After Long Absences
Roleplaying Log: After Long Absences
IC Details

Emma Frost and Phil Coulson finally catch up after "the incident" in Alaska and Emma's related three-month "sabbatical".

Other Characters Referenced: Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne, Akari Takahashi (not by name)
IC Date: August 27, 2019
IC Location: New York City, NY
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 15 Oct 2019 15:01
Rating & Warnings:
Scene Soundtrack: [*\# None]
NPC & GM Credits: Waiter by Emma Frost.
Associated Plots

It’s been a long time since they’ve seen each other in the flesh. A very long time.

And if Phil Coulson thought that getting through to Emma Frost was difficult when he first met her, he should try doing it after she’s just gotten back from an unpublicized three-month “sabbatical.” Sabbatical is, of course, what had become something of a codeword between Frost’s butler and executive assistant.

There are a handful of people who know that it was anything but a respite.

It’s not entirely an inappropriate choice of word, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, hm?

The important part is that Phil Coulson does, indeed, eventually cut through the social clutter and manages to get on Emma Frost’s packed calendar. She’s gotten back, and they’ve already got her back to full speed whether she likes it or not.

Tonight, the arrangements have been secured at a private dining room at an intimate French restaurant. Some of the rooms, quite possibly, will be the scene later for marriage proposals and scandalous affairs. But Emma really just hasn’t gotten entirely back to herself just yet and a month doesn’t feel like nearly enough time for what demands are placed on her, but it’s needed to be, which leads her here where she just appreciates the lack of audience.

She arrives a full forty-five minutes early and insists on being seated. She uses the time between when she arrives and when Phil makes his appearance to pop a few pills, get a cup of coffee in her system, and refresh her appearance in the ladies’ room.

Her artifice must be maintained at all costs, so it’s a meticulous application of cosmetics framed by her soft blonde curls. The dress is a strapless number the color of cream, with a wide-banded belt of the same raw silk with a large tortoise-shell buckle. It was made work appropriate by a cropped jacket of more cream silk with self-covered buttons, but that hangs off the back of her chair now. An artful tangle of crystal-studded gold strands drapes over her breastbone, and a massive matching cocktail ring adorns her one hand.

Hopefully, she beats him back to their table so that she can close her eyes and shut the world out for a moment or two.

She does indeed, if only because Phil tends to be prompt, but not early. He just doesn't have time or bandwidth for early most of the time. Even with SHIELD truncated. Even with it operating out of what he has lovingly (not really) come to call "the Basement." There are still international threats to pursue, counter-espionage to take care of, terrorists to watch.

And pulling all those puppet strings takes meticulous time and work.

But Emma is no puppet string. Emma is someone he cares about a great deal. And so when he arrives it's in a suit that's actually kind of comparable to what she's wearing, a tailored designer number that tastefully emphasizes, rather than de-emphasizes, the muscles of a trained operative.

He also comes with a flower. It's a white rose, a single one because he's trying to be a friend and make her smile rather than to woo her. He appears at her elbow, studies her, bows a little to offer it, and uses the opportunity to murmur: "Emma, if you need to get somewhere a little less crowded we can certainly do that."

Her artifice must be maintained; and he is no telepath, but reading people and putting their body language together with things he already knows is kind of his thing.

There is an uncharacteristic start, nearly imperceptible if not in such close proximity to someone who makes perception his life’s work, as Emma’s breath catches and her body tenses. It passes quickly, though, as her smile emerges and her head turns upwards to take in the new arrival.

It’s then that she notices the bloom in Phil’s hand and the fineness of his suit. Both things bend her lips into a curve that wordlessly speaks to her pleasure. She takes the flower and considers it, tracing the petals’ edges with a feather-light touch.

“We are presently on an island, surrounded by over a million people. There really isn’t a ‘less crowded’, darling.”

The sentiment that—from anyone else—might summon up her indignation and bring her defensiveness to the fore somehow manages to be received in the spirit it is offered. Of course, being a telepath might help in that regard as Emma allows her mutant gifting to stretch into the space around them, unfurling like the bloom in her hands and bringing the psychic surroundings back to her awareness.

“You look dashing this evening,” she praises, lifting the rose and letting it hover where she can breathe in its perfume. Sculpted eyebrows lift in inquiry. “New suit?”

"It is," Phil says, smoothing it over his chest a little with a smile. He settles down across from her, pleased it has pleased her. The rose is as fresh as one can get in the city, and it still has plenty of fragrance to offer.

His thoughts are once again neat rows of marching file cabinets, a testament to the work she did nearly a year ago putting his mind back together. The fact that they're mostly locked file cabinets speaks to the training she gave him.

At the moment his outward words match his inward dialogue, though he does nothing physical to betray the very real concern he's feeling for her. "It's good to see you," he says. "I've missed you."

This is also a man who knows better to ask Emma Frost questions like 'how are you holding up?'

That’s two of many things that Emma appreciates about Phil Coulson: he has good discernment and a very keen sense of preservation. The question he asks is a wiser one than the one he means, and there’s no sign of the latter in sight. His tidy little rows do the trick for now, and there’s no sign of suspicion around the lovely CEO of Frost International.

A part of her now curses her past self for her thoroughness. It’s been profoundly comforting to her in the past month when interior worlds spill out before her, owners unaware of the voyeur in their presence and unable to do anything to bar her entry. Whatever burgeoning desire to afford strangers privacy that had been growing in her… That’s gone now.

“And I, you,” she replies sincerely regardless as she sets her present down where a cup of coffee once sat. “It feels like forever. How does that happen? You barely blink and it’s nearly a year.”

There’s a pause, and then a crinkle of her nose. “Except for that one incident with the Asgardian.”

She shakes it off quickly, moving briskly along after a bracing inhalation. “But, let’s forget about that, and you tell me before the server comes: have you been keeping yourself mostly out of trouble?”

"Let's forget about that is usually a good strategy where any Asgardian is involved," Phil agrees dryly.

It has been forever. She asks how it happens, he responds with gallant and teasing flattery that also happens to be true: "It happens because you are lovely and talented, with long lines of admirers and business partners vying for your attention. And many of them are far more needful for you to meet with."
His eyes twinkle. "And I'm off disarming bombs, breaking every single one of my nails."

He waves his hand around with good humor, as if to demonstrate that his nails are a mess. They aren't, they're as groomed and as professional as ever, but why spoil a good joke with facts?

"So staying out of trouble, I suppose, about as well as I normally do."

“I’ve a lovely spa to recommend with an excellent manicurist if you need her,” Emma says, her face betraying amusement with the flattery. She is, after all, very much a woman who—when the spirit of the thing is right—enjoys to hear nice things about herself.

Phil manages the delicate art of both meaning it and not expecting anything of her in return. If only he knew how profoundly rare a creature he is.

The telepath brushes her hair behind one bare shoulder, and then leans forward to rest her chin on the back of an upturned hand. “And, if a rough set of nails is all that the gentleman has to show for the many bombs he’s likely disarmed in the time that’s passed, I should say that’s a job well done. Even I have been known to break a nail or two.”

Straightening, Emma reaches across the small table for the leather-bound wine menu.

“I also hope that the gentleman doesn’t mind that I have every intention of choosing the wine.”

"The gentleman does not," Coulson says. "I was going to ask you to order for me, even."

Because let's face it. When one is in a restaurant with Emma Frost, if one does not allow her to choose the wine and the food? One is seriously missing out. She knows quality in a way Phil never will, and it's a talent he appreciates. Left to his own devices, he might hit something awesome on a menu, but it probably would only be the most awesome by chance.

And, remembering the day they went in to ruin an artist together, adds, "How's the art scene treating you lately? I haven't kept up."

It is not just inane small talk. It's a gentle opening to talk about herself or not to whatever degree she wishes, keeping the conversation flowing while making sure it stays at a level she's actually comfortable with. His only purpose in this meeting is to check up on her, but much of what he expected left him very much of the mind that he'd have to deduce that from far more subtle clues than just coming out and asking her.

Art talk makes an excellent time for the server to come in, and Emma places the nudge in his thoughts in a way that Phil might or might not recognize as her puppeteering. Able to be dismissed as an excellent wait staff’s good timing, perhaps.

When that waiter slips in, she banters lightly and easily with him to get his recommendation… and then promptly ignores it after slipping through the thoughts of the restaurant and finding the sommelier’s instead. The order becomes a bottle from bin 47, and a bottle of still water. Bin 74 will be far too dry for her tastes.

But once the waiter is gone, Phil will see for himself another small disconnect. “It’s an uninspired season. I haven’t really been terribly motivated to go to more than a couple of shows. It’s fine enough, I suppose. My foundation is quite content to award grants without my input.” But it’s not precisely habit for there to be no input for her to give.

She’s been out once since her return, and she purchased nothing. She was seen on Bruce Wayne’s arm.

“Honestly, there’s just been so much needing my attention at the office. We just finalized that acquisition last month, and it’s been a bit of a blitz.”

Bruce Wayne's and not Tony's, which had made Coulson wonder. But that much is 100% none of his business.

"Congratulations on that," he says, on the matter of the acquisition. "I know you've been working on that one a long time."

The disconnects are there. She is not fine. Now Phil Coulson turns his attention to how he might be able to help with that. It may not happen in this conversation; this is something that needs a lot more thought.

And so he asks, "Are you going to get a breather after all that?"

Congratulations on that. “Thank you,” Emma says on reflex, as though the beating of another corporation into absolute submission was a thing that is worthy of such polite exchanges. But she has been working on it for a long time, hasn’t she? Few people realize it, but of course he knows. Because he’s him. It’s been the better part of two years! Why shouldn’t she be able to accept recognition for the work required for the beating? She possesses an elegant and masterful ability for cutthroat business.

But a breather? Does she get one?

“I’m fairly certain that’s what everyone thinks I was doing for three months.”

The words are cool and smooth, and one hundred percent at odds with the heat that rises in her blood. She’d take a sip of her drink, if there was anything at all to sip at. Where is that waiter?

“So, alas, no. But such is life.”

"Well. People aren't known for being smart. They're mostly known for being judgmental, and talking about things which they don't know anything about," Phil says gently.

He leans forward and says, "You are magnificent, and anyone around you who forgets that does so at their own peril. So much as I could wish you a long soak in the sun on a gorgeous beach, I look forward to watching you remind them of that very fact."

When Phil leans in, Emma watches him carefully and, when he praises her, her lips quirk upwards into a Mona Lisa smile that effectively hides all of the dark little thoughts that might try to worm their way to the surface. The ones that might try to color her smile a darker hue.

“Why, thank you, darling.”

There are certainly some people in need of reminders. And they’ll have them soon enough.

Phil probably doesn’t know what he’s wishing on a list of people. She hopes he never learns.

The waiter arrives at last, prompted by another one of Emma’s subtle psychic urgings. He brings the bottle and the new pair of glasses that will replace the unused but decorative ones that presently occupy the small, linen-swathed square table.

The blonde waves off the show of accepting the wine this time around, lulled by the siren’s call of self-medication. But she does it in such a way that…. Really just makes it look like the waiter doesn’t do it at all, choosing to go straight to the pour.

He fills the glasses a little more generously than he might normally, but not enough so that it will compromise their ability to let the wine breathe. And then he promises to come back later, after they’ve decided on entrées.

She waits until he’s gone again, and then picks up the glass as she doles out the evening’s responsibilities. “The check is mine. The toast is yours.”

It's possible Phil doesn't. He can be ruthless, but he's never vicious. Still, certain people also deserve what they get. Karma is a thing. It's not that he's in denial about the fact that Emma Frost is willing to do things he wouldn't entirely approve of. It's just that he sees the best in her, too, and chooses to focus on that.

He raises the glass thoughtfully, considering the toast. The toast seems important. So he doesn't speak right away while he gives her one of those gentle genuine smiles of his.

"To friendship," he says at last, an answer he thought of and rejected a few times for all the reasons he wouldn't directly come out and ask how she was. "The kind that picks up where it left off, even after long absences."

He can't fix what she's going through. Can't undo the rattling feeling that comes from being such a powerful being who nevertheless had someone overcome her, take her. It is an irony, because she certainly fixed what he was going through. But ultimately all he has to offer is his presence, and giving a damn.

“Hear, hear.”

It’s worth a lot, giving a damn. And it may make a difference—later. When it doesn’t feel like all the world is full of ants with delusions of grandeur.

Emma lifts her cup, filled precisely to the point of her preference, to second the sentiment.

She sips deeply, eyes closing as she savors the vintage and makes for herself an opinion on the note balancing. She’s not certain she agrees with the sommelier, she decides at last. But then she lingers with eyes closed just a little longer.

“I’m fine, you know. You don’t have to worry.”

The lie comes smoothly. It has to.

In the age of registry, she knows the precarious position she’s in. He’s a friend and has earned his measure of her care and trust, a precious and rare commodity of limited supply. On the other hand, however, she also knows what humans do when they get scared. When she scares them. But, she would be the first to admit, they have a reason to be scared.

She is worthy of their fear.

She is not an ant.

"Fine," Phil observes, with a lift of his eyebrows, "comes in degrees. I don't doubt that you are functional, coping, on the mend. I also don't doubt you're still hurting. Think of it less as worrying about your outcome as caring about what you're dealing with."

The lie comes smoothly and Phil cuts right through it. Now that she's brought it up directly, he can talk about it directly, too.

Everyone thinks of spies as liars, but lies and truth are just tools in a toolbox. It's more about communication than it is about lying. About deciding when to use certain words, when to show certain emotions. Phil does it without thinking about it, a habit so ingrained that it is a part of him.

“Hurting,” Emma quips back, her eyes opening and looking at Phil with a lift of her own eyebrows, “would mean that they were capable of inflicting pain in any way that actually mattered.”

It’s moments like these where she seems so much older than her years, words spoken with a world-weariness that makes her seem nearly bored. But there’s a note there, for the trained ear. “It’s not—as they say—my first rodeo.” It’s new in some ways, but familiar in all of the very worst.

Setting her wine down after another nearly-too-long sip, she moves to pick up the menu so she can set her eyes there instead.

“And heaven only knows there are more than enough things on fire to focus on.”

"Fair enough," Phil says…

And backs off. This is the moment where backing off seems nothing but appropriate. Instead of pressing any farther, or speaking of things on fire, a touchy subject for the most part in the best of times these days, for anyone…

He sips his wine. Waits for Emma to get through a good bit of the menu, and then asks, "What delectable delights have you found here? Do you know much about the chef?"

Small talk, but delivered to ease the pressure of the heavier conversation.

He backs off, and there’s a satisfied thrum across the air that is hard to explain, save that Phil will perhaps be able to put two and two together that the telepath’s sentiment is bleeding in a way that she’s not entirely aware of as she pretends to be entirely engrossed by the menu.

“Classically trained at the Cordon Bleu, and I think it was a specialty with pastries. There’s this chocolate-dipped flaky creation that is filled with ice cream and fruit and… it’s very pretty.”

Her eyebrow arches as she looks back up over the menu at Phil, her flirtatious expression back in place. “But you have to be a good boy and eat your dinner first.” There’s a pause. “Just avoid the veal.”

Yeah, she’s definitely snooping around with abandon.

Phil chuckles softly, his eyes twinkling. He is aware of the thrum, but is not about to tell her that she's leaking telepathy. For one thing, he's not sure he's not imagining it.

Not that this doesn't gently float across his thoughts. Along with a pang of concern; that's even more unlike her than letting anything slip in word or deed. Then again, he tells himself, the mental energy involved in keeping it together so well could make it a little harder to control so much ability. God knows the mental energy involved in keeping it together made it hard for me to even get off the couch for weeks.

He is unaware that that much is slipping; but then she helped him put those defenses in place, and she can easily defeat them. The file cabinets are all neat and orderly, but identifiable: ongoing worry for undercover agents, a whole headachy one marked Asgardians, concern that existing tensions in the nation will boil over and explode into war, thoughts on how to keep the peace for the good of everyone involved, frustration over the state of SHIELD.

One that's deep in the back of his psyche that thrums with hurt and betrayal over the man who stabbed him, a thing that has made him leerier than ever about getting close to people, a thing that has made him question himself and his abilities more than any other thing. It swirls with suspicions for others he had formerly trusted. Chained and smothered and under control, but always there, a level of reasonable paranoia somewhat heightened.

Not that any of that paranoia is aimed at her at all. If she wanted to find what he felt about her it is nothing but extreme trust and platonic regard. He cares deeply about her, wishes for her happiness, knows she does things he wouldn't approve of but can't find it in himself to judge. What's missing is the slight crush he had on her before his death and resurrection. The man who stabbed him might not have ended his life for good, but for now he seems to have stabbed straight through his romantic impulses, his ability to even feel them for anyone at all.

Not that this stops him from harmlessly flirting back. "I'm always a good boy," he teases. "Unless I am asked not to be, I suppose. Especially when eating pretty things is the direct result of said behavior."

So much of Frost’s life has been about the management of appearances for different purposes. It serves her well in the moment where Phil tells her, without telling her and without knowing that he’s telling her, that she’s still not quite right.

And that neither is he.

That they both bear it in the way that their independent situations require.

For all of it, what is there really to say, anyway? The only outward commentary that comes from Emma with regards to the revelations at hand is a soft, inaudible sigh and a tiny twitch of her nose while she peruses the menu. It hides the surge of frustration and fury that would come of the appearance that her perfect demeanor has been any further compromised than previously suspected—which is to say, at all. He doubts his perception of her mistake; it slows her spiraling concern.

Slows, but doesn’t stop. The worst part of her also laments, despite the best part of herself, the disappearance of the sentiment that could perhaps save her in dire circumstances if everything else managed to fall apart between them: the carnal instinct of man that she wields like a weapon when it suits her.

She inwardly curses a blue streak and then buttons herself up a little tighter. Bids herself to do better.

Where that feeling of satisfaction was, there is now nothing at all. Perhaps it will lead Phil to wonder further as to whether or not he imagined it. Perhaps it won’t. She makes her own private note of faces in his mind that matter—that come to mind without her having to pry it out and give herself away—and then disentangles herself from his thoughts for the moment.

“We shouldn’t wait so long next time, perhaps. I’ve missed you, too, as I’ve said, and you deserve a little indulgence now and again.” A devilish glint sets itself in her eye because the hedonist must trip across familiar, expected paces for the comfort of all. “I would say that I do, too, but we both know that I never skimp in that arena.”

It is familiar and comfortable, like a well-practiced waltz. He grins and says, "We do, but that is, after all, one of your best qualities. 'The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.' And that is what you do."

The Eleanor Roosevelt quote comes to mind with ease; it is not an affectation. His love for history and great minds surges briefly to the forefront of his consciousness.

He may not have gotten off the couch for weeks, there in his cabin in Wisconsin when he was still on lockdown. But in that period between her healing of his madness and actually leaving the place he had indulged in reading all 20 of Thoreau's volumes. It had been a rare and even a guilty pleasure to read so much, engaged in and indulged in as thoroughly and as passionately as any other person might pursue a more common vice.

But isn’t it so often that the better things are the ones that are found by way of a soul’s happy accident? They’re the things that change souls and bend personalities in the ways that aren’t often seen. Secret pleasures that are made better for their privacy.

And yet another reason, perhaps, why everyone seems to hate telepaths.

‘Everyone’ being a blaring overgeneralization, of course, as even Emma Frost—a more hated telepath than most among those who are well acquainted with her abilities and history—would be forced to begrudgingly admit in the presence of one Phil Coulson.

He is unique in so many regards.

Which is why, for his benefit, the telepath sets down the menu flat upon the table and spreads her hands and bare arms just a little wide (but not so wide as to be at all rude), as she recites, “Pleasure is a freedom-song, but it is not freedom. It is the blossoming of your desires, but it is not their fruit. It is a depth calling unto a height, but it is not the deep nor the high. It is the caged taking wing, but it is not the space encompassed. Aye, in very truth, pleasure is a freedom-song. And I fain would have you sing it with fullness of heart, yet I would not have you lose your hearts in the singing.”

Recitation calls for recitation in kind, after all. And Khalil Gibran seems to fit the bill.

Her hand comes back to the menu, to point at an item, and she continues with conspiratorial whisper, “And I think the filet mignon is singing in my key.”

Phil listens, enraptured, and for a moment, just one moment, that blossom of romantic desire that seemed to have choked and withered away under the traitorous knife of a man he'd loved with all his heart sparks. A quick flicker, there and gone again in a twisting of pain, like a muscle strained, sprained, and thoroughly abused.

It's hard to go wrong quoting things at him, especially not beautiful things. He is smiling softly, eyes shining, before she gives that conspiratorial whisper.

He leans forward too, as if this is a state secret, and says, "Then I shall sing in like key." She's certainly never steered him wrong on the menu selection before.

“Excellent!” Emma exclaims, gently folding the menu shut. And once that’s done, she takes up her wine glass with a renewed sense of purpose. “One moment.”

And it is in that moment that she overtly tilts her hand, that she’s pulling strings of some sort, as she but blinks her eyes and moments later the server reenters their small dining chamber and takes their order.

And as he leaves, her lips take a nearly impish twist—daring him to say a thing against her handiwork. But it fades as she turns her attention to the glass of wine that she slowly swirls in her hand.

“I suppose that I should also say that it was brought to my attention that perhaps some of your people happened to be in Alaska at the time I was. But you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

Phil just gives her his easygoing smile in return. He won't say anything about it at all, it seems. It seems harmless enough, little telepathic nudges to get the waiter here on time. If she were trying to make the waiter stab himself he'd have more to say about it (a lot more), but this is well within his levels of tolerance.

"I wanted to be in Alaska myself," he says grimly, and he did. It upsets him that he had to send people instead of just going, but there was literally no way he could.

He does add:

"Those that were there are firmly on board with the absence of certain files and records that might have made your life difficult in your aftermath."

If she dug she'd even see a flash of the scene: Ulysses coming to him to tell him the files were missing, Phil ordering him to keep them that way. He remains in her corner, whether he was able to go to Alaska or not.

“Are they?” Emma asks, and it’s fortunate for Agent Coulson that his thoughts are very much in order. That he doesn’t try to lie to her. Granted, he never has. It’s part of why they can have this sort of a dialogue, even if her own current state of heart prevents her from leaving his thoughts alone.

For she also has things that she cannot allow to stand. Although, perhaps, her disagreement might take a different form.

“Well,” she says, continuing on to comment with a double meaning that only she can appreciate, “that’s reassuring.”

She sips deeply.

“It’s alright that you weren’t there,” she continues on, her contralto voice low. “Probably for the best, even. I wasn’t quite up to entertaining. This is an evening much more pleasantly spent, I assure you.”

"I don't imagine you were. That doesn't mean there weren't a few people there I wouldn't have liked to dance with."

With guns and fists, of course.

"Still, here you are, and the evening is pleasant, so the outcome is all that I could hope for. I still have some lingering concerns about the entire affair, though I imagine you do as well."


Who were they?

How did they identify all those telepaths in the first place?

Did they gut that particular organization or is it part of a broader concern? How big of a threat to the security of the world are they? What will they try next?

The sort of after-action questions any experienced operative might have, really, when no reports speaking to any of that have crossed his desk.

“I do. But I’ve been assured that there is a party who will continue to look into the matter.”

How much she actually trusts the X-Men to do what needs to be done? Another matter entirely. It’s why she already has contingencies in motion. Other avenues to pursue.

She lifts her gaze to the ceiling with a touch of exasperation bleeding through (although this time in a much more traditional sort of way), and it’s decidedly not pointed at him. “For whatever that’s worth.”

She chuckles at an unspoken joke, and then returns her gaze to her dining companion.

“Suffice it to say, neither one of us is content to let it lie there, are we?”

"We are not."

He observes her exasperation with the other party, and takes a sip of his wine before replaying. "Do let me know if your other party drops the ball. I divert some resources to it if they can't make it happen."

He doesn't exactly know who she asked; it's only her reactions that let him know he might need to step in to pick up someone else's dropped ball. That said, if someone else is juggling the ball effectively he sees no reason whatsoever to interfere with that.

Involving him could get complicated if not done right, Emma thinks to herself. It removes certain options from the table. Options she’d much rather keep… well, options.

Still, there is a done right in there somewhere among them, and she’d be remiss to not see it. Likewise, she can understand his own vested interests.

Ponderance upon ponderance.

“I will,” she promises earnestly with a smile. “But if you do chance across anything that might be useful, don’t keep it to yourself, hm?”

"Of course," Phil says. Not on this matter anyway. He's obliged to keep all manner of things to himself, but the vast majority of them don't touch on her in any meaningful way. This does, and so he feels he can pass on information without too much trouble.

Not that there's much of SHIELD left to worry about, but he'll hold on to the scraps while he can. Having gotten through his crisis of faith, and decided it was worth holding onto at all.

In this particular case it's not even all altruism. Dropping information to get things done is a way to make things happen that need to happen without spending too many resources on them. It's a time-honored tradition for him.

"I don't come across quite as much as I used to," he does warn. "The Triskelion's fate has set us back a bit."

That's not classified. That's common sense. For all that Nick Fury would scowl to hear him say it.

“Not quite as much is hardly the same thing as nothing at all,” Emma says, knowing that he knows this, too, and her tone is honey sweet—filled with amusement of a different kind.

She leans forward after a moment, setting her elbows just shy of the table’s edge.

“And now that the dreary business is all behind us, I’ve a proposal for you! To prevent another incident where a year skates by before we know it with nary a pleasant evening in sight, I want to pencil you in on my calendar. Something absolutely, sinfully fluffy. You have your choice: the opera, the symphony—whatever, really… Tell me there’s something that tickles your fancy, and I’ll get a box.”

"The symphony sounds lovely," Phil says with a smile, hardly having to think about it. With some anticipation, his mind slides over the strains of Grieg's cello sonata, a passionate and intense piece, almost a duel between the piano and the stringed instruments. He does this with the same level of relish he devoted to Thoreu's works back in the cabin.

"You spoil me," he says with a grin, hazel eyes sparkling. "But I enjoy it very much. And when you get that box, I will write it in pen."

As much as he ever gets to write anything in pen, but they both run the risk of some sort of giant robot or demon invasion or whatever disrupting their days.

The telepath catches the composer’s work nestled in the spymaster’s thoughts and—to her credit—recognizes it even without Phil’s unwitting assistance in that regard. She makes a note to herself of donations to be doled out later, with gentle requests attached.

“I spoil myself,” she clarified with an airy and dismissive wave of her hand as she leans back, clearly pleased with the response he gives her, “and then I invite you along. It’s entirely self-serving, I promise. Don’t you ever tell a soul anything to the contrary. I’m as selfish as the day is long.”

She drains her glass dry, finally, and reaches over to pour a fresh measure for herself, as well as to top of Phil’s glass if he’ll take it of her.

“I have a reputation to maintain. Don’t you ruin it.”

The meal comes then, the server intruding with his tray: the filets prepared on the rarer side, spilling their red juices all over the plate to mingle with the rich sauce that dresses both meat and the artful arrangement of vegetables.

He fusses a bit on arranging things, looks to Phil for marks of approval.

He grins at that again, and tips his head in a seated bow. "As you say," he says.

But he still feels plenty spoiled when that incredible filet mignon lands in front of him. Classic gentleman that he is, he waits for her to pick up her fork before he does. But once he does, and has a bite, his eyes just close while he savors it.

It's a moment of being gloriously alive all of a sudden: dinner with a friend, the taste of perfectly prepared meat dancing across his tongue, the prospect of good music, the lingering scent of the wine. He'd been conflicted over coming back to life until he wasn't, until he was too busy and distracted to be distracted by existential crisis. He hadn't come all the way back around to living is great until this particular moment. It's a moment that surprises him, almost, by how strongly it comes on.

Approval indeed. He says, "Once again you have made an excellent selection."


“Never expect anything less of me,” comes the stage-worthy reply, tinged with amusement… but also self-awareness. After all, isn’t that part of the brand promise she’s built? Only the best.

Emma affords the man the illusion of privacy as much as the illusion ever exists for a telepath, especially one as morally fluid as she, her eyes half-lidded as she minds her own portions in her leisurely way. To say that it doesn’t please her a little, to nudge him a little further towards human, would be a lie.

But she needn’t speak on it, and thus she needn’t add one more falsehood to the mountain of such upon which she has erected her throne. Not that she has any genuine compunction about it.


Now that the things of weight are no longer hanging over them, it affords Frost the opportunity to sit back and consider the pieces upon the proverbial board. She does so, under the guise of enjoying—and letting Phil enjoy—a moment of silence and the fine dining at hand.

But then, from there, she will do her level best to steer clear of the treacherous deeper waters of meaningful conversation in the way that those of her ilk do. It’s the weather and Chopin, frivolous travel destinations and even more frivolous new ways to spend ungodly amounts of money.

She drinks deeply—enough so to warrant a second bottle despite herself, although she’s no intention to finish it when it comes.

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