Cutscene: Fire and Smoke

April 11, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert reflects on the demons that haunt her, and the nature of strength.

The Triskelion - New York City

The Headquarters, Armory and Fortress of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics division is, for the most part, an unassailable tower in the midst of the diplomatic sprawl that is Midtown East. The primary intelligence clearing houses and most of SHIELD's senior leadership are all housed hear, along with a veritable army of agents and staff to keep the place running, the world spinning and the weirdness at bay.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Phil Coulson, Sloane Albright, The Winter Soldier (Implied)

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva can no longer count how many times she's lived the same nightmare.

It always leaves her as a scatter of impressions by morning. Fire and smoke. The sickening sense of falling amidst blaring cockpit warnings. Heaven and earth wheeling together until she can no longer tell them apart, spinning no matter how hard she fights the prototype's controls. The aircraft is doomed to crash, trailing flame and smoke across the sky like a supersonic meteor.

The start is always the same. Cockpit alarms start blaring as something goes wrong. The port engine array explodes, slewing the prototype sideways in the sky like a child's toy being thrown.

The end is always the same. Her efforts are useless, and she's forced to ride the flaming wreckage to earth. The ejection rocket always refuses to fire. The crippled prototype spins drunkenly on its axis. For a split second before the flame rushes in, she can hear a soft sound as the air of the cockpit itself ignites.

Her scream, hoarse and strangled, is always the same agonised shriek. The memory of the pain never loses its edge; could never lose its edge — she will never forget that sensation. It's like having her very soul seared away.

Events always creep forward the same way, faithful to her memory in almost every detail. That's what makes it the worst of nightmares.

There is never any hope of change.

When it isn't nightmares of fire and smoke, she dreams of a metal hand clutching at her throat, squeezing until the world grows dark around her. She dreams about mysterious figures standing behind her, and the chillingly metallic sound of a hammer being cocked.

She wonders, idly, if she should ask Coulson for tranquilisers.

It takes an eternity for her to stop gasping for air and clawing at her own face. By the time reality sets in, the clock says it's a quarter to three in the morning.

With a grunt she pushes herself over the side of the bed, landing hard on a knee and breathing a silent curse and a silent apology to Sloane for the noise. Limping over to her pantry, she digs through the contents in single-minded silence until she finds what she's looking for in the back.

The glass bottle is set down with a dull clunk, and a shotglass set down beside it, but Isa Reichert does not pour herself anything from it. She lays her hands flat on the table, mostly to better ignore their shaking, almost shuddering.

The label is of vodka, very good vodka, exported from Russia.

Minutes pass in silence.

The one-eyed woman stares at the bottle of vodka. A clock ticks in the distant bedroom. Further distant, the building settles with a series of faint noises. She can't even hear the traffic of the city from here.

The silence is oppressive.

After two more minutes of staring at the bottle, Isa's face twists into a rictus of frustration, scars creasing.

"<Oh, fuck me. Raisa Ivanovna Yakovleva, you're a coward.>"

Lurching to her feet with a snarl, she takes the bottle and shotglass, shoving them back into the pantry's far corner before her shaking hands can drop either one. She drops back into her chair with a sigh, fumbling at the collar of the tank top she'd worn to bed, untangling her necklace from it.

A deft motion releases the clasp, dropping a glint of gold into her hand before she clasps it again. Isa Reichert studies the ring in her hand. It's a simple unadorned wedding band, familiar to her as the scarring over the top of her right hand, a thumb tracing its smooth surface.

She lifts it and presses it to the left side of her face with a shaking hand. Her sigh is shaky. She doesn't even notice her own tears until the wetness touches her left hand; until she tastes salt against her upper lip.

Isa draws in a ragged breah and lets it go, fingers tightening around the ring until the warming metal bites into her palm.

"<I'm not going to do that any more, Misha.>" Her quiet vow is unsteady, and her single eye slides closed. "<I'll be strong.>"

She wonders, though, how much strength she has left.

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