April 15, 2018:

Dani speaks with Bucky and Jane about hunting down the person who betrayed Coulson.


NPCs: None.



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

At the funeral for Phil Coulson, Dani asked for a private word with Bucky and Jane Foster. To discuss delicate matters, specifically about Phil Coulson, or rather his soul.

And while it was possibly implied for that conversation to be had that particular day other circumstances pushed their meeting out by several more days. It's only now, with a message dropped to the pair to meet at Stark Labs, that Dani is finally on her way to the soldier and the scientist.

And while this particular meeting is about Phil Coulson and the state he's in, Dani also brings another object along with her. A chunk of rock is held in her left hand and the faintest blue glow might be seen from it.

In her other hand she carries a six pack of beer, because conversations about heaven, hell and the afterlife never seem to go well - at least, not without some form of drink readily available.

Rounding the corner Dani aims for the lab that Jane uses as her own and when she steps inside the black-haired woman calls out a general greeting, "Evening."

By the time Dani arrives, James and Jane have already been in her lab for some time. She rarely leaves it these days, caught up in her work as she is, and it serves as a convenient place for Bucky to lurk, as well, given Stark Tower's general proximity to the Triskelion, where he's also been spending a deal of time ever since Peggy and Phil's deaths.

Seated at an unused workbench, chin leaned on his right hand, he glances up as Dani enters. The beer is, by now, a tradition between the three of them. Bucky is glad to see it; even if it doesn't really affect him much anymore, there's something soothing about the ritual. And soothing is something they all need lately.

Various circumstances had conspired to keep them from meeting immediately about the matter Dani had to tell them, and it's gnawed at Bucky's mind over the past few days. Granted, there's not very many conversations that can be had while at a funeral, so the fact Dani wasn't able to tell them all of it doesn't mean anything by itself.

Nonetheless, he worried. The past month has been bad enough that he's in a pessimistic frame of mind.

"Hey, Dani," he replies her greeting. His gaze moves immediately to the rock in her hands. "I'm more glad to see one thing you're holding than the other." His voice is wry. "Unless that rock's more helpful than most other magical bullshit we've run into."

This past month, all of New York has been running out of places that make sense yet to Jane Foster.

Her cloistered lab in Stark Tower is one of those few sanctuaries yet.

Surrounded in death, unable to keep her mind off of the subject, Jane distracts herself by working. Her predictable coping method. And maybe one with meaning to it: she needs to build. She needs to design.

She needs to create means to keep her friends alive. She isn't certain how, but necessity is the mother of invention, is it not? And necessity is soon becoming a tipping balance of life and death among her life, their life, their people — people who have chosen their risky life at the crossroads.

Jane should really be in her other lab. Should be working on her bridge: how many times now has she distracted herself from further work? Latent trauma from the bear abstained her for near enough time, and now? Traces of Phil Coulson all over much of it. He was the reason, after all, SHIELD even considered taking her own as a risky asset. Even considered turning an eye to her theory, to her work. He was the first one, in his way, to trust in its veracity. Trust it enough to take it from her, even.

His ghost hovers over her work, and Jane — unwilling to linger too far from Bucky's side — keeps to these things. Her considerable mind is now taking a detour in biological research: could she possibly find a way to expedite the healing process? Save lives that way?

She only looks up at the familiar voice at the threshold. Jane, still looking predictably insomniac, and surrounded by open holo-screens, leagues of reading material suspended all around her. The gift of beer earns a quick smile, though too her eyes veer on that rock. The woman laughs lightly at Bucky's comment. "No offense to magic," she adds. "He thinks it's all equally bullshit. Get comfortable, Dani. Needing some company?"

When Bucky offers that greeting and then his opinion of the rock in her hand, the woman can't help but snort softly in amusement. "It's probably not." She retorts, even as she mimes throwing him the rock, before she does just that.

The rock itself isn't actually hard stone, it's more like densely packed clay. "I picked this up a few nights back. That was a great time. Dinner turned into running for our lives from Golems. I was hoping Jane -" And here Dani shifts her gaze over to Jane, surrounded by her data and her screens, "- could scan it with all her doodads to see where this thing came from."

And yes, doodads is an official term here. It really is.

"I don't think it came from our dimension - or if it did, somehow lightning played a factor into creating the creatures."

Once further inside Dani sets the beer down on a bench that's away from the majority of Jane's equipment. Better to be safe than sorry. And here, Dani pauses to really look at Jane and Bucky, and the worn edges of the two are seen. Edges all three of them have. Too much in too little time. Jane's remark about no offense is waved aside, "Magic is sometimes bullshit." She agrees, with a flash of a smile, even as she settles upon an empty seat, "And sometimes it's just a downright ass too, but occasionally it can help too." As Dani speaks, three cans of beer are removed from the cardboard case. The first two are set aside for Bucky and Jane, while the third is kept for herself.

"So." She begins, her gaze first on Jane and then Bucky, "I don't think there's any easy way to segue into this, but Phil Coulson isn't dead. Not yet. It's what I wanted to discuss .. earlier." And here Dani stops, to wait to see how the two react before she explains anything further.

Bucky catches the rock easily as it's tossed to him. An interesting sort of decision is involved — does he look primarily towards the safety of his hand, or the rock? — before he seems to decide on the rock. He uses his right, and not his left.

Fortunately, nothing untoward happens on contact. He frowns down at it as Dani explains where she got it and what she hopes Jane might be able to figure out. "Long gone are the days you could just 'get dinner' without shit happening, I guess," he says, as he turns the thing over in his hands, then presents it to Jane once his inspection is finished. "I remember back when the enemies we fought came from other countries, not other dimensions." Someone stop him before he gets into a full-on 'back in the day.'

Jane, by now wise to the ways of Bucky, does so — perhaps without even really thinking about it. Her comment excusing him from any potential offense given has him rolling his eyes good-naturedly.

He sobers as Dani gets to the meat of why she asked for a meeting, however. The news that Phil isn't dead give Bucky noticeable pause, an odd procession of emotions flicking through his eyes. He's a hard person to read even at the best of times, and on matters like this his face might as well be a lock, but those who know him well enough — or those good enough at reading expressions — would get the shock, the disbelief, and then surprisingly… the anger. He glances at Jane, a wordless sidelong look.

Then he lowers his gaze, a tacit way of saying that the anger isn't for Danielle. He struggles with it a moment, before he finally pushes it aside and says — too blithely — "Well, not like I can talk in the realm of 'everyone thinking you're dead, but you're not.' So what'd we bury?"

Jane's eyes flick over toward the trajectory of the thrown rock: both curious and wary, because 'James Barnes' and 'magical artifacts' is not the greatest track record. Nonetheless, she more than trusts that Danielle Moonstar wouldn't be flinging magical hand-grenades around; when this one fails to do anything but sit dormantly in his hand, she takes her eyes away, and duly culls most of her holo-screens.

With a push of her leg, she swivels her chair around, eyebrows immediately lifted at mention of 'Golems.' "Wait, what?" she asks. "Golems? Are we talking that creepy ring guy that beat up the hobbits, or the things from the Sefer Yetzirah? You were chased by them?"

With that strange, clay-rock vetted by the ex-Soldier, Jane accepts the object, weighing it curiously in her palm. "I could run some lab work on it," she offers. "Full chemical analysis, try to remember my old organic chemistry core from my undergrad. Might take a couple days. Maybe try some other things. But you got it."

Leaning back in her chair, she quirks a tired-edged smile towards Bucky. Could smell the threat of an Old Man Story at fifty paces, nowadays. This time, Danielle Moonstar is safe.

Her eyes are on that rock, squinting down at it as she turns it in her hands, ever so tactile — that mention of Coulson of all people earns Moonstar a double-take. "What?!" Jane snaps, askance in her voice, someone who isn't sure she just heard something right.

Dark eyes turned, she shares Bucky's silent glance. Past the incredulity in her face, her jaw tightens. She sets the rock aside, already forgotten, already dismissed. "So all that — it was just some sort of —"

Act? Lie? Jane can't find the breath to give voice to the word, even if she could decide what even to say. Bucky's comment earns a glance from her, a bit plaintive, as the rest of the world tilts by at a thousand miles per hour. He asks a good question. She also would like to know.

"I'm sure we could find you some old school enemies to right." Moonstar remarks with a dry sort of humor, and that amusement lingers for a second, before she answers Jane's questions. "The latter, I think. Though nothing we saw made us think it was an actual Golem in the Earth sense of the word, it just fit and yes, it chased us. In fact there were two."

It's only when Jane offers to run a variety of tests upon the chunk of clay that Moonstar smiles again, "I appreciate anything you could potentially find out about the rock. I've a feeling there's something going on with the dimensional walls that separate us all, but without proof -"

She can only go by her gut and her gut is yelling at her that something is definitely wrong with the world.

Still, there are other things to talk about. Other people. Topics that she put into play, which allows Moonstar to return to the topic of a supposedly-lost-dead-friend.

Both of her friends earn equal measures of her attention, as Moonstar shifts her attention between the two. Eventually her gaze settles on Jane when the other woman offers that snap of what, combine that with Bucky's own question of just what was buried, Dani can't quite stop the sigh that leaves her lips. "I don't know." She admits, "I can't say what everyone knows. I can't even say what the higher-ups know, as I personally haven't had a chance to connect with them yet, but I can tell you that his soul is in-between states."

And here is where Dani finally cracks the tab open on her beer and takes a sip. After that sip she continues, "Technically he was killed on that mission, but I was able to stop the wheel from completely turning. There's a *good* possibility his soul will be returned to us." Unspoken, however, is the fact that there's a chance it might not be returned; or the fact that it carries additional conditions should that happen.

"Worse yet -" Continues the woman, "We were betrayed on that mission, though I have nothing more than that, just that Coulson was betrayed."

Hobbits, Jane says. "I liked that book," Bucky says absently. "Keep meaning to find out if he ever wrote more."

But at talk of the dimensional walls weakening, Bucky's face falls a little, before he walls it back up behind his customary cool lack of expression. He glances at Jane, a look of slight worry in his eyes. He doesn't have a great track record with magical artifacts; she doesn't have a great track record with dimensional anomalies.

Still, is it something they can really ignore? Likely not.

Talk of what happened to Phil, however, commands his attention in the immediate moment. It's something more understandable to him than magic, something closer to his experiences… something more personal. Especially when Danielle reveals that not all is as it seems. That Phil isn't dead. That there is some intrigue at hand…

Jane doesn't say it — that the funeral was an act, a lie, a farce — but the implication is loud enough in the silence, and no doubt the driving force behind the anger that simmers under his lowered lashes. He isn't any stranger to lies, and he knows that he himself was falsely mourned for many decades, but to hold a false funeral burying a — burying a what?

Dani doesn't know. She only knows that she was able to intervene and place his soul into a holding state. A 'maybe you'll get it back' state. "Didn't know you could do that," he says, his gaze still lowered. There's a pistol in his hands, no indication when it was drawn, and he turns it over and over. "Useful skill."

As for the fact Coulson was betrayed? "I know exactly how to handle traitors," he says flatly. "Simple as that." He handled more than enough, albeit on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain — though such skills are perfectly transferable.

"A nice surprise awaits you on that front," replies Jane to Bucky's Tolkienesque wondering, with the hopeful curve of a smile.

In a world, near eighty years later, that has let him down time and time again — it's a rare thing to be able to share its few gifts for James Barnes.

In that same glance, she doesn't miss the familiar worry in Bucky's eyes; wordlessly, Jane answers it with a tightening of her own at the corners. A silent promise that she will be careful — at least far more aware now than she was months ago.

And then, with Dani's news, the floor drops out from her feet.

For several moments, Jane cannot speak, move, or barely think. Again and again, runs through her mind: she mourned for him. There should be relief, relief a friend is not entirely lost — and there is — but even that weighs under the resounding shock of so many impossibilities. But, would it not make sense, in that way? Every other impossibility in her world has been sorely refuted in this past year.

SHIELD, and all their secrets. Some bitter side of Jane wouldn't put it past them to bury some lie and put on a stage show — and for what?

Her brown eyes lift, staring incredulously as Danielle confesses an ability — a miracle, it sounds like — to stop some passing of a soul? Jane wants to ask more; nearly comes close to blurting out the words. So you can stop death? You can keep someone alive?

Bucky's extra beat of silence is more than palpable. Jane sensitizes to the shapes of his words, few and wan, and sensing much more. She says nothing, but reaches out to lay her hand over his.

"Is there anything we can do to help you?" Jane asks Dani, her voice low. And what is implied: aside from what they're already going to do about traitors.

Part of Dani's power is empathy, animal-based, but even so it's something that's allowed her to become more aware of the emotions around her. Couple that with the time spent with Bucky and Jane, and Dani is able to read some of what the two nearby are feeling. One supposes they can thank the Bear for that? A note of positivity during a time that was anything but.

Still, that slight window allows her to see some of the stoic soldier's anger, and some of the shock from the silent scientist.

"It's not something I advertise." Dani murmurs, when the Winter Soldier mentions the usefulness of that particular skill of hers, "It comes with certain conditions that aren't necessarily the best." A look is given to the gun that now resides in Bucky's hand, but for the moment, Dani doesn't touch upon the weapon. Instead the woman nods to those last words of his, on how to handle a traitor, "Agreed, but first we need to figure out who did the betraying."

Now she turns her eyes to Jane and while Jane doesn't necessarily ask those questions of hers, something of it comes through. "You're welcome to ask whatever you like as long as it stays between us - and also know that I likely won't have /every/ answer."

Then it's to that last question of Jane's, and it's Moonstar's turn for silence as she considers what else can be done. After a heartbeat of silence, the woman says, "You're the only two I currently trust in SHIELD, everyone else is a potential liability. Which is ironic, Coulson once thought I was a liability myself." A corner of her mouth twitches upward at that, before she turns serious again, "Between the three of us I'm hoping we can figure out where Coulson's body is and also just how deep the double-agents go. Before that fateful mission, we were trying to chase down who was attempting to hack into the SHIELD database. Agent Nakano had the working theory the hackers were inside the Trisk when they attacked the system - which I'm inclined to now believe."

It's not something I advertise, says Dani.

"I see why," Bucky says, with a wry half-smile. "You'd have people knockin' down your door for your services. And given what a service it is… I imagine the cost is high. Not something you'd be eager to pay too frequent." He doesn't pry into what that might be. He has his secrets… and she has hers.

Many of those secrets are symbolized very simply by the gun he suddenly holds in his hands, turning over and over with the dull glint of gunmetal.

"So our working theory is we've got turncoats in the organization," he muses. "I have a few guesses who and what. Jane and I were never anything more than contractors, so we don't hear much." His mouth thins. "But it also means we don't get touched when the shit rolls through."

He glances at Jane. "Would say we're well-positioned to sort this shit out from a distance. If this farce was all to buy some time to figure this shit out, better make use of it."

Jane can see why too. It's a startling degree of power, one she can barely believe to be true: to be able to play God? Bring the dead back to life?

If she had that power, there's no question she'd have been tempted to abuse it. Bring back her father to spare all those years of feeling absolutely alone? Not even John's warnings would deter her. It's a dangerous ability, and one all too easy to be misused. A dangerous liability in itself that Dani would even tell them this much — that, or some incredible show of trust.

It still floors her, for these moments, to even consider a world now where the seam between life and death is thinner than it was before. And to Jane, who is terrified of dying young more than anything else in this world — a hard pill to take. Especially when the fear wants her to feel so hopeful.

She takes her hand off Bucky's, and twines her fingers. After a pause, she nods in subdued agreement. "Nothing ever said with us ever leaves a room," she assures. "James and I know secrets. Even then, you're allowed your privacy, Dani. I do have questions, but… it might even be some time before I figure out what they even are. And you don't even owe me, or anyone, anything to answer them."

Her words braid into a tired smile. And in Jane's eyes, a silent understanding — she has her own things she will keep to herself. It would be wrong to pry the same from her friends.

As conversation wanders back to Dani's requests, her features smooth into agitation — at mention of the hack. A more familiar, impatient Jane flickers out from the careful wall of her expression. "They had a data breach? Seriously?" She exhales. "Amateurs. Now I need to see if my research has been compromised. Obviously count us in, Dani." Implied: because SHIELD obviously can't.

Secrets, everyone has them, but the three in this particular room surely have more than what most people should ever expect to. Be subject to.

Both Bucky's half-smile and Jane's tired smile earn an echo of a similar expression from Dani. Sympathy, empathy, understanding, all of that can be found within that expression of hers. "The same for you both." She adds, "Whatever is said between us stays only between us."

Her head tilts slightly, "And Brightwind." She states, a vague thread of amusement offered to the small group.

"But yes, I think we should use the time this has given us to figure things out." Comes Dani's response, "And I think the fact that you two are contractors and don't hear much will help us in this. No one will suspect either of you trying to track down however many turncoats we might have in the agency. That should give you both some amount of anonymity and hopefully some added safety."

To Jane specifically, Moonstar continues with, "And I can't say it was a complete breach, I just know they were definitely attempting to slip past the firewalls. It was enough that it bogged the whole damn system down - which I know isn't good, not with how large SHIELD's server farm likely is, not to mention the security protocols." And while more could be said about that, Dani simply ends with, "I know I probably don't have to say it, but I appreciate you both helping me with this. Thank you."

As if sensing the unspoken troubles circulating in Jane's head, Bucky's eyes turn to her. He leans against her, even as she takes her hand away from his. Not allowed to withdraw too far. She never let him withdraw too far, after all.

Jane assures nothing said will leave the room. They know secrets, and how to keep them. The former Winter Soldier says nothing, himself, but under his lowered lashes gleam a thousand unspoken secrets gathered over the course of seven lonely decades. His reserve only breaks at mention of Brightwind, at which point he snorts: half a laugh, half a derisive sound. "That damn horse," he says, though it sounds more affectionate at this point than adversarial.

He sobers to Danielle's news of the data breach, and her agreement that the two of them are probably optimally placed to investigate. Jane's derision brings an amused smile to his face. "It always happens, sooner to later," he says, with the weight of experience. "To everything and everybody. Solution's always the same, though."

He makes the gun vanish again. "Housecleaning."

He nods to Moonstar's conclusion. "You know you don't have to thank us. The three of us… been through some shit together."

It's that lean what pulls Jane free from her thoughts.

Death, in itself, always takes her to a morose place — one of the few topics that she cannot distract herself away with her usual propensity for over-work. She mourned one friend, and spent an afternoon unable to look directly at his casket without feeling her skin prickle and her insides go to knots; no wonder a false body worked so well, a bitter part of her thinks. No better way to slip a lie through than under a shield of discomfort. As for another friend, Jane has discovered Moonstar has the ability to renegotiate the natural laws — but how? Granted by whom? And for what reason? Why do some people get to escape death, and not others?

Her mind is the kind to turn these questions into a constant, cyclical trap. But Bucky breaks Jane out, and she sobers back to life with a glance of her dark eyes aimed up on his. Her hand finds his closest knee.

She gets it. They're both terminal over-thinkers. She thanks him with a squeeze of her hand.

"I'm with James," she says, eyes turned on Dani. "No thanks needed. We were a damn good team. It's about time we got to be one again on our own terms."

Bucky calls it housecleaning. Amusement turns up the corners of Jane's eyes, thoughtful and wry. "Consider it set. Time to hunt us some traitors.

The byplay between the two prompts a faint smile from Moonstar, but it's Bucky's remark about housecleaning that brings Dani's gaze sharply up. She considers that singular word for a silent moment and then she nods.

Then a second nod joins that first when Bucky and Jane mention their team working abilities. "Yes, though I have to say I do miss the ability to walk through shadows. It made traveling so easy, not to mention catching people off guard." She muses, before she shakes her head, her expression turning sober again.

"I think that sounds good. Also, let's keep our meet-ups confined to Stark Tower, or at the very least outside of SHIELD, just so people can't trace anything back between the three of us. We'll keep it real low-key." And while Dani almost offers thanks again, the woman stops herself.

She already said it once and the three have an understanding. There's a bond there thanks to their shared experience with the Bear, and Dani knows they understand just how thankful she is for their help.

"Now that I've appropriately depressed all of us with this conversation why don't we hop to the topic of dimensional walls." Because that faintly glowing rock is still sitting there, waiting to be scanned. "I'm pretty sure the Bear had a hand in causing the dimensions to thin -"

And just like that, Dani pushes the two unopened beers to Bucky and Jane. It really is going to be one of those nights apparently.

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