First Field Exam

June 11, 2017:

As James Barnes' trial date approaches, opportunists in DC decide to take aim at SHIELD's funding. Phil Coulson enlists Sally Stojespal, one of SHIELD's newest agents, to help nudge things in a better direction.

Washington, DC

Characters

NPCs: Senator Clyde Wilson

Mentions: Tony Stark, Bucky Barnes, Matt Murdock, Steve Rogers

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Today is the day.

Today is the day that one Sally Stojespal gets to ride in Lola.

It has a downside. She would have been awoken by a phone call at 4 AM. "I need to be in DC later, I need you there, wear your best professional clothes and meet me at the garage. Bring a hairbrush, I'm keeping the top down." By Phil himself. There's no particular mischief to it. He's not trolling her. If anything, he's focused and serious. "We'll stop and get breakfast on the way," he promises. Just because he forgets to eat doesn't mean that the younger agents need to adopt that habit. And, indeed, he bought them breakfast burritos and coffees from a gas station he apparently knows of that serves surprisingly excellent ones, thanks to being family-owned and operated.

Now, however, he's driving with confidence, if at a boring 70, taking them down the highway through the last bits of Maryland to get to their nation's capital. And he's relaxed, after four hours of alternately driving and flying to hop over stopped traffic. Which is why the smile he turns on Sally is a little bit dorky as he says, "I suppose you're wondering why I've brought you out here today."

—-

Four AM is certainly earlier than she's used to, though not by that much in the end. There had still been a bleary Rusalka on the phone, which fortunately didn't last - when she heard Phil's voice, and a mention of being in DC, she's almost instantly awake. The only way to get her to consciousness faster would have been Le Mans tickets…or perhaps calling on her for a test she hadn't studied for.

Dreams suck.

"Yes, absolutely I will be ready. Give me…twenty minutes? Plus nine to drive." Best professional clothes meant the black business suit, a modern cut coat over a vest and blue silk undershirt. It goes well with her eyes; stockings and low heeled maryjanes complete the outfit of a smart, young, professional type. The hairbrush - and the everpresent hairband - certainly comes along, as does other sundry items and one somewhat less so. She's not sure what he meant by keeping the top down, but at least it's a short flight from NYC to DC. Though…now that Sally thinks about it, is the airport even open yet?

She'd been there precisely on time, before realizing that her 'flight' was of a completely different nature. And with no particular amount of shock she's led to a certain Corvette, one she'd frankly never thought she'd be allowed to see again - let alone sit in. And…and it FLIES. Bozhe moy. She is, of course, keeping her hands in her lap the entire trip (outside of the stop for some downright fantastic burritos) and not asking questions, sitting as delicately as she can against the seats and trying not to get her shoes all over the floormats. Sitting silently, at least…not until he finally brings up their trip to her, after a long and fairly quiet, relaxing morning drive.

Almost quivering with nerves, she shakes her head mutely. After a couple seconds Sally finds her voice, and manages to stammer out a "Nnno? I've…been trying to convince myself I'm not dreaming all this time. I think it's worked…please tell me I'm awake?" Phil may be slightly dorky, but his would-be protege is outright in heaven. The devil himself could strike her down now and she'd have died happy, says the look on her face.

—-

"You can pinch yourself," Phil says, amused. "I think you'll feel pain."

But he nods at her. "Grab your phone or tablet or whatever you've got on you and look up Senator Clyde Wilson. He's one of the members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee. He fancies himself quite the car enthusiast, though he's not, really: he could barely change a tire, let alone tell you the differences between engines. He does, however, own three sportscars, and he likes to read about the latest and greatest."

Driving, now, not flying, Phil changes lanes smoothly. The signs for DC have long since started to appear, giving him enough time to conduct this little briefing. "He's also one of the ones trying to push for a big funding cut to SHIELD. He doesn't like that we're an international organization, yet one with a great deal of support from the US. He doesn't think we deserve to exist at all, truth be told. He feels the DEO and the CIA could more than cover what we do. He's full of it, and he certainly won't get us disbanded, but…even a 10% budget cut could be a real problem for us in terms of our effectiveness and ability to do what we do. We need to shift his attitude, plant some seeds of positivity. And you're the person I've chosen for the job. Think you're up for it? He can't stand me."

—-

That headshake turns into a determined nod - it's business time, and she fishes out the tablet she normally uses. Fortunately Stark had made a few minor upgrades to it, namely a use-anywhere connection to the internet as well as a rather useful holographic interface. He'll probably take it out of her nonexistent paycheck someday…but for now, she starts tapping in data and reading quickly.

"Clyde Wilson, ah…yes, I have him." Thankfully, there's plenty of online information about him above and beyond the glowing profile for an official website, and she starts reading closely while Phil continues. Snorting in derision for a moment at the agent's description of him, but well…Sally places little value in people like him.

He does have good taste, though slanted to the Americans. A Viper, a Ford GT, and…well, he's not all bad. A proper Testarossa, in pristine condition - "He may not do his own maintenance, but he is not a neglectful man." This out loud to Phil, considering what it means for the Senator's character. Someone who disapproves of SHIELD, and thinks that other organizations are 'good enough' - yet, he hires on top professional maintainers for his automobiles.

"If he thinks we are proficient enough…that there is need, he will accept SHIELD." There's a whisper on the wind from her great grandmother, an errant thought of political chess. SHIELD may be a knight on the board, and no player would throw such a piece away believing their rook to be superior. But he might gambit such a sacrifice, especially if the trade is worth the payoff…if SHIELD is only part of the solution here. Then she remembers.

"This is about the headlines, recently? The returned Sergeant Barnes?" She's too young and too generally ignorant of the political details yet, but she has the suspicious sense to pick up on a thread. "And so we must show SHIELD in a good light, to convince him…hrm. But…why me? Ah, yes, I will be 'up for it' but I am curious." It wouldn't hurt to know her boss's thoughts - beyond a moment of wondering if Phil had once shot the Senator with an ICER…

—-

Stark probably won't…he has a well-established habit of just giving stuff to people who he finds worthy of giving stuff to, or when it would actually forward his own interests to give such stuff. Phil certainly doesn't look surprised to see her pull out a top of the line Stark tablet. Indeed, he gives a slight nod of confirmation, as if the upgrade was only to be expected.

Sally begins her assessment, and a slight, approving smile touches the agent's lips.

"Yes," he confirms. "We at SHIELD would have been content to quietly keep him away from everyone else forever. In a way, he's part of our history. One of our own, if not formally or directly. We placed him under Captain Rogers' care, admittedly something that could be read as a severe conflict of interest. We did our best to keep other nations from finding out about him at all, but…he was too big a secret to keep under wraps, and he didn't exactly content himself with learning all about modern amenities and settling down into a quiet life. There are other issues impacting this as well, though. It's never just one thing."

'Why her' produces another smile.

"First, because you have a lifetime of irreplacable diplomatic training. You've handled men like him before, unless I miss my guess. Second, you do know cars, but you know how, I think, to show an interest in a way that is flattering and just knowledgable enough without threatening him. Third, and this is where I must apologize…you're a young lady, and he'll respond to that. You're going to have to figure out how to respond in a way that doesn't create an uncomfortable situation for you. That's good training. This time, I'll be right here to rescue you if it does get out of hand, but…smiling and flattering our way to an objective is pretty much Spy 101 too."

—-

There's a little part of her - not quite that little in all honesty - that is disappointed she's now studying and researching this senator. Admittedly, disappointed because she can't enjoy the fantastic drive through Maryland as much as she was, especially a drive with this particular automobile. But she is a good little SHIELD agent, willing to make the necessary sacrifices…and, hopefully, there won't be much homework on the way home.

"I see…I'm afraid I haven't been following that closely, ah…a lot of it is over my head, but. Did he do all those things? That they accuse him of?" She probably shouldn't ask, and likely isn't clear to know, but it's a private enough place to ask - and she isn't sure how to take a potential answer anyway. But if he's in Captain America's hands, Sally thinks, it'll work out. Steve Rogers is a good man, even Tony Stark admitted it.

"I admit I have not always handled them well." She doesn't meet Coulson's gaze at that admission, instead staring ahead. "It was not long after my father died, ah…an upperclassman was proclaiming many foolish things to his gaggle of hangers-on. Mostly girls. The fool did not even understand why there was a radiator, instead making up some story…ah. There was a fight, and I was rather severely punished - his family's social standing was quite high, especially within the school. I learned much about silence that day." Embarrassing story time, but admittedly a hard-earned and useful lesson. That it had expanded to hurt her mother's career further had been something that burned Sally's soul, a mark that's still visible in the stiff way she holds herself in the passenger seat.

After a few seconds, she'll look over and give Phil a smile, though. "The most important lesson I learned was to pick battles - and when to not fight them. I will be a good girl. Though…I suppose he will not be fond of my foreign nature, unless…" Hrm, what if she can play that up - that SHIELD was the only one she trusts…an idea begins to form, and her smile turns into an expectant grin. "I think I am ready. So this is my first field exam, Agent Coulson?"

—-

"Depends on your definition of doing," Phil says grimly. "He was tortured. Subjected to highly sophisticated brainwashing techniques. His personality was overwritten again and again. It has happened to others, in fact, even our own Agents. Sometimes we can rescue them and restore them to themselves. Sometimes we just end up keeping them comfortably imprisoned because the person they used to be was effectively killed inside of their own mind, replaced by someone else. It's horrible business. So the short answer is: he's innocent as far as I'm concerned, because he didn't choose any of it. Now it's up to his lawyer to prove it. A real dark horse, that one, but the right horse to bet on, I think."

Phil Coulson of course did his homework on the young lawyer who was chosen to work the case. The man is good at picking people, and he saw some things he liked. The truth is though, there aren't too many other people who would take the case to begin with. Better a young scrapper than some public defender saddled with the thing, someone who would have all of an hour to look at it.

Phil's smile is a bit sympathetic and a bit sardonic as Sally relays this story. "Well, you'll find as an agent you'll have to put your pride aside more than you might like, all to the goal of being whomever you need to be to get the job done, unless you truly do choose to focus exclusively on lab and engineering work. I think that would be a waste of the full bredth of your talents— we need field technicians too, and I think you have what it takes to use those engineering talents in the field. And frankly, right now, diplomacy is what I need. And yes. Picking battles was a good lesson too."

He smirks. "Yeah. First field exam, but if you fail you're not the one who gets a bad mark. We all do. No pressure."

He pulls into a parking space at the Senate building.

—-

There's a horrified look on her face when he describes what happened to Sergeant Barnes - especially when he admits it happens to SHIELD agents. Sally just whispers a silent prayer for herself; the idea … the idea is beyond terrifying. "Such a thing…if there is anything my family can do, Agent Coulson." She doesn't need to say much else, and adds a prayer for the good sergeant. But now it's game time, as they pull into the parking space, and she can't help but give the parking guard a sly smile.

Lola really is a beautiful car. Jealousy is to be expected, of course.

And then he says things that get a curious eyebrow raised. "Really. Hrm…I might like to look at my personnel file, at some point. Just to see what I am supposed to live up to after all," she adds in a dismissive tone. It's a joke, of course, the arrogant noble simply wanting to know what is said about them - but there's a core of truth as well. She's curious…and perhaps it's true that someone else can see you better than you can see yourself.

"I admit, though, that…spending all of my time in the lab would get boring. Even one as well-appointed as Stark's own; I…am perhaps a bit more interested in being outside. Besides," she adds with a laugh, and a gentle caress of Lola's dashboard, "I could not drive such a vehicle around in a workshop, da?" And then it's time - she leans forward, not touching the side mirror but just getting where she can see. A few quick strokes of the brush, then fitting her hairband and arranging her looks just so, and she's ready.

"I understand. And I will do so, especially for this. No pressure!" She can't help the laugh as they make their way through the building, heels clicking against the hard floor as she tags along behind the genteel agent. She slips into soft voice, quiet - just for the two of them to talk. "Thank you for trusting me…I will do everything I can. I hope he does not mind that, well." She reaches up and taps the pin on her coat, the coat of arms of the Stojespal family. The gesture signifies that she is still a foreigner, despite being a legal resident.

—-

"You can pull your own file at any time," Phil replies, shrugging. "Everyone's always authorized to look at their own file. They're just not authorized to alter it in any way."

It's a fairly straightforward and boring thing though, her file, with dry facts about her background. Phil is far more interested in the human element, and he's taken a measure of that element in her as well. When she looks horrified he adds, "It's really rare, and the type of investment that was put into Barnes is unheard of." Probably not that comforting.

He hands her an earpiece. "I'll be listening in," he promises. "And I'll be close by. I believe at this hour he will be just coming out of a committee meeting, ready for a chance encounter in the halls. He'll probably be accompanied by a couple of aides, and he might be having a conversation with someone else. You'll have to navigate those hurdles, too."

—-

The earpiece is accepted, Sally looking it over for a moment before settling it in. "Ah…test? I think." She'll wait for a reply, making sure he can hear her alright, before nodding. "I would like to…later, perhaps. If we get back at a reasonable hour. If not, eh…another time I suppose." She gives a bit of a grin. "I would not dare think of doing such a thing. Unless it were incorrect, of course. If it lacks mention of my girlish charms, for example." An impish smile follows this, since Coulson did mention something to that effect. "It would not be proper to be incomplete, correct?"

Time to go to work. It feels like the anticipation at the start of a race, and she promptly stands upright and at attention, like a junior soldier before a high-ranking officer. No salute, simply a nod of confidence, and then Sally is off. There's no particular track, but this feels like a flying start; her walk to the Senator's office feeling like being led by a pace car at a controlled speed.

Sally takes a long deep breath, and spies the senator stepping out of a conference room. There is, of course, a pair of aides, and at least one other person following along in excited conversation. It seems to be a golfing debate, and she whispers quietly. "It's Senator Hoerst. They're…discussing this weekend's plans." Old men and their old-man games, she thinks - but keeps the smile on her face. Instead, as they pass she'll fall in behind, waiting for a moment when the two senators have a breath before making her presence known.

She does her best to minimize the accent, although it's still quite present. "Senator Clyde Wilson? Sir?" She'll stride along, long legs keeping up easily with the small group. "May I speak to you for a moment, sir?" A smile dawns on her face for the good senator, as she meets his eyes with that cobalt-blue gaze of her own.

—-

Clyde Wilson turns pale blue eyes on Sally with a practiced sort of smile, the one that almost all politicians routinely flash when brought into a new encounter— at least, if they're not overconfident and annoyed by life. He smiles a little, puffing up to see a pretty young lady trying to talk to him. His eyes are keen— he spots the pin, and he drawls, "You don't seem to be a lobbyist." He's from Georgia, and the accents of the state roll through his voice, as rich and deep as a sweet tea on the back porch on the hottest of days.

Still, he seems more than willing to entertain her. "I've got a few minutes though." He offers a hand. "May I ask who I have the honor of addressing?"

The aides respectfully drop back a bit, practiced at giving their boss space when he feels like he might want to speak to someone, whomever that might be. They're a pair not much older than Sally, one male, one female, both serious in the extreme, young, ambitious types with the Opportunity of a Lifetime.

—-

The smile is returned, just about as well practiced as the Senator's but a little more honest. He is a likeable man, from what she'd read on him on the trip down. At least his accent isn't too impossible to pick through, the tone of voice reminding her of a movie actor whose name she can't place just yet.

The Sokovian accent is light, and she does her best practiced speech. Careful, of course - and deferential. Sally drops back into an honest-to-god curtsy, though it isn't too deep - she's being proper, and modern, but certainly acknowledging his station. "Senator Wilson, the honor is entirely mine. My name is Rusalka Stojespal, daughter of House Stojespal, barony of Sokovia. Though, to be honest," she adds with the slightest of apologetic smiles, "I have always preferred Sally instead." A good southern name, admittedly - but it's also entirely honest, a rare thing that the senator would note.

She'll glance at the aides as well, taking in each of their faces and nodding - her greeting extends to them as well. It wouldn't hurt one bit to be polite to the good senator's staff, after all. "I'm not a lobbyist, at least…not in any serious capacity. But if I may have a few minutes of your time, I'd like to speak with you? If you would not mind, that is."

Thank you, Tony Stark, for your wonderful machine. "I'm aware there's a practice session shortly for the coming NASCAR race in your state, and I wouldn't want you to miss it…nor would I." The smile is laid on prettily, hoping that he really was about to skedaddle to the televised event.

—-

"You're a NASCAR fan?" Clyde asks, his eyes sparkling with a sudden upjump in actual emotion— positive emotion. "No, I most certainly don't want to miss that, but…my flight's not for another hour. Are you going, then?"

The aides smile back, appreciating the fact that Sally hasn't allowed them to remain essentially invisible. They don't interrupt the conversation, but they do relax a little, indicating relationships she might well be able to cultivate later, the next time she needs a political 'in' with this particular fellow. Which…she might well, again, given his position.

He doesn't ask what he can do for her, but…the implication is also more or less there. He's listening, in any case, even if he'd happily divert to talk of that event all the way to his car. He does keep walking, but seems content to let her walk with him.

—-

"Some, yes." She acknowledges she's not the most diehard of fans, but the explanation comes quickly. "I have not been in this country for long, just under one year - I study at Columbia University, in New York. But I am fascinated with it, how well they can drive at such speed, and so close. I have heard people mock it for 'only turning left' but…" She'll let a bit of a bashful smile cross her face, and her voice drops as if to share a secret.

"Their level of skill is much greater than mine; I would be terrified in such close racing at those speeds. It is truly impressive that they can do it. I'm still only eighteen after all." Striding along easily, she settles in alongside him, glancing back to make sure that she's not crowding out the aides - or leaving them behind. And the admission is honest - she's never quite driven in such tight confines; her time at the track has mostly been more open, outside of the occasional - and short-lived - duel for position.

And then business begins to loom, and Sally shifts gears mentally and steps on the gas. "Actually…in a way, that relates to what I wanted to ask you about. I'm sure you know about SHIELD, Senator? It's an organization that I'm proud to say I've joined, just recently. They accepted me on technical merit; I'm studying to be an engineer. With…"

Blue eyes twinkle. "A focus on racing design, aerodynamics, and advanced technologies. So, perhaps I admit, there's a little bit of personal interest. I understand that you hold a not-insignificant amount of leverage over the agency, Senator?" She's feeling out his own position now, hoping her segue intrigues him.

—-

In Sally Stojespal's ear, there's a sound as she begins talking about how terrified she'd be to drive at those speeds. It's very near a snarf. As disciplined as Phil is, he really can't help it. He chokes back the rest of his laugh, but it's there. Fortunately these things are well designed, and the Senator doesn't hear a thing. Maybe she is telling the truth about her skill, but Phil rather doubts that bit about terror.

She names herself as a SHIELD engineer, and Clyde goes from a bunch of enthusiastic head bobbing over NASCAR to a somewhat more guarded— but interested— expression. "I do indeed know about SHIELD," he says, giving nothing away. His smile becomes a bit more tolerant, outwardly, though the shift is easy to see. He's got serious concerns about SHIELD, and…someone who is good at reading people might even see that they aren't just the results of bean counting, or even political posturing. They're actual concerns, born from an actual place of wanting to do the right thing for the people he represents. That might make him harder than someone who can merely be flattered into voting this way or that.

Shrewdly: "You're here because you're concerned about the current budget proposal."

—-

It's not dishonest! NASCAR racers go at least ten, perhaps twenty miles an hour faster than she can, flat-out, in the Lotus. And she's not lying when she says the idea of racing in a tight pack of thirty cars around her is terrifying…if only because she just hasn't gotten used to it. Perhaps just a little terrifying.

As to his offer of attending the race, she'll have to decline. "I'm afraid I'll have to watch it on television, sir. I do need to be back in New York tonight, to be ready for Monday - Columbia is having its first summer classes this week." And then the senator's shields go up, and Sally nods - she'd expected that, as soon as she'd broached the conversation. "I'm glad," she answers, "though I will not lie to you, Senator. That is part of why I am here. The budget proposal is important to me personally," she adds, "because it gives someone like me the chance to truly shine. SHIELD…"

She keeps up pace, knowing his concerns - or at least, admittedly, knowing about them. "I'm sure you know of the history, all of the stories…they are more than I know. But…may I speak on a personal level? The agency is a place that I feel I can do the most good. I came to this country to study that which I could not back home; the education is premiere here. Originally, I was going to find work in research and development…possibly, hopefully, with Ferrari."

The maker of his Testarossa - but also quite true. There might be a little bit of a fangirl in her voice as she continues. "I've always loved their cars; they are beautiful and exceptional together. Maybe even someday to be allowed to drive, even professionally. It is not easy for a girl like me to enter that realm, after all." True, and a little wistful. "My father started my interest in such things, and I owe it to him to do my best."

Sally finally looks back up at him. "That is why I chose to join them. There is so much good that I can do - not just technologically. I just…" She sighs, a little sadly. "I understand you are under great pressure, and that it is a great decision to make. But I believe in SHIELD, and I believe that they help make a world where the only screams," she adds in a curious direction - that turns into a smile. "Are those of a racing engine pushing a car towards the finish line. Because the world is safe."

Still following along, she'll add a second tack. "And, because I know you will ask, I've been enamored of Dale Earnhardt Jr. I'm sad that his career ends this year, it is a great loss for the sport. He is truly an amazing driver, and my father was a fan of his father's. I hope he finds a way to stay a part of the sport, myself."

—-

The Senator listens to all of this in silence. He is, as it happens, a good listener. She can get the idea he's actually seriously considering every word. His concerns have much to do with responsible budgeting, but also with the fact that SHIELD is not an American institution anymore, which brings up serious issues of control, and oversight. The way that American maintains even a light hand on the reigns represents a complicated, backroom relationship that he doesn't approve of. He doesn't like that it's often a slippery matter of personalities and conversations instead of a clear-cut chain of command.

He does seem impressed by her drive as a young engineer. "SHIELD doesn't always make the best decisions," he says at last. "They have an awful lot of power, and very few checks and balances upon that power. You're an earnest young woman, and quite idealistic, but you haven't entirely had time to see the uglier side of SHIELD yet either."

But despite the words, he's not entirely shutting her down. He's engaging in a dialogue, still listening, not brushing her off. "And there is a great deal of SHIELD that nobody who isn't at the top of that organization is ever allowed to see."

—-

She'd admit, he'd have to be a good listener to get the job. And she appreciates that he is listening, still. And she keeps up with him, still having his ear, and returns the favor. She listens close. His concerns…she can definitely understand them. So much of the agency's funding comes from the United States, and yet there's such little direct control.

And his concerns are legitimate, she'd agree. There are many secrets, there are many levels of classification. She understands the need for secrets all too well. Just what she knows right now…perhaps the good Senator would put his faith in the highly advanced US Air Force, but she knows not even the vaunted Raptor could take on the Tchernobog. It would be like taking the F-22 against German fighter jets from the Great War, three times faster and able to kill them beyond ranges that the German planes could even fly, let alone fight at.

But Sally doesn't let this show, and instead decides to address his concerns as best as she can. "Senator Wilson, I do understand. I have a bit of a unique viewpoint, on that…I am, of course, not an American. Not by birth. But I feel that SHIELD, for its defects…is still deeply important to the whole world. It is not a case of being American, or Sokovian, but…human. That is what SHIELD defends."

She maintains the track, following this line to where it may go. "I agree that it can be unfair, that this country donates so much to keep SHIELD functional. There is the World Security Council, which has oversight, but there is also the simple fact that, perhaps…there isn't anyone else that can. Certainly Sokovia could not; we do what we can but it is a poor country, in the end. Especially for an agency as large as SHIELD."

A pause, before she smiles. "And I may be naieve, I will not disagree with that. But…like Captain America himself, I choose to believe that SHIELD can be a great thing. A good thing. And people like me…we will make it that good thing. But a shield must be large, for it to be able to protect. A defense, in all directions, that many may hide behind." Poetic, but true. An organization like the Avengers only needs to be where an immediate threat is - SHIELD must wait, and react, and must be everywhere.

"People like me are the future of SHIELD. It may need more oversight, it probably could use some extra guidance, especially from its largest financial supporter." She's certainly willing to acknowledge that, but isn't willing to go as far as making it an entirely American organization. "There needs to be a SHIELD for us to be a part of…because the alternative…" She frowns a little, then gives the Senator a worried look.

"You know of the origins of the agency. My family…has a long and terrible history fighting them. SHIELD is here to keep that from happening again, and I believe in that just as much as I believe in this country. I did," she adds with a smile, "come here for many reasons - the 'American dream' being one of them."

—-

It's not a bad thing, invoking the American dream, and the image of an immigrant coming to take advantage of it is certainly iconic enough. The Senator listens, nodding at the mention of the World Security Council. It tells him the young woman has done her homework prior to this conversation, and isn't just showing up as a blind advocate of the agency she works for. She invokes the alternative, and it does draw his brows down. He doesn't like the alternative any better. The CIA is helpful in that regard, but…

Maybe not enough. And maybe not equipped enough for alien threats. "I suppose the organization does exist for a reason," he allows slowly. "Does fill a purpose that nobody else is directly filling."

He exhales. "I'll revise the proposal," he says. "No promises, but I suppose there are ways to increase oversight and communication without directly threatening the budget. I can't say that my fellows on the committee will agree, young lady, but I have to admire the fact that you took the time to seek me out and make your case all the same. And perhaps I've been a bit too hasty. The events that have brought SHIELD onto our radar again are certainly sticky events, but they're probably no reason to throw the baby out with the proverbial bath water."

—-

She's young enough that the relief that shows on her face is genuine - but well deserved. Thanks, as well. Granted, there are organizations like the CIA, or the FBI, but their focus is primarily American - and haven't always had the best track record either, especially with sharing information. Sally is, of course, not going to bring that up - but she doesn't need to.

Sally doesn't jump on his words, just simply nodding and letting the senator think. Don't push too hard right at the point of passing, just wait for the moment - and let it come when it comes. In this case, he agrees, and she lets him, before finally raising her hand in thanks. "I do very much appreciate that, Senator. It is all I could ask you to do - I know you have great pull, but government is not one man. It should never be, I think. There should always be…a group, one that is able to agree on things that must be done."

And then she makes the pass, taking the lead. "And, as well, watching each other. Is not 'eternal vigilance' the price of liberty?" An American term, but a true one. In one case, it's SHIELD that maintains the vigilance, while in another case it's the oversight committee maintaining its vigilance over the agency. A nice turn of phrase, Sally congratulates herself, but poetry has always been a specialty of eastern Europe.

"For what it is worth, Senator Wilson…I can only wish you luck and wisdom. I will pray for that for you, at least. As for the rest…" She'll look up at him, blue eyes twinkling, and the smile widens. "I think, the next time a race passes through, I would like to take you up on your offer of attending a race in your state. I have never been to Georgia." But she's heard all kinds of stories of how beautiful it is. "In return? In fall, before the weather sets in, there is the Sokovian Grand Prix. My family would be honored to guest a sitting Senator, and the race is certainly something amazing to see."

It's a simple enough offer, and by accepting his and merely trading races, there's no potential complaints of lobbyism or gifting. Merely two people deciding to enjoy each other's home tracks. "I am sure my adoptive country is excellent at its racing events, but I might like to hope that my ancestral home has its own special way of organizing such a show. Especially as this year's falls upon the harvest festival. If you go…I hope you like honeyed apples," she adds with a laugh.

—-

She offers a honeycomb, one guaranteed to build the relationship, and the Senator smiles. "The Sokovian Grand Prix? Truly? I will be honored. Here."

He pulls out a business card. It has his personal number on it. "Take that, and call me. You can call Natalie or Devon too if I'm not available. Devon, make a note to get Miss Stojespal seats to the next NASCAR race in Georgia. Get her a spot in my box. I don't know if I'll make that, but she might as well enjoy it. But clear my calendar for the Sokovian race."

He beams at her and says, "I hope we'll get to talk more. You're a delightful person."

And despite Phil's warnings about the man, he really seems more fatherly and straightforward than untoward here. Then again, Phil might have warned her just to keep her from accidentally promising more than she cared to deliver, or because he and Clyde are at odds with each other and he thinks poorly of the man, or just to start planting the seed that Sally might well face such situations in the future. Hard to tell.

"I shall see you soon for honeyed apples," he says happily. And then his phone rings. He answers it, he waves to her and walks past her, and that's the end of the meeting.

"Keep this up," Phil says contemplatively, "and I'll have to make you the DC liason. Well done."

—-

Sally takes the card, immediately tucking it into a small metal carrier - and drawing her own out from it, giving it over to Devon. "Sir." She nods, not interrupting the boss - but making sure to treat them right. She's just as junior as they are, arguably more so, and it never hurts to be friends with the help. Ask any aristocrat where the power truly lies.

The smile is returned, and shared with all three of them. "I look forward to it, sir. As are you. Senator, Natalie, Devon." The latter two get handshakes, and the senator gets another polite curtsy. Hey, it's cute. "Thank you very much for your time and attention. If you ever have need of me, for anything?" She gestures to the aide with her card.

"And I can't wait," she adds with a bit of a nervous giggle. "I'm pretty sure my professors won't be too angry with me skipping a day, considering the circumstances. Thank you again, sir." With that, she'll get quite out of his hair, making her way down the hallway, around the corner, and lost in the crowd - before taking one very long, deep breath, feeling as if she just exhaled her soul.

Maybe the good Senator wasn't quite the opponent of SHIELD that Coulson feared…or maybe he is, and she's just being blown off. But Sally doesn't think so; there's a feeling of a connection there - just as the unexpected voice comes over her earpiece, getting a jump from the startled agent. "Y-you would not," she mumbles to Phil, seemingly to herself. But then she pauses - and takes in the fact that she is standing in the Capitol Building of the United States of America.

It's a long trip for a girl from the far side of Europe, and she soaks it in for a moment before striding to meet her boss. They have a little bit to celebrate…and she has something for him.

"Never say never," Phil says dryly into her ear, but quietly. She did really well, and he'd be insane to ignore the resource. But…he's also not cruel enough to do it to her permanently without pressing need. The trouble is the issue of 'pressing need'— if he felt he had it, he'd do it to her in a heartbeat. That's one of the downsides of working for an organization like SHIELD.

The boss is at a food truck across the street enjoying an empanada from a food truck. Given his job today was a rare thing— stand there, listen, and show up to intervene if necessary— he is taking advantage of the opportunity to eat two reasonable meals in one day. Scandalous. He gestures to the truck and says, "You should try these, they're pretty good." It's not exactly a celebration…or maybe it is, given how little he actually does this. He's having a lemonade too. A good beat-the-heat drink.

Just as if he hadn't just placed part of SHIELD's fate into the hands of a girl who hasn't even finished obtaining her degree yet.

—-

Never say never. Well…lesson learned. In the end, it's about what SHIELD needs, as idealistic as her words - and beliefs - were. But at the same time, there's a truth in them; in time she will rise through SHIELD's ranks, and so will others. And if they do, Sally rather hopes they have her idealism as well.

Ah, there is lunch! It doesn't take the girl long to reach Phil's side, the lackadaisical boss getting to take the day off and enjoy the warm day outside. "Cheater. You have been out here all this time, in the sunshine and breeze. And with good food no less." It certainly seems that way, and after a few minutes at the truck she'll join him with one of her own, as well as a tall cup of iced tea. "To SHIELD," she adds with a grin, before biting in.

Oh god that is good - and drippy, it seems; she's quickly jackknifed to catch the cheese and a bit of grease on her napkins and not the coat. "Oh this is amazing. I must find these in New York; Sloane will love this. So…I did well, then?" She's relieved, and has had a little time to get her breath and bearings after the negotiation. "I was getting nervous in there, I admit…that was a terrifying thing. Much worse than being on the track." Om nom nom.

She glances at him for a moment, half-expecting another not-a-snarf-noise. "Which…reminds me, Agent Coulson. I have a gift for you, actually. Here…ah." Fished out of her purse is a small cube, wrapped in shiny red paper. It's set in front of the agent, as Sally returns her attention to her own empanada. "From one enthusiast to another." And she can't help but grin, waiting for him to tear into it - revealing the curiously striped stone in a small presentation box.

—-

"To SHIELD," Phil says warmly, a toast he will always make. He lifts his lemonade cup towards him a little bit and takes a sip. "You did just fine. You achieved exactly what I sent you in to achieve. This kind of thing isn't solved all at once, by any one person or move on the chessboard. It's a thousand little conversations, connections, points of view being considered and accounted for, personalities being assessed and managed. Yours was to manage that one, and I couldn't have asked for better results. I'd have been happy to get you to just slow him down a little bit. You did quite a bit more than that."

But then she's telling him she has a gift for him, and his eyebrows lift in surprise. He sets his food aside, having claimed a little outdoor bench for the purpose, and turns the gift over in his hands. "This was thoughtful of you," he says, still surprised, even before he finally just tears into the paper. When he sees the stone— all different colors, smooth and striped— he runs his fingers over it.

"It's beautiful," he says. But he gives a smile. "You say enthusiast, but I'm afraid I've just failed the pop quiz." He's not sure what he's looking at exactly, though he can tell it has some level of significance he ought to be aware of.

—-

"Huh. Hm. Perhaps I should inherit the barony after all, if I am this good at diplomacy." She grins, then laughs at the idea. "I understand. As the senator said, there are more voices - but I suppose…his concerns are fair. So long as oversight does not become political interference, and SHIELD becoming a club to wield against others…" Hopefully, he took her analogy to heart.

Phil's praise gets a blush, though. "Thank you…in all honesty, I was afraid, going in alone, but…I suppose it was not so bad. A bit thrilling afterward," she admits. "I am just glad he understood, and that he will at least consider." Though…there are other congressmen who are responsible. Is she going to have to do this again, she wonders, giving him a glance with a raised eyebrow? Or does he have other agents working other contacts as well?

No matter. Her job is done, Sally decides, and she stretches and takes a long drink of her tea. Phil rips into things, and asks his question. "Mm, not so much. It is a rare thing I found, actually…it's paint. It's called 'Fordite' and it's from an old way of auto manufacturing. Each stripe is actually a layer of paint, all the way through. When they used to paint cars, it would collect on the floors and trays, building up layers."

She points to the stone, highlighting the layers. "Primer, color, primer, color, as each car would pass that painter. Then it would break off, and some of the employees would bring them home and polish them. That one," Sally adds, giving it a thoughtful look, "is from a Chevrolet plant. I did some research to find it; the colors match those used in 1962." There's three or four layers of red paint mixed in; at some point in this stone's formation several cars got Lola's paint job.

"Perhaps one of those layers…" She shrugs, the statement obvious. Perhaps it's a long-lost piece of Lola. Probably not…but it's still pretty, and entirely unique. And definitely an antique reminder of an older way of doing things.

—-

Phil gives a small shake of his head at her raised eyebrow. Whatever he's got cooking up, her part in the plan is over with…there are only so many times he can send the same person after various senators, or use that tactic at all. Other things will have to be done.

In the meantime…Fordite.

"Really?" he asks, in the way someone does when they are learning something both new and interesting. It looked, after all, like a natural stone. He picks it up and rubs his finger over it, and a rare, genuine grin touches his features. "This is really cool. It's like holding a bit of car history…"

And then she reveals just where it's from and his eyes light up all the more. "Are you serious?"

He tracks his finger down to a red layer. He isn't sure if it came from Lola, but…if it didn't it's so close as to be difficult, if not impossible, to tell that it did not. His head canon is now, quite officially, that it did. "Sally, this was incredibly thoughtful of you. Thank you." He's touched. He rubs it like a worry rock a few more times, trying to debate whether it's something he'll hang inside of Lola, put on display in his mini-museum office or…

—-

SHIELD has many depths, many layers. In time, Sally will learn of them.

In the meantime…Fordite.

She nods, grinning at his smile. She knows it means something to him - and that he really understands the meaning of the gift. "Well…it is a match for those colors. It's certainly 1962, because that green changed afterward, but it'd be impossible to say for certain. Still…" She laughs after a momentary thought. "Perhaps it is a beautiful reminder of what might be true. Or something suitably poetic, but. I remember your office, and I appreciate your tastes."

"You are very welcome. I can think of no proper gift in exchange for letting me ride with you…I was going to give it to you back in New York, but. Consider it a celebration of a successful mission as well?" Hey, any reason to celebrate is a good thing.

As for it being a luck charm, Sally just nods gently. "Then it is. May it bring you good fortune, Philip Coulson. That the divine will smile upon you and protect you, and smooth the paths you take. Something like that, I think?" She lets her grin widen a little. "I am glad you like it. Thank you, by the way…for letting me ride with you."

And then turns her attention back to the empanada, because to hell with her calories for the day. A light salad tonight, and probably a few more over the next few days…and at least one or two good runs. Or an extra hour of rapier practice.

Extra calories, the one enemy that even SHIELD cannot stop.

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