A Dark and Sunny Christmas Eve

December 24, 2017:

As part of her fabulous Maui getwaway with Tony Stark, Emma Frost 1) lets Tony tag along on a "business" lunch and 2) gives Coulson a present he never wanted.

Maui, Hawaii


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Scott Summers

Mood Music: Ukulele Christmas Medley

Fade In…

Christmas Eve.

What a horrible day.

It’s harder to be angry and bitter, though, when there are palm trees swaying in the breeze, the distant sound of drums carrying from a resort performance miles away, and a mai tai in your hand.


‘I’m in Maui with a friend,’ a text message had read yesterday, late. ‘Are you free to stop by? Not urgent. Bring sunscreen. :)’

Not that she had any idea, really, how that would work. Or whether Phil had any family that would need his paternal presence to preside over some familial festivity.

She half-expected her message to go completely ignored. Or to be asked to come calling when back in range of the Triskelion.

Both of those things would have meant no need to abandon Tony to his own devices. A thing which she’d found surprisingly impossible to do anyway, without something that would invite suspicion.

Hence, he was dragged along.

‘Friend is coming.’ She’d texted a bit closer to the rendezvous, hoping to not regret mixing two parts of her life. Hoping to not scare Phil off.

‘I think you know him professionally,’ she added a minute later. Just to be certain on that latter point.


Emma sips from her mai tai, watching the ocean in a lounge chaise under a pavilion on the beach, waiting for the appetizers to arrive and be set down on the two tiny tables between three such chairs.

Life is glorious here, in the throes of escapism and wearing a skimpy white bikini that could be the classic French ‘pass through the center of a wedding ring’ type were it not for the large brass rings holding the parts together at her hips and at the open seam of her ribs. She adjusts the gauzy white sarong that covers one leg with the subtlest note of self-consciousness, perfecting the lay of the cloth and the silky knotted fringe on its edge. Adjusts the knot of it atop the brass ring on the other side’s hip.

She is doing her level best to ignore the rendition of ‘Deck the Halls’ presently being played on ukulele closer to the bar some distance behind them. Compromises must be made to have the drinks and food come to you.

“I’m serious, Tony,” the telepath says just one more time as she finishes her plea for him to not judge her about who’s coming to lunch. “Just a little business, and then we can get back to ignoring everything, I promise.”

She’s a workaholic in her own right. Surely, he understands.

When Phil Coulson tells people SHIELD is his only family he is not exaggerating. His parents are both long dead; every romantic connection he ever made has been unravelled by The Job eventually and he was an only child to begin with. In many ways this makes him the perfect candidate for everything he does; there is absolutely nobody who might ever inquire on the nature of his secrets, who might worry over him if (and let's face it, when) he disappears for long stretches of time.

Given he has done absolutely nothing to change the nature of this life, one might even be safe in assuming he likes it that way.

Sometimes he answers texts and phone calls. At other times, he just appears. As he does now, sipping a pineapple daiquiri, wearing a pair of sunglasses, Hawaiian short sleeved shirt fluttering over a frame that reveals itself, when he wears short sleeves, to be far more muscular than anyone gives the man, in his early fifties as he is, credit for. He's even wearing jeans, and flip flops, perfect Maui fare. And sunscreen. A pink triangle of the stuff is smeared across his nose.

Never. Never let it be said that Phil Coulson is not in possession of a fine sense of humor.

It's a nice break. He's been in his best suits for weeks now, tirelessly sitting down with members of Congress as he tries to urge them to sanity. He outed himself as the Regional Director; he might as well use it. He's used it before— during the Trial of Two Centuries there were those who had attempted to use the business with Barnes to slice SHIELD's funding to ribbons— but those summertime meetings feel positively routine in comparison to what he's trying to accomplish now. Which feels rather like an exercise in emulating Sisyphus and his iconic boulder.

He slips into the table next to Emma and murmurs, "Seasons Greetings, Miss Frost, you're looking lovely as usual. And as usual, I can't fault your choice of venue."

“Phil?” This is coming from a beachside bar not far from the woman in the chair. The voice is familiar, maybe if not welcome. Stark has that effect on people. “This is the business your dealing with, Emma? Talking to Supernanny here?” The inventor replies with a smirk crossing his face as he strolls back towards the pair. Flip flops. Short sleeved Hawaiian shirt with little pineapples on it, swim trunks and a strawberry daiquiri in his hand. For a man that spends most of his time in a lab, he’s still physically fit as any athlete and he does like to show off.

“Totally judging.” He adds with a grin toward them both as he strolls back towards his own chair. “And it’s my choice of venue, but Emma at least provided the excuse which I am thankful for.” He adds with a wink towards the woman.

“I know this is prolly top secret and everything but I told Emma that she was stuck with me for the length of time were here in the islands.” A smirk again. “I get lonely and everything after all. Don’t want that do we?”

Emma looks to Phil and his sunscreen. That’s not what she meant.

Emma also hears Tony. She closes her eyes, simultaneously expressing the try against her patience and blocking the view of said sunscreen.

Her smile becomes decidedly more tried when it appears once more, but good naturedly so.


“Mister Coulson, so glad you could join us.” A look is shot in Tony’s direction, telling him to behave wordlessly. Neither is she a stranger to Sisyphean tasks.

“And yes, Tony. This is my business.” A hand unfurls towards the ocean. “There’s a wonderful view, so we can all enjoy it. I particularly like the ocean waves. Very calming. Better to think.

Or something.

The woman in her swimwear abandons the pretense of happy smiles very quickly, stretching her neck by tilt of her head this way and that and her eyes closing once more as she stretches her mind out to the area around them, counting and getting a good sense of the minds around them. And then deadening the sounds of the trio’s voices, burying them beneath the roar of the sea.

“I do hope you’ve been well.”

Phil adopts the classic Cheshire Cat smile, which he aims in Tony's direction. His tone is mild, touched with amusement as he says, "Aw, Tony, if you are lonely on a tropical island you know you never need an excuse."

And then he tosses the man a wink.

Because what's the best way to tweak Tony Stark? Who is judging?

Sometimes? Ambiguous flirting. If one happens to be Phil Coulson, and not, say, some vision of feminine beauty in white. Can't keep Stark on his toes if he reverts to Dad Face all the time.

But he isn't given to clowning for too terribly long, and though some amusement flickers in his hazel eyes at Emma's exasperation— early, for that, in a conversation that includes both Phil and Tony— he takes pity on her and wipes off the goofy pink sunscreen. He further extends this pity by getting his game face on, taking another sip of his frozen drink and adding, "Nevertheless, the view is nice. What are we thinking about today, Miss Frost?"

“See, Emma,” Stark gestures towards Phil. “I told you I’m irresistible. Even Supernanny’s can’t resist my charms.” The inventor replies with a flash of a grin. “Careful though, or you’ll make present company jealous. Wouldn’t want that, would ya?” The inventor replies as he flings himself down in his chair near Emma’s. One hand holding his drink, one leg resting lazily off the side of the beach chair.

“But fine fine, I’ll be goodish.” The man says with that same lazy tone. Because ‘goodish’ is just about as good as one can help from Tony Stark. Behaving is far and away out of reach for the likes of most mortals. “Quiet as a mouse, that’s me.” He adds easily as he flicks a command on his watch and a holographic projection appears in front of him that he starts to pan though.

As the sunscreen is wiped away, Emma smiles at Phil gratefully. Now she can take him seriously. Because she needs to be able to take him seriously.

And Tony gets a fond rub along his forearm for his being a good boy. Or good-ish. She’ll certainly take what she can get.

“Africa,” she begins, answering Coulson after a lean forward to daintily sip out of her fruity little cocktail with its brightly colored umbrella. She settles back into her padded lounge seat, adjusting her oversized, overdark, and overpriced designer sunglasses. “Or, more specifically, that backwards and particularly troublesome little island not so far off its coast where I went vacationing this summer during my sabbatical.”

Phil's lips twitch at that grateful look. But just as it can't be said he doesn't have a sense of humor, neither can it be said he doesn't know when to let a joke go.

His eyes flick to Tony as he declares himself ready to be 'goodish.' An eyebrow quirks as if he will believe it when he sees it, but he doesn't derail the conversation by calling attention to that one verbally. Instead he sips his daiquiri thoughtfully as Emma gets to the thrust of this conversation.

He exhales sharply. "All I want for Christmas is for that place to stop being a thorn in our sides," he comments. He is no more pleased by Magneto's choice to fill that power vacuum than he was by the initial scenario there. It's just morphed. A pain in the left ass cheek has now become a pain in the right ass cheek.

A prophet once asked, 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?' And now Phil pretty much applies it to a different nation. So far, nothing good ever comes out of Genosha.

His face takes on a grim cast, lines deepening about his eyes, creases settling into his forehead. He turns his full attention to Emma now, waiting for her to lay it out for him. He suspects she's about to hit him with something he doesn't even have intel on yet; she has often had the inside track on that place and he sees no reason to assume it will be any different today.

Shoulda made this drink a triple.

“What kind of name is Genosha anyway,” Tony being good and letting Phil and Emma discuss things has lasted about five seconds which, let’s be fair, is nearly a record for the inventor. “And you know it’ll never stop being a thorn, and if it did you would totally expect it was up to something.” He adds towards Phil with a smirk before he flicks a gaze between the both of them.

There is a smirk as he takes a sip of his drink.

“This is totally all about the invasion of a sovereign nation by a group of supers and them setting some one new up to rule in their place, isn’t it?” I mean really. How can it not be.

It’s all some groups have talked about lately.

Emma just slides another look in Tony’s direction. He did say ‘ish.’ And then her lips quirk.

Her pale gaze slides back in Phil’s direction behind those sunglasses, and she lets out a very long and slow breath.

“So. You remember how I said that I had the matter very much in hand…?”

She’s about to leave it there, and then there’s a very swift: “I did.” Wait. “I do.” Er. “It’s…”

It’s not like her to stumble over a thought. Over words. It does happen on occasion, however. The growing look of agitation on her face betrays that she’s not happy about that.

A hand lifts up to the bridge of her nose, and she pinches. “I may have come home from my island vacation with something of a souvenir.”

Tony looks at that gesture from Emma then glances back towards Phil.

“You’re gonna need a stronger drink.’

Tony Stark is a man who knows Phil, his frustrations, and his hot buttons well.

So when he says, Phil, you're going to need a stronger drink

And this is coupled by the routinely sophisticated and unflappable Emma Frost stammering— well, not quite stammering, but definitely not delivering her opening with the same sort of smooth operation he's grown so accustomed to…

Coulson takes it seriously. He holds up a hand, wanders to the bar, comes back with a really good bottle of tequila reposado, and three glasses. He thunks them down, pours one for each mostly just to be polite, and downs his first one like a pro.

"I take it," he says, as he gently pours a second, "you're not talking about, say, an ashtray in the shape of a Sentinel's head, or, perhaps, a T-shirt which reads 'I got roped into participating in a dubiously advisable coup-action with the X-Men and all I got was this lousy t-shirt?'"

As Tony gives his advice, and as Phil takes it, Emma just sinks down lower into her seat and drinks away at her mai tai. “This stays between us, Tony,” she tells Stark in a sharp whisper, lifting her sunglasses to level a look at him. This is not a request. “Or, I swear on all that’s holy, you will never see me naked again.”

And then she goes back to staring at the ocean and waiting for Phil to return. Which he does, with the drinks and a question.

“Ah, no.

Emma looks to that glass of tequila, and she hesitantly sets down her frou frou drink to take up the other.

She considers it briefly, silently toasts its bearer with a nudge upwards, and then sips lightly at it to consider it some more. Consider precisely how to move forward.

“I think it might be for the best if I don’t lead with specifying said souvenir. Just that it’s a… particularly problematic one. There was a plan. The plan was modified part way through, due to unforeseen complications.” That whole mission was an unforeseen complication by her take, although she doesn’t say that part out loud.

Another sip, small and slow.

“My souvenir cannot be returned to its country of origin as planned. So I may have something of an illegal import.”

She stretches her back, resettles deep into her seat, and then moves to slide her sunglasses up onto the top of her head. It helps to keep her blonde hair, left in natural waves, out of her face as the warm breeze continues to cut down the beach.

“A very illegal one. Which normally wouldn’t bother me—” a sidelong glance crosses to Phil, Emma desperately hoping that she’s not digging herself into a hole from which she won’t be able to get back out of “—under the right conditions,” she adds with a half-sincere looking / half-uncomfortable smile. “But between the nature of my souvenir and the present climate of that delightful destination, things have gotten a little more complicated. And I would have possibly spoken up a little sooner,” possibly is not ideal, but it’s honest, “but I only just found myself in a position to do so.”

There’s a sharp sniff, and then Emma polishes off the tequila. She sets the glass down and reclaims her half-gone mai tai with one long-fingered, French manicured hand, and then looks once more in the director’s direction. “The timing is terrible, I know, and I’m very sorry for that.”

Another pause follows, and then a small, concerned crease mars her the smooth complexion of her brow as she softly asks, “If I keep talking, does my file move?”

“Damn, right to the nuclear option.” Mutters Stark as he leans back in his chair. Though he does, apart from one smirk when Phil actually takes his advice, remains silent for the next few moments. However this is Tony Stark. His ability to remain silent in the face of a potential snark or quip is limited at best.

“Definitely doesn’t sound like an ashtray.” Tony finally says as he reaches for the third glass. “And I think I might need this, too. Since this is treading dangerously close to ‘things Pepper and Rhodey yell at me about’ territory.”

A pause again. “Also, Phil, can I have a Sentinel? Just the wreckage of one would be fine. I mean I’ve been wanting to poke through one for awhile now and no one will let me have one.”

Then he stops, looks between the pair of them, waves a hand. “Sorry. Continue.”

Though the look on Phil's face is troubled, it grows more so when Emma asks that final question. If anything, her words deepen the Dad face.

"Emma. Your safety," he says, "is not contingent on you never telling me things I won't like hearing. Or even on you never doing things I won't like hearing about." They'd have never had an association at all if 'legal' were precisely what Phil ever worried about. It's about what protects the most people from the most things, for him. SHIELD enforces the laws sometimes. And sometimes it just gets the job done.

A very case-by-case, shades-of-grey world. And he promised he'd protect her. Now that he has, it's bedrock…at least so long as she doesn't decide to start some sort of mass murder campaign.

But Phil is reasonably sure this is not what he's about to hear.

Tony's question prompts lifted eyebrows. "SHIELD's primary weapons and equipment contractor wants to mess with a Sentinel less than a month after I told the press we are anti-registration?" Dryly. "What could possibly go wrong? How about you touch base with Banner and find me a way to stop a speedster cold instead?"

Then his attention returns to Emma.

Oh, no. The dreaded Dad Face! Fortunately, this time? Emma is prepared for it.
She simply lifts her eyebrows back at Phil, indicating her feeling that this is not an inappropriate thing to verify.

But then he speaks. He uses her name, and he speaks a reassurance that is more balm than he’ll know by her stony features. There’s only a barely perceptible softening of the eyes, a trepidation lessened, as her lower lids relax a little.

And then there’s Tony again.

Can I have a Sentinel?

The inquiry sees Emma turn her head slowly in Tony’s direction. A mutant-hunting robot. He’s asking for a mutant-hunting robot. For a moment, the blonde just stares at him in disbelief. Did he really just…?

But Phil intervenes and speaks before her. It spares Tony her sharp tongue.

When those eyes come back to survey her, however, she stares back at him. It’s a penetrating stare, the kind she wields that renders so many very uncomfortable as she sees through. She’s listening, in the vibrations of his psyche, for something to ring false. For his unvoiced horror. His revulsion. For any indicator at all that she’s made a mistake so that she can begin adjusting to make room for a contingency.

She hopes he doesn’t see the difficulty she has in releasing the breath caught in her lungs. She can’t bring herself to extend her awareness backwards to Tony.

“News of Madame President Reneau’s death may have — as of right now — been a tad inaccurate.”

“Fine,” Tony drawls without much concern in his voice. “If you don’t want me to figure out how the full suite of tracing and tracking systems work. That’s fine. I can just stick to other things. Already figured out how to stop the Silver Streaker, just need to get with Brucey and see if the big man can find a good delivery system.” The inventor replies as he continues to relax back in his chair, as if the pair next to him are not talking about things that could change the shape of the world as they know it.

There /is/ a quirked eyebrow though as Emma makes that last comment and he slowly turns to look at the White Queen for a moment. Then he reaches for the bottle.

“Oh yeah. Definitely getting into the ‘I’d get yelled at for international incidents’ section of the conversation now.”

There is no discomfort. If anything, Phil barely seems to notice the penetrating quality of Emma's stare. Mostly because he doesn't. He has other things to think about.

There is no horror.

There is, however, a sudden surge of calculation. His mind remains orderly, but it's like a dozen holographic screens have popped up in his head. Some don't even seem related to the matter of Madame Reneau.

They are, of course.

On one screen, black and white news coverage of the historic assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.

On another, colorful, imagined future chaos: fires in the streets, riots, violence, Sentinels, explosions.

On another, Emma's eyes, tense. Please make very certain that my records are…Well. And then: Keeping the whole world calm is a little beyond me.

A shadow behind him, igniting his protective instincts and spurring him on as he stared down the press, as he tried, and mostly failed, to keep at least a portion of the world calm with the power of his words alone. In the emotions attached to these overlapping memories he is angry not on behalf of faceless mutants, not even on behalf of some of his meta-human agents, but on her behalf, though some of this is tangled with the fatherly pride he felt when Sloane Albright stood up and refused to hide who she is, when she refused to be ashamed of who she is. The abstract concepts of right and wrong as he sees them are still entwined within these emotions too; he does care for countless humans and metas he'll never even meet, he does care on principle, but he also cares about her, and hers is mostly the face he sees when he contemplates the fires of sentiment raging over the landscape of the world, contemplates how he might do his part to put them out, to stop their spread.

'Over my dead body,' indeed— he really was that angry, really did feel that much conviction. Still, in fact, does, though conviction is tinged with a bit of hopeless frustration. If SHIELD decides to turn against his public statement it might very well come to that; his body isn't all that much of an obstacle one way or another, and he knows that. Not for his foes. Not even for his friends, who will do what they think is right too.

Standing in a parking lot, trying to warn Scott Summers that his course was ill-conceived, being stonewalled, being forced into a corner. With nothing left to do but pull his support and to get his agents out of there before it all went to Hell in a handbasket.

An SSR badge, placed on his desk; he is still in his twenties, practically a child. An old woman. It doesn't much matter what you're feeling inside. You can be angry, you can be afraid. You are in fact going to be. Quite often. Know your own worth, boy. If you know your own worth, and understand what we're all here for the way I think you do, you'll always find your way.

What-if's. Contingencies. Options. He could transfer Reneau to a black site, hold her there for the rest of her days, but there are risks to that, so many risks.

Absently, to Tony, "I can't recall a single time when I have actually yelled at you. I have made several strongly worded statements, it's true. I am also confident you can reverse engineer tracking and delivery systems without thunking a giant politically problematic Sentinel head down into the centre of your workshop table."

He could use her. A target like Reneau could draw the speedster and the witch out into the open, offer a beautiful opportunity for a sting. Again, risks. Even more risks. No. That course of action is doomed to backfire.

The grim look that comes over his face is mostly unreadable unless one knows Phil pretty well, or unless, of course, one is sliding a hand over the surface of his thoughts. It is the look he gets when he knows he's going to have to take a dark action on behalf of a greater good. He will never love doing that, indeed, it calls his own sense of who he is into question.

A younger version of the same woman, now he is the older, feeling the twinge of age in his knuckles, the damp of the day kissing them with pain still mild enough to be ignored as she slides the SSR badge, in its little box, back towards him across a kitchen counter. I can see exactly why this Agent would think you were the proper person to care for this. I believe she made a very astute choice. I think she would wish you to keep it in your very capable care.

Barnes' mouth, twisting with a bitter cast. People like you or Fury or Hydra or the USSR, whoever, they wanna make statements…I'm the punctuation on the sentence.'

His own words: There's no statement but 'stop.''

Barnes didn't think about the times when the whole point is silence, to ensure no statement is made at all. Or perhaps he did. Perhaps he thought about it better and harder than Phil, in his own endless idealism and hope, wanted to.

Briefly, one 'screen' fixates on the bottle of Asgardian mead he's still got at home, how good it would be to nip into that right about now.

He thinks about what he'll need to know, how he'll need to pull it off to keep it all covered up. Forever.

Another memory. He places the SSR badge in its box back in its place of honor in his office, surrounded by all the other relics of his organization's history. His family's history. Momentos of actions both bright and dark, all taken with one purpose. A simple purpose. To be the shield. Shields do not have to be shiny or untarnished. They must only be strong, and well-placed.

In his mind, it's a done deal. His hand raises the weapon, aims it between the eyes of Madame President Reneau. He squeezes the trigger; one bullet is all it takes, then it's on to disposing of the body in a way that ensures it will never, ever be found. No tears to shed for her; she who cheerfully embraced the path of slavery and misery. Indeed, the thought of dispatching her really barely stirs his conscience at all when he thinks about who she is.

The world thinks Madame President Reneau is dead; the only course of action that does not set the world aflame is for her to be dead, and the only hand who can pull the trigger without further exposing Emma, or even Tony by association, is the hand of the Agent of the international spy organization; his hand. They are still private citizens— indeed, she is a private mutant citizen holding a human former world leader prisoner somewhere. A spark, searching for a fuse.

Once the decision is made, all those mental screens collapse. Everything inside him narrows to razor-focused concentration and determination, organizing a mental list of what needs to be asked, done, and said into a series of steps. That focus, tinged with urgency, is the only real emotion in him now.

"Okay, first thing's first," he says, low, intense, despite knowing very well that Emma Frost is keeping any and all eavesdroppers of every kind out of their conversation. "Did you get any useful intelligence from your import?"

It might surprise her, the hope she'll find inside him. That she not only got useful intelligence, but that she got it all, and that she was quick and efficient about it, reaching into Reneau's mind and pulling it all right out of there. Cold and ruthless though the thought may seem, it's coupled with a feeling that this would be preferable to any number of alternative ways of getting information. And preferable to getting none at all.

That he wants the information, all of it, goes without saying.

The plunge into Coulson’s thoughts is not at all what Frost was anticipating.

The calculation, yes, that was expected. Similar strikes against strategies that cannot work. The dark settling on the one that does: to match reality to rumour. To bury the problem six feet deep.

These are not surprising.

What is surprising is that he actually cares. Not pretends to care. Not caring because she’s convenient and efficient. But caring when it’s precisely inconvenient, and she’s nothing but trouble. When it could be costly.

“I had to pull enough in the beginning for someone to be able to pass as her,” the telepath quietly allows, not shying away from the truth of it. “And I felt it prudent to make my visits worthwhile in my time keeping her.”

A shrug that looks far more careless than it deserves to be follows. “So, yes.”

Her pale gaze shifts then, casting backwards over her shoulder as she considers Tony. “If you like, I can cut you out of the conversation, too. Wouldn’t want you to get into deep water.” She says this, but the tone of her voice is lighter. Actually teasing. Because this? Is precisely the thing you should be taking lightly?

She finishes her cocktail and sets the empty glass aside, placing it next to the other. “Although, I imagine a good deal of it means much less with our friend Magneto presently lording over the island like the daycare worker from Hell.”

“Naw,” Tony waves off Emma’s suggestion. “Then I would just wonder and the curiosity would kill me.” The inventor replies as he leans back and closes his eyes. He looks completely relaxed, entirely at ease. His thoughts though are the same chaotic whirl as they ever are. Though there is an edge to them.

The problems with Mutants and the registration thereof are at the forefront of that raging tide of information. It never really stops, that swirl of information that range from trivial facts and wondering to esoteric technological formula that could only be described as magic.

A flicker of a thought swims up. Almost like a checkbox. ‘Visit the X-men. Y or N.’ And the Y flickers on.

Then they are gone again.

Lost in the swirl as the calm seeming inventor just sips his daiquiri.

And he doesn’t say a damn thing.

Emma's point about Magneto rendering most of Reneau's intelligence out-of-date and unusable doesn't go unnoticed. It's true, but that doesn't mean he doesn't want it all. "I'll need a debrief on it later anyway," he says, and leaves it at that; they can circle back around to it.

Because the far more important questions are the two that follow.

"Where is she now, Emma? And who else knows about her? Scott? Who else?"

Tony, obviously, but despite the fact that Tony is the Bunny Ears Lawyer trope taken up to 11, Phil does trust him. As, obviously, does Emma. He's an asset in this, not a problem.

Scott, on the other hand…

“About her? Not certain, but a number of the X-Men know I took her. One of them followed as far as the continent. But I’ve cut Scott out. Or… convinced him to let me cut him out. He doesn’t have the… requisite skill set for what needs to be done.”

Emma is very careful about that turn of phrase, and she pulls her sunglasses back down again as she turns her face to look down at the ocean with a deep frown. She stretches a little, and her bare leg tents up so that she can casually rest her forearm upon it.

“But, we’re agreed, I think. The way to move forward is to make realities match. I… didn’t promise anything for certain, aside that I would handle it. But, clearly, I can’t allow this to bring every mutant in the country under greater scrutiny.”

“This is where I pretend I’m not listening,” Tony says with a chuckle, not even bothering to open his eyes. “So I can say I won’t say anything about any of this.” he adds. “Phil, haven't you told me that I’m terrible at all this spy stuff?” He asks as he waves a hand airily.

Through all that though it's obvious one thing. That he won’t tell anyone about this. Even if he’s flippant here, he’s smart enough to recognize the danger.

A wrecked world is not something that makes his research and fun easier So it's not something he wants. It's only logic.

The look Phil shoots Tony is somewhat tired, but since that's 90% of the looks Phil shoots Tony's way, it probably won't register.

"Well, if the X-Men ask you can truthfully tell them a SHIELD agent showed up to take her into custody and you don't know precisely what happened from there." Well, she'll know mostly, but precise is a great word. Did Phil shoot her in the heart before shooting her in the head? Did he use a silencer? Did he use his normal side-arm or did he buy something special? Did he hum the opening bars of Smoke on the Water before he got the job done?

Emma can't know. Precisely.

"Where is she now?"

Tony earns a wry smile from the blonde’s painted lips, but little more than a glance from the periphery of her vision. “An excellent plan, darling.” Alas, if only he were genuinely not listening. But he’s a big boy, and he can make his own choices. He knows what she really is, doesn’t he? If he doesn’t, she’ll remove the doubt.

Where is she now?

There is something that smacks just a little of defeat in the thought handing the monster that is Reneau over, still breathing. Even though that is precisely what Emma should be doing. She knows this.

She should give the ticking time bomb to the authority figure, every bit human in the graceful natural chains of his double helix and above the churning waters of her own community’s tribulations. Perhaps he is not free of them entirely, as evidenced right now, but not in quite so deep. He’s not at risk of drowning in them.

This regional director is willing to be a sacrificial lamb, laid between her kind and the rest of the world, acting as though called to atone and bleed should it come down to it. She should not dislike the taste of it; she is a predatory thing.

And yet, she does. A disturbing epiphany she notes marginally of herself to deal with later, when she has more time, solitude, and inclination.

For there is also the simple fear of what happens if somehow her meddling is discovered. If somewhere, somehow, she’d made a mistake and failed to cover a track and Reneau can actually somehow identify her. To risk him and her both is imprudent. To let Reneau go while still breathing — even to Coulson with his strange and improbable desire to protect her — is to trust. Despite her incredible wealth, that has never been a luxury easily afforded. With Tony here already, she feels nearly penniless in that intangible currency.

“Summers said he wouldn’t ask into the matter anymore. He’ll hold to it.” Come Hell or high water, he’ll hold to it.

Because it’s better for him, better for people who matter more. Because she won’t afford him an option if he changes his mind. “I don’t need coddling, Mister Coulson,” she continues with a frank, pitiless tone as she continues to watch the water and feel minds pass in and out of her influence. It’s not cruel, but it is devoid of the sentiments that undo lesser beings. “I can have her ready for delivery in a pine gift box as soon as I get home if you’d rather. It will be less troublesome than transporting live cargo, and better than the sodding cow deserves. A little late for Christmas, but she’s already ruined quite enough, don’t you think? She will not add this island vacation to the list.”

That’s not, however, an answer to his question.

Oh yes. This is definitely the time for Tony to pretend he isn’t listening as they debate the death and/or death of a world leader. This is the point Steve would be shouting at them both and screaming something about Justice and Right and America and possibly eagles. Stark, though? Stark just abruptly stands up from where is is.

“I’m going to go get some more drinks.”

Yup, not disgusted. Logic would state that killing this woman is the best option, but hearing it go back and forth right like that. It’s just not something he really wants to be a party to. Even if it’s not something he would bandy about at the next social affair.

So he walks off, his voice light, his steps sure and his thoughts not judging in the least. He just knows himself, and knows that getting into the middle of this would be very bad for business.

Phil appreciates Tony's remarkable display of forethought and ability to be circumspect.

"There's no trouble," he says, gently and firmly. "And it can't be you or anyone connected to you. I don't really celebrate the holidays. I might see if Tony will go watch Die Hard with me before I fly back, but that's the extent of it. You know it has to be this way as well as I do, or you wouldn't have called me. So where do I need to go, Emma? To make sure it's over and done before you've even started thinking about packing up to go home? As it is, I rather think you should spend the New Year in Maui. The weather in New York is dreadful, right about now."

And then he goes back to his original fruity drink, sipping on it as if he hasn't a care in the world.

“Thank you, darling,” the blonde murmurs at Tony’s departing back.

But as he takes his reprieve from the conversation, Emma closes her eyes behind those oversized shades of hers and releases a slow and silent exhale. She can still hear the water, the distant drums, the too-cheery ukulele player and her seemingly unending set of holiday favorites. How many of them can be strummed brightly on four strings, anyway?

There really aren’t words for how much Emma dislikes Christmas.

«The Berkshires,» she shares at last with a sigh of resignation, slipping into the far easier mode of projecting her thoughts.

For Phil, those hypnotic waves will fade as she—as gently as she can—imprints the details directly to his mind so there is no chance taken. She might not have the coordinates, but he’ll see it all in perfect clarity. The lonely drive she insisted her driver take from Boston, across the whole of the state. The climb into the sparsely populated mountains. The turn onto a Somerset View Way, and a 14195 mounted on a jagged landscaping rock. The modest Cape Cod at the end of the long drive that’s probably suicide in a bad enough snow. The older couple who tend it, somewhere in their fifties or sixties, maybe. The top floor with its frosted plexiglass windows. The former president inside who has been told ad nauseum that she’s been admitted for psychiatric treatment. And all the while, none who has ever seen Emma as anything other than a dowdy, heavyset, near-sighted brunette with cankles, an unfashionably kept bob, thick horn-rimmed glasses, and a medical coat with a nondescript badge they’ve never gotten a good look at, courtesy of the telepath’s gift for illusion.

«Tell them that you’re there for tea. They’ll know why you’re there. Or at least what to let go into your care.»

«As you say,» Phil returns. It's more than enough information. He stands, then, gives her one of his gentle, fatherly smiles.

"Mele Kalikimaka, Emma," he says.
And with that, he simply turns to go, adding, "And Hau'oli Makahiki Hou."

His Cheshire Cat smile is back in place as he wanders away, hands in the pockets of his pants. In about three seconds he's just another tourist, one who looks unusually derpy as someone drapes a bright red lei around his neck.

In thirty seconds, he's just gone.

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