A Night at the Met

July 16, 2018:

Backscene. The year is 2014. Coulson and Courtier are forced to intervene when a routine package pickup goes sideways.

The Met

The show must go on!


NPCs: None.



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

NEW YORK CITY — Winter 2014
The Metropolitan Opera

Outside it is cold — blisteringly cold. Newspapers have been going on for weeks now on the terrorizing snows and accompanying plunge of temperatures, all thanks to the polar vortex — a weather phenomena playfully being referred to as evidence that Hell has frozen over. It threatens to send the entire city into hibernation.

But, the show must go on.

Celebrating its tenth year featuring The Magic Flute as a holiday favorite, the halls of the opera house are bursting at the seams with yet another sold out performance. Beautiful people in beautiful attire file out from the auditorium doors, flooding the various intermission bars dotting the levels of the performance center.

At the Revlon Bar, Parambir Ghai stands before the tall, slender windows that overlook the winter-covered metropolis. She is dressed in simple elegance — a gown of navy velvet and silk with matching pumps and appropriately chosen jewelry. Her dark hair is woven up into a simple twist with a slight swoop to her forelocks that almost cover one eye. She looks to be merely enjoying the sight of the snowfall with a martini glass lazily nestled in her fingers; when she sips the drink, she speaks almost inaudibly against the rim.

“Have you got it yet, Pax? There’s just another twenty minutes left to intermission, then the window of opportunity closes.” She takes a sip, drawing a finger across her lip as she speaks. “We need to meet with that American contact of yours, and it is bloody vexing that you won’t tell me his name.”

In her ear, the smooth words of Pax Romana almost smolders in response. “That’s because I do not want the Americans to know if we fail, Courtier. I’ll tell you how to find him once I’ve secured the drop. Now, please get back to your job… you’re supposed to be observing. So. Observe.”

Five years now with MI-6 — and half that with the black ops arm known simply as the Latinates — and Rami still feels green. She takes another sip of her martini, turning away from the winter wonderland to take in the colorful peacocks and penguins in their formal wear. She steps away from the window, maneuvering back toward the bar. By the time she’s at the counter’s edge, her glass is empty and she smiles beautifically for the bartender as she sets it down with the softest click of glass to polished wood.

“Another, please.”

Phil Coulson is not one of the beautiful people.

He looks more like a bureaucrat people. Maybe a well-to-do bureaucrat. Nothing about his suit screams that he shouldn't be here. It's cut and tailored well, the fabric is nice, it is spot-on appropriate, neither too cheap nor too ostentatious.

He's got a pleasant smile, one that is neither too broad nor too slight; he never allows his face to relax into something stern. With a receding hairline cut short and rapidly approaching his fiftieth birthday, he's just someone who is apt to disappear into any crowd.

Nevertheless, this man draws up to the bar. And, in his mild Midwesterner's accent, soft-spoken and unthreatening, addresses the bartender. "Gin and tonic, please."

Courtier can’t quite shake the disquiet feeling that has settled over her, though she hides it as best she can beneath the warm smile. When her martini arrives, it is just beside Coulson’s own delivered gin and tonic. She glances from the cocktail to the man, and she holds up her glass to his in a silent salute.

She does not drift from the bar, taking advantage of its location to observe the gathered opera-goers. They all mill around, talking brightly about the performance, or looking dour with disappointment. The Magic Flute is not for everyone — though Rami’s opinion is that they should have known what they were signing up for.

She has memories that are not her own sitting in an opera house in Vienna near the turn of the 19th Century, seeing it for the first time. She sips at her martini as those thoughts take her away for a moment, and then she blinks as she hears a distant voice in her ear.

“Hm?” The audible acknowledgement was not on purpose, but it escapes her easily. She turns slightly to her left, blinks, and then realizes Pax is in her ear. Her heart rate immediately kicks up a notch just by the tone and not by the words. The handler knows when a spy’s situation has gone abruptly sideways.

”Courtier, grab the American and get backstage.”

Rami is startled by that, and she speaks even if it absolutely looks as though she is talking to herself, “Where’s the American?”

Meanwhile, Coulson is getting a similar message in his own ear.

And hearing where's the American makes his lips twitch just faintly. Well. That clears up who he was supposed to be meeting. Suddenly she'll find this unassuming man trying to slip an arm into hers like they're old friends. "You look lovely, darling," he says. "Like you could positively shine at any King's court."

And he starts trying to lead her back stage.

It would be a gamble if she hadn't spoken. It wasn't just her words. A voice recognition protocol just triggered a display in the glasses he's wearing. He does not need glasses, but in this case, they sure help.

The sudden slip of an arm with hers catches her off-guard only for a heartbeat, and then instincts override. She may be shit when it comes to actual field work, but she has killer instincts and she lets those take control. Her arm curls with his in an affectionate gesture, and she arches a dubious glance to his. “You’re a liar, and we both know it.”

The leading steps of the man draw her in along with him, and she drops her voice into a low murmur, all the while her smile remains light on her full lips. “Pax’s American?”

The Revlon Bar — situated on the topmost promenade of the opera house — is as far from backstage as Rami can possibly imagine. Except for an emergency entrance that leads directly into a series of hallways and then out onto the dramatic catwalks above the stage. There is lots of movement below as they prepare for the final act of the opera.

Once they are past the door, Courtier drops his arm so that they can navigate the fluorescent-lit pathway that dims as they come out onto the structures of the stage’s rafters. When she speaks, her voice is low pitched in an almost-convincing casual whisper. “She was meeting the asset in costuming. We’ve a floater who called in Pax on as an emergency replacement for their assistant hairdresser.”

All information Coulson might already know, but she’s acting as if she has traded hands and Coulson is now her primary. She has the straightforward tone of a handler — someone used to disseminating information quickly and effectively. Even so, as they come out onto the soaring rafters, she cups her hand to her ear.



“Pax? Respond.”

Still nothing. She glances up toward Coulson with a tight-lipped frown.

“I told her she should have used a bloody lens camera,” she hisses under her breath.

"Phil," Coulson murmurs, to 'Pax's American.'

But he takes out his weapon as soon as it becomes evident Pax is in trouble. He motions her to the 'safer' side of the door, waits until she's in position, nods, and moves in. When the op goes sour the time for subterfuge passes, and if they are to get Pax back alive they're going to have to move fast.

If she's not already dead. If she is, it's all just the grim clean-up.

Either way, she goes handler, he goes field agent, an arrangement that suits him just fine.

“Courtier,” the Brit offers in automated return.

In the upper rafters, the lights vary between skin-scorching bright and thick shadow. From the shadows of one of the catwalks just a step below their own, a stagehand in black is moving quickly along the narrow, plywood-floored walkway. He casts a glance up, spotting the two in a simple gesture.

But, then he’s taking off in a run — or as much as you can run this high up on a walkway as narrow as it is.

“Amatuer,” Rami hisses under her breath after two steps behind Coulson. “You never run.” Then she draws up the hem of her dress to just above her knee, and that’s where she draws out her own pistol.

Even while the man in black is darting toward a ladder down to the next level of catwalks, down below at the main stage, there’s a sudden burst of movement as some of the actors and hands flee in one direction, while a smaller handful advance the other direction toward the costuming wing — the cautious and fearful fly from danger and the courageous and curious march toward.

Coulson does not look nimble.

But he is.

The man in black flees to the ladder, and Coulson follows, but he does it by virtue of vaulting over this catwalk, angling his body, and hitting the next one down in a painful roll that ultimately puts him on one knee. Who has time for stairs when he can try to cut this guy off right here? "Freeze," he says, as if he were suggesting a tie.

But his gun is out, and visible, and hopefully that will be an end to that, before theatre chaos complicates this immensely.

The catwalks rattle and shake at the quick, acrobatic impact from Coulson and the backward stumbling of the fleeing man. He’s gripped the edges of the railings as skids to a halt, making sure that he doesn’t take a deadly spill off the edge.

He takes a step back, and then another. His hands slowly lift, giving the air that he’s about to surrender. But then he takes a page right out of Coulson’s own playbook. In complete disregard for the pistol trailing him, he throws himself to the left, grabbing the rail with both hands to vault over the edge. He reaches to grab for the ropes, and the pulleys above begin to wail as the enemy asset goes down and a sandbag comes up.

Courtier is leaning over the edge of the catwalk above where Coulson had just been, and she scowls. “Oh, bloody hell.” Then she is kicking out of her heels, because, oh hell no. She leans over the railings again, and calls down to Phil. “You get him! I’ll get to costuming.”

Then she’s moving quickly, tucking up the skirts of her gown as she moves so she can slide down the ladder and continue a quick descent toward the stage floor. The final ladder is easily thirty feet of rungs, but Rami still has two more levels of catwalks before she can get there.

Below, the stage manager is advancing toward costuming, calling out that they are down to ten minutes, and if someone could just grab a damn first aid kit, that would be great; and no one better be calling 911, because we don’t need that kind of drama.

"Call 911, you idiots," Coulson snaps, even as he finds his own complex of ropes to go down. His probably brings the curtain crashing down at front-of-stage, but that's nothing he's concerned about right now. He continues to give chase, unable to line up a safe shot with the Sig Sauer currently in his possession. It will be another year or so before the ICERs come out, a piece of technology that would have made this evening far easier.

He looks around, as he runs, for some other little advantage he can create or bring to this situation, to make it a bit less a contest of agility and speed.

The voice of Coulson from the heavens draws several heads upward, and some gasp at the sight of the two scaling down the ropes to the bottom of the stage. There’s a loud crash as something attached to the ropes slam into the ground, and colorful glass shards scatter out across the stage like a thrown handful of kaleidoscopic stars.

That is all the prompting the spectators see, and a stagehand is darting for a landline phone on the backstage wall, starting to dial 911 on the old-school rotary. Others are moving back, giving the spies and their marks.

As Coulson continues his chase, his target turns now and then to track the agent’s advance. Ahead of them, tucked away to be reset, are many of the enormous props of the previous acts — including seven-foot tall ice bears and delicately crafted dragon heads. Suspended above by the same rope-and-pulley mechanisms, are about thirty — are those flamingos?

For the other agent in this whole chaos — Rami has gotten to the dizzyingly tall ladder, grasping onto the edge as she starts to climb down rapidly. Her courage mounts with each passing rung, and then she closes her eyes tight as she releases herself to slide down the outer rails the last fifteen feet. She lands on bare feet, and begins the fast — but precarious — sprint toward costuming.

"Let my armies be the birds in the sky," Coulson paraphrases in a mutter, as he raises his gun to shoot the rope and pulley mechanisms…

In the hopes of burying his quarry under thirty prop flamingos.

There are worse stories to tell in the breakroom. And he's too old to get a new callsign out of it. He hopes. He doesn't really want to spend the final twenty years of his career as Phillip Yard Junk Coulson, or some variation there of. Philly the Pink. God, that would be worse.

With a single pull of the trigger, and a heartbeat later, it’s raining flamingos — big, giant, well-constructed flamingos. They collapse over the fleeing mark in a heap; the man manages to keep his feet through two flamingos, but by the third, he’s on his stomach under the avalanche. The flamingos move beneath him, but it gives Philly the Pink all the time to close the distance between them.

Over the intercom, a smooth voice with a light, but hard-to-place accent announces, “Patrons and loyal guests, we regret to inform you that the opera house must be evacuated. Follow the exit signs to safely exit the building.”

“About bloody time.” Rami speaks those words just as she passes into the costuming shop, and arrives at the actual epicenter of the chaos. She takes in a sharp breath, and immediately shouts behind her. “Phil! If you’re done…”

And then she disappears fully inside.

Phil is wading into the flamingos to secure the guy with zip ties. "You're under arrest, you have the right to remain silent…" Yes, he's International, yes, he also covers his ass by Mirandizing the guy on American soil.

Meanwhile, Rami is rushing ahead, and he can only hope that either there is no more opposition or she knows how to handle it. Like a field agent, and not like a handler. But the chatter makes it sound like they found a body, and hopefully that's all there is to it. No partner for Flamingo the Kid here to try to take her head off.

"Yard art isn't exactly a secure holding cell, Courtier," he mutters, to nobody in particular.

The man just manages to roll over, trying to get out from beneath the flamingos and to his feet. He’s on his knees before he hears the words, and then he’s looking up into a pistol and the agent. His eyes dart around in one quick moment of assessment, and then he’s slowly putting up his hands and then lacing his fingers behind his head.

A joke that would probably be lost on Courtier — or not. It is quite AMERICAN, after all.

Too bad she’s skid into the costuming studio, bare feet sliding disquietingly on the pools of blood. There is a large pool, and then a series of smaller ones that lead toward where Pax is slumped beneath a vanity station.

The lovely spy — because that is just the cliche that must be appeased — has a thin smile for her handler. She’s curled beneath the counter, a blood-stained terry cloth pressed against the side of her neck and shoulder. Her right leg is twisted in the hip join unnaturally. Even in the shadows of the counter, her pasty color is hard to miss.

“Shit, Courtier,” the woman chokes. “You’re awful slow. Too much vodka tonight?”

The joke just earns an indelicate snort, and she is on her knees before the counter. “Found your American. Couldn’t do with a general description beforehand, could you have?”

Once he's all secured Coulson drags him into the room with Courtier and Pax. He is immediately on his communicator, calling for a SHIELD medical team to arrive. They can do wonders with medical science. Practically everything short of bringing someone back from the dead.

"Don't blame her," he says, mildly, hoping Courtier's got putting pressure on the wounds and such under control as he can't really get too far from their quarry. "Nobody remembers what I look like five minutes after they lose sight of me. It's a terrible handicap when trying to pick up dates, but somehow I soldier on. How is she?"

Pax offers Phil an almost punchdrunk smile, leaning her head back a bit to look up at him. “Hello, Phillip. You’re looking well. How’s your mum?” The question is asked as if the two know each other more than professional, but then again… spies.

Courtier just shakes her head scornfully at Pax, and then she looks up toward Phil. “My guess is dislocated hip; I’d check, but she’ll scream at me like a banshee, and I don’t think she will appreciate that. Will you?” She looks at Pax, whose smile fades slightly at the tone the handler uses — like a disappointed mother hen. “The wound to her neck…” She reaches forward, and very delicately lifts the cloth aside to spot the bullet wound — a through-and-through. Though, no one had heard shots fired, which means…

She presses the cloth back, and this time settles in to keep the pressure for the blond spy. She looks between Phil and Pax before settling her focus on the former. “First time at the opera?”

How's your mum, Pax asks, of a man whose actual mum has been dead for many years. But of course, it's not about Wendy Coulson.

"Nick's fine," he quips. "Saltier than ever."

Silencer. Point-blank range. But she wasn't killed. "What happened here, Pax?" he asks, ignoring questions about the opera with an apologetic smile in Courtier's direction. Hazel eyes cut to the prisoner.

After holding up a finger, he knocks him out with the butt of his gun, and then holsters it.

Then, as if that never happened:

"What happened here, Pax?"

Because he doesn't want to taint the man's interview, when it happens.

The words about Fury draws another smile from the spy, and she nods. “Oh, that I am sure. It’s the eye-patch. Really upticked that seasoning.”

Pax winks to Courtier when Coulson ignores her question about the opera. “Don’t be offended. Phil is all work and no play.” She smiles ruefully toward him now, and her laughter is thready at best. Then she settles back down against the inner side of the vanity, head tilted back a bit.

She glances toward the now-unconscious mark, and then to Courtier. There’s a look for the handler there before Pax settles her attention back on Coulson. “Came into the studio right at the call for the intermission. The drop was supposed to occur during the costume changes. One of the ensemble was supposed to be carrying the package.”

Pax takes a slow breath, licking at her chapping lips. “But, our friend there came in just before the actors could come in. Shot first, got me in the shoulder — then I charged him. Bad tussle, and then the girls came in. He fled after he realized I didn’t have the package… his timing must have been off. Maybe bad intel.”

"Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life," Coulson quips, on the matter of whether or not he is all work and no play.

And that's just about all the defense he has, because she's pretty much correct. He gives both ladies another mild, tolerant smile.

"If I were that ensemble member I'd have fled by now," Coulson points out grimly. "There would be no good reason to stay. Tells us our boy here only had half the intel though, because he played his hand too early. That's not the worst news I've heard all night. Once you're seen to, Pax, I'll see if I can't figure out which ensemble member has flown the coop and use that information to track him or her down so we can secure the package. Hopefully there wasn't a panicked dump of any kind, but we'll do what we can."

“Except for you, Phillip. You’re always working.” Pax is teasing him in that light, crisp British accent of hers. She smiles ruefully to him before she shakes her head, expression dropping into something more sobered.

“I’ll be quite fine without you both looming. Courtier looks as though she’s about to try to set my leg herself, which will earn you no points.” She directs the last bit of that sentence straight at the handler, who crosses her arms formidably at her chest, leaning back from the blond agent. Pax just smiles a fragile smile. “Go see if you can track down that ensemble asset, and I’ll play my part for the NYPD.”

Courtier is already starting to stand, as if she is responding to an unspoken order from Pax. She glances over toward Coulson. “I can stay with her,” she says softly to Phil.

"Someone needs to stay with him, too," Coulson says, of the prisoner. "But be wary. Someone could double back, and it probably won't be the ensemble member with a perfectly convenient package, ready to deliver."

His tone is dry. He nods once to Courtier, then slips out of there. He does do a quick security sweep to see if anyone is lurking. Never let it be said that he's not thorough. Then he's off to question the cast.

“Probably not, but that does leave a small window of probably so, too.” Courtier flashes Phil a quick smile before she glances back down to Pax, shaking her head slightly at the spy under her responsibility. “Pax… next time, you get to wear the gown and heels, and I get to wear the leggings and flats. Agreed?”

Pax chortles slightly at the handler, and then nods agreeably. “Whatever you say, Courtier. Means it’s you here with a dislocated hip.”

Outside in the main staging area, it is rather quiet. Most have evacuated as instructed. Noises can be heard beyond the curtain and there’s the occasional flash of light from what is probably the police sweeping the main auditorium. There’s a soft noise of a door shutting, and a spritely young woman pokes her head into view. She’s impressively made-up to look almost feline in appearance, and her yellowy-orange bodysuit blends nicely with the lion heads that are stacked neatly against the nearby wall.

She blinks at the sight of Phil, and immediately takes several steps back in an attempt to retreat right out the door.

“Wait, please,” Phil says, putting up a staying hand.

With his other, he pulls his badge. “Agent Phil Coulson, SHIELD.”

And then he gives a kindly smile. “Tough crowd tonight,” he remarks. Following a hunch he doesn’t try to get closer, in sharp contrast to his madcap chase of Pax’s assailant across catwalks and mazelike backstage corridors.

A situation he is very much feeling in his hip, knee, and lower back right about now, so he hopes he will not have to give an encore performance on that front.

The girl — easily under twenty, and as slight as a ballerina — widens her bambi brown eyes at Coulson when he introduces himself. Her throat bobs a bit, and she asks almost shyly, “Are you Rebecca’s friend?”

She steps forward a bit, looking awkward, tugging at her sleeve — it’s a nervous gesture as the sleeve is already stretched and attached at her middle finger to keep it in place. She tries to look beyond him toward the costume room, and again that nervousness radiates from her. “She’s okay, isn’t she? I heard she’s hurt.”

Her demeanor is definitely not a girl who knows how to be an asset; she’s more antelope than lion despite her make-up. One wrong move, and she’s going to flee.

"I am her friend," Phil agrees, in quiet tones. "She is hurt, but we're getting her medical attention. She'll live. She's still feeling well enough to get salty."

He keeps his hands up, keeps his body still, that badge remaining out for her to see.

"Are all the other cast members present and accounted for?"

Tones of fatherly concern. His Dad-smile is on even now, a notch toned down from his Cheshire Cat smile even though it gives very little away. The difference is in a softening of his eyes. Compassionate, towards a civilian who is very frightened but wanted to check on her friend anyway.

The lion girl’s eyes widen more when he confirms that ‘Rebecca’ is hurt. She starts forward on an instinctive drive to help her, but then stops. Her mouth tightens a bit as she frowns. His question draws a small nod from the girl.

“Yes.” Then she reverses course, shaking her head. “No, wait… Joe says he can’t find the new tech guy… Monroe? Or Myles? He’s new,” she repeats nervously. “Was brought in last minute after Yannick broke his leg.”

Then she chews slightly at her lower lip, and her nervous brown eyes cut toward the lion heads, back to Coulson, and then beyond him again toward the costuming room.

"Does he look like this?" Coulson describes the guy he just apprehended, because it would be easy to think Monroe-Myles is the guy he is now looking for only to find he's searching for someone he's already caught, without this clarification.

But if he is not the assailant, then Coulson can begin his search with this information. And it's fortuitous, because she's pretty helpful so far.

Of course, he's going to have to gently let her down on the matter of whether she can go to Rebecca, but he'll wait to do that.

The lion-girl blinks in surprise at Coulson’s description, and a niggling thought betrays her expression. Her mouth thins. “It was him, wasn’t it?” Her doleful eyes glance beyond Coulson one more time before she sets him with a rather guilty look. “I shouldn’t have told Becca I would do this. I should have told her that it was dangerous. It felt dangerous.”

She chews a bit at the corner of her nail then — a habitual gesture that she probably has spent a lifetime trying to rid herself up. She glances up at him again, then beyond him to the lion heads. She nods to them after a moment. “It’s in there. My head is the third one… I tucked it up in the headband… the thing Rebecca wanted me to deliver her. It… she promised me it wasn’t illegal.” Her throat tightens a bit. “That I was helping a friend of hers.”

"You are," Coulson says gently. "On behalf of SHIELD, I thank you. You've done the world a great service today."

He hands her a card. "In case you get any trouble, or if you don't receive proper compensation for your efforts."

And he goes to retrieve the package from the lion head. Whatever that package may be. And one can bet that he'll be double-checking whatever it is. Double-and-triple-crossing are all too common in this business. He likes Pax. He likes Courier. But he has his own interests to defend first.

Which. Makes it fortuitous, he supposes, that he's the one to retrieve it. An opportunity he will not waste.

She watches Coulson reproachfully as he goes to retrieve the package, hands clasping the card he’s offered close to her chest like a security blanket. As she said, the slender data drive is tucked in the headband. It would have been a bit uncomfortable for girl, pressed against her head during the elaborate scene. It’s black, nondescript, and completely unlabeled — as it should be.

“Is it — ” Before she can finish her statement, the EMTs emerge from across the backstage, heading toward them quickly. She forgets the package entirely as her mind springs back to Becca. She rushes forward to meet the first EMT. “She’s back there.” She points beyond Phil toward the costuming room, and immediately starts to follow after on quick, light feet.

She glances once toward Phil, hesitating a moment as she comes parallel with him. Then she nods gently, and bounces back after the EMTs.

Inside the dressing room, voices can be heard as Rami starts to give the EMTs a quick summation. Her accent has gone American, and she’s reporting herself as an off-duty FBI agent. The EMTs don’t question her, focused instead on “Rebecca” — but that obviously relaxes immediate concerns at the sight of the handcuffed and unconscious assailant.


And going in there will be problematic. So Phil Coulson does what spies do best.

He ghosts off with the package. He'll get a copy made and passed back to MI6. In the meantime…

Lives are depending on this data.

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