The Most Beautiful Place

March 19, 2017:

Takes place directly before Blowing Up the Rabbit Hole. Jane Foster invites Jessica Jones to spend a few hours hanging out with her at her lab. They catch up, and she gives Jessica advice on matters of the heart. Jessica awkwardly sticks her foot in her mouth here and there, but Jane bears it with good grace.

Stark Industries

This is where the Science happens, kids.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Tony Stark, Darcy Lewis, Bucky Barnes, Trish Walker, Zatanna Zatara, the Joker, Matt Murdock, Spider-Gwen, John Constantine, Peter Quill, Captain America

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

In the last many days or so, Jane Foster has found a second home.

Though "home" may be putting it lightly. Does Heaven work? Because it's basically heaven.

It's a fully-stocked, open laboratory on one of the many floors of Stark Tower, donated — with compensation — by the man himself. Dr. Foster is not officially an employee, for one that she refuses to ever see or describe herself as "working for" another human being, and for two that her freedom and creative control are all her own. He's given her free range and resources to, essentially, do what she wants. Do WHATEVER she wants.

Because Tony Stark believes in freedom. He believes in the best science being that left outside restriction and control. He probably also beleives the world needing a bit more chaos in it, frankly that being an untethered Jane getting her hands on the sorts of things even SHIELD would cringe at —

— and she's losing track of time.

Already James Barnes has had to make a long-suffering, signing visit to Stark himself to get his own key to the building, and had to physically drag his errant girlfriend home after an oblivious two-day science binge, but not too long after, here returns Jane, diligently and devoutly working away.

The laboratory — she's already calling it her laboratory — is a wide, open-plan space, not so much the white-walled fare of engineering faculties and corporations, because Tony Stark believes in style. It's modern and lush and lit almost like it's ready to host a party for Manhattan's chic, and filled to the brim with expansive equipment, lasers, and all the tools of the trade.

In the middle of it, Jane industriously works away. Even though she texted Jessica not too long ago that she's free, she's not doing much, she's just at Stark's, her attention is currently split three ways between different projects, and seated on a stool, she currently centerpieces it all in a moving hologram, her moving, splaying fingers manipulating and varying the image with a honed deftness. She's been acquainted with this tech alone in a matter of days, but she wields it like an old hand.

The image itself is that of a left arm — if arms were made of steel and circuitry. She touches and turns its imaged plate system, every so often frowning to herself, and making adjustments to theorized calculations.

—-

Her cover may have been blown, but Jessica still has full access to Stark Towers. It was a condition of taking Stark's case. She can open any door, she can read any file she wants to. She hasn't abused it, but she has it. Tonight, she'll even be traveling to Maryland to follow a case lead, driving with one Peggy Carter to run down the very last one they have. She might have to go back to Stark empty-handed, telling him it was all dead ends, if Cassandra Marx doesn't pan out. If that's the case, she might well lose this access that she uses so freely. But for today, she can use her access to visit Jane, and decides she better make good use of it while she's got the chance, especially armed with Jane's invitation.

They'd texted about chocolate. She'd promised Darcy she'd at least put food in front of the scientist and see if she'd eat it. So she comes with gyros, because as one John Constantine has reminded her, everyone likes gyros. And hummus and pitas and fries, and Cokes. She also brings pop tarts, the strawberry kind, because Darcy had mentioned a weakness for those.

Jessica Jones thus enters, and whistles.

She's been waiting for the chance to wear the Happy No Fucks Given shirt with the turkey made out of the flipped bird that Jane sent over, and what better chance than this? She's got her jacket open over it, in fact. She's not likely to get shot here. Maybe. It occurs to her that it might be smart to warn Jane about what's been going on here, now that she realizes where Jane is, where she's working.

She whistles low at this lab. "Damn, sweet space," Jessica says. She finds the only spot that doesn't look sciency to set the food down on, then wanders to look at the hologram. She studies the hologram and grins. "Finally installing that coffee maker in Bucky's arm? Is it gonna be a Keurig? Cause really I think that's the only way to do it. Little pods, popped right into his wrist."

Her contribution to the Science Effort.

—-

For a brief window, Jessica Jones is treated to the new, famous sight of the Jane Foster in her own element. The tiny woman is always such a restless thing, haunted with a sort of nervous energy that makes her look and act even like a guest in her own home: never sure what to do with her hands, never certain where to put her feet.

Here, she is much different a creature, calm, relaxed, and stable, not fussy, not fidgety, not strained too-taut with so much alertness. Her devouring mind finally put to work, and lost in her own little world, Jane is calm, calculated, almost deliberate, with a strange sort of physical grace about her posture, her movement, the careful arrangement and play of her hands and fingers.

Dancers have theatres. She has her laboratory.

She does not glance up when Jessica enters. Even the initial sight and sounds of footfalls fall on Jane's deaf ears. She's tunnel-visioning, her eyes so full of her own math, and she types on a hologrammed keyboard variations of the plate-movement algorithm she designed months ago. Something she conceptualized for James even while he was still partially-lost in the programming of the Winter Soldier, and now finally being able to give it her attention and work — especially after now promising him she would rebuild his entire arm from the foundation up.

Take out everything Soviet, everything Hydra, and replace it with something he's chosen.

It's the whistle that pulls Jane back to this world. She looks up, eyebrows raised, and isn't prepared at all for the immediate sight of Jessica wearing that shirt. The woman stutters with a sudden, bubbled-up laugh, before her expression eases into delighted surprise. Her eyes are still sleepless — chronic insomnia is not something easily fixed — but her spirits are up. "Don't give me ideas," she answers wryly. "I think I actually could make that happen. Latte foam and all."

She saves the image and makes a sweeping gesture to minimize it out of sight. "It's great to see you, Jessica. I even have the chocolate, uh, I brought it…" she glances around among fifteen different messes. "Somewhere. And you — oh my god, you didn't have to bring food. That's not James's idea, is it?"

—-

If there's anything Jessica recognizes and resonates with, it's the sensation of being in one's element, and how it changes one, puts them in control. That's how it works for her, even if her theatre is mostly photographs and digging through people's garbage. When she feels like she's doing the work she's cut out to do it centers her as nothing else can. So, she watches the dance, and it makes her smile.

Jane laughing at the shirt makes her chuff a laugh as well, brown eyes sparkling. It's not the wild laughter of the other night, but it's still a laugh, and what is on Jessica's face right now is very near actual happiness. It might be a dangerous thing, to have a happy moment, but she snatches at it while she can, revels in it. She's been having more and more of them, and if it produces a pang of anxiety that invites her to ask when the other shoe is going to fall, when she's going to blow it all up or get it taken away from her, she nevertheless still drinks it down with gusto.

"He could just splay his hand over the cup. It would make a great party trick," the PI replies. "And…it's great to see you too. And no. It was my idea, and you don't have to have any if you don't want it. I didn't know if you actually would have the chocolate, and it didn't seem right to show up empty handed."

Still, she goes looking for it. She's an investigator, she can surely solve the mystery of the missing lab chocolate. "They are good gyros though. And…okay I will admit I brought pop tarts just because Lewis said you liked them, but…you already know all about that conversation, and I promise you I won't make puppy dog eyes at you or anything in the hopes that you'll eat them."

—-

"Darcy," Jane declares dryly: the one word that was the single-minded source of countless frustrations for months. She lets her head loll briefly back and groans. "Of course she would. Seriously, don't let her convince you that I'm an invalid. She has this whole lecture. Even tried to spoon-feed me a couple times."

Still, the agitation seems mostly superficial, and she softens at the sight of strawberry poptarts. That brings back memories, warm ones, the a glimpse back at just how /simple/ her life was when she was chasing magnetic storms out in the desert. It was quiet, it was a bit lonely, but it was just so blessedly simple. "Either way, thank you for the thought though. Whatever I don't finish, anyway, you're doing James a favour. He's a living garbage disposal."

Her smile quirks up a bit as Jessica goes on the hunt for chocolate. Jane Foster, notoriously psychoprotective of her laboratory space — she fussed and fretted and speedtalked a Stark intern straight out of here days ago who made the mistake of ORGANIZING HER MESS — allows the unknown element of Jessica among her projects. She trusts her.

It is a mess, though. The organized chaos of a mind running fifty million different processes at once. She seems to have three active projects going at once: one to do with uploading her celestial data, which is a few thousand terabytes so far, one to do with the cybernetic arm of James Buchanan Barnes, and one to do enlabelled 'DHK', which seems to be a nanotubed carbon polymer material.

The chocolate is indeed there, several purchased bags of the good Lindt stuff, left under a long strap of red fabric that has the thinness and weight of cotton but nothing of its texture. "I think I had to hide the chocolate bounty from James. He devastates whatever edible crosses his path. But, seriously, find whatever chair you want and take a load off. Or perfectly good desk to sit on too. I want to know what's up with you. We haven't had a chat in forever. Given, well, all of the things."

—-

Jess maybe hasn't grasped entirely how honored she is, but…she is careful as she searches. Anything that looks like a project, or even remotely important, remains totally untouched. She's impressed by the number of projects, the amount of thought that's happening here. Jane's super-brain never fails to delight her, really.

DHK catches her attention for a moment; her eyebrows lift, just because she can think of something that fits those initials. She can also imagine there are 50,000 other very sciency things that fit them. Dicarbonate hydroxide killerparticles or something, something with a zillion syllables. She soon dismisses it.

"Jesus, you went all out with the chocolate," she says, when she finds it, delighted. She finds a chair and pulls it over near Jane, then opens one of the bags and inhales the scent. "I never really appreciated chocolate while I was drunk all the time," she admits. "Suddenly all sorts of things have flavor now that really didn't before, and…I remembered one day I used to really like it, and now I can't get enough of it. If I didn't cheat with irradiated or serum'd or whatever the Hell metabolism I'd probably be huge."

Jessica contemplates the question though, gnawing on the chocolate. "I'm a workaholic," she admits softly. "I went to try to answer you and…I mean you know most of what I was up to. The John and Zee case. I'm working another— please be careful, working here, okay? I can't say too much, especially not here, but let's just say I've got my ear to the ground around this particular location right now." Tony showed up at her party, and maybe Jane will put two and two together there. Especially as one of the cases on her board, when Jane was at Alias, said 'Edward,' which is Tony's middle name. Jess just can't reveal too much, not here of all places, about Tony's direct hire of her.

"I am getting all sorts of new clients. I think I might be able to build Alias into what I really want to build it into. And that's pretty amazing, being able to build something instead of tearing it down. Um. Trish is settled, I think, calm after that shit went down at WNEX." Which Jess just assumes Jane knows about. And um…this is actually Week 6 dry now that I think about it. I thought it was Week 5 so…I guess my next milestone is 2 months! I've had a lot of really weird flying dreams which…is nice. Flying dreams, instead of nightmares. Since Hell, ironically enough, when I expected mostly to have nightmares about Hell. I like them though."

Suddenly Jessica smiles self-consciously. "I'm sorry. I'm a lame conversationalist. Zatanna drove it home for me once. She said basically I didn't know how to have a conversation that wasn't bringing someone information or updating them about work. And she was kind of right. But I want to. What about you? I wanna know what's going on with you too."

—-

When asked to be careful, Jane double-takes, attention briefly stolen on Jessica Jones. The look on her face is palpably that of someone who did not expect to be threatened so quickly in a so-called safe space, before it tightens down. She is a reckless sort, perhaps even cavalier at times, but when it comes to her work, the scientist has the protective devotion of an over-attentive mother.

"Tell me more later? When you can?" she both asks and orders, in a way, needing to know quickly whatever careful means. Jane was promised a private server for her work by the man, himself, but even she knows she hasn't progressed too far that she couldn't dump it all and take it with. Her discoveries are dangerous, she knows, and she will fight tooth-and-nail to keep unethical parties from having them.

For her part, and while her mind runs all those quiet contingency plans, Jane decides to give eating a whirl. It's not something she does a lot of lately, and though she gives Jessica's soliloquey on the taste of chocolate a warm, amused smile, she isn't sure if she can attest to it. Food was never a huge part of her life, not a pleasure, and lately it all tastes formless and ashen and bland. But, perhaps to give a show she's willing to cooperate, she tries out the hummus and pita.

She listens to the rest of Jessica's sitrep, speaking up only to ask, "WNEX?" That, Jane did not hear about. The again, she looks the tunnel-visioned type who, time to time, misses out on even the most obvious things as 'mainstream daily news.' Sometimes it is very alienating to live in the head of Dr. Foster. Her eyes then soften at "six weeks." "I'm proud of you. And flying dreams are the best. I need more of those." Or need more of sleeping at all. Without nightmares.

She huffs a laugh even with the other woman apologizes after. "You, lame? You're talking to the master. I don't think I know how I can have a conversation without lecturing someone. Or, worse, correcting them. And me? Uh, work too. As you can see. Lots and lots of the work thing."

Jane's lips press together as she strains to even quantify her personal life. Well, she told James she loved him after just months of insanity and she's still mortified about that. "I'm good. James is good." Except for the days when he's not. "We're just… taking it as it comes, I guess. God, this is the part where I say I'm lame. A lame social person. That's literally all my life right now. Work, and projects, and James, and the rest of you guys." She pauses. "How is… how is that thing going? With that guy?"

—-

'Tell me more later?'

"I'll come over to your real house in a few days and tell you everything," Jessica says quietly. "You and Bucky both, now that I know you're working here." There is nothing that she'd keep from these two, nothing she wouldn't do if they asked it of her. It was very close to being true when she first approached them, but it's 100% true now. They're family. At least in Jessica's eyes.

She winces, though. She brought fear into Jane's space, so she adds, "I'm…sure you'll be okay."

She puts the chocolate aside. Damn it. Smooth, Jessica. Remorse remains on her face, but it relaxes a little as Jane eats.

Jane asks about WNEX. "My sister's radio station. Trish's. The Joker…put my foster Mom on a leash, drugged her, interrogated her, brought her in there on air, threatened Trish, and stabbed her. Trish was really freaked out, but you should have heard her. She kept her cool like a hostage negotiator. She was brilliant. I couldn't get there in time to help her but…we took Dorothy to the hospital, I stayed with her a bit."

Jessica smiles warmly. "I'm glad you're both good," she says. "I love you two and love that you're happy together. I love that you're back here, happy at work." Being told Jane is proud of her makes her sit a little straighter, too.

She starts. "Oh, man. With Matt? Well. I mean. He's taken."

She puts the chocolate aside, standing, pacing a bit. "I'm still in love with him. Like an idiot teenager. But it might be for the best. That he is taken. I saw him briefly before we went to Hell. He got attacked again, not seriously, but by this Spider-Girl who I think is from another dimension. God, I'm happy just to be in his presence. How crazy is that? When I make him smile I feel like I've just won the fucking lotto. I'm so afraid I'm going to scare him, freak him out. I don't want him to know how strongly I feel, there's nothing worse than someone's unwanted attention, especially when they can overpower you. He's certainly aware of my abilities. But— he said something that really stuck with me and I just can't shake it."

This, at least, is very normal conversation. Jessica circles back to her seat, pulling the fries over, absently opening ketchup packets. Scientifically, the purpose of a fry is mostly to get the ketchup to one's mouth, at least in Jessica's opinion.

She looks up through a fall of her hair, wincing. "I'm not bothering you with all of this? I think I must sound about…12." She also sounds both happy and sad, subdued and warm, exactly like a woman whose heart is still hung up on someone she can't have.

—-

Relief filters into Jane's dark eyes. "Thank you," she says of that. As much as it itches her, she makes her own informed choice to temporarily stop all work until she knows for sure any of it can be compromised. And it's her own fault, really, she thinks. Of course something may not be on the level, of course if something is too good to be true it usually is — but all that was on her mind was that of a reputable corporation, the freedom and access to things most people in her profession dream of, and being able to talk shop with a renowned genius of Tony Stark's calibre.

But how much does she really know of all of it? And how far is she willing to test fate with something as precious as her work? Her ideas? It all brings her back to that fated conversation with John Constantine in her car: what would she do if she had the breakthrough that would have her work capable of erasing creation? How could she deal with the reality of her theories, her ideas, her creations bringing nothing but harm onto the world?

And it's not just her. It's James and his arm, and what she has in mind for him she doesn't want replicated, doesn't think people like Hydra are ready for that technology. It's the Devil of Hell's Kitchen and perhaps others she helps after, and their trust in her.

The reassurance is met with her wry smile; no offence taken for Jessica's advised caution. "No, I'm sure I'm safe. God, and don't phrase it to James that way. He'll never let me go to work."

Her eyes stay soft as Jessica speaks on, stopped only to widen at talk of Trish, and their foster mother. "Jesus," is all she can hitch out at that. "I had no idea! Here I am just — jesus. But everything is fine? Nothing after? I mean — anything does, ever, call me next time. Call me, call James, we'll do whatever. Was that long ago? You're all right after that? You're not all right, no one would — but it's OK?"

It takes a small while for Jane to come down from her frowning fluster, but it helps her to be guided along by the pull of Jessica's words— and boarding the running, rambling track of her not-so-simple love life, Jane stays quiet. She's listening. "Not bothering at all," she says. "And you don't sound twelve. You sound normal. That night you came over, when you were— upset. I've wanted to tell you a story of my own to kind of help with that whole thing."

—-

Tony is, of course, not the problem but…yeah, Jessica has some concerns. Tony might not be best pleased if Jessica messes up Jane's work for him with this, but…she has to be honest here, even if it gets her fired.

"You two were down with that woman when it happened," Jessica says, of why she didn't call when the Joker attacked her sister— cautiously, not wanting to say anything incriminating. "I didn't want to disturb either one of you. Not right then. It was over pretty fast. It's all okay now, yeah."

Jessica goes back to the chocolate, seemingly abandoning Ketchup Mountain. "The fact that this man flips all my scripts and turns me into a giant dork while making me feel twenty kinds of off-balance is normal? That's reassuring. And…A story? I would love to hear it," she says, sincerely, leaving off, for the moment, her explanation of whatever it was Matt said that stuck with her. It will help her learn more about Jane, and…anything that might indicate that she is not a complete fucking insane idiot would help. Maybe Jane can even teach her how to do the one thing she really needs to do in this situation.

Give her heart the finger.

Tell it to fuck off.

Shut it down. Shut it off. Make her emotions see Matt Murdock as her friend, a business associate, her lawyer, someone she likes but nothing more.

God, she hopes something like that is buried in this story.

—-

Understanding shoots up Jane's eyebrows. So Jessica was handling that while she was… handling James Barnes not dying to a curse. That sounds a bit more reasonable; she feels slightly less inclined to kick herself in the ass for not realizing that happened.

But with them both happy to change topic into something somewhat more safer— if safety can even be found in that of matters of the unrequited heart— Jane offers up a story. She sets down the hummus and wipes her hands, perhaps to gear up her own, full attention. "All right," she says, before taking a beat, pausing to assemble old memory, and all her words.

"So, before here, before even New Mexico with Darcy and that, I was with a guy. It was serious, like a few years serious. I was finishing up my doctorate. He was a resident. We met when I flaked out of one semester of med school. And, yeah," Jane intones wryly, "me as a physician. I would have been so, so bad at it. Best decision of my life. Don, though? Brilliant man. So smart. Whole package, really, leagues beyond me. I always felt I was catching up with him in some way. Running after."

Her eyes tic away, not in any ache of remembering, but simply to allow her mind to go back, back to a place that feels now— light years away. Feels like the life of a person Jane Foster no longer is. "I got an offer from NASA due to some of my grant work. They wanted me to see them. I was also working up the nerve to ask Don to marry me. It was like my entire life was set up, and to look at it, seemed perfect. He was so busy, anyway, I didn't think he'd ask me. He didn't have much time for anything other than work, so I was going to bring him to my hometown. I, uh, I go see my dad every year. The day he died. That year I wanted Don to go with me, and told him why, and we arranged it months. After we got back, I decided, I was going to propose. Modern woman and all that. So he was off on some sort of retreat with the HMOs, and we were going to meet up back home, and…"

She takes a deep, raspy breath. The story doesn't seem to hurt, but it does ache, and Jane rearranges herself on her chair in momentary discomfort. "He didn't show up. And the worst part isn't that he was avoiding me, or I was lost wondering if something happened. Because he was still going on, in group texts with friends of ours, and emails with colleagues. He just forgot about it. He was too busy, or, as I realized, if I wasn't there in a room with him, he didn't need to think about me. So I spent that weekend sitting with dad and… I was broken. I almost wished he deliberately hurt me," she asides, with a bit of a hollow laugh, "because maybe it meant I at least mattered. But I realized I didn't, and it was just me, and I was alone. But then I looked up, and there was an aurora in the sky that night, and I got my idea that started everything."

With that, Jane looks up. And then, contrary to every single thought in Jessica's head, she says, "The thing is, no matter what you feel, you have to feel it. You have to own it. Maybe it's an awful thing for me to say while you're in pain over it, but pain like that is such a good thing. It's the best thing because it's real, it's your soul talking to you, corny as it sounds. You have to listen to it and let it feel. And after… after everything. With you. Celebrate feeling shitty, OK? It's sourcing from the most beautiful place and it's going to take you to somewhere you need to be."

—-

Jessica Jones puts down all the food, turns, and listens intently to Jane.

Her own eyebrows shoot up, largely at the notion that anyone can be so brilliant that Jane Foster, who is the most brilliant person Jessica can imagine, would feel like she had to run to catch up. Holy shit. That is like brilliance squared. Or cubed. Or something.

Her face crumples a bit in empathy when Jane talks about getting ready to propose to this man, of planning on taking him to something as intimate as going out to visit her father's grave site, only to have this man just…get too busy for her. "What a douche," she says softly, fiercely. "Doctor Don the Douche doesn't realize what he missed in you, Jane." Like really, what a douche. Jessica wishes he were here so she could stomp his foot or something, for all that it means Jane was then free to meet Bucky and to start an entirely different adventure.

Her face crumples for different reasons when Jane says she has to feel it and not just bury it, not just send it away, not just rip it to pieces and throw it out. It crumples with disappointment, because it does hurt.

After everything, with her.

Jessica looks down and away, but…if there is anyone on the planet she can talk to about this…

"After Kilgrave," she admits softly, "after I ran away from Trish…I used to go get drunk and go to bars and pick up men. I was determined this fucker was not going to ruin sex for me."

"Not even love, I'd never been in love. Just sex.I was going to take it back. I was going to reclaim it. I had to be smashed to do it, but I was going to do it. After I threw myself at Quill…" she winces.

"I realized…it wasn't even about sex. It was about anger. And it was about control. Because getting laid can be nice, of course, but…I often picked a type. Hot, but someone I think could tell would want to get attached. And in the morning I'd just walk out."

"Sometimes I wouldn't say anything. I'd just…walk on out of there. I wanted to hurt them. I wanted to have sex with these men, and I wanted to hurt them with my rejection of them in the morning. Because in that moment I controlled them. Like I was Kilgrave myself. Like he just…put some part of his disgusting monster self into my soul and it grew there like a seed, that deep down there's a part of me now that is like him. Just…really dark, repulsive stuff, when I realized what I was doing, and so…I vowed I'd never do that again."

She looks down at her hands, disgusted by herself, her expressive face twisting into a reflection of that disgust. "So sometimes, just feeling what I feel for Matt, it feels so good and pure. I mean…the man's attractive, I noticed, but…that's not what draws me to him, that's not what impresses me about him. It's all internal stuff, all the stuff that matters. It's how he believes what I say, never acts like I'm crazy. It's how he cares enough to try to build me up when I'm feeling like ten kinds of shit. It's his bravery. It feels pure."

She exhales. "So I want to keep feeling it, even as I want to shut it off before he figures it out and knowing that I love him, like really love him, actually hurts him. But you say this and it makes sense. And since you've walked it, you know…I'm going to just…try to feel it until it takes me somewhere I guess."

She smiles ruefully. "Just…not…probably with him. He said 'good luck with your sister, and the dozen other crises you're handling. And that's just it, isn't it? My life is a constant state of crisis. It's a mess. I'm a mess. But thing is I like it. I like helping others, I like getting involved in all these cases, these problems only people like you and me and Bucky and all the others can solve. I like…feeling a little bit like I could actually find a hero inside myself. I'm not going to stop. What I'm trying to build will put me firmly into the path of more of it. And I'm still a recovering alcoholic, I've still got all these issues."

Slowly, the fries come back; she dips one up and down in the ketchup. It's more for her hands to play with something than anything else. "I can't offer him anything other than the possibility of getting seriously hurt again, of getting killed. I can't offer him stability, only chaos. I need someone who loves the chaos as much as I do, who can hold his own against that chaos, be my partner. No matter how much I love this man, I can't say that's the case. And…I guess I need to be sure I have more to give than witty remarks and good sex too. I feel like I should maybe see if I can't hit a few more dry months. Maybe get a potted plant and see if I can avoid killing it before I try to be with anyone. And then? Then I suddenly want to date, just…see someone, anyone, because if I do, then the next time I'm standing around with him awkwardly I can say 'oh yeah, I'm seeing someone now too.' And then he'd know he's safe. From me. And then maybe I can just…let him go. But I think…given what you've told me…I'll wait on that too. Dating someone to get over someone else sounds a bit shitty and dumb, having heard that."

—-

Even on the cusp of a story that, frankly, hurt a lot for many years, and was basically the breaking point to Dr. Jane Foster's years of self-imposed exile, to hear Jessica Jones's indignant fury and to even call her old, old ex — an ex Jane has no feelings for this this day, favourable or unfavourable, and would probably greet him kindly on the street if she saw him— a douche

— she laughs, suddenly, surprisingly, and with some spirit to it. "It's all right now, I promise!" she confirms, lips hitched up with a crooked smile. "I didn't mean to get you riled up on my behalf. But just to say, basically, pain is important. Happiness and ease are nice things and all, but happiness usually isn't how we discover ourselves. We have to hurt a bit, and be OK with hurting too. Listen to me, being all wise and learned of the world and whatever."

It's at that point Jessica glances away, down at something else, and Jane thinks she recognizes that look: summoning up something. The mind going to another place. Her levity loosens and she goes quiet, far more carefully listening— and taking in a glimpse of Jessica Jones's life right after that horror she went through.

Jane listens on without judgment. There's a focus to her eyes, and even if she would wish she could school her face into a careful neutral, she cannot. Hurt shines out of her expressive eyes, a hurt for everything the other woman went through. A hurt that she both can, in some ways, understand, and yet— and yet cannot.

"I don't think it was about controlling them," she dares to interject, soft, speaking of all those nameless men Jessica hurt long ago. "I think it was about controlling you. Controlling how you let people into your life. Controlling that you could hurt them before you… before you'd think they'd hurt you?"

She blows out a deep breath, pensive, having put herself in the position to give advice— wants to give it right. "But you're right. If it takes you somewhere, it might not be with him. That could be a thing. But love is a really good feeling. It's basically the best one, especially when we're being all dramatically sacrificing about it and stuff," she quips, with a bit of a sad smile. "From what I can see, the fact you're hurting is… this sounds terrible, I'm sorry, but it's the best thing going for you. It means you've stopped trying to control so much. It means you let go and just… you let yourself get hurt. And it's so good. It sucks so much but it's so good. It means you trusted someone to have your heart again. And when you own that feeling, you'll get something back that's better than control. Understanding. You know who you are and what you want and who you want to love."

Of course, all that ramble that follows, the talk of stability and safety and chaos and not being in the right place or enough and getting things in order and dating—

— Jane leans back in her chair, holding up a hand feebly like a stop sign, smiling on nervously behind it. "OK, you are definitely overthinking. And this is coming from Queen Overthinker, in all her hypocrisy. All of this talk of what you can and can't offer anyone, and— you're just going to stress yourself out. Because, honestly? I don't think anyone in the world sits and goes: well, I feel absolutely right and ready to do this. Stuff just… happens. And if you put your readiness on some list of merits, you're never going to let yourself feel like you're there. It'll always be something. How about taking a break from the thinking, and listening a bit more to the feeling. You don't have to make any big decisions, but— sometimes it's not thinking your'e ready as much as feeling like you are."

—-

Jessica doesn't take it amiss, what Jane says about pain and how it can be a good thing. She gets what Jane is driving at, and she's listening closely to every world. She smiles a little bit at some of it, even, reaching out to just give Jane a one-armed hug and lean her head against the other woman's shoulder for a moment. Look, Jane hugs are awesome hugs, she is going to get at least one in at any given time when she thinks she can.

"I guess I'm learning that I can only control a few things anyway. Myself, how I respond to things, what I choose to do or don't do, my words, but…not events. Not other people. Not much of anything else. And sometimes that's even okay. Sometimes it's even better than okay. And…some of the shit, some of the worst shit, has turned out to have some hidden gifts. It's not that I'd have gone and picked any of it out or wanted to go through it, but once I did…it wasn't all for nothing, either."

But then Jane says she's overthinking and Jessica lets out a sharp, soft laugh, straightening from her hug. Her dark eyes give a soft big of sparkle and she says, "Fair enough. I just mean that the man is blind is all, he's not exactly going to be able to go all ninja on shit when more demons or cultists or Nazis or whatever the fuck come out of the woodwork. But…I will xnay on the potted plant bit at least. Or trying to timetable things. I feel like if Matt Murdock told me tomorrow that he broke it off with Whoever She Is wants to be with me, I'd lose my shit with happiness. Originally, right before I found out he was taken, I'd thought…let the man make his own choices, but…would that have really served him? I don't know."

She makes a sound in the back of her throat, impatient with herself, and suddenly she smirks. "Alright. I should stop. Anything I can fix for you? Because…that did help, that story of yours, and your insights."

—-

When it comes to Jane Foster, hugs are always on the menu. She gentles palpably, welcoming the contact, slinging one arm around Jessica and pulling tight.

"You fought an army from Hell and basically Mario'd up onto some flying what and goomba-stomped it to death," Jane proclaims, with no small part of awe. Even busy with unlocking star-doors, she didn't miss seeing glimpses of that. "Compared to that, you can handle this. And you're going to. It's all going to be OK. Even when the pain gets so much you're not sure what to do, you're not alone handling it, all right? And just keep telling yourself it's normal, it's human, it's life. Life has to suck a bit; it's in the rules."

Letting go, bracing one bent leg up on her chair— Jane is tiny enough and foldable enough to fit into most strange places— she listens through more of Jessica's reasons why This May Not Be Right. She finally hears the name of the mysterious man who stole her heart, but it's unfamiliar, unremarkable, that she lets it pass— lets it go to bottomless well of her memory. "I swear to God," she says amiably, "I call James all the time on that 'I'm too dangerous for you' bullshit, so I'm sure going to call you on it too. It's true, you have to let him or anyone make their own choice about it. Don't sweat the particulars."

Finally, Jessica seems to beg a topic change — and offers to fix something in return for Jane.

"Glad it helped," Jane replies, still smiling crookedly, though she pauses, with some askance, on a question like that. Things fixed? It seems like the only things she'd want are the things that can't be fixed, not so easily, not so magically. Fix her nightmares, how antsy she still feels talking to strange, unfamiliar people? Fix hearing those whispers in her head, when it's quiet and she's alone, and some distant conditioning from Hydra is trying to call her home? Fix James being tortured by memory that isn't even his, and makes him feel like a murderer, a killer of children? Fix why she can't get her Einstein-Rosen bridge to work, and why her proofs keep going into dead ends? Fix that deal she made with Papa Midnite that, in a way, she's dreading, but in other, far more abnormal ways, she feels strangely excited? When she should be feeling afraid, but she's just so tired of feeling afraid that she just wants to feel reckless about something?

"I don't know," Jane says instead, "get me about a billion dollars worth of vibranium? Maybe two billion?" Her grin twitches higher. "I'm rebuilding James his arm. All of it. If it was vibranium, he'd never be able to argue with me ever again."

—-

Mario'd onto some flying what. Jessica Jones…actually snarfs a giggle. It's the way Jane put that which really tickles her. "I've never jumped so god damn high in my life," she admits, shoulders shaking with laughter. "But you were the hero that night. You and your amazing brain."

Jane calls Bucky on the 'I'm too dangerous for you' shit. Jessica hadn't realized. "You're pretty dangerous in your own right," she points out, warmly, dryly. "You're the danger nobody sees coming. You're fucking…MacGuyver on steroids."

It was a dumb question. Jessica maybe even realizes it in the split second where Jane hesitates. It was flippantly said, meant, but the words were poorly chosen, and she winces. Out of synch and out of step with relationships, even now. But then Jane makes a joke of it, and she seems content to latch on to it, if only to ask a few questions.

"Why would vibranium keep him from arguing with you?" she asks, not making that connection at all. She…certainly has made contact with someone who knows a thing or two about vibranium, but she somehow doubts the connection is strong enough for her to make a 'hey, T'challa, do me a solid and float me some vibranium' call. "How much vibranium does a billion or two get you anyway?" For all she knows it's like. An ounce. Of vibranium. For 2 billion dollars. That's one topic she hasn't really touched on at all, in her reading.

As for Papa Midnite, it's there, floating at the back of Jessica's mind, what Constantine said. One part of her wants to delve into it, to ask. Especially since she suspects the bulk of whatever it was fell on Jane.

The other ultimately can't bring herself to do it. It feels like a violation of their privacy, pushing for things she hasn't been invited to know. She's pretty content that they won't keep secrets from her if they feel she needs to know them, and if they don't choose to offer something it's probably because they have it under control. They're both smarter than she is. Bucky is vastly more experienced than she is. If he can't handle whatever it is, if they can't handle whatever it is, what chance does Jessica have? And if they need her help, surely they'd ask, wouldn't they?

She's sure John will demand answers, and that may or may not end well, but…at the end of the day what Jessica feels like is that to barge into that would be…to overstep. So for the time being she decides to just let it go. If they handle it, she may never find out. If for some reason they can't, well…she'll find out soon enough, and will hopefully be able to assist in assuaging any fallout.

—-

"It wasn't much," Jane resists the compliment, trying on some poor attempt of humility. Though her mouth quirks, and her dark eyes are proud; she's definitely got her own deep vein of arrogance, and it's probably her equally-strong self-consciousness that keeps it safely at bay.

And then Jessica, innocently and affectionately, calls Jane dangerous too. Dangerous in her way. The words, light-hearted as they are, come close to reminding her of something James had said to her: a dubious sort of relief that the Winter Soldier had not discovered her earlier. Because her arrogance is more than enough to agree, to emphatically agree, how she could have been — how she could be — had Hydra disappeared and her along with it.

She has memories — nightmares, really — of just how badly she wanted to please them. Keep them happy because she was happy, because the pain had gone away. Little challenges her mind, and Jane's only barriers are the boundaries she places on herself: an implicit trust in her mind, her soul, never to go too far. If she didn't have that?

"Maybe not that dangerous," she replies feebly, with an apologetic smile, retreating back into some veneer of harmlessness until that thought goes away.

Jane is suddenly so happy to talk about vibranium. Her wan smile lights back up. "Because he'd have no damn leg to stand on, ever. He'd owe me. Imagine having a prosthesis whose plates can arrest kinetic energy. Imagine just, on the hand alone, having a miniature shield like what Captain America carries. But a billion dollars? God, I don't know. A thimble full? Is there even that much left in the world? I mean, if you want perspective, consider Tony Stark is the richiest rich of anything we even know, and I don't think anyone's heard of a vibranium power suit. So consider that perhaps he doesn't even have enough bank for it." With a longing sigh, Jane leans back into her chair, eyes lifted in an engineer's reverie. "God damn vibranium. It's every scientist's dream, really. Just to work with it."

—-

Jessica can sense that she's misstepped somewhere. Her light hearted, joking, jovial expression fades to something more deeply concerned, then guilt-stricken. Her lips part, as if to offer something to fix it.

By the time the expression rockets across her face though, she's getting answers to her questions, and Jane's smile has lit back up. Her own expression shifts to something relieved, more relaxed, the set of her tense shoulders returning to something more normal. She pops a ketchup-laden fry into her mouth and listens intently. "Holy shit, a thimble," Jessica says, eyes widening. "Holy shit."

She looks at Jane's wistful expression and tilts her head thoughtfully. "Well, maybe you could come up with a synthetic version? Or…something close, some combination of metals that gets you in the ballpark? Or some integration of electricity or kinectic force? Or even magic? Like…using a fork to scramble eggs when you never bothered to buy a whisk."

Because making metal arms is totally like making scrambled eggs. Jessica winces at her own analogy, then suddenly smirks. For Jane? It might just be that simple.

She is utterly shameless about brainstorming things she only has a modicum of understanding about. She does this for (or to) Constantine all the time. She does it for (or to) Jane Foster now. It is not that she dreams in 100 years that she'll actually hit on the right answer. That is not the point. Her entire career, her entire paradigm, revolves around asking the right questions. Ask enough of them, to the right people, and you get results. The point, for her, is to throw paint at the wall until people who are smarter than her can pick something interesting out of the shape of that paint. It doesn't always work. It doesn't work, in fact, more than 20% of the time. But when it does work, it works pretty well.

And when it doesn't? Jessica still usually gets to learn something new, which is, in her book, a ginormous win for her, anyway.

—-

All that shameless brainstorming earns Jane's quirked-up smile, and she listens to it all with an encouraging sort of patience. It's not patronization on her part; that sort of creative process is something deeply familiar to her— something she's cannot comprehend rationalizing away in others. It's where the heart of science is, in her opinion; anyone can learn the rules and boundaries and academics of it later.

"What you're talking about is the creation of a new element," she says, amused. "Which I —"

Jane frowns to herself, not unhappily, but in thought. Questioning whether or not it's possible; questioning whether or not she could. Given an astounding power source in her possession, maybe, logistically, it's not impossible, and then she could — "Hmm," is all she murmurs about that.

She sobers, a second later, and tables that thought back into the recesses of her mind. "Anyway, too many projects as it is. Not that I will ever complain. Busy is good." A thought comes to mind. "I hear you're busy too. James tells me he's been kicking the crap out of you."

—-

Jessica grins in delight to have produced that 'hmmm,' the amusement doesn't bother her at all. She's getting used to amusement in the face of her cheerfully ignorant question-asking, and if she got a 'hmm' then this means it's just possible that this time, she threw the dart into the 20% zone. Looking at possibilities, instead of at dead ends and obstacles, is the heart of investigation, too.

Jane brings up her lessons, and Jessica ducks her head with a sheepish smile. "Yeah," she says. "It's really nice of him to do it, too." Which may sound like a ridiculous answer in the face of the way Jane phrased it, but…she figures Jane will get it. It is, in her opinion, a huge gift that she's been given, something she could never actually match in turn, this investment of Bucky's time, patience, and energy. She can try, simply by virtue of trying to be a good friend to them both, at least, and looking for other opportunities to be mindful of it as well, to avoid taking it for granted.

"He's a really good teacher," she adds. "I just hope I won't frustrate him, let him down, or make him think he's wasting his time on me."

She hesitates, visibly. "You don't mind do you?" Jane didn't sound like she minded, but…it's not like she has a lot of experience, dealing with couples. Maybe she should have asked when Jane was there?

It's one of those hesitations that she often gets when she realizes she's in the dark on dynamics that most people learn how to navigate way back in high school. It's getting to where the fear of accidentally hurting someone socially or emotionally is just as strong as her fear of hurting them physically, ever present, always making her step awkwardly, lightly, where others stride with confidence.

—-

She doesn't mind, does she?

Jane goes stock-still for a whole five seconds, genuinely confused by such a strange question. It's so strange that she cannot even initially quantify it, cannot do anything but think frankly, honestly: what is there to mind?

"What?" she asks. "Why would I— " Jane's voice lingers off. Her expression opens. Oh. Oh!

She stares dumbly at Jessica for a beat. Then her next breath in hitches, and splinters into a light, breathy laugh. Is Jessica afraid she feels threatened?! It wasn't even a thought in her head. "Oh my god! Oh my… no. No, no, no. It's so cool. Please, don't stop doing that. James, he… he's a teacher. And he's really good at it. Really… really… really good. I'd be offended if you /didn't/ take him up on an offer to school you."

Jane's smile is encouraging, patient, and just… comfortable. There is no need for awkwardness here.

That is until her smile quirks into something slightly more devilish. "Though you realize I got you in my back pocket now. If I ever tell James you asked me that, he'll make fun of you for a month." She's been hanging around with Sassy McBarnes too long.

—-

Jessica chuffs a laugh, coloring faintly, slightly embarrassed that she asked, now. "I won't stop, it's too awesome, and you know, I like the idea of…not dying of my own stupidity," she says, ducking her head.

As Jane tells her that James will make fun of her for a month she gives another burst of a laugh, an actually audible one, if a bit of a self-depreciating one. "God. Please don't. You're right, you totally have me under your blackmail thumb now, damn." This is, after all, the woman who had looked faintly eye twitchy when Darcy started going on and on about how scrumptious old Grandpa Bucky was, because she does not think of him that way one bit. "Cause that would just be awkward."

Her shoulders shake with a silent laughter, holding up her hands. "Damn it already is a little awkward. Be merciful, Doc, for I have stepped in it now!"

She can at least joke at her own expense! She supposes it's silly, after she just spent a vast and inordinate amount of time going on and on about Matt Murdock, for her to ever think Jane would think that she's set her sights on Bucky.

—-

It is a great many reasons why even asking that question is met by Jane's innocent confusion, her laughter, her playful teasing. While not immune to her moments of insecurity, she's never thought herself particularly a jealous sort, she trusts James Barnes implicitly, and, well— it's not escaped her notice how he holds himself among their strange little circle. With the exception of John Constantine— thank god— he seems to engage the rest of their friends with this paternal air—

— and that, to Jane, is the heart of just the weirdness that would hold her from even feeling jealous. They're like his weird pack of kids to herd around and keep from falling off cliffs.

She puts on the air of indecision as Jessica begs her not to tell, but, in the end, Jane's soft heart relents. Probably because she knows how savage James could be with that joke. "You're lucky I'm so kind," she jokes, with an arched grin. Eventually, it evens into a gentler sort of serious. "But, seriously, I'm glad he's doing that for you. I know you'll make him proud."

—-

"I am lucky. And…I hope so," Jessica says, very solemnly. "I've even gone to fucking yoga cause he said I wasn't flexible enough. Fucking yoga fucking sucks. If you need a laugh you can just imagine me, doing my damndest to fucking pull off a god damn Downward Dog." She smirks, wryly. "In a room full of fucking blonde soccer Mom clones all staring at me as if I'm a freaking two headed alien."

She's not above making even a little more fun at her own expense, but she adds, more seriously, "But it's worth it if it helps me get better. I'll do pretty much whatever it takes to make sure I do make him proud. And to get better just…for myself. And…everyone who might depend on me too."

Suddenly she clears her throat, her cheeks coloring a little to be talking in this way.

She pops another chocolate into her mouth to cover for it, then says, "I really like just…hanging out with you this way. Do you care if I come hang out in your lab sometimes like this? I can stay out of your way if you're uber-working. Or hand you your wrench or something if you need me to. I gotta leave to go to Maryland for the evening pretty soon here, but…"

She's so shy about this for someone who basically just shows up these days at Bucky and Jane's flat like she really is their kid, four steps short of just, say, bringing her damned laundry there. But Jane's lab and work is a little different.

—-

Out comes a deluge of cursing, but it doesn't even flicker an eyelash on Jane Foster. She comes from the dark beginnings of the mouth of Darcy Lewis. She LIVES with James Buchanan Barnes, who probably feels inclined to drop double the f-bombs to make up for Steve Rogers.

Even as the talk gets worse— goes into sappy territory— Jane does not judge. She does not make fun of that sort of thing, none whatsoever; her body language is permissive, relaxed, welcoming. All are allowed to drop their guards in front of her. She will safeguard precious reputations.

"You'll do just fine," she promises. "Just make sure you listen. He'll punish you quick if you don't." Jane's mouth quirks up at a mysterious memory of her own. "And I apologize in advance for future upgrades on his arm. You are… you'll feel them as they come."

And then Jessica asks for more nights like tonight— just hanging out in her lab. It draws a bit of candid surprise from Jane. Now it's her turn to flush faintly at the cheeks, and in a bit of self-consciousness, because her immediate response isn't just an eager and excited yes, yes, yes. She hesitates, hedging between kindness and… Janeness. "I — maybe? I could schedule… I'm sorry. I'm not a good… multitasker in the lab. I had to block this time out for you specifically. I kinda don't talk. I kinda get… mad at talking. And mad at peopling. At distractions." She makes a face. "Work-me is a bit of a bitch."

—-

Jessica smiles and says, "Why would you apologize? Upgrades are good. If I feel them I feel them. I'm gonna feel something."

But as Jane hesitates and tells it like it is, Jessica raises her hands and smiles. "It's fine," she says. She doesn't seem offended or even flustered on this one. Or even put out. More flattered that Jane blocked her the time at all, given the answer.

"I shouldn't have asked. That was overstepping. Just a sign that this was a good time I guess. My awkward way of saying: thanks. For this." It's kind of a novel thing for Jess, to come somewhere and to just be happy being there for awhile. She can think of a few other examples where she has, but they're few and far between enough that it still stands out to her.

It's kind of interesting to think of Jane mad at talking or peopling, but given Jessica gets mad a lot, at…existing it's not like she's judging. "Me me is kind of a bitch, so I think it's okay for work-you to be a bitch. And I should…probably let you get back to it, cause I've been here awhile! Those arm upgrades won't build themselves. Nor any of the other things you're working on."

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