Of Friendships and Faustian Deals

May 05, 2017:

Jessica Jones discovers true friendships are harder to break than she thinks in the wake of Jane's ready, unspoken forgiveness. As they discuss the murder case that waits for Jessica back home, Jane learns she dodged a big bad bullet long before she ever met Bucky Barnes.

Red Robin's Swanky Berlin Penthouse

The penthouse that never sleeps.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, Tony Stark

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Jessica Jones isn't usually a morning person, unless of course insomnia keeps her up anyway. Eventually, round about a decent hour, she wanders barefoot into the kitchen in her sweat pants and tank top. Moving slowly and quietly so as not to wake the whole household, she starts a pot of coffee without bothering to worry about food. It's the coffee she's after.

She moves out a chair by the expedient of lifting it silently and putting it down. Then she pulls out her phone.

She's avoided looking at her other cases. She's started to focus. But she's getting antsy about them. It's been longer than she anticipated.

She reaches into the STUFF app and pulls out a whiteboard, magnets, a couple of actual photographs. These are from the Stark Case, some of them grisly murder photos, nothing great for appetite. She'll just go over it all again. Look at it in a new way. The board can be put back in the app as is. She starts writing furiously, clipping photographs to magnets, drawing connections.

Homicide detectives do these things; maybe she should too.

—-

Jane Foster is a morning person. Jane Foster is a night person.

Jane Foster is, really, an all-times-a-day person, and especially these past few months: call it the unhealthy bedmates that is being a natural workaholic and dogged by residual PTSD that keeps sleep something metered in handfuls of hours here and there. Only in the past few weeks has she actually come acclimatized to her chronic insomnia, figuring it some permanent new friend here to stay. So be it.

She's dressed in last evening's clothes — jeans and some plaid button-down — with her face lit in the screen glow of her tablet, when she's inevitably drawn to the brewing smell of coffee.

Too many projects, and not enough time; Jane's feeling especially awful regarding her neglect of her work, her true work — the world she lived for only a year ago, and to her great self-deprecation, has put largely on the back burner. So find it fate or some gift of the gods or universe's fortune that, spending the last four hours reviewing new coordinate data, she's noticing something local going on in Germany. Some intersection of auroral vertices in the next few days she'll have to beg James to let her go to and see —

Her thought process finds her in the kitchen, where Jane's tunnel-vision surfaces like an early morning prairie dog. She sees Jessica, among all her things. An easy smile hooks her mouth. "Hey," she calls amiably. "Fresh coffee?"

—-

Jessica starts a little bit.

It would be wrong to say she's been avoiding Jane, for all that guilty, anxious looks seem to twist her expressive features whenever they cross paths, as they do now. She's more been letting Jane work. She's not afraid to talk to Jane. Nope. No way. No how. Not at all…

Yeah. Okay. She's been afraid to talk to Jane.

But the easy smile, the amiable tone, they coax something tentative out of Jessica as well: an easing of the anxiety, a spark of hope that maybe, just maybe, she really hasn't broken this friendship that is far more important to her than she has ever even expressed. She nods and jumps up, replying softly, "Here, sit down, I'll get you a cup."

She notes that the drip is nearly done anyway, and goes to get it done. Cream and no sugar for Jane, black for her, in cups plainer and more generic than the ones either of them favor.

She suddenly realizes she's seriously got pictures of cadavers on their table (one of them headless and terribly gruesome) and adds, "Uh, that's— don't look, I'll get it off in a moment, sorry. How's work going?"

—-

One of those cadaver photos are already in Jane's hands, picked up to her patient, pensive examination, just as Jessica gives that warning. Too late.

Strangely, however, Jane looks less than perturbed; on the contrary, she's clinically absorbing all the details therein of horrifying decapitation. She glances up, and smiles comfortably as if she isn't holding someone's awful murder in-hand. "This? No big. Remember I was a med school drop-out?"

She sets the picture down only to accept the mug of coffee, taking it up with a grateful smile. There's nothing in Jane's face, from the sleepless shine of her eyes to her unguarded body language to suggest any unease — nothing to be anxious over. She's been a little tunnel-visioned by work, and not really anything else. Most of the crew in the penthouse haven't seen much of her at all, save their mandated outings for new leads.

"It's going. Feels like there's no end to it, but. Nothing new there," Jane murmurs, not unhappily, leaning her jaw to her free hand as she waits her allotted forty-five seconds to let her coffee cool. "What about you? What's all this about?"

—-

And slowly, ever so slowly, Jessica Jones starts to relax. Starts to believe that maybe cigarettes, dragon fighting, coffee and contact can make this okay, that saying stupid shit while exhausted and jetlagged may not be the end of the world, that she hasn't broken Bucky for good, that she hasn't driven Jane off, this person who knows all the worst things about her and accepted her without question. Singularly, individually, Bucky and Jane: two of the most important people in her world. Still…here. Still…accepting her.

For a moment she has to swallow hot coffee to bury the lump in her throat.

Talking about work is a balm though, and she whispers, "It's the Stark case. I've got 3 murderers on it. That one I think was done by the fake Iron Man suit."

She points to another pair. "That one was done by this crew called the Agency. They're from another dimension, they seem to try to clean up holes in reality, but they're awful. They were willing to 'redact' an 18 month old, but…she's safe now. I have some of their tech."

She points to the four suicides. "Those were Holmes. He's ex-SHIELD from the dimension where this woman, Kelly Anders, had successfully used Arc tech to build a portal to. Alternate universe; I talked to a Kelly Anders over there who is not dead. Homes is also maybe Agency, maybe rogue Agency. I'm not sure. He apparently has a mind control power, but…may also be a victim himself."

—-

Nothing about Jane Foster suggests rejection. She sits as asked and drinks her own coffee down with a consummate academic's caffeine addiction. Whether or not she notices that anxiety lingering around the corners and seams of Jessica Jones —

— she doesn't seem apt to bring it up. Doesn't seem to want to pry. What might be enough is that she's here, freely and willingly, perfectly content to suffer her chronic insomnia in the woman's company. Her eyebrows raise at mention of Stark Case, and that brings her to eyeball the headless corpse picture a second time in a new light.

Jane grimaces to herself. Mental note: don't let James see those. She might not be allowed access back to her lab. Though asshole probably already knows. Always knows.

She listens to Jessica as she speaks, explains the particulars of the case — until one word crosses her lips and brings a furrow to Jane's eyebrows. It's not bemusement. It's not pensive fascination. It's the look of a woman scanning her eidetic memory for a hit as —

"Say that again," Jane orders suddenly, with an interrupting impetus. "What did you just call those guys?" Did she hear that right?

—-

"The Agency," Jessica says slowly, softly still because she's concerned about waking the whole house. She cants her head at Jane, and now she's utterly focused. "Have you— I mean do you know about them? They seem to have this red energy flowing through them. More than that…"

She exhales. "Well I mean this is just a theory okay, but…I think they find all the versions of themselves in all the universes, and just…tether them together somehow, which gives them crazy powers and makes them all but unkillable."

It's a theory more suited to a scientist to a private detective, perhaps, but Jessica has never been shy about imagining what can be done, even if she doesn't understand the how. "Does that sound like something you've run across?"

Eagerness, hope, because this case is driving her crazy. SHIELD seems to have swept poor Peggy off Jess' radar entirely, leaving her to grapple with it, leaving her to feel in over her head as it criss crosses worlds and dimensions, splashes into the kiddie pools of little-g gods, and leaves her with a growing pile of all-too-mundane corpses that she (of course) takes personal responsibility for. That decapitation? Dated a week before they all went into Hell. The latest pile of bodies? Dated just a few scant days before they all came here.

—-

"Less something I came across," Jane explains, a strain to her eyes, "and more someone who came to see me in specific."

She eyes that photo again, follows up with a passing glance over those other corpses, and the uncertainty taking shape among her features slowly crystallizes into a frown. Her skin colours paler now than it did a minute ago. "It was — so strange. I didn't think to tell anyone about it, other than James, long after the fact. I didn't tell SHIELD. I didn't want them to — mess with my work. Or blame me for it, somehow."

Her taste for her left-alone coffee long departed, the woman rubs uneasily at the back of her neck. "It was back just after Christmas. Before I met you — and everyone." Before HYDRA, she infers but dares not say aloud. "This woman broke into my lab and was trying to court me with the idea of opening a bridge. She could manipulate quantum fields. And something called the Agency wanting me to look into this for them, no strings attached. They gave me a formula. And this weird — glimpse. It wasn't our world what I saw."

Her eyes don't stray from that photo, headless, cold, dead. Like that body could have been her. "It was too convenient. I kept the formula, but I never tried. If I make my bridge, it's on my terms."

—-

Jessica's eyes widen, and for a moment her pale face goes even paler. "Jesus."

"I am so glad you said no," she says fervently. "This one girl, Schism…she dies in my arms, right? She calls me by some other version of myself, but she starts pleading with me. Or who she thought I was. Agent Jones, she says. Fix this, help me. I used to be a hero, I used to be SHIELD…"

Jessica rubs her hands up and down her bare arms, pebbling with goosebumps in the memories. "That's why I think Holmes might be a victim. Or at least, he had no idea what he was getting into. It sounds like they spin a good offer. And they're run by this thing, something called…Decimux of the Infinplex. I think once you say yes you end up under his sway absolutely. I think Holmes might even be doing some desperate ploy to try to break whatever's been done to the Agents, but…that's raw speculation."

She can never lose her appetite for coffee. She actually gets up and gets more, but her attention is all for Jane. "So the formula was for a bridge into their world? Or was it something else to do with your research?"

Jessica does make a note though, that they tried to recruit Jane. It could, in fact, be important that they did. She marks the time, choosing a different color for it than the red, black, and blue she'd been using. Green, now, for a fact that could be relevant, or could not be.

—-

If Jane was pale before, now she vaguely resembles bone bleached under a high desert sun. "Schism?" she repeats, and not in confusion. It's to confirm she heard that right.

Her hands tighten unconsciously around her mug of coffee. She stares down into the liquid she can no longer drink, no stomach for it now. "She was — she was the one who came to me. She was the one that was trying to sell me on the Agency. I think — that version of me? Like the one of you? Is with the Agency. So she's dead now?"

Jesus Christ, seems to connote Jane's entire body language, as she slumps back into her chair. Her mind begs to make sense of it all, listening and absorbing any information Jessica offers to fill the blanks.

"It's a proof they gave me. Of sorts. It's — it's hard to explain," Jane says, a furrow to her eyebrows. "It felt strange. Not so much as an answer in itself… but one tailored to be an answer for me. The thing is, as soon as I saw it — I knew. I knew I could do it, and that was reason enough for me that I couldn't."

She pauses. "I wanted to. Ashamed to say it, but… yeah. Still want to. But that's not how it's supposed to go. That's now how I'm supposed to do it. Answers aren't handed to you. They aren't made for you, and it didn't feel right. Sure as hell didn't feel right to James either."

Her lips purse. "But if you needed me to — I could probably do it."

—-

"She was dead for a few seconds. Then she was trying to stab me again. They just…respawn."

Jessica watches Jane's body language, listens to her admit she's ashamed, and she frowns. She reaches over, tentatively touches the other woman's arm. "Your need to know is one of the best parts about you. You shouldn't feel ashamed. You were wise to resist, but temptation isn't something to be ashamed about."

She squeezes a little, and withdraws her touch. Jane is one of the few people she'll just touch, mostly brought on by the woman's own unrestrained hugs. She's on that short list of people that doesn't get a warm-up, 'I'm not really going to crush your arm, I promise' touch. Just a solid, gentle squeeze, warm, and now lacking in all awkwardness.

She circles back to something though. "She said you were already with the Agency? Some version of you? That blows holes in my theory about tethering all of the versions. 'Agent' Jones is with OtherSHIELD, not the Agency. Are you sure they didn't mean an Agent Jane of SHEILD?"

She has of course heard Jane's offer. Jones pauses, and pulls a broken portal out of the Stuff app. "Portal. Maybe. I already gave Tony the functional one," she admits. "This just sort of spawned them. I don't know if you could do something with it without violating your principles or using their poisoned bait. A way there, a recall back. I don't know if I need you to do either thing though. I don't know if it's necessary to go there at all, yet. Right now? What I need is someone to find a way to get their traitor talking. A robot. I think he's a robot. Named Extra."

She has a photo of him on the board; she gestures to it now. "He speaks something that sounds like Japanese, but it's most assuredly not. Tony lent me Dunce in part to go take a scan of him, along with the other scans he's taken for the case. Right now what I need is a translation protocol that works for this thing. Do you think you could maybe do that, if I got you to him or him to you?"

—-

Just like all the times before, Jane Foster visibly appreciates that touch. It brings a familiar pinch to the corners of her eyes, a silent thank-you she does not bring to voice. She's not a woman of overwhelming insecurity, but privately, and lately —

— it's her ethics she's been keeping careful watch on. Quantum morals, she calls them in her head, her way of being able to rationalize right and wrong as a single continuum. She knows it comes to her far more easily than it should, and probably does most people, and that's what makes this all the more dangerous. She shouldn't feel ashamed… and yet, at the same time, she feels like she needs to.

"I… think so?" she answers instead, rather than trying to quantify the unease in her stomach. "That woman — Schism. Lin, I think her name was? She wasn't exactly easy to understand. I could be mistaken, but it really sounded like, uh, other-me? Was with them. I was one with the Agency, she said? Who knows."

She listens to Jessica's posed question. "You want me to… write you a scripting language to English dictionary?" asks Jane. She pauses. Tilts her head in a considering way. "Sounds doable, I guess. I'd need those scans. Might take me some time, but I could do something. If it's math, it's math. But — what does all of this have to do with Tony Stark? Is this about someone stealing his tech? Those guys want it?"

—-

"She's very crazy, yeah, and that accent doesn't help," Jessica says thoughtfully. "But good to know."

The fact that her touch actually helped Jane eases a bit more of the concern inside of her. She resists the urge to just throw her arms around the woman. She doesn't know of Jane's struggles with morality, any more than she's necessarily shared her own— this thin line she's walking, where she's not sure where she stands between the extremes of never-kill and kill-if-they-deserve-it. But guilt? Shame? That she instinctively understands. And wants to ease.

Jane translates what Jess wants into Jane-speak and she looks lost for a moment. "I…maybe? I think? I'll get you the scans," she promises. She suddenly smirks, and points at herself. "Me want you make robot talk good."

Yep, sometimes she feels about that goofy in the face of Jane's brilliance, but she takes it in stride, winking at the other woman. She at least can make light of it.

She tries to think of a succinct way to tell it, aware of her habit of info-vomiting when people start asking about her cases. "This was the case I warned you and Bucky about when I found out you were working at Stark Labs. The first 4 victims were Stark employees from all over the country. They were definitely stealing Stark Tech, passing it to this Agent Holmes, and working with it. Kelly Anders, this victim here, built a portal to another universe— not the Agency's universe, just an alternate universe— in the panic room below her Aunt's house. She gave tantalizing hints of what she thought she was trying to accomplish, and indicated it was all building up to something horribly wrong, but…the problem is those hints don't assemble themselves into a clear picture. The portal in the basement was a big twist; at first we thought it was just all about the Iron Man Knockoff. When we get home I can give you a copy of my whole case file if you want it."

—-

What is programming if not trying to codify math into a written system of language? The more Jane thinks about it, the more confident she feels about her ability to make something happen. Here is one thing insecurity does not exist for her: her mind feels infallible, and she trusts in her intelligence with the faith the devout have for their gods.

"Robot will talk real good," Jane promises, amused, while part of her tries to concieve of the idea of actual artificial intelligence existing. This world keeps expanding its ever-moving horizon out farther and farther and farther, and she needs to run just to keep up with it. So much possibility. If she wasn't already unable to sleep, she'd be tempted to stay awake at night pondering what the hell isn't real.

Listening, she frowns in her own way at the talk of opened portals and subsequent deaths thereafter. It annoys Jane equally someone opening the bridge she still cannot as much as it pauses her to wonder if that death — it's some sort of hubris-esque sacrifice she's not giving the world to see her creation through. Dying for your obsession, paying the price — surely has always been a thing. Maybe it's up to her to create something that doesn't require that Faustian deal.

"I'll give it a look-over," she promises to talk of the casefile. "It's worth it. This entire connection is weird enough. Weird, small — really small world. I'll see if I can help with something at least."

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