A Place Called Chronux

May 02, 2018:

Atli (and Toothbender) come to see Bucky and Jane on the matter of a very important Space Quest. And also maybe to find out if Jane might be her forebear.

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Thor, Loki, Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, John Constantine


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The missive sent did not arrive via a raven. Instead, it was sent electronically via someone at Stark Tower, who was clearly looking out for the best interests of the Barnes and Foster household. Odd, that it read almost like a warning.

Really, it came only with a few hours of warning at that, such are the fickle timetables of Asgardians, who are certain they have all the time in the Nine Realms.

From outside the door there's an awkward rustle, and what sounds like a goatly grunt of disapproval.

"On your best behavior Toothbender. These are not people to be gnawed on, or trifled with. They are the best of friends. Heroes untold. You should look up to them. What I mean is, for one moment in your life, try to be less of a fool."

Finally, Atli straightens and reaches up to tap on the door, a careful knock with one hand, while the other carries a great, giant beast of a bottle, wrapped in woven read along it's bottom and engraved with various Asgardian scripts in it's cloudy, green glass.

The message was indeed received by the Barnes and Foster household — as well as the implicit warning. Bucky read it over twice, frowning, before passing his phone over to Jane so she could read it too.

"I think I remember her," Bucky says. "She was the brick Stark took to Genosha. Er… the Asgardian. I thought I heard something about her being from the future." He contemplates this. Atli certainly was eyeing them both quite a bit on that mission, and some of the things she said…

Well, either way, they're not given too much time to think about that before Atli herself is at the door. Having expected to have a little more time to clean up around the place, Bucky is caught in the middle of putting away an armful of guns when the knock at the door announces the Asgardian's arrival. Lacking anywhere else to put them, he puts them all on the coffee table — Jane knows well enough about gun safety by now that this isn't as terrible as it sounds — and heads to the door to open it.

He's forgotten about the hex, of course. He always forgets about it.

"Hey," he says, as he opens the door and stands aside to let Atli in. "Come in, mind the mess. Haven't had a chance to really…" He notices the goat. "…pick up around here." He does not address the matter of the goat.

The message brought a brief, familiar quirk to Jane Foster's mouth. The inherent, universal warning that must be given when it comes to Asgardians.

She doesn't take it to heart. After all, she was the one who once managed to do more damage to one unfortunate Asgardian in one day than they ever did to her life. Poor Thor. He was not ready to meet her van that many times.

"Yeah," Jane had replied Bucky at the time, pretending to clean, though not really doing that grand of a job — with one eye pinned perpetually on the readout of her laptop, remotely monitoring her lab results half-way across Brooklyn. Work never sleeps. "I remember too, now you think of it. I liked her. Reminded me a lot of —"

The sentence never rightfully finishes, in all her perpetual, layered multitasking. And then, in the end, even worsened by a cleaning job somehow leaving a worse mess on the coffee table.

"James, what the hell is this?" is what Jane has to say about definitely more than ten guns stacked where a host's snacks should go. "Is this supposed to be our talk piece or something? Wait, I —" there's a clatter of firearms, "I don't even recognize this — did you buy more guns? I specifically told you to hold off until we upsized and — why do you need more guns! Do you need an intervention?"

Her background rambling is just levelling off as the door opens. Welcome to the Barnes-Foster household.

"Hey!" Jane rushes in a beat later, wearing the same look of apology for the state of their apartment, clean but cluttered, a giant, self-sustaining tangle of technology (her fault) and weapons (his fault.) "Atli, is it? Come on in. Asgard is always, always welcome at my door. Do you want —"

About the same time as Bucky, Jane notices Toothbender. She can't help a grin, amused and affectionate. "I remember you. What's up, space goat."

It never fails.

When Atli had first arrived in this time, she thought there was nothing Midgard could teach her that all of Asgard could not. After all, what could a world infested with flying sharks have to offer? Why did Grandfather love it so?

Turns out they were wrong about the flying sharks, and most everything else that Thor refused to tell them. The truth was, much of it had been forgotten by the Old King, though he'd never admit it. But he did not forget these people.

Here, standing before Bucky, nearly eye to eye, she looks at the man as if he were legend come to life. Too drunk and too busy and too fawning over Magneto to really take stock of him then, here she look him over with an expression most childlike, as if she were seeing a drawing leap from a page and become all to real.

The moment passes as a hand lifts to touch his shoulder, offering a little squeeze, and then the gift of the bottle. "Though wine is not my favored drink, this is a special vintage. I found an Elf in Exile living under your Brooklyn Bridge who tracked it down for me. Something my grandfather told me was always a welcome gift. I do hope the tradition here on Midgard is not too different."

She says it all as she steps inside, and as she does the billowing red of a beautiful cape forms over her vester and her other cape, long enough that it drags a bit on the ground. There's a furrow of her brow, a half turn. She can't really see it, but her expression lights up as if she'd been walking through a desert and only just now found civilization.

"I was told once that Jane Foster was among the greatest Earth Wizards to have ever lived, and yet I did not expect such an immediate demonstration. You honor me with a glorious house cloak, and it's even in my color!"

It also has an image on the back. There, etched from the deep, dark recesses of Atli's mind is an image of a man of impressive physique. Rippling musculature. His slightly arched back. Hair tossed back, and wet with water from the pool he's wading in, which only barely covers his unmentionables. Silver haired and fierce of eyes, Erik Lehnsherr looks as if he's come rippling off of the cover of some saucy romance novel.

For Jane, the look is even more stricken, as if there's some awkward thing, just kindof hanging out there. Like a ghost is doing the macarena between them, or somesuch. Thankfully, Jane invokes the name of the Goat, and she has little time to ponder how she should greet Earth's Greatest Wizard.

Toothbender is there in merely a moment, mashing his head into Jane's midsection to give a nuzzling huff of a bleat. Thankfully, he has tempered himself somewhat and recently ate the bumper of a police vehicle so he's not too rowdy.

"Woe, goat. Mind your affections for you still smell of failure. One so storied as Jane Foster needs none of your bad luck or ill will. But thank you, all the same, for welcoming me to your home, which I see is decorated as a warrior might!"

Following Bucky's lead, she removes her sword from her back sheath and all and drops it atop the pile of guns, giving them both time to see her cape before she gives a dramatic swirl and drops onto the couch.

"Though, verily, I would have expected more weapons given all of the stories I have heard about the both of you, both from my Grandfather and from the halls of Shield, where you are held in high esteem." Sorry Jane, she's on Bucky's side. The gun pile needs to be higher.

"Jane," Bucky says patiently, "you should probably look at what you're cleaning. You've been dusting that same spot for five minutes."

He says this, of course, without any actual hope of changing her. Janes gotta Jane. Though as she starts to say she liked Atli, because she reminded her of a certain someone, he starts to squint at her — only for her to get distracted, and thereby distract him, by the weapons he's just left all over the coffee table. His face, as it turns towards her, is the very picture of innocence. "I just needed to put them somewhere before I reorganize them all back in the app. Also, you don't recognize them because you still can't tell an M4 from an M16 — "

Mercifully, Atli interrupts what could have been a brewing domestic.

The first thing that strikes Bucky about her is not her appearance, necessarily, nor her height, but the way she looks at him. He hasn't been looked at like that in a long time. Not since The War, before he lost everything about himself that made him a man worth the admiration she shows now. Her moment of awe transparently throws him, his ingrained courtesy suffering a stutter as he loses his train of thought and goes a little silent.

It's a moment that passes when she touches his shoulder and hands over the wine. His instincts restart, and he takes the gift with half a smile. "It's not too different, no," he says, his voice a little wry. "Thank you."

He steps aside, to allow her in, though in the process the small matter of that forgotten hex chooses to gloriously make itself manifest. "Jane!" Bucky sighs, as a cape manifests in a glorious flutter, "we forgot to take the hex off again — "

He pauses, as an image of the full glory of Magneto ripples into being from Atli's shoulders. He stares, struck silent, before swiftly averting his eyes lest the sight become etched in his mind forever. "Ah," he says, as Atli admires her new vestment, "yeah, I — okay, not gonna ask. As long as you like it."

Somewhere, Pietro experiences a profound sensation of irritation — beyond his usual levels — and cannot explain to his sister why.

Putting the wine aside for the time being, Bucky shoots Jane a told-you-so look at the approval Atli showers upon the coffee table's martial display, before he remarks a little smugly, "The rest of the weapons're in storage."

He turns towards the kitchen. "Get you something? Coffee? Tea? What brings you here today?"

"I am looking at what I'm cleaning —" replied Jane defensively, only to realize she was dusting an unfinished half of her own sandwich. "Oh. Gross."

But, Bucky Barnes, who never learned to back down from a fight (in fact, he probably helped teach that to Steve,) gets in on the guns. Jane pops up her eyebrows, message received, and tilts her head. "I know what a M16 is. You think I didn't Facebook stalk your exes? This is it, right?"

She picks up a 9mm.

"Or, wait, no. It's this." Now it's a PS4 controller. Now she's just teasing him.

Fortunately, very fortunately, a royal of Asgard comes to honourably break up this savage Midgardian domestic!

And Jane, for her part, absolutely does not miss that look Atli gives Bucky upon greeting. A look that stops the ex-Winter Soldier silent. It quiets her, too, for different reasons, her eyes softening and her heart twisting in a hopeful pang. For all those times he cannot see himself past his own self-loathing — it is so good when this happens.

Of course, as all things must end, this does in a grand sweep of the international terrorist Magneto's gloriously sculpted (by magnetism) abdominals. Jane stares.

She makes a face. John, please.

"I don't know about being an Earth Wizard," she answers, with a shaky laugh — oh my god, please stop looking at King Magnet's ass — and clears her throat. "Maybe we should close the door before one of those mutant extremists sees."

In comes Toothbender, however, and Jane receives the space goat's headbutt with a surprised laugh, one hand on its bristly fur. "Hey, you. No eating my work, all right?"

She glances up, her brown eyes gentle — even though this is a very unfair two-versus-one in regard to the gun furnishing. "No fair. Asgardians are totally biased parties. But, please, as James says. Make yourself at home. Been a while since we've had an Asgardian step by. May I ask who your grandfather is? Last I saw of these smelly guys," she says, fondly, with another pat of the goat's head, "they were hanging out with Thor."

"Ah, I don't usually drink any of those things, because none of them sound very alcoholic. But please, bring me whatever is normal for a guest to have and I'l-TOOTHBENDER, NO!!"

The goat's affections have turned to trying to sneak a nibble at a 1911 on the table, to which Atli reaches down to pluck the goat by it's scruff and wag a finger in his face.

"I care not dear creature that you can traverse all of space by purview of your hindparts alone, it will not stop me from throttling you in front of the heroes of Midgard. Behave yourself, lest we have goatchops this eve and I ponder even burying you to bring you back."

This, it seems, registers on the goat's selective hearing and it flops down on it's side like a dejected creature might. Right at Jane's feet. "Apologies for my goat. He is.. not quite of the quality of his forebears, but I love him all the same. Ah, yes. Well, you see, you have the answer to your question, and in part, the answer to my quest. I.. well.."

In this, Atli looks pained, looking between Bucky and Jane. "My Grandfather is Thor. King Thor, a man of great wisdom and an even hand. The greatest warrior I have ever known. Then, of course, there is the Thor of this time. You see he took in my sisters and I when his fool son did.. well. It is hard for me to even remember. The travel backwards to this place warps everything. I pretend not to understand it, but I do know that the shame he had for his son, my father, kept him from speaking much of him or our mother, and even less of… my grandmother."

Her eyes lift, blue and crystal clear, locked on Jane. She had meant to look down, at the goat, but it just happens, and punctuates that last word as if she had dropped a hammer heavier than Mjolnir.

"So I am here to find out if.." Vague fisting motions present themselves, and then she realizes what she's doing and wrings her own wrist in an awkward pause. "I mean no presumption, but he did speak fondly of you in all the years I lived with him. And… well. I feel a connection to Midgard I cannot fully understand. A tie to this place most binding, as if it were the home I never knew I had."

The gravity of her words is laid bare, a woman with some confusion, some pain, and no small mount of wonder at a world she never thought she'd love. Is it because Jane is her grandmother? Is there any magic here that might yet tell?

"Oh," said, almost as an afterthought. "I may need to borrow the both of you to travel to a place called Chronux, the city of time. Which is in space. You see, in space, Noble Barnes, all of these weapons would have no weight at all, so you could carry even more of them!" She smiles like Thor used to smile after saying something so absurd in such a casual manner. If any have doubts to her lineage, it is right there in her inflections.

The goat, of course, snorts at this.

Said same spot Jane was dusting was, in fact, the unfinished sandwich, which Bucky has been regarding with a deep disgust for some time now. Once she finally notices, he heaves a sigh. "You know," he says, "women have changed a lot since 1945."

This sally is probably the trigger for Jane's subsequent crime against gun nut humanity.

Bucky looks more and more aggravated as she misidentifies weapon after weapon. Once the PS4 controller is lifted, he loses patience. "Hey, put that down — " he starts, annoyed, before Atli and her glorious Magneto-cloak break up the impending domestic in favor of a shared horror at something so much worse.

Neither of them will ever be able to face the international terrorist again. Not that Bucky would want to; unless Jane comes up with a pretty substantial upgrade for him, the Master of Magnetism is as hard a counter to the Winter Soldier as you might get.

Entreated by Atli to bring whatever might be most normal for a guest to have, Bucky sagely ducks out to pour coffee, thereby mostly missing the interlude with goat and 1911, which is perhaps for the best, the 1911 being his favorite weapon.

He returns, three mugs of coffee in tow, right about when Atli starts to answer the question of why she has stopped by. Making just enough room on the table for the mugs, he sets them down to be taken at leisure, retaining his own. He's midway through a sip when Atli reports that her grandfather happens to be Thor. His gaze slants askance at her over the rim of his mug.

He can't miss the inflection she places on grandmother, nor the way she looks at Jane. His eyes sloooowly turn towards the Foster in question. Of course he'd known Jane had a… a Thing with Thor before, but to see potential future timeline evidence of it?

After that, the mention of possibly needing to join battle in space is almost mundane. "Oh," he says, processing this. "I mean, Jane'll be thrilled. But what's in Chronux, exactly?"

Thank God (or Constantine's one iota of spiritual mercy) that the cape bearing Sexy King Magnet will only exist for fifteen minutes.

Even though she takes great pains in teasing Bucky over his beloved guns, Jane cringes visibly when Toothbender starts gumming at the 1911. That's Bucky's favourite weapon!

With him safely in the kitchen, back turned momentarily on a grevious crime in the process, the tiny woman moves forward like a thrown dagger, swift and sharp and helping to furiously remove the gun out of reach of the space goat, and rearranging it to a far side of the table. She checks the stalk for teethmarks — thank Jesus, none — and looks on, pale-faced, as Atli corrects the animal. Too close. New York really doesn't need a battle of Winter Soldier versus Asgardian Goat.

Straightening up, especially as Bucky returns with coffee in hand, and looking absolutely like nothing untoward happened — Jane has a piss-poor poker face — she quickly steals her own mug.

In a perfect mirror with Barnes, she's also about halfway through a sip when Atli explains her heritage. Jane coughs aloud at the name 'Thor', taking the coffee away from her lips, eyebrows popped up. "Wait, your Thor's granddaughter from the future? He ended up as King?"

She looks Atli up and down, now fixed in some new light — forced to take a lot in within a staggering moment. Still, it seems to check out. There's a lot of similarities —

Jane lets out a surprised laugh. Her mouth opens, probably to say something more, but Atli continues. She doesn't say it aloud, not directly, not bluntly — and let's just say that's the reason that the woman falters for a beat, some part of her refusing to immediately understand, because there's a certain safety — a certain sanity — in ignorance.

Bucky's eyes are on her; she can feel it. She glances back, in her look a silent 'what?' before — oh. Oh.

"Oh," Jane says. It's the word of the hour, it seems. "Oh! I — you think I — oh!" Behold, the genius of the great Earth Wizard. She colours at the cheeks, self-conscious. "No. Thor and I… it wasn't like that. I helped him once when he was all alone — and mortal. He helped save my town from his dickbag brother. Nothing more than friends. It wouldn't be with me."

She exhales, trying hard to shift off that topic. "Not to say we still can't be friends. You're the first family of Thor I actually like. Especially after asshole number 1, and that other jerk — Balder." She still hasn't forgotten that visit. "Seriously, how does one guy have so many — space?"

"Are you sure?" Atli smile-squints at Jane, showing her teeth. Once again, with that fist held out as if to emphasize, well. Atli is a bit cruder than even Thor in this regard. "The great, muscly Thor, all alone and vulnerable and showing off his chest-parts. I know how it goes when you're depressed on Midgard. Shirts are the last thing you want. I'm sure he was all 'look, I'm Thor, and I'm mortal, let me borrow your bed and maybe your buttocks as a pillow.'" Yes, she hair-tosses for effect.

The moment she waits for a response, when Jane catches up to the mention of space, seems to put the issue at rest. After all, even if that did happen, one imagines Jane might have noticed carrying Atli's idiot father to term.

But maybe they get together later. A squint, but then she drops the whole matter.

"Ah well, sounds like we're family in arms, if not in blood then. And…" She takes a sip of coffee. Then another. "This is.. quite good. It is no wonder that King Thor spoke so highly of Noble Barnes, man of action, slayer of many Hydras. I am surprised he did not speak of your ability to craft such bountiful beverages."

Of course she could go on about Barnes, or Jane, or King Thor, but instead the topic of space hangs in the air, and Bucky wanted a deeper explanation.

One leg rests at the ankle over the other, and with her lean back, coffee cup cradled in her hand, she looks not much like an Asgardian at all.

"Well… as much as I need a Midgardian Wizard, with all of their.. " Her fingers lift and wiggle a little bit at Bucky. "Sciencey-magic spells and whatnot, really I need you. I admit not to know what condition the city is in now, but in my time, Grandfather used his metal arm to open it. It was at once a limb and a key. We'll have to see that yours is upgraded with something as strong as Uru and then have it enchanted of course."

Of course.

"Oh, yes. Chronux. Well, in it's center, at the very heart of it, is a portal of sorts. The very same one that sent me here. Do not mistake me, I do not pursue this place to leave all of you here to die in the toil of mortality and return to my own time. In fact, I could not, without the blood of Odin or an Elder God to power it, it would be impossible to activate." This draws a near laugh. "I simply need to make sure that the city is secure, that Gorr the God-Butcher has not yet claimed it for himself. Maybe, even destroy the portal. It.. is a very long story, about that one, but, to summarize."

She looks up to Bucky then, and shifts her gaze to Jane. "He's the worst."

The call to action laid before the duo, she drinks down the last of her coffee. "I think I would like another."

The moment hangs in the air, and yet, she does not shatter the mug on the ground, setting it instead in a precarious balance atop one of Bucky's many guns.

Bucky disguises it in a long drink of his coffee, but he is totally smiling at Jane's spluttering. Genius of the great Earth Wizard indeed. He can afford to find this topic amusing, of course, because Jane subsequently disavows ever — you know — with Thor of Asgard.

He is not as jealous or insecure as some, but even James Barnes can feel a little threatened by an Asgardian god at times.

Of course, Atli's thorough over-elaboration on the matter walks up to that delicate line and starts stomping on it. A frown starts to overtake his features. By the time Atli is finished talking about butt pillows, Bucky looks thoroughly and quietly scandalized. Not that he's unused to crude talk — no soldier could be unused to that — but he's unused to it coming out of a lady.

The first mistake with that, of course, is mentally categorizing Atli as 'a lady.'

As for the compliments on the coffee? "Well," Bucky says wryly, "coffee-making isn't exactly in my top ten of famous skills, so not surprised it didn't make it in the annals. But it comes to you, after long enough trying to work the monstrosity Jane has in the kitchen."

But then, Atli says the magic word — space — that gets Jane to forget all else and turn attentive as a cat at a mousehole. Bucky leans back, listens — and looks surprised, when Atli confesses it is him she needs. Or, rather, his arm. Because in the future —

"…Wait. Thor got a metal arm in the future?" Bucky shakes his head, slowly. "Stealing my gig."

He does listen to Atli's story, however, even as he quietly takes her mug and goes to fetch her another coffee. "'Course we'll help," he says distantly, from the kitchen.

He returns, handing Atli her second cup. He does not appear to have considered the hazards of a caffeinated Asgardian. "But might you not wanna go back to your own time? I mean, weirder things have happened than an Elder God, it's not entirely impossible."

None of this is helping Jane Foster's embarrassed, anxious blush. She goes red to the tips of her ears.

Were there some certified Midgardian Sensitive Training course in Asgard, most definitely it would involve:

Chapter Two: Midgardians Are Huge, Huge, Huge Prudes.

"What!" is all she blurts out at Atli's segue into Thor and pillowy buttocks. "What do you take me for?! No, Thor was a perfect gentleman! And — I don't do that with shirtless space hobos I've known like, a day! I had my auroral anomaly data, and g-men taking my work away, and — and hitting aliens with my van, and! And not to mention Prince Dickus Loki walking on my town!"

And perhaps realizing she's halfway through a rant, Jane shuts up as quickly as she began, and stuffs the rest of her humiliation with another long drink of coffee.

In the end, she clears her throat. Conclusion reached by the physicist. "So. Yes."

Fortunately, for as demonstrative as Jane's outrages come, they seem to die just as quickly, compartmentalized and boxed away, all for her ever-seeking mind to grasp on any, brief mention of space.

After all she's witnessed, stopped, and even done, there are some great goals that remain beyond her reach. That is one. And that is a big one. The biggest dream of all her life, ever since she was a child on her father's roof, staring up at the stars. Is it really possible?

Talk goes on, too, with how they're needed, and that Bucky's arm even needs an upgrade of some celestial element she's never heard — she glances over at him, wide-eyed — and Thor also gets a metal arm?

Bucky's being way too blase about this. Jane is white-knuckling her coffee mug. "A bridge that facilitates backwards time travel?"

She frowns. Not in judgment; she's thinking. Trying to rationalize it, losing herself already into some twenty-five-deep layers of mental math. Now you did it.

For all the lines Atli ever crosses, she is utterly oblivious to them, as evidenced by her carefree smile and the way she immediately reaches for the new coffee with a gleam in her eye that speaks of every danger Bucky has not considered.

Jane's rant piles on, but Atli absorbs it like she's listening to a tale of battle, squinting at some words that she's certain Jane made up just now, and others that are probably real but are of no real use. "G-men. Yes, of course. I believe I have battled those once, off the tip of Orion's Belt."

Jane poses her question about the backwards bridge, but she must address the matter of Thor's thievery, of stealing Bucky's gig. Not that it is not true, for clearly it is, but there are reasons. "Yes, well, Grandfather did look up to you, Noble Barnes. Now that you mention it, his arm did somewhat look like your own. I can only imagine him thinking of you as he worked the metal with the Thorforce, a hero he looked up to for all the things you represented."

While there are a great many things she says in jest or with incomplete understanding, this she says in earnest, and it speaks to the way she looked at James when she entered his shared home. "Whenever he spoke of overcoming regret, he spoke of friendship, and said he knew no two men who were as brothers like Rogers and Barnes. I think he wished he and my Uncle Loki could have had that connection. Instead, Loki would just turn into a snake to lure Thor close, as if to hug him, because Thor loved snakes, and then he'd change back and make a strange face at him, and then stab Thor. So, you see, a somewhat less healthy relationship, and mostly made of regret."

The matter of fact way that story goes into Loki's horrible behavior is really meant to lend gravity to it, but this is an Asgardian sensibility. Barnes brings up perhaps wanting to go home, and this brings her round to Jane's musing on the bridge through time.

"An ancient device, far beyond my understanding. But… my time? It is lost, I fear. The great sword known as the All-Black had fallen into the hands of that foolish giant, Galactus. My grandfather all but destroyed him, and should have, and yet I fear his mercy doomed my future. Nothing remains after Galactus became the Butcher of Worlds. All life in all the universe fell beneath his shadow. If there were any hope, Prince Dickus, my craven Uncle, killed that hope when he murdered my Grandfather and pushed me through the portal."

It drops like a hammer. Loki is the reason she's here. Loki, or Future Loki, wanted her here.

"But do not worry." Atli looks to them both then, one at a time, raising her coffee just so. "With our combined might, we can prevent this from happening to our time. You, Jane Foster, will be the key. Or.. rather, Noble Barnes will be the actual key. Because.. because of his arm. But you would be the other key. What I am saying is, we need your science wizardry to make sure this portal never works again because if not you, then I will have to rely on Rocket, and while he is very beautiful, I am not sure he will do anything but turn it into a giant time cannon, and no one wants that."

A smile at that, because she imagines Rocket doing it. So fierce. So sleek. So.. is she biting her lower lip?

Again, it seems talk of how he was looked up to — for all the things he represented, no less — leaves James Barnes at a little bit of a loss. His gaze lowers, the man known as the Winter Soldier staring into his mundane coffee and trying to wrap his mind around the idea of a future where he is remembered for more than his decades of murder and blood.

"Future-me must have done a lotta making up for stuff," he murmurs, something a little like longing underneath the doubt in his voice.

His features gentle out of that bleakness when Atli speaks of his bond with Steve Rogers… and contrasts it with the decidedly more unhealthy relationship between Thor and Loki. "It's a rare thing," he says. "I don't take it for granted, for sure. Yeah, I got the sense Thor wanted something similar out of his brother… but I also got the sense it didn't exist because Loki didn't want it to exist."

As far as whether or not Atli might want to go back? She has a simple answer for that: her time is lost. Bucky looks briefly stricken to contemplate it. And to know that future Loki murdered his own brother and all hope for that dying world…?

"Well," Bucky says, with his customary dryness, "sounds like Loki just got worse."

Atli has a plan, though. Because if not you, then I will have to rely on Rocket…

"Um," Bucky says. "Yeah, Jane will do it." Bucky likes Rocket, but he also knows what Rocket is all about. He steadfastly ignores the part about how beautiful Rocket is.

Simple mention of Orion's Belt makes Jane's eyes soften, and her expression somewhere lost between wistful and melancholic.

How many times has she watched and mapped those little points of light? Alnitak and Mintaka, multiple star systems sieved down into so little: do people not realize the vastness contained and concealed at the same time, in a single speck of light? And Alnilam, so far away and so old it will long supernova before humanity may ever make their way there.

Unless she solved that problem for them, she once promised herself.

Her waxing maudlin only ends to hear word of Atli speaking to James — speaking of James, from some yet-unmade, yet-unseen future vantage point. Can it be true, for all the country put him through this past year, that he'll be remembered as the man she sees him?

Wandering closer, Jane touches a hand briefly on Bucky's right arm. Her palm is still warm from her coffee mug. The look in her eyes is even warmer.

Her head turns to hear Atli's story. It's a lot to take in — God-butchers and world-butchers and who the hell names themself Galactus and many-dimensional wormholes that are obviously beyond even the maximum theorized strings — but she seems to adapt far well now than she would, bright-eyed and slack-jawed, one year ago.

Well, adapt to most.

Jane stares at the way Atli lingers and drifts off, worrying her lower lip, eyes warm with fantasies of Rocket.

Jane's lips slowly press together. Don't go there, mental imagining. Don't go there. Don't — aw hell.

"Yep," she agrees quickly, a little pale to envision the sort of quantum detonator a trigger-happy alien would happily install to some portal that SENDS THINGS BACK IN TIME. "Yep. Yep! Calling it now. No one else is touching the nth-dimensional portal but me. Honestly, Atli, you had me at 'space.' Even 'saving a world.' Definitely at potentially putting a foot up Loki's ass. He actually did that shit? Killed his own brother? I haven't even met the guy, and I owe him a proper introduction. Count us in."

When Bucky remarks about making up with his future for the crimes of his past, it tilts her head just a little. It would be a hard thing to explain to Bucky, the nature of his legend. Indeed, it is a hard thing for her to understand. More a feeling, reflected in her Grandfather's eyes. The thought break likes a wave against a rocky shore, at the mention of Loki.

"Yes, well. My Uncle was The Worst. Aside from Gorr, of course. Perhaps, co-equal Worsts. But do not worry, I have already fixed this problem."

She leans in as if to share some vast conspiracy, but first finishes off her coffee. It's very important that she does this. "Much like securing Chronux should save this universe from the fate of mine, we made a statue of Loki, made of butter. As it turns out it was not even real butter, and yet it tasted such that I could almost not believe it. Truly those who dwell in the Land O' Lakes are master churners, to make a mixture so potent as to sweep the evil power from Foul Loki. So you see, problem solved."

A simple matter to explain. And long dealt with. Yep.

Bucky vows Jane's assistance, and Atli looks positively chipper. "Most wonderful! Jane Foster, from the bottom of my heart I thank you. Your power is known across the universe in my time, and you even have a sarcophagus in King Thor's antechamber, next to all of his dead wives. Decimux, especially, spoke far and wide of your legend, and since he controlled the Bifrost, well, almost everyone had to hear the tales of your… many sciencing..ings."

Yes. They had too. Though her expression falters a moment, she's enthusiastic once more when she details just how Jane is saving them all. "Of course, my other option, aside from Fair Rocket, was Peter Quill, but I fear he is quite possibly the greatest fool I have ever known, and I have known no less than three different Thors."

Her expression turns to something quizzical as she ponders what is clearly some kind of paradox. Someone more foolish than Thor the Younger? Like Jane, just a moment ago, no less than twenty five layers of math run through her head in a familiar expression. Or one layer of math, repeated twenty five times, in Atli's case.

Bucky can be the judge if this is a, say, hereditary expression.

When Atli snaps out of it, Jane is reinforcing that position, and that is more than enough for her. She rises, an immediate thing. Somewhere at her feet, the goat has stolen and begun eating the coffee mug. No matter. Atli was done with it. The crunch is most satisfying.

"And here you wonder, Noble Barnes, what you might do to earn my respect, to earn the respect of the greatest King that ever lived. To have a mountain named for you on New Midgard, to say nothing of all of those stores, filled with books, here in this time. Barnes, and Noble, indeed."

Yes, that is why she has been calling him that the whole time. "Look no farther than the gaze of the woman next to you, one that tells me she could not be my grandmother, for she loves you far too much. Look no farther than the eyes of your brother, who sees you as the man you are, and who you will always be. As for you, Jane Foster, while you may not be my grandmother, my Grandfather has always considered you family. And so shall it be with me. I will contact you both, once the rest of our quest is set. Until then, I will bid you both farewell."

Atli summons the goat to her side and without waiting for much by way of goodbye, she will see herself out, a spring in her step, and new hope in her eyes.

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