Fire and Ice

April 13, 2017:

A mission to sabotage an alien vessel that is the subject of a Russian excavation brings Phil Coulson, Isa Reichert, and Natasha Romanova deep into the Arctic. Sparks fly as the two strong-willed women clash.

The Arctic

It's cold! Damn cold!

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Clint Barton

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

In Russian: <"Welcome back, Natasha. Great to see you, hope you're rested up. So, ladies, we're flying to the Arctic…">

And that's about how this adventure would have started, hours and hours ago. Later, Phil would have filled both of them in. For months and months after coming back from Arizona he'd been undercover. Apparently in the Artic, as he'd let them know. He says,

<"The Soviet Union is busy excavating an alien ship. We were never able to identify the planet it came from; it's not one of the ones we indexed. It's deep beneath the ice and they're covering it all up under a supposed oil drilling operation. Russian military is on site. They think I'm one of their scientists, sent briefly home for a family emergency which I spent about a month dealing with. I've let them know that I'm bringing in one more scientist and my personal pilot.">

He had brought up a holographic display. <"The dig site is located in a canyon, so this is going to require some fancy flying on your part, Isa. The landing has to be just so. I want you to engage our cloaking device but allow radio transmissions using these stolen Russian airspace codes that will make it seem like we're coming straight from your homeland. I want you to land here."> He touches the display, a spot that's going to put them out of visual range of anybody but is not so far away that it strains credulity. <"If asked, local conditions didn't allow you to land closer and you're there to rest and resupply.">

He'd then brought up another map, the base itself. "The work stops every day at 1600 local time. After that it grows too dark and dangerous for them to continue. Most of the crew is sated on vodka and food about 4 hours later. If we go in 2 hours after that, we should be able to get down there and destroy the craft. Sabotauge is our mission, we want to rig it up with enough explosives to make sure that every last trace of alien anything is gone for good. The ones I've brought aren't conventional, they're more about the vaporization; we're not here to kill these people, though our work may destabilize the base and render it dangerous, causing regrettable collateral damage all the same. Of course, it goes without saying that we'll want to be in our plane and wheels up by the time the charges go off, or we're all going to have a pretty bad day.">

Now they are about 15 minutes from their planned landing location.

—-

Flying is an incredible sensation, so long as one is in the pilot's chair. High-speed manoeuvres and showing off are the specialty of one Isa Reichert, one of the newer pilots working beneath SHIELD's auspices. Her appearance might otherwise be easy to forget, but for her vibrant auburn-red hair, her clear, wintry blue eye…

…wait, eye, singular?

The biggest possible surprise about this pilot is the fact that she has only one eye. Not many people would trust an expensive vehicle like a quinjet to someone with such a severe handicap. Phil Coulson must have an inordinate amount of trust in her skill.

It seems that eye was lost in some manner of accident. The entire right side of her face is ravaged by burn scarring, the kind that implies hideous, and hideously painful, wounds some years in her past. A dove-grey patch rests where her eye should be; there is no eyebrow. Her hair seems mostly untouched, the scarring stopping just shy of her hairline.

Although she's seemed almost nervous in Agent Romanova's company, flicking the occasional wary look back to the other woman or to Coulson himself, her hands has never so much as wavered over the controls. She handles the quinjet as though it were an extension of her own body throughout the long and largely boring flight, apparently making up for her handicap by checking her instrumentation as much as looking out the canopy glass.

Fancy flying through a canyon. That hadn't seemed to phase her too much, but as soon as Coulson had mentioned where they were going, she had seemed even more nervous. The closer they come to the actual digsite, the more colour the pilot seems to lose, sweat beading on her brow. The collar of her drab olive flightsuit is starting to itch.

"<We're getting close to the canyon.>" Isa breaks in with her announcement in a voice grizzled from years of alcohol and cigarettes; though her Russian is flawless, as expected, its dialect placing it in Moscow. "<Mister Coulson. Miss Romanova. You may want to secure your restraints, if you haven't done that yet.>"

She never so much as looks away from her point of focus, that treacherous and shifting landscape of ice before her. "<I can't promise we'll be able to touch down unscathed. Arctic winds are a bitch, and there's nothing to shelter these canyons. They're wind tunnels—>"

Right on cue, a gust slams into the side of the quinjet, prompting the one-eyed pilot to set her jaw and wrench the controls headlng against the wind. "<—and they're unpredictable.>"

<"I'm going to get us as close to our designated landing site as I can… but even I can't make any guarantees. Mister Coulson, why exactly did you want me bringing you to the one place I don't want to go?>" Her aside is spoken in a casual and suspiciously nonchalant tone of voice, as though she were discussing the latest sports score, or the day's weather forecast.

Maybe she's chattering, just a little, to soothe her jangled nerves.

—-

The pick-up is namely one Soviet defectee, a tall, long-limbed woman, dressed in jeans and some cropped coat, skin freshly tanned and sand-stung from the Middle East, and a bug-out bag leaned carelessly over her shoulder. Her sunglasses mirror back Agent Phil Coulson's face, his form, his first words of welcome back to a returned Natasha Romanova.

If there's any question whether the last several months lost in deep cover and broiled in active war have changed her, it's lost in the irreverent way her mouth crooks in a lazy smile. "Phil. Nice suit. New suit? Finally got that raise?"

And she helps herself into the plane.

The first thing to learn about the Black Widow, one wraith among the intelligence communities, is that she likes to whistle showtunes. She does that, again and again, like old hat, as she sorts through her things, her entire life in one bag as she switches from one mission to the next. She pulls out Arctic gear.

Coulson, in all his long-suffering wrangling of errant Natashas, knows what to expect. Knows what happens next, as the woman, without a single hesitation or word of warning, begins to strip right in front of him amidst the whistled reprise of Gee, Officer Krupke. She shamelessly gets right down to the skivvies and even worse, and the spy whose body has levelled a thousand interim governments leans one long leg up on the back of a seat. Poor Phil, this is his life now.

That down, switched to the shielding white of winter gear, and flopped backward, she digs back in her bag and clatters through a few pistols until she pulls free a paper bagged, pimento sandwich.

And that is how Natasha spends the better part of the next many minutes, one arm slung along the back of a seat, eating away, and listening. "So it's a shake and bake," is all she says, with a bit of a full mouth. She rolls a shoulder. Just another Tuesday. "Got it, boss."

—-

Phil had agreed, gamely, that it was a new suit. He'd remained politely mum on the subject of his raises or lack thereof, because that's just what a person from his generation does.

He had simply played with his watch while Natasha stripped. He is used to this, and he can appreciate the pragmatism, but he's too much a gentleman to take advantage of the situation. And he's too…Phil…to let this get a rise out of him, when there are places on a Quinjet one could theoretically change in private.

Natasha changes, Isa frets. He sits unruffled, too, already all buckled in as the wind tunnels present a challenge he has every confidence she'll navigate. He himself is already in gear, having changed (in private) some time ago. He pulls out a small slim white watch and holds it up. <"You won't be yourself, Isa,"> he says quietly. <"This is a state of the art personal holographic projector. There are several pre-loaded options in there, but you can look almost however you want. It is capable of defeating the latest facial recognition software; the stuff down there is outdated by at least 4 years. You're here because you're a member of my team, because you know the enemy, and because I trust you. And you can trust that neither Natasha nor I is going to let anything happen to you. You also have the option, if you wish, of staying and leaving the bus running for our escape. It's your choice; I won't force you to go.">

He shoots Natasha a mild smile as she calls it a Shake n' Bake, and inclines his head. "Just so," he agrees. He'll bring out the tools for that task in a moment, as well as what they're going to do to get them past security, but he wants to get the plane landed first…and the disposition of their pilot settled.

—-

The guest of honour might be speaking in English, but the pilot seems disinclined to switch languages. All of her conversation is delivered in the same Russian, which seems to fluctuate somewhere between 'casual' and 'very slightly formal.' Maybe she doesn't know any English?

Whatever the case, Isa Reichert has been studying Natasha Romanova since the latter's climbed into the quinjet. She doesn't look away when the agent strips down to her skivvies, arching her single brow and forming her own silent opinions, whatever those may be. Even though she herself has never been on the ground in a combat situation, scars tell stories. She knows that much, having been acquainted with a number of infantrymen, pilots, and sailors throughout her life.

Mostly, what she gets out of it is that Natasha Romanova is an extremely confident and capable woman. No surprise there. The other thing Isa gets out of it is that Natasha Romanova probably doesn't give a damn what anybody else thinks. An admirable quality, as far as she's concerned.

Isa's blue eye flicks back to the controls in time for the canyon walls to rush up towards them. There's still sweat beaded on her forehead; her distraction was only momentary.

She isn't in her own gear, because somebody's had to fly the aircraft. She'll don her own gear once they've touched down, if she isn't ordered to stay in the pilot's seat.

"<Forgive me if I'm a little nervous,>" the pilot snaps, glaring back at Coulson without any real animosity. "<Remember who I had for a house-guest a few days ago? I don't care if the information was wrong; it could have been correct, for all I know. And I could have been dead before he realised he had made a mistake.>"

Coulson proceeds to make most of her arguments disappear in a puff of logic. That doesn't soothe her nerves too much, though, at least not a smuch as she might like. She sighs through her teeth as she struggles to guide the aircraft down through howling, frozen gales.

"<Ugh. You are too… logical, Mister Coulson. If you want me on the ground with you, then yes, I will come. I trust myself to have the engines primed and ready to escape when it's needed. It is true I was not a combat pilot, but I was trained as one. I know the theory, even if I do not have the experience.>" She checks her instrumentation, twisting to cast a brief look back at Coulson, before settling a brief, baffled look on Natasha.

…Shake and bake? Is this some kind of weird contorted English phraseology that the language barrier is making sound bizarre?

After what seems like an eternity, the quinjet eases down gently, ever so gently, as the wind buffets it from side to side. Isa snarls an extremely unladylike curse as she fights that howling gale. Her attention is fixed wholly on keeping the quinjet level, lest they be dashed into the cliff wall. These quinjets are impressive, but even she knows how that would end. Badly.

The quinjet touches down with a lurch that has Isa snapping out a leg to keep herself from spilling out of her chair. It jolts again as she cuts the engines, and from then on, the sensation of the wind buffeting the aircraft is like a ship rolling on the waves at sea.

Once that's done, Isa leans back from the pilot's seat, exhaling a little shakily. "<Well, that's done, thank God. I always hated Arctic flights… it seems like the wind is only predictable in its unpredictability.>"

Pushing herself to her feet, she makes her way aft, reaching to her collar and jangling the chain of her necklace — the dogtags are gone, this time, and the only thing on it is a gold wedding band. Odd; why would she wear it that way, instead of on a finger? "<I will go down with you,>" she calls. "<Give me a moment to change.>"

A moment of digging through gear is taken, before she produces her own arctic gear, which is thankfully not two sizes too big. It's too cold out there for ill-fitting gear. She manages to find somewhere a bit more private to switch gear, and comes stalking out a moment later, reaching up to settle her goggles over her eyepatch. Her hand pats around at her belt, feeling for her sidearm — her trusty old military-issue Stetchkin that made its way to New York City with her — and the pilot gives a faint nod.

Her eye flicks over to Natasha.

"<Try not to get crumbs on the floor. Quinjets are precision machinery. All it takes is a crumb in the control banks, and we will be flung from the sky like a child's toy.>" There's a smile in her eye, though, even if it isn't reflected on her face. Her expression doesn't seem to change very much unless she's feeling an intensity of emotion — the scar tissue's made much of it immobile, the right side of her mouth drawn ever so slightly downward from the way the scarring runs.

Half a glance is cast to Coulson, then Natasha; Isa finally frowns. "<Ma'am, do you speak Russian?>" Her single eye flits back to Coulson, brow furrowing. "<Or should I be speaking English…?>"

—-

The rest of the flight is rote to Natasha Romanova. She settles in and gets comfortable. She eats a lot. She opens a paperback and gets in some light reading, and even proffers her handpacked baggie of goldfish crackers to Agent Coulson. Help yourself.

The flight is no different than the thousands before, and the shaky landing even less, and without fluttering an eyelash or disturbing the page of her opened book, braces one foot up powerfully on the side of the plane and holds herself effortlessly. Natasha licks her thumb-pad and turns the page. It's some romance novel.

Once the quinjet touches down, it is only then Natasha rouses, like the machine booting out of sleep mode, its operating system ready for the first command line. She puts away her things, exchanging home-made lunch for her pair of Glocks, checking their magazines. She follows suit by sheathing a SCUBA knife into her boot, checking a bracelet at her wrist, and giving a severe look down on a dissembled rifle. Yay or nay. Yay or nay. Eh.

Natasha dismisses it and sits back up. Elbows slung to her knees, lazy around the corners, she listens on as Phil Coulson recites the gameplan, her expression lidded like a capped lens. It's only that out-loud mention of drafting the pilot into the drop team that Romanova, for the very first time, gives the the other woman her eyes. She looks her only for a brief moment of appraisal.

"She's compromised," Natasha says boredly to Coulson. "I'm not babysitting. We talked about this before. I don't do babysitting. Clint's the soft touch." She makes an exasperated sound and checks a third firearm. She hates carrying three. Overhearing the clear promise of how she'll keep everyone safe, the ex-assassin makes a brief face. "Just let me take point on this. I honestly can do this myself. Twenty-six minutes in-out tops. Maybe twenty-three. I don't get hypothermic."

The question turns back her blue eyes on Isa. Asked if she speaks Russian, because the evidence is certainly there that she understands it. Has been understanding it so far. "It's Natasha," she answers in English, and with an accent that's as American as apple pie. "And speak whatever keeps your blood pressure down."

—-

Phil Coulson takes the goldfish. Mm! Goldfish! He crunches away at them and nods with approval as Isa Reichart says that she'll go with them. He looks left and right under his chair to see if he got any crumbs on the floor. He cannot see any. He observes Natasha rousing herself from sleep mode just as he's observed it before, listens to her grousing about babysitting and how she can totally do this herself. He puts on that patient, long-suffering smile he so often wears on his face.

"Taking point is an excellent idea, Natasha," he replies. He pulls out a pair of glasses that make him look dorkier than he already is and sticks them on his face. They're big tortoiseshell things and they widen his hazel eyes. He's supposed to be Dr. Ivan Karetchnakoff after all, and Ivan is a total nerd.

He draws out suitcases, letting the ladies handle themselves. He opens them up to reveal six little bottles— airline industry approved even— right on the top. Beneath? Clothes, suitable for the station. The little bottles have buttons on the bottom; they are the high tech bombs he's spoken of. They all say things like 'Pantene' or 'Body Wash.' Given Phil's balding state the Pantene might be particularly hilarious. He hands a suitcase to each one of the ladies, apparently not really feeling that Natasha's assessment of in and out in 26 minutes is the responsible one to go with here.

"Alright. Time for a really cold walk. Everyone ready to go?"

He's anticipating more sniping between the two on the whole walk there. He really is. He's determined to ignore it for the most part. Because he's Phil, and that's what he does.

—-

Slowly, very slowly, Isa Reichert's single eye narrows as her fellow agent insists that this mission is better off without hangers-on. Natasha says she refuses to babysit the pilot, and the pilot… well. Now that the engines are shut off, the wind is howling outside, and it masks the grinding of Isa's teeth.

The pilot very definitely takes offense. It may not be a slight against her skills in the air, but it may as well be. Her sense of pride is a little raw ever since the accident.

With surgical precision, Isa checks the last fittings on her arctic gear, tightening whatever fastenings are left with a little more violence than may strictly be necessary. Coulson might pick up on that; on the slight stiffness and jerkiness of movements made under anger.

"'Compromised,' she say." Isa actually grins at that, the expression creasing the scarring on the right side of her face. It's a little ghastly. Somehow her English is even more guttural, something about it much rougher against her throat. There's a clipped and oddly laconic quality about it, and it's heavily accented with Russian.

Isa hesitates for a moment as though thinking. When she speaks again, her voice is cheerful and pleasant; almost too much so. "Get fucked," she proclaims, stabbing a forefinger at Natasha, and the cheer drops away into bristling anger. "Can work fine. Made it this far without problem. If Mister Coulson trust me to be on ground, than he think I can do job."

That wintry blue eye rakes over Coulson in silent accusation. That scathing look is clear: You do have confidence I can do the job and you're not just setting me up to fail, right? That had better be the case. On the other hand, Coulson might just be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"Da, you take point. Better I think to have you in front of me than at my back." The unscarred side of Isa's mouth curls in the faintest of disdainful expressions, too challenging and full of animosity to be a smile. "Tried to be respectful, but I see was no point wasting effort. Kuh." Isa follows that up with a string of creative profanity, shrugging into her arctic gear and turning to follow Coulson.

Her eye rakes over the bottles. There's a slight snort at the sight of the Pantene bottle, but she offers no comment, trudging after Coulson as they depart from the quinjet, finalising the details of her disguise as she goes.

Perhaps surprisingly, she says nothing. One can see the anger simmering just under the surface. Actually, it's about as obvious as white on rice, so maybe she just doesn't trust herself not to say something uncivil.

Instead, she looks sidelong to Coulson. The mere idea of agreeing with Natasha's assessment seems to make her chew her tongue in an effort not to snipe, and after a few minutes of admirable self-restraint, she… stops restraining herself.

"You think you can do everything? Fine. Can fly us back home. Would like to see you handle quinjet in arctic gale better than I do." That single eye is glaring. Oh, she's pissed. Focused, and watching around them with the chronic laser-focus of a person hunted, but pissed. In a way, that's good; it keeps her blood pressure from soaring about being near Russian territory. Chewing nails is always the better option for her. She can dissolve into a terrified mess after they've gotten back to the Triskelion.

When she speaks again, lowering her voice for Coulson alone, and her disgust at agreeing with Natasha in any part is obvious. "<Although I am curious why you chose to bring me,>" she comments in Russian. "<Any other squad leader would leave the pilot with the aircraft for quick extraction, which tells me you must have some kind of compelling reason.>"

—-

In American society, there is a certain unspoken protocol toward handling a certain type of embarrassing situation. That is, when someone passes gas in public or mid-conversation, the only right and proper thing to do would be to ignore it as if it never happened, thus saving all parties from embarassment of acknowledging or admitting to said fart.

This is much how Natasha ignores Isa's remark to go fuck herself.

And then comes that entire angry demonstration. Natasha Romanova takes it all in, passively, patiently, probably even boredly. Can she fly them back home? One shoulder rolls in a shrug. Sure, why not, is the epitome of the look on her face.

When it ends, she offers no retort or slung insult or even a particularly dirty look. Instead, she just rooooolls her head to one side, all and only to give Agent Coulson a look that borders on plaintive. Seriously?

In the end, however, the woman answers Coulson's question by grabbing up her pack, stopping only to assess its contents — they bring a slight, humoured crease to her lips. Cute.

Everyone ready for a cold walk?

"Don't know what you're talking about, boss," Natasha answers magnanimously for when they do step into the hypothermic temperatures of the inhospitable Arctic. "Beautiful day." And she moves with the unencumbered carelessness of someone enjoying a leisurely walk on a warm spring afternoon. The cold does not as much as touch her slow her. Her stride is just obnoxiously too-fast, powered by something perhaps decidedly inhuman, though her eyes stay sharp and watchful.

—-

Ever watch how Dumbledore routinely pat pats the air to soothe children in any one of the Harry Potter flicks other than the ones where he is in fact dead?

That's about what Phillip Coulson does now as Isa starts spewing vitriol and Natasha does her dead level best to stoke the fires of said vitriol. He does it with a long-suffering look on his face. He switches quietly back to Russian. <"I'm not any other commander.">

And then: <"There's also a tiny chance we'll have to abandon the Quinjet, explode it from afar, and steal one of the planes at the base. If that happens it would be good to have a talented pilot.">

Natasha's sure she could pilot the ship; Coulson knows that in this regard, Isa is Natasha's superior in skill, if in no other.

Natasha declares it a beautiful day. A tiny sigh escapes his lips. He is definitely feeling his age suddenly, having a bona fide 'too old for this stuff' moment right here in the frozen wasteland. He can feel aches and pains in places he really didn't know felt aches and pains.

He tromps resolutely a head. <"Alright ladies,"> he says, switching to Russian. <"Let's get our A-faces on now. Remember we're a team. You can kill each other when we're back home safe. Isa will be flying the plane, Natasha. Whichever one we take. Let's just…get this done."> At least they'll get there right in the middle of the drinking and carousing portion of the evening, at their current pace. Which means they won't have to be in there too terribly long.

—-

With the stiff, jerky movements of the truly angry, Isa yanks the sleeve of her coat better into place. She powers through the snow with a lot more vitality than someone her age and physical state ought to be, but it has nothing to do with any supernatural qualities or technological advances.

She's just in a towering rage. People in a towering rage can often find they can push past physical limits without much difficulty. It won't last forever, of course, but it does a hell of a job letting her make her own way through the snow and wind.

Also, pouring it into her descent through the treacherous terrain keeps her from misusing her energy, like accidentally giving Natasha a hard shot to her jaw with her fist. That would be a misuse of energy. It would also disappoint Coulson, and seems how he's one of the very few people Isa respects, she'd rather not disappoint him any more than he already seems to be.

Mostly, though, she just feels Natasha could probably snap her neck like a cheap toothpick if she socked her in the jaw. Even when angry Isa knows better than to truly pick that fight. She knows she has no prayer against someone like someone of Natasha's calibre.

There seem to be a lot of people beyond mere mortals in this city…

When Natasha strolls through the snow and makes a point of how easy it is, Isa grates her teeth and surges forward even harder. She's even leaving a slight trail of pulverised snow behind her by this point.

Might be she's repeating herself a mantra so she doesn't throw a fist at Natasha.

"<Excuse me if I have no faith in any organisations right now, Mister Coulson,>" Isa snaps angrily, head twitching sideways just enough to glare at the bespectacled Coulson. She's not really angry at him, but she's angry in general, and he happens to be there and talking to her. He's an outlet. "<I—really? Really? You planned on scuttling the quinjet all along? Why would you even do that? And what exactly were you going to do if I was still in it?>"

Each rapid-fire question is more incredulously angry than the last, though she's at least careful not to let her voice get too loud.

"<Fine. You want me to pilot the quinjet? I will pilot Princess back to the Triskelion, but she's on her own after that,>" Isa growls. If she's feeling any aches and pains from the cold, she's too frustrated to show it. "<Fine. Fine, Mister Coulson. A-face.>" She pauses just long enough to throw a scathing look at Natasha. "<Let's get this done.>"

—-

All that anger has better yield against fresh drywall. It's absolutely, anticlimactically lost on this strange, unassuming Natasha Romanova. She does not reflect it. She does not return it. She is a placid void. Zen, even.

Just like that, when she takes her blue eyes off Isa, it's as if in that moment the one-eyed woman no longer exists in her world. Probably a way of agents, people trained and honed to live in a perpetually narrowed-focus. Yoked to a field-of-view that allows occupation of the mission and little else.

Either way, Natasha adapts. Adapts to whatever climate the world has to give her, be it a fiery entourage among frigid conditions. She does not sock any jaws or snap any necks; instead she gets on with being something of a professional, kind of, maybe, and takes point as promised. It becomes all too obvious that something is deeply unnatural in the state of Romanova, by the way she is unleashed into frostbite-at-five-minute temperatures without a care, her gait unimpeded and her body strong. She steps lightly like a ghost, and even more strangely, does not leave tracks past the gossamer displacement of surface snow. She moves along the icepack rather than through it with a grace that is palpably not human.

And palpably something else that probably makes her quite at home with SHIELD.

Whatever scathing looks come her way, Natasha doesn't seem to notice. Or if she does notice, she just doesn't seem to care. She does like being called Princess though. "Are you sure you need me in cover, boss?" she calls back, asking of Coulson, standing far enough to be certain of her survey. "You two may well be enough. It'll get you the data you want on that ship before you ghost her. And when the FSB call your cover, " and it's not an if to Natasha, but when, "I'll protect you best if I can surprise them. Up to you."

—-

<"I didn't say it was my plan all along. I said it was a possibility. If you'd stayed with the Quinjet I'd have radio'd you for an extraction. I'm not out to get you, Isa. I'm sorry that you are unhappy with the state of affairs today."> Coulson says. He had a plan either way, you see. That's just kind of how he works.

What he's hearing, from both ladies really, is that neither one of them is exceptionally confident in his planning today. Perhaps he should have run a few simulators, or even solicited their input before coming up with the plan.

Granted, he's starting to question the wisdom of several of his own actions himself.

Even Agent Coulson has bad days.

He's starting to get a phenomenal headache. He breathes in through his nose and out through his nose, projecting the very image of calm, polite patience.

But never let it be said that he can't adjust when offered input, that he can't accept when someone points out to him that he may have made a mistake in how best to use the people on his team. "Alright, Natasha, that will be fine," he says, using Russian for one and English for the other. "Just fine. The bombs are a little experimental, the detonation time is a little iffy according to the science teams, and we might have to fight our way out of there."

In the end, though, the mission goes about like that. They're able to get to the craft and plant the bombs without a hitch. The timers on the detonators go out while everyone is trying to leave the base. And they're way too strong, vaporizing about half the base at the same time. There is fighting. A lot of fighting. And then a building trying to come down on their heads, which is good for all kinds of fun. Phil's grand plan to avoid hurting the Russian team goes kerpoof, thus putting an end cap on an already pretty rough day as far as he's concerned.

All the Russian planes go up in smoke save one. Just one. Isa gets to pilot it out. Phil detonates the QuinJet from afar with a special code.

Phil did get all the data on the alien craft though. Isa and Nat didn't kill each other. So…you know what?

As Phil flops into a reclining seat at the back of the plane, exhausted beyond measure, he mutters, "I'll take my wins where I can get them."

Then he firmly puts in some noise cancelling headphones which are chock full of a certain cellist's music. If the two ladies are in the mood to keep it up all the way home?

Agent Phillip Coulson has chosen not to know.

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