Dealing with Genius

October 30, 2018:

Jane Foster, Rachel Summers and Jean Grey take the task of waking up one Tony Stark. God save their souls

X-mansion/Tony's Brain

Characters

NPCs:

Mentions:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

The Xavier Institute opened its doors to Tony Stark. Not just because of all his work to help mutants in recent months — though that was a healthy contributor — but because it will not turn away from someone in need. Perhaps, more specifically: because Jean would not turn away from someone in need.

Morever, due to the close collaboration of the X-Men and the Avengers on the Extremis issue, the medical facilities of the former are now quite suited to handle Tony's current… unique problem. The X-Men also have other resources, ideally suited to problems of the mind, which are not technological. Once his comatose body was extracted from the demon-pit that Stark Tower has now become, it was ferried quietly out of the city and up to Westchester, where a certain pair of telepaths await a chance to help.

Accompanying Tony up to the mansion was one Dr. Jane Foster, who has essentially been Stark's 'attendant physician' for the duration of his coma and who at this point could probably not be separated from him even with a prybar. She's not a medical doctor, but then Tony's malady isn't exactly a medical ailment in the strictest sense of the word. It is in fact at least fifty percent her fault, but that just makes her one hundred percent qualified to work on the matter.

A corner of the medical bay has been set aside for Stark and this 'operation.' Jean is in the last stages of preparation to form up the psi-link. Rachel is old hat at this, of course, but Jean senses —

"It can be an… unnerving experience, Dr. Foster," she says kindly, with a look in her eyes that adds 'for someone of your background.' "But care will be taken. Things are much more abstract in these psychic landscapes, but the basic principles to which you are accustomed are still the same, even if represented differently. Now, if everyone is ready — ?"

Jean reaches out to link psionic hands with Rachel, to initiate the dive.


The mind of most of the people on the earth is a flowing stream of thought. Conscious and subconscious moving together like a river. Tangles of thoughts that come bubbling to the surface to pop into fully formed theories and imaginings. Some peoples rivers run faster or slower than others. Some ramp up to rushing floods and under trickle down to streams.

…and then there are people like Tony Stark.

Where the sensation is more akin to diving headfirst though a jet of fire hoses.

Logic and thoughts assault the mind at a breakneck speed. Stumbling over themselves as they go. The sheer volume is staggering. There are others in the world that are smarter than him, still others that have come from the future with knowledge out of time. No one though, no one can match the sheer multi-tasking of thoughts that is Starks mind. Hardly is one problem begun than the next begins to form. A unceasing chain of random thoughts, problems being solved, new things being designed, all one interlinked chain.

And Stark can't really turn it off.

Even in a coma the subconscious still works. He's going to have five more suits designed before he wakes up at this rate. Logic, match, intricate engineering problems fly past them at a speed of thought…tangible for just that moment before being blasted further downstream to be refined and reworded again in the time between thoughts. Oddly enough strange motes of bright sunny light float though the thoughts. Contact bringing feelings of energy, life, positive feelings. But they seem as foreign to the stream as the trio of the dive.

That barrier, that jumble, is hard to penetrate but Rachel /is/ used to at least some of this. Jean has dived dozens of times before.

They break though…

And tumble down into the front lawn of a massive mansion. The sky above them a golden glow the same as the strange motes of lights, and every so often one seems to detach from the sky. Floating down towards the mansion, changing and polishing some small section of it but at a slow rate.

In front of the large home, a large home that says 'Stark' on the dive way, stands a tall man in a fine black tweed suit. Stately and sharp in his Herringbone. The man seems to be polishing a pair of spectacles as he waits by the door, small table and setting for tea set out next to him.


And Dr. Jane Foster is certainly in congress, renowned in the order of: a) helping a certain Asgardian regain his godly mantle, b) progressing a very libertine theory (not yet advanced into testing) that purports immediate, cross-universal travel for every person on earth, c) the same woman who coaxed the Winter Soldier in from the cold and testified, one year ago, before the audience of the world on her own torture at HYDRA to profess his innocence.

She's also really tiny. Doesn't look like she breaks a hundred pounds soaking wet.

And covered in ichor-black demon blood. Upon explanation: "They were in my lab."

On the way there — taking her time to give considerable looks around at what exactly the mansion professes to have — she gives a brief Cliff's Notes on Tony's condition, and her work in stabilizing him: the same Demon Bear that terrorized Dani Moonstar her entire life in turn corrupted Jane, whose soulless intelligence in turn corrupted the bear right back — and bridged off its power an elaborate scheme to 'order' entropy. The dissemination program she'd written to hold the dark magic was claimed by those behind Extremis, and templated their work. Tony's made an antigen, put it in himself, and now she is — trying to manage the infection.

His body is taking to the nanites, and Jane's work has been to ensure the nanites are written to cede to his cellular processes and not attempt an overwrite. By the exhaustion underlying her eyes — older than the demon invasion itself — it's been an ongoing process. So she insists to help, because hearing of a psychic solution to save Tony —

Jane is not sure of the same psychic solution to handle adaptive, sentient machines. She knows her work, magic and science both. And more than that —

Jane looks a little apologetic at Jean's gentle warning. "Please, both of you, call me Jane. And it's… not actually my first rodeo. I've taken a few astral trips — long story. There was a panther god in one of them. I also had to go into my friend's girlfriend's head to — equally long story. But I appreciate the caution."

There's a restless energy about her, perhaps aggravated by two powerful telepaths in the room; Jane, nonetheless, gives both women a quick smile. She's ready.

The barrier that is Tony's Stark's Unrelenting Genius —

— Jane opens her eyes in the astral plane, looks down at her own hands, glances around, dusts herself up surrepititiously, and… doesn't seem to notice. She does tilt her head slightly against the deluge, curious in the way someone lingers in front of a really, really good episode of Iron Chef, but seems utterly unpertrubed. Because Tony's mind is Jane's mind. She lives this every day. Anything less than that would stagger her.

With her eyes on that looming Stark Manor, Jane's eyes seek the redheads. "So what's the object? A matter of finding him? Giving him some sort of epiphany? A wake up slap in the head?"


Rachel really is experienced in this sort of thing. Not nearly as much as Jean, of course. Rachel didn't begin her real training until her late teens. Before that, her experiences with psychic powers were much less… constructive. After, it was necessary for her to train herself. It has only been these past two years that Rachel has truly benefited from the experience of older psychics.

But she's strong, she's a fast learner, and she takes to these things with bizarre intuition. There's also the matter of her being deeply entangled in Tony Stark's general nonsense.

To put it another way: Rachel had to stop her near-sleepless rescue activities in the city to fly up to Westchester to assist in this. She thinks it's a good use of her time.

While Jean takes the lead, Rachel psyches herself up for the experience. She arrived a few hours early in order to take a nap, just to make sure that she was as fresh as one could expect from someone in her position. She still had to hit the coffee before coming down to the medical bay, and she still looks uncharacteristically pale. There's also the matter of her still wearing her spiky, red-orange bodysuit.

Jean calls for the ready. Rachel looks up from where she's pacing. She returns to the side of the table, cycles a deep breath, and then closes her eyes. Her elusive astral presence pulses a simple acknowledgment to Jean's touch.

She can do this. She's seen far, far weirder things during her alternate-universe adventures with Excalibur. Tony Stark will be boring in comparison.

«Augh, he's just spraying it everywhere!»

Rachel floats down into the focusing lens of Tony's psyche, alighting upon the lawn. Her presence here is more intense, consumed by a fiery, winged aura. The fire roils across her body like a caress, mingling with her outlines, confusing where one stops and the other starts. Her red hair is a more literal flame, eyes burning as bright as the tattooed lines on her face.

"We have to see what's wrong, first," she says. Rachel pauses, then holds up her hand to look at it. Her bodysuit is sleeker, and a more uniform red. She flexes her hand into a fist and back. "But probably a wake-up slap to the head."


Jean doesn't look nearly as surprised as most might at mention of a panther god. Astral nonsense is old hat. She merely smiles. "You'll be fine, then," she decides.

Of course, that's when they take a tumble into Multitasking Hell.

Jean has been in a lot of minds over the years. She is practically the poster child for learning to cope with overwhelming stimuli. Even then, Tony's frenetic mind makes her blink hard and press her fingertips into her temples, momentarily at a loss to filter and parse the countless data streams of thought. Rachel's singular observation is met with a grimace of agreement, one green eye cracking open. "I suppose I'm not surprised," she says. "He's like the dog from that movie. Up? This was really to be expected."

She fully realizes in Tony's mindscape, straightening up and quickly adjusting to the constant barrage of noise. Her presence is not dissimilar to Rachel's — like mother, like daughter — her hair a living flame and her body limned in fire. It stretches behind her like a train, like a pair of wings, like a many-colored tail of fiery feathers. Her eyes are a solid glow of white.

It is a little too dramatic a look for her follow-up statement: "I'm not opposed to skipping to the slapping stage if that's feasible." She considers the place into which they have fallen. "But often these things are more about finding the knot, and unraveling it from there."

Her eyes turn to the home and hte man in front of it. "That's different for each person. Even for each dive. It's a bit of trial and error sometimes, finding it…" And she starts to approach the man. It goes without saying that people are usually the most useful 'NPCs' in mindscapes.


The man sits up as they arrive, eyes somewhat wide. "I say." He murmurs, hiss accent so very English it may resonate with Rachel. In fact the man himself throws every indication of being…well…a butler. A gentleman's gentleman in the old style. Even as the firey wings from the pair of firebirds cast flickering shadows across the imposing façade of the house he calmly folds his newspaper precisely in the middle and tucks it under one arm. Every action careful and precise. Everything perfectly were it should be.

"Welcome, Miss Foster. Miss Grey." A twitch of a smile. "Miss Summers. I've been expecting at least some of you. Would you like tea? Refreshments?" A pause. "Ah forgive me, I am…the memory of Edwin Jarvis. Welcome to Stark Manor. Such as it was…" A glance back at the house.

Edwin Jarvis. Stark's /actual/ butler at one time. Howard Stark's to be precise. And one of the two people who raised, or at least tried to raise, Tony.

"…ah forgive me." The construct adds. "You will likely we wanting to wake Young Master Stark up then," A pause. "…that would be easy in theory. As long as you can convince his godmother that is the best course of action."


The fire catches Jane Foster's astral eye — even of her own urgency, she lingers enough to absorb the impression of two women bound in the same conflageration. They burn together like a binary system.

R Aquarii, she thinks to herself, with some warmth.

Strangely enough, Jane changes little between planes. Where the souls of men and woman reach deeply and seek them great reflections of their great spirits —

— she simply remains as-is. Tiny little Jane, with her dark hair, her dark eyes, and her same small freckle flecked on one cheek. A creature who knows herself, in and out, down to the last atomic ounce. Someone who accepts all of it, as well, to her core — who is aware of her strengths and faults, from her strong, searching heart to the odd dark plumage that raises in the odd, black bird's feather off her shoulders, hanging from her sleeves. A dark smoke halos her head, here and there, in just another piece of her whole.

She's just as tiny here too.

"I'm holding out for the slap option," Jane says back, matter-of-fact, before following the redheads as they take point. Don't think she hasn't forgotten Tony's punishment for injecting himself with nanites.

The butler's introduction lifts her eyebrows. "Jarvis?" Jane asks, unable to stop the tug of a smile at her mouth. "This is you? I pictured you blond for some reason. Don't ask me why."

His proposal makes her eyes slant towards Jean and Rachel. Wait, godmother?! "I — I feel like I should know this. Like the information is compiling, but — who is Tony's godmother?"


Rachel closes her eyes — visible to others by the white-burning shapes disappearing from her face — and breathes in. It's not like being Phoenix again, but… it's closer. She feels closer to it here. Closer to herself, really, but also a little unlike herself. The feeling is uneasy and exciting and bottomless, like she's stepped out into thin air.

It gets worse when Rachel opens her eyes and, on a whim, looks over her shoulder at that other flame. She never really saw Jean as the Phoenix. Mom — her Jean — never manifested it like Jean did here, maybe not until the end, when she was alone and the fire took her. The Phoenix showed her visions, of course. It appeared to her as Jean, and let her live in memories here and there, but it's not the same.

The fractured whirlwind of Rachel's mind briefly comes into improbable, serene alignment.

Is that her?

Is that me?

Rachel locks down her thoughts. This takes about as long as it does for Jean to approach the butler and open a dialogue. Rachel comes floating along a moment after.

"Jarvis," she says in realization, her voice perhaps too soft to come from a celestial flame. The shadows shift on her face to match her smile. It is a fleeting expression, though, because there's the grim thought of a godmother to be thoughtful about. Her mind immediately considers more metaphorical answers.

"Not surprised the 'young master' has a stern governess," she says, crossing her arms. "If it's Emma Frost in a frock I'm jumping right to emergency options."


It is fortunate Jane doesn't talk about stars aloud — fortunate that Jean does not skim that thought from her surface mind. Jean has a bad history with stars, even if she burns as brightly as one now.

Her presence in the astral plane is a grand one, a great unfolding of all she is that cannot be seen in the physical world. Her aura of flame wreaths off her in everpresent movement, in an accipitrine grandeur like wings, like a funereal shroud, like a bridal veil. Like a white-hot crown. The Phoenix, when it appeared, chose to look like Jean as she is; Jean chooses, at times, to look like the Phoenix as it is.

For a moment, as Jean adjusts back to the astral realm, there is little line delineated between them.

That line reasserts quickly enough. Some of her presence folds in as she grounds herself. She looks to Jane, and some of the other woman's unchanged nature seems to help with that centering (she frowns vaguely at the plumage, at the smoke); she looks to Rachel, and her eyes both gentle and shadow with some private, troubled thought.

But it is Tony they are here for.

"If it's Emma Frost, I already have the solution to that queued up," Jean says, with a certain grimness. She turns to Jarvis. "Jarvis, let us speak to this 'godmother,' whoever she may be. I'd like to hear why she may not think waking him up is the best idea."


There is a slight cough from Jarvis at that. "Ah believe me, Miss Summers. It is not Miss Frost." There is some deep irony there. "Master Stark thought he might have visitors and considering history…well…he didn't want anything to be set on fire that wasn't supposed to be." A glance towards Rachel then. "He is quite fond of you, Miss Summers. I would know as…" A pause. An almost embarassed cough. "…well. I would know." A glance at Jane then, and a slight smile. "Angry because he did it, or because he did it first, Miss Foster?" Comes the querry before he glances at Jean a moment. "And he is curious about you, Miss Grey. You hear much about someone, but it is different to meet them." A pause. "I hope he wasn't too rude when you two me, I /tried/ to teach him manners."

There is a pause as the man though moves towards the door, opening it for them to pass on through. There isn't any barrier they can see into the foyer of the house. For the most part it looks mostly…normal.

At least until you look close.

The branching corridor of the foyer seems to branch too many times for such a place, shifting and moving entrances seemingly at a whim. Cooridors spiraling into the darkness of memory continue on at odd angles, left and right, up and down. Branching off at impossible angles as Jarvis leads them deeper in.

Some of the corridors are bright affairs filled with the clink of glass on glass and the sound of parties. Some are boring droning of teachers that sound more like the adults from Charlie Brown than anything else. Some are darker sections, pitfalls and fitful lighting. With shouts of battle or screams of directed hate.

Down each are pictures, animated moments of memory caught out of the corner of the eye as they pass. Some happy, some not. Lavish parties where the feeling of boredom radiates from. The adreneline surge of battle. The depression of a child. Each made manifest as they pass. As they go though again those motes of light appear, polishing a corridor. It looks…different as the light fades. Stronger. Changed. But it is happening as such a slow rate.

One corridor in particular stands apart from the others. The jagged entrance of a cave mouth derisive laughter and shouts of pain echo from it, as well as the feel of an iron determination to survive. To press forward.

"Master Stark has collected many memories in his life, as we all do. Most of them not pleasant." Jarvis murmurs as they pass. "That…though…that would be the turning point of all this. The point where he was…reforged I suppose you could say. From that point on I don't believe he's ever let himself stop. No matter the cost."

Again a shake of his head. A slight smirk. "I think this is the most he's slept in years."

But then suddenly he stops in front of a rather plain looking door. No strange memory moment or feeling comes from this specific door, just a feeling of…calmness? A better memory than what was just passed to be sure.

Jarvis raps on the door once before opening it.

"Mum, the guests have arrive." A pause. "Do try to be polite."


There is a knock on the door. "Come in." The voice is venerable and distinctly British. Jane may start to recognize it as the small contingent of people intent on awakening Tony enter the sitting room. They'll find it cozy and well furnished - as one might expect at the Stark Mansion. While plush and well cared for, there is a litter of things on the floor. Lego blocks, wires, machinery, half taken apart engines, computers. The room is practically filled with creations made of Legos, ideas put together in origami, half finished thoughts made with random parts. Most notably, on a table there is full tea set and amongst that is a tiny little machine made of lincoln logs, a few gears, a toy car's wheels and rubber bands. It does not move on its own, but it has the long features one might recognize as a prototype to Dummy.
In a large armchair, a woman that is both inherently familiar and entirely different to some sits. This Peggy Carter is not the young time traveled agent many have gotten to know in this day and age. Instead, her brown hair is generously streaked with silver. There are wrinkles on her forehead, but she sits back in the armchair in a relaxed manner. The dozing form of a toddler is curled in her lap. His face is slack in the peaceful sleep of children, his hair a shock of black and his outfit a pair of adorable red overalls. Peggy's arm curls about him protectively while he sleeps. In the other is a revolver pointed toward the door as it opens.

In a very stoic, but somehow pleasant manner, she greets, "Yes, of course, thank you Jarvis. Welcome. I believe you wish to discuss my godson?"


The remark on Emma Frost goes over Jane's head. Probably for the best.

As for Jarvis: Jane considers the butler's question with some feigned annoyance she doesn't entirely feel. Probably due to the relief of existing here within the architecture of his mind — clear evidence that Tony is still alive. "Both," she says anyway, with humoured terseness, unable to be less than perfectly, pathologically honest. "Both is good."

With a cursory glance back on Jean Grey — Jane didn't miss the reshaping of the woman's astral self, and seems to intuit on the reasons while having no knowledge of its source or meaning — but gentle enough, she says nothing. Even an inquisitive nature like Foster's is painfully considerate to privacy. God knows she values her own.

As Jarvis directs them along through both his master's childhood home and mental palace — scripted with rooms that play with old memories — Jane can't help but look.

Every so often, her eyes pull back, aware again and again that these are things she should not see — has no right to them, much less anyone would with an interrogtion light turned through her thoughts. And for Tony, who takes wide, deliberate side-steps away from emotions, from feeling, from any sort of weakness in showing too much of it —

She's starting to count the reasons why. Staring down the mouth of that cave, hearing the sounds of horror within, she bites minutely down on her bottom lip. Her heart twists for him. She wants to pity; exactly the last thing Tony Stark would ever want.

And through that door —

"Peggy?!" Jane sputters, the words falling out of her. SERIOUSLY? PEGGY? Remembering herself, her eyes lance for Jean and Rachel. "Peggy Carter," she remarks, in case they're not aware — she has a feeling they are. "Founder of SHIELD. And — you probably don't know me in this version. Miss Carter. N- nice to meet you." Oh god, she's seen her falling-over drunk. This version is awkward.

Clearing her throat, she seems to think of some clear answer for Carter's question, when — her attention seems to flag a beat too long. Her eyes unfocus, and those black feathers raise against her shoulders, like a migrating bird seeking magnetic north. Mother to those nanites, born as much of Jane's will as the Demon Bear's dark magic, she senses them. Attuned to every movement of them, and especially here.

«I feel something pulling on the nanites. Inhibiting him —»


Rachel makes an OK gesture at Jean's talk of grim solutions. Not having to worry about her physical body anymore is making her feel perky, deep soul-searching moments aside.

The younger redhead turns her fiery attention back to Jarvis, her posture becoming less aggressive as she drops her arms. A laugh catches in her throat as she tries not to show too much amusement around Jean on subjects implied most lewd.

"I'm fond of him too, Jarvis," she says, the humor still in her voice. "But I warned him about triangles."

When the doors open, Rachel floats into the mansion's entryway. She leans forward, looking this way and that down the myriad hallways. Her flames recede slightly as she purses her lips, giving more room to the shadows that play across her body.

"Maze setups are the worst. I'm glad you're on duty, Jarvis," she says.

The unspoken relief is that they don't have to go searching through all of Stark's depressive memories to find what they're looking for. That sort of thing really changes one's relationship to a person, and rarely for the better. It's usually more of a… sideways development. Something you live with. Stark isn't the only meta-equivalent Rachel knows with a shame cave in their head.

Rachel's musing ends with them at the door. She situates herself on the other side of the threshold, letting Jean and Jane get first access while still putting her in a place where she can quickly intercede if needed. Jean is the expert here, and Jane has known Tony the longest — and knows the nanites.

That voice. Rachel narrows her eyes. "Is that —"

"Peggy?!" Jane sputters.

"We've met, kinda," she weakly offers.

Rachel shuts her eyes again. As Jane deals with metabolizing the identity of Tony's godmother, Rachel rearranges her appearance to something less on fire. By the time she steps through the door and into the room, she's just a familiar woman in streetwear.

"Uh, hi," she says. To be polite. It feels polite to say hi here. The gun seems like it needs a hi.


You hear much about someone, but it is different to meet them, says Jarvis. "I felt the same with Mr. Stark," Jean replies lightly, with her customary slow courtesy — though there is a shadow of something else in her eyes, something sad and emptily dark. "When people speak to you of someone, what they convey is only an image seen through their own lens of bias. The truth is always different."

Green eyes half-shutter — eyes which have burned, aflame, through a thousand million lies. "I'm… qualified to know."

There is a heavy pause… and then she smiles, and that unknowable void is gone from her. Jarvis demurs, and her eyes gentle. "That he's lived this long without anyone smothering him speaks to your skill and success, Jarvis."

She tries to pretend she never heard the word 'triangles.'

The subsequent long walk through the course of Tony Stark's life is one where Jean tries to strike a certain balance between not looking too hard, and not ignoring too callously. She has experience in that matter, at the least, and most of those scenes are passed by in respectful silence. Battle. Abandonment. Loneliness. Hate.

Sadness crosses Jean's face as she lingers by that one formative corridor. Jarvis describes it. Her gaze goes distant as she listens to those faraway cries — the sounds of a man having his entire world broken and remade. The sounds of a man discovering fear for the first time.

"Great things can come of 'never again,'" says Jean. "But dangerous things, as well."

They come, presently to the seat of this 'godmother.' Somehow, Jean is not surprised to find Director Carter in the seat of honor, though she had not made the mental leap until now. It makes sense — they were all compatriots in the war, Captain America and Howard Stark and Peggy Carter. Every schoolchild knows that story. Of course Peggy would have looked after Howard's son.

"Ma'am," Jean greets, with an inclination of her head. She, too, has turned off the flash and glamour. "We've heard waking Tony Stark may not be the best course of action. May we ask why? Is there a concern of which we should be aware?"

«Pulling,» Jean thinks, to Jane's warning. «Is it Director Carter?»


Jane's outburst is met with only a slight tilt of Peggy's head. None of these people are familiar to the godmother in Tony's head. "Director Carter." Peggy corrects Jane immediately, unwilling to allow someone who is a stranger and wishing to intrude upon her godson speak so informally to her.

As if sensing Jane's awkwardness as well as Rachel and Jean's desires, she gestures with a gun almost like a woman in old Western for them to enter. "If you are here, you might as well make yourselves comfortable." There are multiple seats and tea, though they will have to carefully make their way across Tony's mini inventions to dos so. Once inside, the door will shut softly behind them. The revolver put on the table by her side. What does not move is the arm about Tony.

"Tony needs his sleep. He pushes himself because he feels he must and it's only in times like these that he can actually rest. He's done enough. Let him rest."


"Many have tried, miss." Jarvis replies towards Jean first as he closes the door behind them. "Something always changes their minds…" A pause. "…or Master Stark wakes up. I'm just happy to know at least something I tried to teach him stuck." There is a wry smile as he glances towards the woman in the chair with the gun. "And I do believe he got more stubbornness from Miss Carter than from the Elder Mister Stark."

Howard Stark, the portrait of the young man he was sits on the wall, slowly shifting to the older and distracted man he because in Tony's eyes before snapping back to young again.

"Very stubborn, it took those nanites days to repair all of his broken bones. The older ones were especially difficult."

Stark, a mortal, does what he can to keep up with immortals. The toll of that isn't something he shows. Or at least tries not to.

There is a pause then at Rachel's little comment. A shake of his head and a slight wince. "Ah, so you did."

He's going to assume that talk went…poorly.

Then a sigh. "Miss Carter, aimed firearms is not very polite."

It is his duty as a butler to at least point that out.


Jane also, with extreme prejudice, similarly deletes the word 'triangle' from her astral vacation scrapbook memory.

Tony, don't be gross.

'Dangerous things come of never again,' remarks Jean Grey, with the weight of wisdom that makes even Jane's astral feathers lift and flinch. She knows that one all too well, all too personally.

Trying to keep Tony's formative memories safely at her back, and hoping — if he has some sense trace of their intrusion, he'll forgive her for seeing it all — Jane tries to banish the shadow under the familiar, near-relief sight of Peggy.

That is, until the regal age, crisp, battalion-bred words, and pointed gun come into fray. Caught between two Peggies, a memory of one drunkenly spilling her heart to her, a lost last kiss with a man who gave himself to save the world, and this —

"Director Carter," Jane repeats, tripping on the words. Her back straightens like some erring private. "S-sorry."

She meets Rachel's comment with a look: not this Peggy though, right? The cooler one?

But absolutely ready to follow Lady Carter's proclamations, Jane duly sits, even as her restless mind tries to follow the astral pull of distant, assembling nanites.

«Like a blockage. He should be — awake,» Jane's thoughts come as stilted as her words. «I think Peggy's part of it. I think… Tony is part of it too. He's doing it consciously. Deliberately.»

"Director Carter," she tries, far more carefully, her normally-babbled words measured. "From what, most of all, are you trying to protect Tony? Can you sense why we're here?"


No one is allowed to judge Rachel Summers' life choices when she's a fire bird.

MOVING ON

Rachel returns Jane's look with a slight widening of her eyes. Of course the cooler Peggy.

When you're in a mindscape, often it's best to go along with the stated premise. It's like improv. Deadly improv that can leave someone braindead.

Try not to think about causing braindeath every time you're in someone's head, Rachel.

Instead, Rachel takes the invitation to enter, carefully navigating the scattered Tiny Tony debris to find one of the offered seats. Of course there's enough seats for them, and tea for each. Just go with it. She offers Jarvis a thin smile. It's not that it isn't a genuine smile; she's just being quiet in several different ways. Rachel fumbles with the saucer and cup. Five years in London don't really prepare you for these situations.

Sit here and drink your tea, Rachel. You're here for backup. Jean is the expert. Jane is the peer. Let them take the lead.

"But people Tony cares about are being hurt. I know he doesn't know when to stop, but if he knew what was happening, he'd be right about wanting to be there to help stop it."

RACHEL NO


And there is a pulse somewhere as Rachel speaks.

Like a power surge. Suddenly the golden motes zip though the room for a moment, reworking, /fixing/. They cluster at the window for that heartbeat before slowly beginning to drift away.

And somewhere in a tower. Back in the real. Miles and miles distant. /Something/ twitches in its sleep. Metal fingers spasming for but a second. Light flickering into existence and then fading again. Drawing the attention of a pair of imps to peer into the container that holds a single, pristine suit of armor.

The imps look at each other. Look back at the box.

"I say….we poke it!"
"Agreed! I get stick!"

…they are bored ok.


Jean is silent in the wake of Director Carter's explanation. Her eyes are distant, her thoughts a thousand miles away.

Jane says she thinks Peggy's part of it — but Tony is too. «Same thing… isn't it? It's a facet of his mind,» she reasons. «She's not really here. She must be a manifestation of his conscious refusal to wake. But for what reason…?»

And why the image of Peggy, in specific? Does he need an authority figure from his childhood to legitimize his desire to rest?

Jean tries to feel outward, reaching her psychic tendrils through her surroundings for any indications that would confirm her suspicions about this 'Peggy.' «It could be what she says it is — he's tired, he's weary. He feels he has done enough. There is only so long a man can survive on 'I must.'»

Rachel speaks. Jane questions. Jean's head tips in a nod, her glowing eyes pensive. The response from those motes closes her eyes briefly. She comes close to a seat nearest Director Carter and the child she protects.

"Does he truly feel himself to be done?" she wonders. "Is obligation the only thing that held him to the world? Are there no joys that wait for him?" Her voice softens. "There are people who wait for him. Weak people, who need him to be strong. Strong people, with squared shoulders to help him bear his burdens."


Peggy gives a look to Jarvis that is both annoyed and also fond. It may be a testament that she does not correct him to call her Director. "And yet necessary, Mister Jarvis."

However, once the door is shut and they are all within with her, her attention is returned to them. They sit as instructed and she is quelled. "You are here to wake him up, to change him. He doesn't wish to become artificial. He knows the line he dances, he does not wish to cross it."

As Rachel speaks of the people Tony cares about being hurt the toddler in Peggy's lap shifts just slightly, a soft whimper passing his lips. Peggy's face changes and quickly the other arm wraps around Tony to bring him closer, to comfort. A hand quickly tucks a lock of hair behind his ear. Peggy may certainly be a facet of Tony's own consciousness and she is intent upon her charge.

"Howard cared only for what Tony could do rather than Tony himself." Her voice is firm, her grip tight against the sleeping toddler curled in her lap. "Tony would give himself to help others, but you wish to change him."


"I don't believe that he will ever feel himself done," Jarvis' voice is quiet as he watches the motes drift away. "But he can not go but forward. He has no other way. You are right in that, Miss Summers. He would indeed be right there to help." The Butler quiets for a moment in thought though. Rachel's words, Jean's words. They are thought on before he glances back towards the pair of X-men.

"And yes, there are always those weaker that will need protection. But his protection seems to cause more harm than good. Even those that are strong enough many times don't wish to help. What if he causes more trouble again? What if his plans hurt people again? Would it be better to let someone else, someone better, step in?"

The butler pauses a moment before he smiles.

"He never does though. He can't help himself." A pause as he glances towards Peggy, a nod towards the woman before Jarvis sighs slightly. "He doesn't wish to become one of his own suits. A little change is necessary, but can you guarantee he won't be changed entirely?"


At some point, Jane's eyes avert from the conversation, though the gesture is neither impoliteness nor argument for its subject matter. She's thinking; she's letting her own thoughts chase the sense traces of the nanites. Nanites that should not even exist — and here they are. All through Tony Stark.

«I'm neither a psychologist or a psychic, but it sounds like he's parsing us as the antigen,» she thinks both to Rachel and Jean. «Resisting it, resisting us. Though his subconscious sure missed the part where he INJECTED HIMSELF WITH THIS.»

"James told me Howard Stark was an asshole," Jane murmurs aloud, sotto voce, to Peggy's remark on Tony's father.

I'm in love with a man who has titanium alloy grafted to his spine — I rebuilt his entire left arm. I've gotten to know so many people who have transcended whatever small-minded, deterministic understanding we have for what it means to be human. I worried how human I was after I was spiritually possessed for a month." Jane swallows, and for a moment her eyes chase both women — the redheads whose souls breathe fire. Surely their stories speak of things — though she does not know much to say.

"But what I learned is humanity isn't our yield in flesh and blood. It's our choices — what we do with ourselves every day. Maybe Tony is changed. And into — I don't know. We'll all try to figure it out. But the act of changing, adapting — that's the most human thing we can do."


Rachel stops, her hands freezing where she's still fumbling with her tea set. Her gaze tracks the lights moving until they drift away… to somewhere. Rachel's breath catches in her chest. Did that do it? Did that start to do it? She glances to the small child in Peggy's lap, her attention lingering.

The words come half-heard. Rachel hears them and doesn't — she's thinking, and processing, and she can't think about a problem as keen as this one with split attention. Jean speaks so beautifully. Everything she says sounds like a speech. Stark's tulpas chorus the same concern. Jane finds the quirk and smoothly switches from analysis to heartfelt honesty. It's times like these that Rachel really feels her age.

Becoming a machine, reassurance, those things Rachel struggles to answer. She tries to form the words anyway, if only out of a stubborn need to help. Maybe… maybe… maybe

Rachel can feel Jane looking at her. She has to look back. How human? How much love? What measures are worthy?

maybe

Clink. Her cup upon her saucer. Rachel glances down, seeing a fragment of her own reflection in the surface of the tea. An image of flame dances across the surface.

«I need to check something.» Rachel looks over to Jean and Jane. «I think both of you are convincing them. I just — I need to find the rest of Tony.»

Rachel sets her tea on the table in front of her, then stands. She hesitates after opening her mouth, unsure of the etiquette.

"…be right back?"

GOOD ENOUGH

Rachel float-skips over the tiny maze of floor toys, pushing the door open and slipping out into the hall. She shuts it behind her, pauses to wonder if she's about to be shot through it, and then turns and throws herself down the hallway.

The flames catch her. Bursting into celestial brilliance, Rachel flies through the twisting hallways, trusting the preternatural empathy built into her DNA to help her find what she's looking for.

"Tony, goddammit!" she yells after zipping down one too many hallways. "There's a giant fucking tentacle dragon rubbing itself all over your tower and it's really hard to stay sane without you coming up with more stupid nicknames for me!"

Rachel stops at an intersection of more hallways than three-dimensional space allows. She spins, flames whirling around her, and then charges down one that feels right.

"I swear to god I'll pick every last nanomachine out of you myself if you're afraid of transcending hangovers and refractory periods, just WAKE UP!"


«One thing that I found was consistent between what I have heard of Tony Stark, and what I found on meeting him — he does like to conveniently forget details,» Jean replies to Jane, a little grimly. «Still, that reading makes sense for why he is offering us such argument.»

Jean gazes pensively between Peggy and Jarvis as Jane speaks. Two aspects of Tony. One fearful and exhausted, wishing to lay down his burdens, to hide, to rest — still remembering a long-lost father with bitterness. One measured and more logical, but thereby able to question himself — to wonder if he is truly the best thing for the world. To ask: what if?

Her gaze settles… somewhere. On a point neither Peggy nor Jarvis, yet still somehow directed. "Are you still going to let your father govern how you feel, how you act?"

What if he let someone better do the job? Would fewer people be hurt?

"There is always the chance to cause harm," Jean admits. "No matter your intentions. But is it not worse not to try at all? To turn your back?" Her eyes close. "How many better people have you seen stepping in, Tony?"

He fears being changed entirely. Can they guarantee he will not be? "I can't guarantee it," says Jean. "But I know you can guarantee it to yourself." She looks up. "You didn't change for the worse when men spit on you and beat you in a cave. You wouldn't now. You…"

She pauses, trailing off, turning to watch Rachel fly off angrily. She is momentarily at a loss for words.


The mind of Tony Stark is surprisingly enough a grounded one, at least in this part. Go behind other doors at your own risk. Rachel streaks down hallways and byways, some splitting off from the main corridor at disturbing angles. Deeper and deeper into the maze like mind, taking turns at the guidance of her own intuition. Down corridors pockmarked with doors, some from stately old manners. Some are hyper-futuristic ones that swoop open at her passing with a familiar 'shhhhhhhhhhp' sound.

…because Tony is enough of a nerd to dream in Star Trek noises.

Behind them are memories and ideas, intriguing and almost impossible things from the mad mind of a genius. Things that most would thing are impossible but Stark just seems to take as a challenge. Robot vehicles powered by Speed Force. An Iron Man suit of Asgardian magic. A shuttle that can tear its way though space-time. Portable devices that defy every expectation of physics…

…but no Tony Stark.

She spirals onward. Pass the designs into the deeper and darker recesses of the mind. Where recriminations wait around corners. Spreadsheets and tallies of bodies that he created with his designs. Rooms of blood that he feels on his hands. Driving plans to fix what mistakes he made that always go wrong. …but still no Tony Stark.

Deeper and deeper into the web. Down a twisting black corridor dusty with cobwebs. The walls lined with memories in the form of moving portraits. Some of his father, some of his mother, more of Jarvis and an older wiser Peggy Carter. Pepper Potts and James Rhodes. Other newer memories of pictures and people. Emma Frost in one frame with a big sign that says 'Danger. In case of emergency break…I don't know just watch your ass.' As if as a reminder. Jane and Bucky but there is an almost exasperated feeling around those pictures. Steve Rogers but there is a lingering resentment from that one. Other friends he's acquired, even Rachel herself is there, amusement, curiosity, attraction all swirling around that one…

And at the end of that spinning, winding, whirlwind tour is…a garage door. Battered and abused corrugated steel with a simple pull handle. Not impressive. Not super science. Just…simple.

MEANWHILE!!

Jane and Jean talk and Peggy remains…well…Peggy. Stubbornly protective. The mental construct of the venerable SHIELD agent not yet convinced that waking up Tony would be the best idea. The culmination of fears and worries that pray on Stark himself. One part of the two stage lock that holds the key to his consciousness.

But as they talk something happens. Those motes appear outside the window again. Gathering, swirling, bobbing like golden will-o-the-wisps in the ephemera that is the mind. Points of conciousness that by themselves are almost non-existanct…but together…

Jean can feel them begin to swirl together. The feeling of a collective mind becoming stronger. Becoming curious. Almost strong enough to contact…

And one of the little motes wonders in, though the volatile conversation. Phasing though the window to bob towards the trio of women. It floats around for a moment, just a single one before slowly spiraling down to land in Jane's lap. No bigger than a ping-pong ball sitting there. Waiting perhaps.

A second one floats over to join it. Then a third.

And a fourth seems to alight on Jane's head.

…its not /trying/ to feed off her energy. But its there. Nestled in the warmth. Trying to power up by osmosis right now.

Hungry~~~


A broad smirk is given to Jane Foster as she tells Peggy that Howard Stark was an asshole. "Oh yes. A massive one." A hand gently runs through the small Tony that lies in her lap. Her expression turns toward the child and fondly adds, "But he was sill his father, Dr. Foster. That matters." Or, at least, it must matter to Tony as Peggy is the one to say it. Even if, perhaps he doesn't wish it to matter quite so much. Even softer than before, she curls Tony closer to her. "Where did you think he got it from?"

As Rachel leaves the room, Peggy's head snaps upward, almost as if she means to follow the woman. However, the sleeping Tony in her lap prevents her from standing. She pushes upward and then settles back, arranging her ward in her lap again accordingly. An eye is kept toward the doorway where Rachel disappeared. "You know, Jarvis believed Ginger Rogers was a Soviet spy. Never did trust red heads." An eyebrow is lifted and then she settles it again more seriously on Jean and Jane.

Her tone is more severe now as she looks to Jean about stepping in. "Yes, this is about choice. What if he chooses to not do what it is you wish? Would you respect that? We are not talking about an arm, Dr. Foster, we are talking about an entire body. And we are not talking about the chance to cause harm, Dr. Grey. Harm has been caused already. I might bring up the ship of Theseus. Where does Tony begin? Where does he end in your scenario?"


«This is definitely Tony Stark speaking,» Jean thinks in Jane's direction. What convinces her is, ultimately, those words about his father. That matters, says the part of Tony that wears Peggy's image, and Jean can taste the truth beneath the bitterness.

She watches carefully as Peggy seems momentarily intent to try to pursue Rachel, but ultimately settles to try to protect the child in her arms instead. «Take care, Rachel,» she sends distantly to her departing daughter. «Here is a man with a thousand defense mechanisms.»

She turns back around, her attention returning to Peggy. This part of Tony which wishes to stay sleeping, to hide from the possibility of waking up as something entirely different than what he was. Something not even human any longer. The construct's questions crease Jean's green eyes. The ship of Theseus is a hypothetical with which she is well aware — for reasons.

"It is not my scenario," Jean admits. "It is Tony Stark's. Where he begins and where he ends is something only he may know. Whether to awaken is ultimately his choice; I shall not force him. I shall never force him. If you were to ask my opinion, however… it is no part of the body that makes a man. It is the shape of their soul." She pauses, before she adds more slowly, "I have died. I have returned from death. Some days, I wonder if this body in which I returned to life, is the same one in which I left it. The body that was born on this earth, to the parents who I love."

She exhales. "But my mind is the same. My soul is the same. The spirit of who I am is the same. Am I not the same, even were all my parts rotted away and replaced?"

Jean seems about to say more, but she pauses as the motes of light begin to coalesce. Her eyes follow them, a frown haunting her lips. One settles in her hair, and she stays still.

She reaches out mentally, carefully attempting to connect with those motes — to encourage them to become strong enough to speak.


Rachel flies. Rachel flies because she doesn't know what else to do. Rachel flies because she can't bear not to help, not to do something. She knows, deep in the most wounded parts of herself, the feeling of watching without knowing how to contribute. It isn't about not trusting the others. It's about knowing that they're all doing everything they can while she sat there, the most jagged pieces of her fractured mind whispering about her uselessness.

It isn't the most flattering of her neuroses. It has certainly gotten her into more trouble than it's gotten her out of. People call her brash. That's close, but not quite. If she was as smart about talking to people as Jean is, or if she knew Tony as well as Jane did, maybe she wouldn't be panicking in such a bizarre way.

And so, Rachel flies through the halls of Tony's mind. Past the inventions both plausible and implausible (or, more accurately for Tony, plausible and worryingly plausible), past the tallymarks live gravestones, past the tortures written out on spreadsheets, past his parents biological and sociological, past his adopted family, past Emma Goddamn Frost, past the lovebirds unstuck in time and space, past his star-spangled counterpart, past her very own self, past…

Rachel's flames quieten and coil as she makes a running landing that leaves her coming to a stop in front of the garage door. She stops there for a moment, transfixed by her actions catching up with her. She just risked much. Tony's mind could have rejected her abrupt intrusion, throwing them all out, dashing to the ground all of Jean and Jane's careful work.

A cold runs through her. The flames gutter. Jean — what must she think? As the fires die around her, leaving her nothing but dream-flesh and dream-shame, Rachel feels very, very far from home.

A child to no one, scion of a world collapsed under its own sin. A better psychic would be able to control her emotions in a delicate moment like this. A better psychic would be thinking only of the patient. A better psychic would —

Take care, Rachel,

The words float to her. The feelings, too. Rachel squeezes her eyes shut, reaching to hide her face in her hands. That feeling, the word between the words, the one that wasn't said but is there all the same.

daughter

Rachel exhales, slow and steady. She drops her hands. New flames ignite and curl around her shoulders as she bends down to pull up on the garage door handle.


It sticks.

Not insurmountable of course but there is defiantly a stick in it. Somehow that makes it feel more real, at least in the mind. It is something Stark touched. Something Stark used. Something that he's used so often that his subconscious mind worked it into this mindscape with every little glitch and quirk.

The rattle of chain and thin metal is the same, a sound so often heard it is almost a physical presence in his mind. It is a comfort. A feeling of coming home. Somewhere safe where he can work.

On the other side of that door, lit in the fires of Rachel's own power is a workshop. Oh the glitz and glamour is there. The supertech and the alien works that Stark should never be allowed to work with. Even now magic runes and strange arcane sigils are arranged haphazardly against one wall. It is all pushed to the walls of this large garage though, only something to be pulled out while needed and quickly stowed again.

The centerpiece of the room is…a mechanics shop. Simple enough tools used for not-so-simple purposes. Battered and well used metal benches covered in parts and tools. The half-built form of what Rachel would recognize as Dummy sitting near the center stage. Scribbling and designs sit everywhere, drawn on simple draft paper instead of high-tech multi million dollar hologram projectors.

Bent over one of the tables, arms covered in grease and grime is one Tony Stark. He looks younger here but he also looks broken. Like a glitching hologram with pieces missing. Parts of him flickering in and out of existence as his mind is split in a dozen different ways. Part of it here. Part of it talking with Jane and Jean. Part being worked on by his own invention.

This part though seems more of the creator and less of the fear. The part that pushes the boundaries. That forces change upon the world weather he knows it or not. The part that also blames itself for when things go horribly wrong.

"…huh…" Stark's voice sounds as glitched as his frame looks. Sciatic breaks though the words. "…I wasn't expecting company. I mean. I'm not /complaining/ when company looks like you. Not yet at least."

In the sitting room though Jean's probing power finds curiosity there. The encouragement starts to take hold and more and more of the motes start to phase though the wall. Even as they do the feelings from them get stronger. It isn't exactly words but more feelings. The emphatic abilities of such a proto-intelligence.

More and more start to cluster in Jane's lap as well. Bouncing against each other. Pleasantly warm to the touch. They cluster by the dozens around Jean now.

…slightly distracting…but…

«Friend?»

The questioning, curious question comes to her emphatic senses. So…progress.


Rachel knows her way around mended things. She pulls determinedly, eventually getting the door up and in the process moving her back to her full height.

The workshop spreads out in front of her. Rachel hesitates at the threshold, her gaze fixating on Tony despite the natural impulse to at least glance at all the weird other things.

It helps that this Tony variation is also kind of weird.

Rachel raises her hands to show empty palms. Of course, being empty handed is not quite as reassuring a gesture when the gesturer is casually on fire.

"Hey. Do you know me? It's cool if you don't, but I'm kinda trying to save your life and the story is really hard to explain from the start."


Peggy pulls Tony closer as the motes start to settle on Jane and on Jean. She looks about them with a protective and distrusting expression.

"You push, however. You are here." Intruders. Even if they may be friends, or trusted, they are inside the inner sanctum, such as it is. "They're drawn to you. You change things."

However, she does not reject Jean's solve of the Theseus. Instead, she Director Carter frowns. "How do you know it is yours and not the thing that brought you back? The thing that flows through you? Is it hope? A delusion? Is there a scientific reason you know you? How would you know from your own point of view? Of course you think of yourself as yourself." Peggy's voice sounds less like a British matron. The accent even sounds slightly off at times. "How can you know for sure?"


The motes cluster more thickly. Jean is dimly aware of them, but for the moment her focus remains on the image of Peggy Carter. "We are here," Jean agrees, "because even though ultimately it may be his choice, we owe it to him as his friends to come to him, to talk to him, and to try."

Jean's composure only wavers slightly as she speaks of her own experiences — as she is questioned on whether she is truly herself, or simply some shadow of the Thing which brought her back from death. Such questions sometimes keep her awake at night, too. So how does she answer them? How can she know for sure?

"We can't know," Jean says, her voice sad. That momentary break in her aplomb steels away. She speaks to someone who looks like Peggy Carter, but her tone of voice, her words, her advice — they are for Tony Stark. "Some things cannot be known or calculated in scientific terms. There is a precipice beyond which we can only have faith."

Her attention finally turns as the motes become more insistent. Her green eyes unfocus slightly as she reaches for them, seeking connection — looking to commune. What she feels is nothing like Tony — nothing human — but rather a sort of nascent sapience. A proto-intelligence struggling to blossom into full awareness. It wants to know if she is a friend…

«Yes,» Jean replies, careful. She knows to what she speaks. «A friend. There is someone else here who would speak to you, too.»

Her left hand reaches to take Jane's right. The gesture itself is not important, beyond the function it serves as a cognizable cue for what Jean does on the mental plane. Reaching towards Jane, she asks a silent permission — and if granted, tries to bridge her empathic connection to allow Jane to communicate, too: the psychic version, perhaps, of dialing another caller into the conference.


"…I think I know you…well part of me does…" The glitching and staticy picture of Tony Stark tilts his head to one side. A smirk crosses his face. "Firebird." A pause again. "But there are way too many firebirds around isn't there. One is talking to another part of me I think. Its all a bit jumbled up inside though. You know…" He gestures slightly with a wrench. "…when I designed this anti-gen thing I didn't quite think it would do this but…"

Suddenly he's gone. Only to reappear off to her left.

"…nothing ventured or some such bullshit people always say."

One thing is a constant. Stark likes to hear himself talk.

"I'm pretty sure my life is stable but…you know. I'm also sure no one would be mucking around in my brain without a pretty good reason so…" Again a gesture towards Rachel, one made slightly more disturbing as his forearm seems to blink out of existence for a moment then back in. "…what is it." A longer pause. "Since I'm pretty damn sure that you aren't a construct of my own brain because…reasons."

…don't think about it too hard. Please. Or somoene might want to hurt him.

The little motes bob and weave around Jean's head now.

<Friend! Friend! We fix! We fix MakerFriend! He broke we fix! We show?»

Others, the ones in Jane's lap start to cluster around, bounding around her lap for a moment before one of them, the first one that came over in fact, suddenly stops and rotates. It shimmers a second. It shutters. Then with a little /pop/ of sound that shouldn't exist in a mindscape it shifts form from a ball into…

A bird. At least an approximation of one. Little amorphous bird like glowing shape no bigger than a new chick. Its new ok and trying. And there are a lot of birbs in the room.

"…peep! PEEP! PEEP!"

Fooooood~~


Jane's dark eyes chase Rachel's departure, though her departing glance reflects an absence of judgment or betrayal. Her lips press for a beat; she is no psychic, herself, to transmit any parting thoughts, but she does give the young woman her hope.

After all, Dr. Foster is the farthest person in the world to think less of recklessness. Impetus took her farther than most other things; and if Tony responds to anything, well —

— it would be that.

Remaining where she is, she lets her attention center on this mirror image of Peggy Carter, elder and learned, the woman who survived — who fought — the Cold War, and rebuilt the world under the shadow of the lost Steve Rogers.

The thought tenses the corners of Jane's eyes. Surely this Peggy is only a manifestation of Tony's mind, not the true woman, but did he not know how she felt? How, once, she loved? It's a gamble, but one Jane takes.

"I agree with Dr. Grey," speaks Jane, voice soft. "The scientific process is meant to offer proof, not certainty. A theory must be testable. It must be falsifiable. When you ask us for absolutes, we cannot provide you any. Tony would agree with us. Certainty has no place in this world, his world. When we cannot deny, we cannot advance."

The motes appear. Jane's attention turns, eyes drawn to movement, and her head turns down as those little, living things make a home of her lap. She looks on Jean, leaning on the woman as a touchstone whether or not they are dangerous, and takes relief in her gentle, curious body language.

Quiet a moment, Jane dares the gambit, eyes back on Peggy. Answering a question with another question: "How did you know, Director Carter, that Steve was not just his serum?"

With that, Jean offers a hand. Jane, in her strangely-intuitive way, does not hesitate to take it. Her mind holds for a moment, guarded, walled with the scar tissue of someone who has suffered terrible intrusion in there once before. Hesitantly, but bravely, she relents it.

Her eyes sharpen. Her astral feathers stand against her shoulders in their shifting cloak of black.

«I know you,» she thinks through that conduit, down on the motes. «You've all done a very good thing. You kept him alive.»

One hatches into a — bird. A little one. Jane's chest tightens, and not with apprehension, not with fear. She reaches out to touch it, gentle. «I'm so proud of you. Can you help us fix the rest?»


The corners of Rachel's lips turn up as the glitchy Tony begins to show some familiar personality.

"Yeah. Yeah, firebird."

He vanishes. Rachel holds her spot, and shifts her attention when he reappears. Her expression becomes more serious as she focuses on the content of his words — the surreal static act doesn't throw her off because of her vast experience with the unusual (often involving body horror for reasons that remain opaque to her), but she wants to make sure she's following him.

Rachel tilts her head to the side, deadpan, when he correctly theorizes about her origin. Not a conversation to be having in front of mom.

"Yeah, stable in a coma. Look, there's a dragon humping your place of business and pretty much everyone you know is being harassed by demons while they're just trying to get along with their everyday social drama."

Rachel gestures behind her, vaguely in the direction of where she remembers the room to be.

"My mom and your friend are trying to convince the future past present version of a scary SHIELD lady that it's okay for you to wake up instead of, I don't know, stay a coma baby forever. Can you go up there and make a dramatic entrance and say you're a big boy with a big arc reactor?"

Rachel opens her mouth as if she's about to continue speaking, but she falters into momentary silence. She glances down, expression hardening.

"I watched you almost die. I wasn't good enough to stop it from happening. Please, wake up. I need to make it up to you."


Jean's green eyes flicker and gloss into a soft, glowing white. She feels her way through the bond she has created, respectful always of the scars in Jane's mind, never intruding — but reading, sensing, and intuiting what it is she needs to know from how the motes speak. How Jane speaks back to them.

I'm so proud of you, Jane says to them. Something in her tone of voice resonates in Jean's own heart, and her hand on Jane tightens just a bit.

«We need to feed them,» she whispers to Jane, as the scientist wonders if they can help fix the rest. «Then they will do their work. Seems the form they've taken on is very apt. I can do this, but…»

Her head turns, though she keeps half an eye on the image of Peggy. «Rachel,» Jean reaches out to her distant daughter. «I think we may have a way to heal him, but it would be best if he has agreed. Have you found the rest of him? Will he cooperate?»


Rachel stares harder at the ground, her attention splitting.

«Yeah, I found… some of him. I think he might. He's remembering. Gimme a sec.»


Things cannot be known in scientific terms. Can that be true? Can that be quantified? It sounds like an oxymoron.

'We can't know' Is that possible? Is it possible to not know things? What would that be like

There is a bit of narrowing of Peggy's eyes at Jane at the mention of Steve. "This is not about Steve."

There is ferocity there. The legos and toys rattle slightly. Then they settle. Peggy rearranges the boy in her lap. "The strength. There was inner strength. Beyond serum, beyond everything."

The motes brighten as Jean and Jane start to talk to them directly. Peggy looks toward the motes: guarded, yet expectant. She allows the scientists to speak to them though it looks as if she may quickly interject as soon as she feels as if she should.


Stark frowns and then vorps out again. This time appearing on the other side of the room, a different tool in hand. A slightly different version, a bit more solid. A bit more real. Still with that odd distracting glitch to him though.

"Wait wait wait, dragon? Demons? How long have I been out? Why does this always happen when I'm out!" Energy surges though the glitching form, causing it to static out for a moment before reforming. "I mean I don't like to leave here..I like it he—"

/I watched you almost die./

Stark falls silent for a moment before the strange apparition sighs. "Well goddamn it there, Firebird. You just go right to pulling out the big guns do ya?" He mutters as he looks towards her. "Look…" There is a touch of the awkward to Stark's tone. "…it wasn't your fault. You want to make it up to me, find the guy that sent the Antenne'd Idiot on me but it wasn't your fault. You just said it didn't ya? I'm a big boy with an arc reactor."

A pause.

"Oh goddamit that means I just agreed with ya and now I have to go…fine. Fine. Lets get this over with."

Up in the sitting room more of the little motes start to morph in Jane's lap. The 'peep peep peep' of hungry chicks echos a little bit as they crawl over the scientist. At least they don't peck at her like real chicks.

«Yay! We did good! We fix lots!»

One of the motes unfolds itself into what looks like a very detailed medical readout of Stark. Which…shows a truly staggering number of broken and cracked bones, torn muscles and ligaments and other injuries that, even after healing would leave their scars. Its only due to Stark's medical wing that he seems able to get up in the morning. His left wrist seems to have been crushed so many times its more support than bone anymore. The results of being, as he called it, 'A Man in a Can'.

Its what can happen when a normal tries to keep up with the powered folks.

…at least it was. As they watch the medical scan changes. Old breaks fixing themselves, torn pieces seemingly growing back together in ways that shouldn't be medically possible. The nanites seem to be living up to their promise to fix thing.

«We fix! We fix good!» And the healing seems to accelerate. A possibility of what they /could/ do. Replacing bone with crystal and metal. Implanting devices directly into his body. De-aging him. The plans of the nanites might not be beyond their capabilities but…well…there might be such a thing as too much of a good thing.

«Feed! We fix! We fix!»

…you can't fault their enthusiasm at least?


Stark falls silent. Rachel remains silent. Stark mutters, but the tone in his voice gives it all away long before he actually says he'll come with her. Rachel looks up, smiling tightly.

"That's my problem, Tony," she says, holding out her hand. "Big guns are all I've got."

They should be able to make it back in time. Rachel remembers the way.

«He's in. I'm bringing him back now!»


"…that is totally not helping the innuendo talk there, Firebird." Stark says with a smirk as they start for the door. "I'd hate to have Jean flare my brain on principle after all this hard work."


"Sorry, it's a defense mechanism when I'm nervous," says Rachel.


Jean does not answer Rachel in words. Her answer comes in a sense of psychic warmth — one roughly similar to the tone that infused Jane's voice, when she spoke down to her little motes in pride.

She perhaps does not answer verbally because she has begun to feed those little bird-shaped motes, and it is rather careful work. A slight glow limns her as she tends them with a sliver of her own psionic strength. Her eyes travel the readouts as they appear, but she does not seem to look on the injuries in any scientific light — only with sadness and reproof. What was the point of this violence? What did it really solve?

Her attention refocuses sharply, off those thoughts, as the nanites seem intent on … perhaps going a little too far. She pulls back and shuts off her energy input, but of course at this point, what is in Tony's system may have its own ideas.

She has made whole what she can; the rest is up to Tony Stark.


Even in the astral field of Tony Stark's mind, Director Carter is still a fearsome sight.

Enough Jane goes still a moment, her hand reflexively tightening on Jean's. But the physicist knows her bravery, and when she needs to wield it most. "No, it's not about Steve," she agrees with Peggy. "Not Steve in specific, but what he represents."

The inner strength, Peggy reveals.

"Exactly," Jane answers, with a surge of emotion that nearly leaves her breathless. "The serum, the prostheses, the suits, the antigens — they are only the vehicles. The only constant is at the soul of a person. There is where we are certain. Like in Steve. Like in James. Like in Tony. It's all right to be afraid, Tony. But you're just as strong as any of them."

As for the motes —

«You're kidding me,» Jane thinks to Jean at the idea of 'feeding,' staring down at her new lapful of baby chicks. «I hope they're not expecting regurgitated worms.»

But Jean offers the 'birds' a leyline of her own power; Jane, always the quick learner, even in the astral realm, follows suit.

She supposes she's a spiritual mother to them. It's only expected. Concentrating, she closes her eyes; she loses some of her black feathers, her wings wisping, a piece of her astral self given to help feed the mote-chicks.

The Extremis sentience works hard — too hard. Jane's eyes path that astral scan of Tony's body. All the changes being made…

Jean cuts off the feed. Jane readily mirrors the instinct. «It's time to rest, little ones,» she offers. «Time for him to awaken.»


The little peeps of the chicks seem to still for a moment as Jean and Jane begin to release energy towards them. Then the motes glow shifting back into ball form as they begin to zip around. Tearing around the room in a frenzy even as a few of them remain near the pair.

«Rest?» There is a pause as if they are trying to figure out what that is. «MakerFriend wake up?» Again they seem to process. This goes against their normal process. Goes against what they want to do. They want to /fix/…

…but…friends asked…

«Ok. Not see why not fix. But wake wake now.»

And then, just like that the motes are gone. Apart from one chick that sits atop Jane's head. Because he likes it there.

Peggy might have objected for a moment…

…but then a Firebird and a Stark burst in the door.

There is an awkward moment when Stark looks at Peggy and frowns slightly. "Man. I don't even /want/ to know what that shrink Pepper wants to send me to would say about this."

…yup. That is Stark alright.

Suddenly though the glitching image goes rigid. His eyes wide. /Something/ is happening. As in the whole mindscape starts to rumble and shift and shake. Streaks of gold light bursting at seemingly random from all points and no points as the Positive Extremis Nanites kick into their 'fixing things' mode. Stark forces his head to turn…

"And that," Though gritted teeth the words are aimed at the three travelers. "Means its time for you to go. See you on the flip-side!"

A blinding flash of white as Stark's mind suddenly shoves against the three of them before the nanties finish whatever they are doing…

…AND BACK IN THE REAL WORLD!

There is a crash from the window as something moving at high speed smashes though it, something metal and red and gold. Something that /should/ have a fine and pinpoint trajectory but is thrown off by some kind of anomaly. It careens though the room drunkenly for a second before the man in the bed suddenly snaps up a hand…

…and the Iron Man gauntlet clamps around that offered arm like it was made for it. Because. Really. It was.

With the whirr and click of metal is folds around Stark's arm, a new design. Sleeker. And obviously both self-piloting and able to be dissembled into pieces.

Hanging from the gauntlet is…a gremlin.

Stark's eyes open and that pointy nosed face is the first thing he sees.

"…who. Are you."

The gremlin looks very surprised at this point. "…I…Grovel?"

"…do you know who I am?"

Grovel thinks on this one. "You…Boss?"

Stark slowly sits up before shifting the gauntlet to scruff said gremlin by the neck. "Close enough." He grumbles, still obviously disoriented as he looks over towards the three in the room. The lines on his face are lessened. The gray in his hair is gone. He looking…likely more fit than he has been in years as he just quirks one eyebrow.

"So. Tell me about the demons?" A longer pause. "…and this one /so/ wasn't my fault."

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