The Namor Not Taken

October 23, 2017:

Phil Coulson brings Gwen Stacy to Dr. Jane Foster in the hopes that the world's premier expert on Einstein-Rosen bridges has the acumen to return Gwen to Earth-65. Bucky Barnes has a good laugh when he learns about the fate of Jane's dimensional twin.

Stark Industries, New York City

Where there's never a dull moment.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Peter Parker, John Constantine, Steve Rogers

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Stark Tower — Jane Foster's up-anc-coming second home.

Especially these past couple weeks — stateside after her mysterious sojourn into the wilds of Wakanda — her every free moment and waking breath has been dedicated to the rebuild of James Barnes's lost left arm, ripped from his shoulder by T'Challa's own hands. And adamant to keep a promise to made to him months ago, one where she means to upgrade inefficient technology, and better give him an arm he chose to accept, built by her hands and not the monsters of Hydra.

Even with her significant lab space, and resources denoted from Stark, himself, it's still a daunting task for one woman to manage. Thankfully, Jane does not work well with others.

It takes the inhuman patience of JARVIS to keep up with her, who has been her faithful assistant and taskminder through the build, and currently now puts up with the half-awake, over-caffeinated woman's ramblings.

Her lab is organized chaos, plates and circuitboards and the guts of opened servos lain like dissected bodies, and Jane ignores the most of it, her attention currently focused on the interface-tactile hologram the occupies her desk space. It shows the three-dimensional images of floating polyhedrons — antiprisms — shapes she turns and angles with sweeps of her hands, threading their twenty-to-thirty points into each other in an interlocking algorithm that adds layers into, what appears, her new design of the arm's plate movement — a significant upgrade from its one-dimensional predecessor.

"All right," Jane murmurs around a mouthful of coffee, sleeves rolled up, hair tied back, staring slavishly into her work. "We coordinate V1M2 into C1M3, with data set -C2, 0.6, C-delta."

"Not if you wish to keep an elbow, Dr. Foster," replies JARVIS amiably.

"I am so over elbows," groans Jane. "Whatever. Make it octogonal at the lateral epicondyle."

This is literally what's been going on the past eighty-two hours.

*

There are a few things Phil Coulson knows about life.

Number one: he will never, ever be Jane Foster's favorite person.

Number two: when it comes to Foster-Barnes affairs, it's best to strike while the iron is hot.

Number three: Teenagers from other dimensions probably need to be seen to sooner, rather than later.

So it is that he shows up at Gwen's safehouse, knocks on the door, and says, "Our specialist is finally in the lab. Want to go meet the premier world expert on Einstein-Rosen bridges, known to us mere mortals as portals, before she ends up kidnapped, beaten up, beamed into space or otherwise rendered unavailable once more? If we catch her with your problem fast enough, she might just be fascinated enough to stay out of trouble for awhile."

And with the assent of his charge, he had brought her over. He makes his way into her lab, lifts his eyebrows at lateral epicondyles, and then simply clears his throat. "Dr. Foster, I'm sorry to interrupt, but this young lady needs help only you can provide. Might we have a moment of your time?"

He is aware that interrupting her work is almost as bad as stealing her work in terms of how much she just loves hearing from him, and so he wears the Cheshire Cat's smile like armor, his slightly rumpled, most ill-fitting suit, downplaying his status as Mr. Big Government in every way, shape, and form.

Also, because if she throws coffee on him again he really doesn't want to worry about the suit.

*

Somewhere in the back of the lab, on a random chaise lounge hidden behind a table and a haphazard stack of asssorted Jane Foster science, someone wakes up with a start as something new happens that hasn't happened in the last eighty-two hours: someone talks that isn't Jane.

Bucky peers over a stack of servers. Seeing it's Phil, along with someone he presumes is a Phil Charge of some sort, he subsides back into his doze. He would say hi, but they look busy, and he could use his incredible spy powers to continue napping instead.

*

There are a lot of things that Gwen Stacey knows about this Earth.

They don't have Blockbuster and that's a crime.

Peter Parker is alive and Spider-Man.

Stark Towers has nothing to do with Coffee.

Jane Foster is a married woman and royalty of Atlantis.

Okay, maybe that last one is what she knows of her own world, but to find out that Jane Foster-McKenzie works for a place called Stark Industries and does science (as opposed to being a barrista) is quite a shock. Honestly, her agreement to come along is mostly to see what in the world this Jane Foster holds.

Gwen Stacy is not a scientist, she is not a genius. She is a detective's daughter. And so she goes in costume. It's easier that way for her. Her bright white mask covers her entire face and the hoodie helps cover her blonde hair. It's easier for her to be prodded and examined if she doesn't feel like herself while it is happening.

Immediately, she is through the door and exploring things. She cannot help it. Much like the Male Spider Costumed Hero, she is eager and also quippy and curious. "Do you work with fish a lot? Also, do you know King Namor? Asking for a friend."

Though her Spider Senses are a bit awry here, she notices Bucky Barnes and moves that way, peering over those same servers to look at him curiously. "Who are you?"

*

"Good evening, Mr. Coulson," greets JARVIS with his immaculate Queen's English.

It's the little things that flesh out the varied, reserved, and sometimes incalculable motivations of the always-working Jane Foster.

Such is the way she doesn't even look up from her work, eyes on the holograms, and says bluntly, "I'm busy, Phil."

It's Phil now, apparently. Maybe she is easing up on him? Maybe she's a little warmer due to all his recent support for Bucky Barnes? Perhaps that makes up for the sacrilegious error of once, years ago, and for an abominable one day (and a half), he took her work?

Jane's flat poker face isn't telling. "Don't say hi, JARVIS. It makes them think they can stay."

"I am programmed with etiquette, Dr. Foster."

"Inefficient waste of resources," she judges.

Of course, her perfect actress's impression of Not Doing This, Not Listening goes out on its ass when the masked Spider-Woman makes her way in, drawing Jane's dark eyes. She squints. "Who — what? Do I work — what? King What?"

Her attention shoots back on Coulson. Jane is imploring. "Phil, seriously? What is this?"

*

"Who are YOU?" is Bucky's equanimous reply, as he peers up at Gwen through one opened eye. "I'm somebody on the scientific equivalent of 'the boyfriend waiting couch at a department store.'"

*

Huh. Maybe he is. Phil files that one away, but he won't address it. He also doesn't move from his spot. He raises a hand in greeting to Bucky, "Dr. Foster, Sergeant Barnes, this is Spider-Woman. SHIELD has verified her as a transplant from an alternate dimension. One where Blockbuster is still a thing, even. I'm bringing her to you because we're hoping you can return her to her plane of origin. She's been here about six months now, so I hope you won't turn her away now."

He holds out a thumbdrive to Jane. "This contains readings SHIELD took of certain signs indicating space-time translation. I think it was special particles, but I'm afraid my eyes glazed over when Fitz tried to explain it to me. Hopefully that will help you."

This is not some elaborate prank, it seems. All evidence points to Phil being deadly serious.

*

Bucky will quickly discover that as he peers over the servers, Spider-Woman is not just peering over them, but actually clinging to them and looking over at him. "King Namor?" she asks. "You don't look like King Namor. Did you get your arm ripped off here? Was it lobster traps?"

Perhaps it is because she's been cooped up, or because she has recently been offered a spot with the Titans. Or, even more than that, maybe it's because she has the ability to do what she wishes under supervision that she acts this way. In any event, she leaps upward to hang from the ceiling and move about. "JARVIS." She repeats the name, trying to figure it out. "Intercom to a robot? Or something else?"

Smiling, she bows from the ceiling. "It's alright your majesty. I'm here under orders. Agent Coulson said you were quite adept at science and the ability to send me home."

*

King Namor.

Your majesty.

What Phil just said about an alternate dimension.

Pretty quickly, Bucky puts two and two together. He looks at Jane. Then at Gwen. Then at Jane.

"Excuse me," he says to Gwen, gets up, and hurriedly leaves the room.

He can be heard to start laughing before the door actually swings shut.

*

Jane Foster's left eyebrow twitches. "OK. First off, who the hell is King Nanaimo Bar, do NOT just ask someone how he lost his arm, that is RUDE, and get the hell off my servers! You don't walk on — PHIL!"

Her voice breaks into the pinnacle of exasperation, as she beseeches him like SHIELD's glorified pseudo-babysitter. Please reel this in?!

Of course, all thanks to Dr. Foster's incredible super-power of multitasking, she stares an incredulous highway straight up at Gwen standing upside-down from the lab's ceiling while listening to Agent Coulson's unspeakably-patient explanation of what the hell is going on. "Alternate dimension? Did you tag the location of the anomaly?" She accepts the drive. "It's all on here? For real? I — your majesty?!"

Back at Gwen, Jane still hasn't gotten it. She feels like she's missing some punchline. "Can someone PLEASE tell me what the —"

And then Bucky starts to laugh so uproariously he excuses himself. Jane looks incredulous. "WHAT IS A NAMOR?"

"Crown Prince of Atlantis, Dr. Foster, and current Atlantean royalty. Image provided in accessory."

The speedo fills the room.

"WHAT?!" comes Jane's shriek.

*

Phil opens his mouth to try to reign Spider-Woman in.

But then he's forced to take three steps back from the Speedo, which ends up popping into being at a rather unfortunate location as far as he's concerned, way too close to his face. He peers up at it.

He is a spy with decades of experience. He can hold his own laughter inside when he wants to. He manages to somehow look nothing but nondescript in the blink of an eye. No smiling, no laughing. He'll have a moment about that later.

Or maybe not. Maybe he's married to someone weird too.

Instead he says, "My apologies, Dr. Foster, but as this situation," he waves his hand up and down the length of the Namor, "indicates, it really is very important to get her home. The location of the anomaly was marked, yes. I'm concerned if we don't get her home there might be more reality breaches. It would be. Unfortunate. If King Namor here came looking for his wife. For example."

Motivation. It's important.

*

Bucky's response to her valid questions and honorifics are met with a tilt of her head. It's the most recognizable gesture that she has while in her Spider-Woman suit. She didn't realize being a consort to Crown Prince Namor was something humorous. Okay, so this is not the same here. Is nothing the same where? Maybe she should just take that as a lesson. Never talk about where she is from. It seems to make people laugh or be upset.

"King Namor, of Atlantis. He took a woman from the surface as his bride. But that was where I'm from." Obviously that is not the case here. "Who was that guy, then? I didn't mean to be rude." She says while hanging from the ceiling practically uninvited. It's her way of coping.

There's a moment as she looks at the picture of Namor - big and there for everyone to see. "Okay, that's not really what I want when I talk about going home. But I do want to go home."

*

It takes one crisply-worded order from Jane — with a 'please' included, he is programmed with etiquette — for JARVIS to kill the image and spare them further glory of His Highness's Rising Sea Level.

Trying desperately to get back her composure, which is not that simple when it comes to realizing — somewhat late on the uptake, too — that her alternate-universe version is apparently both real and married to SOME WEIRDO KING IN A SPEEDO.

"First off, that sounds like an abduction, which is a felony crime, so obviously other-me is absolutely insane," she bleats, rubbing a hand through her hair. "Second-off, that man is Ja— Bucky Barnes."

And third-off: Jane hears out Phil's proposal with a slow-growing frown. As interested as she is in this proposal, behind being privately flattered he came to her of all people — of course he should haven, he must have read the research he STOLE — the Agent runs a damn good reason.

What if alternate-Namor came here looking for his wife? The colour drains out of her face at the thought.

"All right," she says. "I'm in. I'll try to review the particulars as soon as I can, and get out there with my equipment to run some preliminaries on the site. I assume it's quarantined? That's what you guys do best, right? Mass, rampant, constant quarantining of everything?"

Her gaze flicks up to Spider-Woman, still on the ceiling. Jane has five more questions about that. "Promise me no more other-me mentions, ever, and it's a deal. Time to get you home."

*

"Washington Heights," Phil replies. His lips might twitch at Jane's grumpy diatribe about what he and his ilk do at SHIELD, but he doesn't address it directly. "There may indeed have been a highly dangerous construction site with some sort of vague toxic contaminations that has been sitting there with big danger signs on it for a great deal of time without anyone ever addressing it. Maybe wear a hard hat when you go so nobody stops you for walking beneath all the orange safety netting."

It's all they can do for a semi-public area like that one. Make a big mess, make it look scary, and wait until someone can get around to messing with it.

He looks mournful. "Sadly the Diet Coke of quarantining, not any fun at all."

Hazel eyes twinkle as he slides hands into pockets, happily poking at himself and his own profession, as if he only really lives to quarantine all the things.

If the Speedo were nearby for real though, he'd definitely quarantine the unholy Hell out of that, and get it some pants.

That remains unsaid though.

*

"Is he related to James Barnes?" Gwen asks as she looks at Jane. Bucky and James are not at all the same and Buchanan is not on the medical center she would know Barnes by.

Seeing that being on the ceiling is making Jane upset, she drops, flipping easily to land on the floor on her feet. Then, she stands and crosses her arms. As far as Jane can know, she thinks that the other woman smiles. It's hard to tell through the mask. "I promise. No more talk about other you. I didn't even meet her. I wasn't ever important enough. Me? Meet royalty? No. I eat corndogs and was almost arrested." Is that still talking about Jane's other personalty? Okay, she's done now.

"It was a rooftop somewhere, I doubt it was quarantined," she tells Jane in an attempt to help. She looks at Phil. "The Diet Coke of quarantine," she repeats, a snort in her voice, "So, barely any quarantine there at all. The substitute of quarantine?"

Through her mask, she looks to Jane. "Can you still find something out through a Diet Coke of Quarantine?"

*

For all her not-so-subtle ruffing on Phil Coulson's passion to bedazzle the world in various quarantine sites, Jane cannot help a light, sharp half-smile when he gamely plays up as the punchline. Maybe she is warming up to him.

"Gotcha," she confirms. "I'll Ghostbusters 2 it. Maybe bring along a certain soldier, if the jerk has stopped laughing by then." She cranes an annoyed glance over her own shoulder, out the doorway, out the lab. Don't think he won't pay later for laughing at her.

Gwen's question, regarding that same, certain soldier, lifts Jane's eyebrows. "One and the same person. Bucky's his slightly more celebrity name. Don't tell me you know — is there an other-him too? Please tell me he's married to someone incredibly embarrassing. Like a man named John Constantine."

She lets go a breath. "More seriously, it's my hope. I can't say anything yet until I can get out there with my equipment. If I can't pick up on any past anomaly in spacetime, if that's some — how do I describe it: a quantum field weak spot? Then it's basically the point on which my entire thesis rests, and I may be able to read future anomalies. It might be a matter of stabilizing what's already there and manipulating it enough to give you a path home."

Hearing her own voice stops Jane briefly, her mind awhirl. How long has it been since she's actually been able to stop and progress he research — her actual research. "I'll see what I can find and share my results."

*

Phil's shoulders shake with a chuckle at all of it. Gwen's quipping, Jane's return quips. "Let me know if you need any resources, Dr. Foster. I'll make them happen for you."

And then:

"Hmm, what would that ship name be, do you think? Winter Wizard? Wait, they have to be all one word, don't they. Jamestantine? Bajohn?"

Now he's just a man tempting fate, really, but you know. He lives on the edge and stuff. He's about ready to get out of her hair though, though he does pause to pull something up on his watch and enter a quick note. Several notes, actually. Despite the humor and the hilarity, information on all these analogues is perhaps not to be wasted; it might be pretty important, later.

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