In for some Weirdness

February 11, 2018:

Jane Foster and James Barnes visit Dr. Strange to talk about bears, physics and magic.

Dr. Strange Sanctum

Characters

NPCs: Wong

Mentions: John Constantine, Danielle Moonstar

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Ever since the demise of the Demon Bear, Bucky and Jane have been very busy. Or, at least, Jane has been very busy — Bucky has mostly been a despairing hanger-on to her activities, as she rushed about trying to fix literally everything in the world which the pair of them had broken during their tenure as the Bear's Heralds.

First order of business had been purging Jane's code from Kinsey Sheridan. Or more accurately, her AI, Five. Matt Murdock hadn't let that wait even five minutes; the moment the two were freed, he'd dragged them out to Gotham to have them erase the virus she'd 'caught' from Stark Tower. Once that was finished, they'd taken an immediate trip out to Shadowcrest, to resolve the matter of Jessica being stuck in a soul gem. They'd left the matter with Zatanna… eventually things would find their way back to where they needed to be.

After that, the two were finally free to go home. Go home, and just… think about what they've done.

There were a lot of apologies and conversations to be had with people, and among them was certainly the mysterious sorcerer who had appeared that night, presumably because it was a magical problem of extreme severity. The two, in talking to Dani, had divined who he was: Dr. Stephen Strange, a man of significant repute in the medical community, though that was a long while ago. Nowadays, his dominion is magic, the supernatural.

Dani had given them directions to the Sanctum Sanctorum. Greenwich Village was easy enough to find, along with the address in question, though Bucky seems rather at a loss once they get to the door. How exactly do you call on a Sorcerer Supreme?

"You think he's anything like John?" he asides to Jane, in a tone of voice that blends guilt (he doesn't want to think about John right now) and distinct nervousness, because if Strange IS anything like John Constantine, they are in for some Weirdness.


They are in for some Weirdness.

In most regards Stephen Strange is exactly like John Constantine, and also completely different.

For one he has an address in Greenwich village. A small townhouse with an art deco front. Very New York. Well-kept, nice. Also usually impossible to find. But Jane and Bucky have no problems finding it since Danielle told Strange they were coming.

When they knock at the door the man opening it is not Strange. He is a bald oriental man in his 30s wearing a dark green tunic. "Doctor Foster, Mister Barnes, we were told you were coming, please come in. I am Wong, the Doctor's assistant." The man leads the couple to a rather opulent living room. Expensive, classic furniture, a fireplace, bookshelves full of hardcover tomes. Cozy. It has two windows.

And that is wrong, because those windows weren't in the front of the building. The room is also geometrically impossible. Too large, half of it should be street. "Would you prefer tea or coffee, or some liquor?"


So much done, but still so much more to go: after nearly terrorizing an entire city, Jane thinks she's only scratched the surface in trying to make right the actions of her own hands.

There's been barely any time to rest, but the thought of it is paralyzing: without work, there would be little more to do than sit… and think… and remember. And from her own logic, her soul's been resting for the past three months, forced in that state of hibernation: she survives on years of insomniac overwork, so she can go a little more.

And there's also the matter of James Barnes, who seems to want to retreat and go dangerously silent — probably beating himself up — whenever a moment allows him. So it's up to Jane to keep him integrated in things, and not retreat back to the way he was those dark weeks after he was freed from the Winter Soldier's programming.

Work has always guided Jane Foster into interesting directions, and today's is to the doorstep of the Sactum Sanctorum. Bucky's comment earns her eyes, and she gives him a deer-in-headlights look, probably trying to imagine a world with Two John Constantines.

"God, I hope not," is Jane's reply.

To the opened door, Jane gives a significant look at the affluence inside, feeling out-of-place in her jeans, until Wong's greeting draws her eyes and a tired-eyed smile. "Nice to meet you. You can call me Jane," she says, without must taste for formalities. Stepping in, her gaze lingers, already caught on the mathematical irregularities of the room with a press of her lips —

"Coffee is great, thanks," she answers, with a glance to Bucky. Is he going for the liquor?


Jane has the right idea, here. The correct approach is not to sit and think and brood. And that is EXACTLY what Bucky planned to do about all this. It is the second time his mind was claimed and his essence perverted against his will, and after the first time — which spanned seven decades — he really didn't need a second time at all.

What makes all of this worse for him is the fact it happened immediately after he finally felt safe enough to ask John Constantine to remove the shut-off spell in his mind… a safeguard meant precisely to prevent situations like this. He can't find it in himself to blame John for agreeing — what man would want to keep a leash on another against his will — and so he can only blame himself for ever thinking the Winter Soldier could ever be let off a very sturdy chain.

He was in the middle of some fine brooding about all this — about how yet again, his hands had been turned towards killing and evil intent against his will — when Jane got tired of his brooding and kicked him out the door.

That is how the former Winter Soldier comes to find himself at the door of the Sorcerer Supreme. Which is opened — by an Asian man. Probably not Stephen Strange. Bucky inclines his head in wordless greeting. Despite his funk, there are some things about him that stay constant, like he way he moves in first before Jane when invited, and the watchful way his eyes take in the opulent environment before he fully lets her enter into any new location. He notices the irregularities as immediately as Jane, though not because of anything related to math, but because of long combat experience gauging environments for hostiles, for cover, for ways in and out.

When Wong inquires, Bucky looks like he might almost go for the liquor, but he catches Jane's glance. "Coffee's fine, thank you," he subsides.


"Please, make yourselves comfortable," invites Woman, "the Doctor will come down momentarily… oh, he is here." Because yes, there is this middle-aged gentleman coming down the staircase at a corner of the room. He wears a dark blue tailored suit, formal shoes and he -should- be wearing a tie, but instead has a golden amulet hanging from his neck. It doesn't match the rest of his upper-middle class city doctor style.

"Good morning," he greets, "Doctor," he nods his head to Jane. "Mister Barnes. Danielle Moonstar was here three days ago. I was going to call you Monday, tomorrow. But… welcome to my sanctum.

He walks to the couple to shake hands while Wong ninja-sneaks away to prepare the coffee. "Please, sit down. How are you feeling? I should have stayed after the battle with the Bear spirit, but I was injured in the backlash of my own spell-casting and had to leave in a hurry."


The ex-Winter Soldier determines to go in first, but Jane is long used to it. Long used to one year of Bucky Barnes having very old habits that are not easily mitigated or set aside. She has no argument; whatever better soothes him. He's already bottled enough.

Her hand touches Bucky's right arm briefly, both in appreciation and something of a soothe — there's no danger to be found here, she trusts Danielle Moonstar already, in part to the trial they all suffered together — until Strange's arriving presence commands attention. She looks up to the sound of his voice, already recognizing it — she heard it once already while in a Different State of mind. But even with or without a soul, her memories are crystal-clear.

That is the worst part in the aftermath of all this.

"Doctor," Jane returns, sounding a little cowed. With memory comes apology, and it's couched all thrugh her. "Please, call me Jane. And… I'm probably way too zealous lately, gotta keep up the momentum. Sorry if we're catching you at a bad time. But it's nice to meet you… properly."

She pauses, but shakes his hand, her grip a little frail: tiny woman. With a glance to Bucky, she takes her seat as offered, shifting to allow Barnes a place beside her. "We're… surviving. I do want to say sorry. That's probably about the worst first impression as I could give anyone. I'm sure you know well all the particulars, however. It was us, but not us."


Bucky takes the meaning of Jane's soothing touch well enough, though it doesn't appear to be distrust of either Danielle Moonstar, with whom they are now forever linked, or Stephen Strange that keeps him guarded. It's simple habit for him to be careful. Soldiers live and die by how much care they take with their surroundings.

As Strange descends to greet them, Bucky's eyes track immediately to the amulet. Not surprising — he had a rather personal encounter with that amulet while in the shape of the Wolf, and it sure hurt like a bitch. Other than that semi-instinctive hackle of remembered pain, however, he remains fairly relaxed, moving forward to exchange handshakes in greeting. Where Jane's grasp is tiny and frail, Bucky's — even using his right hand — is a touch too-strong, with a certain restraint that suggests his natural grip strength would be even greater.

"Good to finally meet you in person," he says, waiting to usher Jane to her seat before sitting himself. A remnant of old world courtesy which Bucky has refused to let go. "While… not under the influence of anything. Hope you don't mind us imposing a little earlier than you planned. We didn't… want to let these things lie too long." Well, Jane didn't.

He lets Jane open the conversation more in detail, though he does cringe a little when Strange mentions having been injured. "Really, the worst thing for us, coming out of this, is to know anyone was injured because of us." He scrubs his right hand over his face. "No idea why it targeted us, of all the people Danielle knows, but it did."


Strange nods at Jane's apologies. "You shouldn't let these events torment you. What the monster did to you turned yourselves in… dark, twisted reflection of what you truly are. You weren't in control."

The sorcerer lets them take a seat, and then finds himself a comfortable armchair. "Why you were chosen, I don't know either. The creature had uncanny senses, as spirits often do. He found Moonstar because of her connection to her parents. The reason why then it selected the other victims must has been through choosing and following a synchronous path. Which ended in disaster for himself, as his mental process was obviously impaired from the beginning."

So basically they were the victims of a crazy magical bear. Sorry.

Correction, the whole city was victimized. That winter storm and blackout killed people. Mostly homeless (like every winter) but there were also accidents, violence, and some looting.

"It is over. But… I am concerned about Moonstar and you two. The kind of mystic abilities the best bestowed on you are very dangerous for human beings," he explains. "Although your souls were removed from your bodies, and therefore shielded to a point, what you did was akin to… manipulating radioactive and toxic elements without safety measures."


Shouldn't let these events torment you. Jane's half-smile in response is understanding, but a touch pained. Definitely easier said than done. Conundrum of having a soul again: the grief and pain means it's working.

"I want to say that thing was unhinged," she says dryly, "but I'm probably speaking out more than a little bias. I can't even remember a lot of mental processes from it… just a feeling of hunger. And feeding. Off fear. Off hopelessness." Jane draws slightly in on herself, dark eyes distant with memory. "We were — those parts of us were — able to break from it eventually. I've had experience with people trying to get into my head before, and James…"

Jane offers him a silent glance. James Barnes, more than anyone. "I had mental contingencies in place, and between Dani and that man — Emery. They were able to weaken the Bear enough for that part of me to assert control. It was all one big mess from the start."

Of course, while over, the whole debacle seems not to be finished, and she pales a little as Dr. Strange goes on to warn them of after-effects: their bodies possibly sick from all those dark magics. "It's — uh," Jane starts, because hers is an honest soul, and everything must be lain out on the table, "it's not my first dance with magic. I met a man named John Constantine." Here we go. "I — it's a long story. He pretty much ground it on me hard the dangers of magic, and I'd given it up for good right around when that Bear first found me."

The woman rubs uneasily at her temple, brushing back her dark hair. "So is there a way to know if we're toxic?"


You weren't in control, Strange says. Bucky doesn't immediately answer, but the wince that crosses his expression says more than enough about how he feels.

"I've now been in way too many situations where 'it was not my fault, because I wasn't in control'," he finally says. "I haven't managed the 'not letting it torment me' part yet. I didn't want to do anything of the things I've been forced to do… but they still remain done. And by my hands." He leans back. "Whatever I can do to cancel out the net evil I've put in the world, balance it out… I'll do it."

He doesn't quite look at Jane when she glances at him. He doesn't feel he contributed much to overcoming the Bear's influence. His mental defenses are weak after decades of control and torture.

He lets Jane speak more about the particulars of the Demon Bear; she understood its workings better than he. He only sighs a little at the mention of John Constantine. It is a sound that combines 'all the weird crap they've run into ever since making John's acquaintance,' and 'worry over what John must be thinking now, after everything. The silence from the English magician does not bode well, especially not after the severe talking-to Jane got from him not long ago.

Concern tunes him back into the conversation as Strange mentions his concern over their 'spiritual health,' so to speak. Bucky exchanges a glance with Jane, as she asks the most pertinent question to follow up.


"I know of John Constantine, yes," confirms Strange. "He is a good sorcerer, although he follows a lonely and eclectic path that is quite different to the structured magic I practice."

Coffee is here, Wong bringing a tray with a pot and three cups, milk, cream, honey, sugar and oriental spices. "Coffee is good for the soul," mentions the oriental man as he fills the cups. "We humans are more resilient than those of the mighty races give us credit. You will be fine," he adds.

Strange tilts his head at Wong and smiles faintly. "You aren't toxic. Not that I can detect right now. If there are mental or physical issues they have yet to manifest. You would do well to be watchful of… anomalies, and strange coincidences. Of course nightmares and guilt are expected, but if they go on for too long, you might have a problem and yes, check with Constantine or with me."


"Eclectic is a good way to put it," remarks Jane of Constantine, though with an awkward sort of fondness in her voice, and no trace of derision. She, too, wonders if she and Bucky have lost a friend. She does not forget John on the battlefield, and that look he gave her — her soulless shell — like some mistake he had reconciled to fix.

The memory makes her uneasy. Only time will see where they stand. But for now —

"I think my soul is mostly made of coffee by this point," she answers Wong in a weak joke, smiling gratefully as it's offered. She takes hers with a bit of cream and nothing to sweeten it.

In the question of their bodies, possibly gone rotten with magic — Jane returns Bucky's glance, silent, thoughtful. Though nervous around the edges, the scientist's disposition is calm, at least enduring. As small as she is, her reinstalled soul is quite a sturdy one, and ready to encounter whatever they need to go through in her rote, logical manner. Her free hand alights a brief, steadying touch on Barnes's arm, as if to communicate: no need to worry yet.

"Will do," she answers Strange. "Thanks for the heads-up. I'll chart it on a spreadsheet if I have to. What I promised before to John applies here too. I'm done with magic for a long, long time. I found ways to integrate it… into computational mathematics. It worked too well. But all it offered me were shortcuts and easy-outs, at a high price. Far too high for what it's worth. You won't have to worry about me messing into that crap."


Eclectic is a good way to put it, Jane says. "Lonely is also a good way to put it," Bucky adds, thinking of all the interactions he has had with John Constantine, their many similarities, and what he thinks Constantine may do now that James Barnes has hurt — twice now — what matters most to the man.

His expression is sober, but like Jane, he does not say much.

He merely nods his thanks to Wong, both for the coffee and for the brief words of wisdom. Despite the assurances from both men, Bucky seems ill at ease to imagine a gloss of corruption upon himself and upon Jane Foster, only steadied by Jane's wordless touch. It may yet be the scientist, tiny and frail as she is, who is more resilient than the old supersoldier in matters of the spiritual. James Barnes has spent decades fighting war; his physical strength is not in question, but his mental and emotional resilience? Compromised, after so much damage to his mind.

Strange's advice is taken in stride, all that said. Will do, Jane says, and to that Bucky adds, "You know how to reach us. If there is anything we can do in the future, let us know. We owe you one. At least. If not more."

Jane has her own particular promise to make. Bucky says nothing to the more serious components of her vow when it comes to magic, though — "Of course you'd have a spreadsheet," he grumps, in a rare moment of humor that does not last long.


Magic as shortcut for computer programming? Strange shakes his head at the idea. "If you use magic as a scientist… well, you can go very far, true. But never as far as you could go by completely avoiding the limitations of modern science. It does require knowing the limitations of magic, of course."

He is not steering Jane out of magic. Because there is no steering possible once the first steps are taken. The awareness can't be denied, it won't go away.

"Moonstar wants to form a group to fight supernatural threats," mentions the sorcerer. "Involving you and others that fought against the Bear. Indeed that group already exists, on an informal basis. But more structure might be needed given the increasing number of mystical problems lately. In truth we are entering an Age of Chaos. Or maybe a Heroic Age. What for some is and Ending for others will be a Beginning. Ancient prophecies are being fulfilled and the wards and walls set up by previous mystical champions are fading, or being shattered."


"What's wrong with spreadsheets?" Jane answers Bucky, frowning mid-sip of her coffee.

'Limitations of modern sciences,' earns a bit of a look from the woman, as the fiery Dr. Foster looks half-a-mind to defend the honour of her precious mathematics. It seems some things cross over when it comes to her, whether in her ensouled or soulless state.

But, even if part of her feels geared for an argument… it sighs out of her, far too tired than it get into that in someone else's very magical home. "You and John agree on that one," is all Jane tells Strange, because she spent the better part of a year trying to convince the magician the legitmacy of science, and that's sure not gone over well.

Still, her faith stands strong. Science can't be discredited entirely, not to her. It and magic are still one and the same to Jane, though she is more than happy to limit practising the second. It was ready to take her to a dark place, if not already.

Bucky's assertion that they are ready to help is coupled by her, Jane in full agreement — and listening with raised eyebrows at the relayed plan of Danielle Moonstar.

"I deal with chaos professionally, even before magic came into it," she answers, "a — quantum physics thing. But we're more than ready to help." Jane glances to Bucky, mindful not to speak for him entirely — but this she nows they're of one soul. Trying to make up for the things they've done. "However we're needed."


What's wrong with spreadsheets? Jane asks. Bucky just sighs into his coffee.

However, he looks back up out of his cup, alarmed, as he hears 'limitations of modern science' and knows exactly how Jane is going to take that. He clears his throat, a bit of a quelling noise, though ultimately he doesn't need to restrain her. Thank God. "There's limitations to any field," he says, tactfully. Rue the day the Winter Soldier has to be the diplomatic one. "I certainly know the limitations of a rifle, though it seems to solve most problems I've met just fine. .50 made a hole in Mammon's face just great."

Yeah, clearly the two have been hanging out with John Constantine and Zatanna Zatara.

Strange's mention that Moonstar wants to put together a group, of sorts, to fight supernatural problems on a more formalized basis draws Bucky's attention. He puts down his cup, and exchanges half a glance with Jane. He doesn't know about prophecies, or wards or walls or ages, but what he does know is this: "Well, you always need somebody on that metaphorical wall, watching out for that kinda thing. Whatever you need, we're willing. I was unprepared for this kinda threat once. I don't like to be unprepared twice."

He slants a look at Jane again. "We'll circle back with Danielle on it, too."


Strange nods. Everything has limitations. Magic too, but magic usually offers better solutions to supernatural problems than technology. "Chaos theory, hmm?" He smiles faintly, "when I finished college, in the early 50s, quantum physics was just starting. I think it was ten years before quarks were first theorized. Modern science began in the Renaissance. It is a young discipline. Did you know, Doctor Foster, the ancient Atlantean mathematicians were also sorcerers. They made no distinction between science and magic before the Cataclysm. They built amazing wonders, some of which still stand today. Yet they never managed to build anything close to a modern computer. Also, they were a very small elite group, as magic use is beyond most humans. Science was restricted. Not like today, science is the path of humankind."

The explanation aside, the offer the pair makes touches and pains him. Moonstar is a Valkyrie, blessed with some Asgardian abilities. She can handle much better than most the threats of necromancers or demons.

People like Jane and Bucky are in a huge disadvantage. Like most of his colleagues in the Justice League, they are unarmed and unarmored against magic. It is not a fair fight at all.

But there is little choice, because Earth just has not enough mystical defenders.
But Earth might still have enough heroes.

"Yes, I think you need to talk with Ms. Moonstar," he agrees. "Perhaps also with Agent Melinda May. She is part of SHIELD's WAND division. Her division deals with some supernatural problems."


Jane's eyes turn, amusement filtering in through their fatigue, when Bucky mentions plugging a Demon Prince of Hell with a bullet. Does she ever remember that one.

"Quantum physics is definitely the baby of the family," she concedes, with a quick smile, "but I have a lot of faith in it."

But as Strange fills her into a minor history lesson on Mathematics — something she was definitely not taught in graduate school — the physicist lifts her eyebrows. "I didn't know that at all. I've been permitted to read Shadowcrest Library's books this past year, thanks much to the generosity of Zatanna, and my studies seem like a rudimentary catch-up on the mystical world that's been going on for so long, but it's given me a lot of insight. This, though? Learned something new. Happy to know math has a place here and there."

Mention of SHIELD seems to surprise her, and Jane glances at Bucky, though she leaves that matter with him to discuss. On her part, she seems to intuit enough on something sorely left unsaid. She can feel it. Hell, she can feel her own reserve at the possibility of joining some task force against mystical threats, and she herself is a rank amateur — a year's worth of experience and study, overall. "I know I'm no magician, but I'd like to think I'll be able to help. I'm not exactly proud of my actions in my altered state, but I'd like to think I was something of a blind spot to that Demon Bear. James and I both. Hard to say, entirely, but it's what I hope. Even if we're not exactly the expertise you'd be looking for… it's sometimes helpful to diversify. I've found, in my very, very limited one year of this, for demons to limit themselves to their magical worlds. They don't come to expect alternate solutions that easy. I'll always be here to try to offer some of those, and learn whatever I can from Dani and you. And James… well."

Jane tilts him a smile. His war record speaks well enough for itself.


In the early 50s, Strange says. Bucky's brows lift at the indication that the man is much older than he appears. He supposes he shouldn't be surprised. How many people does he know, himself included, who have something similar going on? "You look good for a man pushing ninety," says the man who just broke a hundred. From the wry look on his features, he appreciates that joke inherent in the statement.

As far as the SHIELD connection… Bucky nods with familiarity as Strange speaks of May. "Yes, I know Agent May. I'm not formally on SHIELD roster," there are some political ramifications to having the Winter Soldier on payroll, "but I contract. She and Agent Coulson are my primary contacts."

He lets Strange and Jane speak of the particulars of science and magic, however. The former he knows in depth and not in breadth, focusing primarily on ballistics for obvious reasons; the latter is beyond him for now — though he seems intent on working on his disadvantage, especially if he's going to tackle the supernatural more often. He might not have mystical training, but what he does have is adaptability and a keen mind for preparing in advance depending on whatever he means to oppose. Jane speaks to that with her oblique words. And James, well…

"Me, I hit things," he finishes, wryly. "It works a surprising amount of the time, especially if you adjust for all the magical variables."

That said, he puts down his cup. "We'll be in touch. See what Danielle says. Thanks for seeing us, and for the coffee."


"Eighty seven," admits Strange. It was in the sixties when Doctor Strange earned his reputation as one of the best surgeons in the world. A lifetime ago. "Shadowcrest library is doubtlessly impressive. But I have some very ancient scrolls and tomes inherited from the libraries of previous Supreme Sorcerers. The magical path I follow began in ancient Atlantis."

Not easy reading those without a translation spell, tough. Historical records from times most historians believe humans were living in caves.

Since James is confirming he knows Melinda May, Strange will not say more. He might have said too much speaking about a secret agent so openly. Coulson? Strange saw his speech 'over my dead body'. He wants to meet him.

"Thank you for coming," he replies to Bucky, standing up. He will go with them to the door like a good host.

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