Bridges
Roleplaying Log: Bridges
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

Warren Worthington, Alison Blaire, and Phil Coulson have an off-the-books meeting.

Other Characters Referenced: Sloane Albright, Scott Summers, Tony Stark, Dani Moonstar
IC Date: June 26, 2019
IC Location: Aegis, New York City
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 26 Jun 2019 06:10
Rating & Warnings: G
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

Getting in touch with a man working for(?) a spy agency turns out to involve some interesting thought gymnastics.

Warren could have asked Sloane to put him in touch with Phil Coulson, but something about that didn't quite sit right with him. He didn't want any unnecessary activity lighting up that particular web of connections — specifically, placing undue attention on Sloane — and 'I just want to talk to the guy' didn't seem quite worth the potential paper trail of a recent conversational chain between them all. Luckily for him in particular, there's more than enough other reasons someone like him could legitimately want to get in touch with SHIELD directly, unlike most metas, and he figures Phil has been playing the game long enough to see through something like, "Hi, Mister Worthington met Phil Coulson a while back, loved him, would love to get back in touch with him, maybe float some ideas for partnerships SHIELD and Worthington Industries could forge about avionics system design for SPACE threats.'

When the location's suggested for just such a talk, however, it's not Worthington Tower, but actually the site of Warren and Alison's charitable foundation, Aegis. It occupies the 23rd floor of a building in Midtown, and the nice thing about it (the employees certainly love it) is that it boasts an expansive wraparound terrace, which is where Phil will be shown on arrival.

Warren is quite alone, for the moment, waiting in a rather fashionably minimalist seating area placed just so to have a great view of the Empire State Building not too far away.

One sign that Warren is on the up-and-up is probably this: he knows Phil's alive. A relatively tiny handful of people do, a subsection, even, of those who ever knew he existed in the first place. The subsection of people who call SHIELD to ask for him is even smaller; most who know are SHIELD themselves, and have his number. Anything that didn't help cover was covered by Warren's name…and of course a few algorithms which ran to reassure the young agent on the other end of the phone that it was really him.

And of course, the way Warren phrased his request helped to reassure Phil this was a genuine call.

The upshot of all this is that Phil Coulson arrives right on time. He's dressed in a nice tailored suit that's well-cut and appropriate, but is otherwise rather unassuming. "I seem to remember your avionics system being designed to perfection. But I'm always happy to chat about space threats…or anything else. Good to see you again, Mr. Worthington. It's nice to meet in circumstances that aren't quite so chaotic."

"Ah, Agent Coulson," Warren says, rising promptly as Phil arrives, because manners are baked into his DNA. His wings open slightly, adjusting, before refolding at his back. "A pleasure to finally meet here on terra firma. It seems to me we've never had a proper encounter that wasn't in… exotic locations, under exotic circumstances."

He steps forward for the obligatory handshake, before gesturing Phil to sit. "May I get you anything? I suppose it's not quite office appropriate to have a stocked bar on the premises, but, what the hell: I entertain here rather frequently, and I like to be armed wherever I go."

He seems happy to get himself a glass of something, regardless of Phil's answer. "Ah, you're too kind," he says, of the compliments for WI avionics. "We've been in that business a long time." His wings twitch. "Fitting, really, how that worked out. Now, what I had suggested over the phone might actually be something legitimately on the table, someday; we've both seen how many dangers lurk out in space against which we still have very few defenses…

"… but that's not quite the full reason for this." He turns back to Phil. "I'm fond of meeting outside and in high places — and outside in high places, specifically, which I own — because I can ensure that they are quite secure against conventional eavesdropping. Sloane's mentioned you quite a number of times. She really looks up to you. I wanted to meet… and to assure she is being looked after with us."

"Scotch, please," Phil says, after a quick eye roams over Warren's bar. There's the flicker of a smile as Warren gets down to the real reason for the meeting. It's downright fatherly, and it's not aimed at Warren. It slips across his face as Warren talks about Sloane, and he says, most sincerely: "I appreciate that. Does she seem happy? Is she making friends? Is she eating right? She'll eat nothing but macaroni and cheese or ramen noodles, if you let her. Is she practicing her music?"

He suddenly seems self-conscious about his slew of questions, letting a more apologetic smile settle into place. "I miss her," he adds, as if that weren't obvious.

A blue-eyed glance flicks over Coulson, before Warren picks through the available scotches and pours two glasses of Macallan. Crossing back, he hands one to Coulson and reseats himself opposite the other man, his wings fanning a little in an apparent ruffling stretch. That glance takes in the fatherly aspect of Coulson's smile, too, and for a moment Warren looks pensive — reminiscing, even, as if the sight reminded him of something. A similar smile crosses his own features as the series of questions come.

"We do have an excellent music room which she uses often, though unfortunately I cannot promise much about the eating habits. There's only so much one can do against the allure of ramen, with so many young adults in one place," Warren says, with a faint smile. "However, if there's one thing the Institute has always been good for," he says, "it's helping metahumans make friends and be social with others who are like them, without judgment. I think it has been and will continue to be good for her in that regard. I heard some of her story. It's difficult when changes come to us later in life, when we already seem so set on a certain life path…" He might be talking about more than just Sloane.

He shakes his head, after a moment. I miss her, Phil says. "The current state of the world asks a great deal of all of us," Warren says, after a moment. "A lot of sacrifices have had to be made. I was going to contact you through her, and it probably wouldn't have been that unusual given her official assignment, but… why take chances?"

He inclines his head. "There's been enough going on at SHIELD that is… concerning."

Shoulders shake with silent laughter as Warren makes his comment that there's too many young adults to really get them to eat too healthy. But he seems pleased about the music. If Sloane hadn't been using the music room, he might have found an excuse to go check on her in person. A barometer.

But Warren's words sober him, and he shakes his head. "I'm glad you didn't," he says quietly. "I want her well away from SHIELD right now. Maybe for good, to be honest. I don't know where this road is taking us, but suffice to say that concern is an excellent stance to have when it comes to the organization these days. A few of us are trying to right the course of the ship, but…it is not a sure thing, nor a fast one."

"So Sloane told me," Warren muses, with a sip of his scotch. "She told me she was given a hard sell about staying put, in order to fight the system from within. And believe me, we — " it is not hard to extrapolate what group he means by 'we,' " — are very well familiar with fighting systems from within, without rebelling against them entirely, but there comes a point…" He shrugs, a slight lift of his wings. "There comes a point where, when you cannot trust the majority of the people around you, it is time to step outside of it."

He glances up at Coulson. "So… the main purpose for wishing to speak is to get an idea of the situation with SHIELD, and to see how we might work together on this matter. It's of massive concern to us all if SHIELD is so heavily compromised, given its access to registration databases — which themselves don't seem to be very secure! — among… so many other things. I believe it would be a good precedent to establish, to be more forthcoming in general…"

Warren is silent a moment, before he says baldly, "It concerned me, for example, that the Terrigen sample was kept and studied for so long without mutant interests being aware of it. The X-Men have not been a huge secret since 2016. Perhaps the corruption in SHIELD has gone back far enough that it was responsible for that. Perhaps not."

"You understand," Coulson says carefully, "that there are many things I am not at liberty to discuss vis a vis SHIELD's situation."

It is almost a G-Man's knee jerk response, despite the slowness of the words. But once he has laid down this disclaimer, he looks thoughtful. He doesn't speak right away, but when he does, he says: "When I first got wind of the terrigen gas, I feared the worst. I have since confirmed the only reason legitimate SHIELD scientists were studying it was to find a way to protect mutants from it. But I will not try to tell you there were not illegitimate elements trying to take that research in pernicious directions."

Again he slows, hesitates, stops for a moment before he adds, "I will confirm I began seeing alarming trends within SHIELD in 2017. I have many reasons to believe the people behind those trends were well entrenched by 2016, yes."

His brow furrows, just faintly, as he takes a sip of his Scotch.

The door opens and closes with a light click. No elaborate fanfare needed — or desired — to admit inside one of the world's most famous musicians.

SHIELD no doubt would have a years-long dossier on her, far past her celebrity status: she was always very careful to hide public display of her powers for years, but she crossed deliberate social circles into those who did, and her past brushed up often with Excalibur and the X-Men. Alien life seemed to gravitate to her as well. Even the Beyonder wouldn't leave her alone for a few months. She led a painfully normal life on purpose (as far as normal goes for a pop star), up until her forced reveal during her November 2018 tour — a public concert in London, when too-low jet planes made her light up the night in a spectacle that was seen from miles away. A spectacle that left contact burns on many of her audience.

A long stage left exit from the Dazzler's iconic make-up and costuming, Alison Blaire enters far more muted but still recognizable: an off-white pantsuit and matching brimmed hat to spare her skin from the mid-day sun. Aware of the appointment in question, and Phil Coulson's immediate presence in the office, she comes armed with her usual charms.

A hundred-watt-smile is the first weapon she wields.

"Gentlemen," she greets warmly. "Apologies that I'm late — work had called me briefly elsewhere."

Alison flickers a fond look to Warren, but chases etiquette to greet Coulson first, crossing the room to his direction, and offering one of her hands. "Mr. Coulson. It's lovely to meet you."

"I always preferred action to discussion, anyway," is Warren's oddly breezy response to that guarded — almost canned — disclaimer. It is, in itself, a message: we don't have to talk, but a lot can be arranged to be done without necessarily laying all the details out in plain English.

There is a pause, before Warren leans back with a drape of his wings across the back of his seat. "I understand it's a minefield and that I'm prying into some heavily classified waters," he allows, "but if I've read the room correctly, much of what's going to have to be done about SHIELD is already rather… extrajudicial, anyway. So to speak." A polite way to say it's evident there's two factions, and whatever one Phil and Sloane is on is sure not the biggest nor the one formally in charge.

He stops talking once Phil starts to speak, however. One doesn't talk over a spy when they're finally ready to start releasing a few statements. "That's something I'm willing to believe," he says, at the conclusion of Coulson's words: whether he truly means that or not is, of course, up for interpretation. "With regard to the Terrigen, that is. The Brotherhood has obvious reasons to believe and push the genocide weapon narrative. I do still think the X-Men had a right to know and study it for themselves. We are personally invested in preventing pernicious use of that kind of information."

He shakes his head. "Water under the bridge now. Now… what we have are people with unique abilities that can make information gathering a lot easier, and points of contact to coordinate along. No one wants a compromised SHIELD like the one I've heard described. It'll be a careful dance, certainly, because — speaking plainly — there's plenty about the X-Men I'm not at liberty to discuss with you either — but I think so long as our interests are aligned, some things can be arranged — "

And then, a new arrival.

Warren rises automatically for the lady. "And this is Alison Blaire," he introduces, though no doubt Alison needs no introduction. His gaze turns to her. "Sit, and I'll get you something?"

Phil allows the water to pass under the bridge with no further comment, no further revelations. Instead, he listens, his attention one hundred percent on what Warren has to say until Alison's arrival. He, too, stands to greet her, and takes the pro-offered hand for a gentle but highly professional shake. "The pleasure is all mine, Miss Blaire," he says. "I am pleased to meet you. But please, call me Phil."

He'll wait for drinks to be poured, seats to be retaken, and various people to settle again before he speaks once more. "I am sure we have many aligned interests," he says. Inviting more comment. The spy has once again clammed up, waits to be told a little more before he dives in with both feet. His smile is kindly, a little self-deprecating, a humble Cheshire Cat's smile, rather than a mad one.

"Phil," Alison repeats amiably. "In that case, I insist you call me Alison. I hope Warren's been spoiling you appropriately."

A smile quirks up between her words. Whatever her feelings are on SHIELD, the ex-singer wears a decent poker face, shaped by years of having to conceal expression and emotion from chance, candid paparrazi shots — always keep smiling, and you sidestep the gossip.

But to a seasoned spy like Coulson, the's an instant of inflection in her eyes. She's thinking as she's smiling, sizing him up, no doubt measuring the man in the flesh to the stories she's heard of him. The X-Men's own dossiers on its persons of interest.

In their handshake, her free hand comes to press lightly over his knuckles in that Hollywood-is-excessively-friendly clasp. Then, let go, she divests of her hat, and glances aside to Warren, something well beyond Professional Partners emanating from her face to his request. "Thank you," she tells him, and does as offered, finding herself a chair and getting comfortable.

Alison does not immediately comment, aware she's entering mid-conversation, but there's a shrewdness in her manner that senses the shape of the topic. Especially when Phil, graciously but conservatively, speaks of aligned interests.

"Phil," she says, "I'm rather curious to hear — personally, what do you think of our organization?" A double meaning in that. Does she mean Aegis? The X-Men? Both?

"Well enough," Warren chuckles at Alison's remark. "That's a 25 year."

A moment later, he gives her a glass. "And so is this."

Taking a seat back beside Alison, Warren considers Phil Coulson. I am sure we have many aligned interests, hedges the SHIELD agent. The big blank afterwards where more information can be supplied can probably be seen from space.

Warren starts to speak, aggressive as ever: son of a businessman, he's used to selling, persuading, imposing his will.

Alison, daughter of a lawyer, starts with a question. Warren pauses visibly, before sitting back with his glass.

Alison solicits Phil's opinion, and a quick, more genuine smile passes over his face. It's a smile that says he knows very well she's left her question open to interpretation, perhaps (as he reads it) in the hopes of getting Phil to say more than he should. There's a slight nod in her direction, one that speaks of respect. It's safe to say he notices Warren's aborted statement, but he makes no sign of said notice.

Instead, he opts to answer both implied questions.

"If you're asking about Aegis, I support any organization devoted to helping people in need. I think you two are doing good work."

He pauses before rendering his opinion— or, at least, the opinion he's stating— on the other. "I have always valued the Institute's role as an educational vector for young metas, and as a safe haven for them, work which SHIELD shared in, in its own way, until very recently. But my primary opinion is that you are in an extremely difficult position right now. We lived in a cynical, distrustful age even before anti-meta sentiment got stirred up to a fever pitch. A year or so ago my biggest concern was that a paramilitary organization of powered idealists would overstep, perhaps oversimplify certain issues and charge in without understanding all the dynamics at work, creating hopeless tangles and snarls. But then, and if you'll forgive me, my primary contact at the time was Mr. Summers, and he and I…are very different men, with very different jobs. Today, my concern is that it won't take much for the extremists in charge to decide that you're really not that much different from the Brotherhood. These are not men and women of nuance. Given who both of you are, I'm sure you're already well aware that your organization could be one PR problem away from being painted as and hunted as terrorists."

Grim talk. But they've already poked at SHIELD's problems. Alison opened a door for Phil to speak, briefly, on their own, as he sees them. Hazel eyes flick to each of them, a brief glance into their own eyes which says no, he does not agree with those who would paint them in such a light. But the possibility looms nevertheless.

Accepting the drink with a smile — the sort of drink Alison would never indulge during her career, for a singer's obsessive preservation of her vocal cords — her body language welcomes Warren's close presence. She touches his closest knee briefly, a wordless hello.

However, she remains quiet: quiet, and captive on Phil Coulson's answer. The Institute has gained its vast circle of supporters over the decade, and the X-Men are a reclusive, protective sort — and many of them so passionate to Xavier's cause that they might not sit patiently through an objective, candid vetting of their work — especially when warned that their efforts, to the outside eye, come so close to the Brotherhood.

Alison, however, harbours not the least bit of anger. Truth be told, Phil's fears are her fears.

Her expression does quirk at the diplomatic comment on Mr. Summers being 'different.' Alison cannot hide her smile. "No forgiveness needed. There are few, few men like Scott Summers."

She glances over at Warren, a look in her eyes that's meant to communicate something unsaid. Little tells, no doubt, between old teammates. Her words, however, are for Coulson. "You're right, though. It won't take much. The world, and SHIELD especially, has had forced on them what mutants can do. And it won't ever be forgotten."

Her fingers press briefly against her glass. "But our stance isn't one of caution, or even mitigation. It's hope. It's always been hope. It's hope that you're even sitting here, willing to have this conversation. It's hope that we can reach out across unfamiliar bridges and find answers for each other."

There's a moment of tension that strings visibly through Warren's wings as Phil Coulson speaks of Scott Summers. It's obviously the tension of someone ready to defend a close friend, though ultimately it goes as quietly as it came. "We are capable of nuance," is all he says instead, his voice dry. "That has tended to separate us from the Brotherhood over the years."

He exchanges that silent look with Alison — her touch to his knee is answered with a slight nudge of one wing against her side — before his blue eyes return to Phil Coulson. It's likely that look she gives him is what prevents him from diving straight into being that person which Alison is not: that person so passionate to Xavier's Dream that he would bristle at the very idea of being compared to the Brotherhood.

As it is, a few hackles do go up. One or two. "I would argue that has already happened, here and there," is Warren's equally grim assessment. "I've spent half of my life fighting the Brotherhood, and when I say 'fighting,' I do not just mean literally combating them, but also 'fighting against becoming the Brotherhood, fighting being perceived as no different from them, fighting against being hunted just the same as they are.' …All despite our efforts to represent exactly the opposite of everything for which the Brotherhood stands."

He is silent a moment. "We exist to be the PR for our people," he says. "The good press, to the Brotherhood's bad. To show that coexistence is not only possible, but preferable. We exist to show that we believe in the equal treatment and advancement of both human and metahuman, and to advocate for that without distinction and without prejudice." He looks to Alison, before he agrees, "We exist for the hope of building bridges. That is exactly what I meant this meeting to be."

Coulson pat pats the air as Warren bristles; but before he needs to interject Warren's already talking himself back around into what Coulson perceives as calmer waters. He watches these tiny exchanges, all the nonverbal communication. There is just this one, brief flicker of wistfulness in his eyes, but it passes just as quickly as it comes.

He looks back and forth between the two of them, and says: "I'd say the fact that we're sitting here speaking in hypotheticals about what the bozos up in Albany and Washington will do speaks to the success of your efforts on all counts."

It is a statement made with another quick quirk of a weary smile.

They speak of hope, and he nods again. Then says: "Tell me how I can help you. I understand you spoke of us helping each other, and there certainly may be things that you and your people that could tackle which would be useful. Right at the moment, though, my impulse for all of you is as it is for Sloane. Bluntly: to keep you as far away from SHIELD as possible. Right now getting too entangled with my organization is a high-risk proposition with what I feel would be small rewards. But I want to help you meet these goals of hope, and if I can, I will. And I am happy to keep the lines of communication open so we may continue to build these bridges."

As Warren speaks, Alison takes the moment to indulge in the fine scotch. It's an adequate cover for the way she's internally gritting, hoping he won't get too fired up.

It wouldn't be the first time she's seen Warren leap up in knightly defence to the missing Charles Xavier's ideas. It wouldn't be the last. However, for all his raised hackles, he keeps it civil — and she relaxes just a bit, approving.

That Phil doesn't answer their plea of hope with indifference or cynicism, but a genuine question — Alison decides to put faith into that. These are tenuous waters with a veritable unknown, however one who has helped Sloane, among countless others in their situation; he is also one who seems like he knows far more than he'll ever let on, and could very well have enough intelligence to have gutted the X-Men years ago. Either way, he knows their number.

"The distance is appreciated," Alison replies, a note of fatigued wryness in her voice — a glib way to define all of SHIELD's policy tightening the fetters on mutants over the last few months. "Ideally, what we need is information — especially in terms of registration lists. If they're available, or already being circulated, if so, to whom, and if there is a way we can begin cursory protection for the most vulnerable. In exchange, I think Aegis might be an appropriate vehicle if SHIELD wants to improve its image with mutants. But only with our approval — we will not have it be used for intelligence collection."

Silent a moment, Alison returns Warren's glance. Her demeanour softens. "As for you, Phil. You've helped a lot of our friends. People who vouch for you — not just your work, but you. We would do whatever we could to assist that."

It's a rather close thing, for a second there. Warren's wings open slightly, feathers lifting… and when each wing is eight feet in length, even their smallest movements can seem rather — alarming. But ultimately, he seems to remember himself, and stays frosty. A little wisdom gained, perhaps, after a youth spent getting fired up and charging facefirst into things, often to poor outcomes.

So it's with a distinct wryness that he instead says, "Forgive me. I have a difficult time seeing… injustices and perversions… without itching to fight back, to do something immediately." With his wings still partially-open as they are, the imagery is perhaps even more on-point to the admission.

He lets Alison take point on discussing how they might help one another. The prospect of a corrupted SHIELD plainly still worries him a great deal, though Alison's request — to get ahold of the registration lists and begin protection of the vulnerable people on it — is one that would go a long way towards mitigating his primary concern in that regard. "Generally speaking," he adds, "keeping tabs on this Terrigen matter, pushback against the Sentinel program — that'd also help. Nothing can come of either of these things except escalation beyond all reason." No objection to what Alison offers in return, from Aegis, in exchange for these asks. If SHIELD wants to improve its image with mutants, then Warren will be more than pleased if something he and Alison control serves as the vehicle for it.

He shakes his head. "As for SHIELD itself… you would know best the risk-reward tradeoffs of engaging too directly right now. But I implore for you to consider us as a resource should the time come."

Warren asks for his forgiveness, and Phil shakes his head. "Nothing to forgive," he says, echoing Ali's words of earlier. "It is a tendency I share."

Phil shoots Ali a grim smile. "SHIELD hasn't earned an improved image yet," he says, his own weary disappointment with the way things have gone bleeding into his words. "But if we do, I will ask for that help."

He actually looks both pleased and embarrassed as Ali says that last bit, the human man seeping through. "I worry they put too much faith in me," he says. "Much as I appreciate it. Still, many of these individuals are like family to me. I'd do just about anything to see them safe. It is also worth noting that I owe my life Dani Moonstar. The ultimate bridge, given her dual position, but she risked everything just to protect me."

But he appears to come to some decision. Very carefully he says: "I have entrusted Tony Stark with something I think you'll be interested in seeing. Tell him Phil says to show you the present I brought him. He'll know what I mean. If he needs to verify this came from me just tell him the code word is 'Supernanny.' I think you'll find a great good deal of the information you seek should you do so. With the disclaimer that I am going to have one Hell of a Senior Moment if any information what the present is, who has it now, where it came from, or what's going on with it gets out."

But as for the terrigen: "We don't have any terrigen left, to my knowledge. With the disclaimer that 'to my knowledge' doesn't necessarily make it an ironclad statement. There are plenty of secrets. But the data on all the experiments for both good and ill got completely erased during the attack on the Triskelion. If we find anymore and start doing anything to it again, and if word of that actually reaches me, I will let you know."

He frowns thoughtfully about the Sentienel program, and that puts a certain look on his face. The look of a man who has been focusing so hard on one thing that he has neglected others…and now starts to see that some other matter needs his second, third, and fourth look.

And Warren's final words? That produces a slight smile again. "I am not known for failing to tap good people when I see when and how their talents can be employed to good effect. Rest assured, you probably will get the call. I just hope when you do that you won't regret making the offer."

Two business cards, then, offered out to each of them. With his direct cell line, sparing Warren from any further need to dance with the front office.

It's as if he has some preturnatural sense of timing, for his watch starts up with a soft 'neener-neener-neener' warning beep that speaks of Something Happening.

"That's my cue," he says apologetically.

A few moments more and he's gone, racing off to whatever crisis just demanded his attention.

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