on both sides. If that… also makes sense."

Jessica takes the Han Solo mug with a nod of thanks, and she absolutely follows Jane to the couch. And there's no hint she's even thinking about heroic rescues or anything of the sort. Her brown eyes are intent as the other woman speaks, listening, drinking in the information and explanations, watching Jane smile. She's very good at keeping her attention focused, and it shows. She's focused now.

"I really read it," Jessica says, smiling. "With…Google very open in front of me in the hopes of figuring out terms I didn't understand, taking notes. Membranic theory was in there, but that was part I got lost on. String was the idea that everything in the universe was made of different strings vibrating at different frequencies, right? Like…everything we love and hate, acting as the notes in a complex symphony? But your train track analogy makes perfect sense. As does people bending it to their will individually, Zatanna does that all the time after all. But it seems like technology is sort of a nice way to make what she does intuitively available to the rest of us. Could it be boiled down to a local device that anyone could carry around and control?"

Boy would that complicate the business of following people around, but. Still. It's an interesting possibility.

She frowns faintly at the last part, about existing in two places at once. Slowly she says, "Like…the particles. The ones they shot through those really long-" She spreads her hands apart, trying to remember what they were called. She remembers seeing the pictures of what they used, but she can't remember the name. "They shot the particles, and briefly the particles existed at two places at once, but then they observed one of them and the other winked out of existence and only the observed one remained. So you're…you'd have to…make everything stop paying attention to all the particles that made up the traveler for a brief second, so nobody got accidentally observed?"

She seems more than content to talk about this for awhile. She can see for herself that it's providing something nothing else Jessica could have done or said is providing, and the truth is, it is interesting. And if there is one thing Jessica can do, almost all day long, it's come up with questions based on what people are telling her.

Every so often, Jane takes a sip here and there of her coffee, a little straight-faced and distracted, like the heat or taste of the drink doesn't really occur to her. Just another thing, and nothing really to relish, not really allowed to relish, with the way her mind is racing. She consumes it more for its caffeine than anything else, her favourite substance at the moment, anything to chase away sleep — chase away the dreams.

Eventually, she sets her mug aside, pulling a little unconsciously at the sleeves of her cardigan. Like clockwork, Jane glances away every half-minute or so, cursory little looks that search the dark. Checking to make sure Bucky is still here. She seems to need him, at least in this raw, perilous time, needs his presence close by to keep her mind together.

"You understand more than you think," Jane assures, with a smile that creases her brown eyes, leaning back into the couch. "Got it in one on the strings. I met someone who once told me of the nine realms. You, ah, he was there, Thor. Not so much a god as technically an alien, a long-lived one, that we all used to worship back in the day. But coming from a place that may well be a separate universe in itself. But with a membrane separating the two bodies — like cells. Overlapping that Earth may well share the same spacetime as his realm. Identical but different. Perhaps not. Perhaps it's a planet within a galaxy of its own. Perhaps it's both."

Jessica goes on about the Hadron Collider, and Jane listens intently, in some way relieved to be talking something so banal, in another way gently encouraging. There's something of a natural teacher about her, especially with her usual mania on arrest, and this reserved, she has far more patience than usual to just… be. When she speaks of carrying a local device, how it would be possible, Dr. Foster's smile widens. "Got it in one again."

And then Jessica goes on to other questions. "For someone going on about high school and teeth-skin, you've basically taught yourself the observer effect," Jane comments, a little straight-faced, though with a definite wryness to her voice, a 'don't think so little of yourself, Miss Jones, person I barely know and yet am pleased to have met'. "I tutored masters students who understood that less than you. But it's close. Observer effect doesn't mean that someone alive and thinking is there, it's more about the presence of conditions that make observation possible. But the Hadron you're talking about, that's sort of a different experiment. Same fundamental question but— it's about quantum entanglement. Which is about pairs of particles. And essentially a wormhole— an Einstein-Rosen bridge— is gravity acting upon those pairs and basically grafting on a fifth dimension. Joining them. So it's travelling by not travelling. It's occupying multiple states. It's a lot of theory. It's… a lot of magic too, I'm finding," Jane admits. "I suppose you're similarly aware how real it is. What did Zatanna say it was? Memory and will enacted upon the world? Matter and energy, just in a different form."

She glances down at her lap for a moment, her eyes transparently swathed with dark, sleepless and fatigued but still not tired.

Jane glances back up, back over on Jessica. "It's a… it's a lot of questions. And it's nice, and this is… is this really the reason you're here to talk to me?"

"Well, I was in a coma through a good bit of high school and just kind of never made it to college," Jessica says sheepishly, when Jane compliments her. That actually pleases her a great deal. Deep down, there's part of her that's embarrassed that her education never went further than it did, but she had no money that wasn't Walker money, and she'd have died before asking Trish to put her through school. She'd also been grappling with survivor's guilt and a host of other issues at the time…grappling with issues, the story of her life, really. "I never figured that meant I had to lose my curiosity."

But when Jane turns the final question to her, she smiles wryly, like the proverbial jig is up. "Yes, and no," she admits. "I did have the questions. I would have liked to have asked them under different circumstances, but I did want to ask them. Is that why I showed up today to have coffee with you and listen to you fascinate me? No."

She meets Jane's eyes. "I wanted to give you the same offer I gave James on the roof before we came in." She puts down her coffee. "I've been through a version of what you've been through," she says simply. "Not the same. As I told Sargent Barnes, mine was just one guy with a mind control power. He kept me for months. Played with me. For months. I'm not telling you this because I want to veer off into that or make it about me. But so you know you're not alone. That's the real reason I'm here. To let you both know you're not alone." When talking to Bucky she'd talked about how Kilgrave had made her kill. When talking to Jane, she touches, as lightly and as tastefully as she can, on the torments. She just gets to it now, because James had eventually needed to know; because it had demonstrated she wasn't just up there bullshitting him.

She speaks matter-of-factly, quietly. "So…it's like I said to him. The three of us are all in this shitty little club. Nobody else is really going to get it. Not really. I thought you could use the company, and the support, and the ear, if you want it, of someone who does get it. You don't have to talk to me about it today, or tomorrow, or ever. I'm here to help, as much or as little as you want. I won't push, I won't pressure; when you need me, you tell me what you need, whether it's to talk physics or talk about what happened or to just sit in silence. People who want to help but don't know like we know…they can say a lot of really stupid shit, not even realizing it, or make stupid assumptions, or just…be in such a hurry for you to be the old you, never understanding that the old you is never coming back, that you've got to figure out how to deal. With the new you, the you that's survived something nobody ought to have to survive."

It seems the jig is definitely up, with Jane gaining just enough courage to touch on the million dollar question. There's a part of her glad, more than glad really, to just talk shop and pretend nothing happened. Nothing is wrong. There's a part of her that would be perfectly happy in the lie.

But Jane, even fresh out of a trauma, seems not to have left behind what is most integral to her: she can't resist any question left unasked. She can't pretend and look away from a real reason James has brought Jessica Jones to her doorstep, to her, with an implicit urging in his sad eyes that the two should meet.

With conversation about the Foster Theory set aside, she turns her head, and listens to Jessica speak. It's with a clear and total attention Jane affords her, her dark eyes watchful, though her naturally expressive face cannot hand any of its myriad expressions. Shock and surprise for Jessica to reveal that whatever she went through, possible whatever even James went through too, she knows. That there's something, something true and something terrible, all three of them share.

She takes it all in, completely silent, with a strange, almost passive patience, having no desire or no want to interrupt words that are— that are precious to her, really. Words of someone professing to understand. Someone who Jane has only known for all of ten minutes, and yet still is offering her, offering both of them, sincere and real help.

Old you and new you, Jessica says.

Jane's eyes turn away, not in pain, or tactical retreat, but needing to stare at something faceless and safe— the wall works, a nice, blank wall— to take that in. It's what James was saying to her, old and new, but she didn't consider it applying to herself. He was lost for seventy years. She was only missing for two weeks. She was a drop of water in his pond of suffering. Is there really an old her too? A new her?

For the longest time, she is quiet. When Jane finally speaks, it's just to ask one question, her voice soft, thin: "How do you… keep the dreams away?"

Jessica gives her time. She sips her coffee, draining the Han Solo mug. She doesn't have a need to speak while Jane refocuses on the wall, staying true to her word that if what Jane needs is for her to just be present, that's what she's going to do. She gives a sad half-smile to Jane as she asks the question.

"I mostly don't," she says, softly. "But…in time they stop coming every night, at least. There's a couple of ways to…ground yourself. Refocus after a dream, or a flashback, or just, if you get them, the creepy crawly feeling that the people who hurt you are right behind you, or whispering in your ear. I can give them to you. They'll feel like so much bullshit, but…sometimes they help, a little."

No sugar-coating. No platitudes. It's not good news, but Jessica knows too well the pretty lie is not the balm most people imagine it is. Knowing what to expect, and knowing it's normal, well, that can be, a little. But that doesn't stop her from wishing, truly wishing, that she had better news to give.

"Sleeping during the day helps, a little. Your brain associates the night with danger; feel safer, sleep better. It's not foolproof, but it can help. Sometimes changing where you sleep, too. Brain associates 'bed' with nightmares; maybe you sleep on the couch, or camp out on the floor for a night. Whatever it takes to sort of change it up. That's not foolproof either. It's all just kind of tools in your toolbox for coping." With Bucky she'd almost cheerfully told him how to self-medicate, but…his liver can take it. Jessica doesn't think Jane's can, so…she doesn't even joke about that.

It's just a small, simple question out of Jane Foster. But it speaks leagues.

She can't sleep. Can't, or just does not want to. She's not ready— not ready for the dreams. Everything else is— not fine, but bearable. Bearable with her in control, bearable with James Barnes here to reassure her that he is still alive, that she is still safe. That they are both still free.

But the dreams are another thing. No control. The surreality of shock is gone, and she cannot busy herself and pretend away things she'd rather not feel. It's only memories. It's only evidence that it did happen, happened to her. Happened to both of them.

Jessica Jones gives advice, and still gazing away, her dark eyes staring a hole into the wall, Jane listens. All of it makes such implicit, morbidly-familiar sense. She's already made a bed out of her couch. Many of her naps have been during the day, but never for long. At night, even less.

After a pause, she asks, voice brittle, "What are the ways? To refocus? After it happens?" She wants to know. She knows James will overhear too; he hears everything with those senses of his. Any advice given won't just help her, and it may be advice he'd feel too reserved or proud to ask.

There's a second pause. The words find a way out of Jane, like water through a sieve. "What happened to y—" she wants to know, so badly, but catches herself, mortified, before the sentence even finishes. "No. I'm sorry."

Jessica focuses on the first part, first, though she'd waited for Jane to finish all of it before she opens her mouth again.

"The first way is to think of the streets where you grew up. The one you lived on. Then the next street over. Then the next one after that."

"Birch Street. Cobalt Lane. Higgins Drive. Those are mine. When it's really bad, I throw in Main Street for good measure. I think it just puts your mind on a different track for a moment, something familiar, maybe something you associate with good things. For you it might be equations. For someone else it might be baseball stats."

Jessica pushes a heavy fall of ebony hair out of her eyes. "The other way is to name five things you can see, five things you can hear, and five things you can touch. It sounds like the most ridiculous shit ever, but…it reminds you that you're not there. That you can't see whoever hurt you either, for that matter. It also helps if you remember to breathe, and to slow down your breathing so you're not hyperventilating."

A ghost of a smile. "And I'm afraid that's all I have for you on that front, cause after I got those two I flipped my therapist's coffee table, walked out, and never went back. She was pulling out coloring books. I couldn't deal."

But then there's the other thing. She picks up the cup again, more for something to play with than anything else, and she allows that hair to fall forward, shielding her face. She doesn't answer right away, other than to say, "You don't have to be sorry. I know what happened to you. I heard the recordings of what was done both to you and to James; I was there in the base, I saw where you were sitting. If it would help you to know, I'll tell you."

She pauses, though, coming at the story from a slightly different angle, easing into it, like she's easing into a pot of boiling water before taking the plunge. "I knew James was under someone's control before I ever got the evidence though. Not from our first encounter. I mostly was glad he didn't shoot me. But then Zatanna told me how he'd come in and out sometimes, seem like a cold machine one moment, and then sometimes he'd have bits of personality floating to the surface. She said that and I knew. I just knew. I didn't know who or how, but I knew someone had him under some form of mind control."

Han's Solo makes another slow, smirking circle on her hands. "His name was Zebediah Kilgrave," she says at last. "He was a meta; his power was that when he speaks, you do what he says. You can't help yourself. I've seen him tell people to stand against a wall. They'll stand there, frozen, until they piss themselves. I've seen him tell people to murder themselves, they do it. He told me to cut off my ear once. I got deep enough that even I scarred, before he changed his mind and stopped me. It was like a vice on your mind, a grip you couldn't shake, but you were aware, fully aware, for all of it. He could force a facial expression, words, actions. Anything. Literally anything."

"I'm a meta too. Just before he'd found me, I'd finally decided I'd go try to be a superhero, because…that's what you can do when you've got abilities, right? You use all that incredible strength and endurance and you help people. And I did help a few people. I'd probably stopped my third or fourth back alley mugging I guess, cause that's all I'd tried, when he just…happened on me. And he decided to collect me. He decided…he decided he was in love with me. It wasn't enough to make me a weapon, a thug to fight for him or eventually to kill for him. He…"

That's where she can't go on, and she puts down the mug, swallowing.

"All that strength, and none of it mattered. I was such a god damn mess after I finally got away; and I only got away because I got lucky. He got hit by a bus. I sat in the bathtub at my sister's house for days, refusing to get out, just running new water whenever it got too cold. I think if my skin weren't what it is I'd have scrubbed it right off, to be honest. Trish believed me, but she was the only one."

"I tried to tell the cops he was out there, and nearly ended up getting arrested for some of the assaults he'd made me commit instead. I think that was the worst part. Not being believed. Because most people deep down are suspicious. If someone had cut my face or something, they'd fall all over themselves to find the person who cut my face, because they can see it, and it's so obvious that I'd want no part of that, right? A big cut in the face."

"But tell someone that you were forced into something, and they start wondering. What if you wanted it, even a little bit? Did you enjoy it? How could that even be possible anyway? That can't be possible. You're making it up. You're delusional." She glances into the shadows, briefly, where Bucky might be, her gaze turning tight, worried. He…is going to be in for a world of that, she thinks. But her gaze returns to Jane. But so shall she be, because she'd believed Bucky needed help first, and had helped him, and if they believe he's a traitor, they will surely believe she, too, is a traitor. It will apply to them both.

"If I can't do anything else for either one of you," she says softly, voice shaking a little with emotion she's trying not to allow to take over, "I will do this. I will believe everything you say about what you've experienced with every god damn cell in my body."

Think of streets, Jessica proposes. Streets where she lived on. Or something else, something familiar.

Jane Foster is not one for streets. She lived with her head in the clouds, her eyes to the horizon, her evenings spent up in her secret place on the roof of her father's place back in Virginia. Up past her bedtime, armed with her trusty telescope, and looking at the dots of light millions of light years away. Streets and places on Earth are meaningless to her, her explorer's heart, and her soul that seeks only to reach out and roam. Instead of streets, she thinks of the stars.

"Alpha Lyrae. Alpha Aquilae. Alpha Cygni," she whispers in quiet recitation. She blows out a breath, not uneasily, but in quiet acceptance. Jane's eyes tic over to Jessica. "Thank you." Her mouth quirks up with the ghost of a smile, though her brown eyes are strained. "Colouring books wouldn't have gone over well with me either." Because, seriously?

But even she cannot help the question that follows. It slips out of Jane's mouth before she can stop it, before she can realize how incredibly rude it is of her, to ask something so personal — and the apology and guilt slapped across her face only relents when Jessica Jones sees none too offended.

It's a quid pro quo, in a way. She saw the videotapes.

Now that turns Jane's eyes away, stricken, reminded of something she's not been thinking about, queasy. SHIELD told her as much. She's not aware, did not see it for herself, probably would not have been allowed to even if she wanted, but doesn't, doesn't, doesn't— that physical evidence exists. Of James. Of her. They have it. It's good, she supposes in a practical way, that physical evidence exists, but they have it, and they've seen it, and they're probably looking at it again, people she's never met, people she doesn't know— looking at video of her at the weakest she's been in her entire life.

It makes her feel sick. It's physical evidence, but she doesn't want it to be. She doesn't want it to exist. She doesn't want it to be watched.

It's just a hitch that takes her away. Jane finds her courage, and brings her gaze weakly back to Jessica. She wants to look at her when she speaks. Wants to give her full and undivided attention. Because it may not be video evidence, but it's just as damning, just as visceral, just as raw.

She listens to the long and sordid story of Zebediah Kilgrave.

At first Jane is composed, listening, absorbing fact. But as it gets worse, she cannot pretend even objectivity, and her expressive face shows all. The story of a man who can make people do anything. The things he has done to them already. The things he has done to her. Jessica was under his thrall, and he isn't some faceless terrorist organization, isn't a bunch of scientists making an experiment of her mind. It's different, just one man, with all the power over someone else, and his ability to exercise it.

She says he decided he was in love.

Jane Foster's mouth tightens, and her eyes sting too-bright. Jessica doesn't say it, but she gets it. She knows. Sickness tightens up her expression, and her next breath draws too deeply, too roughly, her hands curling briefly before they loosen. Why, why, why would the world let that happen? Why would it let something like that be real?

She listens. Listens about his death, Jessica's freedom. And all the consequences that come of the shitty three-person club they share. And after all that, Jessica returns strong enough to give them promises. Assurances of support. Strength, though her voice is shaking.

Tears streak from Jane's eyes.

She says nothing. There are no words she can say to something like this. But, coffee mug set aside, she leans forward to try to wrap her arms around Jessica Jones, all the strength shaking her slender arms to hug the woman tight and not let go.

Jessica only stiffens for the barest second when Jane hugs her, mostly out of reflex; but while Bucky had wisely refrained from touching her, Jane doesn't trigger her 'threat' meter, and she finds it's okay. More than okay. She wraps her arms around the other woman in turn and hugs her close, closing her eyes, engaging in the sensation of simultaneously giving and receiving comfort; she sort of sinks into the embrace as much as she gives it.

She opens her mouth a few times, then whispers at last, "See, but that wasn't the end of it, was it? Cause I met people. Good people. Two here in this apartment, others, most of them actually there that night. I pushed everyone away for the longest time, but see, you're smarter than me, you and Bucky are so much smarter than me," She truly hasn't settled on which name to call him, but it hardly matters, does it? "Because you didn't push me away, and I don't think you will push the others either. They'll be phenomenally stupid sometimes, they'll…ask if you're okay and you'll want to hand them their stupid sign, or maybe send them to play with their damned coloring books, but they'll also be good, and kind, and remind you that it's not all shitty people and pain…they'll inspire you to get up and keep going and someday, even if you don't see it now, someday there's happiness again, and it might even happen faster than you think."

She smiles a little, eyes soft, perhaps a little teary. "Some days all you'll do is recite stars, and then…then some days it will be different. Some days, you'll suddenly know you are strong, because you're survived, and because you kept surviving. You'll do things you didn't think you had in you, and you'll think…fuck yeah, screw it if those fuckers get to beat me. And you know what? I'll be right here, cheering you on when you do."

She had been afraid for a moment that sharing her story would make it all about her; it was only after thinking of it as tit for tat that she had managed to give more detail than she'd already given, but…just as Bucky's offer to give her someone she could trust to call if he ever rose from the dead chased something out of her, this has excised something dark and poisonous from her soul as well.

In beautiful, bewildering ways, it makes no sense at all.

She came here to help them heal. How was it that they had the power to rise from their own agonies and offer that healing right back to her?

It's hard to imagine someone like Jane Foster even registering on the threat meter.

Far smaller, and certainly not imbued with any sort of ability save that intelligence of hers, she's as nominally harmless as they come — and yet still ensconced in her arms, her slight body, is a driven ferocity to simply grab on and hang on. In Jane is the absolute antithesis for all of James Barnes' old-world austerity, stoicism, and restraint. Perhaps it's what helps him maintain it in the end, and has brought him to the home and the life of this woman— one who will cry freely, cry for herself, cry for him, cry all the tears he won't.

And she'll cry some for Jessica too.

She holds on, her hug clumsy at first, steely, too-tight, but in it not the weak trembling of someone simply trying to take comfort. Jane is trying to give it too, trying to say with her arms what she cannot speak aloud: that it's not fair and yet here they are, all three of them. And if will do something as beautiful as promise them that, strength and support, then it will be returned. That if she's vowed to make this a shitty club of three, then it's time for her to be prepared not to be alone.

Not where this is involved. Jessica has Bucky Barnes' grim, rifle-scoped promises. And she has Jane Foster's quickly-won, infinite loyalty.

Listening to Jessica speak, Jane opens her eyes to gaze out over her apartment, chasing the darkness of sight of James. Thank you, her eyes seem to say.

Soon enough, she lets go, leaning back with tears on her face— tears that Jane wears fearlessly, no desire yet to wipe them free. "Thank you, Jessica," she whispers, sitting up straight, trying to concentrate on her own slow, in-and-out breathing after so much emotion. "I'm so glad James met you. I'm so glad I did too. This is… this is just… I don't. Forget things like this."

Her own eyes gentle, and Jane turns them down, looking down at her lap, watching her own hands play with the sleeves of her cardigan. "Same goes for you too, all right? If you ever need… I don't know. Just come here, OK? Or I'll come there. We'll come there."

Jane looks back up. "Or if you ever feel unsafe. Anything."

The woman goes silent, pensive, her thoughts turned somewhere else. It brings not a chill to her voice, no capacity in Jane to be cold or hollow— only stoked into a hotter fire. "That power he had," she says, refusing to say his name, never wanting to, "however it… came to be. You think there are more people like that? Out there?"

That ferocity is something Jessica responds to; that feeling of connection is something she's been starving for. When Jane thanks her she says, "Thank you, too." She can't explain why, but she figures…Jane will know. The members of the shitty club know. "Taking care of each other makes sense. I will definitely call."

She realizes these two are going to be the next two in her speed dial. Ridiculously she feels the need to find just the perfect numbers for them, just as she did for John and Zee. There are no special numbers associated with physicists and assassins. But then it comes to her; #9 for Jane, three threes, a good number for the woman who creates tesseracts of science and magic and quivering, singing, universe strands. Bucky, if he's even using phones right now, will have #2…he is marked and shaped and defined by the dual nature that was created in him; but thanks to her reading up for Zee's case she also knows it to be the number of intention; and she can intend good things for him if he dials it.

If she ever finds someone she could fall in love with and make it work with, that person gets #1. It's a silly game she plays with herself, but it at least serves the practical purpose of helping her remember who she assigned to what.

Jessica smirks. "You might regret that a little the third time I show up wanting to flop on your couch and Netflix binge with you guys. I'm no fun at all on mysteries and thrillers." Probably much like watching movies where science is the plot with Jane, or where international intrigue is the plot with Bucky, for that matter.

Jane's pensive question chases the jokes away, and she gives a pensive sigh. "I don't know," she admits. "I can't even assume everyone who has that power would be terrible. Maybe there is someone out there who does, was born with it, learned to be careful with their words, didn't let it seduce them into vicious entitlement, and uses it to try to be heroic in their own way. I don't know that I could ever like that person, but I couldn't hate them either…you know, someone who ordered someone else to 'put the gun down' with that power, at just the right moment, could do a lot of good. But I think the power itself would lend itself pretty quickly to similar outcomes, so all I can say is…damn, I sure hope not."

Jessica's mouth twists as she follows that to its next logical thought. "In the mean time, we know for sure there are a lot more people that were put through Hydra protocols, all walking around with an infestation of nanites and a suicide chip in their heads, so…maybe we can someday find a way to shut that Manchurian Candidate bullshit down once and for all."

"Won't regret a thing," Jane replies lightly, but with an effortless sort of sincerity. With her little outburst out of the way, she occupies herself back with her reclaimed mug of coffee, already cooling, though the woman plays with it in her hands far more than she drinks. She just utilizes it to keep her fidgets busy. "I'm apparently a huge sci-fi buzzkill. Die a little inside every time there's an explosion in space." She smiles a little to herself, then glances over at Jessica. "But seriously. Said it to Zatanna, so the same treatment goes for you. My door's open."

But even her mild, reserved levity cannot seem to last forever; a mind like Jane's is ever-searching. Thinking of questions. Thinking of hypotheticals, and though her sense of faith always has her faced towards hope, sourced by her infinite sense of optimism, every so often the scientist feels Orpheus' inclination to glance back over her shoulder. Back into the dark. Even if Zebediah Kilgrave is dead, could there be more? More people like the monsters of Hydra, doing what may be she now believes the unthinkable: trespassing, warping other's minds? Their autonomy?

She frowns to herself, tight-mouthed, thinking along to Jessica's words. It all sounds reasonable. Do not indict unless guilty. Jane believes that too. But to just conceive of the world capable of such a thing, breeding a person naturally possessing that sort of power over others? Would they not become corrupt? She's not sure. The thought in itself is terrifying. Nature crafting permutations that should not be. People existing solely to take others' rights away.

Talk of Hydra, at least, is far more grounding. Jane's hands tighten around her mug. "A lot more people," she echoes, softly, miserably. "If they made a list, I suppose SHIELD has that now. And the architecture— maybe that too. They won't tell me everything. I'd take one of those… chips apart if I had one. Might help to. Either way, I'm in on this. I don't want it to happen to anyone else ever again."

"I bet you just looooved The Core," Jessica says with a smirk. Even she'd been able to tell the science in that goofy movie was way off. But on the other hand, it was a pretty fun watch.

She can only imagine how Bucky Barnes feels about Jason Bourne.

Still, laughing while a friend picks a movie apart is always a great deal of fun.

But the dark beckons, and Jessica follows Jane back inside of it; it's where she's spent so much time that she moves through it naturally. "Red might still have copies of the images and data we took from a corpse we stole." She apparently does not realize that saying things like 'I totally stole a Hydra corpse' might sound a little weird, because she treats it (as John Constantine would say) like "just another Tuesday."

"Next time I see him I'll ask. And if we ever get the chance to catch any Hydra people alive…you might get your shot. And that's going to be the hard part, cause we won't even know which of them are complete assholes and which are basically just like us. Not to mention they probably have put the serpent back to sleep again because we just trashed something they put a lot of time and resources into. It might be a bit before they start emerging once more, but eventually…they will."

She shakes her head and says, "But…that's not something to worry about today. Today, you have set me on a quest to go find the worst sci-fi murder mystery-spy movie I can find so that on the day I bring my computer and some popcorn over, we'll all end up laughing our asses off. It's on, now. This is happening, the moment I identify two or three good candidates."

Because the truth is, she has no answers for the dark today, and it will overtake them all soon enough.

"Oh my god, don't mention that movie," Jane Foster moans weakly, slumping her head back against the couch, a theatrical hand covering her eyes. "I've already been traumatized enough."

It's a dark joke, a bleak joke, but a good one, in a way— goes to show there's still some sense of humour lurking around the shattered remnants of the woman. She lets her hand drop back down to her lap, flaring up a quick, maybe slightly-forced smile to acknowledge she's kidding. "Only Star Wars is allowed to get away with that."

Still, as conversation pulls back into the serious, Jane keeps up, seeming, with the passing minute, to gain increasing comfort with Jessica next to her. She's still pulled-in at the edges, like the skin and muscle pulled down to expose a raw, live nerve, but this helps. Everything about this— helps. "Red?" she asks. Probably still hasn't got all the rescue names of the party right in her head. Most of them people she'd never even met. "If you have any data, definitely send it my way. I'm not sure what I'd be able to do. Might be something."

Jane just wants to do something. Something other than feeling helpless. Feeling like she can't even sleep and have her own dreams. "They should stay asleep," he mumbles bitterly. "Actually, no. I don't want that. I just want them gone. For good."

But it's not something to worry about today, Jessica intones, the change in her voice attracting Jane's dark eyes. Pulling her from that dark place her mind was ready to get lost in, given a bit of time, a bit of space, a bit of opportunity. For a woman with such a gentled way about her, she's nursing a deeply-growing rage. For now, it comes and goes again, passing through her brown eyes like a planetary transit. Jane softens back to harmlessness. She huffs a light, tired laugh to Jessica's talk of a great quest. It actually earns a smile. "Better not be that bad, or I'll sign you up for a quantum mechanics course at NYU. I know some professors I'd sic on you."

Jane's smile softens, thins, but goes no less sincere. "Thank you."

"Electronic voice, melted into the mists. You'll like him; he's a super-genius too." There is not a hint of irony there; she means it.

And then Jane makes her threat, and her brown eyes burst into laughter, even as she keeps a straight face. "But Jane," Jessica says, ever-so-sweetly. "Listening to you pick apart whatever I pick will surely be even better than a physics course!"

Ironically, Jessica is the opposite. Usually, she has a hard way about her, all edges and blades, at least most of the time. The rage for her is at the surface, which means the gentler side is deep within, and often deep asleep. Still capable of being awoken and tapped, for it's here, now. Then again, weirdly, she's been expressing it more and more lately.

Perhaps it's no longer curled quite so tightly about the pain she'd been carrying.

She'd be self-conscious about that, except…having a sweet side hasn't detracted from Jane's awesomeness one bit. She supposes this means there's nothing to be embarrassed about.

She's tempted to linger.

But the truth is, she knows she's given Jane all she can today, both the relief and laughter and the longer, darker talk; she knows what it's like to feel suddenly it's too much. The 'thank you' sounds, this time, like that point has been reached, unlike earlier in the conversation where it had been uttered, but in medias res.

For a moment, it stuns Jessica to find she's been hearing those words a lot lately. She finds she likes it a great deal.

She stands, then reaches out a hand to gently place it on Jane's shoulder. She doesn't squeeze. She just rests it there, as gentle as a butterfly. She takes out a business card. This one is a newer design, though Jane wouldn't know that. In the past it was just her name, her business name, and various contact information. Now it reads:

Jessica Jones, PI
Alias Investigations
Hell's Kitchen, NY
Gotham, NJ
(212) 555-2000
www.aliasinvestigations.com
"Here to help."

She lays it gently on the coffee table."Text me your numbers," she says. "Call any time, even if it's late at night. I keep odd hours, and I don't mind."

She also raises her hand in farewell to the shadows, well aware that Bucky is watching and listening, even though he's made like a ghost for this entire conversation. An idea hits her, and she whispers, "He totally missed Ghostbusters and Back to the Future. If you haven't remedied that shit already then I know what I'm bringing over. Cause that can't be allowed to stand."

She winks. And then? She slips out, a smile lingering on her face.

The touch alights on her shoulder. It earns Jane's eyes, the colour of them as warm as her milky coffee, brown yielding into swirls of yellow.

It seems there's two types of people, really. The stoic types, the Bucky Barnes and John Constantines of the world who tolerate things like that, tolerate, perhaps on a good day, acknowledge, but don't really reciprocate. But it seems the universe has made an antithesis for them, and like a universal call-and-response, come to Zatannas and, seems as well, the Jane Fosters, who reaches out without hesitation to curl her hand over Jessica's. Her fingers tighten down, appreciating the touch and replying with her own, because it's not just about Jessica here to comfort her. It's not just about Jessica here to find kindred spirits to comfort herself.

It's about a seam between the two, a symbiosis of people finding their own. And for a moment, Jane twines her fingers with Jessica's. First official Shitty Club secret handshake.

For a moment, Jessica is tempted to linger. Jane, while looking tired, doesn't seem the type to do anything but welcome her on. She'd probably even allow her to crash on the couch tonight if it came to it. There's a fierce loyalty borne in the woman in this one meeting, partially that their shared burden, and the rest simply… Jessica Jones in herself, acting as she is, being who she is.

Making Jane Foster feel a little less lost. A little less broken. A little less alone.

Accepting the business card and giving it a cursory read, Jane's eyes tilt up at 'Here to help.' She keeps that precious bit of cardboard safely in her hand.

"Will do," she answers, lingering a moment, before rising to stand, remembering enough manners— despite being a solitary physics nerd— to escort Jessica to the front door. Jane smiles at the wave Jessica remembers even for Bucky Barnes, lingering discreetly out of sight, but definitely there— and acknowledged. It warms her heart to see it, to be able to witness him having his own grounding. Roots. People who care about him. People to help convince him he's the man she knows he is.

The whispered movie choices draw a quick, breathy laugh out of Jane. "Definitely," she promises. "Though I think I want you here to see Back to the Future scandalizing Steve Rogers. I'll try to get him over here that night. It'll happen."

The wink earns a smile. Jane watches Jessica's exeunt into the night, her eyes soft, taking in the last sight of the woman headed down the street. Shutting the door, she looks down at the business card in hand, reading it again, that smile lingering long.

She feels someone watching her from the dark. The shadows are gloating a little.

Jane glances over. "So you're right some of the time," she concedes to James. "One out of three."

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