Last Minute Errands

August 20, 2017:

Emma prepares to leave town for fun in Genosha, but there are a few loose ends to wrap up. Agent Coulson gets a call.

A Wine Bar


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Scott Summers


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

It’s been four days shy of two months since a certain name will have graced a certain agent’s caller ID.

And then… It does.


What follows— regardless of pickup or voicemail—is an entirely unassuming, underwhelming request: a glass of wine at an intimate bar on the Upper West Side.

It’s a decidedly uncomplicated, unfussy, tiny place. Also, loud, as conversations bounce off of the distressed brick facades that cover the walls. Small paintings of vineyards around the world hang low inside the confines of booths. The two small mahogany-paneled barsmismatched but similar enough to possibly be unnoticed in that detailbear the dings and scrapes of their great age.

The light is low. Comfortable.

And the woman who lounges in the coveted corner booth as a party of one, who has no business laying claim over it considering the cramped quarters of the tasting bars and the rest of the booths, seems to stand out just a little less in the dim lighting.

Her white lace cocktail dress is for all intents and purposes painted on, scandalously short, and entirely see-through, save a couple of strategically placed bands of white cloth. Her hair is a glamorous side cascade of curls, the diamonds in her earrings and cocktail ring are huge, and her platform stilettos are staggeringly tall.

She should not possess the ability to pass mostly unnoticed by the bar’s occupants. She certainly should not have a fairly generous berth around her table.

She has all of these things.

It’s good to be Queen.


What he texts back is, ‘Of course. My treat.’

Because there are only so many meals or glasses of wine that he’s going to allow Emma to pay for. At some point, there has to be some reciprocity. And also things which help him avoid the appearance of being on Emma’s payroll. He isn’t, of course, but these are the types of things agents look at when they start hunting other agents.

He should know, as hunting other agents has been on his mind lately.

He lifts an eyebrow at the dress. It actually puts him a bit on his guard. While he is aware that sometimes she likes to push the fashion envelope, well— it’s not just the bands of white cloth that strike him as being. Er. Strategic.

It is this dress of hers that leads him to murmur, “Things are going that well, huh?” with wry irony, even as he slides in across from her, the Cheshire Cat smile betraying little more than friendliness as he does. Not that controlling his expressions is exactly a useful exercise around the company he’s currently keeping, but best practices are best practices.

He will, as usual, have what she’s having. Regardless of who pays, regardless of anything else, Emma Frost has such impeccable taste that to avoid her recommendations when coming to any of these hotspots— places well outside of Coulson’s normal purview, though not outside of his experience— strikes him as somewhat criminal.

He did put on one of his nicer suits for the encounter at the wine bar, because dressing down when dealing with Emma Frost is a fatal error in every way. With Phil, though, his well-tailored suit just makes him look like a better-dressed version of forgettable. It upgrades him, perhaps, from accountant to banker. He could be on the board of any business in the world, and he could be that one guy who never says anything until he does. And when he does, it’s usually important.

Emma’s lips, stained in so dark a red as to nearly appear brown in the light, smile cryptically. Or perhaps there is just a little more visible superciality to their curve than is her habit. “Not completely off the rails yet,” she tells him. “But the locomotive is teetering a little more than I’d like.”

If she notes that little bit of edge that her provocative choice of dress elicits from the older man, there is no outward sign.

She leans in. “The bar’s self-serve, alas. But if you get us a bottle of the amontillado, I think that would do splendidly. It seems so appropriate for contemplating the fine art of skullduggery, don’t you think? Unless you dislike sherry. In which case, I don’t think that there’s a bad pinot grigio on their list.”

“The amontillado will be fine,” Phil says. He gets that dealt with first, ensuring they both have glasses of the stuff and a bottle between them. He even waits to savour that first elegant sip before he puts his glass aside.

“What’s going on over there?”

Of course, he does have people on the ground, but he’s not going to trust their information alone when he can get better information right here and now. This also gives him the ability to do some cross-checking. As it is, he’s been so preoccupied with matters here at home that his ear to the ground on Genosha has been more of a distant thing than a laser focus.

That does not, however, mean he has forgotten, either the matter or the promises he has already made in regards to that matter. And ‘teetering’ is not hopeful news.

Emma waits, checking her cellphone while the drink du soir is fetched for her.

And then, there’s sherry.

“There’s been a loss. Only the one, that I know of. I’m… a little out of the circle, you see. Need to know, blah blah blah. I could have gone poking about, but… I didn’t.”

And she’s of mixed feelings as to the result of her decision to not even try to skirt around the Play Nice rules of one Charles Xavier.

“I’m due to go out of the country,” the woman says as she lifts her cup to consider its color in the light, without directly addressing his question. “And I need to be there in… oh…” A glance to her watch, and a frown. “Approximately twenty-four hours.”

She sips and considers some more.

“I can get there, with all of the stipulations intact that are placed upon me at present.”

Another sip. “But I have no intention of getting stuck if things have been misrepresented and I miscalculate as a result.”

Her glass is set aside, and Emma threads her fingers to lean towards Phil and her eyes narrow a little as she consider him.

“I understand that you have no reason to, but I am asking you… kindly. If you have any contacts on the western shore of Africa that you could spare…”

And then suddenly, her sweet demeanor shifts and her lip sneers in a look of unveiled disgust.

“This whole thing is cockamamie backwards and not how I’d have done it at all.”

A pause.

“Well. Mostly not how I’d have done it. I appreciate that I didn’t do anything at all until they did it first, but all the same: I’m not a pawn, and I don’t like acting as though I were. If I break out in hives over it, it’s all Summers’ fault.”

Honeyed eyebrows lift as she lifts her chin and runs fingers down the pale skin of her unadorned throat, asking in a deadpan, “I’m not, am I?”


“I am pleased to inform you that you appear to be hive-free, Miss Frost,” Phil replies, mild as milk. In direct contrast to her frustration he is steady and unhurried.

The rest requires more thought and consideration. And questions. “I have someone. Several someones. So that I might choose the right one, what is it, precisely, that you are being called upon to do?”

There is only one surface thought: Misrepresentation of the scenario is more likely than not, but…

“And what has been represented to you?”

“Painfully little, that’s what,” Emma snaps, although she does have the decency to look at least somewhat remorseful after the words—uncharacteristically sharp from her dealings so far with Phil have been—are out of her mouth.

A hand reaches up as she roughly massages her temple with her middle and ring fingers.

“Apologies,” she offers, the word reluctantly handed over and rusty with disuse. “I’ve had painfully little sleep. Time difference, you know.”

Leaning back, she taps her white-tipped fingernails in agitation beside her glass, leaving the drink untouched. “Allow me to convey what hasn’t been represented, but I know to be true. They’ve lost one member of their team, and they’ve broken the astral plane. Both are exceedingly troubling.”

“And then he tries to put a gag order on me.”

Emma frowns and lets her head slip to the side as she sighs, only adding to the asymmetrical effect of her chosen hairstyle.

“I don’t know why I’m indulging him. It’s a very bad precedent.”

“It’s alright, Emma,” Phil says, his tone gentle and his eyes reflecting compassion that he really does feel. “You’re under a great deal of strain. What you’re dealing with would put anyone on edge.”

The words ‘broken the astral plane’ cause Phil to perhaps take a larger sip of that sherry than is strictly classy. He exhales deeply. He rolls his eyes at ‘gag order’.

He touches his wristwatch and brings up a display, which he taps. “I’m forwarding my contact’s information to you now, and I will send word ahead so he will welcome you warmly. I believe you’ve also provided SHIELD with a fine way to come at this sideways. I’ll inform WAND that the astral plane is in bad shape.”

He doesn’t know enough about the astral plane to really know all the problems it could cause, not without a briefing from WAND, but really, any time someone breaks a plane of existence things have gotten out of control.

“I’d drag them all out by the ear if I could. But if I could have, I wouldn’t ever have allowed a single one of them to set foot in Genosha in the first place. I knew it would be bad, but…”

An eyebrow arches upwards, and then Emma’s eyes narrow with a sudden suspicion. “To be entirely candid, Mister Coulson, if your… WAND,” the word drips with an derisive, unimpressed tilt, “doesn’t already know that the astral plane is in tatters over there, then I’m not at all certain they’re up for the job. Every damned psychic on the planet should have felt it.”

Because, you know. Emma is very good at what she does, which has in turn bred a certain amount of professional arrogance. She’s unaccustomed to asking for favors, and it just generally doesn’t sit well.

But she has a contact. A glance at her beeping smartphone confirms it. And that’s all she wanted.

She reminds herself of that.


On another day, she might even remind herself that Scott Summers probably gave her painfully little information because of precisely what she’s doing doing right now and begin a woefully deficient attempt at forgiveness. Because if he’d given her enough information from the beginning…

“I’ll make contact, and then I’ll get about my business. But I won’t tell him any more about it then I’ve told you. I said I’d give everything once it was entirely off the rails. I hope they prevent it getting to that point.”

She finally takes up her sherry to begin drinking in earnest.

“I am not a benevolent woman by nature, but I do understand that philanthropy has its place. It’s all bets off, however, once someone asks me to risk enslavement. I am not getting trapped in that Godforsaken hellhole.”


“They might,” Phil allows calmly. And they might not. SHIELD isn’t exactly rolling in psychics, though they do have a few powered people on the books. Her derision and frustration continues to not particularly impact him at all. Run, as it is, by one of his closest friends, Phil is usually content to let the esoteric division do its thing without his interference or even, in particular, his close supervision. But this seems like a good time to touch base.

“But if they can’t, will it heal itself? Or will every damned psychic on the planet need to get together and do something about it?”

He’s at least gotten some partial information out of all of this. His agents on the ground are little more than a handful, and none of them are any more capable of feeling disturbances in the force than Phil is.

All the same, now that he knows about it he has to do what he can to try to make sure things get set to rights again, even though to be very frank he only has the vaguest, most fuzziest idea of what problems that might cause. He’ll have to brush up.

As for enslavement…

“Just don’t wait too long, Emma, to decide it’s reached the point of no return. I promised to be your contingency plan, but you’re relying on me to know when to pull that trigger, at the moment, on incomplete information. That might cause delays in my own ability to come after you. Hope is its own form of philanthropy, and one that might not be entirely warranted in this case.”

“I won’t,” Emma says, and her smile turns to some pretense of kindness. A pretense so thorough, it might nearly resemble fondness in it’s soft curve. She has very recently come off of failure, not success. And that does breed some awareness of her imperfect record.

“As for the astral plane mess… I don’t actually know. I imagine it’s worse at ground zero, but I didn’t investigate too closely. I figured I’d be down there soon enough to get a better look. But, when something catches your attention from half a world away when you’re not looking? It’s significant.”

Frost takes another long sip, and then offers a seemingly careless shrug with one of her slender shoulders.

“I’m just glad they waited until after my massage to break it. I get cranky when something cuts into my ‘me’ time.”

Just one item numbered somewhere in the middle of a very long list of irritants. She also gets very irritated when people break things over which shefor better or worsefeels irrationally possessive. So, that’s a Thing, too.

Another sip is taken, with no time for the savoring of the vintage in between. It’s this sip that is considered more carefully, along with her next words.

“Look,” she says, considering the man across from her. “I appreciate that you are willing to do this for me. I probably wouldn’t, were I in your shoes.” A skyward lift of kohl-lined eyes looses a confession. “I certainly wouldn’t,” she amends, tone flat, without looking at the agent beside her. But then she turns to face him as she does offer an earnest promise. “I’ll repay the debt in full.”


Phil isn’t fooled by ersatz fondness. This talk of debts and repayments and the like strikes him as far more genuine. He sits back and considers how it might impact her, to feel like she’s in the weaker position, to feel like she owes someone she probably doesn’t totally trust, for all that their relations have been cordial since that initial meeting.

It leaves him with some decisions to make, on how to respond to it. Whatever he chooses must allow her to save some face, must restore the equilibrium. Not just for her sake, but for his; while he’s perfectly willing to put himself in a position where he holds all the cards and applies leverage to certain individuals, they usually are irredeemable individuals who thoroughly deserve that. Many people would look at Emma and see just such an individual.

But Phil has spent decades looking right to the heart of people, and whatever he sees there is something he has decided is worth preserving and cultivating. All the same, he knows handling her the way he might prefer is likely to backfire.

Instead he says, “Miss Frost. When one issues loans to quality people they are not debts, but investments. I like to think I have an eye for a good investment, and thus I haven’t lost a whit of sleep imagining you would ever do anything less. And as I have not called in my chips yet, your debt is current. A current debt is almost as good as a zero balance. Think nothing of it. Besides, it is not as if I don’t have my own interests in seeing the Genosha matter resolved.”

He hopes he’s chosen rightly.

From behind a swirling glass of amontillado, Emma’s eyes narrow as she appraises the words that are offered up to her.

It’s a moment that lingers.

And then a smile returns after she at last lifts her glass in her companion’s direction. “Let it be as you say, Mister Coulson.”

And then she drinks, draining it and then setting it aside.

Another glance to her watch, turns the light of her smile just so. It’s like turning a diamond, so just a different facet faces forward. It may look the same… but it’s not.

“Buuut,” she drawls. “I have an appointment that I must be getting to. A burgeoning artist needs his career hobbled a bit before I skip town.” She leans in and whispers, “Took some bad advice, I’m told, and decided to use me as a subject for an unflattering contemporary piece. Not that most people would know it, because it’s positively garbage if the gossip’s right, but it’s the spirit of the thing.”

Her chin tucks coyly towards her shoulder as she inquires, “You wouldn’t happen to want to crash the opening night of a gallery exhibition, would you?”

That probably explains the dress.


Phil looks quite tempted to take her up on that invitation. On a number of levels, really.

But he is a past master of ignoring and resisting temptation. So, instead, he pays their tab and inclines his own head, shaking it regretfully. “I am afraid, my dear Miss Frost, that I am trying to ruin someone else’s career myself, these days, and such things do not wait long.”

He stands, and offers his arm. “But I would be happy to walk you to your car, if you’ll indulge me.” The perfect gentleman is back with a twinkle in his hazel eye and the Cheshire Cat smile on his face. His smile is more mask than diamond, and right now it betrays none of the subtle ticks of expression that speak to any particular emotion. Sometimes they’re there, but for now it’s a harlequin's blank, ridiculously cheerful.

“Such the gentleman,” comes Emma’s pleased praise. And as she unfolds herself, those heels put her several inches above him. It doesn’t seem to bother her. A hand smooths over the fabric that passes as a dress, and then she threads her arm through his.

“But you’ll be missing a splendid time. Brief! But splendid. I’ve been told that I can be very creative when inspired.”


Temptation ripples through him yet again. He really should decline.

He should decline because she’s dressed the way she’s dressed.

He should decline because it could give the appearance of wrongdoing. Even though he’s cultivating an…asset? Ally?

Then again, that thought stops him. Cultivating the appearance that he’s distracted, that he might be up to something himself, could draw out his Hydra foes. If he seems like he might be corruptible after all, he might even receive some sort of interest or approach that could help them make the case against the agent or agents who have turned traitor in his own organization.

Plus, Phil Coulson finds he is tired. A pleasant distraction might be just the thing.

“You really can be quite persuasive, Miss Frost,” he says, and he doesn’t really need to feign the amused warmth. “I think I will go, after all.”

Emma’s lips turn a wicked, conspiratorial line. “Excellent.

Because sometimes a naughty girl does like an appreciative audience. Even when the audience is one who isn’t in it entirely for the joy of her company alone.

Perhaps her spark of rebellion tastes all the sweeter for it. It’s a well-timed distraction for her, too. She might have let it go, but there is a primal call beating in the dark of her heart.

She needs to figuratively eviscerate something. And a painter / sculptor / whatever with a social deathwish will suffice. She, too, is an artist of a kind.

“Let’s get a move on, then. I only have a couple of hours before my flight.”

She snags the expensive bottle to-go en route. Perfect for the ride over.

“My driver should be just a few minutes.”


Well, her company is excellent, but admittedly, this time it was not the deciding factor. Even so, Emma’s clear delight tugs a more genuine smile out of the very corners of Phil’s mouth. He doesn’t let it grow too much, but it is there. He finds he is rather looking forward to the performance himself. Drawing unflattering pictures of people— or painting them, in this case— was behavior he rather thought people stopped engaging in way back in elementary school.

Learn something new every day.

He moves with her, walking her to her car— or, at least, the spot where they’ll wait for the driver— as promised. He reaches out, offering to carry the bottle for her with one silent hand and a quirk of his eyebrow. But he leaves his arm in hers, and when the driver arrives he politely opens the door for her so that the man doesn’t have to get up and out of the car.

“Why did someone think this would be a good idea anyway?” He asks this with some genuine curiosity, because this particular event hints at whole layers of a world that he hasn’t really touched. Brushed the surface of, maybe, during various spy maneuvers, but…not touched, not really.

“Because sometimes people try very stupid ideas that they think they will get away with, just to see if it’s true?”

The timing of that statement is not lost on her.

“Unfortunately for this evening’s new talent, I buy a fair amount of art. He’s dating another gallery’s former curator, who’s had it out for me since I acquired a piece she’d wanted for her mother or somesuch a few years ago.”

Her eyes turn skyward as she thinks and waits. “I think I may have burned it. I don’t really remember why, though. I’m sure there was a good reason. It was likely a great service to the art community.”

More likely vindictiveness for something that she doesn’t recall. But she doesn’t say that part out loud.

When the car arrives—a tasteful black sedan with nearly pitch black rear windows—and the door is opened, she climbs in gratefully. And then she’s tugging a box out of a small compartment between the rear and front seats. A box with glassware and a decanter of scotch. She simply takes out two glasses. Not the right ones for the job, but close enough.

“All the same, you’d have thought that my patronage of the arts in general would spare me her wrath. Alas,” she continues as she gestures to Phil to hand over the bottle once he’s inside the car, “it seems that it only bought me good intel. I might as well make the most of my investment.”


“People hold vendettas over who bought an art piece?” Phil is rather genuinely aghast; that might just be the most petty and foolish thing he’s ever heard, and he’s been alive long enough to hear many petty, foolish things.

He gets into his own seat and buckles the seat belt, and then hands over that bottle.

“Indeed,” he says, when she says she might as well make use of the investment. That much, about the Intel, he can understand. But he files this all away. No information is wasted, and this could give him more insight into, say, the minds of people like Ian Quinn. The ultra-rich clearly think quite differently about literally everything than even the comfortably well off.

“Will the young artist be destroyed for good, then? Or will he have some method of getting back into your good graces, so that you might then end up building him right back up?”

It’s another point of curiosity, on how this dance might be danced.

“People can hold a vendetta for anything,” Emma says, tone amused as she pours a measure for them both. Phil’s is first and handed off. Then she pours some for herself. “I would think that you see that often enough in your line of work. For a lost job, for a lost thing, for a feeling. Guilt. Fear. Whatever.” There’s a theatrical snort of derision. “Really, humans are the most intensely petty creatures.”

She does not safely buckle herself in, but rather lounges into her seat.

“As for this evening’s performance, unless the piece is spectacularly brilliant, I think nuclear winter would be a kinder existence for our new talent. I don’t like inviting a mistake to be repeated, and I don’t take kindly to someone attempting to make a spectacle of my existence. Not when it’s a little pissant, and I have a couple of hours to kill.” Tipping her cup briefly against Phil’s to clink it, she then continues. “Swift, decisive action is sometimes called for. And, for a piece called The Hoarfrost, I don’t hold out much hope. What he ends up doing after tonight is his affair. But he’ll know not to cross me.”

Traversing the city streets south towards Chelsea, the Town Car is—for the City—a smooth enough ride.

“Besides. This is New York. There are plenty of other keen and creative minds who will be more than happy to fill up his tiny void in the world. Ones with a better sense for survival.”


He clinks his cup to hers, and reflects on what she’s said. He supposes he has seen it, but it feels a little different when the stakes are bombs and borders. Still, he’s forced to agree it’s all the same. The only difference is really in the scale.

As she continues her narrative he snarfs his drink, hazel eyes widening as a rare, unguarded expression darts over his face. “Are you serious? That’s the name of the thing?” Even mild-mannered, largely unruffled Phil Coulson can be scandalized, it seems, and that one did it. It’s horrible. It’s a little funny. It’s also nasty and unnecessarily cruel, and he now finds he has a keen interest in watching this artist get his just desserts.

And so he says, with the utmost sincerity:

“Yeah, go get him, Emma. I think this will be fun to watch.”

The Hoarfrost, indeed.

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