Mazes and Strings
Roleplaying Log: Mazes and Strings
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

Phil Coulson goes to Jim Craddock with one proposal. Jim has another.

Other Characters Referenced: The Scarlet Witch, Peggy Carter, Nick Fury, Quake, Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine
IC Date: May 29, 2019
IC Location: Calvary Cemetary, Queens
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 29 May 2019 05:09
Rating & Warnings: G
Scene Soundtrack: [* ]
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

Some believe that the ephemeral walls that divide the plane of the living from the decidedly "other" are thinnest in places like cemeteries. Graveyards holding the remains of countless dead from centuries past still have a place in the urbanized city sprawl of New York.

The Calvary Cemetery in Maspeth, Queens, had been established in a timeframe that Jim Craddock would have been more familiar with, save on the other side of the pond. He would say that there holds some truth to the beliefs that it's easiest to reach out to the dead where the dead do dwell, although perhaps not necessarily for the reasons they may think. But there are ghosts here other than himself, spirits who wander or linger near their long disintegrating remains. They've restricted themselves to where they exist, they lack the freedom that the Gentleman Ghost possesses… if one can say that being a ghost cursed to be in such a state of existence can be called such.

New York in itself has been full of strange occurences, and the last, if accidental breach of a demon dimension has left Craddock annoyed, at the idiots who had done so or at himself for whatever reason he'd decided to extend a hand, he couldn't say. So he'd given into a bit of recklessness while he was about. Sightings and rumors for those who kept an ear out for such things would have claims of eerie sounds of what might have been a horse or a banshee, phantom hooves beating pavement where nothing was seen. Newest conversation would mention sightings of a ghostly figure in white out in this old cemetery, although theories and stories went just about everywhere from there with people and their attempt to attach reason to such instances by extensive research. Were Craddock aware, he might have a laugh. Jokes on them, he didn't die in New York.

* * *

Coulson always has his ear to the ground for signs of Craddock. He doesn't really like summoning his friend. Better to find him where he is, to meet him on his own terms.

He does pull his 'I'm just kind of here' act though. He steps into the cemetary with his hands in his pockets, his pleasant Cheshire Cat smile on his face. A G-Man standing in a foggy graveyard in the dead of night is kind of a weird sight, the moreso for the fact that he looks like he is expecting to have a conversation here. He is alone, as one might expect.

"I like the one where the two women fighting over you shot you," he says mildly, to the air. "I think that was probably the most colorful and imaginative out of all of them. A far cry from truth, but an interesting one."

He doesn't even see Jim yet, he just has a feeling he's here, and speaks to the open air as if expecting a reply.

* * *

The chill that suddenly seeps into the area would be easy to notice, unnatural for the humidity that had plagued the day earlier, wetness still clinging to the grassy fronds between the gravemarkers from the showers that for the moment taken a break. The moon finds its own break through the swirling clouds above, casting an otherworldly glow that outlines the old stones and reflects off the growing mists that form just above the ground.

And then a chuckle, a hollow sound that would easily send a shiver down the spines of those who weren't expecting company out here. "Is that what people do these days? Make up wild stories about me? Although I must say, that does sound far more intriguing than the truth."

The voice's speaker comes into view as though one were fine-tuning binocular lenses, half-seated upon one of the taller pieces of masonry, a leg crossed over the other, gloved hand resting upon a knee. The floating top hat dips slightly in a nod above the equally hovering monocle as it turns towards the man.

"Mister Coulson," Craddock intones. "To what do I owe the pleasure? Surely not just to indulge in such stories?"

* * *

"There are only so many cat videos a person can watch. Eventually ghost stories get passed around. I believe you are officially a 'creepy pasta.'"

He pauses, and adds, "It's…a kind of story that spreads very fast." Why would Craddock know what a creepy pasta is? Hell, he himself had to have a SHIELD intern explain it to him, and he was baffled for a good five minutes of the explanation. But like Dads everywhere, once he had the explanation he feels cool enough to use it.

Even if he has no kids of his own, he is definitely a Dad.

He hesitates, though, at the question of getting down to business. "I might need a small favor," he admits. "It…shouldn't cause you any problems. But I can't promise it won't, if you agree."

* * *

"A…what?" The hat tilts again, this time quizzically. It's bad enough that he's thrown for a loop with all the technology of this advanced age but the modern lingo is like an entirely different language altogether, not to mention it seems to change several times in the span of a decade. "Pasta…isn't that some sort of food?" Coulson might fancy that the look the ghost shoots him is one highly questioning human sanity these days.

As Coulson goes on with the anticipated business, Craddock straightens from his tombstone seat, brushing his clothes off and tugging things into place as he turns to regard his unusual friend.

"A favor that 'shouldn't' cause me problems. Already I'm intrigued. Clearly you would not be asking me such a thing if you weren't in need of…specific skills."

Hands fold over the top of his cane, fingers of the topmost lightly drumming the one below. "And what exactly would this favor entail, that could potentially be of risk to me?"

* * *

"I have an asset working undercover," Coulson says slowly. "And under normal circumstances, we couldn't act on any of her intelligence until we were damn near willing to take the terrorists she's embedded with down. That means letting said terrorists do a lot of things we could prevent, even if she passes on every detail of the when, where, and how. We can maybe mobilize a little faster than normal, arrive on the scene within a plausibly deniable bit of time, but that still creates a risk that one of them will say 'wow they mobilized awfully fast.'"

He tilts his head at James Craddock. "Unless SHIELD had an asset of their own, who could talk to ghosts. They have spies in my organization, and if this suddenly comes out, as a side effect of my being 'clinically dead for an unusual amount of time'…" That is what his file now says, to much headshaking on his part.

"Then…we could cherry pick things to respond to, and it could all be because I got advance warning from the dead."

A pause. "It's not even a lie. I'm talking to you right now. So I guess I can, in fact, talk to ghosts. It doesn't have to be mentioned that under the right circumstances anyone could."

* * *

Fingers curl and uncurl in a steady, silent cadence, slowing ever so slightly as Craddock regards Coulson with such focus that he may as well be trying to read every word the agent speaks as though it were written on his face.

An asset to S.H.I.E.L.D. He's almost certain that no one would have ever considered exploring such an avenue were it not for particular circumstances. Very particular circumstances, a shot in the dark that somehow just managed to hit a small target, that's how right the circumstances had to be.

His shoulders quiver slightly before the chuckles that gave rise to it finally reach audible levels. He can't help for the unnatural echo that makes it all the more creepy, especially with this ambiance.

"Clever," he finally says, lifting a hand to stroke his unseen chin. "Not so simple as you might think it to be, but not impossible either. The circumstances for which the dead linger do vary. Some are more aware of their state than others, some are trapped in their past, and some simply do not care. But…I may be able to find willing eyes and ears."

He lowers his hand again, his monocle directing itself towards Coulson again. "A favor is a favor, and I now that I understand what I may possibly be getting m'self into, I must ask- and I hope you do not think of me any less for it, but… What's in it for me?"

* * *

Phil had only meant for Jim to be a cover, really. A convenient excuse for why Phil knows things that Phil should not know, so that Daisy's work could reap immediate benefits. Jim does him one better…offering intel of his own, for the right price. And Phil Coulson is not going to turn that down. He will develop the Hell out of this asset.

"Jim," he says gently, "You're going to have to tell me what is of value to a ghost. I never got around to valuing anything other than my sanity, and I'm not sure what I can do for you. But if there are things that you want, and need, that I can provide, then…by all means, let's craft an equitable exchange."

* * *

The silence that follows Coulson's words stretches onwards, the Ghost looking hesitantly at him before turning his head as he looks downwards in consideration.

"There's little a ghost values, save for what's left of his being. I think you know what I want, Phil, but I don't know that it's something you can provide." He forces a laugh, slightly tinged with bitterness. "Not to mention it would probably be counterproductive to what you wish of me in regards to this favor."

* * *

"Maybe," Phil says slowly.

Because something has just occurred to him, in that bitterness.

"I know a wizard or two," he says slowly, "Who might be able to help with your predicament. Who might be able to unravel the meaning of the curse, and who might be able to find out what you need to do to restore yourself to the land of the living. I can make no promises that they can. I frankly haven't the faintest idea what they can actually do. But…I could make an introduction, if you think it would help. I have worked with both of them in the field, and find them to be trustworthy individuals who are unlikely to want to bind you or exploit you or whatever else a wizard might do to a ghost."

He looks over at Jim and says, "It's a long shot, but…"

* * *

"…it's something," Craddock finishes, his head having turned back towards the man again. He doesn't allow himself to have too high hopes for it, but he doesn't dismiss possibilities either. And Coulson is being honest in his own expectations, but he surely wouldn't have made the suggestion if he hadn't thought there might be a worthwhile shot. The man does not say such things lightly, and Craddock doubts he extends his trust without the same care.

Which is exactly why he's willing to trust the man's judgment in turn.

"Very well," he says, nodding. "An introduction to your wizard acquaintances. From there, we'll see what transpires. I imagine that you would like me to begin immediately with your favor, but I'll need more information…"

* * *

"Well, you should know the risks first," Coulson says, shaking his head. He'll work the Hell out of developing Jim as an asset, true, but he'll do it honestly. "You offered more than I was asking; I meant only for you to be a cover for me. For me to say you, or rather ghosts, were how I got information, and for you to perhaps show up and help me," here he makes quotey fingers, "demonstrate my powers."

He gives a mild smile. "Dangerous enough though. My young agent undercover has infiltrated a group called the Brotherhood. I do not know if you have heard of them, but they have a witch of their own on their side. It is possible even serving as my cover could get you into danger, because it happens to intersect with the rare sorts of things I imagine are a danger to you. If you step it all the way up to actively running a ghostly info network for me, well…that may well draw her attention all the more."

* * *

Tucking his cane under an arm, the Gentleman Ghost begins to pace a bit between the gravestones, a hand propped up beneath whereabouts one's chin would be, the other arm folded across his chest.

"You just wanted me for a prop," he clarifies, sounding vaguely amused. He ceases his pacing, when Phil speaks of the witch, his back facing the man, but his monocle turns with his hat as he glances over his shoulder at him.

Ah, and therein lies the rub.

"I think I've heard a little of her. The same that brought down your building?" There had been death that day, whispers of the horrors that claimed those unfortunate agents. Craddock goes quiet again, if for a moment. "Aye, if it be witches and magic, then such upon that rare territory of what a ghost might consider a threat."

* * *

"The very same," Coulson replies. To his amusement he only spreads his hand. "I'm not in the habit of asking more than I have to, though neither am I fool enough to turn down more when it is offered, my friend. As you pointed out, there is very little in it for you other than danger. Even with this introduction. Though if anyone can help you, Zatanna Zatara or John Constantine could. One seems too young for it and the other crusty, but they're…incredible people, really."

Compliments he's never shared with them, in part because every time he sees Zatanna his lips twitch at the memory of her reaction when a gun was pushed into her hands. A reaction when she had to actually use it. A battle cry of MANIFEST DESTINY and a spray-and-pray approach that hit less than a Stormtrooper on Star Wars matinee night.

* * *

The hatted head lifts just slightly, a brief chuckle slipping out with the mention of at least one of the two names. "What a small world. There are per'aps other words one can choose to call John Constantine. I came across him and one of the Bats not too long ago, out in Gotham. I'm sure you'll understand my wariness in entrusting someone like that with a situation such as mine, and yet at the same time I see the potential." Zatara though, the name sounds familiar, but if there were any significance to it, he can't recall it.

Stroking his chin, he then flicks his hand outward in half a shrug as he turns towards Coulson again.

"I'm touched to know someone else might share concerns for my own well-being that isn't me, as little of what that being is, anyway. There's little enough anyone expects of me these days, so how about we give this a try, then?"

Perhaps not with immediate results. Craddock's no fool. If there's a witch in play, then one needs be cautious.

* * *

"I'll get you in touch with Miss Zatara then," Coulson says, with a twitch of his lips. But he inclines his head in thanks.

"I appreciate it."

That method…rather saves him from, say, having to fake a registration just to be known as 'the ghost whisperer.' Which, really, Fury and Peggy and quite a few others would all assume he was just being a smart ass. Other than the wonder of modern science in his chest that's keeping him upright and breathing at all, there is nothing unusual about him. Or, at least, he has no unusual powers or genetics or anything of the sort.

"If it comes down to a question of your safety, or the safety of some other, and information, please err on the side of your safety. Operations like this can take years. I don't expect results overnight. Brick by brick is how such things are built."

* * *

"Phil, I've been on this earth for centuries." Craddock pauses thoughtfully. "-but I suppose while you don't expect immediate results, you'd likely wish them sooner than that, at the very least," he smirks. His hat tips slightly with his nod in understanding.

As for when things come down to matters of safety, he doesn't think that will be a problem. He's a selfish soul, after all.

"Be there anything else then?"

* * *

"Not this evening," Phil says, with an incline of his head. "I appreciate it, Jim."

If there's one thing that is sometimes true about Phil…something that he does not in fact really like about himself…it's that it's hard to just be friends with him. It's hard for him to not eventually come knocking with favors that need to be done for the greater good. Sooner or later, the people who stay in his life tend to get pulled into his nets, into fistfuls of strings that he pulls and manipulates. People he cares about are still people he cares about, but they are also assets.

The only mitigation he has, the only one he can truly give, is to try to take care of them as best he can. Whether they've been around for decades or centuries.

He slides his hands into his pockets as he eases out. He won't sleep tonight. He'll take Lola for a long drive instead, somewhere out in the country where he can clear his head…and maybe his conscience, too.

* * *

A gloved hand raises to lift the brim of his hat just so, the only gesture of farewell that the Gentleman Ghost offers. He fades off as he steps between the thin veils that separate planes, watching as Coulson makes his own exit through the maze of worn masonry marking the fallen.

For now, this is something to do. He'll simply have to weigh the risks and the rewards as they come, but first, he has to round up willing eyes and ears.

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