Lending Trust

April 09, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert confides a number of things to Agent Coulson, and begins to understand the concept of trust.

East Side - New York City

Sutton Place, Turtle Bay, Tudor City… all of these recognizable neighborhoods help define the eastern side of Midtown Manhattan. From 6th Avenue to the East River, from 40th St. to 59th St., the East Side contains such notable landmarks as Sotheby's headquarters, the UN building, and the unmistakable Chrysler Building, (at 4nd and Lexington) is THE art deco structure, easily the most identifiable with the deco movement. It is the tallest brick building in the world (1,046 feet). The offices are mostly given over to private organizations such as Bank Rome and InterMedia Partners.
Grand Central Station, located at Park and 42nd Street, properly known as Grand Central Terminal, is the intersection of 67 separate rail and subway tracks serviced on 2 levels. There's a Dining Concourse featuring restaurants and fast food below the Main Concourse.
East Side is home to some of the city's brightest luminaries, since it's far enough away from the bustling city center to afford some privacy, but close enough to the action to make it one of the more in-demand areas outside of the Upper East Side.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: The Winter Soldier

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

In the city, there are a thousand and one different places one can go after their shift for a meal. No matter what one might be in the mood for, that option is probably tucked away somewhere and open.

Today had been a grueling affair. Isa Reichert had shown up for her pilot duty with the absolute diligence that she's shown since SHIELD took her in. She's always been on time, if not early. She's always been freshly scrubbed and dressed nicely. Although she's never been quite as taciturn with him, she had nevertheless taken him where he needed to go today in almost complete silence.

Whenever her hands had not been on the flight controls, they had shaken compulsively; whenever he's gotten a good look at her complexion, in the places not scarred, it had been almost bloodless. None of this had reflected on her flying, of course. She's too much of a consummate professional for that. Even so, during her break, it took her no less than five separate attempts to light a cigarette because her hands were shaking so badly. Earlier in the morning she made a point of carrying her coffee with two hands. The cup had still wobbled just a little bit, and her colour's been off all day. Given how stoic she's seemed thus far, it might be a point of concern.

She looked like she'd seen a ghost.

She'd clocked out and gone home in silence, but detoured along the way. It's at a restaurant fairly close to the Triskelion that the pilot has finally come to stop, slumping into the outdoor table of a slightly more upscale Italian restaurant.

That was five minutes ago. She's still trying to light her latest cigarette with shaking hands, and the matchbook she's using is starting to smell faintly of sulphur with all the near misses.

It would be a mistake to imagine Phil Coulson hasn't noticed. He has. All day. A few times she may have caught him looking at her, his face set into deep lines of concern. But for whatever reason, he hadn't addressed it. Not at work. Phil Coulson is a man who knows how to bide his time and choose his moment.

So, instead of talking to her about it at the Triskelion, he's just suddenly there in that way of his, taking the other chair at her table. He pulls out a small flip-top lighter. He doesn't smoke, but lighters are handy things to have, and he carries one. He offers it out to her, giving one of those gentle half-smiles and lifting an eyebrow.

He speaks in her language again, much as he had in the plane on their test flight together. "<You know. One of the cool things about joining an organization like SHIELD is that you get to be a part of a team. And when something, say, rattles you to the point that you can barely light a cigarette, you can perhaps confide in someone.>"

He flips the lighter open and offers the little flame between them. It flickers, steady and warm, close enough that she'd barely have to lean in to take advantage of it, far enough away to give her all manner of personal space.

"<Shaky at 9 in the morning is a nightmare. Shaky at a beautiful cafe? That's an encounter. A scary one. Want to tell me what happened?>" It's a bit to the point, perhaps, but sometimes the direct approach is best.

Suddenly someone is sitting next to Isa Reichert, on the peripheral vision of her blind spot. She is absurdly proud of herself for not actually screaming, but the cigarette goes one way, the lighter goes another, and she does make a noise caught between a squeak and a sharp intake of breath.

Her shaking is a little worse after that, but she bends and pockets her matchbook, retrieves her cigarette, dusts it off, and holds it out to light with Phil's lighter, along with mumbled thanks.

Once she's had an opportunity to take several long drags on the cigarette, she cocks that single blue eye toward Phil, frowning. Well, more than usual.

"<You don't waste any time beating around the bush, do you?>" She leans back in her chair and eyes him, but there's only exhaustion in her regard. There's a flicker of a half-smile on the unscarred side of her face and a hint of annoyance in that blue eye. "<I think Misha would have liked you.>"

"<But don't you know it's rude to sneak up on people?>" Tilting her head, Isa studies him through that blue eye, exhaling smoke. She holds her hand out and studies how badly it's shaking. "<Maybe that's not a bad idea.>"

A tiny flicker of a smile from one Agent Coulson as she says he doesn't beat around the bush, that Mishka would have liked him. The truth is he does beat around the bush when it's called for. It's one of a number of tools in his communication toolbox that he's absolutely happy to use when it makes sense to do so. But…today it did not make sense.

He flips the tiny lighter shut and takes it away, taking in both the smile and the annoyance, the exhaustion and the jumpiness.

"<I wasn't sneaking up on you. I was giving you an exercise in situational awareness. You failed, by the way.>" No rancor, no heat, no real censure there, just the sort of conversational patter he kept up on the plane, his voice quick and light and unconcerned. "<But that happens when someone is distracted. It's not a bad idea at all. One of the grand advantages of being a part of a team is the ability to get a little help when something has left us shaken up. And you are shaken up. So what happened?>"

He settles back with infinite patience though, despite asking the question so very blatantly. He goes ahead and orders an espresso. He leans back, giving her a bit more space, resting his hands in his lap, for all the world like they're talking about casual things – whether or not the tiramasu is any good, for example. But his kindly, intense hazel eyes never leave her face. His attention never truly wavers from her, not even for a moment.

"<That's because your pilot saved the situational awareness for being in the cockpit, which I'm sure you would have preferred.>" Isa exhales smoke, fixing Phil with a languid look, one that isn't echoed in her shaking hands. "<So technically I succeeded, because I didn't crash any quinjets today and we're still alive.>"

Tamping the end of the cigarette into the restaurant's fancy glass ashtray, she seems to consider for a moment, disguising her hesitation by placing a quiet order for wine and an entree. The wine comes back first, which she swills around in her glass. That blue eye cocks toward Phil again.

"<How familiar are you with the urban legend of the Winter Soldier, Mister Coulson…?>"

He chuckles as she points out that it's all saved for the cockpit, and spreads his hands in a sort of a 'touche' gesture. But it's soon replaced, yet again, by that compassionate look as he just watches her tamp out her cigarette, make decisions about whether or not he's going to confide in him.

It actually takes a great good deal to surprise Phil. He's seen a lot in thirty years. But there is a flicker of surprise when Isa says the name that she says, naming, as she does, the so-called urban legend that she names. It's there and gone, lightning-fast, and what's in its place is just this open, attentive expression.

"<Familiar enough,>" he replies. As ever, he plays the amount and extent of what he knows close and hard to his chest, opting to invite her to give him more information instead. His espresso arrives; he thanks the waitress, he sips it as if Isa had asked how familiar he was with a television show, or a local retail chain. He offers a small prompt, just a little nudge. "<What about him?>"

The pilot watches coolly as she drops the Winter Soldier's name, studying his face for any kind of reaction to it. Given his unexpected familiarity with the Russian language it's a safe bet that she's expecting some kind of reaction.

She gets it. It's a fleeting instant, but there's no mistaking the light of understanding in his eyes, the knowledge of what that name represents.

Instead of answering right away, Isa elects to wait, stubbing the end of her cigarette into the ashtray before bringing it back to her lips. "<I had an unexpected visitor last night. Specifically, the Winter Soldier. In my apartment.>"

Isa smokes for a moment as she lets that sink in, as though she were choosing her words carefully. Somewhat languidly, almost at odds with the compulsive trembling of her hands, she regards the lit end of the cigarette. "<In fact, to be even more specific, I was on my back, on my kitchen floor, with the Winter Soldier sitting on top of me, in my apartment.>"

That wintry blue eye flicks back up to Phil, single brow arching. "<He wasn't after me. Some chronic screw-up named Rudchenko. But he's working with someone, and that someone was able to pry up information on me. Quickly. The real information. The classified stuff.>" Again she stubs the end of the cigarette. "<Putting aside the trauma of having my apartment broken into, the fact that I had a gun held to my head, and a mechanical hand constricting around my throat… I find it slightly worrying that someone was able to dig up information on my classified records so trivially.>"

She's silent for a few seconds, and her hands are a little shakier.

"<Also I'm pretty sure the encounter shaved a good ten years off my life.>"

Putting aside the cigarette, she takes a sip of her wine, carefully holding the fluted glass with both hands. It's still a touch unsteady, but it's in no danger of spilling over. A good vintage, not too cheap, but also not too expensive.

She shrugs once she's swallowed her wine; she'd changed on her way out of the Triskelion into something more casual than a flight suit. Namely, a nice white blouse tucked into beige slacks, the flight suit wadded up into a duffel bag at her feet. "<Maybe twenty. I really did think I was going to have a heart attack.>"

Does he know anything about it? No. The look of deep concern is growing on his face with every word that she speaks, almost making his slight headshake redundant. "<What makes you think I'd know anything about an assault on you in your own apartment?>" He asks. "<Frankly I'm starting to wish I did. I could have had a team in there in seconds to help you if we'd gone ahead and bugged the place, but I didn't see it as necessary. I'm sorry. That's on me. You told me you were worried about assassins. We should have given you some surveillance support. Though I suppose that explains why you didn't report this immediately – you thought I had something to do with it?>"

Only Phillip Coulson would apologize to someone for failing to spy on them enough. "<Would you like us to put some safety bugging in there now? I could get you a tracking device and panic button combo as well. Or a new apartment. You shouldn't have had to face this, shouldn't have had a scare like that.>"

He pushes his sleeve aside and pulls up an AR display; his fingers fly across it, pulling up everything SHIELD has on the name Rudchenko.

He puts his coffee cup aside. The expression on his face now says he's not very happy with what he's hearing, not any of it at all. It's all subtle tightnesses: a thinness in his mouth, a firming of his jawline, the deepening of worry lines at his forehead. He puts his hands on the table, clasped, he leans forward, his eyes meet her good one. "<And…how did he seem? In personality?>" There are purposes, of course, to all of these questions, but once again he consciously chooses not to share what his purposes are for the different things he asks.

Did she think that he had something to do with the attack?

"<The thought crossed my mind.>" The pilot raises the hand holding her cigarette, flicking her burn-scarred right fingers in careless gesture. "<Nothing personal, Mister Coulson. In my situation, paranoia is a survival skill. But I don't think that you did. It's clear to me now that you really didn't know.>"

She considers with her eye hooded while he goes on about installing surveillance in her apartment. Support, he calls it, but it boils down to the same thing. It means not having any privacy of her own ever after. After several seconds' consideration she decides that's not much of a downside. She doesn't have much of a personal life.

"<If you feel that's necessary, I have no reason to say no.>" Isa shrugs. "<I wasn't the Winter Soldier's target, which is the only reason why your people aren't scraping pieces of me up from the inside of that apartment. But I would be foolish if I thought there wouldn't be any future attempts from others. The only surprise I have is that it's taken so long for someone else to strike. I made a lot of very important military officials very angry with me when I left Moscow.>"

She sighs and shakes her head, exhaling a wreath of smoke. "<No. I'm not leaving my apartment. It may be a hovel in the worst part of the Bronx that I could find and afford, but it's still mine. After what they did to me, I refuse to allow them to chase me from what's mine. Listen in if that makes you happy, but I am not leaving.>"

To his assertion that she shouldn't have had to experience that fright, she levels her eye on him, face completely neutral. "<Nobody should have had to go through many of the things I've gone through.>" She shrugs. "<What's one more thing to add to that particular pile?>"

"<In personality?>" Isa frowns. "<He was… human.>"

That seems like an odd answer.

"<I was expecting something more machine than human. But he apologised to me for his mistake, and I… think that he meant it.>" Isa takes another sip of wine. "<He told me that he has occasion to work with SHIELD from time to time. He also left for me a number.>"

"<If I was to find myself in any trouble, if the real assassins were looking for me, he said for me to call that number, and he would… 'take care' of them.>" Her eye is grave, despite the half-smile that crosses the unscarred part of her face. "<It isn't every day that one earns the protection of Russia's premiere wetworks operative, is it…?>"

'What's one more thing added to the pile?'

<"In this case, it was preventable. Something I could have prevented,"> is Phil's answer. He takes it personally; it's his job to see to the safety and well being of his people, and he failed in that duty.

Nevertheless, something in what she says eases Phil's responses. <"He is no longer Russia's. If he were, I think you're right, you really would have been dead."> That is all he'll say to that. But there was some concern, some potential issue that he had spotted that Isa's words have eased away. Whatever he was afraid might have happened did not happen. <"I think in his way you can trust him, but I don't think you'd be doing him any favors by calling that number. SHIELD will keep you safe from assassins; we have the authority to do that. Authority he lacks. I'm putting in the order to increase your security now.">

Indeed, his fingers are tap-touching at the holographic keys; swiping some screens away and bringing up others. He also pulls up her own file, but only to see who the last person to access it was.

His face is still set into grim lines as he shuts it all down.

<"Rest assured, this will be addressed,"> he says quietly. <"But let's address something else. In the future, you need to come to me when things like that happen. I'm your CO. You're on my team. I'm here to support you. You shouldn't feel like you have to suffer in silence, wondering when the knife is coming from your back. It's not. Not from me, not ever. Were you ever planning on reporting this incident, or were you just going to try to smoke your way to an even keel and keep it under wraps?"

"<How could you know that the Winter Soldier was going to break into my apartment on false information, looking for a target that no longer lived there?>" Isa shrugs, red hair spilling over the scarred side of her face. She doesn't bother to clear it away; she can't see anything on that side anyway, so there's no point. "<That would be like taking responsibility for, I don't know, an asteroid impact.>"

She reaches out for her cigarette with her burnt hand. The fingers still tremble violently. It's a puff or two before she continues, fixing him with one blue eye, studying him closely as he speaks.

Slowly, her lips press into a thin line. "<No. He is no longer Russia's. If anything, he invited me to damage the Motherland. Welcomed it, even. If he were, I do not have any doubt that I would be with my husband right now.>"

"<I think so too,>" she observes, tilting her head to eye him. "<There is something in his eyes that I recognise. I see it in the mirror every morning. But I will use my own judgement, Mister Collins, and if I truly feel threatened, or if SHIELD is not able to reach me in time, than I will use that number if I feel that I must.>" She spreads her hands in an elabourate shrug, cigarette streaming smoke. "<Of course I would not use it trivially, but at the same time, it would be foolish of me to discard such an advantage.>"

She lowers her head, slightly. "<He gave me his name,>" she says, quietly. "<I do not have the impression that he would do that lightly. Of course, he already knew mine, but I gave it to him anyway. It would have been impolite not to share something of myself.>" She exhales softly; an almost-chuckle. "<On my own terms, this time.>"

The food is delivered, quietly and unobtrusively, which may be why the pilot has such a preference for this restaurant. Isa picks at it as she listens, enough to indicate she's trying to eat something, no matter how knotted her stomach may actually feel.

Was she ever going to report this incident?

"<No.>" Well, at least she's honest, right? "<Actually, I had every intention of taking the subway home after dinner and a few glasses of wine, and drinking myself into a stupor, if you really have to know.>" Is she actually serious, or is she just being flippant with him? It's hard to tell, but she may actually mean what she's saying. "<I will be sure to report any future incidents, Mister Coulson.>" There is a shadow over her good eye. Whether she means this truly or not, only time will tell. A flicker of a smile crosses her face, there and gone, easily missed. "<If you don't believe me, well… I can hardly blame you. My Misha, he used to tell me he loved me for my stubbornness.>"

She shrugs. "<At least someone appreciated it, right?>"

Silence falls for a moment, and she looks away, as though uncomfortable. "<The Winter Soldier said something else. Well, not particularly said, and not by him, but it was implied. When my husband died, Mister Coulson, there was never a body recovered, nor wreckage from his aircraft. I buried an empty casket. I paid my respects every week to a headstone with no one buried beneath it.>"

"<It is possible that his death may have been covered up. I thought this not long after he was killed, but… I thought at the time it was just grief; just grasping at straws. But after I spoke with the Winter Soldier…>"

Isa sighs and shrugs, draining her wine glass. "<Who can know? Anything is possible. But if there is any way to look into the matter… I would be in your debt, Mister Coulson. Far more deeply than I already am.>"

<"I couldn't, but you made it clear you thought someone was coming. All I did was give you advice about switching up your routes,"> Phil replies, shaking his head. He sees responsibility even if she does not. He didn't have her apartment bugged or watched, he didn't have her tracked, and as far as he's concerned he should have known about any attack the moment it happened so that help might have been dispatched. <"It's akin to me failing to watch the asteroids in the first place.">

She says she'll use the number if she thinks she must. His mouth twitches in disapproval, but his eyes reflect understanding. He doesn't try to talk her out of it. He just makes a note of it. <"I'll make sure whatever I have to say to Mr. Barnes does not compromise your ability to use it,"> is what he says instead, making allowances. For…both of them, really.

He drains his espresso, noting, "<Stubborness can be good. It can keep you alive. But it can also be foolhardy. Our greatest strengths and our greatest weaknesses are often identical.">

But then she drops the bomb that her husband might not be dead. His brow furrows, and he nods slowly. <"I should think that's not a matter of debts,"> he says at last. <"I will look into it. I have a couple of agents that operate in Russia that I can send orders to. They might be able to turn something up. I can't make promises that we'll find anything, but I will start a search."> That seems the best place to start – no simple computer look-up is going to solve this mystery, not even with SHIELD's most excellent databases. His brow furrows again, and he hesitates before adding, <"You know, of course, that you might not like what we find."> It's an almost standard disclaimer, but one he feels he has to issue.

"<Mister Coulson, I'm telling you that you are not responsible for my life.>" Isa reaches out, hesitates for half a second, and pats Phil's hand with her scarred hand. "<I am capable of looking after myself, to a certain extent. It isn't something you need to worry yourself over. I am already doing what I can in that regard; I could not have accounted for the Winter Soldier suddenly appearing in my kitchen, especially not when he was there for Rudchenko and not myself.>"

In other words, nobody could plan around a freak accident like the Winter Soldier having the wrong information. As it was, the idea of the Winter Soldier making a mistake had caused no small amount of bafflement for her. To even imagine such a thing seemed absurd. Russia's premier murder machine did not make mistakes.

Did he?

Even having that fact seemed to turn something in her world upside-down. Fundamental truths have been crumbling away since she came to this country. Some part of her is starting to wonder if it's too late to go back… whether she can withstand too much more of this instability.

She sighs, sliding her wine glass aside and picking at her food. It's delicious and worth every penny spent but it tastes a little like ash in her mouth. After the previous night and day she's had, it's hard to enjoy it, but she gamely makes the effort.

She did pay for the entree, after all.

"<Stubbornness is what got me into a military career in the first place. I have no doubt that the men I answered to didn't believe I could do it, as a woman. So, I guess it's more a case that I always had something to prove.>" Her eye lifts slightly to watch his reaction as she drops that bomb. Despite his answer, she doesn't say anything immediately, as though she were being cautious; tamping down her initial responses.

She's silent a moment more, finishing her plate and pushing it aside before responding.

Her head tilts just slightly, red hair spilling over her shoulder again. "<Mmm. Maybe it is not a matter of debts, but that is how much it would mean to me, Mister Coulson.>" To his disclaimer, she raises her head to stare him directly in the eye, proud and stubborn in spite of her still-trembling hands.

One can see how she might have been the darling of public relations, once upon a time. She was a beautiful woman, once, and while beauty may have faded, her heart is one made of steel.

"<I don't like what I haven't found, Mister Coulson.>" Her answer is honest; plain-spoken. "<No records. No wreckage. No body. Something isn't right. I want to know what. And why.>"

He seems a little surprised by the sudden pat-patting of his hand, by her attempts to comfort him when she is the one who is shaking and frightened from her encounter with a dangerous living legend. But that's a measure of the woman she is, and after a moment it seems she's convinced him to drop the topic of his own failures in regards to her safety and well-being, for he does indeed stop addressing it entirely.

He'll just up her security, since she's already consented to it. What he says, instead is, <"Your capability is in no doubt here, and never will be.">

She has nothing to prove to him, at least.

She raises her head to meet his eyes. The truth is, though she might not know it and though it would be gauche to call attention to it, especially as she's still grieving for her husband, she's still a beautiful woman, scars and all. Phil meets her gaze without flinching, his own eyes still full of the compassion that is almost always there, that quality that says this job has somehow utterly failed to harden him up, even though by rights, it should have. Those eyes don't slide around the scars, the way most people's might; he simply accepts them, and accepts her, for who she is.

And that drive to know the truth is certainly one he understands to his toes. <"We'll find the truth,"> he promises. The sing-song quality to his voice, the American accent, is gone. Just like that.

Now he sounds like a native speaker. Someone from St. Petersburg, perhaps. <"Even if you and I have to go straight to Russia to find it ourselves. I might be able to find something to do in that regard rather than stand around and look pretty.">

That blue eye is unwavering, even if the face around it is bloodless and pale. This is a woman who has faced her own demons, survived the ordeal, and can still hold her head high when she wants to. Perhaps she hasn't yet conquered them. It will be many years before she can do that.

But she will, in time; someday.

Isa pats down her pockets, before finding her cigarette carton once more. They're a Russian brand just shy of expensive, tasteful; but not extravagant. One more cigarette is tapped out, but she doesn't move to light it. That didn't work very well the last time. Instead, she toys with it, keeping it firmly over the table in the event that her shaking hands drop it.

There's still an echo of the photogenic young woman she used to be, when she mingled with the press. The last recorded news photograph of her showed her in a candid moment; laughing at something the cameraman said, and it was the only photo to show her wearing a gold wedding band. It was five years ago, presumably right before the string of unfortunate accidents that ruined her life.

Isa smiles, and there's a distant echo of that beauty, at least through the left side of her face. But the expression is weary and full of sorrow. "<I didn't think my capability was in any question, here.>" Leaning back in her seat, she nods towards the street. "<Out there, maybe. In Russia, beyond a doubt. But not here. Only to myself, I think.>"

"<If there is any hope whatsoever of finding Mikhail Nikolayevich Makarov,>" she says quietly, "<then I am willing to take whatever chances I must, whatever risks, up to and including storming the gates of Hell itself.>" Despite the quiet of her voice, there is a steel behind her words that leaves no doubt of her intentions. "<I would be appreciative, Mister Coulson. Grateful beyond measure.>"

She reaches up, sliding a thumb under the eyepatch. A flick sends it up to her hairline, baring the wound beneath. There's nothing at all beneath it – it's solid scar tissue, as though it had simply been seared out wholesale, healed over clumsily enough to suggest there might once have been a socket, but no hope of anything left in it.

"<I lost more than my eye when this happened. But if there is any hope of putting that right, then I will do whatever I must, even if I must ask for help, or put myself into danger. They already want to kill me,>" she adds, shrugging. "<And this is even more a worthy cause to me than what I did before I left Moscow.>"

She seems to take a moment to register that all traces of that sing-song accent are gone. He sounds as though he could have come from St. Petersburg, even with enough trace of dialect to fool her. If she hadn't met him before now, she might believe it.

Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva lifts her eye to her fellow agent and manages a weary half-smile. "<For such an unassuming man, you are full of surprises, Mister Coulson. But I think I am grateful for that, right now.>"

Not for the first time Phil considers the medical resources at SHIELD's disposal, and whether or not they could help Isa regain more of her face and functionality – or if she'd even want that kind of help. They're amazing, those medical teams, with technology far outstripping what is probably available in Russia's hospitals.

But it's not a subject he knows her well enough to broach, not yet. Later, perhaps, when it would not be disrespectful. If that day ever comes.

Instead, he turns his attention to listening to the rest of what she has to say. He smiles faintly in a way that conveys no mirth at all when she says he's full of surprises. <"I'd be a lousy spy if I weren't,"> he points out, as if that's the sum total of it. And maybe, to the point, it basically is.

But he circles back around to something more important. <"I will inform you the moment anything turns up on Marakov, and I will make it a priority. All I ask is that if you catch something I don't, that you loop me in, and we tackle this together, with whatever back up I deem necessary. I think with something like this it would be tempting to go it alone, but I'm going to ask you right now to make a promise, a commitment not to do that. To the point, you aren't alone anymore; we are here for you. And more than that, I imagine the answers aren't the nice, neat, safe ones. They will almost certainly present both dangers…and temptations. It's too risky to have you trying to grapple with them on your own.">

Physically or emotionally. His gaze is steady still, stubborn in its own way, now.

He does reach for his lighter again, lifting it slightly with one eyebrow lifted in turn, as if to ask if she wants the benefit of the little flame once more.

One hand reaches up to nudge the eyepatch back into its proper place, as though nothing had happened. The intensity with which she listens to him suggests she's hanging on every word. It could be that she is. There aren't very many topics that will hold her interest and restore some life to her – but this is unquestionably the top of the list.

If there's any hope at all of regaining some piece of her past, however small, it would be worth it. Even if all it brought were closure, that would be well worth the cost. The very authorities she once worked for couldn't give her even closure, dancing around the matter as though it were unimportant.

Or that they were hiding something.

"<Of course.>" Isa spreads her hands in a gesture of concession. "<My ability to gather information is limited at this point. It seems that I made certain to burn that bridge more thoroughly than my face when I left Moscow. If I discover anything, I will bring it straight to you, personally.>"

She shrugs in response to his apparent concerns. "<I have no doubt that you have the means to stop me, if I decided to go on ahead. I can't promise you that I wouldn't. I've grieved for five years, Mister Coulson. Some might disparage that I was only married to him for two weeks, and say that I should have moved on by this time… but that is not exactly true. Mikhail Nikolayevich and I had been seeing each other for years before that. Many years.>"

Smiling faintly, Isa looks away from Phil, towards the moderately busy street. "<I miss him, Mister Coulson. I will not lie. I miss him so badly that it is more a physical pain than this ever was.>" She gestures briefly at her scarred face. "<And this was agony. I cannot make you the promise that I would not go to him if he is still alive. At least, I could not make that promise to you in good conscinece. But I can promise you that I will at least try.>"

She leans forward, though, pinching the cigarette in her teeth and offering it to light; silent thanks and relief written on her face.

"<And Mister Coulson, I must apologise to you. I may have lied, although perhaps at the time I did not know it.>"

She cocks her single eye up at him. "<I do not mind if you call me Raisa, where it is safe."> Her expression softens, at least on the left side of her face, where the scars haven't destroyed it. "<True, it is a reminder of everything I have lost. But maybe I have not lost so much as I thought I did. And even if I have… it is still a reminder of the good memories, too.>"

She looks at him evenly for a long moment. Her head tilts very faintly, as though studying him, or perhaps coming to a decision. The pilot nods faintly. "<Most people, when I take the patch off, they look at the empty socket. They stare. There is horror written on their face. They cannot help themselves; it is like watching a train jump the rails. But you, Mister Coulson, you did not. Your eyes stayed on mine the entire time.>"

"<I am impressed, Mister Coulson.>" Isa climbs to her feet, sifting through her pockets with enough slow deliberation to offset the violent shaking of her hands. She somehow manages to fish out payment for her bill, passing it off to the nearest waitstaff. That done, she reaches for the winter coat she'd left draped over the back of the chair; a classy, understated coat in dark blue. Shrugging into it and pausing to fumble with its buttons, she finally slips her hands into its pockets.

Eyeing him, she inclines her head; a gesture of acknowledgement, and also respect. "<If I must have anyone at my back, then I am glad I have come to SHIELD, if you are any measure of the people in it. May I impose on you to ask one more favour?>"

<"Some might disparage it. I won't."> It would be an utterly tasteless thing to disparage. Why a person grieves or does not, and what for, is so intensely personal to them. To put a value judgment on such a thing…

No. It just won't stand.

<"I don't think I'd ask you not to go to him. I do think I'd ask you to use caution, and make sure I know where you're going to do such a thing and when. As a basic safety precaution."> If he's not dead, then a lot of other questions unfold. It begins to look, at that point, like someone deliberately poured gasoline all over Isa's life and lit a torch for their own purposes. It starts begging questions of sabotage for her own accident.

Lots of questions, and Phil can't imagine any of the answers to those questions are exactly what one might call happy.

He lights her cigarette again. She says he can call her Raisa. A faint smile touches his lips. <"I'll keep it in mind,"> he says warmly. <"But please don't be offended if I do not do it terribly often. We are often at our most vulnerable at the moment we believe ourselves to be safest.">

He watches her as she stands. She says he's impressed her, and his eyes crinkle; sympathy or empathy or both, one of the two. He says nothing in response to that, keeping whatever thoughts he has about the differences between his responses and most others to himself, close and tight to his chest.

<"You may,"> he says instead, as she asks if she might ask one more favor from him.

Isa's response is to cast a long and level look at the agent across the table. There's no mistaking the significance or the understanding in her eye. She understands what she's being told. How could she fault him for asking that? It's what she would do, in his position.

"<Of course,>" she finally says, taking a long drag on her cigarette, exhaling a wreath of smoke around herself. One hand lowers to fish her gloves from her pocket, though it takes her a few seconds of fumbling to get them on. Spring may be on its way to the city, but winter isn't quite through yet. "<I think I know about that as much as anyone else here. I haven't been safe for five years,>" she says simply. "<Why start deluding myself now? I was safer five years ago, but maybe I wasn't. If this was all sabotage…>"

She shrugs. "<Then it doesn't change very much, I suppose. What's done is done. I would not be in any less danger if it were not sabotage. What is that strange American expression?>" It takes a second of shifting mental gears, but she switches back to English. "Is not paranoia if it is true."

Stuffing her hands into her pockets, she pauses to look over to the street, and then back to him, thinning her lips.

"<Two favours, actually. For the first, I would like to transfer to the Triskelion, if there are any residences available. I feel I would be safer there for the time being. For the second…>" Another half-smile flickers across the unscarred half of her face. "<Would you mind terribly walking me home, Mister Coulson?>"

She might say 'I'm still a little scared,' but Isa is far too proud to say that. Instead, she holds out a gloved hand. Even through the glove, it's still trembling.

Having escort back to her front door would make her feel a little more at ease.

His gaze is steady and somber as she reveals that she's entertained some of the same possibilities as he is entertaining even now. He inclines his head, features grim, but says no more about it. Too much more is speculation. They will know when they know, and for now, that means sending the orders.

When she asks for a residence, doubling back on her insistence that she would not be chased from her home, another flicker of surprise passes over his mild features. Though he really seems to approve of the decision more than anything else, given the subtle shifts of his non-verbal signals. The surprise flashes across his expression again, however, when she follows it up with her second request, though he is gamely getting to his feet the moment it's out of her mouth.

It's the latter request he addresses first. <"Of course. I'm more than happy to do that.">

Granted, as far as safety goes, he's not going to be much of a match for say, someone of the Winter Soldier's calibre, but he can hold his own against many of the threats Isa might face, including the average Russian assassin. And two are better than one, in any event. As for the residences:

<"They're available. Most are furnished. If you want to grab a bag tonight I can walk you to do that, then walk you back to the Triskelion and get you situated in one of them. It would be no trouble at all.">

The surprise at her decision is written all over Coulson's face. She blows out a sigh and shakes her head in response to his understated incredulity.

"<Ah. Well. I know I said I wouldn't let them chase me, but all they need to do is send in another man of the Winter Soldier's calibre. I'm certain he wasn't their only assassin; merely their most storied. Even I had heard of him, as a child, although I didn't understand the significance at the time.>" Isa shrugs and slips her hands into her pockets, starting off towards the direction of her apartment.

Her pace is easy, meant more for Coulson to follow. If she set her own pace, it would be all nerves; more a furtive jog than a confident walk.

When he describes the Triskelion's facilities, she tilts her head, puffing thoughtfully on her cigarette. "<That sounds fine. I travel light. All I need are a few basic travelling supplies, my photographs; my ring.>" She smiles a little, though the expression seems bleak. "<Maybe I should start wearing that again. I stopped, you know. A week after he died. I just didn't have the heart to even look at it. It's been living in the back of a drawer, nested inside the newspaper clippings I've saved.>"

"<I have my Stetchkin on me,>" she murmurs, "<if anything should happen. And even though I'm missing an eye, I'm still a half-decent shot. That's one more thing I taught myself to do again. But another pair of eyes is still better than just one eye.>"

The pilot lets her single eye hood. "<Anyway… we will see what we will see.>" It flicks sidelong, lingering a moment on Phil, and while she doesn't quite smile, her expression does soften. "<Thank you, Mister Coulson, regardless of the answers we find. It means much to me that you would be willing to do this much.>"

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