Form and Function

October 25, 2017:

Phil Coulson receives a visit from Lady Dragana of Sokovia. An alliance is strengthened.

The Triskelion, NYC

Where the walls have ears.

Characters

NPCs: Lady Dragana Stojespal, emitted by Rusalka.

Mentions: Sally Stojespal, Peter Quill, Rocket, Groot

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The Triskelion, the architectural wonder that forms the headquarters of SHIELD, is something of a mild wonder of the world. Of course, part of that is because it tends to be somewhat overlooked - it may be a big structure, but there's just a lack of interest in catching it in pictures of the New York skyline. Then again, it should be less of a surprise than it might seem, since other famous intelligence agencies tend to equally downplay their headquarters despite using grand and sweeping facilities.

It's just part of the job.

This particular afternoon has been cloudy, breaking up the blue of the sky with white and grey clouds promising rain. A shower or two for the city seems to be in the offing as the sun makes its way across the sky, sending scattered beams of light through the city. The patterns flash past the window of a particular taxicab as it makes its way to the famous SHIELD building.

It isn't too hard to get through the security once she's dropped off. One more visitor, even though a foreigner, doesn't attract much notice. Especially when said visitor is as old as the Queen of England; a threat she's not. A curiosity, though, she is, and the elderly Sokovian woman simply keeps a soft, polite smile on her face as she asks to speak to a particular agent.

And then she'll wait quietly and peacefully, enjoying the visitor's lobby. A long wool coat is folded over one arm, long white hair braided and over one shoulder, Dragana Stojespal looks entirely at ease. She doesn't have her cane with her, surprisingly - the wooden sculpture had been something at her hand the entire time that Coulson had been in Sokovia; since she'd walked through the door she'd apparently not needed it at all. Here, she seems to have left it behind - for good reason, after all it would be the height of insult to bring such a thing into the house of an ally.

*

It's true. Phil Coulson's life would not be made any easier by the addition of a bunch of tourists wanting to snap photos of the facility or his Agents. He's really not sure this facility should be anywhere anyone can find it, but that's an argument he lost. Fury went on and on about symbols and presence and that was the end of that. But Coulson has to admit, it hasn't caused a problem yet.

Though if he knew his Agents were treating this woman as 'not a threat' simply because she's old and female, he'd hit the roof. He once knew a 96-year old insurgent-grandmother who slipped a bomb to a group of soldiers by hobbling up and asking if they wanted any of the cookies she had in her basket. At least they aren't letting her into any place she shouldn't be. At least someone has the presence of mind to actually really look at her credentials. Thus giving Coulson a call.

Dragana Stojespal is right in thinking this is Coulson's home. His home, his family, his life.

He arrives wearing his finest tailored grey suit, along with a complimenting silk shirt. He's still not too big on ties, that's missing. He has his smile on, not quite the Cheshire Cat one. A bit of it, but there's also real warmth in those eyes of his. He offers her a hand in a gentlemanly fashion, rather than for a shake.

"Lady Dragana," he says, in her own language. "Truly, you are a vision. Welcome to the Triskelion."

*

At least it's not hard to set aside a small area for visitors. After all, SHIELD has a proud history, and not quite all of it is still classified. With the recent acquittal of Sergeant James Barnes, interest had climbed, but since settled back down to the typical curious and tourists.

Besides, with SHIELD's skill at branding, the retail shop pulls in no small amount of extra income.

So far, the agents have simply treated her as another visitor - a close watch, but Dragana has done nothing to get any more attention besides her request to speak to a particular high ranking agent. That alone, she suspects, gives them plenty of reason to scan her and run her information and do what pleases them to convince them she is no threat. Having a great-granddaughter that is part of the organization certainly throws a flag in her favor, at last.

Phil's arrival gets a smile, with a faint twinkle in those curiously blue eyes. Strange that the Stojespal family has such a strong genetic marker, but only a minor mystery of the universe. When his hand is extended, she takes it and stands, resting her hand there as if greeting a prince. And then smiles.

In her own Ukrainian, she answers. "Sire Coulson. I am honored by your respect, and your kind words. May prosperity and success light your path." And then there's a switch to English, a language she's good enough in - and it's only fair. She IS in the Triskelion after all; when in Rome speak as the Romans do. "It is good to see you once more, young man. And it is a wonder for an old woman to see such a grand fortress."

She's only lightly teasing his relative youth, it's more of an affectionate comment. Dragana has the measure of the man, and trusts what she sees. "Might there be someplace where may speak?" And with her hand still resting on his, one finger twitches a little - possibly just a sign of age, weakness, or such things. Or possibly something more - four quick taps aganist his hand might just mean the morse code for the letter H…of Hydra.

*

Phil Coulson enjoys being called a young man, that smile widens a notch. Hazel eyes reflect the sentiment. Even if it's not exactly true, he enjoys it.

But the Morse quicly brings him back to business. "Of course, Lady Dragana," he says, switching back to English as well. He offers a gentleman's arm and says, "Right this way, please."

He is not entirely happy to be meeting her here, truth be told, if this is the business she's about. Ever since he started setting agents on a molehunt he has taken a great deal of his work at home; he hardly trusts his own office. He sweeps it for bugs every day, in fact, and so far so good. He reviews the entry and exit logs, meticulously checking them against his own schedule and questioning any variance. He isn't even too keen on letting the cleaning staff in there.

In this place, right now, his office is as good as it gets. He leads her to the elevator and swipes his keycard, a requirement for going up to the floor where his domain is located. He rests his finger lightly against his lips as if in thought, lest she think it's safe enough to speak in the elevator.

It is only when he is surrounded by his own things, with a white noise generator switched on in the background and the doors locked tight by his own personal code does he say, "There. Now we can speak freely."

*

Truth sometimes is relative. Sally would never even think of the idea, but someone like Dragana is able to get away with teasing Phil for being a youngster easily, and admittedly the old woman finds it amusing. Respectful, of course, but respect also breeds familiarity and acceptance. That and she approves of the agent's intelligence; the covert signal recognized easily. Such a smart boy.

Unfortunately business is here - and in this case, she'd rather speak with him personally. Perhaps a clandestine meeting elsewhere would be better, but the Sokovian blue-blood is unaware of Phil's concerns with moles. At least, this specific mole; she'd grown up with the knowledge they're everywhere as it is. And that most of them want to kill her.

Once she reaches the office, her eyes widen seeing his collection of various antiquities and memorabilia. "Oh my, that is a truly delightful sight. Such treasures." The door closes, but her appreciation for his taste is honest - even as much as it made a nice little aside before they were truly secure. "It is rare to see someone who appreciates the past so much. It tells me much about you, you know," she adds, meeting his eyes for a moment. "And it is comforting to see in this day. Everything is so fast."

Especially Hydra. And Phil said they can talk freely; Dragana settles into a chair with her coat over her lap and spends no time beating around the bush. "Rusalka told me about what happened on the boats. I thank you, Agent Coulson. From my heart. You have twice now risked your life for my home and my blood, and I cannot let that go unnoticed. At the same time, I cannot yet honor your efforts in public." She frowns a little, but knows the rules of the secrecy game.

"But you have my deepest gratitude for returning my great-granddaughter to me. If there is ever a time that you require a favor, you are to speak it." It's not an offer, but an order.

And then she reaches into her coat pocket, withdrawing a small tin - a cigarette holder, from which is retrieved a small piece of paper. Flowing Ukrainian script, a short list of names - two of which are crossed off. "I have, however, something for you. After we last spoke in Sokovia, I decided it was time to set a few small fires, and see which way the foxes ran. Those who invested in Icarus, those who might have benefited."

The list isn't terribly long, the names possibly familiar to Phil - especially one in particular. A deputy foreign minister for the country, a name crossed off. "Most merely sought financial gain. Nothing incriminating past mere greed, and were unaware of the truth of their actions. However, that man," she adds, knowing he spotted it, "was interesting. And died in a car accident as my men were moving to bring him in."

Her expression shows just how contrived she suspects that particular accident was. It isn't as if Hydra has any compunctions about eliminating their own if they become a threat, after all.

*

Phil can't help but be pleased by her enthusiasm. Many individuals have come in here and either rolled their eyes or failed to give it even so much as a second glance.

To her thanks, he says, "Lady Dragana, Sally is one of my Agents. The work is dangerous, as you well know, but it is certainly my duty and privilege to fight to keep her as safe as is possible. Give me 5 years and she'll likely be the one pulling me out of the fire. She has the gift, and I don't just mean for engineering. Nevertheless, your thanks are gracious, and I will remember."

He's not about to turn down a favor from a powerful ally in a foreign nation, after all, no matter how much he feels he was just basically doing what he was supposed to be doing.

He takes the list, and says grimly, "Indeed they are not. Were you able to get to his home and office before Hydra did? Did you find anything of worth there?"

If the man himself can't speak, perhaps the things he has left behind will.

*

She's old enough to appreciate those things when they were new. For someone to still appreciate their value says a little about how they might appreciate the value of someone like her as well. That, and perhaps there's something lost in the modern, sleek, soulless engineered world of technology these days. It could do with a little more form with its function, perhaps.

His praise of his agent gets an eyebrow. "Is that so. I am glad to hear. She is…I have, of course, five grandchildren, all with sons and daughters of their own. Much rides on Rusalka, with her mother holding the title. I am relieved you have such an opinion, and I look forward to seeing the results of your efforts in the future. The good craftsman knows it will take a long time to create a beautiful thing. The fine craftsman knows just how long that time is."

Five years, Phil had said. He knew how long the time would take.

While he looks over the list, she'll take a moment to appreciate the artifacts. The collection is a bit eclectic, but each of them - the folders, the old pen set, the antique radio, the wooden boxes of other curiosities in the shelf - they all speak to things this man has done. Phil wears his memories in his office, and they are reminiscent of better times. Happier times. She approves.

To his question, there's a frown. She raises one hand, moving the braid from her shoulder to her back. "I am afraid not. I did find he'd been receiving funds, some from curious sources, but those had since dried up. Accounts closed. Banks changing ownership. And his home being placed under the protection of the federal government? For someone in a traffic accident, that is an…intensely curious reaction. The ministry claims it is because the man was well known and well liked, though it is easier to change spoken opinions than newspapers. He was not always the pearl of the nation."

Whoever offed the deputy foreign minister has clearly further political connections. "Novi Grad has had its hard times. Strongmen still have their way, in places. I fear that these strongmen may be more united than I'd suspected; I have spent too much time focused at home. Myopia is a terrible affliction," she adds with a soft sigh. "There is a Hydra presence in Sokovia. It is alive and well. If it is strong enough to eliminate its own members for protection…"

It may well be that the very national government itself is compromised.

*

Five years only scratches the surface of what he hopes Sally will be able to blossom into, but it will be an excellent start to molding her into an outstanding Agent. She's already a damned good one. Assuming she lives. But he'll do his best to try to keep death well away from her.

But a grim cast comes over his face as he listens to the rest of it.

More moles, and this time in the government. He's got to get ahead of this somehow, got to find a way to get these people exposed, jailed, killed, or driven off before they pull the noose tight. "Do you have suspects?" he asks, jaw firming. There are always agents of Hydra about, that's to be expected, but this is the second time he's had reason to suspect ones with both enough rank and enough power in an organization to start creating real problems for those who fight on the side of the angels. Theoretically on the side of the angels, anyway.

Still, it is a problem, one to be solved and dealt with; he starts mentally trying to fit puzzle pieces into place. Sokovia of course has its own intelligence service, but she wouldn't have come to him if she didn't need more support than that; he's got to figure out how to get it to her, and how to take her mole out of play quickly.

*

Exposed, jailed, killed, or driven off. Often, combinations of the above. Sokovia is an old land, and against the history of its Chronicle Hydra is a new enemy - but one that follows the oldest of evils. And so Dragana will make the oldest of war against them, wherever they may be plucked out of the world. That they are now infesting the national government in some way…the calm on the woman's face says she's already considered that option.

And is ready to reach for her tools anyway.

"Individuals, not yet. Perhaps a few - there is at least someone in the ministry of defense that is clearly involved. Very possibly the Air Force, as Icarus' efforts were focused in that direction. Perhaps only…the word, ah, like a lobbyist - a whisperer in the ear, using the ministry as a useful idiot. It is difficult to track such things, even with my power. There are so many potential serpents."

She frowns, which turns into a bit of a feral grin. "It was easier in the old days. They wore their silly clown animal with pride, and only knew two words at a time. Today…today they have become cagey. Cunning. Not merely trusting in their strength, but in their planning as well. Very clearly the deputy was one of their number, but only a junior or new member. Not someone with strength and pull to survive being purged. Which means there would be another that can fill in his place." So at least one definitely in the foreign ministry. Probably a few in defense.

Then the old woman smiles. "Fortunately that is not the only reason I came. I did feel you should know the results as they are. At the very least, those collaborators felt it necessary to eliminate one of their own to protect themselves. It will require time for them to regather themselves to press ahead, time in which I will discover their identity. Meanwhile…"

The smile turns to a look of intense curiosity as she rests her chin on both hands and leans forward to really listen to his reply. "I am told that my daughter was rescued with the help of a spaceman, a talking racoon, and a tree? This is the most fascinating thing I have ever heard." The twinkle in her eyes is that of a child listening to the greatest fairy tale ever told. She's got to know how that happened.

*

Phil nods slowly, but he reaches into his drawer. He pulls out a few stun discs; items which are easily concealed, items which nobody would know Dragana has. He comes over and presses them into her hand, closing her fingers over the top of them. A few personal, secret weapons to aid her in her quest. A small thing, something he can slip out and cover as having been used on another field mission, cleaning up the inventory with ease. He smiles as he listens to her grumpy portrayal of the good old days, somehow doubting it was quite that simple, but neither does he dispute it. It was still simpler than it all is now, and that's just the truth. And Hydra's 'cut off one, the next one grows' strategy of swapping people around like demented component parts is a serious pain in the ass to be sure.

He keeps talking, though, to cover this entire maneuver; he might have missed a bug but surely would not miss a camera.

"You were told correctly," he says dryly. "I'm their parole officer, a charge passed on to me by their previous handler. But don't call him a raccoon. It makes him very cranky. Their names are Peter Quill, Rocket, and Groot. They are unpredictable, irreverent, difficult to control, and quite heroic in their way. It is my sincere hope that I can continue to find productive outlets for their energy. Peter is originally from this planet, and literally got kidnapped by aliens. But not the aliens he's best friends with now, of course."

*

As she speaks, there's aneyebrow raised when Phil reaches into his drawer. This was an unexpected thing..ah hah. His hand closes over hers, and it seems as if the discs vanish completely - her hand is empty; the little sleight of hand trick something she'd learned decades ago. Being able to convince a guard that you hadn't stolen an important key by showing your hands were empty, for example. Perhaps her fingers are weaker, wrinkled with age, but there's still a deftness to them that vanishes the stun discs up the sleeve of her folded coat without a whisper.

The look of soft approving gratitude in her eyes says a lot. She may not know yet precisely what they are, but Dragana recognizes the gift as protection. Especially covert protection, something others would not recognize as such. Ah, nostalgia; she can't help a fleeting memory of disguising such things in the past - and it was a little harder back then.

Maybe this new fast, sleek century has something going for it after all.

"Oh ho?" Rocket and Groot, and one of them is the cranky type. Very clearly, the 'Rocket.' "They must be quite the prideful group," she observes, noting his particularly dry commentary. "An energetic pack of young wolves can be the most difficult to control, and I do not envy you your duties. But I do wish you well; I suppose if there is anyone for them to have as a mold…no, perhaps just a role model."

And these people saved her great-granddaughter. "It is such an amazing world, is it not? Ah, that reminds me. With everything going on, my granddaughter and I believe that it is best for a move for Rusalka herself. Irja is meeting with her now, actually. A proper presence for the Stojespal here would do well, and perhaps make things smoother…should we need to speak once more. A mere dorm room is no place for a proper agent and go-between, and I suppose having some help will ease the burdens the girl has."

Unspoken, of course, is the suggestion that there might just be some extra folks she can send Phil's way should he need them - either as future students or as covert muscle. Silent ties are the things upon which their mutual occupation is built, after all.

"I am glad to have borrowed so much of your time, Agent Coulson. I am glad I was right when I first met you. A trustworthy, dedicated man who is not blinded by focus as some might be." And the white-haired woman smiles softly, standing as she does. "I will be in touch with you, of course. Now…how might an old grandmother find her way from such a great building as this? I should find a taxi and return to the others; if they aren't watched carefully it's likely they've wandered off to go shopping." An unlikely event, from the little Phil knows about Irja Stojespal - the air force officer is very much cast in the literal mold of her grandmother. Duty above all.

*

Agent Coulson smiles gently at her confidence in him; it's nice to hear. "My thanks, my Lady," he says, spreading his hands and bowing slightly.

Phil reads right between the lines, and he tips his head to her in acknowledgement both of the statement and the subtext. It's a good plan, and one that gets Sally some distance from the Triskelion to boot, something he approves of. And of course, there is plenty of room to place open protection on such a place; she is nobility and has been the subject of a kidnapping attempt before.

"Please, allow me to walk you out," he says. He will not under any circumstances leave Dragana Stojespal to roam these halls alone, these halls that are his home and yet have become such a source of tension to him. Someone he's known, worked for for years, and trusted is a viper in the nest, and it is as discomfiting as it is heartbreaking. But none of that at all is in his mien as he offers his arm again, just a perfect gentleman taking an important guest where she needs to go. "And please, allow me to requisition you a car and a driver." A driver he trusts. He won't put her in the back of a mere cab, that strikes him as a security problem in the extreme. Maybe not when she first came here, apparently, in one, but certainly now that they've met.

Is it still paranoia when they're really out to get you?

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