Unrepentant Hedonism

October 06, 2017:

Emma Frost and Phil Coulson meet to get final closure on their secret deals regarding the Genosha Affair.

My Moon, NYC

It's not as fancy as the places Emma picks, but it's still pretty good.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Scott Summers


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

A series of notifications.

A notification Emma Frost had checked in with his contact in Africa. Check. Noted. Further notification— protocols were in place.

Eventually, a notification he could stand down. The Genosha mission was over. Successful. Phil began sifting through his preliminary reports, but found them scattered, confusing. He was having a hard time putting together any kind of timeline. He had two he could ask to lay it down straight for him.

He’ll ask both, but today is for Emma. He sends an invitation to her office. Tapas at MyMoon, perhaps, his treat?

They were developing a sort of a tradition, after all: intel passed over some of the city’s finest food and drink.

The confirmation comes through the most courteous of channels. The venue confirmed. The time and place left up to him to suit to his best availability.

Frost would even afford him the opportunity to be there first and pick a table.

So magnanimous.

Because she isn’t at all waiting in her car, dressed in her fall fur coat and waiting for him to show up twenty minutes before the appointed time.

Nope. Not her.

He does arrived dressed in a crisp black suit with a pressed grey dress shirt, no tie, top buttons unbuttoned. He opts for a quiet, private table of the sort this venue is known for.

It’s probably not quite as exclusive as anything Emma would have chosen. Phil doesn’t have either the social connections or, let’s face it, the sophistication. But neither is it bad, it’s a venue that’s gotten a lot of top notch rave reviews. It’s just one people have heard of without help.

He arrives right on time. Precisely on time, on the dot, on the letter. He shows no signs he’s aware of Emma’s fashionably early arrival. He has a fashionable grey umbrella with him, of all things, rather like some English gentleman, an item he’s become quite taken with of late.

It’s totally a high-tech weapon Fitz designed for him.

Ugggggh, tech. Blessing and curse of the modern age.

At least it’s well dressed, and that’s worth a great deal in the book of one Emma Frost.

Speaking of that, the woman arrives in the sort of way that commands attention. Her coat, lightweight but warm enough with its fur lining to keep out the Manhattan blusters when they strike, is left open to reveal her dress: a provocative asymmetrical arrangement of gossamer silk and shantung, revealing one leg up nearly to the hip and the opposite shoulder entirely.

“Mister Coulson,” she coos as she approaches his table with a sashaying stride after being pointed in the right direction by the host. “It’s been forever, hasn’t it? It feels that way to me, anyway.”

Her hand extends in his direction amiably.

“I hope you’ve been well.”

Compared to the last dress it seems modest. Phil offers a smile and takes her hand, lifting it up and bowing over it a bit like the perfect gentleman rather than giving it a business-like shake. He doesn’t kiss her knuckles, but the thought does cross his mind.

He pulls out a chair for her as well, and says, “It has indeed been far too long. I trust you are well, Miss Frost? I hope the venue is to your liking.”

Good wine and small plates have seemed to fit their usual modus operandi, though this is the type of place which still demands one choose which things they want to try. If there was a ‘chef just showers you with stuff’ option here, Phil didn’t know how to activate it.

“It is good to see you looking so well, though.” Sincerity, there. Good to see her not dead and not enslaved.

“The best part of a venue is the company,” Emma replies, mostly meaning it. For the kiss considered, there’s a soft chuckle of amusement. She may have caught the thought. She doesn’t say anything about it. “But I’m sure you wouldn’t lead me into a den of swill, so I’m doubly unconcerned.”

“And thank you,” she continues, letting the words perform double duty for the compliment and the unmentioned favor that hangs between them. Triple duty, if you consider the fact that she’s slipping into the chair offered her and setting her clutch bag on her lap once she’s settled in and crossed her legs.

“Have you ordered yet?”

“I have not,” Phil says with a warm smile. He takes his own seat once she’s settled, and says, “I perused, but that is as far as I got. It seemed gauche to order without you, and foolish to do so without the benefit of your habitually impeccable tastes.”

He hears the double and triple meanings well enough. In general, he seems content on all fronts. Relaxed, open, ready, even, to enjoy a pleasant evening.

And if he wants to know more about what went on, well, that’s just his nature. His brain always feels like it’s on a need-to-know basis about everything. He was the kind of kid who package poked at Christmas if allowed to get near the things.

Shrugging out of her coat, Emma leaves it to hang backwards over the back of her chair. She pulls her hair forward over that nearly-bare shoulder, and twists it softly to lay there instead.

“Oh, well, now I have the challenge of trying to maintain that record whilst ordering from a menu I haven’t tried,” she mock-complains, feigning all of the put-upon aires that are required for the act.

A pause, and then a devious smile erupts on her lips as she leans over just enough to pluck up the menu card with three fingers. “Challenge accepted, sir.”

Because she’s absolutely going to cheat, setting her mind joyfully to the task of sifting through the brains of the kitchen staff, the servers, and the host with gleeful abandon.

“In the meantime, I trust that all has been quiet on the needed fronts?”

Phil really does try to keep his breath from catching. He tries to be pretty professional with Emma, to be a gentleman in both thought and deed. But every now and then, she does something that just reminds him he is not made of stone. That pull of her hair over a nearly bare shoulder briefly fascinates him in ways that are not at all polite.

His habitual smile takes, for just a moment, a really dopey dorky quality that he does not intend for it to take, all in response to her act. Then he remembers himself and busies himself drinking his very cold water, rather hoping he didn’t broadcast that reaction.

“Quiet? Never. Manageable? But of course.”

Sure, just a few traitors in his organization that he needs to yank out by the roots. Totally manageable. If it didn’t set his blood on a slow boil every time he thinks about it.

Meanwhile, of course, her trick will no doubt yield the Intel on the most delightful of plates and platters, along with the accompanying wines that set them off to perfection. Probably the only thing that even manages to reach the level of merely ‘good’ are the empanadas, standing out as a tad ‘meh’ because there are flavors in this place which surpass it so very much.

The blonde mind witch is, to Phil’s good fortune, too distracted with delightedly raiding brains—reading other thoughts and considerations of the evening’s inventory, the assessed performance of this particular kitchen staff, and how that all plays into the available menu—to catch the momentary lapse in his propriety. And she’s too busy pretending to read a menu’s descriptions to catch the momentary change in his smile.

His secret is safe for the moment.

At least, it is, so long as he can compose himself before she looks back up at him and turns her menu at him so he can see, leaning in to point out in rapid succession a few points so he can offer up to the server when he comes. “These, in that order.”

And then she’s on to the leather-bound wine menu.

“How are you on the matter of rosado?” she asks after a moment. “Do you like it?”

“Perfect. And the Rosado sounds lovely.”

Indeed, composure comes quickly; a function of his training which helps him get every part of himself back under control.

He gives her a smile that’s far more appropriate, and with the matter of the meal they’re going to share dealt with, he asks, “So, how did things go on your business trip?”

Another sip of his water. She has, of course, his full attention. The small, private room aids this, but the rest of the restaurant, even down to the table accoutrements, might as well have ceased to exist now. They are handled and dealt with, and he’s free to focus those intense hazel eyes wholly upon her face.

Emma’s smile turns opaque, perhaps more opaque were such a thing possible, at the question.

The intensity of the gaze of the man who sits before her is welcomed, but she settles back a little more fully into the seat she has only deigned to perch upon until now.

An arm drapes casually over her lap, while the other sets a hand upon the table’s edge.

“Better than expected, but I think you knew that since I was predicting a raging dumpster fire.”

The hand upon the table lifts then, delicate fingertips moving to gingerly drag trails through the condensation that’s begun to collect along the sides of her own water glass. Her eyes remain there for a time.

“There are a few final details that need attention, but I think I have the matter very much in hand. My part was—fortunately—very small, all considered. Particularly when you consider the scale of the thing. Things are as they should be. …Mostly, anyway, when you consider the disappointing lack of appearance by a sudden and comprehensive global peace.” When her icy gaze turns once more to the man across from her, so neat and tidy and all so proper, her smile tugs unevenly in amusement and an eyebrow arches. “But I am, of course, true to my word and very deeply in your debt for your quiet part in the contingencies.”

Behind her words, the woman allows her mind to stretch out just enough to keep a tab on the man’s surface sentiment. The broad strokes, rather than the final details and processings that make him so much of what he is on the surface. Not enough to be nosy, right?

Phil had been predicting a raging dumpster fire as well. But Emma’s summary puts any number of anxieties at ease. Surface thoughts reveal he does trust her judgment, and if she says she has the matter in hand he believes her.

He decides it’s probably safe to increase the number of agents on the ground in Genosha just to keep his fingers on the pulse of the nation; he’d pared it down to a mere two after his disastrous conversation with Scott Summers, unwilling to leave too many of his own people in the line of fire of what he believed would become a giant mess in very short order.

Well, a giant mess or a mess of sad, captured X-Men. He really wasn’t sure.

There is no avarice in his surface thoughts in regards to taking advantage of this debt; he is a man very focused on doing what it takes to get things done. He cares about debts only insofar as debts help him do his job of protecting the world at large.

“This is all good news,” he allows, as the first plate, and wine, arrives. When the wine is poured he offers her a little informal toast motion, and takes a sip of his drink. “Last time we spoke you were also concerned about the state of the astral plane, I believe. My own people weren’t able to do anything with that— what’s the status of that particular matter?”

Granted, WAND is not the most well-funded department. It’s hard to look at Congress, or the United Nations, or the IMF and say, hey, I need a billion and a half dollars this year to fight mystical threats. Even the existence of mind-reading socialites, flying strongmen and various super soldiers hasn’t made that one an easy sell by any stretch of the imagination.

Phil rather thinks the name has something to do with it as well. On one hand, it’s no worse than SHIELD. Or SWORD. On the other, it still manages to bleed cool points. Sadness.

The pale pink contents of Emma’s cup are lifted up in echo of Phil’s own gesture, the telepath setting it to her lips and considering it before setting it aside. A miniscule measure of the plate of little fried octopi is pulled onto her own, as she makes no rush to answer his question.

The damage done by the X-Men. Focus on that part. “The damage that I told you about seems to have been mostly repaired,” she decides at last to quietly share with him. Sincerely.

“So you needn’t trouble your team. The astral plane does, the majority of the time, prefer its balance. Like the minds of mortals, it is surprisingly resilient.” Her kohl-lined eyes lift towards the ceiling, as she thinks. “Which is very considerate of it, all told, as it is a shared resource.”

“Fascinating,” Phil says, and means it. It’s nothing he’s ever had a lot of truck with before, but he’s a man who finds most of the world endlessly fascinating. For a moment he just sits there being fascinated by it: wondering what created it, why it functions the way it does, why it’s a self-repairing ecosystem in addition to being a shared resource.

Of course, that probably represents a lifetime of information and study, a lifetime he doesn’t have. So he soon lets it go, tucking those little tidbits away in case they ever become relevant again.

“Was the objective actually carried out to completion, in spite of all odds?” It’s an insular nation. He hasn’t heard of any regime changes yet, but neither does this surprise him with such limited resources in place.

“Such is my understanding,” Emma replies as she plucks up a knife to begin cutting one of her little calamari friends into small pieces. There’s a new studious quality to her as she begins considering it. The flakiness and thickness of its coating. The trace of oil it leaves on her plate. She’s very intent on it for a very long moment, as she debates whether or not to actually try it.

It’s not a long debate.

After that, she closes her eyes and quietly samples it. She deems it safe soon after with a nod of approval and —while the subsequent bites are still as dainty and small as the plates in front of them—eats the rest more readily.

It’s not until she sets down her utensils and picks up the wine again that she continues. “I don’t have all of the details, I confess. Just my part. I have bits and pieces of the others, but so far nothing that seems that this plan of Mister Summers’s is going to tilt sideways at this point.”

Sipping lightly from her glass, there’s a shrug as she closes her eyes for a brief moment to concentrate, and then she opens them back to look to Phil. “But I am a telepath, not a teller of fortunes. The world in general does not like to stay at an even keel, hm?”

If anyone should know, it should be the tidy man across from her.

Phil has been known to lick the salt from a peanut package in passing while waiting for someone to make a point on a conference call.

It’s safe to say he’s not quite so discerning. Everything Emma picks is good, but he simply takes a bite. It’s fantastic, and he knows it’s fantastic, but the oils and textures and all of the rest is sort of lost on him.

She makes her point on how the world in general seems to like to tilt and he simply chuckles and murmurs, “Touché, Miss Frost, touché.” Still, this is largely satisfactory. An all’s well that ends well sort of scenario to be sure, and in so far as anything ever ends it seems to be satisfactory enough for now.

And when the world does tilt? That’s what he’s here for.

“So what’s next for you?”

“Some fairly mundane things by comparison,” the woman replies with a soft laugh, a genuine amusement making itself known as the hand across her lap lifts briefly to airily gesture by her shoulder before settling back to its comfortable place.

“I took off a fair bit of a time from the office between Point A and Point B. And from my other interests. Between my assistant, my board of directors, and my other pet projects, I feel as though I’ll be lucky to see the sun in any way, shape, or form other than ‘behind glass’ or ‘en route’ for the next couple of weeks.”

Another few bites, and she’s cleared the plate in front of her.

“A garden only flourishes so long without its master’s attention, alas, lest the weeds creep in to choke it out. But the exercise does come with notable spoils. I have a couple of tickets to the Met next month, for instance, if you’d want them. Private box. La Bohème?”

The offer is unexpected, but not at all unwelcome; hazel eyes light up.

He doesn’t answer right away— he has to think this through.

He really ought to be careful— he could seriously get used to these little benefits. He spends a few moments trying to decide if this falls under the umbrella of ‘this is a gift from a friend/business associate’ or ‘this is the kind of thing that falls under SHIELD’s policies about receiving gifts over a certain dollar amount.

It’s a grey area, but then so, to, is his association with Emma and most of the work he does. He searches his heart very quickly, and concludes no amount of outstanding dinners or opera tickets would ever make him do anything he shouldn’t. And he has been reciprocating out of his personal account as well, rather than his SHIELD expense account.

Really, he finds he hopes what he’s cultivating here in all of these careful negotiations and high-society meetups is a friendship, not just a strange professional alliance.

So, in the end what he says is, “I will happily take you up on those, Miss Frost.”

“Excellent!” and everything about Emma would indicate that she believes it to be so, from the brightness of her smile to the satisfied taking of another sip of wine. She leans back, the luxurious lining of her coat removing any of the unfortunate edges that the chair might seek to press into her back.

“I’ll have my assistant make all of the arrangements to get them to you. I hope you and your guest enjoy the seats in good health. And, if there’s something in particular that you’re itching to get into, you should let me know. I manage to find my way into some lovely opportunities sometimes. The joys of cultural investment. They keep giving you solid reasons to invest.”

Her empty hand moves up to drape across her clavicle. “Really, all of the best investments find a way of doing that, don’t they?”

“That they do,” Phil replies with a twitch of a smile. The Cheshire Cat smile, at that.

Mutual investments. But for the most part, he knows he won’t lean on Emma that way. Accepting an offer is one thing. Actually asking, shy of any great need, is another.

Unless, of course, getting into Dear Evan Hansen becomes the key to stopping a terrorist attack. Then he’ll make that phone call so fast the phone might melt right off its receiver. Or. Well. In its case.

The sad part is, he can think of at least 3 scenarios in which that could actually happen.

“There are, I think, few things better than that which is mutually beneficial, after all.”

Phil, of course, has none of Emma’s flair for the dramatic as he says these things. He’s finished up his first little plate, pours himself a little more wine. There’s a stillness to him which compliments her more expansive delivery in this exchange. He offers to top off her glass as well, arching an eyebrow at her by way of silent question.

More wine? Well, that was a silly question, spoken or not. The man is given a fresh iteration of those upward-curling lips, and her nearly empty glass nudged forward as silent answer.

“Agreed,” she purrs, meaning it. The mutually beneficial arrangements are the ones that are easier to maintain. When that is not possible, however, the ones that benefit her alone more than suffice.

It’s when the scale starts to tilt the other way that she becomes… cranky.

And, for the record, no one likes a cranky Emma. No one.

When the next arrangement of food is brought out, a tuna loin dish, she falls silent again and watches the server with a subtle intensity from behind the glass she lifts for another sip.

It’s not until he’s gone again that she returns her attention back to Phil. “What sort of things do you do to fill the time?” she asks, her head tilting a degree to the side. “Clearly, time with me can’t be the only thing you do for fun.”

“So sure of that, are you?” Phil asks, one of those Cheshire-cat smiles flitting over his face as he tops off her wine. “Perhaps you are as the one bright spot in a dark and lonely life.”

The man enjoys his flirting.

But as the food arrives he also relents, hazel eyes still twinkling. “I’m afraid you might find the rest a bit boring. When I get a chance to I like to catch a baseball game here and there, and I collect antiques, specifically antique spy gear. I have one of the first communicators built into a watch ever, from 1963. Of course, the range on the thing was about the size of this restaurant and no more, but back in the 60s that was an incredible edge.”

He stops himself before he can go full-out nerd, grinning sheepishly. “Would you believe had my life gone two steps differently I’d have just been a history professor? That professor is still in there somewhere.”

“I would put money on it, Mister Coulson,” Emma replies in regards to the matter of his amusements and her vague certainties, her eyes alight at her company’s entertainment with the game. The quick turns of word and wit.

But he’s right, sports are not her forte. But antiques? Antiques are a thing she can appreciate.

“A student of history—and moreso, I would think a near-professor of it, the always-student—is something of a soothsayer. No one cares to know the history of things anymore. And you know the desperate warning that comes with such reckless oversight.”

A small portion of the rich dish is taken for herself with that same artful regard for movement and appearances, she waits and talks while she waits for Phil to follow suit.

“Another few turns of fate and you might have been an all-out fortune teller. And I would imagine that it serves you well.”

She gets a full on flash of a real smile for her quip she’d put money on it. He takes his share of the dish and chuckles at the image of himself as a fortune-teller. “I don’t know how well I could have rocked the robes though,” he replies.


“I don’t know about predicting the future, Miss Frost, because the factors are never 100% the same, and people always do manage to surprise others. Spotting patterns, however…that’s helped more times than I can count, it’s true.”

His smile widens just a touch. “Unless, of course, I find myself dealing with situations— or people— who manage to defy both patterns and expectations. Exceptional individuals force one to cultivate a dancer’s skills rather than a fortune teller’s.”

To be clear of the subject of teaching is a thing of relief, the woman more than glad to cut a wide berth around it. Not that Phil likely knows it, so complete is the picture of Emma’s ease.

She drinks like a fish, and so the subtle, extended sips of wine are perhaps easy to miss.

This may be even more true when she finds the new turn in conversation to cling to, to nurture, to encourage. An opportunity lies there to drive the subject further away from the one still too-fresh and raw. She teases. “Now, Mister Coulson. You never told me you could dance. I feel as though this opens up a whole new venue for our little outings—”

“My dear Miss Frost.” Phil Coulson leans forward, and now his smile is just a touch wicked, at that.

Does he miss the subtle signs? Either of discomfort with a particular topic, so expertly hidden, or of an alcoholic habit of a nature few might associate with the epitome of class, grace, and beauty that is Emma Frost?

Or does he catalog them?

It’s hard to tell.

He watches the subtle signs of a person’s true nature as a matter of course, but the spy game would be very easy indeed if such things were truly as easy as determining entire motivations from the twitch of a lip or the set of a posture.

As he has told dozens of trainees over the course of his career it might be nice were that the case, and certainly some people do wear their hearts that much on their sleeves, but it’s something of a fallacy, especially when dealing with those who are equally skilled.

And of course his own face is set into lines which are as pleasantly inscrutable as ever. Even that shift to wicked delight on his face is a subtle thing, muted as all his expressions generally are.

He lowers his voice, though there’s hardly a need, and murmurs, “I’m a spy. Being a good dancer is practically a job requirement. And I would relish the chance to show you a grand time on the floor of your choice.”

“Noted,” is Emma’s simple reply, although the word alone doesn’t convey the whole of her thoughts on the matter. No, there’s all of the marks of her quiet delight, to think that perhaps she can tease out just a little bit of wickedness from a gentleman so squeaky clean by all appearances. A gentleman, so very good.

A spy, to be sure. But on the sliding scale of one to evil, he’s very much a galaxy away from the company she typically keeps.

She’s not entirely certain what that means, but it’s worth her awareness of it.

Even as she’s not trusting it, and she lets her thoughts wrap around Phil’s… The proverbial hound sniffing out the scent of a deception.

“You may live to regret that statement.”

Deception? Not…exactly. Not any more than he usually displays by playing every one of his cards very close to his chest.

He is trying to remind himself he’s not in his twenties, that she’s stunning and rich, and that his lifestyle does not lend itself to stable romantic relationships, even as part of him imagines charming her on the dance floor in a sort of plot that would do a 1940s romance movie proud.

The part of him that is sweeping her around elegant dance floors in black and white is happily reminding him that he’s had quite a bit of success with women, that he could totally make this work. Those thoughts slide off into decidedly more risque places. His more honorable side is trying to drag the far more base side of his nature out of the gutter by the collar, with varying degrees of success.

Even as the more cautious part of him stands there waving airline steering wands at him in a warning! Warning! Warning! Motion. That part is muttering what might be an amusing litany of: Please don’t let her be reading my mind right now.

Ego, id, and super-ego are all having a fun battle at the moment.

Fortunately, it hardly takes all his concentration to be an amusing dinner companion, and whatever his normally orderly brain is doing with this notion of dancing with Emma he’s perfectly capable of answering. She says he might live to regret this, and he only chuckles. It’s not much audible, just a slight shake of the shoulders as he says, “I think we’ve established I like to live dangerously.”

“Well, then you’re in just the right company.”

When the last dish of Emma’s barrage of choices is set down, a tapa plate of New Zealand lamb, the woman is nothing but devious smiles.

Phil’s mind wanders, and the woman continues on without a lick of concern.

If anything, there’s part of her that wants to commend him for trying to drag himself back into civil territory. …The fact that he knows she a telepath, and that’s every possibility that she’s shamelessly eavesdropping (which she is) probably helps in that regard.

Still. Commendable.

The server, once the plate is set down, moves to wordlessly refill water glasses if they need them. (Emma’s doesn’t.) Then the wine glasses with permission. Emma taps the base of her half-empty glass to signal that she’ll want her cut of the bottle.

“A little bit of danger keeps you young.”


It doesn’t hurt, but he’d be trying to do so anyway. It’s not that he hasn’t enjoyed himself in the past with a wide variety of lovers, but being basically respectful of them has kind of been key to that, in addition to just being part of his nature.

Eventually he succeeds in getting back to some sort of equilibrium by firmly setting his mind to the task of reciting the GPS coordinates of various capital cities for a good thirty seconds until he’s back to the more neutral ‘observer’s’ baseline that he usually sits at, slamming file cabinets closed in his head until everything is neatly situated once more. This is accompanied by a brief exhale and an honest laugh.

“No wonder I have such a dewy soft complexion then,” he says with his usual mild-mannered cheer. “And here I thought it was because I kept up on my beauty rest.”

Worth noting his water glass does need a top off, he’s certainly hitting the wine a lot slower than she is, as a matter of habit. He prizes his ability to stay alert and aware too much to ever let himself get too terribly intoxicated. Indeed, once his brain is back on the right track it starts scanning for threats, or things out of place, in a way that’s as automatic as breathing.

This third and final plate briefly takes his attention to, and he takes his share with pleasure, the lamb plate definitely standing out in his head by smell alone as the one he likes the best.

The best part of dining with others—aside from the obvious perks of food and company with whom to feel less alone—is all of the details gleaned about a person. Like the little ways a pleasure circuit lights up when presented with stimuli, even though Emma has stopped her spying, content enough that she’s not got anything to be concerned about.

Nothing, save the tasting of the last of their chosen course. Well, her choice. She gives it more consideration than the dish before over the next several bites that clear the plate with a murmur of appreciation, but ultimately she falls back into giving the wine her greater attention.

Well, aside that from which she lavishes upon the man opposite her, anyway.

“Well, whichever is the truth,” as if there wasn’t always that lurking suspicion that she’d know if it were not, “it’s a practice that suits you well,” she compliments, holding onto her glass. “And if you’re lying about the sleep, well, it certainly doesn’t show. There are a great many wonderful things to be said about a man who thrives in the details of appearances, and you’ve never appeared anything other than the collected gentleman.” To give extra weight to the praise, she lifts the remaining portion of her wine to toast him.

“And a generous one at that, in the ways that matter.”

“You’re going to make me blush, Miss Frost,” Phil quips, though he shows no signs of that particular ailment at least. Once she withdraws he becomes, outwardly, nothing more than the Cheshire Gentleman once more.

“I’d shower you in compliments in turn, but words fail and far short. I fear it would be rather like staring up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and saying: hmm. Nice painting. To say nothing of your own generosity, and pleasant companionship.”

And if his hazel eyes shine with some honest warmth through all that, well, he keeps the tone light and in keeping with the complimentary banter they’ve exchanged back and forth. “But it occurs to me than other than knowing you have an exquisite taste in the arts and an enviably sophisticated palette that I don’t know what you like to do when you’re not engaged in more serious business.”

People like to hear wonderful things about themselves. That’s an immutable fact.
Emma Frost is no exception, and the chuckle that bubbles up out of her throat betrays it. Particularly when one is noted for the things to which one has dedicated much energy. And time. And money.

“Well, see, that’s the rub, Mister Coulson,” she explains, her empty hand languidly floating up to unfurl in his direction as though holding it up for inspection. “It’s all serious business. All of it. The moment you divorce your desires—your pleasures—from the other necessities of the day is the moment that they cease to be a priority.”

Resettling that hand across her lap, she continues. “And when they cease to be a priority, then what point is there in having them at all? Human beings were never meant to live in perpetual states of self-sacrifice.”

There’s a pause, a more notable sideways tilt of that flaxen head, and then another moment of intense consideration. It breaks as she waves that empty hand with a gesture that acknowledges, perhaps, her tangential commentary.

“That is to say, I enjoy the things that make humanity… human. Art, music, fashion, unrepentant hedonism, and petty rivalries.”

“Only the petty ones? I suppose the big ones do tend to get horrifically messy. Though you have picked good things to enjoy. An endless well, and one so complex— what makes us human, that is— you can’t possibly ever grow truly bored, for we could be here all night simply trying to name all of it. The ones that pop to mind for me are probably…literature, music, science, philosophy, and the desire for virtue— not that I’m against unrepentant hedonism— I’ve been known to enjoy some of that myself, and many hedonists hold fast to no small few of the virtues.”

Fed and settled in with the pleasant buzz of alcohol, enjoying good company and conversation which, astoundingly, has nothing to do with work, Phil Coulson finds something rare happening.

He’s relaxing. It only shows in the most subtle of ways: the shift of his posture, the softening of the smile on his face, but it’s there. An event so rare it might well be right up there with certain double eclipses, but it’s happening.

He can make himself feel better later in that the whole conversation did start with the mundane realities of his incredible spy life, if relaxation is so much anathema to his existence.

He tried to talk shop. He really did.

It just got… derailed somewhere along the line. …Pretty early down the line. But he did set that car dutifully chugging down the track when they started out.

Emma delights in derailments! …if of her own design.

“Literature? I’ve always been partial to the philosophers’ writing, myself. But I suppose the best authors are always philosophers of a kind, hm? And science… Well, I’m afraid that’s largely what I employ the scientists for. Although I have been known to go and dabble every once in a great while, much to their chagrin.” She shrugs. “Technology is part of the company. What to do?”

The server returns not long after—a happening that sees Emma falling back into her watchful silence—to clear dishes and refresh glasses again. And ask after dessert and/or coffee, naturally, with a glance that settles heaviest on the Phil-shaped one of the duo when Emma demurs.

“Well, I’m no scientist either,” Phil says with a laugh. “I just enjoy it as a monument to human ingenuity.”

Phil contemplates desert or coffee; she demurs to him and he’s tempted to linger. He wavers, his job trying to snap him right back to old patterns, even as all of the temptations Emma represents tug upon him, enticing him to stay just a little bit longer.

In the end, he lets himself be tempted. “I rather think so,” he says, one of those smiles crossing over his lips. “Lest it be said that I did not allow unrepentant hedonism its due.”

“Oh, but Mister Coulson,” Emma coos, her voice low and of the ilk of Eden’s own serpentine villain, once the server slips away to fetch a menu and return his tray’s contents to the kitchen. “Dessert is but a start.

She lets the temptress’s smile linger for a beat, only to then pull back and—at long last—take a sip from her water cup that she’s only teased at earlier.

“Or at least it is,” she amends more coolly and matter of factly, “on a good evening.”

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