The Retainer Fee

June 27, 2017:

Phil Coulson and Emma Frost meet to discuss the cost of a contingency plan.

A Keiseki Restaurant in Midtown


NPCs: A Restaurant Host

Mentions: Scott Summers


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

A few days to collect her thoughts on the last time they shared the same airspace. Or a week and change. Something like that.

But still, minutes can be precious things. In the span of seconds, really, a bad strain can murder a symphony. How much more so, then, can a thing go awry in minutes? That meeting with Scott Summers and Phil Coulson certainly made an excellent case for the preciousness of brief spans of time: hopes dashed, masculinity asserted—if that’s what one can call it, and pretense of circumspection abandoned.

Yet, a few minutes are all Emma Frost requests of a very busy man’s time. A few minutes, to be taken wherever she can meet him to make those minutes easier to come by.

…or he can catch a bite with the mind witch in an intimate upscale contemporary Japanese affair in Midtown come the late afternoon on the day of his choosing, fully appreciative of a need to make time serve two purposes…. And acknowledgement of the SHIELD agent’s appreciation of the two places they’d gone so far.

And the fact that he might not care to show up anywhere with her that is not publicly accessible.

Also, there’s sake.


Phil has no particular hang-ups about meeting Emma Frost, either in public or in private. He’s pretty much of the opinion that if she meant him harm, he’d be harmed. He has judged her entirely on the strength of their own, face-to-face interactions, and his judgment of her may not match the judgments of others in the world at-large.

He sees the best in people.

Sometimes for good.

Sometimes very much for ill.

All the same, if she’s going to invite him to exclusive places with phenomenal sushi and sake, the man is just not going to turn it down. He subsists on dried peanuts and stale cookies from the SHIELD vending machine a bit too often for that. He’s really at an age where he needs to start really scheduling mealtimes and sticking to them, but the times when he can sit down and eat are rare.

“Miss Frost,” he says, well remembering her insistence on the unmarried woman’s honorific on their last meeting. “It’s a pleasure to see you again. Your sense of impeccable taste bears out again, I see.”
Sure, whatever this is? Probably important. But there’s no reason not to hold to basic courtesies.

Still wearing all of the evidence of a day at the office, the blonde stands out as much as ever in a lightweight skirt suit of white wool gabardine with satin-lined lace secreted away in the kick pleats. There’s a puff of white lace in the false breast pocket, and her silk camisole is trimmed in the same fine lacework. Or, she would, anyway, if not tucked behind a wall of steel-potted bamboo.

“Mister Coulson,” Emma practically coos, accepting the praise with a coy smile. She does not not rise to her feet as he’s guided into the private booth she’s claimed in the shallow room, but her hands lift with palms upturned in a playful gesture near her shoulders. “So glad you could come! The drive wasn’t too terrible, I hope? Was the best I could do, timing wise. The office has been a veritable madhouse.”

She continues on, leaning in. “I’m sure you understand.”

A quick smile rockets across Phil’s face, one that betrays genuine amusement rather than the one that springs to life when someone is annoying him. She’s had time to see both versions, after all. The differences are subtle, but detectable.

He decides to play along, adopting his own version of a flirtatious air. This is low-key, but it comes with a warming of intense hazel eyes and a crinkling of the laugh lines that help to betray his age. His voice is as gentle and soft as ever, but it dances with a version of his own playfulness.

“Some company is worth any driving difficulties, Miss Frost, and I find the present company fits neatly onto that list. I trust you are well on this fine summer day?”

He slides into the booth across from her, his head dipping in the impression of something very near an understated, gallant bow.

It’s a game, for both of them, but it’s a harmless one to be sure.

“I am.” Games are meant to be enjoyed, and something harmless is a lovely appetizer for conversation yet to unfold.

The neatly arranged, older Asian gentleman who seated the pair of diners looks to Phil, and then asks after his drink order. Tea? There’s several choices available. Sake? A leather-mounted piece of parchment boasts a fairly diverse list of styles. Just the water? Still or sparkling?

Emma, ever the temptress, leans in and offers her two cents as she points out a choice on the wine menu: “The Snow Beauty is divine, if you like something just a little sweet. Not the proper pairing for most of this menu, I know, but I enjoy it.”

There’s a pause, and a moment of theatrical consideration. “You’d be my hero, sir,” she levels at the host, “if you could make certain that one of those bottles ends up in my direction, at least.”

And then she goes back to perusing the various paced menu options, before pointing to one of the loftier-tagged ones with crab mixed in among the courses. “And that.” Possibly to make up for her inexpensive drink choice. Maybe. Appearances, you know.

And then she hands off the things that need handing-off so that she can briefly close her eyes and put her mind to other things. It’s in the unspoken subtleties of her that one might find what she’s up to, considering the occupants of the room unseen beyond the bamboo veil. Barely perceptible tilts of her head and twitches of her closed eyelids, and then she’s done.

Her eyes open, and she smiles… patient and satisfied enough for now.

“I’ll have what the lady is having,” Phil says to the young man, passing his menu over with a smile. “She has never steered me wrong.”

The man makes 100 decisions per hour, so simply rolling with the choices of someone who knows her way around is kind of relaxing. Content that he shall have a lovely experience, he sips at the ice water that is already there.

When she is done securing their conversation…for Phil assumes that is what he just saw, he asks quietly, “How may I help you, Miss Frost?”

He assumes correctly, if the ease with which Emma changes gears is any indication. The blonde’s smile becomes slightly more strained as the conversation turns towards business, notes of apology hidden in the corners. Slender arms weave as she leans further forward, setting her elbows on the table as she tilts her head to one side.

“Let’s talk about that disappointing discussion with Mister Summers, shall we?” she says, cutting straight to the point in kind.

“Of course,” Phil says.

He’s got a lot of…Opinions. Capital O opinions. They all spring to his surface thoughts as if someone had uncapped a Wellspring of Annoyance within the man’s otherwise orderly mind. But he doesn’t share any of them, preferring instead to let her speak and give her thoughts on the matter before jumping in with his own.

Not that the look on his face doesn’t say a lot too. It’s a mild but distinct grimace, a furrowing of his brows that rather sits there without leaving, a tightening of the mouth that, for once, doesn’t fade into an unruffled sort of Cheshire Cat mild-mannered smile of neutrality.

“Matter the first,” Emma says, a single finger and eyebrows lifted for emphasis. “I wish to make it abundantly clear that I am not an idiot.”

Her words are unheated, and the turn of her lips an artful curve designed for the purpose of turning minds.

Phil chuckles. “Miss Frost. I had no thought that you were. The jury’s still out on Mr. Summers.”

The statement works though. Tension uncoils, the set of his shoulders relax. He was never upset with Emma to begin with. He was a bit flabbergasted when young Mr. Summers told him that his 33 years of experience was meaningless. When the man expected him to commit in the absence of information. And when he simply walked off.

None of that had a thing to do with Emma.

Still, a laugh is a laugh is a laugh, and he’ll take his where he can get them.

Emma clucks her tongue, even as a corner of her mouth tugs upwards in a show of amusement when that judgment is stated. “Now, now, Mister Coulson, but that does bring me very swiftly to Matter the Second.”

A second manicured finger lifts, adding to the tally.

“Neither am I a member of their little team, whatever judgments you and I may hold about it. I am working with them, but you and I both know that’s hardly the same thing.”

“It hardly is,” Phil agrees, though hazel eyes twinkle when she gently chides him for his bit of grump about Scott Summers.

The truth is, Summers probably isn’t an idiot. He’s just young. 31 is still young. He’s just someone with powers who thinks powers and training makes him invincible. He hasn’t yet come to recognize that his enemies are also powerful, that luck plays a big role, and that everything can come crashing down on you in the blink of an eye. Maybe he’s never really lost someone that was under his command, and known what it’s like to know you sent that person off to die.

The soft, sad commentary in Phil Coulson’s mind (if Emma is even paying attention to it) is a distant thing. It’s one of those thoughts that rockets through unconsciously while someone is nevertheless placing all of his conscious attention on something or someone else. In this case, he’s paying total attention to Emma, waiting to see what she’ll lead up to as she ticks off her points.

There’s a hitch in Emma’s smooth presentation. A pause, where there presumably shouldn’t be one, as a third finger has already been lifted to move to her next point.

It could be seen as dramatic emphasis. It could be a sign that she caught the undercurrent thought.

“Third, I think that you and I have a very solid start to an understanding. And so I would like to talk contingencies. I like contingencies.”

“I like people who like contingencies,” Phil replies— and he does, because contingencies are important.

He takes up his water again, hazel eyes intent. He is still not at all quick to jump in here, more concerned with listening to what she’s got to say and lay out for him. The uptick at the end of his sentence invites her to continue.

“I volunteered to help with the latter part of the plan. Now, clearly, Mister Summers doesn’t particularly want his plans all outed.” Leaning back in her seat at last, Emma weaves her fingers together as she places her hands over her heart. “And far be it from me to derail a plan that’s working.”

Slender shoulders shrug.

“That’s not what contingencies are for.”

Picking up her own water glass, she sips and crosses her legs. “So, let’s say that their plan goes south. Very far south. Possibly unrecoverable south. If I understand you, there’s no love lost between you and Genoshan dignitaries. Which could mean that, should things descend into unmitigated chaos and hopeless despair, you could perhaps be persuaded to come play the part of the reluctant hero? For the right price?”

Her eyebrows lift, and then a hand comes to sweep dismissively. “Not money, of course. I wouldn’t expect you to be so crude.”

There is, for a moment, a hint of disappointment. Phil had hoped that Emma might leak the details that Mr. Summers had refused to share. But that stab of disappointment fades almost as quickly as it arrives.

She is too subtle and skilled a player for that.

He does his best to discipline himself out of any reaction, because here’s the truth…probably there wouldn’t be much of a price necessary. He’s monitoring the situation as best he can with SHIELD agents he left on the ground to watch despite saying he was yanking every last bit of support. He hasn’t gotten much intel out of them yet…indeed, none at all…but…

He’s not a man who would just hang people out to dry if they really, really needed help. Some part of him was already bracing for the possibility.

And he’s trying to keep all that out of his head, with limited success, because it’s like being told not to think of a white elephant. Suddenly it’s white elephants everywhere. All the same, he is too skilled a player to simply turn down assets of any kind when they are on offer.

“Perhaps,” he says out loud. “What would you be offering, Miss Frost?”

“If everything seems lost, I would come to you with every shred of information I have on their plan, we come up with a plan of our own, we minimize possibly very bad consequences for everyone, and then, once the dust settles?”

Emma lifts a hand to casually study her manicure. “Well, then I suppose I’d owe you a very large debt of gratitude.”

Looking over her fingertips at the older man across from her, she smiles. “I mean, undiscovered billionaire mutant terrorists have to be useful, yes? Especially my variety. Dinner, a show, the lifted board secrets from the questionable organization of your choosing…within reason, and possibly home in time for a nightcap.”

“And, if Summers and his team pulls this off, you don’t have to do anything you’re not already possibly doing, and I’ll be much friendlier the next time you need me to come unexpectedly out of my office for a future consult or two… All for your expertise being on retainer until they’re home safe.”

The reference to his first, not-entirely kind threat to her, produces a hint of a smile. At least now they can laugh about it (or perhaps in Emma’s case, pretend to laugh about it), right?

Some people would hem and haw, would pretend that this isn’t an excellent deal and honestly a better one than it would have taken to get Phil in at this level to begin with. He supposes he should, but he also thinks it’s a bit goofy to do so. Once the agreement is set it hardly matters if she could have gotten him to agree for a lot less.

“That is a very reasonable offer, and a good one for a multitude of reasons which I am sure we’re both amply aware of,” Phil replies instead. It’s a rare thing, that he can just be relatively straightforward in his line of work, but. There it is.

“I accept.”


The mark of her pleasure is a word ferried into existence upon a contented sigh, her eyes closing as she takes one more inventory of the room before releasing her buffering illusion.

Neither does straightforwardness come naturally for Emma Frost, whose entire genetic capacity is one that she all-too-readily hides from public scrutiny. That does not keep her from appreciating, at some primal level, the moments when they come.
But now, here they are, both in as good a place as one could hope for, and the whole of a modern keiseki menu still to come.

“I do like having something worthy of a toast queued up for when the wine shows up.”

“I hope it’s soon,” Phil says with relaxed good humor. “You talked it up so much that I’m all but dying of curiosity over here.”

He takes his cues from her, in terms of when speaking is safe and when it is not, when he needs to act like a normal man, perhaps a businessman out on the town with a billionaire to discuss some merger or another, and when he needs to simply be Agent Phil Coulson.

Relaxing isn’t as difficult for him as it is for others who obsess over work as much as he does; he is a live in the now kind of guy, and in the ‘now’ he’s enjoying an amazing place he probably couldn’t even get a seat at the bar at under his own name and credentials.

Gun to head, he’d have to admit all this wining and dining doesn’t exactly harm his image of Emma Frost. He’d like to think he’d treat her the same without it, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

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