Meet the Press!

November 28, 2017:

Reporters have swarmed the Triskelion. A statement must be made. But press conferences are unpredictable…

The Triskelion, NYC

It's really way more peaceful than it looks— oh, who are we kidding?

Characters

NPCs: A slew of reporters, emitted by Emma Frost.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, Pietro Maximoff, Wanda Maximoff

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Days. They’ve been outside, in shifts, for two days.

They wait just beyond the perimeter that demarks S.H.I.E.L.D. property, just beyond where the organization can really do anything about their presence.

Reporters. It started as one reporter, from a local community paper who probably didn’t have a lot to lose. She was easy to ignore. To walk past. She wasn’t very pushy, but rather polite in a way that invited rudeness.

A couple of hours later, she was joined by a guy from the Bugle. He was a little pushy, but not outwardly rude. But, bigger than the first gal by a foot, heavier by a hundred pounds, empowered by a better desk in the bullpen, and a decade older, this wasn’t his first rodeo. And he came with a partner.

Between the two of them, they could alternate in and out of a warm car that they parked on the street with a meticulous feeding of credit card info on a meter. They could also, when needed, divide and conquer when employees would inevitably go by in groups.

Two papers became three. Three became five. Now there are about nine papers represented out in the No Man’s Land of the sidewalk. They’re not blocking the way in, but they’re sifting through pedestrians with a surprising efficacy.

They aren’t trying to snipe each other. No, in the face of their opponent, they’re organizing to get anything they can. There is a deal, that no one is free to release details until they have gotten something here worth the chase. But once that checkered flag goes down… It’ll be all bets off and a downright sprint to write and publish.

It’s not ideal, but S.H.I.E.L.D. is notoriously opaque. Desperate measures are called for if they’re gonna get anything.

And these reporters, none of them the Lois Lane variety, are nothing if not desperate for whatever they can get.

*

The advantages of living on the SHIELD campus are pretty obvious and, most of the time, pretty awesome— you don't have to leave much through the front door; you can leave through the motor pool or travel from area to area without having to deal with the general public. Food delivery can at least make it to the front door, but we won't talk about that.

However, Sloane L. Albright's free time is now at something of a premium: She's an Agent of SHIELD, now; the training, the worrying, the days of playing instruments and talking to psychologists have been traded for training, paperwork, and combat simulations, in how to use and control her gifts not just for self-control, but for combat.

Crossing through the front lobby in the crisp November air, Sloane is clad in dark leggings, ankle-high boots, and a longsleeve concert tour t-shirt hidden under the weight of an authentic, honest-to-god vintage replica of the coat worn by Bucky Barnes in the days of the Great War. It's sized for someone a little taller and broader in frame, so it does a fairly good job of hiding the majority of her body, the sleeves cuffed up to keep her hands free. A plain baseball cap is set on her head, and big aviator sunglasses perched on her face, hiding those bright fiery orange eyes and their slit pupils.

It doesn't hide the iridescent blue scaling on the backs of her hands or the shape and scaling of her ears as much, no matter how she tries to style her hair. It's not much of a 'pass for normal' disguise, but she's been able to pass through the city more or less unaccosted unless someone takes a second or third look at her.

And so, thumbing through her phone to catch up on messages, she's going to take her short hour or two of 'me time' and — walk right out the door without realizing there's a small encampment of newspapers right out there.

*

"Ah, Doctor, looks like some activity at the gate. It's fine, though," the somewhat uncomfortable-but-attempting-to-be-professional driver remarks to the scientist in the back seat. Bruce is relaxed with an elbow propping cheek up, mildly staring out the window of the black sedan he's currently in, heavy black headphones on over top of a blue baseball hat. You know, the type of hat worn by people who are obviously trying to be subtle and wear what subtle people supposedly wear. He squints some and pulls off one of the headphones. "Sorry, what?" Bruce queries over a robust sound of symphony.

The driver repeats herself. Bruce kind of leans forward and out to look. "Oh." A pause. "Fun. Okay," Bruce says mildly, deadpan.

"It's fine, we're fine here," the agent states firmly, which gets a side-eye from Bruce Banner. "But maybe a different entrance, let me turn—" she says, looking around 'calmly.'

*

Inside, the appearance of all these reporters is creating a…kerfluffle. Specifically, three of SHIELD's highest and best are locked in a conference room disagreeing with each other.

Or, depending on how one looks at it, Special Officer Phil Coulson is facing down his old mentor, Special Director Lionel Shepherd, and Director Fury, disagreeing, vehemently, with both of them about what needs to be done.

"We've got to make a statement," Phil is saying, in his very calm, very even, very stubborn way. "We can't afford to sit on the sidelines. The entire world is watching SHIELD very carefully. We could do a whole lot to put out the fires with a few words. And it has to be someone of sufficient rank. It can't be someone from PR."

Shepherd tilts his head. "That's going to put you in the public eye, Phil, which could make fieldwork quite dangerous for you in the future. Isn't that why you avoided direct involvement in the Barnes trial?"

Phil waves it away. "15 minutes everyone will forget," he says in irritation. "It wasn't important for me to stick my head out in the Barnes trial. And unless it's going to be one of you…"

"Don't be stupid, Coulson. I'm not going to go out and talk to any damned reporters." That growl, of course, from Fury. "And losing you in the field would be stupid."

"I've known how to use the 'I get that a lot' trick for a long time, Sirs," Coulson says. "People's lives are at stake. The right words can save some of them. Those reporters are not going away. Just, please, let me deal with them. You both know using words as a tool is my strength, not either of yours."

Fury shakes his head. "I'm still not sure we should make a damned statement!"

But he's caving. Phil can tell he is, from the way he paces.

Seconds later, he waves Phil Coulson out of the room with a short nod. Permission granted.

Coulson is already in one of his sharpest suits. He smooths it down and heads rapidly to the elevator, hitting the button. The truth is, they're right. This really could end his career as a field agent, at least for any covert work. It tightens his eyes, causes a pang of grief, but he hasn't ever hesitated to sacrifice anything to save lives. He didn't get in this for the adventure, much as he likes it. He got in it to protect people. His career as he's lived it, his time as anything but a supervisor, might just be another thing that hits the pyre.

*

Poor Sloane. As soon as she's out those front doors, there's a clandestine series of hand signals between the seasoned Bugle partners. They silently move into a position to flank the Inhuman from either side of that invisible line they've been respecting, ready to assail her from whichever point she goes. If she stays unaware of them, she's gonna find it's pretty to move forward without bumping into one or the other in a hurry.

Meanwhile, Bruce's driver should be able to get safely to parking. After all, if the reporters were obstructing entrance to a government site, it could go… poorly. Well, uh, actually… That doesn't stop seem to one of the later arrivals from spying said car, however, and breaking out in a flat run to get to it before it can disappear down a controlled access drive. The brunette with her micro recorder is fast, too, particularly considering the sizable messenger back that she has pounding against her back in a sloppy counter-rhythm. "THERE," she yells, breaking the subtler approach that the Bugle vets had been going for. It earns her a glare of their disdain. And it draws another paper's rep after her.

The rest, though, stay where they are. Watching. Waiting. They'll decide where to go based on their journalistic colleagues' respective successes.

*

Swiping messages aside with her thumb, Sloane stares at the icon for the music player app for a moment before frowning. She'd love to put her earbuds in, but they just don't fit anymore— just like the headphones plugged into her amp, and winter earmuffs, and most of her hats that are not baseball caps. And then the hoodies… and — there's a lot.

Sigh.

Though a rookie, Sloane is still an agent — and her eyes lift to look between the reporters to the left and right. Like a slow motion film, her foot crosses over that invisible line of respect, stride carrying her just outside of the safety zone. They're not armed. They're carrying photography equipment. Wait, these are the guys that've been parked outside for days, right? What day is it again?

The terrorist attack at the gala flashes into her head, with Sloane being the ginger fish-girl grabbing people from rubble and wreckage and performing a little badly against a wild suit of Iron Monger. More recently, another flash in her head of Deadpool in an afro wig and spandex bellbottoms flashes into her head.

Though now he's firing finger guns in her memory.

Her lips part, her long, fang-like incisors flashing as she lets a single word slip out of the corner of her mouth:

"Shit."

It's moments like this— she's still not used to her role, her position, and there's quite a lot to learn. She's not exactly subtle-looking, either… Stuffing the phone into her coat, Sloane tugs down on the brim of her hat and tries really, /really/ hard to pretend that she's invisible: She's nobody. She's not here. It's all just a coincidence.

*

Incidentally, Bruce's car looks more important (such a shiny black sedan with window tint!) than it is… right? The driver checks her rearview mirror a lot, though she's subtle, checking on her passenger. She's not driving fast, she's following her instructions perfectly. And her passenger? He seems fine, and she relaxes, particularly as he reaches forward to pick up the coffee cup from the holder in the front of him between the front seats. Bruce is quiet, and she relaxes also: clearly things ARE fine. No problem.

But then the driver utters an explative as suddenly there's a brunette reporter running RIGHT THERE — she hadn't been paying attention — and she instinctively brakes, unsure if the reporter will do something daft like try to run in front of them.

The car lurches from the reflexive brake — Which sends coffee all over Bruce's pants and front, and some of the seat.

*

The elevator ride takes a moment. More than enough time for the reporters to begin their general mobbing. Coulson crosses the lobby with a rapid, no-nonsense stride, mentally rehearsing what he intends to say and how he intends to say it. His face is set into tight, grim lines. He can hear the commotion from all the way inside. It doesn't strike him as a good sign, and he's not entirely sure this will calm them down.

He's not entirely sure that he'll get a chance to say what needs to be said.

And he's not sure it will help by any stretch of the imagination. But he's a determined man. He makes a mental note to look for signs of existing trouble, diffuse it if he can, before he says anything. Mentally prioritizing, readying himself. He buttons his jacket; no need for the entire world to see his sidearm.

*

Perhaps it's most fortuitous timing that the attention of the majority of reporters seems to be attracted elsewhere. The car that pulls in looks like it might have taken a wrong turn for the fact that it's neither spiffy nor souped up like one might expect of anyone from S.H.I.E.L.D. The somewhat worn-looking orange PT Cruiser goes rolling along before jumping a side curb where it stops on a stretch of lawn that's decidedly not meant to be a parking space, but nevertheless seems to have been used as such more than once for the sadly flattened grass. Of all the things Phil "Deadeye" Coulson has provided them, a parking pace with their name on it was not one of these things. That and they already had their car nearly towed once for being parked in some 'director's spot. Pfeh.

The door is kicked open and a small form hops out, knocking the door back with a boot-encapsulated foot. Raccoons are certainly not an unusual sight in the wild but this one happens to be walking around on his hind legs like a people and even dresses the same. He's also bearing a stack of pizza boxes. Glancing over at the unusual crowd, he then looks across the car at his large and very non-human friend before shrugging and gesturing with his head towards the side of the building, which begins to walk towards after double-clicking the lock function on his car keys.

*

A muffled 'Groot' comes from inside of the poor PT Cruiser, clear enough for the raccoon's ears to pick up on as the whole vehicle shifts and lurches to one side. Out comes a literal stumped foot, planting itself firmly onto the ground as an anchor point. The rest of the wooden, gnarled body follows, letting Groot rise to his fullest height with even MORE pizza boxes in his arms.

With a grunt, the tree nudges the passenger-side door with his hip, loping along after his smaller fuzzy friend.

But color him curious. All of those people over there in the crowd makes him wonder what's going on. Hunger, however, overpowers this curiosity pique, keeping his task of going back to base as focused as possible.

*

The reporter who just cornered Sloane strikes in an instance and in a real hurry, his partner is moving to help pin her in place on the sidewalk. “Do you work for—” A dawning realization strikes, and the man’s eyebrows lift over his sunglasses as he realizes exactly who he’s cornered. He lifts those aviator sunglasses quickly and parks them on top of his his.

“Hey! Are you one of those guys who was there the night of the gala attack?” The ones that may or may not be featured in some photography that Jameson’s been sitting on, waiting for the right moment.

A moment that could be now.

“Rick Danley, Daily Bugle,” he quickly introduces himself. He doesn’t wait for an answer to the first half-question, or the second question, before launching into a new one. “What do you think of the powered registration laws that people have started kicking around?” Yeah, let’s lead with that one.

And now that Bruce’s car is stopped, the petite dark-haired woman in the cool red duster is right up on that mirrored window with absolutely zero fear. She doesn’t touch the car, and she has both hands lifted with stenographer pad and pen on clear display as she waves them to get the occupant’s attention… whoever that is. Talktometalktometalktometalktome, those hands beg. “Please!” she cries, sounding a little more frantic than she means to. “I just have a couple of questions…”

The other reporters then suddenly go… very, very quiet as the raccoon and escapee from Central Park's tree collection approach. There's shock, certainly, and a whole lot of WTF going around as they stare and try to form coherent thought, slowly and improbably parting like the Red Sea before the Israelites. Alas, the effect doesn't reach the front of the small crowd in time to spare Sloane the onslaught, too focused on a target acquired to realize what is incoming.

*

Suddenly, a reporter in her face! Sloane stops short, trying to backpedal a step to little avail. The second is behind her in an instant— are these guys damn ninjas, now, too? The first question— the 'do you work for'— is not answered, though the question seems to be caught short while he's actually recognizing her. The Inhuman is looking over her shoulder in the next instant, quickly scanning for an exit.

The young agent finds herself stuck between a rock and a hard place; she stammers for a moment before finding her footing (proverbially, in this case) and holds up her hands in a gesture of surrender.

Before her mouth opens, the Rocket Cometh with Groot close behind. Looking just as shocked as the reporters though damn well craving pizza now, the ginger agent slips a scale-backed finger up to tug down her sunglasses to watch them go by— ginger walk and lumbering lumber-gait.

Her head swivels to look back at the reporters, mouth open while she quickly fixes her glasses. Play a concert hall recital? Let's go! Save people from giant mutagenic monsters in the East River? No problem. Jump off a speeding boat to rescue a friend while being shot at? Sure. Deal with the press, especially with a question that cutting, direct, and blunt?

"I, uh— T-That is…"

*

"UGH!" yelps Bruce in the back seat loudly, reacting to the coffee, and his driver can't really handle it. She's a damn good agent with extensive training in being level-headed but she's no doubt been told she's transporting a nuke that can't be jostled. And she jostled it. WHY did she offer him coffee?! She brakes, and fumbles for her sidearm, holding it close to her and not aiming it —yet. At least the car actually stops and doesn't go veering onto a sidewalk or anything. But that reporter is going to get a very bizarre eyeful of a driver fumbling in the front seat, clearly having a big "danger" reaction.

"Yuck: cold; I think it got my phone," Bruce grumbles, trying to use the side of a sleeve to save his phone from the liquid, lifting his headphones clear. And then notices his driver's problem. "Hey now. Just a bit moist back here," he says carefully to the driver, moving slowly to lower the cup and the headphones carefully so as not to spook her. What a mess. Bruce then looks at the reporter through the window. Well….. Hmmm. He pushes the window button with one finger of the hand holding the cup, rolling it down, and asks the desperate reporter calmly:

"You don't have any napkins or tissue, do you?" A glance inside will indeed reveal the disheveled, mostly uninteresting scientist with the newly empty coffee cup in hand, contents everywhere.

*

Yeah. Trouble.

Phil uses the distraction caused by Rocket and Groot (the Guardians are often either the best thing he ever brought to SHIELD or the worst, and sometimes they manage to be both SIMULTANEOUSLY) to make his way right beside Sloane and put a firm hand on her shoulder. One he hopes is reassuring. Calmly he says, "Agent Albright is not at liberty to discuss the gala, as it is the subject of an ongoing investigation. I'm Regional Director Phil Coulson."

He hates that title. He hates 'Special Officer' too. He always just uses 'Agent', but right now, Agent doesn't carry enough weight. If this is going to do what he hopes it will do, he needs all the authority he can project. His body language certainly carries all the authority he almost never imposes on the people in his direct employ, it says loud and clear that he is someone to be heeded.

"I am authorized to make statements to the press. About SHIELD's position on registration. I'm prepared to answer other questions as well."

He leans down to murmur in Sloane's ear. "I want you to stand right here beside me, Agent Albright. Don't run, don't hide, don't look startled. I just want you to be an Agent who is now doing her duty, protecting your CO. Got it? You stand tall. You don't need to flinch from anyone. You're going to be fine. It's all going to be fine."

His eyes flick to Banner, asking for napkins or tissues. His lips twitch, just a little, but the expression is there and gone again before a look of general gravity replaces it.

*

The reporter outside Bruce's car is momentarily taken aback as the window is rolled down and he gets her with a question first. "Oh. Well… Uh. Yeah, I do, actually," she tells him, clearly off-balance but pulling her messenger bag forward to start digging around in it. "I think I have some McDonald's napkins in here somewhere. One sec." Yeah. Not Lois Lane.

She's completely unaware of the fact that pretty much every last one of her colleagues is on a rapid course for the man in the suit, even at the risk of getting closer to the flora and fauna display (aka Groot and Rocket) that has come to greet them with the smell of pizza following.

They press in, trying to get their mini recorders in closer, or shoulder in so they can hear and take notes. It gets downright claustrophobic if no one does anything about it.

"Director Coulson," comes one clear and feminine voice. "Does S.H.I.E.L.D. have any leads on the gala terrorists?"

Another voice, low and pushy, puts another question out: "The terrorists have struck twice in Manhattan. Does S.H.I.E.L.D. believe that the terrorists are somewhere in the City? Do you have any reports of similar attacks anywhere else?"

*

The hand lands on her shoulder with the sharpness of a knife, cutting through the sudden blast of social anxiety while Coulson steps in to her side, leaning close to whisper in her ear. Stand tall. Don't flinch. Protect Coulson. Staying right where she is, the sunglasses move from 'slipped down her nose' to being tucked into her jacket, tugging off her hat and cramming it under one arm.

Don't run. Don't be afraid of who— of what— she is.

"Yessir."

Agent Albright, brought up by name, takes the half-step forward to make sure the recorders aren't shoved straight up Coulson's nose while he makes a statement, providing at least some presence of defense, or authority, even if her stomach is churning a little bit on the inside.

She wants pizza, too, so that… really doesn't help.

Slit-pupil eyes narrow a little, glancing off toward the car more than the alien raccoon and the alien tree. Who's that guy supposed to be?

*

"Great. You're a lifesaver: this sure got me good," Bruce says in honest relief to the journalist. His appearance of calm chills out his driver as well. Crisis averted, hopefully. Now it can just be the crisis of Coulson's, not any extra giant green additions. "I can't really answer any questions even if I wanted to, I'm just a laboratory consultant today," he adds to the poor reporter. "I think you're missing your real story." Bruce apologetically gestures with a now-soggy napkin towards the crowd trying to interview Coulson: he didn't MEAN to delay the lady from doing her job. He turns to the front seat. "I bet I can make it from here, if you pop the trunk," Bruce offers to his poor driver. She nods curtly, trying to be professional. "Of course, Doctor."

Bruce gets out of the car, making a rather sad, drippy figure of coffee stained exhausted traveler. He's wearing the jetlag like a heavy overcoat. Any napkins that were offered are used— not that it helps much, before he attempts to open the trunk — fails — and knocks on it to remind her to open it. It opens a bit later and he's able to grab his stuff, an old briefcase, coat, a bag. He struggles a little to sort it all out, but breathes a sigh once he does, fastens on a mild smile, and starts to steer his way around the reporter clump.

*

As Sloane removes her hat and sunglasses, Coulson feels a surge of pride. It's what he'd hoped she'd do. He wasn't going to order her to do it, that would have been a bridge too far. But the fact that she did…well. It's courageous. It's worthy of a SHIELD agent. He squeezes her shoulder gently, and lets go.

But for these questions? It's a good thing Coulson has a good poker face.

The truth is, SHIELD does not have a single lead on those two nut jobs. The truth is, after the other day, Phil is now having to assign agents to remain on-site and undercover at every damned humans-first, pro-registration, bigot-b.s. rally, church meeting, and dinner party he can get them into, because now they know those are prime targets, not just large gala events like Stark's. They now know these guys strike hard and fast, vary up their attacks, are smart as Hell. They now know they need to rapidly develop tech to counter a speedster…or find a speedster of their own.

In short, the investigation is not going worth a shit, and Phil privately thinks they're not going to catch Speedy Gonzales and the Red Woman for awhile. He suspects they will gain followers before they do. It's going to get worse before it gets better, and he knows it.

But you wouldn't know it, to look at his calm, collected face, his steely hazel eyes. "The investigation into the gala is ongoing, as is the investigation into the terrorists who perpetrated these crimes," Phil says, pitching his voice to catch as many reporters as possible. "SHIELD is conducting a thorough search for these individuals. Discussing those efforts could jeapordize our ability to take them out of play. I will give details on the investigation and the terrorists as soon as it becomes feasible to do so. Next question."

He's just conducting a little press conference out here, even though he doesn't have a podium or anything. He notes Bruce's awkward attempts to get inside, but only in a cursory sort of way. So far that one, at least, is a small problem in a sea of larger ones.

*

"Oh." The reporter talking to Bruce says this and actually looks kinda disappointed. She also looks as though she's about to put a question to him anyway, but then she looks over her shoulder and realizes exactly what he's talking about. "OH! Oh, no!" She turns and starts sprinting in the cluster's direction. If she misses this story…

But she is missing the story, because another voice — one of the Bugle's guys, Danley — is already asking another question of Phil, even as he tries to slide around Sloane to get a better view. "So if you can't comment on the gala or the incident from a few days ago… What exactly can you tell us? People need some answers."

*

To her mild frustration, Sloane hasn't yet been able to get a crack at the speedster-weirdo duo that attacked the gala, but she also isn't quite privvy to that type of information… at least not yet, considering SHIELD's need for keeping their intelligence compartmentalized. The Inhuman's gaze continues to follow Bruce as he makes his way towards— and also around— the small gaggle of reporters. In the back of her mind, the thought of the coffee-stained scientist bumping into a tree and then there's pizza /and/ the coffee…

A'right, so, she might be a superpowered agent, but Sloane is still a /little/ immature.

Danley tries to slip past Sloane. The Inhuman gives the reporter a quick look, holding up her hand in a soft indication to not get right up into the Regional Director's face, staying at his side.

*

"Good luck!" Bruce bids the reporter, pleasant, when she runs off. Well, in theory Bruce is better off getting inside right away, but… he's a bit curious. He was honest when he said he didn't know anything about what they're asking, and his expression broadcasts that fact. Even so, Bruce lingers nearby beyond the reporters, listening in to what Phil is saying — besides, Phil is clearly a commanding speaker, and has drawn Bruce's attention in addition to the reporters' to hear what he has to say. However, the wet coffee is…. really pretty cold; he starts to rethink getting inside and changed. But really? He blends in more with the reporter clump than the agents right now, and is surely not of interest.

*

"I can tell you SHIELD's stance on the registration debate that is now sweeping the nation," Phil says, loud and clear. This is what he came down to say, and he is endlessly grateful to the reporter that offered him the opening. He looks Danley in the eyes, then sweeps his gaze across the assemblage. He has to do this just right. He hopes the words he's chosen will do what he hopes it will do. He doubts they will solve everything.

He wishes. But maybe it will sandbag the flood a little. Protect both some metas who might be targeted by the genotypicals and some genotypicals who might be targeted by metas.

He refuses to say 'humans.' It disgusts him that people think that way. They're all human. Well. Except Rocket. And Groot. And other aliens who might be running around. But the concept Phil is pushing against by his choice of language doesn't change any for their extraterrestrial status either.

"Plainly put, our organization is taking a firm stance against the registration movement. First, for ethical and historical reasons. No good has ever come out of singling out a minority and treating them as 'others.' It leads to atrocities, and the people of this nation, and every nation SHIELD protects and most we don't— are better than that. Second, as you can see, we have Agents, full Agents, of every genetic profile. I am genotypical. Agent Albright here is a meta. Both of us work with equal fervor to protect people who just want to live their lives, which is the purpose and the goal of this organization, as it has been since our founding."

And matter-of-factly: "Thirdly, for logistical and investigatory reasons. Clogging up our pipeline with innocents means that we spend time, effort and manpower looking into people who use their abilities responsibly. That means fewer resources to go after those who don't, like the terrorists you've been asking me about. I also want to stress that any genotypical individual could have done as much with the right technology. SHIELD urges everyone to stay calm, to avoid giving into fear, and to understand that it what's in a person's heart, and not what is in a person's DNA, that carves a path either towards heroism or heinous behavior."

*

Those reporters who aren't as tech blessed desperately scratch at notepads, but most of them are ready to jump right back into the fray. A large, niche word like 'genotypical' gets very little in the way of the attention that it probably deserve. And then to that 'every genetic profile' comment? A few wary glances in Rocket and Groot's direction. In Sloane's direction.

But then there's the moment that Coulson breathes. Another woman. A very dubious woman. "So, you're saying that S.H.I.E.L.D. only keeps a record of those who commit crimes or are employees?" Another glance to the tree. Her attention comes back and her eyebrows prick upwards. She's either standing next to a criminal… or something employed by Coulson's organization. Uhhhhhhh.

Banner will find that his newfound reporter friend will make room beside her at the fringe if he wants it, but she has her question, too. Over the clamor, her voice might be heard: "What if states like New York move towards registration despite your organization's recommendation?"

There are other questions, though, off-mark: "What are Agent Albright's abilities?" "Agent Albright, do you appreciate S.H.I.E.L.D's protection?" "Agent Albright, were you recruited because of your abilities?" "Director Coulson, how can anyone stay calm if not even a charity ball is safe?"

*

Coulson gives a good speech— again. It's something that Sloane's noticed in her dealings with the special agent in all the time she's known him, that no matter what, he just seems to … /know/. Part of her wonders if it's bravado, or if he's really … just that good.

Her stomach is totally still churning, but on the surface, Sloane is cool— and it isn't just because her skin is actually cool to the touch. But then she's put right back on the spot; right in the hot seat. She glances to Coulson quickly, taking a moment to gather her thoughts and shift her weight, back straightening a little more. Her mouth opens, a hesitant breath hanging for a short time.

The more she talks, the worse it'll be. But she wants to? … But as soon as people start digging into who she is…

"I'm afraid … um." One more look is shot to Coulson, then the words finally click in her head. "No comment," the Inhuman says, pressing her mouth into a line.

*

Bruce Banner absently tries to drink from the empty coffee cup in his hand while listening. Oh. Right. He checks for a trash receptacle: none in sight. Well, he'll just hang onto it for now. He settles in next to his new reporter friend, just listening. If he has any questions, he's keeping them to himself for the moment. Besides, his questions would beget too many other questions he doesn't fancy answering.

Bruce does lift his eyebrows skeptically at the question related to SHIELD only monitoring criminals or employees. If he's trying to blend in with the reporters, it's a pretty successful expression. He visually inspects the inhuman agent thoughtfully, in his quiet way.

*

And that's where his bid starts backfiring, perhaps. Coulson hadn't anticipated some of these questions. His poker face holds, inwardly he's starting to sweat a little. Fortunately it's no worse than the last time he had a gun pointed directly in his face. Actually, right about now he'd welcome the gun.

"I am not disclosing any information about SHIELD's record-keeping strategy at this time, as that could compromise ongoing investigations, and because it's a bit more complex than what I could give you in a thirty-second soundbite." he says, though there is a tightness about his eyes. He should have left off the logistical part. People don't want to know about the logistical part. Or they do, so they can rake SHIELD across the coals in response to it.

Well, it wouldn't be a press conference without some awkward twists and turns.

To the next question— what if states like New York move towards registration…"If states like New York move towards registration despite our recommendation then I imagine there will be a registry despite our recommendations, and New York will be the poorer for it. SHIELD is a peacekeeping organization, not a lawmaking body."

Then all these questions about Albright. She says 'no comment' and he reaches out to squeeze her shoulder again. Good. Good job, Agent. But he doesn't say that, just keeps his eyes on all of the reporters. Still, he wants her to know she's doing fine, that he's proud of her, and that's the best he can do right now.

He also ignores all questions about his Agent, and focuses on that last one.

"Terrorist events have been happening a long time, to all kinds of events, at the hands of all kinds of perpetrators. And in every case, the right call is for the general populace to stay calm, to avoid giving into fear, because fear plays into the agenda of the people committing acts of terror." He flashes a bit of a smile, fatherly. "C'mon guys, you know this. Next question?"

*

It's a wonder that a few intrepid newsreporters didn't think to trail the two oddballs that are either mascot characters of some sort or S.H.I.E.L.D.'s gotten into some really strange experiments. Or maybe they're covering up an alien invasion. …the latter might be sadly closest to the truth.

As the impromptu press conference goes on, Rocket and his buddy wander back towards the front, munching their way through another box of pizza. They seem to have gotten their way through a couple since they'd first been seen. It's a long walk that way.

"Yes, I tried the usual code an' it didn't work!" he grumbles Groot-wards, viciously biting into his current slice of pizza. "Some'un must'a changed it out. And no, I didn't get that memo. -did we get set up with an email? That's another thing we needa talk about. -you think it's about the chair?"

Coming around the side, he stops, looking over the swarm of reporters. "Huh, they're still here," he observes, talking around a mouthful of pizza. Glancing over towards where Coulson stands with the others to fend off this news menace, he swallows before waving his hand around. "Why'd you change the door code?! How's a guy s'pposed to do anything around here if they can't get inside!"

*

Double-fisting slices of pizza, Groot meanders after Rocket, arching a brow as he does so. "I am Groot?" he asks another question, a different intonation from his earlier asking between gooey cheese munchings. Because he isn't too sure of the change himself. It's S.H.I.E.L.D., it can be anything.

With a shrug, the tree shakes his head, then nods it within a span of a few seconds. "…I am Groot," he says with some resignation. The whole chair thing is entirely possible, they can't rule that out.

Once Rocket's attention goes back to where Phil and company are, Groot just…stuffs a slice crust-side first into his woody maw, biting down on it complacently as a stringy trail of cheese drips down between the two points.

Out of courtesy, his other hand waves the extra slices at the reporters nearby. Hi guys.

*

Would you follow an ent right out of Tolkien? I mean, if you weren't its furry little teddybear friend?

And now the teddybear is talking. The ensemble grows eerily silent as they kinda stare — again — in Rocket's direction.

Then, completely disregarding any pretense of propriety, one of the reporters starts fumbling in his pocket. "CRAP. What did I do with my phone?! HEY, GEORGE! Do you have your phone? Get a pic of the talking raccoon, wouldja?! And the… the… tree-thing. Get the tree-thing, too!" And then back to Coulson. "There are plenty of things that have historically gotten restricted after a terror attack. Have you tried to buy a lot of ammonium nitrate for fertilizing a field lately? Are you really saying that S.H.I.E.L.D. is proposing no changes or restrictions at all?"

Beside Banner, the woman with the bag mutters something under her breath and whistles low as she shakes her head and continues to write.

*

'No comment' seems to stem the tide of questions aimed at her, at least for now.

Plus, the reassuring Dad Hand on her shoulder leads Sloane to glance at Coulson and give him the faintest of relieved looks, trying to keep the micro-expressions and tells at a minimum before turning her head toward the reporters again. Hearing the talk about registration is a little … strange. It's good to hear the rally against it, that it's bad, though it leaves lingering thoughts in her mind.

And then, Rocket and Groot. She's trying to not look. I mean, it's a talking raccoon that drives a car and a giant tree that's walking around and she's trying so hard to stay straight-faced until—

Rocket screams about the door code.

Releasing a sigh, Sloane glances at Coulson before pulling a scale-knuckled thumb toward Rocket and Groot. "Want me to just…?" she asks, letting the question hang for a moment.

*

Bruce, of course, looks over to the odd, pizza-toting pair, like everyone else. He hadn't seen them before, so this is new to him. After the initial stare, he fails to … not smile. He does lift the empty coffee cup to kind of smile into it vaguely, because that's probably the wrong reaction if he's blending in with flabbergasted reporters. Still, they are talking about going inside… and if there's a key card necessary (a thing he doesn't possess), this may be an important opportunity. His ride has driven away, and he doesn't really see an obvious place to check in for a visitor badge….

"….This place is clearly very bland and organized, what a relief," Bruce does mention mildly aloud to his reporter friend (or more likely himself?), in a mix of amused dismay. "In and out," he reminds himself quietly. It'll be fiiiiiine. He steps back awkwardly from the reporters and starts to ease his way around casually. He'd be a pretty awful spy, but it isn't like he's, say, a walking tree, either.

*

The exasperated-Dad look that Agent Phillip Coulson shoots towards Rocket and Groot would probably make some sort of photo op, gooey cheese and all. This is not a man that looks like he feels particularly endangered by a fish-girl, a talking pizza-scarfing raccoon and a giant tree with a 3-word vocabulary. Take note, people of New York and beyond: this is not a man under threat by metahumans. This may not even be a high-ranking member of one of the world's most sophisticated and powerful intelligence and peacekeeping agencies.

For the length of that look, Phil Coulson feels like nothing so much as a glorified babysitter who is very tired and who needs a vacation as of forever ago.

Agent Albright to the rescue. Today she yet again performs with admirable flying colors. "Yes, please, if you would," he mutters back at her. "Quickly. For the love of God."

When did he take that last vacation? 28 years ago? He went to…Aspen, that was it. He got some skiing done. It was fun. There was that fishing trip 2 and a half years ago. That fishing trip was pretty great. He caught bass right up to the limit and was tempted to be super bad and catch one fish past it, cause he had a badge that could get him out of trouble if he did. He didn't though. He held fast to his integrity that day, because that's the kinda guy he is. And he kept his fishing license, also important. The one he never gets to use. Because of moments. Like this one. Like this very one.

The ammonium nitrate comment produces one of Phil's characteristic 'you guys are idiots' smiles, the one that most people read as just-a-smile because it's mostly meant to school his features to neutrality. He couples this with a dry, understated quip. "You do a lot of farming here in New York City? That's a false equivalency. Metas can't just go down to the local Ace Hardware and buy themselves a pack of powers at 50% off. Nor can they decide not to go down to the local Ace Hardware for fertilizer, they are as the Good Lord made them through no fault of their own. Billy the Basement Bombmaker, not so much."

It's time to end this. He's getting irritated, and he's getting snarky.

Loudly: "I will take three more questions. Three more."

Because if he doesn't make that call, he'll look like he's running and hiding, and he doesn't want that.

*

Rocket blinks at the sudden swing of attention, furry brows arching. "Huh." And then he beams and flexes for the cameras, even if he has skinny arms. They are very deceptive arms. You should see the size of the guns he can tote around, then you'd be impressed

Lowering his hand from one of those thinky looking postures he's seen supposed famous people on magazine covers take, he realizes something very important as the questions resume. With a grumble, he hops up onto Groot, clambering over the tree until he's on the taller Guardian's shoulder so he can see over the heads of the reporters. "Did he just ignore us? I think he's ignoring us," he snorts, squinting in Coulson's direction. It's probably a good thing that Sloane's being dispatched to take care of things (?) because Rocket looks just about ready to start heckling Deadeye.

*

Yes, good. The coffee salute from Bruce Banner suffices. Groot is pleased that he's gotten through to at least one person, making sure to wave again to the man now that his hands are free of pizza.

This action is cut short once Rocket climbs up onto a shoulder, dark eyes glancing upward in his direction. "I am Groot," comes a reply that pretty much echoes the raccoon's spoken thought, his gaze lazily drifting back over to where Coulson is standing among the reporters.

Oh, but the reporters! Maybe he should do something. They have cameras. Are those cameras? Maybe???

Pausing, the tree alien's hand flexes, going from five open branch digits to two. He's seen this gesture before and it seems to be pretty popular among the youngsters. So long as there are two fingers and not one being held up. As he poses, a big grin crosses the lower half of his face. "I am Groot!"

*

The gal next to Banner leans over and points timidly in the aliens' direction. "Do you know those two?" she asks of the scientist quietly. Maybe that's a question he can answer. "Because, uh, that's kinda weird, right? Even for you S.H.I.E.L.D.-y types?" There's gotta be some sorta of scale. Here's bread. Here's the talking raccoon and tree out of the Forest of No Return from Babes in Toyland.

Coulson's declaration that there will only be three more questions, however, creates a cacophony from the collection of reporters. "Other than stay calm, what other recommendations are being put out at this time?" "Are there even ways to track things other than mutants?" "Under what circumstances would you see S.H.I.E.L.D. possibly revising its present position?" "If S.H.I.E.L.D. can find the terrorists, can they be contained?"

Yeah, that's not three questions.

*

"WHAT'RE THE GLARKIN' DOOR CODES?!" Yeah, guess who that was.

*

Fish or water-dragon, it depends on who you ask at what time. Sloane gives her senior officer a quick nod, then turns away and quickly starts walking, stuffing the baseball cap under her arm inside the baggy coat and partway into the sleeve. "Right this way, uh, guys," the Boston girl says, trying super hard to look A) Professional; B) Detached; C) Relieved now that she's out of the path of the cameras and the lighting.

Heading right to the front door, she punches in the code and waits for the heavy *clunk* of the lock opening before pulling it open, the ginger Inhuman taking a moment to pause while holding the door for Rocket and Groot. "Okay," she says, in something of a harsh whisper, "I don't know what the whole deal is with all, like, this," gesturing at the pair with a circular motion of her hand, "but we are hanging out later."

Inhumans? Mutants? She'll have to see.

*

Bruce smiles a little as Groot looks so directly at him, sort of surprised by that, but not unhappy. "I'm not a S.H.I.E.L.D.-y type," is the immediate correction from Banner, flat. It isn't layered with any emotion either way, but it was a very quick answer to the reporter. Hard to get a read on if he doesn't want to be one, or can't be one, or some other option. But no doubt the camera-whoring pair are more interesting than that really unimportant puzzle. "I'd agree it's unusual, yeah," Bruce does say, hesitant but willing to give his honest opinion to the lady. "A door code makes sense. Where would the tall one keep a keycard?" he observes thoughtfully. Yeah, the 'tall one'; at least the tact is there.

Bruce realizes he probably missed his opportunity to go over and in the door. Ah, well. He's lost, exhausted and coffee-coated, and this is still a damn good day.

*

Well, that means he gets to pick.

He doesn't like most of the options, does Phil, but. There's one good one in there. If SHIELD can find the terrorists: "Yes, SHIELD is very adept at containing people with all sorts of abilities; we have designed any number of solutions to ensure that those who need to be brought to justice can be."

Can they track other things? "Yes, SHIELD is capable of tracking a number of genetic variations for a variety of purposes, applications which are not limited to law enforcement but which have also been used to provide medical care and support in helping new manifesters learn how to use their powers safely and responsibly."

Under what circumstances would he see SHIELD revising its present position?

This is a moment where, tired, stressed out by a dozen things, and at the end of his rope, that Phil Coulson says something uncharacteristically rash. Maybe even stupid. It betrays all the anger he feels that he even has to stand up and make statements like this.

"I see this organization revising its position over my dead body," he says, flat and grim. "Because I personally will keep fighting with everything I've got to make sure all citizens who wish to live peacefully and responsibly can do so. And frankly? If you had a friend, son, or daughter with powers? That's what you'd want for them. If you woke up one day with powers? That's what you'd want for yourself too. That's the acid test of whether or not you're doing the right thing. Golden Rule, look it up. Good day. Excuse me. Good day."

He motions to Banner. He's seen him. Move it or lose it, Bruce. He can come on in with Phil.

*

Finding himself once again being ignored, Rocket tosses his hands up in something similar to a field goal gesture, only that's not what he means in this case. There's no way he hadn't been seen, he's SITTING ON TOP OF THE GLARKIN' TREE.

One can see Rocket inhale as he prepares to fire off again but he promptly chokes on that breath as Sloane intercepts. Coughing, he looks down at her, his brown-red eyes narrowing. He watches as she heads over towards the door and then glances at Groot, shrugging before tugging the tree's head in that direction. Stop waving at people you idiot!

"….I have no idea what you're talkin' about," he informs Sloane once they get over there before peering at Groot again, not so discreetly (although he probably totally thinks he's being discreet) muttering to him. "-think she's askin' for a date'r something?"

*

And so his fun ends. Groot appears to pout when he's interrupted and tugged at, turning away from all of the reporters in a semi-professional fashion which disappears the instant he walks again. "I am Groot," he mutters, ducking his head low enough to get them both through the door Sloane holds open.

On the other side of it all, Groot blinks. His attention now funnels in on the fish girl, head tilting just as Rocket speaks for the both of them. Except for the dating part, that is. That's the farthest thing from his mind. He shrugs at the raccoon, making the shoulder perch waver underfoot. "I am Groot."

*

To Phil's back, despite his warning of three questions left, there are still plenty of questions that are fired away. But, fortunately for him, they don't seem to be stalking him. In fact, three of them go tearing off attached to their cellphones as they start making phone calls. "WE GOTTA STATEMENT," screams one, even as she starts frantically trying to make her way for a street where she can nab a cab. The two guys from the Bugle are off towards their car. The gal beside Banner, just arches her disbelieving eyebrows and disappointed frown in Banner's direction as he gets a 'come with me' gesture from the regional director. 'Liar,' her frown accuses.

The rest of 'em, though, are still yelling and taking camera shots.

*

The Inhuman's brow creases. "No, I just — ugh. I'm a friend of Sally Stojespal. Now come on, hurry it up! Get inside before security gives me the stink-eye for holdin' the door!"

Waiting for the two aliens to pass inside before releasing her grip on the door, Sloane plucks the hat out of her coat and tugs it back onto her head at a high, haphazard angle that leaves her hair a bit of a mess, watching the reporters with a somewhat cautious, worried gaze before turning her attention to Coulson and Mr. Coffee-Clothes.

Run. Hurry. Quick. Fast. Fast.

Sloane, carried in the arms of man that could run so fast he was on water, faster than a lightning strike. Sloane was screaming:

'SHIIIIIIIIIIIII—'

"Hey, Director?" the Inhuman ventures, hands in her coat pockets. "Sorry to interrupt, but, do you have one sec? I had an idea."

*

An expression of a sort of exhausted dismay flows out onto Bruce's face at some of the commentary about SHIELD containing people with abilities and 'solutions' for it. Like it might be a little personal somehow. But the frustration doesn't harden into anything further, Bruce just looks sadly around at the reporters, these baiting questions, and the rash anger he can feel coming off of Phil Coulson's final statement. Bruce seems to kind of disconnect from it, at least from a cursory look at him.

But, then Bruce glances aside at the accusing reporter gal when she frowns right at him, and… looks away. "I'm … just going to try to help. If that's possible." He's very, very familiar with accusatory glares, and that one was barely a scratch… still stings though, and he doesn't meet her eyes. Subdued and quietly sad, Bruce picked up on the motion from Phil all the same, and moves immediately, rolling his shoulder to adjust his bag a bit higher. He moves purposefully now that there's a clear objective (…get away from judgey reporter).

"Hello," Bruce says simply to Phil, after a few long beats, as he falls in step to go with Coulson, as if none of the mess just happened. He's ready to be inside— and not cold and wet.

*

"Agent," Coulson corrects softly to Sloane, with a sigh. He really, really hates those higher titles. He's just an Agent, one who is good enough at his job to help other Agents be good at their jobs. And he is more than ready to go inside and just be Agent Coulson again. But he's listening, even as he steps inside the lobby; ducking in because if he's going to listen to Sloane's idea he's going to do it inside, where they're out of reach of the reporters.

"Banner," Phil says by way of greeting. Cordial.

His face has settled into grim, hard lines, but he softens his voice for both Sloane and Banner alike. He's still pissed. 99% of the time, he is a man who is in total control, unruffled, calm. But that 1% is a real doozie when it finally expresses itself.

Rocket and Groot do get a look. Just a long, long look. And then he just…lets it go. He doesn't have it in him right now. Despite their flarking performances, they are not at all the subject of his ire.

*

"…oooohhh, you're the one Stoogepal mentioned!" Rocket says, snapping his fingers. He hops down from Groot's shoulder and saunters inside before turning about to look towards the others who look to be coming back inside. Seems like the news party's over.

For a moment Rocket seems a bit confused as the guy with the coffee stain accompanies Coulson in. Oh, was he supposed to be someone? Well, it's probably not like Coulson makes it very known that he employs an alien not!raccoon and talking tree to piece together potential WMDs and fly a quinjet. They practically live in the Trisket in their off time now. Except when they don't.

As Sloane goes off to speak to the agent head, the small Guardian folds his arms, waiting. And then he meets Coulson's eye when the guy finally looks in their direction before his own expression turns confused for the length of said Look. "…what! We didn't blow anyone up!"

*

Yay, so they did make a new friend! Score one for the Guardians!

In a way, having some privacy away from the swarm of reporters is nice. It gives them all some time to breath, relax, and refocus on what they're all doing. But since this is Groot, he just sort of stands there among the other four, glancing about each of them as they go about their own business.

The case of Coulson's glower makes him feels a bit sheepish, however. For some odd reason. He knows he's not at fault for anything, but he bobs his head vigorously and raises both hands halfway all the same, practically repeating Rocket word for word. "I am Groot!"

*

"Hey, she's — wh— I am so telling her you called her that," Sloane says, twisting around to point at Rocket again. "And then you're gonna be like, running off and hiding in the corner or something."

As for Phil, when she gets back to the 'Regional Director,' the Inhuman grins a little. "Sorry, wasn't sure if I should keep mugging for the cameras," Sloane says, slipping the coat off and throwing it over her arm. She looks past Coulson to Banner, nodding her head. "Sloane Albright," the scaled Inhuman says, offering a hand. Should he take the offered hand, her grip is a little firm for someone her size and build. Her skin is also cool to the touch— though not clammy— and the scales are smooth and catch the light pretty well. "Sorry about the welcome wagon out there," she adds.

"Anyway, Coulson, uh— I had an idea about the investigation. Remember that time Sals called in about the dragon in the East River? I met someone there that might be able to help." There's a short pause, then her hand lifts a little. "I'd just have to track him down."

*

The 'didn't blow anyone up' comment gets a sort of blink from Dr. Banner. Yeah, that's good. "Dr. Banner," he answers Sloane, relatively friendly. "It happens. Could have been loads worse." His grip shows no interest in impressing her, a bit relaxed, even. He orients more to Coulson, as the agent gets drawn aside.

"I, uh —-" Bruce kind of flutters his fingers down over his coffee stain… 'issue'. He pauses, for a long awkward beat, and then gestures vaguely towards where he can see a sign for the restroom. "Mmmm. Yeah," he finishes with a tip of forefinger finally at said restroom, deciding that explanation will do, and excuses himself. On the way, he starts to look more thoroughly at the coffee damage down his front, attention absorbed in it, in true focused scientist fashion, but manages not to walk into any pizza-toting trees (Sorry Sloane). He does emit a deep long-suffering sigh, uselessly brushing at the upper part of the stain over his abdomen, and… finally throws out the damn coffee cup into a trash can on his way into the bathroom.

*

We didn't blow anything up! I am Groot!

Phil Coulson's expression turns wry, that closed mouth-smile returning and quirking just a bit more. His tone could rival the Sahara for all the dryness it offers as he gazes upon yon Dynamic Alien Duo. "Yes. Well done," he replies. And that's all he has to say about that.

Then Sloane is providing a solution. He has to actually switch gears a moment; he thought she was about to suggest washing all the reporters away with a tidal wave or something, and he was going to have to give that a firm veto. "Make it so, Albright. Keep me updated." he says. He has EARNED his Picard references tonight.

Off Banner goes; he'll catch up with him later. For one thing?

His phone is buzzing. A lot. He takes it out. If anyone were to look… Fury. Fury. Fury. Lots of texts from Fury.

The boss is bellowing.

"Excuse me, all of you. I don't think the Director liked that last statement."

Given one of the texts is OVER MY DEAD BODY?!? that's a safe bet.

Coulson gives Dad looks to everyone else…and grumpy reprimands…

But Nick Fury gives him the Dad-lectures of a lifetime, and he's gotta go pay the piper now. Off he goes, towards the elevator.

*

Rocket waves a hand dismissively at Sloane's…threat? "Oh, she knows- 's what we usually call her," he says. He looks at Bruce as the guy blnks over at them, head jerking in this sort of 'yeah, I blow stuff up, you got a problem with it?' implication. He seems to forget that people around here keep thinking he's some kind of cute, fuzzy animal and not some dangerous former (?) criminal. Wait, did S.H.I.E.L.D. know that bit? Well, what they don't know…

It seems he's still learning his way around sarcasm and Terran subtleties. And maybe hasn't quite caught on as to how mentally exhausting this has all been for Phil Coulson. The guy's telling them they done good. He'll take that praise when he can get it, even if it might not be truly meant. Such can be told by the big grin that blossoms on the small Guardian's face.

And then as everyone seems to be filtering off to handle things, Rocket looks up at Groot.

"….so. There's this sweet coffee table in the break room…."

*

Good thing Bruce doesn't run into the tree on the way to the restrooms. It wouldn't hurt Groot, but it would definitely have been more painful to Bruce's squishiness and add a minor damper to the good day that's still going for him. Thinking that he and Rocket are completely off the hook, Groot breathes a grooty sigh of relief, wiping the non-existent sweat from his brow. "I am Groot." He can say that now, especially since Agent Coulson has gone off to deal with some other issues that need to be taken care of. Maybe he's going to go kick some butts somewhere. That's part of his job, right? Right.

As things settle down, Groot looks down at his fuzzy partner. He then leans in a bit. "…I am Groot?"

Obviously? He's all ears.

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