Stonewalling
Roleplaying Log: Stonewalling
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

Ulysses Arngrim gets some disturbing orders from one Phil Coulson.

Other Characters Referenced: Quake (referenced without being named)
IC Date: May 23, 2019
IC Location: A park in NYC
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 24 May 2019 02:31
Rating & Warnings: G
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

The deli that Ulysses had requested they meet at is an old place, one of those well-etablished mom-and-pop shops whose renown has been spread through the neighborhood by word of mouth, generations of families bringing their families and so forth, and now, with the ever trending internet culture, food bloggers and YouTube foodies.

It's definitely not the place to talk about controversial topics and top secret information, which is why it had been chosen as the place of meeting to grab a couple of sandwiches and maybe a steaming cup of lentil soup, and then head out to the park. Just a couple of office guys having lunch, no big deal. Being outside is better than being in a closet/storage room for clandestine meetings, and while Ulysses might have preferred the latter for conveniences sake, he 1) had not yet gotten his poor drones replaced and his existing ones had most likely been crushed under the rubble of the Triskelion, and 2) the closets in the Renwick are actual closets and not at all comfortable to hold more than one person. Also they're dark and gross and kind of scary.

"Soooo…" Yes, that's an excellent place to begin, he thinks, as he eagerly unwraps his sandwich, a mass of pastrami piled high and layered with mustard and pickles. By the looks of it, this is probably the main reason he wanted to meet at a deli. He's starving, and sometimes you just have a hankering for these things. "…how's life?"

* * *

Coulson doesn't object to good food ever. Or to meetings involving food. He gets too little time to eat as it is. He has a meatball sub loaded with just copious amounts of beautifully melted mozarella cheese. It is exactly the sort of thing a man his age normally shouldn't eat. But he does, and with gusto. He gets a full bite down before Ulysses leads in with how's life.

He gazes about. Park benches are wonderful because they let a man see who is and isn't around. Sure the area's clear, and with his cell phone three blocks away in one of his little gym locker stashes…it's too easy to listen to a man through his phone…and having insisted Uly do the same…he arches his eyebrow. Reading people is one of the things he does best. The question is less about getting the read, and more about deciding how to respond.

At last, Phil responds with an avuncular: "Life is good. At the moment I have good company and a good sandwich. And how is life with you, Agent Arngrim?"

No need to make the young man even more nervous. He'll get over his nervousness eventually, and tell Phil why he's really out here, and why he's nervous about discussing what he really wants to discuss.

* * *

Nervous seems to be a default setting for Ulysses Arngrim, even when he isn't really. Awkward is probably a better word for it. At the moment however, yes, the agent is a little nervous, but when you deal with picking apart computer-related mysteries to find things people don't mean for you to find, well, it's probably to be expected.

"Good! That's…good to hear. And yes. Agreed on the company and the sandwich. Oh man, this sandwich." He'd taken a moment before replying, having had to chew and swallow down the first huge bite he'd had of his pastrami, and it had not disappointed. "Life's…about the usual. No, scratch that, it's pretty good. No buildings being dropped on me, no nearly getting shot at, no being worried about betraying a major government organization…"

He regrets mentioning those things already, but it's true enough. After the events from two months ago, things have gotten about as normal as one can hope for things to be when working for S.H.I.E.L.D. Even their normal is more or less abnormal, considering what they deal with. Ulysses eyes his sandwich, debating on stalling by having another bite or just diving right into things. He's quite visibly contemplating this before finally sighing and lowering his sandwich as he glances at Phil.

"So you know that whole thing about the DPS Registry database?"

Yeah, way to ease right into things. He really needs to work on the in-betweens.

* * *

"A bit," Phil replies, arching an eyebrow. "What I saw in the papers. Maybe a few more things, here and there."

Lies come easily to the lips of Agent Phil Coulson. And sometimes he doesn't lie. Sometimes he says the exact word-for-word truth. Which can often be better than a lie.

"What about it, Agent Arngrim? That seems like a thing that would be DPS' problem. Did someone order you to give them a hand?"

Easygoing. Eating his sandwhich. Mildly curious. Or, as they say in the South…butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

* * *

Ulysses steals another nibble of his sandwich while Phil responds, more because he really is hungry than for stalling. He licks mustard off his lips, nodding thoughtfully.

"Oh yeah, I agree. That it's their problem. I haven't been ordered anything specifically yet, but they passed SHIELD full access of their records of the night of the incident." So of course it ended up in his lap. "So I've been picking at it, the codework and everything," he continues, brow furrowing in the beginnings of the troubled look that eventually colors his expression. "…and I started getting this weird sense of deja vu about some of it. So I went back and did some comparisons and stuff."

He looks at Phil again. "It looks frighteningly similar to the codework in the virus that you had me working on."

* * *

And Phil just calmly eats his sandwich. Takes a sip of an unsweetened tea. He gets about halfway through it before he wipes his mouth with the paper napkin, folding it precisely so the deli logo shoes in the center of a perfect square. "No orders," he muses. "Good."

And then he looks right at Ulysses and says: "You're going to erase those fingerprints, Agent, and then you will return the data to whomever asked you to assess it. I'm going to need you to tell them there wasn't anything for you to find."

His hazel eye'd gaze is as a hawk's, sharp and firm.

* * *

Whatever he was expecting Phil to say, it wasn't that, and for a moment Ulysses wonders that he'd heard correctly. He blinks, cocking his head as he gives the man an odd look.

"Wait, what?"

Turning things over in his head a few times, the confusion on his face slowly shifts into something more concerned. Was there something Phil knew about this? No, that was a dumb question. He must know something if he's making such a request.

"…oookay. But why do you need me to do that?" If he sounds uncertain about it, it's because he is. But he's not saying no. As bizarre a request as it is, Ulysses knows there must be a reason for it, and he trusts Phil.

* * *

"That's on a need-to-know basis, Agent," Phil says. His tone isn't hard, it's just matter-of-fact. "And you don't have the clearance at this time. When either of those two conditions change, I will let you know. All I can say is a very sensitive operation is in progress at the moment, one which could strike quite the blow at some of SHIELD's deadliest enemies. And losing that evidence will help preserve the integrity of that operation."

In a less conversational, softer, and kinder voice, he says: "I give you my word that I am not acting against SHIELD or its people in any way, and that I am acting in the best interests of the people we are sworn to protect."

* * *

Slowly the younger agent closes his mouth, letting Phil's answer sink in. This response is more along the lines of what he might expect. It seemed like Phil was always running other things on the side, or at least for the time that he's known him. Which to be fair isn't all that long, but being told these things now, even if it's more or less a politely worded 'mind your own business', Ulysses still at least feels like he's been included, somehow. Something bigger. Something risky.

The thought both thrills and terrifies him.

Nodding rigidly as Phil assures him that there won't be any traitorous activity from him, Ulysses breathes out another sigh. "Oh good. I mean, I was hoping you weren't after all that." He gives a wobbly sort of smile, trying to alleviate the mood despite his lame attempt at humor, dry as his tone tends to be. His finger taps against his sandwich as he considers. It'd be a lie to say that he was perfectly fine with this, but it wouldn't be completely untrue. The less he knows, the better, right? …but just how much does he really not know? The other question he'd been about to ask Phil dissipates as he gives another, slow nod before delving into a bite of his nearly forgotten sandwich.

* * *

Phil does not love giving that kind of an answer to anyone on his team. Even though he usually keeps his cards close even with them, downright stonewalling them is usually not an option. But Ulysses did something few are able to do.

He'd surprised him. The fact that the DPS hack had come right back to the desk of the one man who could identify the hacker in question was such a bad luck coincidence that he had nothing prepared. Not one smooth, reassuring lie, not one course of action that wouldn't look shady as Hell. And so stonewalling was all that was left.

There's some twitch of a microexpression that shows how little he is enjoying putting that wall up. He likes the hacker. He does. But in this case…there is absolutely no good reason to put him in the loop, and every good reason not to.

But he's going to have to prepare for this eventuality again. And so he adds, "If you come across anymore fingerprints, removing them and concealing them from all other eyes is both your standing order and your top priority."

And that's distasteful too.

* * *

There are other questions he'd like to ask, but Ulysses puts a cap on those. Phil won't budge with information, especially not if he doesn't have to, and frankly, Ulysses can understand not letting any more information spill. It's just like the decisions they'd made back in that storage room, when they thought that S.H.I.E.L.D. was pulling something very un-SHIELD like. How many people had Phil let in on that one? He had a feeling Phil was the only one who held the other end of all those strings.

Drawing in a deep breath, Ulysses is already mentally going over the processes for what the agent's asked of him. It's doable, certainly. It's just a matter of doing it right, and codework is just one of those things that Ulysses likes to be precise with. Well no, it's not even a matter of simply 'liking'- if you weren't precise then things just didn't work.

"Yessir," he says, his tone and expression serious, despite his still holding a sandwich. No point in explaining the possible trip-ups, the complications. He'd just have to figure out a way to get things done, if it came down to it.

* * *

Phil exhales a little and nods. "Good."

He stands. "And now, I think I should probably get back to the office. The wheels of SHIELD wait on no sandwich."

Not that he hasn't finished his. But it would be uncomfortable and weird to continue sitting here after all that, trying to switch gears to socializing. It's one of those instances where the gulf between the boss and the agent is too large to cross.

Holding all the strings can be a lonely walk, sometimes.

And he takes that walk alone, now, out of the park.

* * *

"See you back at the office," Ulysses says, waving half-heartedly with mustard-coated fingers. "…or not." S.H.I.E.L.D. was just one of those places where things were so busy it actually took some work to really run into someone you wanted to.

He watches Phil walk off, the bench all to himself, along with the awkwardness. Again, the hacker sighs and looks down at his sandwich and the soup beside him that he's yet to touch. Then he shrugs. He's got plenty of work to get back to, but it can wait a bit longer for him.

But first, he's going to enjoy his lunch and no one's going to tell him otherwise.

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