|Always Be Polite|
|What: Agent Coulson helps one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s newest with a personal issue and helps him learn to start thinking like a proper operative.|
S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier Argus - Cafeteria
Everyone needs to eat, even S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. The Helicarrier's cafeteria is a massive space filled with rows of metal tables and benches bolted to the floor, to keep them from sliding if the massive aircraft makes a sharp turn.
There is a buffet-style area and a smaller officer's mess in a side room. They don't serve Schwarma.
It isn't hard to spot Doug in the cafeteria. He's off sitting by himself and ignoring his tray of food, looking vaguely troubled as he reads something on his phone -- a personal one, not his S.H.I.E.L.D.-issued device. He's smart enough to know you don't do personal things with work tech.
Phil is, as it happens, something of a creature of habit. It's early in his day aboard the Argus after three consecutive days of heavy travel, so he enters the cafeteria with a newspaper on a reader tablet in one hand, and absently fetches coffee (black, two sugars) with the other. It's in heading back towards the door that he looks up from his readin and spots Doug, and after a moment's observation, alters his course that way. Trainees often look troubled, and it's usually best to talk to an experienced agent at that point.
"Good morning, Ramsey," he says politely, as he slides into a seat across Doug's table. "You're looking pensive today."
Doug blinks once and looks up. He isn't so troubled that he can't offer Coulson a genuine smile. "Morning, sir. Just a little bit," he admits, glancing back down at his phone. He's fairly certain the older agent has read his file and is, for that matter, fairly sure Natasha would have included petinent information in it... so he doesn't beat around the bush. "One of my friends from back before I died is trying to get in touch with me."
Agent Coulson sips his coffee thoughtfully while Doug thinks about his words, and then while Doug says them. "Ah," is the reply. "And you don't know what to do about it, especially given where you've ended up," he suggests, waving his cup vaguely... around, to indicate the helicarrier.
Doug nods once, setting his phone aside. "Exactly! And I'm trying to move on. I mean, my time with those guys didn't exactly end on a good note," he says lowly, scowling down at his tray. They didn't even notice until it was too late. He doesn't remember much about getting shot, but he remembers *that*. "But he's -- Sam -- he's seen me twice."
Agent Coulson frowns thoughtfully. "Couldn't be helped. It would happen eventually. From your tone, it doesn't sound like he's going to just drop it if you don't say anything."
"Probably not," Doug sighs, glumly resting his chin in a hand. "And I don't want him thinking he's cracked, honestly, but I don't even know how I came back. He'd want to know." They all would.
Agent Coulson taps his finger on his coffee cup, nodding. The reader is on the table-- Doug's earned his full attention, just as it should be. "If 'I don't know' isn't good enough, then there are bigger problems," he suggests. "You're going to need to deal with this, though. They're going to need to accept that you don't know, and you're trying to get past it all, and things are not the same. If they can't... well, that's up to you, but it may have to be firm." He sips his coffee again, thoughtful.
"I think he'd respect that I have new commitments now... though I can't actually tell him what they are." Doug makes a face. Why does he keep landing in such secretive places? It makes everything so much more complicated.
Agent Coulson takes a guess at the face. "It is difficult, isn't it? It's worth it, though. But I'm sure I don't need to tell you that." He taps the tabletop. "I doubt it will help any, but consider that part of doing what you now do effectively is built on who you know outside the farm. It pays to maintain connections to your past life, though I'm not going to lie and tell you that isn't difficult, especially in a position like yours."
Doug nods, straightening up in his seat and rubbing his hands over his face. Ugh. "I'm just not good at lying to friends," he admits, sighing and dropping his hands back into his lap. "I was kind of hoping to avoid it by just, you know. Staying dead, as far as they knew. Guess I need to learn instead, huh."
"Probably," Phil admits. No illusion here. "Remember, though-- the best lie is the one you didn't tell. Let people make assumptions. Give them truth, with gaps of ommission they fill in themselves. It's better when you can do it that way. No loose ends. Associations you intend to keep... you can always be honest and tell them you can't tell them something. And apologize. Always be polite, Doug."
Doug likes this guy. He likes the Widow, too, but Coulson is not nearly as intimidating as she is, and it makes him feel a lot better. He nods once, smiling gratefully, and casts a slightly less wary look down at his phone. "I can do that. Maybe I'll at least write him back so he knows he's not crazy."
Agent Coulson taps the tabletop, shakes his head. "Paper trail. Face-time is better. You probably know his habits, right?"
Doug pauses, his brow furrowing slightly. "Oh, right. I know what they used to be like," he nods, drawing his lips into a thin, thoughtful line. "I saw him at Bryant Park the first time. Maybe I could look for him there again."
Agent Coulson nods. "Okay, good thought. Now what if it was a chance meeting and you don't see him there for a few days? What's the next plan?"
"I really don't want to go out to the house," Doug says slowly, a little bit of a groan coming into his voice. "...but if he's in town, that's where he's staying, so I guess it's an option. Or the area around it." He's still determined to try and preserve the Institute's secrecy, so he's being vague, but. Well. Sometimes, one must be firm about these things, right?
"Or," Coulson suggests mildly, "you need a reliable way to draw him out of it. Messages work well. More or less anonymous ones are better..."
"Do forum posts or emails still count as a paper trail?" Doug asks with a self-depricating smile, finally picking up his fork with intent to actually use it. He's hungry. "There's always hotmail. Hotmail is still a thing, right?"
Agent Coulson smirks. "You're the computer expert. How many logs and headers and IP records does a typical post or email produce. You're overthinking this. Simple is best-- less can go wrong. You know where he lives. They have a mailbox, right?"
Doug can't help looking amused. "Oh, so *literal* paper trails are okay. That's fine, then." He munches on a forkfull of salad, thoughtful. Waltzing up to the mailbox in person probably wasn't an option -- the Professor would sense him coming and things would get... complicated.
Agent Coulson grins at the amusment, reaches into his jacket. "Paper, yes. Trail, no." He produces a plain, spiral-bound notepad, one of the small flip-top ones, and displays it, plus a Bic ballpoint. "You can buy these anywhere in the world for practically nothing," he points out, then tears off a piece from the book and pushes them across the table. "You write a time, and a place. Public, open. Good sightlines, little eavesdropping. The park is good. You're old friends, so include an in-joke or a reference-- something like that, that he'll recognize but few others will. That's how you avoid signing it." He pantomimes. "Then you fold it in half, put his name on the outside, and arrange delivery to the mailbox."
Doug can't help but laugh a little, turning his phone and sliding it far enough the table for Coulson to see. A forum post on a gaming site by 'SmashBrother', who used to play games with a friend named 'Cypher.' "Sam's better at this than I am. But I'll learn." He'll start by taking the piece of paper and tucking it into his jacket. He'll write something up when he gets back to his room.
Agent Coulson nods once. "That'll do," he agrees, and moves the tablet he was reading from where Doug can see it. "For delivery, you can do it yourself, or request a drop through official channels. Or ask someone to do it. There's a standard form, though, and the paperwork helps keep everything neat. This qualifies as Contact Handling, for your reference. Put it under 'Purpose of Request'."
"Weird to think of him as a contact," Doug admits, though he leans over to take a look at the tablet's screen just the same. He probably won't rely on official channels for this -- he doesn't want to hand S.H.I.E.L.D. another puzzle piece that might let them figure out what the Institute really does, if they don't already know -- but it's still useful to read what he's being shown.
"It's probably best if you start to think in those terms," Coulson suggests. "Not going to lie; this is a tough job like that. Again... totally worth it. You still get friends, but it's helpful to maintain a little bit of remove-- at least privately-- especially when you're new to it all."
"You're probably right," Doug admits, offering the tablet back to him. "Especially with what the Black Widow wants to try and have me trained for." Which still, frankly, blows his mind. Not that he could do such a thing, but that he works with a living legend like her. "Did it take you long to adjust to living like this, sir? If you don't mind my asking," he adds, quickly.
Agent Coulson scratches at his temple while he thinks about his answer, and finally settles on "No, not really. But we're very different people. I came her from the FBI, and before that I was in the Army. So it wasn't as big a shock, I'm sure. S.H.I.E.L.D. was like finding the place I'd been looking for most of my life."