The Quandry

June 09, 2017:

Faced with an invitation to join the X-Men on their mission to Genosha, Emma Frost invites Phil Coulson to be her sounding board. The more she shares, the more uneasy Phil gets.

A fine Mediterranean restaurant somewhere in NYC

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Scott Summers, Darcy Lewis

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

There are many elaborate ways to invite a man to dinner when one is a single woman of means. There are also very professional ways to invite a man to dinner when one is a powerful business woman.

She could have split the difference and likely found a compromise that would have been imminently polite and appropriate for the situation.

Except that Emma Frost is still kinda pissed about Phil Coulson demanding the command performance the first time he formally introduced himself and so… he gets none of those things.

She is not, however, so angry as to spite herself for the purpose of needling him, and thus he receives a civil enough invitation to an evening rendezvous at an upscale rooftop restaurant in Midtown. The message was brief: a time, the address, a ‘Would like to talk.’, and her initials, all on a handwritten notecard with Emma’s personal seal embossed on both the card’s front and the envelope’s flap.

She’s gotten herself situated at a table tucked in the corner of the Mediterranean fusion venue, and she waits with seemingly limitless patience. Hair twisted up into a chignon at the nape of her neck and body wrapped in an elegant fitted sheath dress of white silk shantung with gold stiletto sandals and a gold collar resting against her collarbone, she peruses the wine menu without so much as a glance to her watch.

—-

The brief invitation was returned with an RSVP that was similarly handwritten and returned. He of course has no personal seal, though the SHIELD stationary was nice enough.

Phil arrives right on time in one of his sharpest suits, navy blue and tailored to make him look at his best and most commanding. When dealing with Emma Frost, one musn't look anything other than his best. If he's aware that she's irked with him he doesn't let it show one bit. He's wearing the same kindly, inscrutable smile he wore the first time they worked together.

"Ms. Frost," he greets, as he approaches the table. "You're looking absolutely stunning tonight. Thank you for your kind invitation. I think I could die happy from having experienced the smells alone."

As is often the case, his surface thoughts and his words match one another almost to a T, though there is a hint of anticipation pressing behind both. He is as curious as a cat to know what precisely has brought them together this evening…aware, perhaps, that Emma didn't summon him for the pleasure of his unassuming company. He's noting 100 little details that likely won't tell him anything he is looking to learn, even as he sits down across from her in very proper fashion.

—-

It’s not unheard of, the unison of thought and spoken word. But the strange resonance is certainly uncommon enough to be worthy of note. As he draws near, the mind witch allows a smile to break her look of concentration and turns her gaze towards him from the small leatherbound bifold in her hands. His compliment earns a small smile of unspoken gratitude. “Mister Coulson! …do you prefer ‘Mister’ in settings like this?” Bare shoulders shrug as she breezes past the thought for material more pressing. “Either way, you are just in time to save the day.”

“Quickly now,” she whispers, leaning in once he’s settled. “Red or white?”

—-

“White," Phil says instantly, flashing a smile. He leans forward to whisper as well, as if the choice set before him were a deep secret. He prefers the taste: it's more subtle to his palate, and cleaner. He's amused by her opener, hazel eyes twinkling merrily. "And I do prefer Mister in these sorts of settings. Or Phil, if you prefer." He prefers, on the whole, not to use 'Agent' in public at all.

He's not a man who is going to be ruffled by being addressed by his first name. He doesn't stand on formality as a rule…unless, of course, formality is useful. He tilts his head at her just slightly, that smile still lingering on his face, the curiosity growing to a point where it's just starting to linger at the edges of his expression. But he's a patient man, and is content to simply exchange pleasantries or jokes for as long as required.

"Who do you call when you can't figure out what to do about dessert?"

—-

“I have people,” she teases, equally amused by his rejoinder. Emma then flags down the waiter with a gesture so subtle that it’s a surprise he notices it at all. Or, with a telepath commanding the barely uplifted eyebrows, it may not be a surprise at all.

The wine menu is closed and tucked to one side, murmuring her request. “A bottle of the Santorini Assyrtiko, please. And of still water.” The server politely offers back praise for the choice he knows nothing about save the bouquet of it, notes the choice in his shorthand, and leaves.

Once the most important of all icebreakers is done and the wine will soon be on the way, Frost tilts her head a degree to the side and considers the man across from her with a more scrutinizing eye. “Blue is a good color for you,” she praises after a moment. “And, thank you for coming on such short notice. I hope it wasn’t too inconvenient.”

Unlike when you pulled me out of my office, she thinks to herself behind the dazzling smile, grateful that the SHIELD representative isn’t a telepath himself.

Her eyelashes bat with an affected innocence.

—-

"And people who do that sort of thing for your people, no doubt," Phil says. He's a dork for Disney too.

A flash of a smile when she compliments his color choice. He smooths down his tie a little bit, and with an equal measure of feigned innocence says, lightly, "Oh, this old thing? But please, you haven't inconvenienced me in the slightest." This is not entirely true; he'd done a bit of shuffling to get here. Nevertheless, however annoyed she might be about their initial meeting, her performance on that matter sealed her as someone Phil will make time to see. He already knows she doesn't have time to waste, so if she's requesting a meeting it is probably something he's not going to want to miss.

In his life and line of work, 'convenience' and 'inconvenience' are as fluid as truth, as mutable as identities. And if his lips quirk because he is well aware her innocence is anything but, well…he nevertheless takes it with good humor.

—-

“Oh, I’m so glad,” Emma tells him with the feigned sounds of relief, unaware of the shifting required for her esteemed guest to arrive not just on time but, if the thoughts of the man unable to set his phone down two tables over are to be believed, two minutes early. Her relief is a flat-out lie. She doesn’t actually care. Not overly. “There are some things that I need your expert opinion on.”

More honestly, the fact that he came at all is another important thing to note. Emma is not so impolite as to use her abilities to pry further than the gentle surveillance of the surface of Phil’s considerations, and even then it’s now more a function of her not shutting everything out. The agent is not giving her any reason to intrude deeper, and so she doesn't.

The world is two dull roars. There are the soft sounds of life in the restaurant— dishes and polite conversation over sanitized and fancified orchestral versions of the Top 40— and the hustle and bustle of the densely populated city over the garden-decorated walls that surround them and a mile below. And then there is the constant ambiance unheard by most of the world as it lives and thinks.

But, in the here and now, Coulson’s completion of the party of two and the ordering of wine seem to have served as a practical sort of magic, conjuring a couple of artistically arranged platters from the kitchen. The ceramic dishes are laden with stuffed grapes, hollowed cucumbers drizzled with a feta and dill sauce, feta wrapped in phyllo and honey, and lemon-sautéed mushrooms.

And behind them comes the server with their bottled water and wine. The water is poured out first into the water goblets, and then the next one held out for review while the plates and glasses are still being arranged. Emma approves it with a simple nod, but defers to her companion to sample it and determine its suitability to his palate with an uncurling of her hand in his direction when the server picks up her wine glass to pour.

—-

Phil takes a moment to just…appreciate. There is an artistry to good food that is as visual as it is a function of taste or smell, and the hollowed cucumbers are particularly pretty. His stomach rumbles. He hasn't eaten since 0400, and he isn't sure what it was. A particularly stale breakfast sandwich is his guess.

So when she uncurls her hand and indicates he should proceed, he doesn't hesitate for long. He takes a few items for his own little appetizer plate. He's very fond of feta cheese, so both the cucumbers and the phyllo and honey concoctions draw him first, but he takes a little of everything before inclining his head to indicate he's finished up. He nibbles on some of this before touching the wine. By necessity, the agent has a fine constitution when it comes to spirits of any sort but…not an an empty stomach.

And if her courtesy is feigned it is, nevertheless, courtesy.

Once his aching stomach gains a little satisfaction he says, "What matters would those be, Ms. Frost?" His voice is as ever mild, though the interest and curiosity are back. It's not often that he's called out merely for advice. From his agents, sometimes, often the younger ones, standing in his office unsure of what to do about this or that, but…not often at all, really, from those outside of SHIELD's ranks.

—-

And neither is it very often that Emma is inclined to seek advice. She typically does as she will or has it set before her, unsolicited. Impressed upon her.

She waits. She waits until the support staff has gone, and then waits more. She waits until she’s given her gentle acceptance of the wine as poured and untouched, beckoning him to pour both cups modestly full, before releasing the slim man in the apron with a silk soft utterance and a polite smile. “We’re fine for now, thank you.”

She waits until they are alone. And then, Phil will be likely unaware of it, their table goes silent. At least from the outside.

It’s only the close tables that she needs to worry about, the ones that might hear her when she shifts with something subtle. Something resembling discomfort, albeit easy to miss. It’s in the momentary slip of her smile. The lengthy consideration of the wine glass before she moves to it first. Priorities, after all.

She sips, mulls over it for a moment, and then sets the measure of pale marine wine down. “I assume that you are probably all-too-familiar with the matter of Genosha.”

Only then does she look up to consider Phil again, her eyebrows lifting over her frown as she leans back in her seat to gain precious inches of distance.

—-

"Nasty business, that. I understand the X-Men have plans to attack it so that they might liberate the mutant slaves there. They've asked SHIELD for help. I've only read preliminary reports, you understand, and I’ve touched base with Agent Lewis to get a fuller understanding of the situation. I think I've got enough of an understanding of it for shared perspective, at the least."

Advice, he's not even sure he can offer yet, because he himself hasn't yet made up his mind. He's suddenly very glad indeed that he shuffled that schedule around.

No furrow appears between his brows, no spark of concern in his hazel eyes. Indeed, his outward features give away nothing that might indicate his own opinion of the matter. This time his surface thoughts (if she cares to hear them) don't match his face at all. He hates slavery and anything associated with it. Despises the kind of bigotry that targets any one segment of any population for mistreatment.

He's also uneasy about the rash and emotional nature of the X-Men's planned attack, and has not yet made up his mind about any of it. So the fact that Emma wants to talk about it? Well. That's only what he could call fortuitous. He respects her opinion, and some perspective would be welcome on a situation that blows right past "sticky." No, this mess is downright viscid.

—-

“You understand correctly,” Emma confirms with regards to the X-Men’s general plan, her head canting a degree to the side as she crosses her legs and drapes an arm across her lap. “Especially in that it’s a very nasty business, and that it rather sticks in the craw for many of our kind.” It sticks in her craw.

The black hole of sound that is their table is maintained, and it occupies most of her focus as minds mill in and out of proximity to the table. But that shift of resonance— when Phil’s word and thought disconnect, when his mild tone and more passionate inner dialogues form the start of a chasm— is not overlooked.

It is, however, unpursued. She grants him that much, for now.

“Now,” she continues, leaning forward suddenly, as she abruptly remembering that he’s eating, and therefore she must, too, to be polite. After spreading the aubergine linen napkin onto the stark white of her lap, she shepherds a small portion of everything onto her plate, doubtlessly setting to rest any concerns about the quality if there is any doubt on the agent’s part. “They’ve sent me something of an engraved invitation to the party.”

Her eyes lock on Phil’s for a moment after a bite of mushroom, indicating that she is entirely aware of the strangeness of that statement. Maybe he’s less aware of it, but she is certainly giving him all of the indicators that it is a strange statement that she didn’t really ever expect to make.

She then continues after swallowing. “Of course, I’ve made it abundantly clear that I’m beyond content to be an undiscovered talent, as it were,” the euphemism chosen by habit, born from her deeply harbored suspicion of others and imminently difficult to let go, “from the global perspective. But this does present something of a quandary, Mister Coulson.”

She takes another bite, this time from some of the cucumber that she’s cut into miniscule bites.

“So, what do you say, Phil?” The name is paraded out as she dips her chin, as though its airy delivery were the most scandalous thing she could think to say. And maybe, by some counts, it is. “Can we talk about this?”

—-

"We can talk about this," Phil confirms. "I trust you've already done something about the unsecure nature of the location?" Unable to detect what she's done, he's forced to ask. Yet he asks with confidence, and continues speaking. If she hadn't, she soon will.

He plucks the napkin from his own lap— and dabs at an imagined bit of something on his lips. He takes a sip of his wine. Collecting his thoughts. He's not the sort to hurry into anything at all. "So the quandary as you see it is…?" He won't assume. He's sure she's already considered all of her options from multiple angles long before coming to him, of all people. He needs to hear what she's come up with. Needs to know what her specific concerns are. He is as cautious in this as he is in anything, and his business is mostly the art of listening, not the art of speaking.

And if a slight, sardonic smile touches his features when she stresses his name so, it is gone soon after. He clears his mind, zooms in with the sort of focus common to veteran members of his profession. His is no trick of psionics, but as far as Phil is concerned she's the only person who exists right now, her story and the words coming out of her mouth more important than anything else that's happening anywhere in the world. His hazel eyes are steady, his expression attentive. He sets aside any judgments, worries, or preconceived notions. She has the floor.

—-

Emma’s delicate features flatten into an expression of long-suffering as she pointedly sets aside her utensils and goes for her wine glass. Has she secured their table? Come on, now. Do I look like an idiot?

“Well, there are several, I suppose,” she allows after that moment has passed, eyes drifting upwards as she considers where to start. “But let’s pretend for a moment that I am as kind and generous as all of the charitable organizations say that I am at their patronage galas. Genosha is an unmitigated crisis for mutantkind. The worldwide response has been, unsurprisingly, lackluster. I understand just enough of the diplomatic ins and outs of the whole thing to be of the very strong opinion that it is both insufficient and highly unlikely to change anytime in the near future.”

Her sculpted eyebrows lift. “I don’t need specifics,” she grants with a lift of her hand, “but, as you see it, have I drawn the wrong conclusion?”

—-

Phil gives a slight smile that says 'sorry, I had to be sure.'

But he listens to the entire thing. "I don't think you have." He decides he'll share his own concerns, noting: "I have serious misgivings about an organization that is essentially supposed to be a private school declaring war on another nation. SHIELD also has no authority in Genosha. That doesn't always stop us, of course, especially when there's a wrong to make right. But I don't think Summers has really thought through all the implications. Such a move could result in war between Genosha and the US. This, in turn, could stir up anti-meta sentiments here at home, sentiments that are basically as stable as they're going to get at this present moment. The X-Men aren't really known for being quiet, smooth operators either. Good souls, who have done good, certainly…but not precisely circumspect."

He frowns into his wine. "I also don't think they've considered what comes after. They fly in, they shoot a bunch of laser beams out of their fingertips, and then what? Then there's a power vacuum. Who takes over, do they imagine? Will that person be better or worse? They liberate the slaves, but have an entire population on their hands that have known nothing but slavery. Who helps those people transition into living their own lives? How will they deal with the radicalist element that will no doubt remain and go underground, even if they do win? They think it's as simple as a rescue, when in reality it's like throwing a boulder into a very shallow pond while assuming nobody's going to get splashed."

—-

“Mutants, metas, whatever you want to call us… Our kind are suffering and dying in bondage,” Emma says, her voice very quiet and very carefully measured. “I rather think that Summers is not caring who gets splashed. Everyone is more than a little muddy already by even the most conservative assessments of blame.”

Sipping from her wine, she continues. “And I will be entirely frank: I’m not scared of a good coup.” She says the words so cavalierly, she might as well be declaring her opinion of the new trending color in the summer fashion lines. “They happen, and the world moves on and continues it’s milquetoast responses as only the world can. The moral high ground, annihilated in an international committee and an ‘edgy’ doctoral thesis or two.”

“At least the X-Men have a plan.” And the way that she says it, with a peculiar curl on the last word, hints that it might be a horrible, horrible, horrible plan of which she is very unsure. “And they promise me my anonymity remains intact, once all is said and done. An idealist would think that there is very little left to consider. The drums of war pound, and the good little soldiers will always answer the call.”

She clears her throat suddenly, and her eyes drop to her plate unable or unwilling to meet Coulson’s own. “For better or worse, however, I think I am about the furthest thing from an idealist that one could find.”

—-

Coulson considers all of this, and this time he doesn't even bother to hide how troubled he, himself, is. Metas are dying in bondage, and that doesn't sit well with him in the least. It's not something that has been on his mind again until recently, of course, because he has a world of problems to juggle. But it's still an awful thing. The realm of hard decisions, indeed. No black and white answers— not that there ever, ever are.

He has eaten three of his appetizers before he speaks again, nearly clearing the contents of the little plate in front of him. He's thinking. There are opportunities here, opportunities to do the right thing in the right way…if only he can find them, navigate them.

He asks, "If your anonymity is not really the thing that's at stake because they're guaranteeing it— somehow— then you obviously have other misgivings. The plan, for one. If you were to come up with a plan of your own, what would you do in Genosha? Or about Genosha? If it were you bringing together a group of people to go and free these people, what would you do differently?" She at least cares enough to want them freed, or they wouldn't be having this conversation. She simply would have given the X-Men a flat "no" and told them to take a hike.

—-

“I’ve learned that promises were made to be broken,” Emma retorts, and there is at least some measure of regret for that fact that carries in her tone. “Even when one is the very best of boy scouts.” She shrugs, trying to interject a little humour as she dares to glance up and say, “Not that I’ve much experience with that sort, mind.”

Her wine is swirled gently, and then drained from the glass.

“Genosha is the proverbial powder keg, balanced atop a nuclear warhead. And their team is, from what I’ve seen and you seem to also suggest, not particularly… Nuanced? I don’t trust that promise of anonymity. And even if they could deliver it on the international front, and safeguard my holdings, not all eyes are equal. Not all eyes know what they’re looking at.”

She looks pointedly at Coulson and smiles ruefully. “But you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

But there was a question put to her, first. Although she took the long way around, she finally gets to the point.

“Historically, a revolt— driving a morally bankrupt regime like the Genoshan tyranny from its native land— is the swiftest way to decentralize its power and delegitimize its philosophies domestically, so long as a properly thought out ‘Golden Age’ is swift on its tails and receives overt international political support. But Genosha’s population has been rendered incapable of it, without a catastrophic technological event.”

There’s a sigh. “We were not born to be humanity’s footstools, but the world would have us be silent so they might have the luxury of complacency.”

—-

Not all eyes are equal. Coulson gives a half-smile rueful enough to match her own. He would, in fact, know a thing or two about that, it's true. "I wouldn't trust it either," he agrees, given the promise of anonymity. "I'd expect to see my face on the front page of every newspaper in the country. I'd expect, in fact, to be made into the X-Men's scapegoat if it all goes balls-up. Billionaire Mutant Emma Frost Unleashes Terror Upon Island Nation." He makes up the headline, but he doesn't think it's terribly far fetched.

He has, after all, been seeing some awfully uncharitable headlines lately.

"So your plan would be to identify a rebel group within the nation that could be supported, to do a focused sabotage strike against the government that would give them an opportunity, and then to support the regime change from the shadows?" Phil asks quietly. It's not the worst plan he's ever heard, and it's certainly better than the plan he's hearing, but…he wants to make sure he's actually hearing what she's saying.

He takes another sip of his own wine, his mind moving a mile a minute. If he's come to any conclusions it's that he desperately needs to buy some time to get out in front of this before the X-Men go racing to the island with whatever firepower they can muster.

—-

Shadows, Emma does have some experience with. “Very possibly.” And there, somewhere in her gaze, is perhaps the sign of a heart. Maybe. Possibly.

Don’t place bets on that, though.

She leans in to say more, but then her hand swiftly comes up to silence their table. A few moments later— the span of a breath, really— the kitchen staff emerges with the server and a new presentation and begins to make their way.

“How is the wine, sir?” he asks of Phil Coulson, even as he moves to refill Emma’s empty cup as she not-so-subtly nudges it towards him.

Around them, the art of serving is underway, plates being cleared and rearranged as needed to make room for a small plate of a seafood medley shells and masses drizzled in something creamy, and one dish of a lamb and feta pastitsio of a more Moroccan flair.

Emma remains silent all the while, pretending to be suddenly preoccupied with the vista view of the sky just beyond the potted jasmine yet to bloom, but brought back just in time to ooh appreciatively over the dishes.

—-

Immediately Phil acts as if for all the world idle chit chat has been his only focus, as if he hadn't just been deep in a clandestine discussion of matters of state. He smiles at the server and nudges his glass that way as well, saying, "The wine is simply outstanding."

He does stop to inhale the scents of the new dishes, this new round of delights that will surely get at least a little of his attention. While he will wait, like a proper gentleman, for the lady to pick up her own fork, he is eyeing that dish of lamb and feta pastitsio with every evidence of a foodie's avarice. The shells look great too, but that's the dish that catches his eye first.

He can switch gears this way without a care. It's a delight to simply be presented with food like this too, rather than having to study a menu. To be given the best of what a chef has to offer. Really, he would have seen Emma in a parking garage if she'd wished to discuss that there, but he has to admit, privately, that he's not sorry she chose this particular location at this particular time.

—-

Everyone has to eat, right?

God only knows she sure doesn’t cook. At least, not voluntarily. Any potential vict— er, diners should consider it an act of mercy.

“Do please let me know if there’s anything else you need,” the man continues after pouring out a new measure for Coulson.

Emma demurs politely away from the server’s attention when it settles on her, after a glance in his direction to acknowledge it.

But the server tucks himself into a small bow after any word of permission, to slip back to attending to the other patrons.

It’s when he gone that the telepath closes her eyes for a moment to refocus herself, and then gets back to work. …and Phil’s waiting for her to pick up her fork. She fights a sigh and longing look at the wine glass to which she wishes she could give more undivided attention as she does so and goes after a scallop on one of her plates.

“I don’t think a perfect solution exists. And if perfection will never come, then expedience does become more attractive. I can certainly understand Summers desire. It’s very nearly admirable, what he and his fellows are willing to do. Imagine all of the things that Genosha could be, if it’s slaves were free to pursue their own interests and well-being.”

—-

Phil picks up his own, listening to her as he gets a few bites into his stomach.

"I'll tell you, at least, what I'm going to do. I'm going to see if our liaison to the X-men can buy a little more time. I'm going to try to send some agents in to get the lay of the land. And I'm going to see if I can't go through some political back-channels to smooth any international responses. I'm going to have a few internal sit-downs. My feeling is that SHIELD is going to get involved in this one way or the other, because if we don't, we don't get to keep our hand on the rudder at all. We just end up sitting back and watching while other people make the decision."

He gazes at her. "Ultimately, that's the choice you face as well. If you throw in, you get a say. You get to propose alternate plans and you and I can perhaps work together to steer Summers towards something a little smarter. If you tell Summers that you're not going to touch this with a ten foot pole, that's it. You won't get anymore information out of him, he'll move without you, and you'll be left to watch from the sidelines. It's not ideal, but…it is what it is. I don't think any of us are going to convince him to hold off, and I'm not sure either of us really want to. Those are people in pain, and it's wrong to turn our backs on them."

He gives a slight smile. "And while you're no idealist, neither do I see someone cold-hearted and self-centered before me."

—-

“You flatter me, Phil,” Emma purrs, her lips curling with theatric mischievousness.

But then all is set aside and she actually folds her hands on the table’s surface between the edge and her plates, leaning forward to consider him very carefully. “So, if I am hearing you correctly, you are telling me that getting involved is not a surefire way to see my ‘informed’ business decisions hitting the Enquirer. That SHIELD won’t retaliate. I think that is what you are saying, but I want to hear those words come out of your mouth in some semblance of that order.”

And you can bet your bottom dollar that her eyes are sharp and piercing, narrowing as she pushes her mind just a little further to see through him to the passage of thoughts as he—presumably—tells her precisely what she wants to hear. Her jaw tightens as she focuses on the tasks she balances.

—-

“I can't do much about the press, but they would not be hearing it from me,” Phil says, spreading his hands.

“As for retaliation from SHIELD, that is nowhere on my to do list at this time. I prefer us to cultivate an alliance, Ms. Frost. So far I am not personally aware of anything you are doing that requires SHIELD intervention. As far as I am concerned, you have been a friend to our organization in the recent past and continue, by virtue of this conversation, to conduct yourself in a manner worthy only of our continued appreciation and respect.”

All true, if she is checking for veracity. And if there are still two or three people who can overrule Phil’s decisions, it does not happen often.

As to whether it's what she wants to hear…well. That is all relative. “You are hearing me say, as well, that SHIELD will have a presence.”

If only because the hotheaded X-Man is forcing the issue.

—-

“Well,” Emma allows, breathing a long breath through pursed lips and leaning back once more. “That’s a relief. Because I already told Mister Summers that I will—as you so quaintly put it—throw in.”

She shrugs helplessly, as though the need to explain her relief and explain herself.

“Promises may be made to be broken, but it doesn’t mean that I always delight in doing it.” Just occasionally.

The blonde seizes her wine glass at that, and the wine bottle, refilling for herself a little more of the surprisingly good but modest wine. Appearances be damned.

“You were my last and best chance, Mister Coulson, to have a very legitimate reason to not get involved in this lunacy, and now see where I am.” She then slides the last of the bottle in the sharply dressed agent’s direction so he can lay claim to the remainder. She then picks up her fork and continues her meal.

“I suppose you can’t save the day twice in but an hour.”

—-

“I would like to hear Summer’s plan in a bit more detail. Maybe he can be talked down to something wiser. If it is too insane, however, I will yank SHIELD support.”

He pours the wine. Suddenly the drink is more an attempt to medicate his oncoming headache than anything recreational.

“If it is too insane I will advise you to yank your own. There is helping an inevitable thing move forward successfully…and there is enabling stupid.”

—-

“And I will take your recommendation under advisement,” Emma allows, promising nothing at all.

Uncrossing her legs, only to cross them back the other way, the telepath picks her way through the seafood and then switches forks to go after the other dish. “I have the broad strokes of it, but I… I think you need to hear it to fully appreciate the scope of what he is trying to accomplish.”

And then? A perhaps unlikely defense. “His heart is in the right place, I think.” She quickly backs off of it, though, with a flick of her wrist. “Not that I am any great authority on the matter of hearts.” ….says the telepath. Right.

—-

Phil is all about this lamb dish, though he does taste the other one. His mouth quirks into a slight smile. "Well, yes, of course it is. It's hard to argue with 'freed are slaves.' Perhaps we should both pay Mr. Summers a quick visit, just to clarify our understanding of what he intends to do?" A little solidarity can't hurt, and it means that Emma won't be left by herself to talk the man down from something that is simply going to create more harm than good.

"I still can't quite figure out why now. Genosha has been an issue for a good long time. I understand there was some assassination attempt on Professor X, but I thought that was some time ago. Is it as simple as Munroe stepping down, leaving Summers to do something he's wanted to do for awhile now? Or is there more to it?"

Phil dearly hopes that Summers didn't just swing his legs out of bed and say 'Welp. Time to eradicate slavery in another nation.' Phil and SHIELD alike have a long, long list of wrongs they'd like to right, but that doesn't make it possible or feasible to go in there and right them, at least not without a lot of groundwork and resources. Sometimes it takes time to lay the one and to requisition the other. And sometimes…feasibility never quite comes.

—-

“I’m afraid that I can’t offer any illumination on that point.” It’s an honest statement on the mind witch’s part, devoid of her usual bravado and confidence. “You must understand my invitation on this little undertaking— ” the supreme monarch of understatements, there, “ —is not because I have any weight whatsoever with Mister Summers.”

Emma’s head shakes softly as she dismisses other thoughts that remain unspoken. They are thoughts that spoil her appetite regardless of the exquisite flavor of it, and she abandons her attempt to eat and turns her attention instead to finishing that last, precious glass of wine.

“I will help as I can, but I don’t want there to be any misconceptions in that regard. I don’t know that I will be of any help to you at all.

—-

Phil is getting a monster headache. It's starting at his neck, and filtering up to his right temple. It's tightening one of his eyes.

He doesn't let it show. He's too disciplined. He has worked, in the past, under the influence of these things. He has a feeling he's about to go see Summers and the stupid train is just going to roll right on into the station. He can hear the whistle of the thing in the back of his mind. Wooo-woooooooo.

"I have a feeling my request of Agent Lewis to buy some time is going to be futile," he says, the first hints of actual grumpiness starting to cast their shadows on his face. He's not a man given to it overmuch, grumpiness, but neither does he routinely get these kinds of headaches. "But we might as well hear him out. Maybe he'll have a great plan, and I'll feel bad for underestimating him. I've never met the man, after all. I simply am aware of who he is. But it's not going to get any better for failing to understand the plan."

It's a good thing she wined and dined him so well. He might have turned into the Phil version of the Snicker's commercial. He fortifies himself with the seafood dish now, the lamb dish long finished. He's going to need it. He can tell he's going to need it. When he drains his wine it's like he's trying to go right ahead and medicate that headache away while he's still got the chance.

Still, Emma's statement does lend itself to an excellent question. "What was Mr. Summers' reasoning for the invitation?" Sure, it could just be because Emma Frost has incredible power and a great deal of skill in using that power. But there could be other motivations as well. And as in all things, the Intelligence agent is motivated by a need to understand the situation as best as he can, including all the little interpersonal factors that could collide and create new wrinkles. And there are already so many wrinkles to contend with.

—-

“It’s complicated,” Emma replies, laughing at herself. Maybe. Maybe it’s yet another seemingly innocuous turn of phrase hiding truth in plain sight. Hiding a number of thingsof peoplethat she’d rather not discuss. Either way, her next words come easily enough. “They say they’d like me to work with them, but it’s not really all that flattering. I really think it’s more about keeping a closer eye on me.”

A hand turns upwards as she shrugs, affecting an expression of the put-upon. “The price you pay when you can’t be trusted to not misbehave when people aren’t looking, I suppose,” she muses, not hiding from her bad behavior. “They do try to stop not looking.”

—-

Phil studies Emma, with her comment about trust. He doesn't comment on it right away. He cleans up the seafood dish and takes a sip of his water, previously untouched throughout the entire interaction.

"If I wanted to keep an eye on someone," he says at last, "I'd just keep an eye on them. I wouldn't put them at my back during a dangerous mission where I'd be relying upon them." Of course. Summers doesn't think like Phil, or he wouldn't have this fine feeling of dread growing in his stomach even now. It's a wonder the man doesn't have ulcers yet, but he in fact does not.

But he doesn't address the matter of trust any further. Phil certainly sees something in Emma that perhaps many don't, but he's not necessarily going to address it outright. Nevertheless, it's the thing that keeps him from directing much suspicion her way at all. It's not because he blindly buys the demeanor she likes to put forth. It's something he believes he sees at the core of her. He's learned to trust his instincts before. And thus, he treats Emma like he'd treat any other ally, and will continue to do so until he is given reason not to.

Instead, he says, "I'll get in touch with him. Set up a meeting."

—-

Except that Genosha is not just any dangerous mission. It’s a dangerous mission with a common enemy. No free mutant in their right mind would ever support the regime. Moreover, it’s not a trip to Barbados, an easy journey with an easy objective and no potentially catastrophic consequences.

Maybe they simply want her ability, and they trust her moral indignation and inflated awareness of self-interest to keep her shackled to the right side of the fight.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Because Emma has what she wants: an agreement from SHIELD’s representative to talk to the X-Men’s leader, and a promise that she’s not going to end up on their bad side for getting involved. …to a point, anyway. But to a point is just enough for now.

“I’ll see what I can do.” There’s a pause, and then a small smile. It is a rare variety, born of a quiet gratitude. “Thank you.”

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License