Clean Slate

March 11, 2018:

Bucky and Jane work towards making amends with Tony Stark — all in an effort to wipe the last traces of their brief, corrupted mark free from the world.

Stark Industries - Underground Garage

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Constantine, Jessica Jones, Kinsey Sheridan, Danielle Moonstar, Illyana Rasputin, Obadiah Stane

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Tony Stark has, as always seems to be the rule, had a busy month. Between annoying SHIELD, building a better suit, and causing international incidents, and meeting transdimentional android speedsters, the inventor has hardly gotten around to doing the things that /he/ wanted to do in. Which is a horrible thing if you ask /anyone/. Espicially him.

There are some projects though that he just can't afford to be distracted by. Some projects that are important enough that he wants to do them with his own two hands, and not the assistannce of an AI. Some projects that…mean something.

Which is why he's inn an old lab. In fact its less a lab and more of a garage. Just a little corner of his building he keeps for special projects, projects that require an analog touch.

Concrete walls, decorated with tacky old posters, a battered mini fridge in the corner that looks like its been there a thousand years or so. Tables that hold none of the super-tech that can be found all over his building. No here its simple workbenches. Tools that you can finnd in a hardware store. Perhaps more finely made, more finely balanced, but nothing so otherworldly that people couldn't reconise.

This is where he retreats when he had to do something that actually means something to him.

And on that workbench in the middle of the room is a robot. A simplistic little robot arm one that was once bolted to the floor, now laid out on the slab in front of him.

Floating nearby is Ace, the battered little drone looking curiously at the figure on the slab.

And nearby is a second old robot, again not much more than an arm. Looking between the quiet piece of tech on the slab and the its maker.

"Alright buddy," He murmurs. "Lets get you fixed up."

Now MOST people that would call on him at a time like this SIRIN would send right away. But some people, some few, would get shown in. Bucky Barnes and Jane Foster would be some of the ones that would be sent up. SIRIN figuring that they might be of some help.

…look. She's helpful like that.

This isn't really what Bucky Barnes expected when SIRIN let him and Jane up to see Tony. He's only ever seen the glitzy, high-tech parts of Stark Tower, the pristine labs with their flying holographic displays and hands-free interfaces. The same was true with Howard Stark, back when Bucky knew him; though admittedly, he was not exactly close enough with Stark's father to have even expected to see anything but the glittering facade.

As SIRIN shows them in, he's already taking a look around, sweeping the area with the long habit of an operative who lives and dies by being properly observant. His eyes cross the posters, the old mini-fridge, the plain tools worthy of a simple mechanic and not one of the wealthiest men in the world.

He glances askance at Jane, as they enter. His brows lift in the universal 'interesting, huh?' expression.

Glancing back forwards, he takes note of the inventor… and, with a grimace, also takes note of what Stark's working on. "Hey Tony," he announces them, his greetings as usual quite brusque.

Even after the possession by the Demon Bear, some things haven't changed: namely the sheer, staggering amount of time Jane Foster spends in Stark Tower.

When it's not using its infinite resources towards seeing through projects she's long promised others (Matt's upgraded suit is finally done, next up is a gift for Jessica), Jane has a new, terrifying obsession supplying the heartbeat of her life:

Making sure any and all of her code is destroyed.

Tony and his state of the art AI — now protected by further possibility of infection by her old scripts — are more than up to the task, with quantum processors able to parse billions of lines of code among his millions of systems in a matter of minutes —

But Dr. Foster is known, rather notoriously, as something of a control freak. And type A as she is, her guilty heart cannot be properly put to rest until she knows — by herself, and herself only — that it's all god. Scoured out. Eradicated. May all lingering traces of what she did — what she CREATED — without a soul… it has no place to exist in this world. It has no place to ever be used by dirty, corrupt hands.

So in this long process of sifting through Stark Tower's servers — so long that Bucky's resigned again to be spending the night here along with his errant girlfriend —

When SIRIN gives that call. And Jane shares Bucky's glance.

Also shown into the garage, Jane — while appreciative and transfixed by the building's state-of-the-art facilities — feels a pang of homesickness. Takes her back to high school, spending weekends teaching herself electrical engineering: forcing her dad to park on the street while she comandeered the garage. Her eyes drift, and unconsciously, one of her hands touches Bucky's arm to see the familiar, broken shape of Dummy. Her heart cleaves open.

"…Anything we can do to help?" is Jane's small voice.

There is a myriad of answers that Stark could give to Jane's simple question. Those sharp eyes flicker up to look at the two of you. Those answers rance from 'Didn't you do enough' to 'YOU KILLED HIM'. But…he doesn't say anything. Instead he breathes a deep sigh, his eyes close for a moment as he pushes himself off the bench he was leaning on to look at the pair of them.

"You," This is towards Bucky. "Can unscrew the outer casing…" He looks towards Dummy. "…carefully. So I can get at the inner workings. And you…"

This now towards Jane as his arms cross and he gives her a smirk. "You can undo something."

He reaches down to grasp something by the handle. A box, wrapped in an old grease towel it looks like. Carefully wrapped up, hidden in plain sight even as he sets it up on one of the benches near her.

Bucky's arm might get a twinge from a quantum wave disruptor that close to the strange wrapped box. No bigger really than a car battery.

He pulls the wrapping off to reveal a rectangular box, clear hard substance on the outside. The transparent material set though with wiring and crystals, powered by a miniature ARC reactor nestled into the top of the device.

Inside that transparent shielding sits a cube of high tech something. A computer server farm condensed into microtech. The brain of a full AI. An AI that has seen better days.

And dripping from that computer core is a black, evil, nanotech solutiion. One that roils against the transparent shielding, pressing against it to find a way out even if there is none. The ooze climbing this way and that in its cage like a living thing.

The Janevirus in its raw state.

"You can undo that. So I can fix him."

Because that is whats in that shield. JARVIS.

Bucky's gotten used to sleeping in various corners of Stark Tower by now. He's used to roughing it in places — any soldier learns to sleep on demand in the most unlikely places — and honestly, there's no place that's really home to him anymore, that he feels any urge to return to it at the end of the day. Not unless it's got Jane Foster there.

So, since Jane insists to live in Stark Tower, Bucky lives there too. And when Jane heads up to see how Tony's coming along, Bucky's close on hand to come along.

Good thing he is, because apparently Tony has a use even for him.

If Bucky senses any of the number of other ways Tony could choose to reply them and doesn't, he gives no indication. Bucky probably says those things to himself often enough. "Yeah, you got it," he says, moving forward to take a look at the poor form of Dummy as it lays quiescent on the table. His gaze softens as he rests his left hand on the thing, looking for the seams. "Poor guy."

He glances around when Tony brings out something for Jane to 'undo,' however. What is revealed brings Bucky to look at Jane, watchful for her reaction.

Neither does Jane miss some of those endless possibilities flickering within Tony Stark's turned eye. In that glance, permutations of universes where he says exactly what's on his mind, exactly what he feels — all the words rightfully deserved.

But here, now — the inventor holds his tongue. And Jane's eyes tighen all the more, reflecting apologies she days not say aloud. Not when she can do things of far more merit, far more use to him.

It just surprises her that Tony offers at all. In his shoes, what would she do?

Jane isn't sure. But she wastes no time to question or argue what is undoubtedly a gift. With a glance turned after Bucky, something tender in her eyes the way she watches him touch the silent, offline machine, she meanders away to her own work, namely —

Her eyes run the interior of that box, from memory to its processor, mapping bit by bit of hardware crafted by Tony Stark's very hands: it doesn't take her long to realize what she's staring at. JARVIS's very self. Mind. Soul. The facsimiles for an artificial intelligence.

And there, in the center of it — her creation. The thing her mind made, empty of everything else that is Jane Foster, morals, humanity — heart.

Her hands tighten at her sides. Her expression steels at the corners, jaw tight, but eyes forward, looking at it straight-on. The only flicker-away of her eyes is to look back at Bucky, on him, drawing strength from him in that moment.

"Tony…" Jane starts, her voice breaking momentarily. "I'm…" Sorry. Sorry sorry sorry.

She swallows thickly. "I have a script on me that will sunder the magic; the rest won't be able to sustain with the host spell. But I'll need something to power it." Bucky will know well enough; what Jane did for Six. She had the soul stone then to fuel what she had to do — means she'll be resorting back to technomagic, against her better desires, to fix old mistakes. "We might have to borrow off your ARC reactor. Doubt it's ever been used to power magic before, but there's a first for everything."

"Yeah, a soul eating virus and a point blank quantum thread EMP will do that." Stark replies as he looks back towards Dummy and sighs, shaking his head.

Why is he doing this? That question runs though his head. He doesn't /have/ to after all. He doesn't have to let them help. To give them that in. He doesn't have to take the risk that once again these two people could shatter everything he's created in an instant.

He doesn't have to.

But he does.

The reason behind it is simple enough to understand. Its because he…does understand. What goes on in the mind when someone else twists a creation out of control. When some power out of your control uses your skills againnst others. When something or someone uses your creations to kill, and the blood is then on your hands. He understands that feeling.

So no matter what he might want to say right then and there he doesn't. And he hopes to god one of them remember this when his own demons are released. Because he knows they will be. They always are.

The seems are easy to find. He's never changed the orgional work he made. Never really modified the outside. The rivets and screws are obvious. The hydraulics there to see. No fancy covering or colors, just the engineering, masterfully worked into something akin to sentience.

At Jane's comment though there is a smirk towards her. "You would be suprised." He drawls towards the woman. "But sure, I can use one to power the spell. Ace? Go get one of the spares, I don't want to mess with the containment system if I have to."

The little drone burbles off, zipping from the lab.

"The lady with the horse, Moonbeam or whatever, she come to me after all the mess happened with the bear. So I've been working with her on occasion. Have a whole lab set up on a demiplane. Its kinda nice. I should put a vacation home there."

Bucky has asked himself often enough why Tony has still allowed them to hang around. Unaware of how deeply Tony's own troubles reflect his own, he's never really been able to arrive at any conclusion other than the inventor's simple whims. Truth be told, his own occasional impulse to just pack up and flee all the people he's come to know is so strong, at times, that he finds himself unconsciously pacing with the restless energy of a caged wolf.

Yet he stays, because of Jane. He stays, because in the end paying his debts seems more the thing to do than running away from them.

That in mind, Bucky steps up beside the inert Dummy, looking down at the little robot. Dummy seemed to like him in particular — maybe it was because it was a metal arm, and Bucky had a metal arm — and was always following him around, pulling at his sleeve. He'd never before thought of a machine as something 'innocent,' but if anything fits the bill, it's Dummy. And they killed it.

Pensively, Bucky pats the little robot. His attention only averts when Tony reveals JARVIS, and he looks over to Jane, a reassuring look to brace her through the sight of her unsouled handiwork.

He only looks back to his own work once she seems settled. His fingers brush along the exterior of the robot arm, easily finding the spots where the outer casing should come apart. It's remarkable how easy it is to unscrew and unjoint it, the entire design elegant in a way that can only spring from genius.

There is a small sigh as Tony references 'Moonbeam,' as if Bucky momentarily considered trying to correct Tony… and just as quickly gave up. Instead: "She gave you a demiplane?"

"Moonstar," Jane says, because she's the naive one — doesn't have the hundred years of Bucky's grizzled wisdom to know there is no correcting a Stark once he's decided on a name. "Her name is Dani Moonstar."

She waits on Ace's retrival for another reactor, using the time between calling up a holo-link to her own system — left behind in her lab and routed remotely — and keeping her dark eyes between Bucky and Tony. Bucky, for his careful reverence in taking apart machinery: her heart pangs especially to see him into the physicality of engineering. It's her livelihood, her life blood — and here he is, assisting, being a part of it, and far from being the shadow he might otherwise become without her careful eye. Here he is, even being strong for her. The glance she gives him back is pure appreciation and affection.

And Tony: trusting them both in a way? At least allowing them their vehicle of remorse, and if it's not forgiveness, it certainly feels like… understanding. For her part, Jane won't try to let him down.

Though her eyebrows do lift at mention of 'demiplanes.'

"She's been scouting for alternate means to further her research into magic," she continues, "as you probably know. You certainly made her list. It's a… dangerous thing, mixing magic and technology. Apart from cleaning up after myself today, I think I'm going to go back to the science side of things. It's a… high cost to pay." John's warnings, now eeling into Jane's words. "Bit too high for me. But we trust Dani. If anyone will be careful about those things, she will. You're not doing… anything too crazy in that demiplane?"

Jane glances silently toward Bucky. About that time, Ace returns; with a thank-you to the little bot, the physicist gets to work — a quantum field generator, it seems, in the works. Time to harness some energy.

"Thats what I said, Moonbeam." Tony is the essence of distraction, not even looking up as he uses the wrong name. Again. This will be a running theme and at least one of them knows it.

"Naw, she didn't give it to me though. I mean she's not that crazy. I sort of had it cause no one else wanted it after Constantine killed the previous ruler and the bug people there kinda declared me their sun god. I guess the suit is impressive. But no, nothing too crazy. Seeing how energy fields react, a bit of experimenting, trying to get interdimensional netflix. The usual." A flash of a grin. "Illyana liked that idea."

He got her name right. She might have been hot.

Someonne else that Tony met recently, and someone else that knows magic apparently. He goes back to his own work, though as Ace returns with the reactor for Jane, looking into the internals of the little robot arm as he traces circuits with his finger just short of touching anything.

He's purged the Janevirus from Dummy's systems, but no reason to tempt fate after all.

"You know," He doesn't look up as he picks up one of the dozens of tools dotting the bench, starting to pull apart the guts of the little machine with a careful reverence that speaks of the importantance of his work. "The cost is always high. Sometimes you screw up pretty bad. Sometimes its even worse. But if you stop going forward with what you learn it means it was all for nothing." He doesn't look up, but he does point towards a larger piece of hydrolic systems.

"Pull that out." He tells Bucky. "Carefully. I've unbolted the systems."

A pause again. "I mean don't take the same track cause that track sucks ass, but…"

Bucky winces a little as Jane, innocent of the ways of Starks, tries gamely to correct Tony. The inventor's blithe response has Bucky looking at Jane with a plain message in his eyes: 'yeahhh see? Don't even try.'

Otherwise, he simply listens quietly as Jane and Tony trade most of the words. His concentration is on carefully taking Dummy apart, or at least exposing the little robot's inner workings. He's got steady hands and a deft touch, but engineering isn't really his strong suit, and he's going slow so as not to break anything. He's always destroyed with his hands, not built.

Thus, he finds it oddly soothing to be doing something productive and ultimately creative with them now, instead. He might be taking Dummy apart now, but it's as part of a process to rebuild the little guy.

He does glance up at mention of John's name, a certain tightness to his eyes.

Tony's instruction for him to pull out a piece of the hydraulic systems, mercifully, distracts him from that thought. He eyeballs it, then eschews his left arm in favor of his right. It's not so heavy that he'd need the prosthetic, and he wants to be careful — as he was cautioned.

"I can see that," he admits, of Tony's philosophy. "Though some people'd say, 'quit while you're ahead.'"

That look from Bucky comes met by Jane's flat, plaintive stare. Her lips pull tight. She has learned something new today.

Poor Dani.

Of course there's ample talk of Constantine and bug people and Tony the Sun God and Jane Foster slooooooowly cranes her head, tilting it at a steeper and steeper incline the more outrageous the story gets. "Yeah," she concurs, a little bemused, "the usual."

Still, the explorer in her cannot entirely turn away, retreat to her work at hand, and dismiss what Tony says: pure ambrosia to a mind, starved to discover, like Jane Foster. Talk of demiplanes, and her restless feet have barely even left the ground. If anything moderates it — months ago, she would have been unbearably eager, asking questions, hungry to no more — it's the ghost of John's warning and, lain right in front of her, the fruits of ill-gotten gains.

The high price of curiousity, and the harm it can bring onto the world.

And, beyond that, Tony Stark has to go and just… say those things he does. Despite the weight making heavy her heart, Jane cannot deny temptation. All for nothing — sunken cost — is a fear she courts too well. Life is so short, ended so quickly, the years escaping through her fingers: how much time is wasted if she turns her back on knowledge? And far as she can go, can she not imagine how much farther it would be with the advancement of magic?

Thankfully, Bucky comes with a good compromise to it. Jane smiles to those words, though the expression comes a bit strained. "Yeah," she agrees, wan. "I don't disagree, Tony. But it's probably better if I play things… a little safe."

As much as it hurts.

"And speaking of that," she continues, "get ready for a power fluctuation. This should be enough to power my script. Going to test it… now."

There's little fanfare to the active execution of technomagic: the ARC reactor responds, no different than when a suit draws abuptly and vitally on its draught of power, flaring the garage in glowing blue-white light — accompanied with an alkaline ozone of dispelling magic. It happens in seconds, no explosions, no sounds, no wreathing hellfire: just a change of that liquid, gone from black to clear. Magic gone.

Tony just nods as they make a decition, he said his piece and now he can concentrate on work. The hydrolics are lifted out and a tiny box is carefully extraced, one that Tony slides into the receptor of a holoscreen near him. Booting up lines of code as he processes the information as a fantastic pace, making slight adjustments here and there to the program. Finding the parts corrupted and purging them to replace them with new clean pieces of information.

Hoping that what he's doing isn't killing what he made.

"SIRIN?" He calls as Jane prepares to test.

"Countermeasures online, sir!" Calls the cheerful voice of the AI as Foster pushes the titular button. Just to make sure.

Tony wants no repeats.

But…he didn't need it.

The black smear jerks as if shocked, rocketing around the containment field as it it purged by blue-white light. Seconds later the solution falls quietly to the bottom of the tank, still and quiet. Waiting for orders now. Order that will have nothing to do with a demonic entity.

Stark quirks an eyebrow, watching for a few seconds before he nods once. "Alright, well. You didn't blow anything up. This is a good start. Since most of my starts begin with explosions I know what I'm talking about." A longer pause. "Plug the continment system into the holoscreen on the bench there…" And he nods to a strip of metal, one that boots up into a tablet like holographic display when touched. "And see if any of it still is hiding in JARVIS. Then…we can start the repair."

See, Bucky just let the talk of ruler-killing and bug people and sun godding pass him by. Especially the part where Tony is the god in question. He is very practiced by now in pretending that he does not hear this weird shit. Nope.

He is also busy concentrating on lifting out the piece of Dummy he has been asked to lift out. He can hear the unusual absence where Jane's ten thousand curious questions would usually be, however, and that does draw his eye with a brief look of concern. Much as it disquiets him to hear her so changed, in some ways it's also for the best. Curiosity often kills the cat.

His look at her, as temptation nibbles at her, is a reminder of that.

Putting the hydraulics aside as they no longer seem needed, Bucky watches carefully as the test starts to run. All seems to go well, so far, though — "You might've told us about the high incidence of 'leading with an explosion' before we hit the button," he says dryly.

Despite the countermeasures… Jane trusts in her system. And not just because it's had a successful unit test: that being her breakneck work to surgically remove her own code from Kinsey's mind. Going in, taking out everything corrupt, and doing so without any irrepairable damage on her mind, or the AI linked to its cognitive bridge.

Doing the same to JARVIS is within her ability — having faith in her own work that she will not bring harm to any part of him. Of course, having faith in herself, in her own ability —

Meanders too far into guilt, with Jane's mind being the cause of this all. But to go on living, unable to trust herself —

She meets Bucky's glance, seeing the concern and warning both in his blue eyes. Hers gentle in reply. Jane understands.

"It's why we have you here, James," she remarks against mention of 'explosions', a bit of humour twisting her mouth to try to mitigate the wince. Jane is also very anti-explosions. She's not so durable.

Checking the readout on her holoscreen, Jane's eyes then veer down on her cleansed nanite solution — a vector no longer containing its demonic spell. But still a vector, nonetheless. "Will do," she replies Tony. "I've killed the spell. The rest of it is like deactivated virus. But neither is that going to stick around. No one needs that sort of technology."

A premade program that can hold, replicate, and disseminate sorcery?

Jane begins the main trust of her work now: eradicating every last bit of it.

Stark smirks slightly. "Yeah if I led with that you wouldn't have let her press the button now would you?" He says as he glances up towards Bucky for a moment. "Besides, this is her stuff not mine. So its fine. I'm sure its fine." The man replies airily.

Then he looks towards Jane with a shake of his head and a nod towards the nanite solution. "Fine then. There should be a flush system in that to get rid of it. I have a full acid bath waiting for it that should break down the stuff into its component molocules. Mind if I get a copy of that deactivation spell though?" Spell. That word still is strange to use. "Just in case it crops up. Obadiah assures me that the clean up teams got /all/ the corrupted pieces but…you know how it goes."

A smirk again as he looks back to Bucky.

"And after that…well. You are going to get a crash corse in robotics as you help me put things here back together. Maybe with a few upgrades. But prolly not." There is a fond smile at the little arm on the table. "I mean he is a tragedy as he was before. Be a shame to ruin that."

…Tony's affection is strange.

"But! We get on that. Jane gets on rooting out the deactivated virus. And we should be done by…" He checks his non-existant watch. "…sometime. So!" A clap of his hands. "Lets get started."

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