Late Night Conscience
Roleplaying Log: Late Night Conscience
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

Phil Coulson comes to see Peggy in the middle of the night to try and iron things out. Tempers flare and loyalty is questioned.

Other Characters Referenced:
IC Date: March 11, 2019
IC Location: Peggy's Apartment
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 18 Mar 2019 23:23
Rating & Warnings:
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

At this rate, people really are going to assume there are Things Going On Between Phil and Peggy.

At least, they might if they saw him heading up to her apartment at 3 AM, dripping with the driving rain that's pummeling the New York City streets. He's soaked to the skin, wearing a brown leather jacket, black slacks, and a hunter-green t-shirt with boots.

Of course, no person showing up for a date would have shoved his cellphone in a plastic baggie before shoving it in a locker four subway stops down, and with luck…

Well. Phil's not leaving it to luck, the idea that he's without a tail. He put in a great deal of effort to losing anyone who might have thought to try.

He may not even know what time it is. His trusty spy watch went into the same plastic bag, and properly losing a tail takes time. And he's just not in a very good state of mind to begin with.

This must be what happens when the Cheshire Cat gets wet, because there is a bedraggled quality to him as he raises his fist and pounds on the door.

* * *

The Peggy Carter that arrives at the door is one that Phil has not seen much of in his interaction with her. The image many who have seen movies or Mad Men would expect a woman like Peggy to go to sleep in teddies or the like. Instead, she is in a pair of matching pajamas, her hair down up in pins, a kerchief wrapped them. It takes a little while for Peggy to answer the door. Once she does, though, she straightens when she sees Phil Coulson there.

Her eyes narrow and she's quick to bring him inside and to shut the door. "Agent Coulson." She studies him, gesturing for him to take off his coat to not drip on the carpet. "I can't imagine what you are doing here in the middle of the night. It must be dire?" Her voice is sharp. She thought she was clear in their SHIELD relationship as things were worked through.

The door locks behind them and she sets the chain on the door. "Is everything okay?"

* * *

He takes off his coat and seems to ignore her general state. "No. Everything is not okay. Yes. It is dire."

If he's sorry about catching her in her PJs or even in the dead of night, it doesn't show. The agitation that bubbles just under the surface of his skin is palpable. As it is every time he thinks about this, really.

His hazel eyes are sharp. "I found out what that thumb drive was meant to do, Agent Carter. And I think you should know about it."

A flash, the merest flicker, of this can I trust you microexpression. It's there and gone again, settling mostly into the eyes. Or maybe it's a microexpression that reads: unless you knew already.

At the very least, he's perfectly sober. There's no whiff of alcohol on his person. "This apartment's clean, right? You're absolutely sure it's not bugged?"

* * *

"Thumb drive?" Peggy tilts her head at Coulson. She has high clearance, but the thumb drive has not crossed her desk. It's hard to tell if she's being serious or not.

"Clean? Agent Coulson, SHIELD would never bug my apartment." At that, she gives him a very distinct and very pointed look. It's quick, it's there and then it's gone. Immediately, she moves to help him. If her place is bugged? She has allowed it to be. "I'm not sure what thumb drive you may be talking about, but it certainly must be important, let me make some tea for you. It should soothe your nerves. Of course my apartment is not bugged." She pauses as she pours a glass of water for him. Giving him more of a look as she hands it to him. 'drink it quickly' that expression says. Then: "Oh goodness, Coulson, please, you look a bit pale. Upstairs if you're going to be sick."

Quickly, she starts to usher him toward the roof.

* * *

He gulps it down, getting it just fine, and follows Peggy to the roof. A hint of surprise crosses his face when he realizes she didn't know about the thumb drive.

He went to such elaborate lengths to conceal the fact that the jig was up with that damn thing. But knowing they're now getting to a secure location to speak, he calms down a little. The truth is he probably does look a little sick. He's sick at heart, anyway.

Once they're up there he ticks an eyebrow at her, just to be sure. He definitely does sick up in her rooftop plants, anyway.

* * *

Up on the roof, Peggy quickly closes the door and clicks a thing that sounds like a goat crashing into something. "Look, if you allow an Asgardian into your home while they have no place else to go there, is certain benefits."

That out of the way, she looks at Phil. "What the hell are you talking about. I've been working every angle that I could to give you cover. I gave you Daisy, I'm trying to keep Sloane from quitting, I am trying to give you a team, Phil. What the are you doing right now? You're trying to give up my cover? I thought better of you. I thought I could trust you. I thought I could let you operate just on your own. I didn't want to know what you were doing, I just wanted to give you the opportunities to do what you needed to do."

Angrily, she steps forward, "You almost blew up everything I have been working for, we both agreed, we are trying to stop the man who killed the other Peggy Carter. What are you doing coming to my apartment, bringing this up where SHIELD may have bugged it?"

* * *

Anger flashes in Phil's eyes as she reads him the riot act, but that seems to cool him right off. Indeed, by the time she's finished he looks as unruffled as ever. It's not quite the unruffled nature of old. That was born out of a serenity and a surety of purpose that Phil has lost. This is born out of simply hardening himself against any feeling at all. His eyes, when she winds down, are flat.

"And what am I supposed to do with that team, Peggy? String them along until SHIELD starts using them for testing? Let me just skip to the epilogue. Someone planted a data mining worm in our system. I intercepted it, covered up that anyone knew anything about it, and set a pair I trust to work on the various parts of the puzzle. It was seeking evidence of mutant gene research. And it found it. Possible means to overwrite the mutant gene. To turn it off. To target kill. The first two are already tagged positive for 'tests under surveillance.' The target kill stuff, well, that's locked behind Level 9 Clearance."

He takes a step forward, his eyes going quite a bit harder. "And frankly, I damn near did let you remain in the dark about it."

His hand cuts through the rain, his jaw firming. "Because there was always the chance you already knew. I decided to confide in you instead."

* * *

That may be a way for Phil to avoid people. However, Peggy Cater watches Phil Coulson. She's had very intimate conversations with him and she know something about how he operates.

"What are you supposed to…" Peggy shakes her head. "You do what you can do with them, Phil. You are a man with higher clearance than I have. You are unique. I am trying to give you cover to do whatever you may need to do so I will take the heat and you can do what needs to be done. I did not think I needed to spell this out for you."

Phil's reference is met with a blink, a very confused look. "SHIELD is trying to target kill mutants?" She looks to Coulson, eyes narrowed.

At his firmed jaw, Peggy steps forward. "Fuck you." The words are soft, heartfelt. She means it. "Get the fuck out of my apartment, Coulson."

* * *

He scoffs. "Why, because I have a moment of doubt? Because I don't know who to trust or what to believe anymore? I'd say that's damned reasonable under the circumstances."

He moves to walk past her, pausing at the door of the escape to say: "You know, I understand you built this organization. I also understand you're only a few years out from that build on your personal timeline. I know it's got to be one more hard adjustment in a long list to see what the place has become. But I devoted thirty years to it. My entire life. I would have happily devoted thirty more. I lived, breathed, and ate SHIELD. So while I can't possibly understand your experience? You don't know jack about what this feels like for me, either. And to top it all off? I have been betrayed more times by more people this month than I have in a goddamn lifetime. So forgive me if I'm having a real damned hard time reading your mind. Forgive me if finding out my life's work has collapsed into the kind of place that would perform genocide has knocked me for so much of a loop that I don't even trust my own responses to it."

One more pause. "Some of the data wasn't from us. I'll bet you dollars to donuts that's your MI-6 link."

He starts striding down the stairs. "Have a nice night, Carter."

* * *

"Your life's work." Peggy cannot help it, she moves down the stairs and attempts to grab Phil's arm. Her grip is firm and one that grabs him before he moves downstairs. "You lived and breathed SHIELD. You may have some thought of what I have gone through. I saw myself. I saw what I became. A woman who lived through the Cold War, a woman who Palmer wished to personally kill. This is something we both have in common, except for I don't remember it. I've lived this life twice now. You want to talk to me about responsibility? I have doubled your experience."

She looks at him, "Yes, I will tell you to fuck yourself because you are putting this on me when you know exactly my experience. I am not the woman who gave you my SSR pins. I am different, but I thought you trusted me." With a firm grip, she attempts to toss him upstairs. "You think you lived and breathed SHIELD? This is my life, I am here for a reason. This must be it. And you think your world is crashing down around you? Mine is too."

She shakes her head. "What are you talking about? Genocide? That makes no sense. Where are you getting genocide from?"

* * *

Phil doesn't resist the toss. He probably could, but he just either doesn't care to or doesn't have the energy, or something. "Peggy, what would you call it? What do you think they're going to do with the ability to edit mutant genes out of existence? To target kill? You think they're going to politely use it only on the metas who are really really bad? You think what, it's just a failsafe, and all the traitorous elements inside our organization are just going to sit on it and go, 'well, that information's real neat.' No. They're going to use it. They're going to start programming it into bombs that kill every mutant in a concentrated radius, and then they're going to haul their bodies away and seize their property, and hail it as a great regrettable event employed for everyone's safety. They won't get every element they're worried about that way, but they'll get enough. And even if they don't kill them, rewiring a mutant's genes to take away the thing that makes them a mutant is genocide. There is no good reason to be doing that research. None. We have ways to put down metas who are out of control that don't have a damn thing to do with screwing with their genes. There was a line. Now it's been crossed."

* * *

"What are you talking about?" Peggy looks at the tossed Coulson with a complete and utter confusion. "You found that SHIELD is attempting to edit out mutant genes? That doesn't make any sense. Where did you get this information?"

Sitting down on a step right below Phil, she looks at him. There is something of hurt in her look. While Peggy Carter tends to be very put together with a pant suit, she did not look any less professional in pajamas. There is a very long pause. This has nothing to do what they've just spoken of, this has nothing to do with her tossing him. "Do you think me a person who would do that, Phil?"

It's a direct question. It's not something that many would posit in a spy agency, however, she has to know.

* * *

"No," Phil says wearily, sitting down with her. "Not really. I'm just tired, Peggy. Just really, really tired."

He leans his head against the doorframe. "I didn't think Fury was someone who would either. I'd have followed him anywhere too. Now, I just don't know. I got the information from our own systems. Palmer was looking for it, and probably already has it by now. But I found what he wanted, and found what he found. That's the long and short of it. And even if it's being done as nothing but a precautionary measure, or a way to understand mutants, or a way to help those who don't want powers anymore, there are about seven hundred layers of catastrophe waiting in those wings. It would be one thing if what I found was: 'Individual mutant is desperate to get rid of her powers, asked for boutique gene-editing therapy.' I have one like that. It's another to do the research broad scale."

* * *

Peggy leans against the stairs. She's not trying no longer trying to stop Coulson, nor is she doing anything else. "I don't know what Palmer is doing. Do you?" It's a sense of resignation. "Does it have something to do with this key? Should I shut down SHIELD servers completely?"

On these stairs, tired, she looks up to Coulson. "I am, too." She's very tired.

"I assume this is the end of this, but I trusted you, Phil. I thought we had an understanding. You do what you need to do. Daisy and Sloane are yours. I will not interfere. You truly think me someone who would do this? I need to know."

* * *

"No. I sent my triple agent in to deliver me Palmer. Now I'm thinking I need to slow my roll and get her to figure out what he wants instead."

He closes his eyes. "No, Peggy. I just said I don't believe it of you. I felt a stab of paranoia when you started shouting at me, that's all. I did debate not coming to you, but for the very reasons why you're irritated I'm here. Because you're trying to stay out of what I do. I finally talked myself around to thinking you should know instead. My delivery timing and method could have been better, but once I decided I just…"

He gives a cynical smile about 'do what you have to do.' "I hope you're banking on more than me. What I feel like I have to do is not small. I've failed in every conceivable way, so I'm rating my chances of pulling anything good out of any of this at a solid 12."

A nice Guardian-approved number.

"I wasn't lying when I said I don't trust myself either."

* * *

"Triple agent?" Peggy looks to Coulson and then immediately shakes her head. "Don't tell me." This is, obviously why he didn't already.

"I shouted at you because I thought I had your trust and I am sick of people trying to attack my loyalty due to what I am trying to do. Out of everyone, I thought you trusted me." She frowns. "What did you find on that thumb drive? Should I know about it? You came here and annoyed me and I still feel in the dark"

She looks to Coulson and reaches out a hand to take his. "Oh, Coulson. I have many plans and many do not involve you. However, you are the plan that has the highest percentage of winning as far as I am concerned."

She gives Coulson a look, she can't help it. "You have a personal stake in this, Phil?"

* * *

"I think I've told you as much about that as I can," Coulson says quietly, squeezing her hand in turn. "It wasn't exactly a big dossier folder. It was bits of data that painted a picture I can't stomach."

What did he find? The death of his faith. The desire to walk away played out in his mind a hundred different ways. Ash and ruin, that's what he found.

"Personal stake? Depends on what you mean when you ask that question. You'll have to clarify."

* * *

"Tell me what you mean about genocide." That is the immediate question Peggy wishes to know.

"Out of all of SHIELD? I trust a very narrow list. You are on it. If I may be on your narrow list, I would wish to know the reason you came here in the middle of the night to blow my cover." She looks up to him. "What would make you distrust me to the point of disdain. Why would you think I am in league with these things?"

They remain on the steps, the place between, she looks down toward her apartment. "I want to know what makes you lose your faith in me."

* * *

"Peggy, research like that can be used to end every metahuman. It has no place in our organization. The stuff that's hidden behind the Level 9 Clearance Wall is out of reach, but we know it's about target killing mutants. I don't know what your familiarity with gene tech or theory is, but it is as if I went and found the gene for blue eyes, and then went and researched how to make a weapon to kill everyone with blue eyes. I'm not sure what's unclear about this. That's genocidal. The research that's not above my clearance level is already being tested. Broad scale research to overwrite the mutant gene, or to switch it off. That's not only dangerous, it's something that could spell the end of those people. They could deploy it in a humanitarian way, yes. But it can also be dropped in a water supply, or packed into a bomb. If you turn off the thing that makes a mutant a mutant you have essentially erased a member of that race. Furthermore, there's no telling what the side effects might be. Maybe that person dies of cancer later. Maybe that power is the only thing keeping them alive."

He stabs the air with a finger. "SHIELD has no business doing this research. And we're doing it. And oh, it just so happens to correspond with 37 states passing a law that require all the mutants and metas to place themselves on a list, to check in with law enforcement constantly, and to give up their biometric data. The ethical problems with this are severe and intense."

He looks at her, brow drawing down. "To continue the blue eyes analogy further, which is seriously the least offensive one I can find, and what I really ought to be doing is reaching for the seven or ten historical parallels, some of which played out against people right here on our soil— even if you don't kill every blue eyed person but instead rewrite their genetics so that they have brown eyes, you have still destroyed blue-eyeness. You have still committed genocide against blue eyed people. The 'you' is rhetorical by the way. This research is unconscionable. And it's been done by our people, in our labs, with our budget. Do you see it now?"

* * *

"Phil. I have no idea what you are talking about." Peggy looks to Phil Coulson. "I've been trying to get you to tell me what it is and you've been quite tight lipped, that's great, but I have no idea what you are saying. Why would SHIELD have research about eradicating mutants? When did it take place and who authorized it? Why did they do it?"

Peggy's with Coulson on this, by her tone of voice. "You're not saying this is state sponsored, are you?"

* * *

"Peggy, I didn't get that information. These are the facts as follows. 1. Benjamin Palmer sent a double agent to plug a thumb drive into our systems. 2. I sent someone to find out what the thumb drive was meant to do. 3. I discovered it was a data mining program. 4. I discovered it was searching certain key phrases to look for evidence of this kind of research. 5. I discovered the program had something to find. It found research into overwriting the mutant gene, to turn it off, or to 'target kill.' 6. This was not about a single mutant asking for help removing their powers, the only legitimate use of this research. It is weapons work. 7. The data mining program located evidence that gene overwrites and gene shut-off measures are already being teasted under supervision. 8. My source was able to get as far as level 8 clearance, but the target kill program is classified at levels 9 or above, which means Shepherd, Hand, Christianson, Grenon, and Fury. We don't know if that is being tested or not, but what we do know is being tested is bad enough."

He grimaces. "Sorry to break it down like that, but it was a good opportunity for me to walk myself back through it too. In addition to being horrifying and having the potential to hurt a lot of people, this could destroy SHIELD if it gets out. And maybe spark a war, too. Who funded it? I don't know. All sorts of people fund SHIELD, including the American government. The Directors have the ability to allocate those funds. Which one of them did it? Maybe all of them. Beats me. I'd need level 10 clearance myself to get to the bottom of all this, and to mitigate the harm, and as we both know, I don't have that."

Which might just be Peggy's one clue and warning.

* * *

Peggy takes quite a while. "I need a drink." instead of going downstairs, she goes to the roof and pulls a random keg out where she knows Thor would have stashed it.

"Don't take this the wrong way, Coulson," she says for a moment. "But is it possible Palmer wanted you to see this information? This man murdered you, he murdered a version of me, too. Did he fabricate this to tear us apart? He clearly has a vendetta against SHIELD. Do we know for a fact the information led to us by him is a fact? If it is, we can't trust anyone above a, what, Level 8 Clearance. That's quite a lot and that is essentially saying we cannot trust SHIELD."

* * *

"Of course it's possible," Coulson says quietly. "I thought of that. Fortunately, I have someone I can ask. I'm 98% sure I know who programmed it. And if this person wasn't the programmer, this person knows who the programmer was, and either way it may be possible to verify the program's purpose. I'm going to check into that before I make even a single move. Because the damage mitigation is different if Palmer fabricated it."

He also puts his finger to his nose when Peggy says 'that is essentially saying we cannot trust SHIELD.' "I've distrusted every Level 9 except Hand for months. I managed to clear her. Until now I never had reason to doubt Fury. And I have to admit, Peggy, straight talk…I don't know how rational I am right now. The way I got brought back to life is classified past my clearance too. I've been…"

He frowns. He doesn't like admitting weakness any more than any member of her era does. He's been a little more open with his feelings of late because they're boiling over, but that doesn't mean he's going to come out and say that while the hallucinations are well and truly fixed, while he's no longer mad, he's depressed. If he didn't know life after death were a thing and so escaping problems is impossible, he'd be borderline suicidal.

But what he says is, "Not…at my best. I used to be sure of every step I took. Now I feel clumsy and out of sync."

* * *

"I have had one too many people distrust me because of who I am." This is Peggy's explanation. "I get not being trusted to people who don't know what I'm doing. You thought I'd be privy to this, condone it. I don't know. Maybe I would from what you know."

As for him being back to life? Peggy frowns. "I don't know how it happened, but I'm glad you're still here."

With a smirk, she shakes her head. "I don't believe that. You seem incredibly on the nose."

* * *

"Maybe I just feel out of practice," Coulson says with a faint smile.

He looks at her and now it's time for him to take her hand.

"Peggy," he says quietly. "I was betrayed and killed by someone I fell for. My number one suspect for the Level 9 Agent who erased or hid a bunch of data way back at the Barnes trial on Hydra's behalf is Shepherd, the man who mentored me. The double agent was one of my mentees, and played on her relationship to me and my concern for her to get into a position to unleash this code into SHIELD's servers. She was desperate, and she's trying to make it right, but it still happened just that way. I have absolutely no idea what Fury is doing anymore. And Carol turned into some kind of jackbooted thug. And the worm's programmer? Too close for comfort."

The rain has subsided to a cold, chill, mist. He looks up at it, as if seeking answers. "That's a long list of people I've put trust or faith in that have either turned against me or are suspect in some way. I just…it's not you. I just have very little faith left."

* * *

"Phil, the agency I started may be rotted through. The woman who I was was murdered…by the Agent you fell for. The brother I thought I was dead is alive and has been for years. Being in SHIELD is…." Peggy looks up toward the roof again. "I don't need to tell you any of this."

"I understand and you do, too." Peggy frowns. "It's so strange, isn't it? We're supposed to be cynical, and then we're supposed to also believe in the place where we work without question."

* * *

“Shattered belief is hard. I’m sorry, Peggy. I handled none of this well, and I hurt you worse.” Phil exhales softly and stands. “I should go. I’ve kept you awake long enough for one night. There’s nothing more we can do here. I’m sorry I doubted you.”

* * *

"It's okay." Is it? Peggy looks to Phil. "I understand. I'm just…tired." Just like he is. "I didn't handle this well, either. There's no apology needed. I'm glad you actually came to talk to me rather than assume I would just have done that or condoned it. I'm sorry I flew off the handle."

* * *

“Three in the morning is a good time to fly off the handle,” Phil says with one of his sad, compassionate versions of the Cheshire Cat smile.

He heads down the stairs. “Thanks for holding my head,” he says, more to the bugs than to her.

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